So I’ve officially been a volunteer for a month, and probably doing stuff. So what exactly have I been doing? Good question. To be fair, my family asks me the same thing and I think they’re still kind of confused about what I do, as is the town in general. My days may consist of riding along with the trash collectors, meeting with the health post, going out to the chacras to talk with farmers, chilling at the municipality office, talking with random people on the street, teaching English, or chilling in a bodega. I guess the part I love about my job is that every day is different, and I do get to make my own schedule of sorts.
The first months of a volunteers service are used as a period to conocer the community better. This is everything from simply walking around the community, doing formal interviews with families, having kids draw maps of the community, and attempting to do things like FODAs, FREESOPs, and seasonal calenders. All of this work lays the base and starts the volunteer thinking about potential long term projects that may be planned and realized. Additionally, these activities help the volunteer integrate more into the community, to talk to the community about their job, why they’re here, and create a mutual understanding. And in turn, this helps the volunteer know more people in the community, and who potential leaders may be.
So my day? Well, I’d love to say it starts off around 630 but really it’s closer to 5/520. That’s when the bread store opens, and my room has a window attached to one side of it. Could not exactly tell you why…maybe it was an addition? Anyways, I’m usually woken up first by noise coming from there, and try to sleep in until around 630. I roll into the kitchen at 630 and prepare some sort of breakfast and coffee, and try to prep it quick otherwise the very helpful 15 year old and the 71 year old will come into the kitchen thinking I’m lost or something, and offer me 20,000 different things and try to talk to me way more than I like being talked to first thing in the morning. And from there, it varies. I may visit a school to talk with the director, or walk up to the municipality and talk with some people. Maybe I’ll walk around and try to meet people, or I’ll go with my socio-communitario to a meeting and do some more formal introductions. Usually the more serious work and meetings get done in the morning. I eat lunch with the family around 12:30 or 1, and then in the afternoon it’s pretty open. Health post and community meetings are in the afternoon, I also teach English every Thursday during the afternoon. And the nights are up in the air….I’ll chill with the family, call other volunteers, do prep work for meetings/classes/presentations, or just watch the Simpsons in Spanish (the possibilities are endless). I’m usually in bed by 930/10 and sleeping soon after.
But like all Peace Corps experiences, everything varies. Some days I’m booked solid, and others I may be killing time by just sitting around drinking a Coke in somebody’s shop. But it’s all part of the job…to get to know the community better and start integration. Because being a part of the community will allow the volunteer to know more about the history, how things work, who does what, who’s the town drunk, how we can fix the problem of these damn kids that just run the streets, etc.
It’s slightly frustrating as I have very little concrete to show for a month in site, especially since I’m used to not wasting too much time with projects. One trick I made is to use iCal to track what I did during the day. I have different colors for different Peace Corps and WATSAN objectives/goals, and I try to fill in what I did that day. And when I fill it in, it shows my days are actually a lot fuller than I realize. And I guess something else to show that I’m getting on alright is that more people are actually calling out my name rather than just calling out Gringo in the town. While being called gringo isn’t anything derogatory, it’s nice to have a firmer sense of identity in the town.