The Real Peace Corps

I feel as though I have done somewhat of a disservice throughout this blog, painting a picture that is not precisely accurate. I am an emotional person, romantic, optimistic to a fault. I like extremes and superlatives, exaggerating in an attempt to draw my audience in, and to make sense of things that I can’t make sense of.

I romanticize this experience as a function of my personality but also as a coping mechanism. Simply put, life in the Peace Corps is hard.

I want to write about the real Ethiopia, and the real Peace Corps experience. It is a defensive approach, protection for when a future volunteer reads about my experiences. Hopefully as a result, he or she will understand what to expect, and will not mock me for only showing pictures of sunsets and kids holding hands.

So what should you expect?

Nothing is the best answer. Expect nothing and you will be pleasantly surprised because every experience is different. My friend Jon lives 80 miles away. His house has no floor save for the mud it was built on, and he may go weeks without any source of electricity.  My site mate Dave lives 200 meters from my house and our experiences are similar only in the cultural and physical climate that we share. Peace Corps volunteers live in rural places, in cities, on the beach and in the mountains. We live in peaceful towns and difficult towns besieged by alcoholism. Some live in nice houses with bad toilets and others in bad houses with nice toilets. Our homes, failures, successes and environments differ, and yet a few common themes unite us. We are lonely yet connected as a fraternity of like minded people. We are frustrated and enthralled. We are celebrated and studied and gossiped about. We are discouraged and resilient and everywhere in between.

Peace Corps is defined by a strange dichotomy. Freedom and containment. I wake up every day with a blank slate. I can do anything. I can do nothing. And while the possibilities are only limited by my own imagination, the ability to do as I please is corrupted by a number of social, political, and cultural practices.

Case in point: Most volunteers assume they will run to let off steam in their new country. However, running here is a cause of stress more so than a release. You are stared at as a foreigner here, stares that know no shame. Stares that you can not only see, but also feel. They are honest and curious stares, but can crack even the kindest of spirits. A foreigner in shorts – Running? That is, to their credit, quite hilarious.  Running here means being followed by hordes of children, the last thing you need when trying to let off steam.

I want to export coffee to benefit local farmers and provide an organic alternative to the Starbucks mess we have back home. The bureaucratic structure and corruption here has destroyed those dreams. Disappointment — and the inability to enact change in your community is part of the PC experience.

Doing something like the Peace Corps will be your lowest of lows and your highest of highs. Highs that shatter your previous world views.  You will feel refreshed, walk in a forest and quote Thoreau. The lows can last so long that you need a fleeting moment of existentialism just to make it through the rainy season. That, and a ton of books. You will consider going home. You will count down the days until you leave. You will count up from the day you arrived.

“I can’t believe we have been here for a year!”

“I can’t believe we’ll be here another year!”

You will understand yourself, question yourself and compare where you came from to where you are. I have days when I miss America. I have days when I loathe it. Why do people care about Charlie Sheen? How many kids in the horn of Africa died of hunger yesterday and does anyone care? I can’t even imagine dying of hunger. When I’m hungry, I eat.

But I eat strange food. Ethiopian food is unlike anything else in the world, and I have come to absolutely love it. I consider myself extremely lucky to be in a country with such diverse and delicious food. However at times the food is quite mediocre and will often lead to three days of stomach cramps. Other times, the food is so incredibly bad that I consider burning down every plant that grows whatever the hell is in ‘Gunfo’

Don’t try Gunfo.

Universally, Peace Corps volunteers crave food. I have dreams about it, vivid dreams where I belly flop into a bowl of ice cream off of a hot-fudge brownie diving board. I have a long distance relationship with Sushi and we are not communicating well. We miss the diversity and develop a strange passion for nostalgic food.

As volunteers, we love to complain. We joke about our poop and our pooping locations. We laugh about smelling bad.

We smell bad.

We yearn for hot showers, however I think it is just for show. Any volunteer, more so than food or showers, miss people and places. You will miss friends and seasons. During your service, you will be alone on the Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving. You will miss your family, your really hot girlfriend, and the contextual clues you associate with fond memories. I know what the Chesapeake bay feels like on thanksgiving. I can feel the football, and taste the sweet potato pie.

You will be stared at 24/7 365. I understand what it’s like to be a good-looking girl at a fraternity party. Stay strong ladies. I also have so much respect and admiration for the women across Peace Corps, who tolerate a level of staring and harassment, that I can barely fathom.

One of the great things about Peace Corps is you have a massive amount of time to become a better person. The best advice I can give is to try and do something everyday to improve upon yourself. For some people this is writing or reading. For others it is teaching English or working out. Learn an instrument or paint — do whatever works for you, but know this: You will stare at the wall. I stare at the wall a lot. I’ve had every thought someone can have. Probably twice.

You will develop an eerie sense of calm. I’ve spent 75 hours in the last two weeks on a bus. The DMV will be a breeze now. I’ve found new and embarrassing ways to entertain myself. I could watch paint dry and be perfectly happy.

Transportation completely sucks.

I just got out of a bus with 12 seats on it. There were 25 people on it. There were two chickens and probably 20 kilograms of rancid butter. Here is a letter:

Dear Ethiopia,

It’s ok to open the windows on the bus. I promise you won’t die from the wind. I promise it’s not that cold. Currently, sweat is running down my lower back and into the danger zone. My sweat is sweating. Fresh air is nothing to be scared of but tuberculosis is. As much as I like saunas and the smell of chicken feces, can we please crack the window’s for 2 minutes? I will love you forever.

Yours truly,

Michael

There is no average day.

Last week, my Tuesday was perfect. I had a meeting with the tourism office about making them a website. I taught a man how to make guacemole and tortillas which he will sell in his store. I played basketball, added a layer to a clay oven and worked on the newsletter I am writing for Peace Corps.

The next day? I slept in, watched a silly amount of the show ‘Dexter’  and checked in on my fantasy baseball team. Yeah, I’m cool.

There will be times when, despite your pictures of you hugging little kids, you just want to tackle one of them and scream, my name is NOT,

“you you you!!!!!, give me money!!!!!!”

In America we ask for the time. Here, we ask for the month. It’s the most obvious difference. The pace of life here is slow, methodical, cyclical. Everything takes a long time. If you aren’t a patient person you will become one.

Life here is completely different. It is another world, lost in space and time. It is hard, and the little annoyances can manifest themselves into a black cloud. They certainly will, but it is important to make note of the small victories and the little moments. When I open my eyes I am reminded of why I am here. Just when I think a kid is running up to me to ask me for money, she tells me that she loves me and blows a kiss. Then I remember that I am on a bus and I start crying. I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere with a busted engine. It is getting dark, I have a chicken in my lap and personal space at this point is a distant memory. People are yelling into their cell phones, begging me to speak to them and take them to America. The only food in the town by the road is Gunfo.

Remember in times like this to take a deep breath. Peace Corps really is a roller coaster. An exhilarating and scary ride that completely sucks and totally kicks ass.

And when you are feeling down, just remember to go outside and let Africa save you.

 

 

 

153 comments on “The Real Peace Corps

  1. ann callahan says:

    Wow!!!! What a fantastic writer you are. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.

    My son is also a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia, Brendan Callahan. Your experiences are so similar, highs and lows both.

    Keep writing and best of luck to you,

    Ann Callahan

  2. Mom says:

    Michael, I just read this amazing post again. I think it should be sent to all PCVs. You are amazing, too. You are doing a fantastic thing, and so are all your PCV buddies. Keep up the good work, and try to stay happy and hopeful. You will never be the same after this, and while you were perfect (almost) before you went, you will be so much stronger and better when you get home. PLUS, you will have done a great deal of good, even if you don’t see all the results you wish to. You are planting seeds. love, mom

  3. katieolean says:

    Haha.. wow. You said this better than I ever could. Looking forward to meeting you soon!

  4. Chelsea says:

    Wow. I have been reading all sorts of posts trying to make sure this is what I really want to do. This is by far the best written most informative post I’ve read. Thank you so much!

  5. Sam says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post (all of them for that matter). I am entering my last semester of college and looking into the peace corps after I graduate. I’ve heard from a few people, but this is the best advice I have received so far. Thank you.

  6. Lewis Carter says:

    Great blog. I was in the PC in the 70’s in Paraguay. My daughter, Jackie is now in her second year in Songkolong, Cameroon, and I know she can identify with your experiences. You can find her blog by googling “gueraincameroon”. I was pretty isolated in Paraguay, but I think you African volunteers have a tougher life than your South American compatriots. Good luck.
    Lewis Carter

  7. Peace Corps life ain’t easy. I’ll attest to that, homie.

  8. JF Hillery says:

    I’m a PCV in Peru right now and I just thought this was a wonderfully accurate assessment of what REAL life in the Peace Corps is!
    Great job, stay strong, stay safe, and best of luck to you!

  9. This is awesome. I am going to link to this via my own peace corps blog. Awesome writing.

  10. phishlips says:

    I am so happy I came upon this entry, and I will read all of yours since & prior (probably tonight). I’m still in the medical review part of the process, but I’m trying to prepare, if that’s even something you can really do, for a hopeful June departure somewhere in Africa. I almost cried reading this, and I hope you have the best of the best days when you’re feeling great & have good, solid cries when you need them, too. Keep it up!

  11. waidmann32 says:

    Hey I’ve gotten a lot of love recently, especially for this post. Just wanted to say thank you to all of you!

    • David Rutherford says:

      I was in Kenya, 1989-92. Other than the lack of electricity, TV, and the Internet, your posts paints a picture that is amazingly close to my own experience. Almost 25 years ago, and some things just don’t change, do they?

  12. Julia says:

    Loved your post! I was in the Peace Corps in the Solomon Islands 1994 – 1996. You captured the experience so well!

  13. Joanna says:

    You truly capture what it means to be a volunteer in Africa. Thanks so much for a great read!

  14. Barbara says:

    I am a PC in Ghana. You hit it on the head. I am going to share your blog with my family. Thank you
    for the post.

  15. Denise Sutton says:

    My daughter is in Ghana and is a PCV. Bethany recommended your blog so I would have a better understanding of her experience “with less whining”, as she put it. Thank you for this.

  16. Oma Colleen Young says:

    Thanks Waid. I’m a PCV in Indonesia. There are tears in my eyes and sweat in my arm pits. In 92 days I will be back in America holding my grandchildren. It’s been hard lately. Thanks for the inspiration!

  17. echangy3 says:

    You couldn’t have said it better! Circulating this around the PCV Indonesia group. Stay strong! PS what kind of camera/lens is your girlfriend back in the States using?

    • waidmann32 says:

      Hey Ellie. Thanks for the comment. My girlfriend is a freelance/wedding photographer and uses a Canon 5D Mach II. You can check out her website at carlyarnwinephotography.com

  18. Mary Kate Denny says:

    Really enjoyed all of your comments and the photos that were posted. I am supposed to leave for S Africa
    in July for the education program. I am a senior and reading everyone’s blogs to truly get the real stories.
    Sounds challenging. I have been a stock photographer for over 24 years. Having been in India for quite a period helping a friend with micro credit has prepared
    me. Thanks for your postings.

  19. very well-written. thanks!! peace corps indonesia is for sure passing this around. -sam

  20. Ann Weathers says:

    The best use I ever made of a credit card was to finance a visit with my daughter Julia at her site in the Solomon Islands. Reading about the experience just doesn’t compare to actually feeling the humidity, dodging mosquitoes, dealing with local transport, and watching the geckos that appear as if by magic each evening on the inside walls of the house. While I was sad to board the plane to return home, my spirits were lifted by such memories as the stargazing where just above the northern horizon the Big Dipper was visible and in the opposite direction the Southern Cross dominated the sky. Peace Corps volunteers are all heros in my world.

  21. ajebonee says:

    Thank you so much for this. I am a PCV in the Philippines, and this could not be any more accurate. Our “gunfo” is bitter gourd…just awful. We have a training coming up and this will be perfect to share. I have spent the day melting in the Lagawian sun while I hand washed clothes for hours, I needed this laugh!

  22. Kristin says:

    I was just invited to serve in PC and someone suggested I read this. Thank you for posting this! It puts things into much needed perspective and I think you are doing a wonderful thing. Keep up the good work. Your efforts don’t go unnoticed.

  23. Larry Ward (RPCV Togo) says:

    Been there. Done that. Pretty accurate description

  24. agreenpouch says:

    Awesome entry! Thought about joining PC many times. It’s brave of you to portray what it’s really like. Honestly, the sucky parts make it seem more appealing.

  25. This will be shared to every Peace Corps person I know.

    You are a great writer.

    Peace Corps definitely needs conversations like this!

    Jason
    Kyrgyzstan 06-08

  26. Joe says:

    I will be heading to Ethiopia in May to start training, and will be serving as an English Education volunteer. This is by far the most insightful piece of reading I have come across throughout my preparations. Many thanks for sharing this experience through your gift of expression. I would love to get in touch with you directly to grab any additional words of wisdom you might have, and will be paging through your blog with feverish interest.

    Cheers!

  27. Jill says:

    My niece is a PCV in South Africa. She linked your blog to hers, and I’m so glad she did. Unbelievable post….thank you so much….not only for candidly sharing your experience with us back in the States, but for selflessly sharing your time, talent, heart and soul with those in need. The world will someday be a better place because of special people like you and all your PCV counterparts. Bless you.

  28. Kris says:

    I’m back stateside from PC Kyrgyzstan. It is so hard when your assimilating back to your motherland, to remember that other people have had this isolatingly shared experience. Thanks for reminding us we didn’t hallucinate the whole thing.

  29. Liza says:

    Beautiful

  30. Jessica says:

    I think I love you. (In an entirely respectful, non-creepy way, of course). You’ve beautifully summed up my PC experience, right down to the gunfo.

    Seriously. No one eat it. It will haunt you.

    -Jess
    (Assela RPCV, 2007-2009)

  31. Sarah says:

    So great! pc Botswana for 2 years then stayed on 3 after that. Most days thought I was completely insane for doing it. The part about the bus is spot on! A little trick we had in Bots- when you stop and someone might open the window (when there is not wind to kill us), stick a ball point pen or something similar in the track. So when it doesn’t close and you have fresh air, you can just shrug and sit by the window with wind blowing in your hair! :)

  32. scott says:

    Awesome insight dude. my wife and i will br getting to ethiopia in may to start service with the peace corps. english teaching is our assignment. i suppose ill come back to find ya once we get our blog up and running.

    • Joe says:

      Hi Scott — I am in the same May group, also teaching English. I would love to get in touch. Shoot me an email – EthiopiaJoe (at) gmail

      Cheers!

  33. If you replace Ethiopia with Kenya, and gunfo with black ugali, this perfectly encapsulates my PC Kenya (07-08; evacuated due to the election violence) experience. Thank you for taking the time to write this!

  34. Maria Judge says:

    Quite extraordinary writing, and what material you have to work with. Thank you so much for this amazing account of your life in Ethiopia.

  35. Brittany says:

    So true! I’m a PCV in Peru and this is such an accurate description of the crazy lives we lead as volunteers. Will definitely be forwarding it to all the volunteers here.

  36. This is great writing, and much of it applies to other PCVs worldwide. Thanks!

  37. Kayla says:

    This was a very good blog! I am a pcv in benin right now…almost done actually! Think you spoke for all of us!:)

  38. I am currently a PCV in Lesotho and this post brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes, because my nearest neighbor is 2 hours away and I am losing connections to home, I feel that I am alone. Thank you for reminding me that that isn’t true. I am just two months into my service but I feel everything you described. The stares, the longing for America, the disgust with America, the yearning for just one good meal. No matter the country or part of the world, we are not alone on this rollercoaster and that is something truly special. Thank you.

  39. Claire says:

    This is wonderfully written! I’m a PCV in Jordan right now and I haven’t been here all that long, but what with all the free thinking time I can already feel how true this all is. Thanks for writing such an awesome piece!

  40. Hey man,

    I’m currently serving as a PCV in Burkina Faso (it’s basically the only West-African country that no one has heard of) and was directed to your blog from one of my friends from college who is currently in the application process.

    I just recently sent a post to a group of friends applying to PC very similar to this one for the same reasons you wrote it- I feel they only hear the extreme lows and extreme highs of my service.

    I wish you the best of luck as you finish up,

    Ebben Wiley

    http://thatguyinthepeacecorps.blogspot.com

  41. rcancio26 says:

    Reblogged this on namibianstyle and commented:
    I found this and have seriously read it like 5 times. It’s inspiring in a really odd way. I don’t think it was meant to evoke inspiration, just promote the gritty truth of a PCV’s life. But I have found a strange sense of comfort in knowing this is going to be hard. I am not sure why, but I am actually looking forward to the pitfalls, I feel nothing in my life thus far, no matter how larger than life I have made it out to be will ever amount to the challenges I will face while I am away. The problems I will face will be REAL problems. I can’t wait.

  42. alicia says:

    wow! i’m so impressed on your ability to sum up peace corps in a nutshell. everything you said it true! thanks for being honest, thanks for sharing, thank you for your service.

  43. Kiri Beth says:

    WONDERFUL post. I appreciate your transparency! I’m still making my way through medical, but i’ve been reading a lot of blogs and this one is refreshingly honest. Thanks again, best of luck! -K

  44. Tania Lynne Greener says:

    wow…nice…great blog….I am not in Ethiopia or the Peace Corps but…I am working and living in Kabul, Afghanistan…I totally can relate…rock on!!! :)

  45. kk says:

    I can relate so much to this! Morocco RPCV 2007-2009.

    Thank you: my experience was 100% different for me than the person closest to me, who was with the same tribe and only 10k away, but totally and utterly different in nearly every way.

    I had to constantly modify my expectations and take the ego out of my service. It wasn’t about what I could accomplish, it was what my community and I could build together. The most impactful moments and my biggest accomplishments aren’t tangible enough to explain on a resume. I didn’t build a bridge or a bathroom, I didn’t dig a well, I didn’t teach a hundred kids how to speak English or prevent a disease outbreak. I did what I could with the community. End of story. I ran against ten brick walls for everything that got accomplished. But I still loved my time, the people I was with, and the process of being a PCV.

    After PC, I stayed in-country for two years. I dreamed of opening a sushi restaurant or a Mexican restaurant. Actually, my (Moroccan) husband and I just talked about opening a Mexican fast-casual place in the capital last night. I literally had dreams about places like Walgreens (Goldfish crackers! Oreo cookies! Snuggies!), furniture stores (IKEA!), and even video rental places. In fact, I had one dream so vivid that a Blockbuster had opened in my site that I woke up PSYCHED that I would FINALLY be able to do something interesting in the evenings I just needed to stay home. And then I realized that it just wasn’t true and I was devastated.

    The PC Family Events were amazing. Thanksgiving or Christmas one year entailed me spending 45 minutes going from shop to shop asking for stale bread to make stuffing with. A Halloween party was created by renting out an apartment for a night, and eight volunteer bringing their personal small mattresses/couch-like spongy things that are light and portable–ish… on the roof of local transportation so we all had places to sleep that night. We literally furnished an apartment: stove, plastic outdoor tables, mattresses, chairs, etc. from an entire provinces’ PCV households. For one night. Four of us lugged a plastic table and 4 “mattresses” about a kilometer and up three flights of stairs at about 4:00 pm one day. Everyone stared. The next morning, we lugged them back and sent them up the mountain to sites 10k, 35k, and 50k away.

    And we didn’t even think it was odd at the time.

    This is a beautiful entry, and I’m glad it was featured. Best of luck with the rest of your service.

  46. Judy B says:

    This could have been me, 30 years ago, in Liberia way on the other side of Africa, but so much the same. I has not left me, I am a stronger person for all the difficulties I endured and for all the victories I had in my village. At that time of course we had NO outside contact unless we got mail delivered with the luck of the car going by. My favorite part of your writing….how is your poop today! OMG all we did was talk about poop and not since then have I had so much concern for my fellow man and his/her bowel movements, but knowing we could be saving each others lives by having that discssion it was, and apparently is, so important. Congratulations on your Peace Corps experience, keep your lessons close and you will have a wonderful life.

  47. Femi altar says:

    Very educating, i am also a member from nigeria i love these and is going to help a lot of us thanks.

  48. Femi altar says:

    Nice one

  49. Kay Thompson says:

    Internet? Blogging? Movies on site? This must be Peace Corps in the 21st century! The rest mirrored my experience in Guatemala ’81-’83. Keep on keepin’ on. “The hardest job you’ll ever love”. Peace to you.

  50. D.A. says:

    I know what you mean, about the dreams of the US and things you had, but for me year 2 was the best; probably the best year of my short life, I loved it and the people I wish I could have stayed longer.
    D.
    (RPCV Burundi)

  51. Steve W. says:

    Well written post. I am a recent RPCV from Uganda and very much agree with what you are saying. I think in a place where everything seems to move so slowly it is the ridiculous speed that our experience can change that creates alot of tension. The incredible high from a simple interaction with a child transformed in the blink of an eye by an interaction with an adult, or transport, or the police,or….well you know.
    The emotional whiplash from these experiences takes a little time(alot of time) to get the hang of.

    Keep up the good work.

  52. MJ says:

    You’ve articulated what I was never able to do. Excellent! Thank you.

  53. LTS says:

    Wow. 12 years out and I am immediately back in PC again through your post. It is a very universial experience and one that will connect you witih people over and over. Some of my closest friends to this day served with in the Peace Corps. The best to you, Waid!

    Kimberly
    Romania 1999-2000

  54. Alec says:

    Great Post!! It sums up all of our PC experiences to the T

  55. Marina Marcus says:

    What an awesome and insightful way to encapsulate the Peace Corps experience. I’m a group 2 Ethiopia volunteer, and having been back for a year now, I’m still processing the time I spent there. It really was the best of times and the worst of times, your post really put me in touch with the memories I cherish and the way I dealt with the challenges. I’m happy (and a bit surprised) to say that I’m headed back to Ethiopia soon and couldn’t be more excited about it! It turns out that the two years doesn’t actually last forever, and sometimes you wish it had :)
    -Marina, Butajira 2009-2011

  56. Gina says:

    I literally laughed out loud when you stated, “My sweat was sweating.” LOL! It must have been really hot on that compact bus. Thank you for sharing. I have been nominated to go to SSA Oct. 2012 as a teacher trainer and the PC is reviewing my medical packet. Anyway, thanks for sharing!

    Gina

  57. Paula 76-78 Bahrain says:

    This is wonderful and not too much different from the experiences of re-entry. A huge gift of the inner and outer look at oneself in everyday life, where ever it be in the world. The biggest gift of the PC experience…..finding yourself and hanging on to it!

  58. dorothy mccormick says:

    Brilliant. And funny.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and observations. I think you must be a great ambassador of good will and a positive image of a young American for those in Africa. We need more positive kids like you to represent America.

  59. Susan says:

    Extraordinarily written. I lived in Japan for 2 years total, different trips. The staring and touching are difficult to take; strangers rushing up to yell “this is a pen!” so many times that I wanted to take said pen and jab someone’s eye with it! What you described about the highs and lows are true; the unfortunate part is that it doesn’t stop when you return home. What you feel you loathe at home intensifies as well as what you love. My first evening back, friends took me out to a Mexican restaurant in San Francisco – my choice. I walked in, looked around at the huge platters of food being consumed by huge people…the waste and gluttony were overwhelming and we left without eating. I also began to miss the beauty of Japan, the people, my life there…with time, it all normalizes but you will never be the same, which, in my opinion, is a good thing.

    Thanks for sharing!

  60. Amber, Guyana 2011-2013 says:

    I agree completely.

    Thank you for putting my thoughts into a cohesive piece of writing.

  61. Beverly Heimann says:

    Beautiful post. My son was a PCV in Togo. I remember a conversation I had with him when he first wen to Togo. He told me, “Mom, some days are strikes and some days are gutters.” At the time I said that was true here in the states, too. Then I visited him last August. I learned that his strikes were truly amazing but his gutters were really bad. In America, we are able to get the ball down the lane most days. OUR strikes and gutters are few and far apart. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

  62. Ryan says:

    Your part about rolling down the windows on the bus made me laugh. It’s *exactly* the same here in Morocco – buses, taxis, you name it – there seems to be some unspoken fear of the window being down. It’s amazing how strikingly similar PCV’s experiences are all around the world. Here in Morocco kids yell “arumi!” (foreigner”…”stilu! lHlwa! yan dirham!” (pen! candy! one dirham (money)!)…thanks for this post. It was wonderful. – c urrent PCV Morocco

  63. Jill says:

    Meditation helps balance the high highs and low lows. Plenty of time to sit.

  64. Todd says:

    I served in a different area of the world but could relate to almost every aspect of your blog. Great writing and great job summing it all up.

    Todd
    RPCV Tonga

  65. [...] is entirely applicable to here.  Please read because he tells you the truth that I only hint at.  http://waidsworld.wordpress.com/2011/08/07/the-real-peace-corps/#comment-164 Like this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

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  67. lucyboody says:

    My daughter is a PCV in Morocco. She is just completing her first year. OMG, what a ride, and you nailed it on the head. The ups, the downs, the hardships, learning how others live/survive while learning your own limits. I know it helped her to have someone else express her experience and share it with others. Well said. Well done, and thank you. Thank you for not only now, but the good you will bring with you in the future. It’s an infectious thing, don’tcha know. Hugs.

    “Mom” AKA Lucy Boody

  68. Susan Long-Marin says:

    Wow! What wonderful writing. I was immediately transported back thiry plus years ago to my PC stint in the Phillippines–totally different, totally the same–that unbelievably exhilirating, infuriating, incredible time in my life that has informed my path ever since. Thank you for explaining it so well.

    Susan LM
    Philippines 77-81

  69. CeCe Little says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I will carry your thoughts with me as I leave for my assignment to Georgia in April.

  70. Diana says:

    I love this. I am a PCV in Vlora, Albania and everything applied to my service as well. Except for the very last part.

    “And when you are feeling down, just remember to go outside and let Albania save you.”

    Thanks for the awesome and inspiring post. <3

  71. Vincent Lambert says:

    You’re a great writer! I just COS’ed from the Republic of Moldova, far from Ethiopia, yet I can relate to every emotion, thought process, and experience that you wrote about. Replace gunfo with mamaliga and your blog post could pass as being from Moldova. I fought for two years to get the babushkas with chickens to open the bus windows, but left 26 months later defeated. Again, thanks for capturing the essence of the Peace Corps experience.

  72. Eileen fields says:

    My son David is a PC volunteer in Ghana. I so enjoyed your word and thoughts. I am sure your family misses you and is very proud of you as we are of our son.

  73. Karen Taylor says:

    A great essay on the ups and downs of PC life. Our daughter who is a PCV in Moldova shared it with me. My husband and I were PCVs in Ethiopia in 1972-74… not that much has changed. It is worth all this and more. Hang in there.

  74. Sherry tubbs says:

    Great article. SUCH HONESTY. THANKS FOR SHARING.

  75. Thank you so much for this insight. I leave for Mali in June and have been searching for a post like this one. You have been very helpful! Even though you have presented more to worry about I also feel much more excitement! Take care and good luck to you!

    • Zach Postle says:

      You got Mali! Congratulations!! You should be soooo excited. I’ll be hitting the year mark right as you come, but I can remember last june like it was yesterday. Everything the writer mentioned was incredibly accurate. Time moves very slowly out here, and it changes you. You’ll also have incredible freedom to travel and do things you would’ve never thought you could (or even want) to do. I guarantee you’ll make some of the best friends of your life after only a month, literally.

      Most of all though, you got Mali!! Like Ethiopia above, there’s a reason it’s renowned the world over: it’s culture(s) The place is definitely rough around the edges materially, but you’ll certainly fall in love with the markedly friendly people, and for the first 2 months here the incredible staff eases you into the whole experience with 50 or so like-minded people. It’s awesome. Bambara will become your new love.

  76. Thanks for writing this Michael, it’s a great representation of Peace Corps and how “it’s really is a roller coaster. An exhilarating and scary ride that completely sucks and totally kicks ass.” I wish you the very best during your service. : )

  77. Joan Connor M-22 says:

    That was delightful. I wanted to say “get out of my head” a couple of times. Imagine that and I am a 68 year old woman serving in Mongolia.
    Your writing resonated with many of my thoughts. Thanks for sharing! Za…..joan

  78. Reblogged this on brittanyandbrett and commented:
    I have been looking for a post like this for some time! The Real Peace Corps. Thank you Waid :)

  79. Liz Warden says:

    Reblogged this on Liz in Service and commented:
    I found this on a Facebook future Peace Corps volunteer group and think it’s spot on. Oddly enough, it got me even more to face this two year challenge.

  80. Robert Melzer says:

    Was introduced to PC real world via my daughter’s facebook page (Sydney Melzer – current PCV , Morocco). She said it represents her feelings and experiences exactly. Thank you
    Rob Melzer

    • Brian Deyo says:

      Thanks for writing. My wife and are PCVs in Swaziland and we had a fantastic time reading. We’re glad to hear that when we meet other RPCVs we will be able to relate. I have to go, our family just brought us a plate of local gunfo.

  81. Nicole Brown says:

    Right on!!
    Nicole, RPCV Ghana 08-10

  82. anance85 says:

    PC in China here. This is a great post! I never thought that PC China and PC Africa experiences could be so similar. This is a great post for upcoming volunteers. :)

  83. Lisa S. says:

    Reblogged this on And We Weren't All Yellow… and commented:
    friends at home, there’s no way i could say this better. he may be in africa, but it is true for me here in armenia, too. except for the heat; what i wouldn’t do for a little more heat…

  84. John says:

    What a different world now that the internet (somewhat) reduces isolation and allows the world to look in to your experience (via journal) in real time. But some things remain the same. I am sure my hard copy journals (RPCV Papua New Guinea (81-85) contained similar highs and lows; the rollercoaster of emotions. I had a different experience with the isolation and fish bowl scrutiny. I was at a place in my life where I welcomed the chance to self-reflect and get “bored” for once in my life. I liken it to a rebooting. The stares were not much of an issue because I saw them as a inevitable curiosity. Indeed, this second of three Peace Corps goals (promote understanding of Americans) is the toughest and, dare I say, most important.

    So, like many life traumas, the PC tends to define who you really are, or allows you the time to discover who you really are. As you aptly concluded, there is and end to self reflection and one needs to just let go and let Life happen.

  85. Yebo. Yes. Good lord, yes.

    Thanks for writing this. It’s something I’ve been trying to articulate for a long time, but never able to get at. And today was another rough day, so it’s so helpful to hear the exact same troubles are plaguing you… maybe it really isn’t just me, after all.

    As for me, I’ve got just about 150 days left, and yet it feels longer than the time I’ve already spent here. But hopefully there are still a few more highs out there for the both of us. Being here really can be amazing.

    Thanks again, and best of luck for the rest of your service.

  86. Matt says:

    Thanks for this. Seriously.

  87. Ilana says:

    I have been serving in Guyana for one year and I seriously couldn’t have said this any better. Fantastic post. I hope all prospective, current and returned PCV’s read this. Thanks!

  88. Peter Jensen says:

    Thanks for this. I am currently a PC staff in Tanzania and an RPCV from Haiti in the mid 80’s. It is amazing how the experiences – the highs, the lows – are the same the world over, from generation to generation. I did a lot of reading during those thunderous rainy seasons..no movies, laptops or blogs to write…just lots of great books and conversations with neighbors.

    the one thing I would recommend to any soon to be PCV out there? Bring a solar shower! ya know, the black plastic bags with the shower attachement you can find at outing stores. put a gallon of water in it in the morning, stick in the sun, and by late afternoon after a hot and sweaty day (or even a cold one) you hae hot water ready and waiting for you to wash away the troubles. Dont use it as a shower – just as a water heater. I still use one when I go out on extended site visits…

    Thanks for some real style.

  89. Reblogged this on MOLDOVA and commented:
    Another volunteer posted this link on Facebook, and it is just so spot on. It’s amazing how, as volunteers, we can live on different continents and still have such similar challenges and reactions. I would encourage you to read!

  90. Ruby kiker says:

    I enjoyed that! My husband and I are PCV’s in Swaziland. I have definitely found it hard to write about the True experience! Thanks for putting it into words :)

  91. Amazing……and thank you!

  92. Hey,

    I just wanted to thank you for posting this–a friend of mine passed it along, and I am taken aback: you’ve got a voice and control and courage that few people have. As an avid reader and writer, as an RPCV and as a fellow super-emotional optimist, I applaud this effort. I’m going to pass this along to a lot of people I know who are having issues either during service or in the aftermath. I hope the rest of your service is fantastic.

  93. Kelsey says:

    Great entry – I reposted to my blog (kanderblogs.blogspot.com) because I feel that it strikes true for my experiences thus far as well! And I’m in Armenia! Thanks for the post.

  94. Queshia B says:

    REALLY needed this as a new PCV, thanks! i leave for mozambique may 29th so hearing this is comforting..and frightening, but necessary :)

  95. Brenda says:

    Last week the hut of an Asian PCV in Maputo, Mozambique was broken into by thieves bearing machetes. They stole all of his electronic devices. and sliced his arm open as he tried to fight them off. PC is relocating him farther south. He chose to finish his tour.

  96. Sara says:

    I am serving in the Dominican Republic 2010 – 2012. Thanks for this post.

  97. graceinpeace says:

    Reblogged this on Grace and commented:
    Amazingly well-written depiction of what it is to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa.

  98. [...] The Real Peace Corps – Waide’s World – If anyone has ever contemplated the Peace Corps, Volunteer Service International, or any extended period of overseas volunteer work, Michael Waidmann’s blog (written both beautifully and honestly) is a fascinating and informative read that gives a very accurate account of the highs, lows, and everything in between that comes with committing 2 years of your life to Africa. And if you’ve already been there, done that…it also serves as a fabulous way to relive those heart-breaking/frustrating/joyous/life-changing experiences all over again. [...]

  99. Zach Postle says:

    Hey man. Spot on! I’m at the year mark in Mali right now, and my dad himself did Peace Corps Ethiopia back 30 years ago. Some of the things you said made me laugh so hard because they were exact thoughts I’ve had. Our gunfo equivalent is called “to”. I’ve gotten so sick of it lately, that I too have had unimaginably wild dreams about food back home (anyyyyything with cheese pleassse!). Most of all, your description of the way time works out there really nails it. Things move slowly, and this changes you. “Eerily calm”…I like that term you use, because it’s almost unnerving how your mind adapts to whole weeks spent watching lizards do pushups on the walls and donkeys batting away flies.

  100. [...] “The Real Peace Corps” [...]

  101. awolally says:

    I’m not a PC volunteer, and yet so much of what you’ve written could apply to my experiences as an au pair, that it’s almost eerie. I too have romanticized my experiences becuase of my personality and as a coping mechanism. Also the dicotomy of freedom and containment. I appreciate your service, and thanks for showing me that I’m not cut out for the PC!

  102. Liz Zweifler says:

    Michael, you made me laugh out loud and cry. Thank you for confirming all that my son has been telling me. It is exactly that, just as you tell it. This helps me as a mother to a Peace Corps Volunteer. I am overwhelmed.

    Thank you!

  103. Kayla says:

    Hey! I am a PCV in Swaziland and loved this post a lot, found myself nodding along with everything you said. Funny how relevant this is in different regions…I want to link this to my blog, would that be ok?

  104. Jeff says:

    Hey Michael, My Niece Bethany is a PCV in Swaziland, Africa and as she would say “Sawubona!” (hello). It sounds like you have alot of company with your feelings from the other PCVs. We want you to know “we love you guys and gals” for what you do. What you do is make the little stupid things that bother me or are getting me down seem like nothing compared to what you experience. Good luck with your baseball team “Go Twins”
    Thank you!!!!

  105. Hey,

    I can relate to you about romanticizing your experience to your readers. I romanticized my experience when I wrote home. I exaggerated my experience a little to capture my audience. It is hard to write the truth to an audience who wants to hear the exciting adventures and the unique cultural exchanges. It is also hard to write the truth when all you hear and read about the PC is so positive. I fear that if negative responses are revealed about my personal experience it reflects failure on my PC experience or disappoints those who only expect the positive outcomes. But it takes a strong person to reveal the truth and a talented person to write it as well as you have done. Stay strong and be true to yourself! We all have very unique experiences and we should all be honest about what the experience means to us personally, whether positive or negative!

    During my experience, I constantly questioned the PC and the meanings of the different experiences; I have many questions about what the lows and highs meant during the two years. I have realized that it may take a lifetime to find answers to this unique yet arduous experience I lived. I found a quote that captures this well:

    I beg you…. To have patience with everything unresolved
    In your heart and try to love the questions themselves
    As if they were locked rooms or books written
    In a very foreign language. Don’t search for
    The answers, which could not be given to
    You now, because you would not be able
    To live them. And the point is, to live
    Everything. Live the questions now.
    Perhaps then, someday far in
    The future, you will gradually,
    Without even noticing it, live
    Your way into the answer…
    -rainer maria rilke

    Take care and stay strong.

    Julie Smith
    Niger/Madagascar 2009-2011

  106. Shelly says:

    Amen. This is getting passed around PC Malawi too, and it certainly rang true. Say hi to Laura Still! :)

  107. Katie Randall says:

    Thank you for writing this! I am a current PCV in Grenada and although Ethiopia is vastly different, I was belly laughing at the majority being so spot on. I am in one of those lows you talk of and to read this made me pull out a bit and laugh… the stares, the buses, the highs and lows, the food dreams… I really enjoying hearing about other PCVs around the world as well. We’re all connected. Thank you again for sharing!

    Katie

  108. Katie Hackett says:

    My husband and I just laughed so hard while reading your post. We are in Azerbaijan only about 5 months in and can definitely relate. Thanks for sharing and being honest!

  109. Jing says:

    Truth… I have definitely watched more movies and TV shows during the past year and a half than I had previously in my entire life. I’m currently a PCV in Ukraine and thoroughly impressed that you have the guts to spill the real side of Peace Corps. On one of my first bus rides here, I sat next to an old grandma who was apparently transporting ducks in a cardboard box, and one of the ducks tried to bite my leg. And I totally understand the staring thing, I’m a minority so I stick out like a sore thumb here and people not only stare at me unashamedly, but they also gossip about me openly (assuming that I don’t understand their Russian). But you’re also right about the highs, I just made homemade sushi here and it was an awesome accomplishment :) Best of luck to you in Ethiopia!

  110. [...] link (http://waidsworld.wordpress.com/2011/08/07/the-real-peace-corps/) is to another Peace Corps Volunteer’s blog post written August 7, 2011 entitled, “The Real [...]

  111. justanotherPCV'smom says:

    Thank you for the hearty laugh and the good cry. I needed both.

  112. [...] peace corps’s outlook on the volunteer life. Read up, it’s so [...]

  113. Mary Kate says:

    I love your blog! So glad I found it and get your regular postings. I hope you come home and become a writer! You articulate so well everything that happens and paint a picture for us to see.
    I am forwarding your wish for donations to help build the school to everyone I know. I hope they contribute. I did the same for a PC volunteer who was running a marathon in S Africa for a foundation that was started by a former PCV to give students a chance to go on beyond the 7th year. These are the efforts that make life worthwhile.
    There is a film that is just out by a woman photographer and her daughter called “Opening Our Eyes”. They interviewed 11 people around the world using a 35 mm video camera to tell the stories of how each began amazing work helping others to have a better life. One was a girl of 19 years from the States who started a school in Nepal and raised the money through donations to build it. You can see the trailer online when you have a chance at the internet. The young woman stayed on helping children and teaching and working.
    I am leaving in July for South Africa with the Peace Corps as a teacher. Yours and others have prepared me for the best and worst! I have been working on this app for two years with a deferment with a health issue that held me back. Besides teaching on the side, I have been a full time photographer whose profession has changed. Having met an older volunteer a couple of years ago , I realized that
    I could do this like I wanted when I was in college when JFK began the PC. At that time I was not
    trained for what was needed…. a drama major. Now I can go prepared. Having
    been in India for quite awhile, I have seen the need for everything like you are doing.
    Thank you so much for your terrific contribution.

  114. [...] echo the sentiments of a fellow PCV in Ethiopia (http://waidsworld.wordpress.com/2011/08/07/the-real-peace-corps/).  We exist in a sort of limbo as far as the work we do.  Peace Corps gives us suggestions [...]

  115. [...] my radar via a facebook link from my niece to her mother. In his blog post “<a href=”http://waidsworld.wordpress.com/2011/08/07/the-real-peace-corps/&#8221; title=”The Real Peace Corp”>The Real Peace Corp</a>”, Michael shares [...]

  116. jackie woods says:

    Thank you for your beautifully written blog. My daughter is a PCV trainee in Albania. She has expressed so many of the same feelings and experiences already. Just change heat for cold…what she wouldn’t give to be able to take hot showers every day. I am sharing this blog with her and know she will be able to relate to it. I wish you well and hope the rest of your assignment lies in the high range of emotions. Again, thank you.

  117. krnordstrom says:

    I randomly saw a link to this page on my facebook and decided to read it. I’m a pct in West Africa and already find myself identifying so much with your post. It was very well articulated.

  118. [...] THE REAL PEACE CORPS Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

  119. Howard Hyman says:

    My daughter is a PCV in Namabia. Thank you, for a great blog which captures the difficulties and joys of this great adventure. I admire all of you so. If you can get thru this, you can do anything . Good luck!!

  120. Kathleen Vilicich says:

    What a brilliant and cogent summary of this country I have come to love so much! I am only able to visit for a week or so at a time; that being said, your observations are so right on, it takes my breath away. Cherish your time there. As much as you miss America, I can promise that, upon your return, you will be freaked out by the straight roads, curbs, sidewalks, and lack of animals sharing the road with you. When I come back, it’s like, sensory deprivation. As much as the bus smells seem overwhelming, the lack of odors in America is overwhelming at first (and I take the subway in Chicago). Brick and cement buildings standing square and tall … and hundreds of channels on the TV, Dexter, Life According to Jim and Dr. Oz (all of which I’ve seen in Ethiopia), take on a surreal meaning when seen both in Ethiopia and in America. Have you ever had a toddler run out of the room, freaked out because you were the first white person they ever saw? It’s happened to me twice. We look like we have no skin; after being immersed in a land of beautiful, cafe-au-lait people with giant brown eyes, America, even with all its diversity, seems pallid and weird. Thank you for putting into writing so much of what I feel; and thank you for your selfless service to the PC. You may not feel like it, but you are a her.

  121. [...] viewed detailed biopics of wintery living conditions and minimal household effects; absorbed unabashed confessionals regarding the starker realities of Peace Corps service; and been pleasantly surprised by the unexpected benefits of the outhouse. (Those of you [...]

  122. Emily says:

    Reading your post from PC Togo and you did a great job capturing the experience. I will use this as an example when people ask me “what is it like” and I don’t know where to start. Thanks!

  123. Michael Gamache says:

    Nice piece. With minor text changes, you easily could have been talking about Swaziland when I served in 79-83.

  124. [...] of applying for the Peace Corps, I found a blog post by a current PCV in Ethiopia called “The Real Peace Corps.” It was one of the best posts I’d encountered at the time and still remains one of my [...]

  125. [...] One last thing: I love this very much, it’s as accurate as can be, so please read: http://waidsworld.wordpress.com/2011/08/07/the-real-peace-corps/ [...]

  126. [...] came across this blog post today when I was browsing the Peace Corp Journals website (http://waidsworld.wordpress.com/2011/08/07/the-real-peace-corps/). Someone from my Moldova group posted it in their blog post. It is a nice description about what [...]

  127. Tamika R. says:

    I recently started the application process for Peace Corps. Your story gives me the insight I need to make the best decision. Continue to write about your journey and persevere through it.

  128. llockhart06 says:

    I really love this post, we reference it often here in Morocco! :)

  129. Steve says:

    Great blog post. I served in Uganda(2009-2011) and most of what you said is perfectly applicable to my time, except we didn’t have gunfo. Thanks for a few laughs. Its funny how things can be so different, yet so similar. Its also funny how things change when your looking back on your time.
    Take Care

  130. [...] To get to know Mike a little more, read his most-famous blog post regarding how life really is in the Peace Corps: click me. [...]

  131. Matt says:

    Reblogged this on Fishing in Zambia and commented:
    This wonderful blog post from a recent RPCV in Ethiopia made the rounds in the Peace Corps community a year ago. For me, the strength of this post is rooted in its ability to sensitize me and to inform my expectations for my imminent service. Michael Waidmann’s writing reminds me of a passage from Alain de Botton’s book How Proust Can Change Your Life describing the value of a novel:

    “The value of a novel is not limited to its depictions of emotions and people akin to those in our own life; it stretches to an ability to describe these far better than we would have been able, to put a finger on perceptions that we recognize as our own, but could not have formulated on our own. An effect of reading a book which has devoted attention to noticing such faint yet vital tremors is that once we’ve put the volume down and resumed our own life, we may attend to precisely the things the author would have responded to had he or she been in our company. Our mind will be like a radar newly attuned to pick up certain objects floating through consciousness; the effect will be like bringing a radio into a room that we had thought silent, and realizing that the silence only existed at a particular frequency and that all along we in fact shared the room with waves of sound coming in from a Ukrainian station or the nighttime chatter of a minicab firm. Our attention will be drawn to the shades of the sky, to the changeability of a face, to the hypocrisy of a friend, or to a submerged sadness about a situation which we had previously not even known we could feel sad about. The book will have sensitized us, stimulated our dormant antennae by evidence of its own developed sensitivity.”

  132. Bethany says:

    You have a beautiful mind(so please write a book), and I’m sure you impacted many lives during your stay with your love and humor and possibly nunchuck skills?? I am considering applying to be a volunteer. I’m doing all my research and that’s how I came across your story. There seems to be many scary parts, but I think I’m more scared of not having an experience that teaches me a deeper understanding of people, life, patience, humility, gratitude, and love etc. I’m sure being a Volunteer is emotionally and physically draining, but people are my passion. This is something I feel called to do. I’m glad I came across your post. Thank you!

  133. you raise important points. However, some experiences are common to any one travelling to a far off world. I travelled from Africa to the US.. There is better transportation and blah blah! and yet I have never felt lonelier in my life.

  134. Camille Harper says:

    Hi there! Thank you for turning words into life! I’m a PCV in Benin right now, and this is a beautiful way to describe what it’s like, without being self-pitying or righteous or compliment-fishing-y. And trust me, that is very very hard. I shared it on my blog, hope you don’t mind! Thanks for writing!

  135. Ray Blakney says:

    Good afternoon,

    Sorry to bother you. My name is Ray Blakney and I am a RPCV from Mexico. I am working on a 3rd goal project with the PC regional offices and the main office in DC to try to create an online archive to keep the language training material made all over the world from getting lost. I have created a sub-section on my website with all the information I have been able to get to date (from over the web and sent to me directly by PC staff and PCV’s). I currently have close to 100 languages with ebooks, audios and even some videos.

    The next step for this project is that I am trying to get the world out about this resource so that it can not only be used by PCV’s or those accepted into the Peace Corps, but also so that when people run across material that is not on the site they can send it to me and I can get it up for everybody to use. I was hoping that you could help getting the word out by putting a link on this on your site at:

    http://www.idahopeacecorps.com/links/links.html

    so that people know it is there. There should be something there for almost everybody. It is all 100% free to use and share. Here is the page:

    http://www.livelingua.com/peace-corps-language-courses.php

    Thanks for any help you can provide in making this 3rd goal project a success. And if anybody in your group has some old material they can scan or already have in digital form, and want to add to the archive, please don’t hesitate to pass them my email. Thanks and have a great day.

    Ray Blakney
    blakney.ray@gmail.com

  136. […] has been a journey. A friend of a friend writes powerfully about the “real peace corps” – but one can easily apply his comments to the “real africa” or the […]

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