Show me a Peace Corps volunteer

Written in collaboration with Hannah Harrison, a RAP 2014 volunteer, and cross-posted with her great blog, Hannah Goes Fishing. All credit goes to Hannah for the great blog idea!

Show me a Peace Corps volunteer and I’ll show you people of all colors, ages, and creeds. I’ll show you men and women and people who are sitting in between. I’ll show you daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, all of whom have left those families to find new ones across the world.

Show me a Peace Corps volunteer and I’ll show you someone who knows illness, misery, cold, heat, and crawling infestations of a thousand varieties. I’ll show you someone who has become intimate with infection, friendly with fungus, and can compare the viscosity of fecal matter over a meal. I’ll show you someone who gave up deodorant long ago, and subscribes to “it’s clean enough” more often than not. Show me a Peace Corps volunteer and I’ll show you someone who hand-scrubs their one collared shirt every night in order to be presentable before their tribal leadership, their classroom full of eager students, or their government official. I’ll show you someone who boils their water to bathe, filters it to drink, and sweats to haul it home.

Yes, it’s a cliche, but yes, it’s true — Peace Corps volunteers bathing in a stream

Show me a Peace Corps volunteer and I’ll show you hair that’s too long, a bike that’s too seldomly maintained, and an entire wardrobe that hasn’t been washed in weeks.

Show me a Peace Corps volunteer and I’ll show you someone who has faced fear, change, animosity, and misunderstanding. I’ll show you someone who looks at those obstacles as learning opportunities, even if it is just learning to cry at the end of the day for all that didn’t work.

Show me a Peace Corps volunteer and I’ll show you people driven to purpose, to change, to throwing themselves whole-heartedly into their work and living it out, each and every single day of their service. I’ll show you someone who is up at the crack of dawn to dig a fish pond and burns the candle late writing grants and letters home. I’ll show you someone who knows when, sometimes, it’s better to take the day off and play with the kids than to go to yet another meeting. I’ll show you someone who, when they do hold meetings, may wait for hours for no one to show up, but will keep showing up themselves in case someone finally does.

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Emily assisting the facilitator during a session at Camp GLOW

Show me a Peace Corps volunteer and I’ll show you someone who knows that even the most impoverished person can be rich.

Show me a Peace Corps volunteer and I’ll show you someone who has tried nine different ways to cook an egg. Only one of them has little bits of shell still in it.

Show me a Peace Corps volunteer and I’ll show you someone who knows great frustration but also great love. I’ll show you a person who knows the greatest extent of hopelessness after another sleepless night next to their pit latrine, and I’ll show you the great depths of compassion when a friend brings medicine.

Have to make time for yoga, even on vacation

Perhaps not surprisingly, a lot of volunteers enjoy yoga

Show me a Peace Corps volunteer and I’ll show you ecstatic joy, bitter cynicism, and crushing despair. I’ll show you blind optimism, deadening restlessness, and persevering hope. Sometimes all in the same day.

Show me a Peace Corps volunteer and I’ll show you a 55-year-old divorced mother of three who has weathered some of life’s greatest challenges — getting married, raising children, reentering the workforce at the age of 40 — and who is now throwing herself head-first into another. I’ll show you a 22-year-old who just graduated from college last semester and has the world at his fingertips. I’ll show you a 65-year-old retired widower coming back for a third tour of Peace Corps, driven by a new chapter in life.

Show me a group of Peace Corps volunteers and I’ll show you someone who is Haitian American from Washington D.C., someone who is Japanese American from Hawaii, someone who is Pakistani American from the San Francisco Bay Area, someone who is Irish American from Georgia, someone who is Mexican American from Los Angeles, and someone who is Italian American from New Jersey. All of whom are called, without variation or discrimination, “white foreigner.”

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Chantel, Michael, and Taj at the Mansa Camp GLOW in December 2013

Show me a Peace Corps volunteer and I’ll show you a sense of humor warped by 18 months’ worth of poop jokes and a vocabulary honed on a collection of novels large enough to make a lit major turn green with envy.

Show me a Peace Corps volunteer and I’ll show you a person who wants to change the world. I’ll show you a person who gets easily frustrated because she has high expectations for herself and doesn’t want to let her community down. I’ll show you a person who is idealistic and enthusiastic and dedicated and determined and maybe a little bit naive. I’ll show you a person who fails at changing the world. But I’ll show you a person who has come to realize just how much her world has changed her. And I’ll show you a world that is ever so slightly better for it.

Show me a Peace Corps volunteer and I’ll show you a citizen of the global community. Someone who can never go home again, or see the world as they did before their service. Someone who was once a child, staring at the finger pointing toward the sky. Now, they look and see the moon.

Kasanka National Park

Watching the bat migration at Kasanka National Park, November 2013

 

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4 thoughts on “Show me a Peace Corps volunteer

  1. Matt you have such a way with words. This was beautiful. I was between teary and laughing with your juxtaposition of joy and misery. Keep doing what you do!

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