The hang up: Peace Corps truth

I’m breaking the cardinal Peace Corps rule…never talk about what Peace Corps is truly like. It’s supposed to be rainbows and butterflies, with the occasional unicorn thrown in to make things seem all the more incredible.

And yes, sometimes there are unicorns…but never rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes really lovely things happen – I celebrate a holiday with my compound family, I see a kid from school on the street and we fist bump, a local shopkeeper/friend invites me over for šay/buna and I spend the entire day uncomfortably conversing with her family. These are my unicorns. But I haven’t seen enough unicorns lately.

Lately, all I can think about is my school’s apathy toward working with me on projects, the fact that I can’t remember a day when I didn’t kill a cockroach in my house, and the fear that I’ll catch pneumonia taking a cold shower on too cold a day.

These seem like little things. They are little things. But little things add up. I was going to see a unicorn today – I was going to make pancakes and I was so excited. Until I opened my tin of flour to find that moth worms had made their home there. And my first thought – maybe I can pick them out and still use the flour? I quickly noticed they had spun webs throughout the entire tin.

And then I realized that twelve months ago I never would have thought that flour could be salvaged. I would have been repulsed, thrown the tin in the garbage, and then gotten my money back. I’ve lived in Ethiopia too long. There are some things you need to suck up and deal with, and there are other things you should never have to deal with. I’ve had to deal with too many of those things in Ethiopia.

So today I had my first serious discussion about leaving Ethiopia since my super sick days my first month here. The more I talked, the more shocked I was by how much I truly want to leave and how little there is keeping me here.

I don’t want to let my schools down, but they’ve done nothing but let me down. I still want to encourage a love of literature in my students, but I have doubts as to whether that will continue once my service ends next year. I’ll miss my compound family and the few Ethiopian friends I’ve made here, but is that worth losing my sanity? I don’t want to let down my fellow volunteers – and let’s face it, where will people stay when they come to Hawassa if I’m gone : ) But I also know they, more than anyone, would understand.

I don’t want those who said I couldn’t do this to be proven right…though by this point, the question isn’t “can” I? It’s why the hell should I? I came here to find myself, reinvent myself. Who says that has to take two years? Maybe it only takes one. So the only hang up I have left is regret. If I leave early, will I regret it? That’s the only question no one else can answer for me. It’s the one I have to ponder over the upcoming weeks. I’ll let you know what I decide…

*In the time between writing this and having the internet to post it I have realized that I need to get out of town for the weekend. So a lovely volunteer has offered to let me crash at her place. We’re going to make pancakes (sans the worms), watch The Sound of Music, and drink a lot of wine. Who knows, maybe this is all I need? Here’s hoping…

  1. I think we all have times we think like this, I know I do. Welcome to your mid-service crisis? I’m sure I’ll be arriving there shortly. Let’s do our best!

  2. Ashley, I have a friend who went over to China for two years and as her first year is coming to a close she is asking herself the same questions, should I stay? She is a strong feminist and China is still a male dominated society that seems most woman as frail creatures that need to be taken care of, she hates it. There are plenty of other things such has pollution, finding it hard to stay a vegetarian, and hating the work she is actually doing. She is most likely going to stay until the end but that is because she is stubborn and needs to see something through to the end. Sadly this doesn’t mean she will be happy, she is miserable now and will probably be more miserable by the time next year rolls around. She went to go try something new and found she hated it.

    Maybe for you it will be worth it to stay, maybe things will get better, maybe they will stay the same, or maybe they will get worse. In graduate school there are days or weeks even where people get frustrated and think about just quitting everything. It is a ridiculous amount of work and it seems that no one notices or cares of all the work you are doing. What keeps people going is the never ending belief that what they are doing is important and means something or the very rare instance when someone recognizes all the hard work you are doing and calls you out for it. Some people do realize graduate school isn’t for them and find something else to do. What I am trying to say is maybe you are just going through one of these patches where you have fallen into a pattern and you are getting frustrated but it could pass and you will be better for it on the other side. Sadly if it does continue it could be possible you are no longer getting from the experience what you expected or wanted.

    I am sorry what I said mostly made no sense at all and was mostly my ramblings, but I support you in whatever choice you make! I always have a space for you to come visit me in Maryland!

  3. Ashley, as a fellow PCV who can understand what your going through, you should know that you won’t be letting fellow volunteers down if you decide a second year here is not what you want. However, I too have been thinking similar things off and on and I feel like it is something we all go through and have to think about. I remember telling my recruiter in Chicago that even if none of my projects work out if I can just put a smile on someone’s face I will feel like I have done my job. It is not always easy here and you know that but this experience is about more than having successful projects at our schools. It is about kindling the fire and putting ideas into the bright minds of people that usually won’t have someone to guide them and encourage them to do their best in school, etc. In the end, the decision is yours to make. You have a whole gang of fellow PCVs behind you to support you in whatever you decide. Hang in there and let me know if you need anything.

  4. We’ve been in Guatemala for 4 1/2 years now (I’m a friend of your mom’s) so I can totally relate to your frustrations. You go through things other people can’t even dream of. And it’s too hard to explain to them. Then if we try, they say we’re complaining. They don’t get it that the thing we just explained was maybe 5% of the things we went through just that morning. Soooo, what I’m saying is, I understand what you are going through! If you decide to go back home and people bash you for not finishing, those are people you don’t need in your life (and ask them when’s the last time they took a cold shower). I hope your weekend away will give you some perspective as to what you should do. Just remember that you didn’t rush into this decision, so you shouldn’t rush out of it either, or you might end up with regrets. You’ve accomplished so much, grown so much, endured so much, that you are strong enough to endure another 2-4 weeks to make sure you are making the right decision (as opposed to rushing into a decision based on emotions). Maybe things will turn around in that time. Maybe you’ll decide it’s time to go home. But you’ll know it was a well-thought-out decision that you can live with. I’ll be praying you’ll know what you should do. God bless!!

    1. Wow Sherri – 4 1/2 years! How have you managed? I really appreciate your response because you’re right, most people don’t understand. But it’s always nice talking to people who do. And my weekend away definitely helped…it made me realize if I could survive these last 13 months here, I can make it another few until school starts up again and I then can decide if another year will be worthwhile.

    2. I’m so glad your get-away helped!!! It’s amazing what a break will do!

      … And it was good for me TOO to talk to someone who understands!!

      Hang in there, and God bless!! =]

  5. So, I got home and read your blog. OK tooooo many animal references.
    1. “Unicorns” are your “lovely things”, to make things more incredible, what picks you up, wonderful unexpected surprises.
    2. “Butterflies”. What would these be to you? You never said. The pretty things? Or things that fly around in your stomach? The catharis/change/transformation that grows something/someone into somethlng/someone more beautiful. Or the wondering what is going to happen after/be like after the change – exciting but “unsur-ity” of the future.
    3. Cockroaches – I seem to remember a story of your stay in Mexico, when a cockroach stuck its head out of your hole at the knee in your jeans. Have you had any screams as loud as that time??
    4. Mothworms – Do these grow into moths? You know some moths have funny stories. Marty and Martha the Moth needed funerals when Susie, Susan, and I went skiing in Northern Minnesota years ago. I laughed so hard, that some boys later came to our room and asked us (or Susie’s dad, I think) if we had any beer.

    Don’t look at others (they can be animals too)- what they’ll think, who’s right or wrong, who’s being let down. This is you, and what you and God want for you. The rest of the world doesn’t matter.

    But then there are the rainbows- God’s promises. He’ll never make you endure the storm alone. Beautiful rainbows come out after the rain – some are faint and some are bright, and at times you can see more than one rainbow at a time. Some rains are soft and relaxing, others come down harder that are cleansing, and other rains can be torential outpourings! But He’s with you through it all.

    PS The Sound of Music is one of my favorite musicals. Sit back, enjoy it and SING along with it, especially “Doe”,Ray,Me,Fa,Sew,La,TEA,”Doe” (“more animals”) like you used to do when standing on the picnic tables as your stage. Sorry – I get to embarrass you as much as I want-that’s a parent’s prerogative.
    [Oh yeah-wine??? Is that the Bellini you bought in Italy???, maybe you should stick to TEA]

    1. Oh Mother : ) It was definitely not a “tea” weekend. But we did sing Doe Rae Me Fa Sew La Tea Doe quite loudly. Thanks for your support…and embarrassing reminders of my youth (the singing on tables and screaming in Mexico). I’ll let you know if I see any rainbows any time soon : ) Love you.

  6. Hi, Ashley. I’m Joe, your mom’s cousin, your grandpa’s brother’s (Bob) son. I spent 10 months in Senegal during college and can relate to what you are experiencing, kind of, you are already two months past me.

    I agree with some other commenters, take your time with this decision. Remember, choosing to go home can be delayed, but not undone. You have to ask yourself, “What is the worst case scenario of staying?” and “Will that be easier or more difficult to live with than the regret of leaving early?”

    Just my two cents. Good luck!

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