Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Yin and Yang

It has come to my attention that although pictures tell a thousand words, they are only telling part of the story. There are a number of things that volunteers say when they describe what it is like to be in the Peace Corps. One of these is that PC amplifies everything. The highs are higher, the lows are lower, the vices are exponential. A lot of the pictures that I take are of the highs and I feel I must throw out a disclaimer that I am having the time of my life, but some days those times seem to come few and far between.

Most of my days are very non-picture-worthy. I am still struggling to learn Spanish which means that the simplest of conversations are taxing for me. I used to be articulate and talk about “important” things artfully, now I talk about the weather a lot.

Costa Rica is kind of an exceptional place. Most people think of the beaches and volcanoes and tourist destinations. That is definitely here and it is spectacular. However, it is still the third world. The poverty here is, at times, overwhelming. It’s not as bad here as many, many other places in the world, but it is still here and often gets overlooked because it’s “not as bad as….” In December, my school hosted a 6th grade graduation in which two of the girls were pregnant. I can’t look at middle-aged gringos without wondering if they are here to have sex with children. Men cheating on their wives is so common that in some places doctors describe Chlamydia as a disease that “occurs naturally in some women.” Costa Rica has one of the lowest instances of HIV/AIDS in Latin America, yet 10% of my barrio is infected. The majority of the children that I am working with will continue the cycle that they were born into whether it be violence, addiction, hate, bitterness and/or apathy.

To say that the world-view is very different here is a massive understatement. I have discovered that there are a very few precious people that have the capacity to understand that their perception of the world is not universal. This is not a cultural or socio-economic trait; it is as prevalent in the states as it is here. They are the ones that are quickest with criticism and/or advice. I am assumed to be too stupid, too stubborn, too selfish, too gringa, too something to do what seems so obvious to those with their black and white world view.

At times I am overwhelmingly homesick. I daydream about using a kitchen that is not crawling with ants. I doubt I’ve had one truly sanitary meal since I’ve gotten here. I struggle daily to stay healthy; in every sense of the word. I miss quiet. I miss anonymous. Some days I swear I am going to pummel the next person that plows into me and doesn’t say a word. I miss family and friends. While I am gone my nieces and nephews will grow into wholly different people. My friends that were childless when I left will be parents of toddlers. My parents and grandparents will age and may slip from me. I live for messages from home: email, snail-mail, calls, postcards, blog-posts.

I want for this journal to be as realistic as possible. (Although I will be the first to admit that there is a fair amount of selective storytelling and artful exaggeration.) I love what I am doing. I’m not looking for pity or advice and especially not accolades or charges of altruism. I’m just telling this part of the story.


Anonymous said...

Kelley, I'm glad that you write exactly what is happening and the extreme emotions that you are experiencing. I won't even say that I can understand what you are feeling or are seeing. I do believe however that if anyone can help make even a slight bit a difference even if it is for one person, you would be the one that can acomplish it. Loved this post. DJP

Anonymous said...

You know, and I know that you are making, and will make a difference in someone's life. Perhaps only one person's life, but even one is worthy of your effort and sacrifice. And those of us who remain here thinking of, missing, and loving you are willing to endure your absence by relying on the pride we have for you.
Don't hesitate to be honest in communicating about your feelings and situation. We need to know to remind us that the world is vastly different than the insulated, comfortable one we live in. You writing about, and our hearing about the "other world" most certainly reinforces our understanding of why you are there.