As I cricked my neck to look upward, ever upward it seemed, I decide that the tears threatening to burst forth would just have to wait. I needed clear eyesight to maneuver – in the darkness — up the precariously placed “steps” leading to the gate. The 20-pound pack on my back with the week’s worth of clothes and my computer had already expanded in my mind to become a bigger burden than I’d imagined when I proudly zipped it up that morning, content in the belief that the continuing but goodhearted ridicule I was taking for always having so many chunches would have no justification this time.
I was at that point in the trek that, though close, I let my mind go to the question “what if I just stopped, right now? Sat down and didn’t move for hours?” Of course, my host who was several concrete blocks ahead of me might notice, and, in all likelihood I would be crossing some cultural boundary that I am usually so attentive to. So I just let it be known that I was fine, I could do it, yet, since my arthritic hip has a mind of its own, I might be a while.
The journey of a thousand miles may begin with the first step but when your FitBit tells you you are well past the 10,000 step mark for the day and there’s still that backpack weighing on you, being “all about the journey” loses something in reality. And, at the moment, my reality was an uphill battle.
I guess I’m at that stage of my volunteer commitment where the “Are you serious?” factor is rather high. (They actually map out “stages” so we will know the misery or ecstasy we are currently feeling is “normal” or not.)
Perhaps I should provide examples …
- I told my host-for-the-week that I was coming from the suburb that (turns out) is directly beside her suburb. I learned the proximity only after I rode a bus for 25 min to downtown San Jose, walked to her office, walked from her office back to the bus stop area I had just come from and to another bus stop a bit away from that one, and rode a bus an hour back in the same direction I’d come (this time through 5:00 traffic).
- I’m with yet another new host because the work I’m doing on curriculum planning is considered a secondary project for me by Peace Corps – so they won’t pay for travel or a hotel. The national educational organization I’m working with has no budget for volunteers who are assisting them so they don’t pay for travel or a hotel either. They do, however, find me rooms I can stay in that are in the houses of their staff members. This is the second time I’ve taken advantage of that provision.
- The room I’m in at the moment was supposed to be an option for me and another volunteer to share. Had she not decided to stay home this week we would … shall I say … have been VERY close by the end of the week. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful. But this is one small room with a very, very, very firm mattress.
- I was just told the conference that I agreed to co-plan/lead in January has been changed to another conference topic (one I have no experience with). And it wasn’t changed by the organizers. It was changed by the person who asked me to work with her … but on a completely different topic … and hadn’t mentioned the change to me at all.
And these would be examples from only the last two days.
I share these tidbits not to evoke pity or concern. I simply want those who are following my experience here to know that while surrounded by breathtaking beauty, experiencing thrills ranging from mountaintops to waterfalls, and meeting the kind of inspirational people books are (or at least should be) written about, the reality is that every so often I’m
- Amazed at the ability of humans to screw up brilliant ideas with virtual mudslides of red tape
- Really wishing for something that once just seemed normal but would now seem like an extravagance of extravagance (i.e. a comfy bed in a room with air conditioning and a cold glass of good wine with a few mouthwatering tapas to accompany it)
I’m rolling with the punches though so there’s no need to fret. I recently read a great piece on the roller coaster ride of emotional highs and lows in a “typical” Peace Corps day and it pretty much nailed it. Wake up to sun pouring through your pane-less window and think how beautiful … freeze in the shower and think I gotta get outta here … start walking to school and see the volcano in the distance and think how amazing that I live here … be completely covered in sweat and you haven’t walked 50 feet and think when is the next plane to the states … meet a student who acknowledges you and seems excited to see you and think how much of an impact you can have … then said student corrects your Spanish or laughs at you and you think I could be making real money at a place with a copier that works …
You get the idea. I don’t know that I’ve had that much intensity in just the span of a couple of hours but I’m coming close and I certainly understand the writer’s sentiments.
So here’s to the next step of the “toughest job” I’m supposed “to ever love.”