FYI, Lew is a new volunteer serving in Macedonia. He’s been stalking my blog (in a good way) since he started the PC application process. I did the same thing to a few people as I was waiting and trying to get mentally prepared.
In response to my recent post asking if anyone wanted to hear about anything in particular, Lew wrote “…write about how you cope with the annoyances and the lonely times that come your way.”
First, how I deal with annoyances. Not well, unfortunately. Mostly I get cranky, bitchy, impatient and just plain testy. I’ve never dealt well with annoyances or people I find annoying. That’s a character flaw that I thought my PC experience might help me with.
I’m not sure why I thought that leaving all the comforts of home where I found annoyances so, well, annoying, that I dreamed that when I was sweaty, covered in flies and bug bites and doing laundry in a bucket that I’d cope so much better. I was trying to channel Mother Theresa, I suppose. Personally, I bet that for all the good work she did, she had the occasional human moment when things got to her. At least I hope she did, since her situation was ever so much harder than mine and when I get cranky over small annoyances I feel like a failure.
I do work on coping better. Every day. I try to look at the upside or at least the funny side of things.
I worked on a heinous project once. It was the most stressful, exhausting work I’ve ever done. Lucrative but horrible. At the end of each day (usually around midnight) the project manager asked us for the funniest moment of the day. In our exhausted, cranky states we each offered up tidbits. Most of the humor was very dark. It got us through the day, though, because when something absolutely ludicrous was happening we could step back to store it as a possible winner in that night’s “funniest moment” contest.
I try to do the same thing. What’s the humor in this? How can I turn this from annoying into fun? “Ha! You may be really pissing me off but you’re fodder for my blog, you big poopyhead!”
I’ve preached for years that life is all about choice. I can choose to react to a situation by getting annoyed or I can look at the upside. Have to wait in the rain for an hour for a bus? What a great time to practice my Samoan and meet some new people. That’s what I try to do. Unfortunately, sometimes before I consciously make a decision to be Sally Sunshine, my natural instinct causes me to just hunker down and feel sorry for myself.
When that happens, I try to forgive myself. I also ask others to forgive me. A huge difference in cultures between the USA and Samoa is the view on apologies. Samoans apologize for everything. Actually, sometimes it can get annoying. I’ve been told I needed to apologize for something that I had no part in, just observed. “Wah? Huh? Me? Apologize? For what? I didn’t DO anything!”
Like many Americans, I have a very well developed sense of fairness. What is right and what is wrong. If something is not my fault I’d rather eat a plate full of cold, greasy tinned corned beef than say “I’m sorry.” I’ve learned that saying I’m sorry, quickly and as sincerely as possible can help smooth things over. “I’m so sorry my foot was right where you wanted to drop that 50 lb. box of corned beef. Let me just move my bloody stump for you.” Okay, I’m not quite as sarcastic when I say it, but just thinking it that way makes me chuckle and gets me over the annoyance. Plus, it usually generates a return apology which mollifies my sense of fairness.
I also count to ten, count my blessings and try to think how lucky I am. Yes, I am waiting an hour in the rain but at least I don’t have to hoof it 10 miles home. Sooner or later the bus will come. And luckily, since I’m a natural beauty, I look splendid soaking wet. I also try to mentally exaggerate whatever I’m annoyed with, sort of like the adult version of “If you want something to cry about, I’ll give you something!” I think of how much worse it could possibly be until I feel so ridiculous about being annoyed I have to laugh.
Moving on to loneliness. I enjoy time alone. That’s actually a bit of an understatement. I almost married a man once who commented on my extraordinary need for “space”, both physical and psychic. It’s ironic that I was sent to a culture who finds being alone not just unpleasant but downright creepy. I’ve been asked to sit at the bus stop with a teacher so she didn’t have to sit alone for ten minutes. She didn’t want to talk, just didn’t want to be alone. You know, there, in the sunshine on the beach.
One of the things that has helped me enormously is packages from friends and strangers. Going to the post office and seeing a box or letter with my name on it is a treat. Getting home and ripping it open is like Christmas. And the gifts keep on giving. This week I’ve used a pocket pack of tissues and hand sanitizer from one friend. I just took a shower with lavender soap from another friend. She also sent some great cookies from Trader Joe that I’ve been enjoying with my tea each evening. And dinner last night, which turned into leftovers shared with my teachers for lunch, featured dehydrated green chiles sent from an RPCV who served in Samoa.
Every time I use something that someone sent me, it reminds me of them and fills me with the warmth of their positive energy and love. That holds loneliness at bay and reduces the size of most annoyances.
I love to read and would rather spend time with a bad book than a boring person. I enjoy putzing around my house. I spend quite a bit of time cooking and planning meals. I play with the dog. When I’m feeling down I find a baby or some kids to play with. Or a baby anything – puppy, kitten, pig. They all brighten my spirits.
I’ve found here (much like at home) I’m loneliest when I’m with other people. For example, yesterday my teachers decided to stay after school to share some rice and sardines. I was ready to head out but it would have been rude. So I ate a bit of food, even though I wasn’t hungry. I sat patiently as they talked and laughed and ignored me. It made me lonely and sad. The teachers don’t understand that. To them, I’m in the room so I’m part of the “family”. They forget that when they go into full-on K language at full speed my language skills can’t keep up. I don’t blame them. They’re stuck with me for 2 years and they’re usually patient about making sure I have a clue what’s going on but sometimes they just want to relax and talk and laugh without having to play interpreter. But it still makes me feel lonely.
Sometimes even when I do understand what is being said I feel lonely because our views on the world can be so different. Samoan humor is very different than American humor. We are at opposite ends of the politically correct spectrum. I want people to get my jokes. I want people to say things I find funny and not hurtful. It feels lonely when I feel like there’s all of them and … and then there’s me.
When I first arrived I frequently felt lonely after calling home. Ironic, eh? Instead of being comforting, it made me want to hop on the next plane. That’s eased as time has passed. I still miss the people I love, but this is home now, too.
I’ve described what makes me feel lonely. How do I cope? I assume good intent. They are not blocking me out. It’s just what happens when there’s a language/culture barrier. I promise myself a good cry later, when I’m alone. I think about all the times when we’ve laughed together at things we all understand and that hit everyone’s funny bone the right way.
I recently read in a PCV blog some words of wisdom. I wish I could remember the name of the volunteer. I’m going to do a bad job of paraphrasing, but basically what he said was that after a year he’d accomplished what he came to do – have an adventure, learn a new language, experience another culture, see a new part of the world. He was ready to go home. But he signed on for two years and the second year is when he’s serving.
I feel very much the same. I feel like I’ve gotten what I came for. But it’s not time to go, I promised to serve in the Peace Corps for two years. I didn’t sign up for a vacation or be catered to or have a walk in the park. Sometimes, annoyances and loneliness are part of the price of serving. For me, they’re a very small price, given all I’ve received. And heck, I had annoyances and loneliness at times at home, too. At least here I’ve got the most beautiful view on earth to enjoy while I whine to myself.