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First Day Back

In the "Cult of Escapism": First Day Back

Friday, January 20, 2012

First Day Back

I went to sleep excited and woke up covered in reality. Oh shit, I'm back in it. Traveling back from vacation with my family in the Philippines, worried that I would emotionally resist my return to Peace Corps life. Waking up, I realized it was much more mundane – I wasn't bummed about being back in the jungle, back in the Peace Corps, I was just bummed about coming back from vacation.

But then, that happens every time right? You wake up the Monday after a good vacation and think, “Damn, I gotta go to work today and … work. Shitty.” Shitty indeed. But if you're ever excited to come back from a vacation, you probably need to take better vacations.

So I wake up in Soloy, not entirely happy but at least feeling justified in my negativity. Now a “seasoned” volunteer (with over a year of service), I've found that on depressing days, housework can do a lot to make you feel better. In a job with mostly intangible victories, housework is a great way to string together multiple, tiny, totally tangible victories in the span of a few hours. Sweeping the floor, fixing the window, organizing the desk, cleaning the black carbon off the bottom of the pots – tiny tangibles. And they feel good. After a few hours of such productive distractions, I realize it doesn't help to be back in the community if I spend the entire day in my house. Drawing up a calendar for January, I left looking to fill the days and thus calm my ever present concern that I'm not doing enough.

It's nice to see everyone and as I expected, it's not difficult to catch up on what I missed. “How was your New Year's?” “Good.” “Did you kill a pig?” “Yes” or “No.”

Done. I can fill in the blanks – those who drink, drank for three straight days on and around New Year's and punched each other in the face and those who didn't stayed in their homes and tried to avoid errant face punches. This is part of why I didn't feel guilty leaving my town for the holidays.

As I continue my walk around town, my calendar slowly fills with invitations to meetings, requests for assistance with ___, and social events. I'm feeling good about my imminent productivity, until a man I vaguely recognizes approaches me,
“Did you give the lesson on accounting?”
I hesitate and realize that he's talking about a lesson I gave about eight months ago. “Yes.”
“You said you would follow up with us personally but you never came to my store.”


“Well, where is your store?” I'm expecting him to name a distant town. There were a few store owners that lived several hours from me and didn't have cell phones and I never quite got the motivation to walk out there and have a family member tell me they were gone for the day.

“Right there” he replies, pointing to a store that I walk by almost every day.

Guilt and confusion struggle for Most Prevalent Feeling as I wonder how I could have overlooked him and why it took him so long to call me out. I apologize and we pick a day to work together.

That was a bummer, but also basically an anomaly. I've been very careful about following up on my work and especially at keeping promises. Then I get to Emerita's house.

Right from the beginning, she seems pouty. By now, I know that means that I didn't do something I was supposed to. Usually, this means some kind of cultural error – I didn't eat all of the food they gave me; I didn't show up at her daughter's birthday party; I waited too long between house visits – and I figured it was probably my absence at her New Year's party. I explained where I had been and felt exonerated, until I looked at my calendar and realized that before I left for vacation, I was supposed to help her with inventory management. I had totally blown her off. Shit. Two in one day? The past was haunting me worse than Ebeneezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve.

We planned a meeting but by now, I was feeling pretty shitty. What am I doing here if I'm not helping the people? How can I call myself a good volunteer if, in the same hour, I get called out for blowing two people off? These kinds of thoughts are extremely dangerous because they generally lead to other, similar thoughts that drag you into a spiral of self-doubting depression.

Within a half hour, I'm thoroughly guilty and thoroughly blue. Bugs and heat are annoying but feeling useless is what crushes volunteers and causes them to quite. I shuffle home and can only think of sitting in my outdoor hammock and staring at the banana trees. This is a bad idea. Luckily, I keep it together enough to remind myself that this is a bad idea and that I absolutely need to do something more useful than tree-staring.

I exercise at home in order to get the endorphins and leave the house immediately afterward. The Peace Corps manual suggests getting out and talking to people when you're down and they're absolutely right. I visit my landlord and her family and they give me coffee and a bag of freshly picked beans to bring home. After 30 minutes of bullshitting with them, I'm already feeling better. I then go play volleyball, which is inherently a pretty social experience. Better still.

The final re-motivator shows up in the form of two tourists. They had contacted a community member, who had then asked me to greet them and make sure everything was cool. I've done this many times and didn't think too much about it, but then, during the conversation, they told me that they had heard about Soloy from a flyer in one of the hostels. “We were just looking for something less touristy.”

Amazing. The kinds of tourists we actually want found our flyer in a place that we deliberately put it!

This may sound obvious to you, but this was a big little victory for us. Additionally, they were excited about trying some of the activities listed on our flyer and the people in town were actually prepared. Well, mostly. But the point is, this is exactly the kind of situation we've been working towards. Tourists finding one of our ads, calling us ahead of time and then community members organizing their visit (as opposed to Laura and I).

It might never happen again, but it happened today, my first day back, and it saved me from the depression that comes when you feel worthless in your site.  


At January 25, 2012 at 3:17 PM , Blogger Lara said...

Sounds to me that you ate doing good work

At January 25, 2012 at 3:18 PM , Blogger Lara said...

Are doing, not ate doing


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