Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Golden dusty days

The classic Peace Corps motivational curve: sky-high at Staging, sloping downward as training wears on for three months, spiking suddenly at the beginning of service and bottoming out just as quickly… then a two-year climb along an almost imperceptible upward grade, with peaks and valleys disrupting the landscape along the way.

At one of our trainings, Peace Corps encouraged us to chart our motivation as our service wore on. Aside from my generally positive view of training (thanks to a great training site, good host family and wonderful trainers), my graph more or less follows the common pattern.

This is a chart. There are many like it but this one is mine.

At 1, after long months of wrestling with PC paperwork and and medical misery (four blood tests and a harrowing ride through wisdom-teeth removal agony), I was ready and enthusiastic to get overseas. Training was lots of exciting firsts, of course: bucket baths, dusty jeepney rides, intriguing new foods. I enjoyed training and learned a lot, but after three months I was pretty well ready to get going with my actual service.

Unfortunately, the beginning of my service (2) was miserable: my center gave me little help finding a workable schedule and worthwhile jobs, I got some nice eye infections, and my new host family was less than hospitable.

Luckily I had my first real vacation in February and March (3), and discovered the joys of Siquijor. But then it was right back to a summer of uncompleted projects and frustrating cultural barriers which culminated in the death of my grandmother at the end of June (4).

A couple months afterwards I flew to Hawai’i to see some of my family (5), which was a much-needed break from Peace Corps. Working started becoming easier, I got into the slow rhythm of Philippine life, and I actually enjoyed the holidays; to top it off (6), we were able to get our SLRs in January, giving me a project that I was genuinely excited about.

After that the frustration of organizing our girls’ leadership camp, and the incredible heat, wore on me for a couple months (7), but my dad’s vacation in the Philippines (as well as the completion of the camp) has given me a boost (8). For the future, a couple more immediate projects and the prospect of more traveling – I have a good number of vacation days accumulated and I have to use them by August, because we’re not allowed to travel for the last three months of service – should keep the line relatively buoyed.

It’s kind of sad to look at the chart and see that most of the downs are work-related and most of the ups are vacations, but that’s kind of how it goes here: projects are difficult to start and harder to finish, and there are constant disruptions thanks to outside events and cultural issues. But I can say that there has definitely been a lot of work-related improvement in the past year and a half. Things aren’t nearly as frustrating, I understand a lot more about communicating appropriately and planning efficiently, and navigating the sea of obstacles that surrounds any new project isn’t quite as daunting. And besides, vacations aren’t just about getting away from it all – they’re often really about understanding the Philippines, having new cultural experiences, meeting people and seeing what the country is like outside of workspace.

Averaging out the past few months, I’m now predictably in a general state somewhere between the golden dusty days of our arrival and the deep valleys that accompanied the worst of times. The trend has been generally upwards: life now is more settled, more comfortable. I don’t expect the line to top out in my last half-year – some things that were new and exciting have since gotten wearisome, and the post-PC future looms, seductive and unknowable – but then, I never expected my line to be flat; and anyway, lots of dips and ramps just make for a more thrilling ride.

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