One oft quoted Peace Corps mantra is that your service is your own and not to compare it to that of other volunteers. We each have such different sites, work assignments and experiences, so this advice makes sense. Even so, in a group as small as 26, in a country as small as Fiji, this is easier said than done!
There are many a day here where I doubt what I’m doing. He’s already applied for two grants? She’s organized a GLOW camp for how many students?! Can I really consider myself a good PCV having accomplished so few concrete successes in the eyes of DC? Jeesh, where’s my sea wall, or my world map mural tagged with a snazzy PC logo? But that is just it: the word MY. It’s in the moments where I question what I’m doing with my time here that I remember I’m not in this for me.
Our wonderful staff always reminds us that the projects we undertake should be community initiated and led. We the PCVs should be a source of ideas, support and networking, but never the sole champion of a project. Sure I could decide tomorrow that we need solar panels on every house in the village, but what long-term good am I doing if my goal is to put “sustainable development experience” on my resume? What will happen to those solar panels when I leave if locals were never invested in the project?
There are several obvious needs that my community has brought to my attention, and I hope to use what skills and resources I have to address them. I hope at the very least to see our creek fortified so that it no longer floods our village, carrying debris and creating a safety hazard. Our community hall and bathrooms could also certainly use a make-over. It is used nearly every day by everyone young and old, and thus would be an impactful project. I’m about half way through service, so I’m starting to feel the pressure to get something concrete accomplished here. But, I want to carefully balance my desire to feel accomplished with a desire to be a partner in sustainable work.
All that being said, my daily life has little to do with the “big” projects. My life in Nabasovi varies day to day, moment to moment. Monday it’s morning yoga and an afternoon walk with the women’s group. Tuesday it’s an NCD screening and playing with my nurses daughter. Wednesday it’s collecting seaweed with my Na. Thursday it’s an education session on cervical cancer. Friday it’s having tea with church elders, discussing everything from nutrition to relationships. Saturday it’s accepting being made fun of for sleeping in until ten following too late a night of grog drinking. And every Sunday, it’s singing with the choir, donning my ridiculous white sulu jaba 🙂
My service has had little to do so far in the way of big projects. (Dear PC Staff, I promise to use that Project Design and Management workshop before I leave =P ) Rather, in the year I’ve been in Fiji it’s been the accumulation of little moments that make me feel “successful”. My neighbor calling through my window, pre-sunrise, rain and all, to follow through on that walk we planned. A young mother feeling comfortable enough to kerekere wholewheat flour for her children’s breakfast. My uncle coming by to check his BMI before he left for the farm. These are the things that show me my community trusts and respects me enough to ask for my advice, request support, and confide in me. These are the things that assure me I am doing my best as a PCV and a community member.
To quote a wise man ya’ll may have heard of, Henry David Thoreau, “The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.” (Walden)
Feeling successful and fulfilled is a journey that will no doubt have ups and downs through the remainder of my time in Fiji. I’ve realized though that I feel most fulfilled when I’m doing what I love, what brings me alive and present, and sharing that with others. This is different for each PCV, and is what makes each experience so unique.
For instance, being active is important to me; it makes me feel happy, healthy and energetic. Since I go on a run and do yoga most days, why not include my community? The way my friends, grandmas and aunts crack-up mid-downward dog and cheer as they bolt down hills just makes my day!
Cooking is another activity that brings me great pleasure. I love finding exciting ways to use the usual available ingredients. By doing cooking demonstrations and nutrition outreaches I’ve been able to make creativity and a favorite passtime “work”.
I joined the Peace Corps knowing that I would have a hard time feeling fulfilled at the generic 9-5. I just don’t believe anyone is meant to sit at a desk and be told when to feel the inspiration to be productive. I also have a moral opposition to the modern work/pleasure dichotomy. When did it become the norm that work is something you can’t wait to leave, and pleasure is something you only sometimes have time for? What happened to people doing beautiful work that they felt they were born for? Work that is inseparable from pleasure because it’s what makes them feel alive and meaningful in the world?
In the words that are oft attributed to the great (as my niece refers to him) Mr. Marley, love the life you live, live the life you love. Our work is a huge part of our life—what gives us a place and meaning in this world. (And not to mention the money I need to top up the data to upload this post…) In order to love our life, we need to love what we are putting our time and energy into. This doesn’t just happen on it’s own! Each of us chooses how we will spend our time. Will we chase the next paycheck, hoping it’s enough to afford us a pleasant enough weekend? Or will we recognize what makes us feel most in touch with ourselves, our community, and the universe and find a way to make that our “work”?
I’m grateful to have two years as a PCV where my work and what I am passionate about are one in the same. My PC service here on Koro rarely feels like the modern concept of a “job” because I’m most often living my daily life in a way that feels good to me… sharing knowledge, culture, and experiences with a community I love and am a part of. An inspiring individual back at home once told me that whatever he does for a living, he wants it to be something that he’d want be doing (and enjoy) regardless of the paycheck. I thought to myself, well if only all the world lived like that… I hope one day we live in a world where everyone has that opportunity. As for me and now, I took that notion to heart, am living it now, and won’t ever look back 🙂