One-sentence summary: Returning back to site resulted in a solid, two-day face plant; a multi-day wildfire event on el mirador (think 500 cement stairs & switchback ramps to a city lookout) added a new element to my exercise routine; implementing communication soft skills 2.0 with my host-family; designing and facilitating a marketing workshop for local tourism business owners; and turning off some things in order to take time to process, reflect, and preserve the spirit of why I am here.
Right Now: Today is the anniversary of my mother’s passing. I’m spending the day outside.
Expression of the Week: “Good enough is perfect” [in the Peace Corps.]
My identity as a professional (back in the US) included values such as being ahead of schedule, delivering excellent product, and exceeding expectations. Those qualities do not seem to work/translate directly in Perú or as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Who shall I be here then?
In August 2017, the morning I received an email inviting me to serve in Peace Corps, I called Eli.
Eli lives in Maryland with her [then] brand-spanking-new newborn, two school-age daughters, and husband, Sean. Eli served in the Peace Corps in Africa shortly after graduating college. We had recently reconnected, twenty years after high school, over the shared grief of the passing of our Moms.
I knew Angie. She knew Debbie. Sometimes just that is enough.
“I got in.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t want to make the wrong decision.”
“Lucky then. No such thing.”
“If I say yes… do you think there is any chance I am running away from my life?”
“It is the opposite. Anything you are trying to run from is going to show up and shake you more deeply there than you have ever known. Peace Corps is running headfirst –with the good, bad, and the ugly– into your life.”
And with that I said yes.
Last we left off in Libélula –(what one friend recently referred to as a TV episode she can binge-watch if she misses a week)– it was the dramatic never-before-seen-on-TV part-two finale conclusion of EIST SURVIVOR.
SCENE: As you recall, we had the suspenseful conditions of volunteers at waste-level energy reserves after three full days hosting/planning with our local partners. After our socios left to return home, the remaining workshop participants were starting to show their split-ends from overbooked days.
For the second part of the training week, volunteers needed to have three things prepared: a safety & security presentation, a Community Diagnostic (the template we were given was 22-pages in Spanish, analyzing the demographics, population, and elaboration of potential work opportunities) and finally, a ten-minute slide presentation summarizing our findings.
It sounds overwhelming to read. It was. But really, it could have been a “share what you’ve been up to and what you’re excited to work on in your communities” kind of day. (It helps if your internal programming and filter isn’t pre-set to “Ridiculous.” I guess I have some work to do on that.)
Over the next few weeks, I worked in my community and braced myself as another department, another survey, another demand for a response, a policy update, an urgent policy update, or a final deadline came in. Since our class of volunteers is still new, we get regular information updates – such as how to apply for vacation (form), how to calculate vacation days (same but different form), and what is expected for our second site visit (anytime in October-November complete with a laundry list and pre-report). As our first in-service training event approached, so seemed the corresponding volume of demands. My critical pressure gauge was also about to exceed expectations.
And that’s just when I had access to Internet – don’t forget there was actual real life outside the Inbox.
It’s like watching a horror film when you know who is going to be murdered for dinner next.
When I realized I was not going to complete my short-list Pulitzer Prize Tony-Award winning Community Diagnostic I reached out to staff for help. I was summarily told “no” for an extension and reminded that I had known about it for a month. No te preocupes.
The next day I received a phone call informing me (still having a tough time adjusting to this aspect of being a Peace Corps volunteer) I needed to complete a two-page informe summarizing my teacher training presentation before training. I had nothing but full-days ahead and nothing left to triage.
When I explained I felt like I was already failing to complete my other homework and asked for help prioritizing, I was told the informe was “more important since we have a meeting the next week at UGEL.”
Something had to give. And guess what. It was my over-inflated failing perfectionist exploding like a confetti balloon of unmet expectations all over my host family’s lentils.
[Fadeout. Cameras flashback to DisasterGate, aka EIST]
SCENE: Thursday afternoon. All nineteen of us (or close enough) showed up empty-handed. None of us completed our presentations.
The shit hit the slow-moving fan. The rest of the day involved a lot of scolding, “we are deeply disappointed in you” expositions, and genuine limb-shaking castigation.
But there’s no point in wasting all your blog reading time on he-said-she-said-and-we-just-didn’t.
Our group angered, disappointed, and ultimately hurt our program staff by showing up unprepared. It was awful. Never “in the history of all of Peace Corps” has a group had such blatant disregard for professionalism or oblivious and selfish disrespect.
And you know what?
I know exactly how they felt. Because I felt the same way about my program team.
It is pretty risky and probably stupid to publish that sentence all out in the open on the Internet. But hear me out. The point is not who was right and who was wrong. We are all human, something obviously didn’t work out, needs were not met, and feelings were hurt.
Now that I have had two-days to face plant, a week to throw a semi-silent tantrum in the corner, and literally ran a few times through fire, I am left with this: We all have room to do better.
Meanwhile, the earth kept rotating at normal speed. The final day of training was five sexy hours of instruction and guided practice on how to complete and submit a bi-annual volunteer report: the VRF.
You could not give me enough ponies to teach our broken-hearted, shamed, angry, exhausted, all-freaking-done group on how to download a software program whose very “Accept” button says anything on your laptop is now going to be freely monitored and accessed by the U.S. Government.
The M&E Director, Luis Ly, showed up Thursday night to prepare for his Friday class to find a lot of wildly upset humans. After basically crevasse-rescuing our group through the morning, he asked us to put down our screens. It was the very most bitter end of EIST. Only a few obeyed.
Luis made a speech to our group, hoping to salvage the original intent of our meeting at month three: to support volunteers.
I know I certainly needed a reminder. I had just hit send on an order of blood pressure medication from an online blackmarket looking at the colored rectangles of reports due in the next two years when I remembered the government was now consensually tracking me. Whoops. Click.
Luis asked us to remember why we applied for this job. Why we were selected among all the other qualified applicants. He asked us to think back to when we made the decision to change the course of our lives and show up in a new country, taking a leap of faith for this program, and this program staff, to plant us somewhere we will thrive. He took it higher.
Luis, head of all things data and tech and 0’s and 1’s, took more than the allotted time to tell me I was worth more than my reports and the numbers I did or did not produce. He shared how the impact on our communities and our selves would largely be unquantifiable. He asked us to remember all the reasons we said yes.
I may not know who I am here quite yet, but at least I have something to look up to.
Vamos a ver, amigos.
A Parting Shot
Hermana Jessica Rice, Cuerpo de Paz
Apartado NO. 120 SERPOST La Merced
La Merced, Chanchamayo, Junín, PERU
Please note: 1) This mailbox is two hours away 2) It costs a lot of money to send me stuff – (like $23 for $5 of candy) and only send through USPS to SERPOST 3) Keep packages under 1lb (or to not appear worth $100) or they get sent to Customs Jail in Lima. 4) Customs Jail is as arbitrary and random as my blog posts, so don’t send me anything that you’ll be sad goes missing. 5) The last numbers are my Peru cell phone and they will call me if it gets lost. Place them in the spot you would look if you were lost.
I have Port Townsend visitors coming mid-November if you want to pass something to them.