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Friday, 06 February 2009

The Peace Corps' Dark Side - Page 2

Written by Chad Jarrah
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The Peace Corps experience I had, although difficult, was one I wouldn’t trade for the world. I learned a different language, experienced a new culture, made lasting friendships, and, I’d like to think, helped a little in the process. I was posted in the West African nation of Niger, a country known for little more than its Uranium deposits, millet production and overwhelming poverty. I was stationed in a small village that hovered along the Nigerian border. The transition was rough, but I loved every minute of it. But that’s not to say that everything I gained didn’t come at a price. Living in a foreign country, especially a third world country, requires one to adjust both mentally and physically. I felt I was prepared for this, but like a soldier who brashly assumes he’s prepared for war, and cracks under the line of fire, I wasn’t ready for the shame that many of my experiences would leave me with.

 

My pre-emptive relief didn’t last long. I jumped up from my mattress as if a bucket if ice-cold water was thrown in my face. My heart-pounding and face drenched with sweat, I instinctively felt something was wrong. What could it be? It was wrong enough to wake me from a calming sleep, and as I shifted uncomfortably on my millet stalk bed frame, the sound I heard coming from the back of my pants did more to enlighten me to the situation than a thousand images ever could -- Squish. One of those Saturday Night Live commercial parodies, ‘Oops I crapped my Pants!’ came to mind as I turned to see if anyone else was awake. Embarrassing myself was one thing, but embarrassing myself before an audience was something I wasn’t sure I could handle.

 

I got up from bed as quietly as I could and washed my soiled boxers at an outside faucet. With the stealth of someone committing an illegal act I looked up warily at each movement or snore from the nearby volunteers. As I frantically scrubbed my shame away, I racked my brain trying to think of any believable reason I could give to a waking volunteer. “Why are you washing your underwear at two o’clock in the morning?” they would ask. I came up with nothing plausible but finished before I was noticed. I hung the boxers up with the rest of the volunteers’ laundry and again breathed a sigh of relief as I returned to bed.

 

Even more exhausted than my first attempt at rest, this time my head barely hit the pillow before I fell asleep. Huh!? What the shit? It happened again! It wasn’t even my fault. As soon as I nodded off, my muscles unclenched, and the flood gates re-opened. Again, I scrubbed my once clean underwear under the blanket of night, and made my way to bed. I tossed and turned afraid to sleep, this time shoving a rag between my ass and underwear for an extra layer of protection. I didn’t sleep, keeping out an all night vigil against the Amoebas’ attack, and awoke the following morning before the other volunteers, both looking and feeling miserable.

The Peace Corps’ Dark Side, Peace Corps adventure, Peace Corps service, volunteer Niger, Amoebas, Chad Jarrah

That morning, I kept to myself. I took my meds and did everything I could to speed up my recovery. I tried to stay optimistic thinking about the previous nights’ events thinking, “at least no one saw you,” and “you’ll feel better soon.” I tried to work on some grant proposals for village projects, but lacked the focus to get any real work done. Instead, I retired to our “cubby room” to relax with a good book. The “cubby room” was so called because one of the more handy volunteers built a wall of cubby holes for the volunteers to place their belongings. Although other volunteers were constantly going in and out of this room I didn’t care. This was the only room with a couch where I could lay down and read and I was happy for the luxury.

 

I read and chatted with the incoming and outgoing volunteers, making small talk about the status of my health or the pace of the book. Eventually, the room got quiet, and I was left to myself to read and relax. The room was warm, the book boring, and I was weary from the restless night. Before I knew it I had dozed off. The book fell from my hands, and with it, the only scrap of pride I had left. Shaken from a deep sleep, my eyes opened, rapidly scanning the room as my body remained still, frozen with the fear of discovery. It happened again, only this time there were three volunteers milling about, reading their mail, and rummaging through their cubbies. What could I possibly do? I couldn’t just lay there in my own filth, and anyway, the smell made its way to my nostrils, and would eventually drift in their direction as well. I lay there feverishly, thinking of anything that could delay my humiliation, but drew a blank and decided to face the ridicule.

 

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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