August 3rd, 2005
|07:16 pm - oddly comfortable|
I have been meaning to comment on this for a while, so I have finally gotten around to it. I have thought a lot about the comfort level we seem to get to quickly with other volunteers. It seems it may simply be to due to them being other Americans, perhaps it is a perception of shared experiences, or maybe we have ideas about what kind of people join the Peace Corps.
The best example I can think of is the experience of practicum. We were the first group to get this experience and I highly recommend that Peace Corps does it again. Week 6 of training is actually spent at our permanent job sites. We get to meet our counterpart, supervisor and the other volunteers in our cities.
If this happened in America, I can only imagine the conversation you could have with a friend at the train station. Here you are, carrying pretty much all your worldly possessions and ready to board a train. Teh conversation proceeds as follows.....
“Do you speak the language?” your friend asks.
“Nope, not really.”
“Have you ever been there before, do you know what it will be like?”
“Nope, I know it’s in the North and I know its population size, that’s about it.”
“So how far away is it?”
“Do you know where you will get food?”
“Do you know who will be in your (small, closed) compartment for the next 27 hours?”
“So, do you know anything about your organization or your new boss, counterpart?”
“I know the name of the organization, does that count?”
“Where will you be staying?”
“With some volunteer named Ryan.”
“Do you know anything about him?”
“He’s a Kaz 15 and an education volunteer.”
“And you’re leaving half of your belongings where?”
“At his house.”
“So, to sum up, you are getting on a train, for 27 hours in a country you don’t know, to a city you know nothing about and you don’t really speak the language. Your meeting an organization, where you’ll work for 2 years that you know only the name and you will be living for 10 days with a guy you have never met and leaving your stuff at his house.”
“yep, that pretty much covers it.”
Realistically speaking, this would never happen in America. All of my Big City girl instincts would stay NO! What on earth do you think you are doing???? But, yet, in Kazakhstan, you don’t give it a second thought. Especially, as a woman, staying with a guy you have never met and know nothing about, sounds crazy. Yet, there is the whole, oh well, he’s a Peace Corps volunteer. As if there was some absolute certainty that the Peace Corps would not send you to live with a Psycho for 10 days. (I don’t think anyone had this experience, but who knows?)
As it turns out, it was perfectly fine, as far as I know Ryan is not a closet Psycho. My stuff was fine too. It really was mostly clothes, I don’t think he wore them, I haven’t asked. He did joke, when I came to pick up my stuff, that he tried to sell it, but no one wanted to buy it. Guess I got lucky.
It is really strange. It really becomes a no big deal issue to crash with another volunteer, even if you don’t know them. Especially, when traveling, it is so much cheaper to stay with someone than to rent an apartment or stay at a hotel. It’s not unusual. Even volunteers you do know, I would wager in America you would feel you did not know them well enough to crash at their house for a week. Maybe it’s just a Peace Corps thing. I don’t really have an explanation for why this comes about or why I (and others) did not worry.
I guess the same things could be said about our host families. We don’t know them, Peace Corps does interview them, but what of that. Our second night in country, when people could barely say hello in Russian we were packed off to a host families house where we would live for the next 10 weeks. You don’t really give it a second thought, it is simply how things are. When you start to think about it is just seems weirder and weirder. Just something to think about.