I’m Dreaming of a Home For Christmas

Christmas is right around the corner and I haven’t even had time to think about sleigh bells in the snow. The stress of searching endlessly, fruitlessly, and constantly for a house is wearing on me. This month has been incredibly trying and it looks like it won’t give up. I’ve been given a deadline, I have to find a house by the end of the month or else I’m moving to another town.

This month is probably one of the hardest possible to look for houses. First we had the election, which means we couldn’t leave for 5 days. Then I had my midservice medical, which took me out of the hands on loop for half a week. Now Christmas is a coming.

If I can’t find a house, I’ll be shipped off to another town. I know this other town, hell I even really like it. There is just one small problem. It would take me a very long time to find any work to do there. My new project partners are not in that town. I wouldn’t have a counterpart. I wouldn’t have a local work partner. I would be out there all alone, looking for something to do in a town of over 80,000 people. Peace Corps works because most volunteers are placed in small communities. It is easy to find out how you can help, because there is a smaller amount of people. The first three months of your service are spent surveying people, learning about their issues, and working with them to establish a game plan for how you can help.

I just have one extra problem. I only have a year left. Less than that now. Cashew season ends in June. We aren’t allowed to start new projects in our last three months. What’s a girl to do?! If I don’t have a real job to do, an accessible, working project partner, or easy access to people I can help – then what’s the point? I know myself, looking for the people I need without a guide in a town that big is too overwhelming. It is like trying to find a needle in a haystack and then hoping that needle fits the thread you are using.

I could always do something else. I could move to a small village and become a true farmer, but let’s be honest. I’m not helping anyone by doing that. I know how to harvest cashews, I know what methods work best for improving yields. But I can’t hold a chainsaw, I sucked at grafting. The first time I ever really planted something was during our training. I’m useless as a farmer, the only agriculture background I have is what I have learned here. Yes, I could teach people business literacy skills, how the global market works, how India impacts their cashews, but that isn’t something you teach everyday for a year.

Alright I admit it, I’m panicking. I only have a year left. I’m starting over. I don’t know where anymore. I feel like my skills are so specific now that it is hard to put me anywhere. I’m good at consulting, helping people to discover how they can improve their services. But finding somewhere to do that, with a group of people, with just a year left. Not possible.

The thought then crosses my mind – why don’t I just completely start over. Why don’t I just re-enlist so to speak. Start completely over in a different country. But I can’t do that, that would still be quitting.

How am I supposed to help? How do I wrap my mind around all of this? How do I do it without panicking? I’m constantly on the verge of tears and I don’t know how to stop them. When I am stressed or upset, I cry, I cry a lot. It helps me to have a physical emotional release for all the stuff bottled up inside. When I get to this point though, when I am stressed past the breaking point, I just keep falling deeper and deeper inside this hole. And I feel like I’m just sinking. I think this is my breaking point. I think I am currently in it. I’m fighting everything possible to keep from tipping over into despair. I want to have hope that this will all be resolved quickly and easily, but how, how can I feel that?

I need to have some sort of control over situations. I have absolutely zero control at this point. I have done everything I can do and now it is up to others. There is a possible house for me. It is perfect. Great location, very nice place, super great neighbors, and the landlord is trying to perform a miracle for me. Unfortunately, time is not on my side and Christmas is throwing a wrench into my plans. If action is not taken today, then I will most likely lose the house and my last hope.

Things work out for a reason. I have to accept that.

Then there is another thing stressing me out. Other Volunteers. Everyone wants to hear what happened, everyone wants to give me their input on what I should do. Everyone has their own opinions of what their Peace Corps service should look like. We all view Peace Corps service in a different way. Everyone has different reasons for joining as well. Generally, we judge each other based on how productive we are. I hate to admit it, but it is true. If you do too much, others consider you “a super volunteer” and it makes everyone pissy, it makes everyone else look bad. If you never spend any time at site and only do Peace Corps club related things, people will wonder what you are even doing in country. If you just sit around with the locals and haven’t really done any projects, other Volunteers think of you as a useless Volunteer.

But you see, Peace Corps is a different. We have three goals – train locals, share our culture, and share local culture with you. The only person who can measure success is yourself. If you think you have been a successful volunteer, that’s all that matters. During staging, you develop indicators for how you measure success. Each indicator is unique to you alone. It is not healthy to judge other volunteers on their success, yet we all do it.

I recently had a conversation, which involved someone else telling me what I should do with my service. How I could be a better volunteer. How I could do more. I didn’t realize I wasn’t doing enough. For the most part, I love to get feedback on how I can improve. How I can become a better, more productive person. However, in my current state of stressed out, homelessness, with no real site, no job, and no nothing, I didn’t appreciate this feedback. How on earth am I supposed to be a better Volunteer when I don’t even know anymore where I am living? But now I have this awful seed planted in my brain – am I a bad Volunteer? Am I not doing enough? I have had a month at an office, but what have I really done? I could be doing more, I guess I wasn’t doing enough before. I should take on more stuff so that I don’t feel guilty for doing little. What if my community could have learned so much more from me, but I didn’t share all my knowledge with everyone? I haven’t written any grants, I haven’t brought anything physical to my community – does that make me a bad Volunteer?

So, if you are keeping tally:

Not sure if my new site will be my new site
If I have to move again, how will I find work
Possible new house, needs money by Monday otherwise shit
Looming deadline
Not having control over the situation
Am I a bad Volunteer?
Money issues – no matter where I go I have to buy everything for my kitchen again
I’m still sick
Mid-service blues
Friend troubles

Those are my current stressors. Not to mention I haven’t been alone since the end of November, and sometimes you just need to be alone.

I keep taking deep breaths. I know that everything will work out. I refuse to go home early. I am strong and I will make it through. Friends and family back home, your support throughout this ordeal has been ever so appreciated. It helps to know that no matter where I am, I can rely on the love of my family and friends.

Completely off topic, but I had a dream last night that I went to a grocery store in America. I spent at least 5 minutes freaking out about butter. I was so excited to see butter, to hold it, to hug it, to put it in my basket.

I bought a tub of chocolate yesterday. I might just want copious amounts of movies today and eat a tub of chocolate. After all the world ends today. I might as well enjoy it.


4 thoughts on “I’m Dreaming of a Home For Christmas

  1. I also encountered ‘friend troubles’ too- to be honest leading up to the break in at my old site- I was pretty miserable at my site for a variety of reasons… and like most volunteers I vented a lot (I was totally an ‘Ariel’ volunteer) so I burned a lot of bridges with volunteers- after all if you’re miserable it’s pretty easy to make people around you miserable too(especially when they’re going through their own struggles/issues too). I just wish more people could realize how genuinely happy I am now- at my new home. 🙂

    I just wanted to let you know- it’s okay to E.T. It really is! If you really want too- seriously! I know everyone judges E.Ters but, each of us comes to that point in our service where we hit roadblocks and some of them we just can’t cross. If I had been forced to stay at my old site- I totally would have E.T’d because there’s nothing more important than your sense of security(and yes- I was homeless and living in a classroom for a time too!) and your sanity(and like you I felt like I had zero control and I was also a basket-case filled with emotions)… and if you feel like you’re losing either of those- than it’s time to go home.

    And if you do decide that’s what you need to do- it’s not your fault you had to ET. Just so you know- none of this is your fault. It really isn’t.

    Honestly, part of my stick it out mentality at my old site- came from other volunteers and it wasn’t helpful in my situation where things seemed to go from bad to worse on a daily basis… and where I had to try to convince myself everyday that somehow my suffering would be worth everything in the end. The final straw in my case was when I had a break-in at my apartment which resulted in me being homeless(in which I had legitimate reasons to ask for a site change- lack of housing being one of them).

    Volunteers encounter all sorts of problems (some of us are more unlucky than others)… and a lot of success service- depends on ‘luck’ like the people you’re placed with, the people you work with(especially your counterpart), and the community you’re living in(wether there accepting of you or not)-wether volunteers or the Peace Corps. decide to acknowledge that (it’s true).

    I made the decisions I deemed best for my sanity, sense of security, and fulfillment. All I can suggest is for you to do the same… and judge for yourself if this is a roadblock worth sticking out. Starting over can be difficult, and scary but sometimes it can also be the best thing for you too.

    Second time around at my new site- I actually feel like a fulfilled volunteer and as though I’m contributing a lot to my host country more than I ever did before(and I regret that I had to spend the first 6 months in my host country feeling as though I was doing anything but). It also helps when the kids greet me each day with their super cute “Miss Kimberly”‘s! in their thick accents.

    Just make the best decisions for you– and don’t let anyone tell you- you should do anything different. Hang in there! And don’t worry no matter what you choose to do everything little thing is gonna be alright 😉

    (ZERO JUDGEMENT. Here ;))

    • Thank you so much for your advice. I started crying (clearly) while reading your words. It is so much easier to panic and stress than it is to breathe and calmly, rationally walk through the forest of Peace Corps. It doesn’t help either when your in-country support system is either broken or checked out for Christmas vacation.

      I’m glad things are working out for you at your new site. May your Christmas be white! No snow here in Africa 🙂

      • I just had to comment- It sounds like we both had a string ‘unlucky’ moments in our host countries- homelessness, lack of fulfillment at our sites, (safety issues in my case), etc- very similar situations even though we’re separated by oceans and continents.

        The Peace Corps. really is one crazy global family- filled with ups and downs… and struggles(regardless of geography). But, the good news is- you’ll eventually stop falling down that rabbit hole you’ve found yourself stuck in… you really will. (I know I did:)) Merry Christmas to you too and once again, ‘hang in there’- everything thing is going to be okay no matter what you choose- it really will!

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