Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Join the Peace Corps

Every Peace Corps blogger has to at some point give an endorsement of the experience. I’ve been waiting to give mine until I had finished the parts people say are most difficult – training and the first three months in site. Well, I am six months in site now, almost seven, and I can honestly say that I highly, highly recommend this experience. If you are reading this and thinking about applying, or if you’ve applied and are deciding whether to actually do it, here is my advice to you: DO IT. Especially if you are a bit older, as in older than 22. At 28 I am the oldest volunteer in my group who is not a retiree. But I actually think that the 4 or 5 years I have on most of my colleagues make a difference in a good way.

I think I’ve said before in this blog that I view this whole experience as a sort of extended meditation. It is a meditation in the sense that I simply cannot escape myself, and so I am forced to deal with what I am finding out about myself (mostly good, but not all). Also, the task of trying to help people is profoundly spiritual in that it causes you to constantly question everything you thought was true. Any time I think it is important for someone else to change their behavior – whether it be to start eating more vegetables, to grow a garden, or to wash their hands more thoroughly – I have to ask myself, “Why do I think this is important? Does this other person think this is important? If not, why not?” I have learned to really resist the urge to lecture, or to be the annoying gringa who’s always saying, “You know, in the United States we do this better.”

Apart from being a great spiritual challenge the Peace Corps has been great for my writing. In between gently coaxing people into working with me – basically drinking lots of sweet coffee and sugary fruit-based beverages in people’s homes – I have plenty of time to work on my novel. (Yes, I am writing a novel.) I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but I do want to give a little sampling. The whole thing came out of the question, “What would it take for things in the suburban US to work the way they work here in Nicaragua?” From there I invented an adventure story based on a family that has been separated.

Outside, Steve heard a noise. A pickup truck was driving slowly past the house. A man with a megaphone sat in the truck bed hawking wares. “Batteries! Electronics! We have walkmans, we have solar panels! We have blenders, toasters, radios!” Some of the neighbors had come out to take a look. The truck pulled to a stop in front of the next door neighbors’ house.
“Hey, Judy, do we need anything from the electronics truck?” Steve asked.
“No, nothing I can think of.”
Steve decided to check out the merchandise anyway. He knew the family that ran this particular business. The man with the megaphone was the son of the man driving the truck. The driver was a tinkerer who had spent his whole life collecting broken appliances and parts, thinking that one day they would come in handy. Finally, they had.

Outside, a small crowd of neighbors had gathered to look at the goods. The back of the truck looked like a junkyard. Toasters were piled up in one corner, blenders and food processors in another. The metal railings around the truck bed were lined with wires and cables and cords of all description. There were old television sets and laptop computers. Anything you could imagine, as long as it had a plug. Steve felt nostalgic looking at all of these appliances and electronics. Some of the toasters must be at least 30 years old. Even the older laptops looked like antiques. The sheer abundance of the stuff reminded him of a time when people plugged in whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to and didn’t think twice about it.

Like I said, just a taste. And if anyone reading this knows anything about book publishing, give me a holler.

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