It’s common to hear that life’s a roller coaster, you've got your ups, yours downs, and your upside downs. Join Peace Corps and the intensity of your rollercoaster goes from the Corkscrew at Valley Fair to the level of the Millennium Force at Cedar Point. Sometimes you’ll be up for a month; your projects are flourishing, your community feels like home, and adventure is thriving. Then a loop in rollercoaster sends your project back to where you started, your community feels foreign and intrusive, and adventure wanes into monotony. Sometimes it is week by week, but oftentimes the high and lows come in one day as they did on October 28, 2014.
The day, like usual, begins with a cup of coffee and a crossword. I’m on the upward trend.
I go to school to find that my second graders have come for reading club. They’re supposed to begin tomorrow but are so excited they came today. I decide to meet with them. Still going up.
Three minutes into reading club, I begin to suspect that one student has dyslexia. The educational system is already struggling to teach reading effectively. They are not equipped to provide for her individualized needs. On the decline.
At recess I see children playing a game of dodge ball using limited resources, aka throwing rocks at each other. They’re giggling something fierce. Moving up.
I start to think about how, in America, people would get sued for this situation. America intimidates me. Going down.
Oh, children here also cry with they are hit in the face with rocks. Small down.
Walking home for lunch, a man I don’t know stops me to ask if I will come to see his compound in an aggressively friendly manner. He has orange and mango trees he wants me to see. I tell him I’m not agriculture volunteer. I don’t know anything about trees. “But I know you. I asked you if you had a boyfriend. I want you to come to my compound tonight. You have no boyfriend…” I walk away, not unaccustomed to the offer but irritated nonetheless. More decline.
Home for lunch, and it’s pumpkin season! Sharp increase.
My little sister, Yago, is late for lunch. Corporal punishment will be her grandmother’s discipline of choice. Back down.
I returned to school for the afternoon shift. I get news that a friend from home is facing a time of serious trial and difficultly. While I couldn’t fix it, I want to be there to help her through it. Missing the big stuff, good and bad, for the people back home is the hardest part of Peace Corps. Further down.
Returning from school I learn that an old woman in the neighboring compound passed away after lunch. Downward.
I go into my house to put on traditional clothes and a veil for the funeral which is happening immediately. My compound is full with more than one hundred women, and I don’t know where to go. I feel isolated and out of place. Downward bound.
My host mother sees me looking lost and uncomfortable. She directs me to the young women who are sitting by the water pump. My friend Soxna is there with her baby, Muhammad. He is a beautiful, healthy, and giggling baby boy. Going up again.
The woman who died is said to have been 130 years old. They don’t keep very close track of the years here but either way, she had a nice long life. Continuing up.
I sit with the young women for several hours, past dark, feeling like we are waiting for something but not knowing what. Eventually my host brother’s wife, Maram, who is in grade 12, goes inside to study. I decide to go inside my room as well. As I walk past my host mother, she asks me “You’re going inside? Good. Yes, go inside and rest.” I can’t put my finger on it, but something in the way she says it fills me with gratitude. I feel like she really cares for me. I feel at home amidst such foreignness, amidst joys and sorrows. I have been invited to share in the daily lives of people who hadn't even met me when they agreed to open their home to me. I feel peace.
Each day has its ups and downs. I am grateful to see the joys and sorrows of daily living because it is the mingling of the two that is the essence of life. The ups and downs will weigh differently on different people, but we all experience them. I am thankful to notice small moments of happiness. I am honored to share in the burdens of sorrow.
Life’s a rollercoaster.
Let’s go for a ride.