So I was out of my community for nearly a month visiting my family in the states and finally returned last week. I walked in as the sun was fading, dreading cleaning my house (I've killed a snake, several scorpions, six bats, and many, many cockroaches to date). Saludos to the neighbors as I opened the door and let all the creepy-crawlys get out. "How was the United States?" they asked.
Most follow-up questions revolved around my Panamanian girlfriend, if she was afraid of the airplane, did she like the food, etc, but after about 10 minutes we ran out of things to say. This seems to always happen and it's really frustrating.
Of course I thought all the incessant badgering in the past was frustrating too. (Think "How much does this cost?" dozens of times a day). The problem is we just can't connect, and neither I nor my community is really trying anymore at this point. After the 10 minutes it was life back to normal, me in my house, them in their house, no one talking to anyone - and rain, lots and lots of rain.
Most people in my community didn't even know I was gone, nor that I have been here for the last 8 months looking for ways to help them help themselves. Most aren't interested - they'd rather complain. I'm just the white guy that lives here who seems friendly but I don't really know him. Why is he here? Why am I here?
After some other Panamanian visitors came to my house the other day they asked, "How could you live here, people are so rude!" Another said I should join the TV show "Survivor" because she thought I could surely win. They brought me food and as we were making some breakfast it wasn't long before there was a line of kids and adults outside my door looking for handouts. And now Peace Corps is thinking about putting another volunteer in the area. I told them I thought that was a horrible idea (a lot of safety concerns in that village too), but they think their two hours visiting the community is worth more than my year here. Same thing happened to the community I'm currently in. Who else will tell them how it really is? What is it they want
In a few days I leave for our Close of Service Conference with the thirty-some PCVs I came to Panama with. There will be many stories, reflection, probably some complaining, maybe some crying, but lots and lots of memories. It's good our minds only remember the finer moments.
My experience wasn't one of greatness. I don't know if I'd recommend Peace Corps to others, I don't know if it was worth it for me or my communities. I could argue either side. We all tried so hard, but everything depends on the communities, everything depends on the people. I wasn't a bad volunteer.
But it's winding down and there are more in my group who loved it than those who didn't, and several are staying for 3rd year extensions. It's sad I won't have much to contribute at this conference but not every Peace Corps experience is one of success. I know some of this was my fault, maybe I was too patient, or not enough, or was too hard, or too soft. Doesn't matter. To add insult to injury, I've lost all my photos and videos from the last two years. (Don't trust online storage sites.)
Or maybe I'm just a little down right now after saying goodbye to one of my best friends down here who is heading back for Law School. Reading his blog and others (links can be found on the left) reminds me how all our experiences are so different.