Play that funky music, muzungu

Before coming to the Peace Corps, I was a pretty level-headed and balanced person. Mr. Level-headed and Balanced, that’s what they called me. (Had the girls falling all over themselves in high school, let me tell you.) I had a stable personality, and a calm temperament, and roughly the same amount of emotional variability as a tortoise.

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This is a baby tortoise. Aww, isn't he cute??

But that all changed once I moved to Zambia. Peace Corps loves to warn new volunteers about the emotional roller coaster, the cliched metaphor du jour used to describe the ups and downs you will experience during your service. But what they don’t talk about as much is that you’ve got a FastPass to this ride and it runs multiple times per day. I may start out a given morning feeling one way, but you can bet I won’t be feeling the same way by the time evening rolls around. My emotions bounce all over the place like a toddler in a grocery store. This is now normal for me here. This is my day-to-day life.

And as if the ride wasn’t already dramatic enough, I’ve been in a sort of funk for the past few weeks. If I’m being honest with myself, I’ve been in a sort of funk for the past few months. There are a few plausible explanations why:

For one, I’m at that point in my service when many volunteers hit a lull — about two-thirds of the way through my actual two-year contract and nearly three-quarters of the way through my 27 month-commitment in Zambia. It makes sense; things that used to be novel and exciting, if not necessarily pleasant and comfortable, are now no longer novel and exciting. Now they’re just unpleasant and uncomfortable. The drunk men harrassing you. The unwavering stares that bore deep into your soul. The sweaty half-hour you have to spend fetching water. Hot season. Last year, I was kind of excited for hot season, in that I-know-it’s-going-to-suck-but-I’m-kind-of-looking-forward-to-seeing-just-how-much-it’ll-suck sort of way that you can be excited. This year, it just sucks. I already know how much it sucks, I already know how long it’ll continue to suck, and I can’t even get a self-pitying blog post out of it as consolation prize because I already did that last year. Shit gets old.

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Sebastian's sons renovating a dried-up pond during the height of last year's hot season; and I thought I had it bad when my dad used to make me go check for frog eggs every day during the middle of the infamous Central Valley summers

Another possible explanation for my current rut is that life after Peace Corps keeps looming larger and larger the longer I’m here, and for a planner like me that means more distractions and less living in the moment as I scramble to get my rear in gear. I was never under any delusion that these two years wouldn’t go by swiftly, or that I didn’t have to think about what might come next, but there’s a difference between thinking about something and actively planning for it. Being in the Peace Corps is kind of like living in a bubble, and I’m not just talking about the 360-degree visibility which allows curious villagers to stare at me from all sides as if I were a caged lab rat. I’m currently being very comfortably provided for by the United States government, with killer health insurance and rent stabilization to make a New Yorker green with envy, so it’s a little unnerving to read about all of the problems with the American economy and to come to terms with returning to this reality in just a few months.

And as if these reasons weren’t already enough, my closest Peace Corps friend just finished her service and moved back to America to start grad school, so now I’m facing the next eight months without my favorite partner in crime living just an hour-and-a-half-long bike ride away. For the entire time that I’ve been at site, Emi had been a constant as one of the only other volunteers in my district. She pretended to like my cooking, left bobby pins all over my hut, and staunchly defended all things Seattle and Washington State (except for the Mariners, which was no big deal because they’ve only been my favorite baseball team since I was 8). We traveled together, hosted workshops together, and visited each other’s sites often enough that her village thought I was her brother and my village thought we were married. She also has really nice legs. Since Emi left our district, my street cred among the young men in my village has dropped significantly and I’ve been spotted talking to myself just a little bit a lot more.

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A white sandy beach is the first thing you think of when you picture a landlocked country in the middle of sub-Saharan Africa, right? Yeah, me too.

So that’s where I am right now. I’m in a funk, and my Earth, Wind, & Fire playlist goes on for hours. It’ll end eventually though, since this roller coaster ride always climbs back up every time it plummets down. For now, I’m just going to try to focus on being more candid in this blog and hope that self-deprecation is the key to enlightenment. Or getting a job.*

*If there are any employers among my dear readership who might have an opportunity for my wiseacre self, seriously, I’d love to hear from you. I have a B.A. and a B.S. from UC Berkeley, two years of experience in business administration, almost two years of experience arguing with little Zambian kids, and several pairs of Oxford cap-toes just itching to be laced up.

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14 thoughts on “Play that funky music, muzungu

    • True true. I just started working with a new fish farmer recently and I’m cautiously excited about the progress he’s made on managing his current pond, as well as they plans he has to dig another.

  1. Sorry to hear you’ve hit a wall, but it’s kind of humbling, right? You know you’ll always have a place here with us as a fallback. Hang in there.

  2. Realizing that you are in a funk can be a time of growth. Sometimes when it seems like we’ve hit bottom, that’s the impetus for change (which we never would have considered otherwise).

    But I hear you. Slumps are no fun. This too shall pass…..

    *hugs*

  3. I found you through the NPCA facebook and have enjoyed following your blog. And just wanted to say it’s definitely a tough and often funk-y time. But my last 6 months of service (Honduras ’07-09) were some of the best, both personally and professionally – once everyone realizes you are leaving they suddenly want to move on those projects that have been languishing for the past 1.75 years. So hang in there, good things are yet to come!

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