So I’m traveling. And I’ve been traveling for a while. And I’ll be traveling for a bit longer.
No, it’s not a metaphor; I’m doing a mini-tourney in the North to get some projects started and to do some research for my work partner, It’s been a blast getting up here again (I haven’t been North of Parakou since tech week during stage), but it’s been a jarring reminder of how different my Peace Corps experience has been from that of most volunteers.
A typical week for me includes at least four days at the office. That’s 36 hours of working, most of which is spent sitting in front of a computer. My “day off” is spent at the Peace Corps office, running errands, and sitting through meetings for my secondary projects. Evenings are spent preparing for formations, cooking, receiving visitors, and working on secondary projects. Weekends are similar. The reality of my Peace Corps experience is upwards of 60 hours a week spent on PC business, and that number is only going to grow once my laptop arrives. Projects practically fall into my lap and it’s a rare day when I don’t have anything to do.
This is not a typical Peace Corps experience.
But how do I describe the difference? Here in the North, traveling, today was productive. I had a meeting with several cotton farmers. I was able to make it to an Internet connection. I worked through some problems regarding training with a fellow PCV. And this afternoon I’ll get some more work done on the classes I’ll be teaching next week. Then I won’t accomplish anything else until Monday afternoon, when my next meeting will be.
During training, they tell us to be happy if we can accomplish one task a day, understanding that it’s hard to track people down, hours can be wasted waiting for meetings, and planning activities in a foreign culture takes time. But in Cotonou, if I were to limit myself to just one thing a day, I’d never get anything done!
The pace of life is radically different once you leave the city, and it’s easy to see how so many volunteers fall into the trap of being content with “good enough.” The reality, however, is that your service is what you make of it, and if you choose to do nothing, well, you’ve taken the place of somebody who maybe would have put more effort into helping your village improve their quality of life. And that sucks.
I dunno. I guess I’m just frustrated with other volunteers who come down to the city and talk about how cushy my post is. I don’t really have a response to that, because how can I turn around and tell someone to their face that the trade-off is, oh, I don’t know, actually having to do real work? Not that other volunteers don’t work. They do! But . . . it’s pretty fucking insulting to have someone who only works 15 hours a week talk about how easy I have it.