Monday, January 16, 2006

Posh Corps?

We really enjoyed this article we found today on the Third Goal website. In case you aren't aware the Third Goal of Peace Corps is to "help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans." Which is something we try to achieve by sharing our stories through our blog ramblings.

A few excerpts:

While volunteers who know each other well talk about more interesting things, a common discussion among groups of volunteers, especially at the beginning was the level of “suffering” that we were going through. After all, everyone joins the Peace Corps expecting and hoping to live simple lives full of inconveniences that we would like to tell ourselves most Americans couldn’t handle.

The Peace Corps doesn’t mandate physical discomfort (“suffering?”) and apparently doesn’t believe it necessary to be a successful volunteer. So, when we talk about how much we “suffer,” at least on a country-by-country or region-by-region leve, maybe we are judging our personal suffering by those around us.

We, the Peace Corps volunteers, are not suffering. Not a one of us, whether we are in the Ivory Coast or on the coast of Sunny Thailand or in a country headed towards membership into the European Union, we are all in the Posh Corps together. And since we are all in the same thing, we may as well call it the Peace Corps.

The article resonated with us because when we get together with other volunteers in Jamaica we are always discussing which areas of the country are the worst (or best) and which volunteers are the most hard-core. People upon hearing we were serving in Jamaica used to assume we were joining the "Beach Corps". Which is true for some volunteers who seem to be on "extended spring break". There seems to be a hierarchy of suffering (or perceived suffering) within countries, between countries, and even between regions.

In Jamaica some volunteers are very "Babylon" and live in ways similar to those in the states. They have washers and dryers, cable, high speed internet, AC, the works. The least "Babylon" volunteers have no fridge; bathe, do laundry, and fetch water from a spring an hour away; and are about 4 hours from the nearest big town. We live in suburbia and are surrounded by neighbors living much nicer than us (cars, AC, washing machines, etc.) and our co-workers are appalled that we aren't allowed to drive out here. While we could easily obtain some of the nicer luxuries, we don't feel like subsidizing our living allowance to blend in with the Joneses. There are definitely vast differences between volunteers here in Jamaica, not only in the sites they were assigned to but in the decisions they make about how they are going to live.

There are so many ways to rank suffering that sometimes you end up going around and around, making it a pointless exercise. While we appreciate some of our suburban luxuries we often wish we lived in an area with more of a community feel to it and sometimes would happily trade the fancy supermarket for a bustling open air market. So how do you really decide who has it better? The volunteer in either situation could have a really powerful effect on the people he or she is working with. So maybe those aspects of the experience are the ones we should be comparing. But of course that isn't nearly as much fun as discussing who got worms and who walks the farthest every day.

-Shane and Kae


spiral said...

Great post--it reminded me of the anthropology majors I knew who were already comparing their potential for suffering before they even started their Peace Corps work. One girl bragged to anyone who would listen that she was practicing taking a bathe with only a cup of water and a toothbrush so she'd be prepared for her rural village in Africa. Her loud, martyrish proclamations about the living conditions of her village drove me crazy! It definitely felt like people were missing the fact that their life in those situations is temporary and comparatively blessed, whereas for the people living there, it is their complete existence.

Adrianna said...

I actually read most of that post at Third World and realised that that sort of things happens all the time. When I studied in the south of Spain, when we got together we always talked about who was having the "worst" experience with their host families. It was like a competition. It's rather sad.

You pointed out some really good things in your post--it was great.

Wesley said...

I am a PCV in Thailand and was just trying to fill some time and was searching other PCV blogs. This is a great blog post as your experiences sound so similar to my own. We do the exact same things and have the same conversations you said you did when we get together as PCV's. We are always having the conversations about who has what convinences and who lives harder. We also often have the posh corps conversation, and use that exact term, as to how some of us often live better than they do in the states. Anyway, just wanted to say hello and keep up the good work and the blog!