Hold onto those little successes

In Peace Corps a little win is a huge win.  For me if you cannot see the trees in the forest how are you ever going to see those impacts you have made.  Sure your ultimate goal is to share culture and improve quality of life, but what exactly does that look like?  Does that look like your hometown?  Does it look like your education level?  Does it look like how you would see the world if you had a choice?  NO it does not.  Improved quality of life has to be in the eyes of those you are trying to help.  If you see substandard housing as an issue, but the people see the roads are a bigger issue, you tackle the roads not the housing.  Do not ever tell people that the way they live is bad or wrong.  Maybe that little shack that houses 8 people is the coziest and cleanest home you have ever seen in your life.  Remember not everyone uses a home to spend time in.  Many cultures only use homes to sleep in and do everything else outside.  Is a lack of television in every home a lower standard of living?  You best check yourself on these kinds of assumptions.  I have for the better part of 20 years not had cable hooked up.  I prefer to read and control what my children can watch.

goats because they are goats!
goats because they are goats!

An amazing thing you find in service is that resource sharing is quite handy.  One family may own a car and another may have television.  These two families can and often do share resources as needed.  By sharing resources both families are able to save money that either would be spent on these shared resources or they would just go without.  Think about this, if there was only a few televisions in the American neighborhoods what would happen?  In Liberia no one even had power all the  time.  They used gas-powered generators and not everyone had one.  They would pay neighbors to charge things or string a light into the homes.  The idea of watching television just was not a priority.  I found it amazing that people went to cook shops to watch futbol games during the World Cup last summer.  Even more amazing was that they were happy to watch it on a 19 inch black and white or color television.  We are talking huge groups of people watching a small television set.  What is even more amazing is that these people were outside of their homes.  They were communing with neighbors and strangers over a television.  Tell me that happens at home!

In parts of Jamaica the same can be said.  My first week here I was taken to a local cook shop.  There was a large group of men sitting on benches watching a 19 inch television.  They were watching a bootleg DVD, which are prevalent here.  Sadly my DVD player on my laptop is just not going to work on those.  I do, however know where to go to watch such things now.  I was given a television in my apartment when I moved in.  I was told I could hook up to cable for about $3000 a month.  I am already unable to support my internet let along television.  I declined and had them take it out.  I find television to be a soul killer.  Some days I hate that Richard has one.  I honestly might be happier if we just ditched it all together.  My children hated my firm hand on the television issue, but I have the tendency to get sucked into the television and then my whole day is gone and nothing is done.

The young men and women here embrace sports as a social activity.  During daylight hours in the early evenings groups will get together and play futbol or netball.  No netball is not like basketball. It has so many more players and rules.  I cannot even figure out what is going on.  Netball is primarily a girls sport.  Futbol is primarily a boys sport.  Cricket is played by both genders, but organized games seem to only be mens teams.  Track events are universal and Jamaicans love their sports heroes.  Never question a Jamaicans loyalty on sports, ever!

They tend to be very competitive at everything.  Dominoes is a beloved past time.  Just watch your hands as they will slam the dominoes down on the table as they play.  I am still learning how to play, but I do win a few rounds here and there. The fact that even though I am not a great player, they invite me a play is huge.  This is a small win.  Just being invited to the game!  Of course when I ride my bike though at top speed sends the young men into a tailspin.  I am not a great rider, but I am competent and that seems to be a source of confusion.  Sometimes I wonder if they understand just exactly what I biked across America they think means.  I know some ask if it was a motorcycle and then look confused when I say no a bicycle.  This is a small win as well.  They now want to talk to me about bicycles and get excited to try to ride with me.  Sorry boys I climb those hills when I can, not gonna beg a ride or walk it unless absolutely needed.

I am currently on an all-time high over my farmers.  They are organizing their own work parties and I never know what I will find done when I go back there!  I often wonder if that new mural has anything to do with this renewed energy in the group.  The idea that the farm will soon have some income generation to help offset overhead is fantastic, and it seems to be building confidence and unity in a once fractured group.  Sometimes we have to let go of the principle and embrace the fact.  The fact is that not everyone wants to participate, but there are enough who are to move forward.  Sure the principle is that all should participate, but is it worth losing the momentum of the active members trying to pull those not active in?  The answer is absolutely not.  Keep that momentum up, once it falters it may never move forward again, do not allow it to stop.


My plan today was to bike to the local school, but I may just grab a taxi instead, the weather is not looking promising.  I just need to drop some documents off and get the principle’s phone number, and try to set up a weekly time to drop by and look at starting this program.  I might also get going on the environmental club idea.  I would love to have that start soon.  I know I am getting a late start, but I have had some set backs.  I also lose track of time.  Poor Richard is seeing time drag on and I am losing time faster than I can think.

I do know that I am more aware of community events now.  This is huge, that and the fact that a new group is forming from my community meetings.  I love this.  I am feeling like king of my own world currently.  One thing I know is that there will be some down time soon.  I will feel lost and out of touch.  It is those times that I need to look back at my old blogs and my journal and embrace those moments where I had a small win.  It is also the time I call on other volunteers to pick me up.  Fortunately my personality is quite manic.  Actually I am not bi-polar only manic so down is not very down for me.  This is a blessing and a curse.  You know all of those silly memes that say things like strong people need support too?  Yeah, that is true, but it doesn’t look the way it seems.  Sometimes I just need someone to tell me it is ok to not do something or that this particular failure can be a win.  I know about failure as learning experiences, but there are those moments when I cannot really see that side.  Sometimes you just need a new perspective, and that is what your Peace Corps Family is there for.  Your host family is also there to support you, but you have to build that relationship first.  Not all host families situations are as great as mine is.  I have a lovely family who talks with me and listens when I need something.  The key is to know when you are slipping down that slope and ask for the rope before you cannot reach it.

Government issued family
Government issued family

Hold onto any success you have had, be it finding a farmer who gives you a little more than you pay for, or the school girl who wants to sit and read with you.  Whatever it is, hold onto it for these moments during your service where that darkness closes in too much.


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