JAN 26, 2010
When I was in training, Peace Corps gave out this chart that depicted the emotional state of a PC volunteer over their 27 month service. The first couple of months were spastic up and downs; happiness due to shock and denial, sadness due to homesickness and culture shock. This pattern then repeats in an elongated form over the next two years with terrible lows occurring around the 3 month, 1 year and 2 year points and extreme highs usually following a few months later. Like everyone else I looked at this chart and scoffed. As if everyone reacted to this crazy ride in the same predictable way.
Then around the 3rd month of being out at site I started feeling down. I rationalized it with all sorts of excuses and reasons; I missed my family, it was stupidly hot all day and night in my town, my language wasn’t improving, on and on. As I tend to do when I get depressed I called some of my PC buddies. Guess what? Sadness, anger, depression… everyone was predictably low just like me. We all told ourselves that we were just anxious to get to IST (in-service training, a week long training where once again we would all be together to laugh and have fun). Went to IST, had some fun, but still got back to site feeling kind of down. Then one day I was just sitting out in my front yard making a cup of tea for breakfast and it was like it just clicked… “I’m happy right now”. Nothing had happened, nothing had changed, I was just happy.
The next 9 months passed by with little ups and downs, some really low moments but nothing long lasting. Then the one year point hit. Predictably I went down…and down… and down. I called my friends; most were on their way down too. We laughed it off, “isn’t it frustrating to be so predictable!” we yelled. Some people took a trip back home, some hid from the world, some people met up for the holidays. I buried myself in work. Started new projects, fixed up my house, met with everyone and anyone who could possibly use my help.
The one year point passed. I still felt down, so I came up with new excuses. My projects were hitting a brick wall, I had been alone for the holidays, I was sick, on and on. In the last few weeks I started to wonder though, what if this isn’t a phase? What if this is just the way I feel because I don’t want to be here anymore? What if it was time to go home? Called my friends, some were still down, some were questioning leaving, and a few were happy-ish. We laughed it off, “were still so predictable!” but I didn’t feel better.
Then yesterday I was getting some donkey water to do my laundry. Just like I always do I waited down by the big river, hollered “hey donkey, what up? Got time to bring me some water” he checked with his human and said “no worries, we’ll follow you home”. Got home, set up my laundry room outside and got to washing. Now there is nothing fun about doing laundry here. My clothes are always beyond dirty because I wear them for weeks at a time, I’ve got to be bent over for hours, and I had to wash jeans in this load which is beyond hard to do by hand. But somewhere between pair of jeans one and pair of jeans two I started to feel…good?
After the laundry I decided I should get some clean drinking water since I hadn’t had anything to drink all day. This means walking down to the river in the hot sun which is at the bottom of a steep hill making the truck back home a sweaty, frustrating endeavor. On the walk down I smiled, for no reason, I just smiled. It was a clear day, the coffee trees look pruned and healthy, a kid ran by and just said ‘hello’ with no further annoying conversation. I smiled again. I got down to the river, a ton of people were there but no one yelled “Jaaili duufe! Jaaili duufe!” (Gail’s coming! Gail’s coming!) as I made my final decent down to the water spring. They just waved and said hello and went back to their business. I played with some kids, tickle games and tag while I waited and smiled some more. Got my water, walked home, sweaty and tired but feeling…good?
Since I didn’t have any charcoal to make dinner I decided to take a quick shower then go out for dinner. Cold bucket bath felt good since I was so hot and I put on a clean shirt just for fun. Walking to dinner I got the typical “Akkam Jaaili? Faayadha?” (How’s it going?) but instead of getting annoyed with the repetitive catcalls I just smiled and nodded in recognition, answering to every few people. All of a sudden in clicked… “I’m happy right now.” I actually stopped walking and just looked around for a second, nothing had changed, I didn’t have a great day at work, I didn’t find an extra couple of birr in my pocket; I just feel happy.
From there I had the best dinner in months, a little ‘bayeenet’ with a coke. Came back home, finished a good book and went to bed. For the first time in weeks I fell asleep without the help of Gouder or Tylenol PM.
Now it’s morning and guess what? I still feel happy. What a crazy ride this is.