There are small bees that patrol the yard of Narango’s primary school. If you walk straight at them they move out of your path. If you try to avoid them, you’ll probably make your collision with them more likely, not less.
Bad things are inevitable. But just as reliable as their appearance is their eventual disappearance. Like walking straight at those bees, sometimes the best way to face the bad stuff is to take it head on; to accept that it happened and do your best to move forward from there.
Most of my time here has been challenging but, overall, positive. Once in a while though, Vanuatu takes a swing at me and makes contact.
Two years is a long time. It doesn’t seem like that when you look back on the time that’s already passed. But on a day to day basis, it sometimes feels like I have been here for my entire life. It sometimes feels like I will never leave.
You know how long time seems to take when you’ve been waiting weeks for that date you circled on your calendar? How long it takes when you’ve been sitting in night class for hour one out of three and the teacher hasn’t stopped lecturing? That feeling you get, hold it and multiple it by one thousand. That’s what some days in the Peace Corps feel like.
When I hit the one year mark last month, the world seemed to acquire a kink in its gears. Everything moved even slower. Weeks spanned decades. With the velocity decrease came various other small unfriendly occurrences, including a huge bout of homesickness. There were a couple weeks of water shortages in my village. And then a period of time where Narango’s mama’s got cross with me for drinking too much kava (doing so is a nightly ritual that helps me feel integrated into my community and is not something I want to give up). More often than not that month, I was an emotional wreck. I am quite sure I drove my island mates crazy.
The next month, I was creeped. This is when a boy comes to your house in the middle of the night and calls out your name until you answer, asking to come in. One o’clock in the morning I woke to “Jessica, Jessica, it’s me” being hissed through my bamboo walls. My curtain was pulled over just slightly, so when I responded to his calls, he moved to the small opening, to peer through and continue to give me reasons to let him in.
I rang my alarm but no one came. So I just continued to tell him to go away and eventually he did, with the promise that he would come back to bang on my door. With a bush knife in my house and two things of pepper spray at my disposal, I never felt particularly threatened or frightened. But I didn’t stop shaking until sometime the next day.
There had been a wedding in my village that day, so everyone told me it would be impossible to find out who had done it (which, knowing Coconut Wireless as I do, I don’t believe). They also made it a point to scold me every opportunity they got after that, saying that it was my fault that I got creeped because I drink too much kava and because I had danced too much at the wedding.
My host mama also banned me from spending time with my two best friends in the village, two women that I had been hanging out with the night of the wedding. She went to them both and told them not to speak to me anymore. I’m not completely without blame in this situation, as I didn’t adhere strictly to all the cultural norms, but I did nothing that the two women did not do.
It’s difficult to constantly tip toe around all the expectations that everyone has for you, especially in a village like Narango. Narango is cut off from town but relatively close to it at the same time, creating a mix of very traditional people and more westernized ones. In some ways, this is a defining thing about Vanuatu as a whole, the fact that it has one foot deep in the past and the other running into the future.
This week I learned that an article I had written for our volunteer run newspaper had been perceived as very negative, though it was intended to honor our fallen volunteers and to give a pep talk to the remaining volunteers about the weeks and months ahead. I believe this was because the topic as a whole was a negative, uncomfortable one. One of the staff read it before it was printed and did not want it published for this reason.
While upset that something I wrote was so misconstrued, I was more astonished that this staff member did not want it (and another article in the issue written by another volunteer) printed because it was negative and therefore a harmful representation of the Peace Corps.
But to suggest that there haven’t been parts of my service that have been negative is absolutely absurd and honestly, a huge lie. I don’t know a single volunteer who hasn’t fallen on a rough patch at one point or another.
Bad things are going to happen. Sometimes we’re going to swerve to avoid them, and they’re going to sting us anyway. Sometimes we’re going to take them head on, and stand there getting poured on. But they will happen. What’s important is what you take from them, the strength that you build from them. What’s important is standing in the middle of that rainstorm and knowing that eventually it will pass, knowing that the future is that sun peering out behind those clouds.
And so, here’s to the next two weeks in Southeast Asia. And to those couple of weeks in January when my best friend will be here visiting me. And to all of those really wonderful moments that make it worth sticking out the storm for.