Apparently today I turned 25, making me a quarter of a century older, none the wiser, and if modern medicine or Apple Cloud technology keeps progressing at this pace, I may be 1/6 of the way through my life. Really holding out for some robot body parts come 2050 or just download me into some Robo-Cop exoskeleton need be. Also a few things have happened since my last post at the very beginning of Term 2 and my first few weeks into 2016. We are now well into Term 3 here at the school, it’s the beginning of May, and I am just under the 11 month mark with my service, as well as entering an age where I will be abroad for the largest section in my life thus far. Damn.
Some things have occurred big, small, weird, wild, and very unexpected. I was graced with the luck to have my amazing girlfriend visit for an entire 10 days, and give her some well-earned time away from teaching in Brooklyn, to help me teach within South Rivers. I am continually amazed by her, and her consistent positive impact she puts out daily within the school and lives of those of us who are lucky to be around her. Hopefully I can live up to the standard she provides children academically and emotionally, and I would consider it pure luck and a success if I could do nearly half of what she does.
Some things did occur on a mountain ( http://thevincentian.com/thank-you-from-an-appreciative-canadian-p10136-133.htm ) , I was also lucky to help with the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Rugby Union take on Jamaica in a World Cup Qualifying Match which was a great day for the sport and players of both islands. Fulfilling adventures full of challenges and my words won’t do nearly enough justice to exemplify the effort put forth by friends and teammates alike.
It has taken a lot of time to internalize and organize my thoughts and what I want to say about both service and the experience. I would be lying if this hasn’t been the most challenging Term and section of my service thus far. Inside and out the school there have been many challenges from child abuse physically/emotionally/academically, to violence (I am 100% safe but consistently worry about students who in many cases could be injured or worse from a stray bullet), but I continue to learn every day how lucky I am. I would also be lying too if I said I didn’t enjoy this experience, even the lowest lows reminds me how lucky I am to feel, utterly, organically, and foundation-ally these human emotions from frustration, anger, depth, clarity, and elation. The outpouring of birthday messages, love, and positivity online reminds me as to how lucky I not only was but am able to be a part of such a remarkable group of friends and family. I am seeing first hand that within your 20’s if you are lucky enough you really get to create the foundation of a tribe, unit, squad, but nonetheless ultimately a family. Also having a birthday in this modern age is a great way to be reminded of how we are all global citizens, when you can see how interconnected you are to folks at home and abroad withs peoples locations out in the open for all to see clear as day. Thank you internet and location services.
I would be lying completely for a third time if I said I was straying away from the keyboard entirely by accident. As someone who has seen a bout of depression, and seen friends/loved ones suffer from my own actions or their own battles with depression I am lucky enough to be able to read the storms on the horizon for both myself internally and others. PC would not be worthwhile if it wasn’t challenging to the volunteers, because we not only bring skills to the table abroad, but take these experiences back home into our lives, and work post service. Some of those experiences can be bad, and let me note I am considered extremely lucky with genetic dice roll being a white male in service and life in general. It is 1000 times harder for my friends who are females PCV’s, and generally woman in many facets of life from the workplace to the front porch, it may be 2016 but the gender gap is far from being closed yet inching closer every day from hardworking dedicated men and women who teach through their actions.
Why I strayed from writing was because I wanted to focus on service, and battle some internal storms stemming from issues inside and out of the classroom that were taking a toll on my mental health. Being awoken by a beating so loud in the street I could feel every smack even in my bed, hearing screams of animals being abused through my headphones whilst jogging, and the almost electric feel up your spine as you tense up when a gunshot cracks in the air and you for a split second bob downward closer to the ground. These experiences have effects on the children in the classroom, the look/feel of the landscape, and even deaths to those who have fallen through the cracks socially with the lack of health care, nutrition, or from violence. The part that gutted me the most was seeing seemingly disinterested staff or locals continuing on, or from my perspective numb to it all. I still have countless lessons to learn here. With more time spent here I get more of an understanding, and with that comes the reality of the complexity in many of these issues tied to poverty and lack of infrastructure. To deal with these internal debates and fight off “numbness” I am lucky enough to be able to compartmentalize by talking with my girlfriend (did I mention she’s amazing?), family, friends, locals, fellow PCVs, use art, exercise, Netlix, reading, cooking, hiking, and mental health down time to slowly release the pressure. That system stems from my own good and bad experiences, but it is a foundation vested in love. I was able and lucky to see, feel, as well as learn of love through the actions from my family and friends who were the teachers who gave me lessons to not only build self-love, but acceptance and fluidity of the self. It is utterly important to have love for yourself, and when you do have that down, you can begin to spread it to others.
We don’t get restarts, extra tokens, credit screens, or respawns, we wake as who we are, and there is always another step to be had even when we fall. Having a foundation of love, or doing the things that make us feel it or spread it towards others is that fuel that can bring about that next step when the last thing your body or mind wants to do is get out of bed. It’s a slap dashed belief system and something I will always keep in mind through the highest highs here in service, and use as fuel to pull me out of the lowest lows. There have been moments, days, even some weeks where I question “why am I here?” and “am I doing the right thing?” I joined the Peace Corps after the AmeriCorps program City Year to challenge myself, but also to pay it forward to my friends and family who had been there for me and imparted such love and passion into my life. It felt like the next logical step (if signing up for the PC could ever be a logical step) if I wanted to make a life out of helping others and experiencing the unknown. I joined for reason’s I felt were sound, but found, and am stilling learning that the biggest issues we face aren’t just the simple “lack thereofs” in life. Be it lack of food, shelter, pencils, paper, but facing the bigger systems, thoughts, and ideas that lead to stagnation, numbness, and lack of love of others or oneself.
The hardest aspects of service for me aren’t the logistical, infrastructural, transportation, resource, or “lack thereofs”, those are what I call “A to B issues”. Those can be: missing a type of food, feeling, friendships, loved ones, activities, or resource (pencils, paint, tacos, A/C, snow). “A to B” issues can get to a person over time, but can also be fixed directly either from attainment or change of venue. I knew that I would be leaving some amazing family, friends, and privileges signing up for this. Not only because of my race and gender, but life in general within a 1st word country has so many more types of support systems in place be it socially or the infrastructural systems. Leaving those things and people is also part of the bigger PC experience, because to better understand the issues a community faces you learn best through the grit and day to day nuances. These ultimately teach us about the innateness and strength of ourselves. Sacrificing those “A to B” assets in my life temporarily then internalizing them, and respecting them was something I was ready to do, and still don’t mind. Those issues don’t vex me the most, I felt ready to head to Rwanda, Mongolia, Vanuatu, Samoa or Kazakhstan eating goat hooves, chilling in mud huts, and not shaving when I was initially applying to the Peace Corps. When I found out about the EC I felt I could handle it on the “A to B” level, because when you get past those issues, you appreciate so much more of what you have, and have experienced. No mud huts, but I have had some run in’s with weird meat, and have accepted the Tom Hanks Castaway chic vibe fully.
The issue with the lady hurting herself on the mountain and carrying her down was no problem in my mind. I was lucky to be with Caroline, some friends, and the local Rastas who were immensely helpful (though for legal reasons they had to leave with their assets before the cops came). Carrying her down the mountain was a “A to B” issue, she needed to get down to get better, and is 100% easier than teaching illiterate students, imparting new techniques onto teachers on behavior and literacy, as well as navigating an educational system and national standard than has its hands tied directly to norms from imperial rule, and thus connected to slavery’s roots. It’s a mouthful and a half, and only touches the surface of the factors in play when doing development work, but highlights the complex nature.
We face countless issues that are utterly intangible in so many ways not only service, but education in it of itself, but it is also utterly and absolutely important for so many reasons to tackle them as directly as possible. Quality of life be it socially, physically, mentally, academically, even economically and politically are tied directly to having a well-educated competent population, and much of education’s foundation lies within literacy. To boost the literacy and education systems here we are up against intangible systems of belief, helplessness, and some parts of the culture itself. That is why we live here for 27 months so we can better understand these issues, and not reinvent the wheel, but rather impart something towards sustainability with local partners. The fires these systems and issues create will not be quenched overnight with some behavior charts, fresh paint, and flash cards. The impact will often be small by us on the ground, and may not even be felt or internalized until long after myself and others leave, but it is important nonetheless. The way in which other prior PCV’s within my site and around are spoken about highlights that long reaching ripple effect, ” I remember (Blank) teaching me how to play guitar.” ….”I remember cooking with them.”…”I limed with (Blank), he was a bad man! We mashed up the place!( That’s a good thing)”…”(Blank) taught me about basketball”….the list goes on and on, and shows how the impact PCV’s make is bigger than the project framework’s intention. It is one thing to impart change on people, it is another entirely to understand how important you affect others around you be it loved one, friends, family, or a community as a whole. That is bigger than the PC experience, that is a responsibility more folks need to see and feel more of to see the importance in themselves but the inter-connectivity we innately have together that is bigger than color, creed, belief, border, or gender.
These are just some of the thoughts, things, and ideas that have occurred these past few months. It is consistently a practice in adaptability, perspective, and sheer will within the Peace Corps experience. As I said goodbye to my friends who left this morning after celebrating my birthday yesterday, I was hit with a wave of thoughts as I went through my chores and working out. Whereas birthdays prior progressed from 3D movies with friends and parents, to Medieval Times, later towards cases, kegs, and drinking games, this year was much more subdued, but greater in what I am considering to be important now in my life. It took a pot for cooking, some space at the river, music, fire, a little rum, some elbow grease, and good company to remind me how lucky I am.
There is always a ton of pressure to have the most spectacular day on your birthday, but honestly it is a ton of hype. I prefer hosting a party or get together than being carried out like Jesus from the bar come last call. Not to say I haven’t worn those sandals, or won’t ever again, but this experience in the Peace Corps truly is pure uncut, thick, gloppy, perfectly rolled, expertly poured, ice cold, aged, fairly weighed, crystallized and concentrated “humaness”. Today is almost over but it was full of laundry, running, laughing with great friends new and newer, cleaning the house, and helping some kids with their homework. I get to type this while drinking some Rooibos tea from South Africa, in a cup given to me by a family from St. Lucia, listen to a LCD Soundsystem concert from 2011 on internet within a jungle, while sitting outside waving to friends and neighbors who are heading to the river party and calling me over to come with them. I am lucky enough to look back on the years and beards of yesteryear, and look forward to this upcoming thing that is 25. Away from home, friends, and family, but I will be back “just now” with a few more folks in tow I am lucky to be graced with and lucky to have grown with.