Wow…it’s been quite a while since updating this. But with time it seems easier to keep in correspondence directly with people. And when I sit down to write on these things, a million thoughts co ome to fruition and I never have enough time to do them justice. I do implore you to read my blog, but one of my friends here has an awesome blog that he updates more regularly and makes us seem way cooler than I could: stevenchronicles.blogspot.com
Anyways…so an update….wow. Well, I’ve been just getting acquainted with village life. It doesn’t seem like I’m under any stress while I’m out there, but once I get back to Kombo (area where the peace corps office and internet are), I get to relax in an air conditioned room and think, and I feel relief. The people here have a hard life. There is a lot of improvements that can be made, but it’s like pushing through mud. They have no luxuries that we have in America, so even relaxing time is characterized by hard wood seats and heat. There are tons of motivated people, but it’s hard to stay determined and ambitious because the reality is the opportunities are limited. Even the most educated man here still needs to farm and find ways to make income, despite his skills. The great thing though is that despite these conditions, laughter, love and happiness still exist. Even in desperation people can fine positivity.
As far as my personal experiences, I’m trying to bring some sort of structure to ambiguity. As the Assistant Peace Corps Director (APCD), Gibril likes to say, I’m “Trail Blazing.” It’s is because I’m basically the first Peace Corps at this site (there was one 15-20 years ago and it was an agriculturist). As cool as this sound, and as awesome as the possibilities are, it is also these possiblities that make my job hard. There is no set structure, no set expectations from the villagers, and no groundwork for me to jump off from. So, that means a lot of assesment, finding out what resources are in the village, what demands there are and the over all village dynamic and relationships. Furthermore, it means defining a Peace Corp relationship with locals and how they fit into the community.
What’s great about my village is that it is a big village with a lot of useful institutions in place. A clinic growing to be one of the best in the country, a skills center for women and skill development, schools from nursery to 9th grade, a strong and effective VDC, and a lot of ambitious educated people. So although it was my original thoughts that I’d bring something new and tangible here, the benefits will be reaped from strengthening these institutions first. And if this can be accomplished before 2 years, then I can think about building upon them. But it’s been my realization that a lot of places here in The Gambia, and I’m guessing in a lot of developing countries, need the strengthening of these insitutions. Administration. From building an inventory to creating a simple and transparent accounting system. If they can just establish these, the aid going here would be so much more effective. And a field worker, like me, has the most effective means to do this. Further, we can act as a liaison to the western world, because little differences between our cultures that we take for granted, are important when trying to figure out what a donor wants or is expecting. So, for long term progress it’s solidfying what is already here first…then bring new help here. Plus, for me, I prefer to help make people more effective than help them find more donation…they can’t rely on aid forever.
Culturally it is starting to become second nature, though I still feel the strain of cultural shock. People here are so friendly, and being an American, it’s hard for me to just accept kindness, especially from strangers, without a grain of salt. Furthermore, being a foreigner you are treated slightly different and can not always assume the same standards apply to you as to a local. But it’s funny because before I left, I thought, “I’m Chinese-Korean-American, I’m used to sticking out as different.” But now, I realize how much of an American I was, and how sticking out in America, I’m still an American, here I’m totally foreign. Being here makes me realize improvements that America can do, like the usual rhetoric about wastefulness, but really, it makes me feel so patriotic. Being an American is great and having a country like ours is awesome.
Being a world citizen is trying, but rewarding. Regardless of what I do here, I will always know that the culture in America must retain a feeling of kinship towards the world. We can not remain alien to it. Whatever your thoughts, whether we are obligated to help the world or have absolutely no obligation, we have to aware of our part in the world and the world’s part in America. Not are there under utilized resources for America in all parts of the world, but people are just living everyday, just like we are, with the same thoughts and same ambitions that make you see the World, America and even just your own household in a more true light.
And, to all my brothers and friends, I’m still waiting for the period where I come to enlightenment…but I’m realizing the truth that one can not strive towards enlightenment and expect to obtain it. It just happens by living the right way.
And to everyone, my family especially, I love you all so much. Homesickness is grabbing me, but luckily I’m old (and mature?) enough to recognize it and know it’ll pass. But you are in my thoughts all the time.
It’s weird how much I feel like I’m growing. My friend said made an analogy to drugs…he said you feel like you are learning so much while you are in the drug induced haze, but afterwards you realize that everything is still the same. But I told him, yeah, but later you realize that you actually have changed in subtle ways that are important. So, who knows if I’m a different person, but I think the analogy will hold true. And I’ve been reading David Law’s, “Drunk Sax on Frat Row,” a tribute to our college days and realized how much I didn’t know I had changed since then. I still believe our core persons never change, but life has so many more angles and perspectives to me…what about after this? Oh well…an experience PCV told me that you come to a place where you live in the present, no longer thinking of the past or future…and that’s the time you are finally adapted. Obviously I’m only thinking past and future…I wonder when this present-framed mindset will set in.
Lastly, I write my blogs on the fly, without proofreading so I apologize if my thoughts are confusing and unorganized…at least you know you are reading raw thoughts, straight from my mind, and know that it is as close to an unbiased reading of my feeelings here.