There are many moments in the Peace Corps that fit the stereotype of Peace Corps - small villages, disconnected from the world, very organic, etc. However, Peace Corps has grown with the times quite a bit since its initial founding in 1961 by President Kennedy as the world is marked by more and more “globalization” and television bringing images of far off worlds. Some volunteers in Peru, for instance, live in cities, have internet in their house, and can go to a movie theater or McDonald’s whenever they like (if they can afford it). All the volunteers in Peru have cell phones. The internet has made communication much faster with instant gratification (picture: not a peace corps moment, I enjoy cooking and can´t really ¨cook¨ where I live since I don´t have a typical kitchen. A friend teaches in the mining community and he has a decent kitchen...so we took advantage of that recently).
My Peace Corps experience is a little more rustic and fitting to the traditional stereotype of Peace Corps – though it’s nothing like it would have been in the first 4 decades of the organization. So, I feel a little luckier with my experience because it’s what I wanted when I initially came here – the feel of isolation, being disconnected and the idea that there are still some places that haven’t been converted to “Americanism” with most concerned about their possessions defining who they are and eating food processed in laboratories wrapped in plastic with shelf lives of 5 years. Although, a forced cash economy and technology is certainly affecting the life here now as more computers, televisions, phones, and processed food arrive and are cheaper.
But, there are times, here and there, where I can’t help but smile at something and think that this moment, is stereotypical “Peace Corps” (but I smile at a lot of things). For instance, I printed out some pictures of the recent baptism I was part of and gave them to the family in one of the zip lock bags that my parents sent. It’s one of those ziplocks that have a small blue plastic handle that you pull back and forth to open/close the bag. At first, the family didn’t know how to open it and they were just as intrigued by the ziplock as they were the pictures – moving the blue “one-zip” back and forth with a perplexed look on their face and saying to me that it’s like a zipper on your pants.
This next moment isn’t really ‘Peace Corps’ but it’s too funny not to mention. When I first got here, I met a girl at a bar and we started hanging out – but she had a very latin-idea of a relationship, which I couldn’t deal with (lots of drama and calling me, literally 10 to 20 times a day). I broke that up promptly. Anyhow, we’re still friends and she’s in school studying art. I mentioned one time that I would like to see her drawings. She came out to where I live with a framed charcoal drawing of...Rod Stewart. I did my best not to laugh, simply because, well, it’s Rod Stewart – though it’s a very talented drawing. It’s hanging up in my room now, so I’m never really alone anymore…always have Rod there looking at me with his, “Do you think I’m sexy” grin? (And no, Rod, I don’t think you’re sexy).
Anytime I ask someone where I live to take a picture with my camera, I have to explain how to do it. Many people get confused and end up taking close-ups of their face. There is a lot of old beliefs that are completely ridiculous, passed down from generation to generation with no basis other than that’s what they were told (like drinking something cold at night will make you sick). Last night I was helping a 9-year old kid with his homework and I asked him what he wants to be when he grows up – he had never been asked that question before and he didn’t have an answer (there don’t seem to be too many choices around here). I walked into a store the other day and saw these lovely calendars of nude girls and right next to that was a picture of Jesus (I put black squares over the breasts to keep this PG).
My neighbor has an open part of her house, which is normal, and I can see into it from the stairs. I’m not much into voyeurism but the best signal for my cell phone is outside on the stairs – one time I saw she had a turkey, 3 or 4 chickens, 2 dogs, a cat, and a bunch of guinea pigs running around inside – all seemed to be living in relative harmony. At a town party once, there was a line of girls and the mayor told me and two other gringos to pick one (to dance). Everyone’s sense of geography is horrible. Most live simple lives – indulging in the basics and that’s it – lots of time to sit around and chat about the same things, and most seem quite content to do just that. I´ve mentioned this before, but everyone still plows their fields with cows. To get the wheat off the stalk, they have a donkey or two walk around in circles for hours, then throw it all in the air, the stalks get carried away by the wind and the wheat falls back down. Then, of course, we sift through the wheat for rocks, etc.
Anyhow – there are countless “Peace Corps” moments – those are just a few interesting ones. The ziplock incident just happened yesterday, which gave me the idea to write this. Hope everyone is doing well and still enjoying bacon (after all, this swine flu isn´t the pigs´ fault).
Thanks for reading.