In Peace Corps, a volunteer may find they have a lot of time to themselves. This is true, even if they are working a lot. I have SO MUCH time to myself, but I also know that I am always working. A big reason for feeling this way is the how the American perception of “work” is challenged in PC.
Work is work, though, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, because I absolutely “go” to work, being my women’s center, but no because of all of the time it take to create or prepare the lesson for a class-whether t be a fitness, or health class. This work-from-home or prep time has truly only recently entered the conversation as work, to this I say THANK YOU to so many teachers (bc honestly they’ve started that convo). Also regarding “no” is stated within the 3 goals of PC (1. Provide technical help to countries;2. Share American culture with host nation;3. Share host nation culture with Americans). Work is Work only applies to goal 1. But goal 2 (and 3) requires a volunteer to truly tackle and break down this concept. Woh Goal 2, a volunteer learns that walking to work, is work; eating couscous on Friday with families is work; letting my dog run and chase the neighborhood kids is work; and well, you get the point. Simple things that at home in America I would consider a normal part of a day, is now work. Put even more simply: Relationships are work, and existing is work.
I don’t mean these two statements as sarcastic, self-deprecating humor. I mean them very seriously (and as sarcastic self-deprecating humor)! During our training, PC even states that being a PCV is a “24/7 job.” What PC doesn’t say is “being a person is a 24/7 and your job is to literally just be a friendly and open person. Just make a friend!” THAT is probably the hardest job of all. Truly, making friends is hard work and it taking a lot of energy! Don’t believe me? Add to this, navigating a different culture, in a language you’re only just learning. Like I said, hard work. What in America seemed to be easy and natural, like taking my dog out for a walk, just walking by myself in general, or going to the store, now has turned onto it’s head.
This takes me now to the discussion of boundaries. How do we recognize our boundaries? How do be establish our boundaries? Now this is actually a difficult task, PCV or not. But, when you’re job is to literally just make friends and be open, what about boundaries then? Most of you may not know this about me but I love true crime. I find it horrifyingly fascinating! My favorite podcast, My Favorite Murder hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, is a true crime comedy podcast. No they don’t make fun of true crime, but rather they share true crime stories and their commentary, or their processing of the story, adds the comedy aspect to it.
The hosts also successfully discuss real issues regarding mental health, addiction, sexual abuse, general safety, and toxic masculinity. They have a saying, “Fuck politeness.” This means, if you’re in a bad situation, or don’t feel comfortable, then say fuck politeness, and get back to safety. This goes for everybody of course, but is aimed towards females because we are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual assault and abductions. On top of this, women have been culturally taught to be polite in all situations; to be female is to be polite, delicate and quiet.
I have a job that requires me to form relationships. And this is a good thing! However, with this requirement comes the pushing of personal boundaries, or even worse, the pushing of safety. Recently I helped a fellow volunteer with an event. This volunteer lives quite close to me and so after it was done, I decided to walk home. It was only takes 40 minutes. The time was just after 7 pm, and I knew that sunset was around 7:20. Being the true New Yorker that I am, I am HUSTLIN’! I mean it I got my horse blinders on, power-walking arms swinging back and forth and I am blazing past these slow-pokes like they were standing still.
All of a sudden I hear, “RANIAAAA!” From a familiar voice. Who the f-what?! I think to myself as my feet skid to a stop and I pivot to see who the friendly caller was. It was a neighbor, Khalid! With a big smile on my face I greet him, which is a good 5 minute endeavor. He tells me he HAS to show me something, despite explaining that I really need to go, I’m serious, my dogs gotta eat Yanno? I reluctantly follow him to a green house across the street. He proudly shows me the trees flowers and herbs that are growing here. As we venture future and further from the fire of the street, I become increasingly wary and uncomfortable. It’s not appropriate for us to be alone back here. What would people think or say if they saw that we were alone, together, I’m thinking. As we begin to exit I also begin my farewell. “No no” Khalid says, “you must stay for tea. It’s necessary, you can’t leave before we’ve had tea” to which I reply, “I’m sorry but I really need to go, it’s late now, I need to go.” This went back and forth for a while.
Supported by the good words of other people, I think, I don’t like this, but he is a good man, who has helped me on occasion, and I sometimes life sweeps you up, I should take he opportunity to strengthen a relationship. So I stay for tea, all the while not feeling quite comfortable, and knowing my gut is telling me I should have left.
All goes well, and I arrive at home about a half hour later than I had originally planned. I meet with two friends outside my house and I explain to them my day. “You WHAT?!” They gasped as I retold my tree&tea time wii Khalid. They then gave me their own version of “fuck politeness” and explained that I don’t owe anybody anything and to never be in that situation again.
I recognize that I should have listened to Karen & Georgia, and especially my own gut. I am lucky that everything had worked out in my favor but who is to say that will happen again? Boundaries are hard to recognize, and they are even harder to establish & enforce. Boundaries are also culturally informed. Boundaries can be challenge by individuals, culture, and work requirements. For me, I’m still learning when to say “fuck politeness” or be open to relationships.
This example that I have just put forth is also on the more extreme end. I struggle with boundaries with women too, specifically my landlord’s wife, who love to come into my house, stay for a while, critique how I decorate and demand to know how much I paid for utilities, or for my furniture. Her presence to me is unsettling and often feels like a violation of privacy. An old counterpart also LITERALLY told me AT A PEACE CORPS TRAINING that he wanted to-I sweat to god, word for word- “BREAK DOWN MY ICE WALL.” Two weeks later, and then upon hearing he inappropriately asked my male fellow volunteers “how to deal with an American woman he knows,” I cut off ties. But unfortunately now I don’t have a counterpart despite knowing this waste right decision for me. With all of his though, she is my landlord,he was my counterpart, as he is my neighbor, and my job is to build relationships.
I’m very much still learning about my boundaries. I think I’ve probably developed new ones since living in Morocco. Peace Corps is a challenging job, and it’s hardest challenges aren’t lying in using a squat toilet or taking bucket baths once a week (of every other week). Peace Corps’ hardest challenges lie within the PCV. For me this challenge often comes in the form of boundaries.
(Quick note here to state that I am always hyper aware of my safety, and if I ever feel that my safety is in immediate danger I have no doubt that I will kick, punch, slap, scratch, scream, hoot, holler, and RUN in order to get out of the situation.)