When I joined Peace Corps…

Group 84 (holla!) recently completed our Mid-Service Conference. We are officially more than halfway through our service, we’re on the downward slide now. It is alarming to think how much each of us has changed, me especially. The women in our group often talk about how much more feisty we are now. And we have to be, with the deluge of harassment, rude comments, and general frustrating cultural differences we meet with each day. I’ve become a lot more confident, a little more weird, and my perspective on so many things has changed.

One of the exercises that we did at MSC was rather thought provoking for me. Fill in the blank: “When I joined Peace Corps, I said ‘yes’ to…” and “When I joined Peace Corps, I said ‘no’ to…” So here, I’ll attempt to flesh out my answers.

When I joined Peace Corps, I said ‘yes’ to…

At first, I rather flippantly answered “chaos.” That is perfectly true, though. Jamaica is not prone to being well ordered; line-cutting is normal, public transport doesn’t run on a schedule, people are ALWAYS late to meetings and just don’t show up when it’s raining. This cultural norm has taught me to be more flexible in many areas of life. I always have a book or knitting with me when I have to wait for something. Patience is key. My schedule is always unpredictable, which definitely keeps it interesting.

But I’ve also said yes to friendship. Natural wonder. Adventure. Cliff jumping. Fried chicken and rice and peas. Sunburns. Beaches. Pickney. Smalling up. Emotional highs and lows. Sweat (seriously. An outrageous amount of sweating.).

When I joined Peace Corps, I said ‘no’ to…

Any hope of a normal life (I was on fire with my one-liners at MSC). And yet, there is a kernel of truth to it. I am FOREVER changed because of the Peace Corps. I often quip that I joined the Peace Corps because I’m afraid of the “real world.” But if this life in Jamaica, with its poverty and hardship, isn’t real, I don’t know what is. I can guarantee you that RPCVs the world over rarely met your definition of “normal.” We’re always going to seek out adventures and worthy causes and we can definitely take a bath using only a glass of water.

So I’ve said no to looking at waste the same. To some freedom. To thinking that I had it rough. To taking “things” for granted. To being present at my friends’ milestones at home. To hot showers. To looking at tourism the same way.

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About Elizabeth Riley

It's the wonders I'm after, even if I have to bleed for them.
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