The Peace Corps calls these first weeks at our new sights the “settling in period.” We’ve been warned about them by friends we may have known who had served in the PC and we heard about the period during training. We tried to get ourselves ready for the big transition, but is there anything one can do to fully prepare themselves for the challenges that come with these first days and weeks at our new sites?
For me settling in has involved a lot of homesickness. I never lived abroad before and during college was only 45 minutes away from home. Living alone in a house on an island in the South Pacific makes me homesick, and I’m not afraid to mention it, or discuss it. It is natural. What I have found to be important is how I deal with it. Do I stay locked up in my room all day or do I take the opportunity to make connections with people in my new village and make new friends?
I’ve chosen to be proactive because I figure I should make the best out of this amazing experience. For the past 10 days I’ve been taking walks and meeting with village leaders like the church pastor and local mayor. I’ve already gone to the plantation to help carry back coconuts. I’ve gone swimming in the ocean and been to two different church functions. I’ve played volleyball with the locals and have dinned with my neighbors. I’ve also shown them how to play different card games and they love it.
Once I’m back home in 24 months, I’m unlikely to ever have the chance to do something as unique as moving to another country of the world and just setting up shop! As hard as it may be on some days to motivate myself to do these different things, I realize that if I don’t jump in for the full experience now, I may regret it when I’m on the tarmac getting ready to take off in December of 2011. The tone I set now has a lot to do with my tone for the next two years!
With that being said, there are many challenges I’ve had to take on this past week. They are not all unique to me, as Peace Corps Volunteers around the world probably have situations much worse than I do. Nevertheless, my struggles are real for me because this is my life and nobody else’s.
For example, the first two days I didn’t have a stove. I didn’t need the stove for food, because I was eating peanut butter and jelly, but I did need it to boil water. So this is where I started making friendships. I went to my neighbor’s house and asked if she would boil some water for me. She did, and then sent me home with an electric pot to boil water in. I returned it a few days later once I found a stove.
The first night I didn’t have a soft mattress, but rather was sleeping on a traditional Samoan bed, which is a woven mat. I tried to look at this experience as being one with the Samoans. Was it a little uncomfortable? Yes. Did I start to get use to it? Yes, and that is what started to scare me, so I eventually found a foam mattress which is working fine.
What about a refrigerator, how important is that? Not as important as a bed and stove and therefore, that is why I have just purchased one, 10 days after moving to my site. But I learned that if the power ever goes out, I can survive without it, and many Samoan do as well year round. It will be nice to have it at my house so that I can eat healthier foods, but I’ve survived without it, so no worries.
I still don’t have running water in the house, but I’ve been getting use to that as well. I’ve been getting my water from the school compounds drinking pipe. I fill a jug of water and then take it in and run it through the filter and then boil it. It tastes rather good, although I miss it being cold, but that soon can be fixed with my fridge arriving. I’ve been taking bucket baths which I learned how to do during training, so I feel like I’m using what I’ve learned. Some days I forget what a hot shower feels like, but who would want a hot shower when it’s 88 degrees out and humid?
There are also other little things that can play mind tricks with me and try to wear me down. I have cockroaches in my house for example and a few spiders now and then. At first they freak me out because I’m not use to them, but there aren’t lightning bugs here so maybe those would startle a Samoan. Samoans don’t flinch when they see a cockroach. I’m getting better and more aggressive, but it’s all part of the experience. It is the price I pay for living in a tropical paradise.
Overall this settling in period has been about learning to be flexible and have a good sense of humor. It has been about finding solutions to my problems. If I don’t have string to suspend my mosquito net, I can use duck tape. If I can’t get a cell phone signal at my village, I can ride 20 minutes on my bike around the mountain to get a great view of the ocean and a halfway decent signal.
I’m learning a lot about myself here in Samoa. I’m learning I can go without some of the stuff I took for granted back in the United States. It is hard some days, but that makes this experience all the more meaningful.
On that note, I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. I hope that your holidays are filled with happy memories and safe travels. Please know that I’ll be thinking about you and wishing you the happiest New Year!