I have officially been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zaña, Lambayeque, Peru for an entire year! Honestly, the year has slipped by faster than I could have ever imagined and it still feels like time is escaping me.
It’s been a great year. I have integrated into a wonderful family, whom I now consider to be my own family. I have made lifelong friends and have gotten to know countless other beautiful people. I have pushed myself beyond my comfort zones and I have gotten to know “Ellen” better, and even discovered some new things about myself. I have had opportunities to travel to beautiful places in Peru and to get to know the unique cultures.
But it hasn’t been without bumps along the way. I’ve suffered through extremely low self-confidence, I have dealt with unforeseen circumstances, I have survived parasites and a variety of other random sicknesses, and I have powered through some serious homesickness.
After all that has happened, and trust me a lot has gone down, I think it is important that I reflect on this past year and a few important things that I have learned (and that I bet most volunteers have learned)
Cold showers are hard.
After 15 full months of bathing in cold water, I could say that I am “used” to it. Which in no way in hell means that I enjoy it. I’ll admit that a cold shower during the summer, when it is insufferably hot in Zaña, is nice. But, unless I am on the verge of heat stroke, I prefer HOT showers. However, I can’t say that I would actually shower more if I had hot water daily, as I have always been a little bit cochina.
I LOVE food, but I don’t love all food.
I have discovered that I am a pretty picky eater, and I always thought I was that type of person that could eat literally anything. WELLLL I can’t and I usually don’t.
Whether literally or figuratively, there has never been a truer phrase. More often than not something randomly comes up (or out 😉) and you’re forced to solve the issue on the spot. That’s life.
FOMO is real.
Social media/the Internet has allowed me to be a spectator in the lives of my family and friends who are so far away. Living vicariously through the endless photos and snapchats, and being able to FaceTime whenever, is great. I’m basically right there with y’all. But, there are times that my heart physically aches from wanting to be a part of the action or drama so badly.
I think the unique Peace Corps job/life situation breeds this weird type of judge-y environment. There are a lot of volunteers who spend their time concerning themselves with the lives of other volunteers, myself included. Some volunteers think they’ve figured it ALL out and know EVERYTHING there is to know. However, circumstances for every single volunteer are significantly different, even if they’re site mates. Because of that, comparing yourself to someone else or judging someone else is 100% useless. Don’t waste your time concerned with the life someone else is living. Just live yours.
Network. Network. Network
We’ve all heard countless times that networking is important and that couldn’t be more true for Peace Corps volunteers. PCVs definitely need solid relationships to get work done. It has always mattered who you know and it will always matter who you know.
Listening is crucial.
The job description for a Peace Corps volunteer calls for action. PC wants results, which typically are in the form of numbers, and our work is driven by this need to produce results. But, how do we know what results are needed unless we actively listen? I’m still learning how to do this.
Accountability is important.
Holding oneself accountable, especially in this line of work, is important. Peace Corp is structured so that volunteers are essentially their own bosses. We obviously have to inform our bosses about the work we are doing, but at the end of the day we answer to ourselves. While this structure functions well, I sometimes get lost it in. I tend to be honest when admitting to what I have or have not done, but sometimes I fail to recognize and understand the consequences. And I fall into the excuse trap regularly here in Zaña. When looking at the big picture, having two full years to complete projects seems like an eternity. But as the months pass by, I regularly find myself thinking, “I could have done more,” and then letting myself off the hook with a few excuses. Hindsight and retrospect are helpful in learning from mistakes, but accountability is key. At the end of the day, I want to be able to say I did all that I could today because this matters to me. That’s what accountability is: the acknowledgment of your actions and the assumption of the responsibilities. I’m still working on it.
Be grateful, especially in times of hardship.
We all have so many things to be grateful for, but sometimes we lose site of this when we feel like we are sinking or struggling. Take time to be grateful, take time to remind yourself off all that is good.
SOO at the end of a full year in Zaña, and more than a full year in Peru, despite all the times I have said, “I literally cannot,” I actually can! I have made it through living in conditions that seem hotter than hell, through pooping my pants, through not really understanding or speaking the language, through countless sleepless nights because my neighbours partied until the crack of dawn, through mountains of rice, through way too many cups of Inca Kola, and many more random things that have happened along the way. And I have come out absolutely loving Peru and the community I live in.
A lot of things have changed in my life over the last year, including me. I hope I’ve changed for the better, I think I have. I thought it was cheesy and cliche when reading other PC Blogs about how “changed” people were. But, it’s true. Something about this experience changes you, and then that pretty much changes everything else.
For this next year ahead, all I can ask of myself is that I live and I learn. That everyday I do at least one Peace Corps thing, that I put myself out there and try to break from my comfort zones and hopefully I can give back as much as I am taking away. I am eternally grateful for this opportunity and this learning experience.