Staring at the Wall

There is a Peace Corps saying, “Some volunteers read for two years. Others just stare at the wall.”

There is a painful truth to this statement, but I’ve come to learn the better aspects of this reality. While I feel as though I am a ‘starer’ I also belong to a third category.

I fall into the strange and annoying category of doers. I need to see progress, both personally and in work to be happy. This is a new relevation for me, but one that I take pride in. I’ve spent the last 2 months setting myself up with a number of projects. I have a good reputation in town and I expect to be very busy here in Bonga. And like I’ve said, busy is a beautiful thing in the Peace Corps.

I’m teaching English at the local schools, working with honey and coffee cooperatives, assisting the tourism bureau by training tour guides, designing brochures and creating a tourism website. I’m in charge of marketing the inauguration of Bonga as a UNESCO biosphere reserve that will be attended by the President. Next week I’m helping the doctors in Chiri as they venture to the smallest towns to provide medical support and do agricultural trainings. I’m working with a few teachers to hopefully build Bonga’s only orphanage. I’m also studying Amharic, playing basketball, have become addicted to working out, and am learning to cook.

I run around town from meeting to meeting all day. My house is over a mile trek, uphill to most offices. I probably walk 6 miles per day. Most days I end up quite exhausted. Herein lies the great time conundrum of my current experience. I try to fill my days and yet I have an abundance of down time. Time is a vacuum in the third world, you can try and occupy it, but you have to embrace the sheer intimidating size of it.

It is no wonder that the people here stop 5 times a day to roast and drink coffee. It is a time killer that fosters cultural identity and promotes socializing. But mostly, it is a way to pass the time. Due to a number of factors including coffee breaks and communication errors, I’m faced everyday with 6-10 hours of free time.

So in those hours, If I’m not writing or working out, I’m staring. I’ve become really good at it, and have come to enjoy it. For hours at a time, I can just think. A lot of these thoughts are trivial. I think about food; Crisp and Juicy, All you can eat sushi,  and Panang Curry. I think about my friends, playing basketball with Jennings at Glebe Park or inventing games with the Deanes. I think about College and Carly.

Somewhere hidden in these day-dreams, emerge the bigger thoughts that are the sole cause of personal growth.  I can try and explain.

Back home I would spend my days as follows.  I would wake up early and spend an hour violently dreading work. I would commute one hour to work in bumper to bumper traffic, eyes fixed on a clock determined to make me late. I would try and pass the time at work, eyes on the clock. I would spend 8 hours looking at a computer.  I would drive home and recover. This would consist of activities that required no thought: Casually surfing the internet or watching TV. I would never write or think, but I would feel sorry for myself. I would spend several hours a day worrying about time, being late, avoiding thinking about my chronic pain, or looking for something that I lost.

Ok, looking for something I had lost was probably 85% of my free time.

There is a therapy to the downtime here. I feel that many people join Peace Corps because they are good people. I joined Peace Corps because I wanted to become a good person. Those who know me best, know there is a truth to this statement. It could be that I take things for granted less, but I think these hours of nothingness are doing wonders.



2 comments on “Staring at the Wall

  1. Alex says:

    Mike your blog is always great! Sounds like you are making good use of your time…when is the inauguration for the Kafa Biosphere Reserve taking place?

    We are working on applying for the Sheka Forest to be a Biosphere Reserve, and I would love to check the inauguration out if possible.

    Hope all is well in Bonga!

  2. bburke says:

    oh mr waid-mann. i write this comment from the office and life that you speak of near the end of this entry. i can tell you this, i spend 10 hrs a day sitting. whether in my seat at my desk, or in my fine vw passat. i rush home to go to the gym where it is the only time during the day that i see myself as being productive and where my best sales ideas come to mind. thankfully, the people that i work with are quite fond of crude humor and less than appetizing websites that matthew edward would recommend to his caldwell friends. all in all, i guess my point is that people can be the best way to fill that extra time and i see that you are using that idea extremely well. i miss and love you. -bri bri

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