Please note that the opinions reflected on this blog are solely MY opinion. They do not reflect the Peace Corps or the US Government in any way.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Meaning of Life

I realized in my last post that I randomly brought up moving to a bigger town with absolutely no back story or preface as to why this might be happening and how this is possible. Sorry about that. So, as I have mentioned 54195 times, I live in a small village of about 2,500 people. The location of this village is between the coast and the Sine-Saloum Delta making it quite picturesque and unbelievably tranquil. However, as beautiful as it may be down here, I’m not sure this community is necessarily “in need” of a Peace Corps volunteer. That might sound strange seeming as most people in the Western world hear Africa and immediately think of children dressed in rags, covered in flies, dirty and surrounded by utter poverty. I assure you that level of poverty does exist here (side rant, in a few of my packages I have received celebrity magazines. They’re fun to read but also make me kind of want to puke and shake these idiot famous people. I’m sitting here next to a child who wears the same dirty t-shirt every day, reading about the latest “it” person who spent $2,000 on a wallet. It’s disgusting) but for the most part my village seems to know what they’re doing, they've had Peace Corps volunteers down here for the last 10 years.

You see, there is a sort of application process for requesting a Peace Corps volunteer in your village or town. I believe the main qualifications are that there is sufficient work and needs to be fulfilled in order to legitimize the necessity of a volunteer in the site. We also “graduate” from sites when we feel like they can take things over on their own, this obviously being a great thing as the goal of Peace Corps work is sustainability after we’re gone. Basically, we are not forcing aid upon communities. In my case, there was a locally established campement (small hotel) that needed help with business formalization, marketing, staff training, etc. I was placed here because of my international business background as well as previous experience working in a hotel that prided itself on environmentally friendly practices. Well. This all sounds fine and dandy which set my expectations significantly higher than they should have been. Each time I visited the campement for a progress update I was told, “Oh, it will be completely constructed next month!” Or, “By tourist season, we will be up and running and ready for your help.” Yeah these things weren't exactly accurate; it still remains tightly closed down. Don’t get me wrong, I have certainly come up with other ways to try and bide my time here (which I have talked about enough in previous posts, I’m sure); but, once school is out and tourist season is over, I couldn't really imagine what I would do down here. Therefore, I have been talking to my supervisors and other volunteers, trying to come up with the best solution.

Site changes are very rare and are usually only approved in serious situations; however, when I came to my supervisor complaining about a lack of work, he was more than understanding and has been working with me ever since then to figure out the best solution. Assuming I can find a suitable place to live, I will be moving to a bigger town in April. I’m slightly apprehensive. It’s just like when I was first installed into my village all over again. I will have to develop new routines, forge new friendships and integrate into a new community. There will be more harassment, less tranquility and just a new set of challenges. I’m also worried about the opinions of other volunteers. I know that I shouldn't be but as a community, other volunteers can be very judgmental. We have a tendency to constantly compare ourselves and there is this ongoing battle of who is “roughing” it more and having the “true Peace Corps experience.” Although, if people realize that I could have just relaxed on the beach for 2 years and I am choosing to move in order to have meaningful projects, I would hope that they would understand. Ultimately, I think it will be worth it.

While moving for work purposes is legitimate and all, I definitely am not prepared for how difficult it is going to be to leave Palmarin. I have started telling the people that I am closest to in the community and their reactions have been overwhelming. The artisans I help with English are sad to see me go but said they have such a positive view of Americans and the Peace Corps now because of how nice and open I always was/am with them and the teacher I work with at the high school said they’ve seen a fair amount of volunteers come through Palmarin and I am the one who has tried the hardest with the school and that I always have such a positive attitude. It was really nice to hear and made me feel like, even though I was only down here for a little over 7 months, I made a positive impact.

Well that catches you up on that whole jazz. As usual, this post is probably going to veer off into me thinking that I’m being philosophical because, as I've said a thousand times before, I have WAY too much time to think here. Lately I've been thinking very retrospectively, going over a lot of the past relationships I've had in my life. Do you ever think about that one relationship where the timing was always off or those friendships that were shattered beyond repair? The family ties that you didn't work on hard enough and eventually let fade away. I've also been thinking a lot about the grudges that people continue to foster when, in reality, they’re only hurting themselves. We only have one life, what if we pushed someone or some opportunity aside that would have been better for us all along? What if we let something fester inside us forever instead of moving on and ultimately letting ourselves feel at peace? I like to believe that everything happens for a reason but that philosophy can sometimes feel like a cop out when things don’t work out the way you wanted them to. I'm going to lighten the mood a little by inserting a beautiful picture of the sunrise this morning from my backyard. 

Now, back to it. Thinking like this is partly stemming from catching up with friends and family back home. I am constantly seeing friends who are getting into new relationships, starting families, going to grad school, getting great jobs and just moving forward in their lives. I hate that sometimes here I’m just willing time to pass quickly so that I can get to that point in my life. My parents always tell me that I don’t realize how fast time truly does go but I think that I do. It’s just that life can feel so stagnant here. What is the meaning of life anyway? Is it to find one, great, epic love? Is it to have a meaningful career? Is it to help those that were born less fortunate than you are? Is it to see the beauty of nature and explore the world? Is the meaning of life to be remembered for something, to be famous? I feel like the wisest answer to that question is that the meaning of life is to be happy and fulfilled. But, how do you achieve that contentment? A part of me is grateful that I have so much time on my hands to be able to reflect and think about what I want out of life. The problem with that, again, is that it’s too much time. I over-think everything and end up second guessing all of my major life’s decisions. I guess all that I can really hope for is to successfully complete this step of my life by setting a good example for the people of Senegal and for my friends and family back home. I’m also going to continue enjoying the simplicity and beauty of the environment that surrounds me here. As my parents have always said, all of that other stuff will work itself out the way it’s meant to.

Until next time then,