If Peace Corps was a Mortal Kombat game…
I’ve recently begun to compare my Peace Corps experience to the Midway Games classic, Mortal Kombat. I feel that many aspects of the game ring true to how a Peace Corps Volunteer sometimes feels during his or her 2 years of service.
You, the Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV), enter service with the excitement of a little schoolgirl on her first day in a new class. You don your pretty dress (floor length skirt) and your new shoes (Chacos) that your mom bought you, and you absolutely KNOW that you’re going to do something worthwhile, save babies, make friends, sincerely help people, become completely immersed in the culture…and you’re pumped to get started. The PC and the Volunteer start out on an even keel.
First rattle out of the box something knocks your clock. You get a big ‘ol reality check punch in the face. Boom! You realize that what you thought you were going to do during your service is only a dream. Everything that you had planned to do or thought you were going to do, every expectation, is crushed in a single blow. Instead, you have to reevaluate the direction of your service, scrounge for meaningful work, and (gasp) ask for help. This reality check depletes you of all of energy reserves, and you’re down in the dumps because the Peace Corps isn’t what you expected. It takes you some time to get your mental energy back. If you can take the initial beating, you come back with a renewed sense of purpose. If not, you go back to America and cry into your pillow…or not…whatever.
Shake it off! With your determination on the rise and your new sense of purpose intact, you come back a different and better volunteer. Reality enters the picture. Now you’re ready to take a stab at the work that will ACTUALLY do some good in your community. You’ve gained confidence, learned how to say, “I will NOT give you money” in the local language, and are ready to rock!
You’re movin’ and a groovin’ now. You’ve found your niche. One hitch: with every one step forward, there seem to always be 2 steps back. At first, this is ok. “It will get better”, you tell yourself unconvincingly. This doesn’t bother you at first. You brush it off, the cool new volunteer that you are. You barely even notice it. It keeps building up. 6 months later, one step forward, two steps back. 12 months later, one step forward, 2 steps back. Progress? Yes? No? Who knows? You’ve been in such a groove, that when you finally look up, the real picture becomes clear: you’re frustrated and tired of being asked for money. Before you know it, your mefloquine dreams have become your new reality and you’re slowly starting to pull your hair out and save it in a jar. Desensitization has caused you to go insane…slowly by slowly. You switch to Doxy. Yes, your project is going well, but now your mental capabilities have been compromised. Finally, you feel like you’re going to scream, and you do…and your head flies right off the handle. This is when you seriously consider going back to America. Time to dust yourself off again…
Pick yourself up and dust yourself off…again. You start back up with your projects where you left off before your mental decapitation. They continue to go well. You think, “this really isn’t so bad”. Because it’s not. The work you’re doing is rewarding, and no matter how many times you get reality check punched in the face, or how many times you pull your hair out and have a semi-mental breakdown, it will all be worth it in the end. You bounce back, because that’s what a PCV does, and really…what other choice do you have? You learn to roll with the punches. You start your mornings by looking into the mirror and psyching yourself out by saying “I AM VOLUNTEER” to the tune of the Black Sabbath song, Ironman. Nothing really phases you anymore. You’re still here…duh.
And you are ready. Your time is winding down, and you only have a couple more months left in service. “Wow”, you think. “That went by fast….sort of”. This is when you begin to reflect on your projects, their success/failure, what you would have done differently, etc. You try to figure out if the Peace Corps “Finished” you, or if you “Finished” the Peace Corps. In every scenario, you always come out the victor. You spent 2 years of your life trying to help others, and whether you succeeded or failed is almost beside the point. What matters is that you were here and that you tried. You probably learned more and were changed more than the people you worked with…and that’s ok. You blink, and It Is Finished.