Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Development Salon

Yesterday was the date of CRPCA's monthly happy-hour get-together. This month it was timed to correspond with an informal gathering organized by Global Sistergoods. Arriving near the beginning, I had the pleasure of chatting with one of Sistergoods' founders and her husband while RPCVs slowly trickled in.

My next conversation was with an RPCV from Ukraine and another from Jamaica. The woman who served in Jamaica expressed the interesting opinion that the 60 people serving there when she went were far to large a group for such a small island. After a while, I finally saw the DR RPCV who I had arranged to meet there. She and her partner, another former DR volunteer were able give me an interesting overview of their experience and offer some advice.

Some interesting tidbits that emerged from our conversation included the fact that the mosquitoes will bite me like crazy for about the first month I'm there until my blood assumes the same character that as everyone else's. They also recommended that I bring a headlamp and that decent new clothing will be hard to come by during my time there so I should invest in some nice clothes now and avoid the hassle of trying to track some down in the future.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Northwest Returnee Conference 2011

Spreading the good word: Me at my WWOOF-USA table at the Northwest Returnee Conference

On Saturday I had an opportunity to meet and swap stories with many other international travelers and hear from a number of people about their international careers and graduate studies at the third annual Northwest Returnee Conference, where I was a volunteer. The conference, organized by a committee composed of staff members at AHA international and IE3 Global Internships, is held every year to help students returned from internships and study abroad integrate their experiences back in Oregon and connect with others in similar situations.

This year I had the privilege of running an information table to spread the word about organic farm volunteering on behalf of the nonprofit, WWOOF-USA. I did so with the aid of a poster made using a web application I put together last year with that organization in order to display all the farms on a Google Map. Presently we hope to integrate it in the WWOOF-USA website with the help of a Premier API grant.

A screen capture of a prototype I produced for WWOOF-USA

Imagine my delight when I discovered, on the very same day, the Oregonian published an article telling the story of some others who recently seized the opportunity to volunteer on some organic farms. Another highlight of the event came when I met another WWOOFer who, like me, was also an IE3 alum. She is organizing a IE3 alumni group and has even planned an event next month for us to get together and socialize. I was relieved to discover that it will take place before my Peace Corps departure date.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Peace Corps Book Club

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a book club hosted by the Columbia River Peace Corps Association (CRPCA). The month's book was Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle by Moritz Thomsen. While Moritz's grasp of prose is undeniable I think any review of his first book is incomplete without the added perspective of other returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCV's).

As I discussed the book's (and indeed Mortiz's) strengths and weaknesses with about eight returned volunteers the consensus seemed to be that Moritz's service, while profound and largely unprecedented, by today's standards was deeply flawed. In particular everyone disapproved of the author's mingling of finances with his host community, and his blind devotion to his projects.

However, we also agreed that it was very accomplished in expressing certain undeniable realities of class interaction in the third world and, in general conditions endemic to being on outsider in a foreign culture. Passages like the following one prompted lively discussion that helped to bring to life for me the shared vision of these veteran volunteers.

I had always been aware of the jealousies in the town, but now I began to see that I had underestimated the power to order the live of the people. It began to get through to me. Ramon Arcos, drunk, buttonholed me on the street. He wanted ten sucres to get drunker and when I said "No," he said I was a bad man who helped only the rich like Ramon Prado and Alexandro. "Rich?" I cried. "They're the poorest people in town." But, of course, it wasn't true anymore. Ramon was about to get his hundredth chicken, and Alexandro was up to seventy. A year ago they had been among the poorest people; now they were about to be the richest. There was real dissatisfaction in Rio Verde about the job I was doing, and every day I heard reports of my favoritism. Rumors reached me that a couple of old wise guys who knew all about the Peace Corps were telling everyone that I was making money off the people, that the chickens I sold should be gifts, and that the loans I was making did not have to be repaid. It was part of my job to give people money, they said.

For more excerpts, check out this link:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Putting Things on Hold

I get a variety of reactions from people when I tell them that I will be spending two years in the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer. Many ask questions. Some express admiration. I even hear remarks concerning how difficult it will be and how it's something the person I'm talking to could never do.

Of all the reactions people give me, none is less welcome than the infinitely obnoxious, "maybe you'll meet a nice Dominican girl there," invariably accompanied by the kind of affected grin or nod somebody might give when offering an ice cream sundae or a backrub. To say that when I hear and see this I am profoundly annoyed would be an understatement.

My disgust takes many forms. Firstly, I almost feel that implicit in this response is the assertion that if I go there and don't meet the love of my life, my two years will be wasted. "After all," their statement seems to suggest, "there couldn't possibly be a better time or place to look for a mate." Then there's the idea that the highest possible reward that the experience could offer would be to get a girlfriend. Not the satisfaction of knowing I may have improved someone's standard of living or helped someone provide for his/her family. Oh no, it has to be the girl.

If, at this point, you're reading this and you've guessed that I'm bitter, you may be correct. After many years of painstaking deliberation and caution where romance is concerned, and careful consideration of my values in life and how to pursue them I am almost religious in my dearly-held hope that I can have both. That is, I want believe that I can both follow my own path to personal fulfillment as an individual and find a partner.

If I am bitter, it is because twenty-six years of loving, observing relationships, acting on my hopes, acting on my fears, and consulting with people I admire, have imbued me with a single resounding tenet of faith: When I have figured out my own happiness as a single person, I will be better-equipped to find a mate and it is more likely that my potential mates will have done likewise. When I react adversely to someone's remarks it is likely that I think they don't see things this way.

I do not oppose the idea of finding a special girl to spend time with in the Peace Corps, but it raises my hackles to have my decision to join be regarded as enrollment in some kind of singles club and I would be lying if I said that it would be not without relish for me to crush anyone's dire hope that this be the case. It wouldn't be the first time in my adult life I went for two years without a girlfriend.