Being a Peace Corps volunteer is a lot like driving an Indy Car in rush hour traffic all the time, not just some of the time, all the time. As US Citizens we are trained at an early age to go full bore and not let up. It is engrained in our brains from day one and it hasn’t been until Generation Z^3 (or whatever we are currently at) that people have started rebelling against this hair on fire mentality. My profession prior to joining the Peace Corps as a project manager in the construction industry didn’t bode well for avoiding this pattern of existence. In fact, there where times where I simply couldn’t turn it off. Hence the need for a segue to Europe for graduate study as a breather. But even the degree I compacted to 12 months.
So here I am in the South Pacific, probably one of the slowest moving areas of the world, about to go crazy and wondering why? Is it the incessant heat that makes my earlobes sweat? What about the hurricanes and random tsunami warnings that never seem to happen? Maybe it is the three-pound rats that gallivant around my house rafters dodging mosquitoes and roaches the size of Buicks as if playing a strange version of critter tag? O.k., it has to be the stomach-revolt after every community meal. That’s it. Well, although all the above is quite fun and jolly; it isn’t the real reason of my angst.
It hit me today whilst sitting in a community meeting wondering if I will ever pick up this amazingly simple language. I’m an Indy Car living in a Go-Cart world. I don’t say this analogy condescendingly. In fact my love for Go-Carts is much deeper than Indy Cars. It is simply the best way to describe life transition from developed world to undeveloped world. I’m like an Indy Car constantly stuck in rush hour traffic. It is very frustrating, as I know I have the horsepower to get where I want to go in no time flat. My tires are new, my engine recently tuned, and my fuel is the best in the world. All the gauges are top of the line and give me all the information I could every need about the car’s status. I have the best technicians available at a moments notice to fix any problem that arises. Instead of being able to utilize all that is at my fingertips and tap into the experience of thousands of laps in this world class machine I am instead stuck breathing fumes from a 1986 Buick Roadmaster while watching the guy next to me pick his nose while flipping through AM talk radio stations.
Why can’t I go anywhere? My engine is overheating from all this idling! I don’t even need this titanium visor with carbon fiber lining as my top speed has been 4.5 mph! Why don’t all these yahoo’s get the hell outta the way!! Blahhhhh!
O.k, I am a recovering road rager, but the point is made. That is what it is like here. I want to go but I can’t. So I idle and my brain starts shutting down. I slowly become apathetic and lazy. I embrace the pace and can’t seem to function any longer. It is as if I have only one speed and anything lower yields nothing to negative results. That is how it is and overcoming it is not easy. I came in thinking it was, but it isn’t. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
All is not lost though. As even though I’m not going anywhere fast, I can still rev the engine and feel the rumble every once in a while. That is what happened today. Kelly and I were able to present at the community meeting and it actually felt really good. The villagers received the message well and even asked a few questions. For the first time it felt like a true connection was made that will increase their capacity to do things they may necessarily not have been able to do without us there. It made me realize getting through traffic the fastest isn’t always the best end game. Instead, making the most of it while I’m there knowing the destination isn’t moving and in fact the journey is often the most enjoyable part anyway.