Something Peace Corps is really good at doing is teaching someone what loneliness really feels like. I think loneliness is one of the main causes for people to quit. In all reality, I have friends within a couple hours that I can visit and we do. But I’ve been a pretty social guy most of my life and in the town where I live, once 6 or 7pm rolls around, I’m pretty happy to be in my room where I can truly relax. Before I came here I lived in a group house with a great bunch of guys in Washington DC. When I lived in New Zealand I had one of my best friends in the same flat (and it was really small) – so while we were far away, it was never lonely – not to mention we worked at a very popular bar. During college I was in a bubble world of friends.
The friends where I live are just simply not the same and I do not mean anything bad by that, they are great people and I spend a lot of time with them. I grew up in a very different culture and they grew up in the Andes where plastic didn’t arrive until the 70’s. They see this crazy foreign world through their TV and that’s how a lot of them see me because that’s the only white people they know, through their TV with the twist knob to change the channel. I grew up with cars and running water and toilets and tractors and constant electricity. Most people here have grown up where only the richest people have cars, running tap water is still a pretty cool thing, toilet seats are novel, and you plow a field with oxen.
Hence, I spend a lot of nights with the company of myself and nothing more. There is a lot of time for introspection as well as the reverse. There is a lot of time to read and listen to music. Basically, there is a lot of time. I don’t have a TV (but I have this laptop to write with and watch movies). I work where I live so my commute time is 0 minutes…unless you count a 5 minute walk to the artisan center. Most food I cook can usually be bought from the house on the corner, part of their house is a little store, the 7-11 of the Andes rural village…though their hours are more like 6am-1pm; 3pm-9pm. They love asking me what I’m cooking (although it’s a repeat of about 5 or 6 things) and I’ve been teaching them how to incorporate more vegetables into their diet while cooking them properly.
My friends Vishal and Frank and I have earned quite the reputation in Huaraz (the city we live near) because when we get together to go out at night, about once every 5 to 6 weeks, we have a lot more to let loose. So we’re usually on a high throttle and have a good time…and I think a lot of other people do too as a result.
Being alone can be a beautiful thing. In our lives, it’s truly hard to be alone. Sometimes it’s easy to feel alone even when surrounded by people you’ve known for a long time. And in cities we might be closer in proximity, but the psychic distance is often greater. Actually being alone (as in the only foreigner in my town) adds a different twist to feeling alone. There is no way around being alone, so you better accept it or you won’t make the 2 years of Peace Corps. Being alone for me doesn’t mean feeling alone – although when that emotion comes on it is a lot stronger. I enjoy learning different perspectives; I think it makes me a more whole person. Learning the value of loneliness is certainly a benefit of Peace Corps that I can bring with me after my service.
At times, living out here in Peru, away from friends, family, and news, can really be a downer. But for the most part, I’m enjoying the experience – even the bad parts. Now that I’ve rounded the corner on my service and have less than 10 months, I’m trying to get as much done here while taking advantage of my situation and having fun. I hope everyone back home is doing the same thing, albeit in a different environment.