Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Comparative Life

I am not a competitive person. I refuse to play sports with or against the competitive team. I refuse to play games to see who will win. I only like competitions when they are ridiculous, the outcome doesn’t matter, and nobody talks about it as soon as it is finished. Competition takes all the fun out of any activity. However, I do live a very comparative life. I am always checking out who is doing what, how well they are doing it, and making sure that I am doing better than anybody else. This probably explains a lot about my grades and why group projects frustrate me so much, but it can be absolutely detrimental in Peace Corps.

Before I came to Samoa, I asked the few people I knew currently serving in Peace Corps what their experience was like so I would have an idea of what to expect. The gist of all the answers I got back was “I can’t really explain it – everybody is different.” I understand that completely now. Every time I see another PCV, I always have a million stories to tell because even though we are all rural primary school teachers in Samoa, my life is so vastly different from what any other PCV in Samoa is experiencing that I always have news. It is really great to share stories because I usually get new ideas from other PCVs every time I talk to them. I also take comfort in the fact that other people are struggling with parts of their PC service, and feel so lucky that I don’t rats that invade my room and bite the skin off my toes at night (that happened to another PCV), I don’t have a principal who threatens to get rid of me because I interfere with corporal punishment at school (that happened to another PCV), and I don’t have to eat pisupo (canned corned beef) on a regular basis (whereas some other PCVs do get it on a regular basis). But mostly, I don’t like to talk about PC life with other PCVs because I can’t help but feel that everyone else is doing so much better than me.

Nothing cements that feeling better than coming straight off a long vacation into a mid-service conference full of lesson planning, reading strategies, and…success stories. Success stories from other PCVs make me want to hide in a deep, dark cave on the other side of the world, and even that might not be far enough away to protect me from feeling inadequate. I live a perfectly wonderful, effective, helpful PC life as long as I don’t talk to anybody else about it. But as soon as I hear what other people are doing, all those great things I think I may have achieved lose their luster. However, I’ve also noticed that other PCVs feel this way too. Great, but not even marginally helpful to pull me out of that fifty feet of crap beneath rock bottom.

Whereas this effect was particularly devastating at our training last year, I seem to have more of a buffer to it this year. I think this is due to a lot of things. Some mix of feeling more confident in my achievements, seeing the progress of my students over the course of the year, seeing how much I am a part of my village, how much I can talk to other people in Samoan, etc., etc. – everything has improved over the course of a year. I think the most important part though is that Peace Corps has been a huge lesson in focusing only on what you are doing and not concerning yourself with what other people are (or are not) doing. I learned this at school because it does me no good to get frustrated when all my teachers show up an hour and a half after me, but still sign in saying they got there ten minutes after I did. I also learned this because some people are better at teaching drama to their students so they can put together a play for the whole school at the end of the term. I haven’t taught high school drama for a couple of years. I don’t have that experience. I’m not great at making other people do what I want them to do, I’m not great at playing rugby (I haven’t even tried, actually), and I’m not great at swimming. I like sitting on the beach, I like reading books, and I like as much conversation as I can handle (sometimes that is a lot, sometimes that is very little). There are too many things in the world beyond our control – basically everything. I’m learning not to concern myself with it so much, and as a result, I’m not as upset by it. I wish I had learned this earlier, but with my comparative nature, I think this is one of those things that I can only learn by blunt and brutal force. It seems to be working.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Sunglasses Saga

Day 1: No problem

Day 2: I return from my morning walk to put on more sunscreen, so I take off my sunglasses, watch, rings, etc. in the process and set them on the table in the room. Or so I thought. As I was trying to gather everything on my way out again, I could not for the life of me find my sunglasses. I picked up everything off the table, checked under the covers on my bed, and couldn’t find them any other place I thought they hadn’t ended up, but would be worth checking just in case. So I left with the mission of finding a replacement pair of sunglasses at the first store I could find. The problem with this goal is that this all occurred on Christmas Day in Australia, where most of the country shuts down to celebrate the holiday. The only shops that were open were the little convenience stores where everything is at least double the cost of what it is in a regular grocery store. After looking at approximately 4 pairs of sunglasses in 9 different shops, I decided to stall the purchase until at least the next day when more stores would be open and I would have more to choose from. Good choice. When I got back to the room, I went to open the window, and saw my sunglasses sitting on the ledge right next to the window. I immediately took back all my wishes of bad karma on the girl in my room who I figured must have grabbed them as she left the room 30 seconds before I did – why else would I not be able to find my sunglasses? Somebody else must have them, right?

Day 3-Day whatever: No incident

Fourth to last day in Australia: I went to the Blue Mountains, and was very thankful for having my sunglasses with me, as the weather was quite conducive to easy forest walking – warm and sunny that is. As I walked back through the town to the train station, I kept noticing all the sunglasses displays and thinking back to my second day in Sydney when I had been convinced my glasses had been stolen and went out on a fruitless search for replacements. Good thing I hadn’t jumped the gun on that one.

Third to last day in Australia: My sunglasses have been lost/potentially stolen again. I remember distinctly taking them off inside the hostel room the night before, but my memory stops there. I have no idea where I’ve put them, and because I can’t find them, they’ve obviously (but accidentally) been taken by someone else in the room. I set out on another mad search for a replacement pair of sunglasses. More shops are open now that the holidays are fairly well past, and most still have sales going on. I settle on a reasonable pair (not the perfect sunglasses, but you can’t get those every time) and purchase them as my first errand of the day. The rest of my day commences, and I return to my room late afternoon and find my sunglasses oddly tucked away in my traveling pharmacy. Since I still have the tags on, and the receipt, and am well within the deadline for returns, I make a quick dash back to the store where I purchased the sunglasses to return them, seeing as a second pair of sunglasses is utterly superfluous when you already have a perfectly functional pair.

Penultimate day in Australia: My sunglasses break. One of the ear pieces snaps off. I ask for glue at the front desk, but they only have stick glue. She jokingly suggests just wearing them as they are, and surprisingly, they still work with just one ear piece. True, I do have to adjust them a lot more and hold them when a stiff breeze comes up, but I’m only spending another 36 hours in Australia, I can just buy a super cheap pair of sunglasses when I get back to Samoa.

Last day in Australia: I’m getting frustrated with having to adjust or hold my sunglasses all the time. I wander into one of the larger discount markets thinking to myself “I will only buy sunglasses if I can find an exact replica of my current pair of sunglasses – although one with two ear pieces instead of one – and for a good sale price.” Well, the very first stall I come across is a huge display of sunglasses. I get sucked into the first rack, trying on practically every pair to find the one that fits best. Then I realize there is a second rack for the same sale price, so I have to extend my selection. Then I realize there is an entire wall for the same sale price, and there I find – yes – the exact replica of my current sunglasses. Granted, my current sunglasses have a green border and the replacement pair will have a black and white border, but the size and shape of the lenses is exactly the same, and the fit is just as smooth and perfect. So after a trip bookended with sunglasses drama, I ended up with basically the same pair I started with, although one came from Target in the States and the other came from a discount/wholesale market vendor in Australia. Perfect!

Australia: The Album