(I do still enjoy obscure song references, and enjoy them a little more when they produce blog post ideas. Cheers.)
I can see clearly now, the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright, bright, bright, bright sun-shining day
- Jonny Nash, “I Can See Clearly Now”
With 2015 here, everyone in G10 can say we’re one month away from the one-year-in-Ethiopia mark. Or, as one RPCV said in a letter, “your second year of service.”
We count down months, weeks, days here like never before. If NASA ever wants to send a shuttle into space again, there’s a whole league of people who are experts on counting down. (And it’s a government organization, NCE status has never been so great!)
Example: G10 has been here for nearly 11 months, we have about 16 left. A year and some change. Our mid-service conference (MSC) has a date for May, and hey, our close-of-service (COS) conference isn’t that far behind, considering how time flies when you’re having fun (or searching for fun, depending on how the day’s going).
We spend time thinking of how much time we have left. It’s a common question at site – “For how many months will you stay here?”, “After how long will you leave?” I never once have looked as the one-year mark as the start of anything – but behold, it is indeed the start of the second year of service.
(Pause for the “Holy crap, my mind feels a little blown” interlude.)
Let’s take a look at some of the Year 1 reality checks from site.
Reality Check 1: Take it slow (because you have to)
Every PCV we met during pre-service training (PST) said it would take a year to start the projects we actually wanted to start at site.
Oh yeah? Forget that noise. I’m going to hit the ground running, start everything I want and my service is going to be the most meaningful.
We could have a discussion on, “What is meaningful?” but we’ll leave that for MSC. The lesson really is take it slow.
Change doesn’t happen overnight anywhere, and if it does happen overnight, there’s probably a good chance a decent portion of people are wondering what you’re doing, why you’re doing what you’re doing, and going, “Yeah, this is never gonna work.” That happens everywhere. It happens in your cubicle in your multi-story office building squished between banks and railways, it happens on the other side of the world.
We have a new country director in Ethiopia, and he spends his part in the weekly update we get delivered to our PO boxes and email inboxes reminding us Goals 2 and 3 exist. Not everything is technical capacity building, and it’s the relationships we form along the way that last longer than that shint bet anyway. (Quick poll: Do you remember the projects you did with your boss, or do you remember the laughs and arguments along the way of that project?)
Perspective matters. It matters there, there being your comfy, cozy couch in the States, and it matters here, here being home. The health office. The primary school. The shay bets.
Reality Check 2: Keeping (a positive) perspective
So perspective matters. It matters here, it matters there. Big effing deal.
It is a big deal.
When you’ve been at site for eight months (or any amount of months) wondering what the hell you’ve done and, Jesus Christ, if you’re going to get anything done, perspective keeps you together.
Perspective example, round 1: Service sucks because (so far) I’ve done nothing to directly help PLWHA (people living with HIV/AIDS). I could spend hours – and don’t worry, I have spent hours – frustrated that the infection rate is growing among pregnant women and I can’t get any work done because I’m not about that per diem life. I could be frustrated that the funds to cover transportation costs to hold a training exist but the fund remains untapped for unexplainable reasons.
I could be frustrated that an association director and I have a great idea for an income-generating activity (IGA) that fuses income and improves hygiene! but the idea doesn’t become reality because unless I’ve got money to pop out on per diem, people already in the association won’t attend the meeting because what’s there to gain?
(Sierra, you say callously, comfortably from your air-conditioned apartment living room, there’s plenty to gain from attending a meeting that establishes a foundation for a healthier, stronger future. Guess what? I agree with you. Every PCV you talk to will agree with you. But your life expectancy, according to World Bank, supersedes 63. You didn’t grow up in a country where NGOs flock in and out to achieve their own goals while disregarding the communities they’re supposed to benefit, creating a culture where people get paid to attend meetings that seemingly only benefit the NGO and not the people. People need to believe they are part of a benefit, part of a change.
Wow, you say, that must be hard. It is.)
Perspective example, round 2: Service is okay. There’s a major international NGO in town linked with the health office, and it focuses on (behavior change) trainings in the fields I want to work (nutrition, sanitation, HIV prevention), so you know, I can still do the work I want to do, escape the per diem nightmare, and hope that a few generations from now, all these NGOs and Peace Corps won’t have a need to be around. (I love Peace Corps, but man, what a statement it would be to create something so self-sustaining we weed ourselves out.)
Perspective example, round 3: Service rocks. There are some (personal) issues I want to improve, but it’s not 16 months left, it’s entering Year 2 of service, there’s still time to make some change. There’s time to improve what I want to improve about myself. There are resources to make that want a reality because I’m serving alongside 300 of the most beautiful people this planet has to offer, and if I need it, we’ve got counselors in Addis to help us through the rough patches.
There’s plenty of time to address some of the issues I want to work on at site because there is a major international NGO in town that works alongside the health office, and while it employs a tactic I’m not a fan of, it serves as the venue for creating the changes that will make a healthier future. The NGO trusts me to add input into developing and executing trainings. The trainings are an opportunity to meet potential people in neighboring kebeles I can work with on future projects. Even if no work stems from the relationship, a new friendship did, and that counts for something. That counts for a lot.
By pure luck, someone familiar with Peace Corps moved back into the woreda to launch his own nonprofit because he believes in his country’s future, and he believes the future starts with access to sufficient preschool education. By pure luck, this former Peace Corps counterpart has again found himself acting as a counterpart, helping the strange ferenji adapt to site, forge new friendships and find a sense of self.
Kids have started showing respect – not just to me, because that’s one thing, but to others, too. Fewer boys whistle in the streets, not just to me, but to other females, too.
Teachers say hi in the middle of the street.
There’s a female suk owner near the health office, and I’ve never bought anything from her (maybe I should at some point), but we talk every morning.
It’s not just making work happen, it’s making life happen, too. It’s finding and spreading a comfort zone.
Since I’ve already stolen this post’s title from Johnny Nash, I’ll keep with it – here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for.
Reality Check 3: Love is a real thing
I have friends at site, all of whom I love dearly, and one of them always seems to find me on the days when I don’t realize I need a pick-me-up the most. On a post-sunset walk home, we bumped into each other, and he began telling me I’ve become betasabawi – familiar, among site, among neighboring kebeles. It’s a small statement, and not insignificant. This guy acts as my Amharic tutor and has spearheaded a huge amount of confidence at site and in service, and to hear him say, “You act like you’ve lived here for 10 years! You’re so confident!” makes me want to hug everyone I meet because NO. I didn’t do that. He did that. Everyone else here did that.
Everyone at site, snags included, has made me realize love can exist even when it doesn’t seem like there should be room for such an overwhelming (and positive) emotion. Another PCV laughed when I told him this and said, “Well, yeah, I’d hope love can still exist, it’s supposed to be that powerful.”
Valid. I learn just about everything the hard way, though, and I don’t know. It’s refreshing. It’s beautiful. It’s inspiring. In a full-circle realization that would have my high school literature teacher jump up and shout, “Yes! That’s it!”, love was my first word and it took 24 years to figure it out. I don’t care how cheesy it sounds, but it’s awesome.
Reality Check 4: Life (and service) goes on
Boiling everything into one sentence: Life has an uncountable amount of ups and downs that Peace Corps magnifies, but life keeps going. Might as well make the most of it and enjoy the ride.
Besides, we’ve got a full second year to tackle!