In keeping with the recent awkward photo theme of this blog, I am beginning this entry with one of my personal favorites. Earlier this week I went to about a dozen rural communities in the canton of San Vicente with my counterpart and a group of engineers to check out the water situation in the campo. My counterpart stopped our procession of three pickup trucks in the middle of this group of cows, put a strangers’ cowboy hat on my head, and made me get out of the truck and stand in the middle of the cows to pose for a picture.
Runner up goes to this picture, taken on the side of the road next to a puddle of water that had formed in a construction site from a nearby stream. They stopped the trucks to gather water from this puddle to take it back to town to test its quality. If the quality is high enough, they will connect hoses to this stream to divert water to the rural communities nearby. That’s how dire the water situation in the campo is.
These are a few of the other water sources they were investigating. It’s really, really hard to get water during the dry season, especially in the campo.
This trip to the rural communities in San Vicente was a good first step in getting to know the schools and community members I’ll be working with. The needs in the campo are a lot different than the needs in the “urban” area of San Vicente, so it will be interesting trying to balance my work between the two. When I asked people in the rural communities what their biggest needs were, the most common responses were water, jobs, and roads. In San Vicente, the majority of people tell me they need English and computer classes. I felt overwhelmed in the campo because the need is so much higher than what I am used to seeing in San Vicente, and I am so constrained in terms of resources, time, and transportation that I really don’t know how much I’ll be able to help. Since I’m working for the rural development office in the municipio they really want me to focus the majority of my work in the campo, but there are 43 rural communities in the canton of San Vicente and many of them are almost entirely inaccessible except by horse or foot due to terrible (or nonexistent) road conditions.
I did get to speak with a group of parents at one of the schools in a tiny community called Zapote, and I met the directors of two other schools that I’ll be working in.
My counterpart loves putting me on the spot and forcing me to speak in public, and he also takes my camera and takes pictures of everything that ever happens. While this can be horrifying, it’s also kind of fun to have photographic evidence of every awkward moment that happens here.
The rural schools here usually consist of one or two rooms, and students of all different ages learn together. This is scary for me when thinking about how to plan health classes, I don’t even want to think about what the professors have to go through on a daily basis.
I recently read this article about the top five reasons NOT to join the Peace Corps. I liked it a lot because it talks about how dangerous it can be to come into the Peace Corps with the goal of changing the world. I’ve been struggling a lot lately with managing and re-evaluating my expectations of my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and while I never had the goal of stopping world hunger or ending poverty forever, my extreme and borderline naive optimism does sometimes get in the way of reality. I came into this assignment with the expectation that if I work hard enough, I can really make a positive impact on my community. While I still believe this is true, I need to redefine my definition of “positive impact.” There will still be problems when I leave here in two years, a lot of my projects probably won’t continue into the indefinite future (or even work in the first place), and I won’t even be able to address the most basic, pressing needs of most of the people here – I can’t find them jobs, or bring in running water, or improve road conditions, or make public transportation available so that they have better access to health care facilities and schools. I am working on accepting that there are a lot of serious needs here that I can’t do anything about, and I need to focus my energy on what I can do, not on the many, many things that are out of my control.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
I’m also learning to accept that, in a lot of ways, I am getting a lot more out of this experience than I am giving in return. I’m learning new skills every day, I’m becoming fluent in the 2nd most widely spoken language in the world, I’m developing relationships with incredible people, and I’m seeing parts of the world I could never access otherwise. I’m also forced out of my comfort zone on a regular basis and do things that scare me every single day. I’m uncomfortable, uneasy, and unsure of myself, but I am so lucky to be here.
Photos from my morning runs on the beach. So tranquilo.
And another San Vicente sunset, because I can.