This page has moved to a new address.

Personal Days and the Back to Site Blues

In the "Cult of Escapism": Personal Days and the Back to Site Blues

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Personal Days and the Back to Site Blues

The air-con is up so high I’m shivering. I sit defiantly on the hotel bed in my boxers, refusing to put on clothes or turn the AC down. This is my personal protest against Panamanian weather – that merciless bastard that makes me sweat every day, but not today! I insist on being cold because I know that in minutes I’m headed back to site and it will be about a month till I return. The back-to-site blues settle in.

About once a month, I got to David, my closest city and the second largest in Panama, and spend the night in a cheap hotel that gives Peace Corps Volunteers a discount. In a day and a night, I grocery shop, eat food I otherwise can’t get, go to the movies, and spend a lot of time on the computer. This is called a Personal Day in the PC Handbook and we get two per month (honor system).They encourage us to “recharge” and return to site with Energizer Bunny-like dedication, until the battery fades (or until we run out of peanut butter).

Some crave healthy food or contact with stateside friends, but for me, meeting up with other volunteers is the real pull. I’m a very social, outgoing person, which is not a helpful trait in the Peace Corps. (Cue the tiny violins) It gets lonely living among people that don’t (maybe can’t) entirely understand you and I look forward to leaving not for internet but contact with friends. (You can put the violins away now).

So leaving the city after a personal day sucks sometimes. Boxers on, AC blasting, Law and Order: The One with Jeff Goldblum on the TV, and the AFC East standings on the computer, I check the clock and realize it’s time to return. I say by to other volunteers and get on the bus back to site.

The first two days can be hard. Electricity in the city reminds you that you’re unnecessarily exposing yourself to easily-solved hardships (like no light, intense heat, clothes that won’t dry, no Jeff Goldblum, etc.) and a few good meals remind you of the impending dietary monotony. Opening the door to your house reminds you that there’s no one there but unwanted critters. (Hey! I told you to put that violin away!)

How to recover? I wrote a whole blog post about that but the short answer is to get back to work. A lot of times (especially as my service progresses), I don’t get any back-to-site blues, because I’m busy. In those cases, a trip out is more like a deep breath – not strictly necessary but it feels good and helps re-regulate your breathing. This is how it should feel and being busy up to and after the trip out helps.

Conversely, days leading up to a trip are telling. If you’re restless with anticipation, that’s a bad sign (unless you’re out of peanut butter – that’s a true emergency). Excitedly anticipating a vacation is one thing and totally natural for anyone, but fiending for that internet and air-con day? Steady, Jeff Goldblulm will still be there if you wait a few more days. Ideally, you’re working, making connections, killing spiders and BAM! that day out you planned is two days off and you barely noticed you just spent three weeks in site.

Some volunteers live for these days their whole service; I don’t know how they do it. This mentality is common your first few months but if you never get past it, I think you’re missing an integral part of your service.

Sometimes it sucks returning from city to site. Almost all of us volunteers grew up and have lived with a higher standard and a quick re-exposure to that standard can make our lives seem relatively depressing. Or it can give us the jolt (read: peanut butter) we need to keep walking and pounding the drum. Best case? While watching TV in our boxers we catch Independence Day, in English and return to site imaging that we are Will Smith and our work counterpart is Jeff Goldblum (“I don’t hear no fat lady!”).

What? Just me?


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home