As you might have gathered, you spend a lot of time alone in Peace Corps. A lot of time alone with little to occupy you except your own thoughts. Sometimes, for lack of anything better to do, you might burn a stick of incense from end to end and make fun swirly patterns with its smoke (yes, I’ve done this). You also might watch a colony of ants zigzag up and down your walls carrying crumbs for two hours straight (done this, too). We may dream about down comforters, ice cubes, and oven baked cookies, but one thing we never want for is more time.
That’s why Peace Corps is the perfect time to diversify yourself, to pick up a new hobby, or master an old one. I’ve found a new love in gardening here. I’m currently reading my 102nd book in country. I make a lot of things from scratch, like natural cosmetics and household cleaners. And I spend loads of time being silly with my neighbor kids: many rainy weekends have been passed watching Disney movies, dancing to local radio hits, and creating scrap paper masterpieces with my favorite little amigos.
One of my more eccentric colleagues, Ellen, took up unicycling. Julian has reached near-fluency in one tribal language, and is tackling a second. Michael is writing a song about each of the 40 volunteers in our training group. Courtney started beat boxing and break dancing with her town’s B-Boyz. Kim makes jewelry. Lantana brews Kailua. Eric carves soap figurines.
I have some pretty cool friends, huh?
The other thing you tend to do with all that solo time is, well, think. A kind of famous PC blogger once wrote, “I’ve had every thought someone can have. Probably twice.” That might be close to true. Because there are very few distractions, and sometimes you just can’t pick up another book, you’re often stuck staring at the ceiling and reflecting on whatever bouquet of emotions are left over from your roller coaster ride of a day. This can be dangerous, or it can be enriching.
Dangerous because a lot of days are really rough, and you don’t want those to affect your mindset too much. Enriching because, thankfully, there are plenty of good days to balance out the not-so-good, and make it all worthwhile. When there’s no one around to influence which end of the spectrum you choose to dwell on, it’s all up to you. It’s hard at times, to keep reminding yourself of the good stuff, but it’s also empowering when you’re able to stay positive and keep yourself going.
It puts you in touch with yourself at this crazy new level, solitude does. I feel like I finally understand the whole philosophy that you are the only person in control of your own happiness… I am, and I love it!
Traveling is learning.
[African Proverb – Kenya]