As every Peace Corps Volunteer or Applicant knows (we all had to write an essay on them), the Peace Corps has 10 Core Expectations. They range from preparing “your personal and professional life to make a commitment to serve abroad for…27 months” (#1) to recognizing “that you will be perceived…as a representative…of the United States of America.” (#9). #3 states “Serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship if necessary…”
We all essentially gamble with our lives. You get that coveted Nomination with a general region of the world and start trying to imagine yourself there. For me, it was the South Pacific. Then you go through a year of doctor’s appointments, essays, and waiting endlessly before you finally get the oh-so-valuable Invitation. For most, the country is nowhere near where they were nominated. South Pacific ≠ Ecuador. Then you go through another round of trying to picture yourself there. You finally get to your departure date and you still don’t have an answer when people ask you exactly where you’re going to be living for the next 2 years. “Um…somewhere in Ecuador.” You go through weeks and weeks of training still having no idea. Then the big day comes and things start to get real. On the day of site reveals, I didn’t even actually hear my town. I was handed a flag of the Cotopaxi Province (where is that again?) and ran with my language facilitator amid clapping and cheering to “Cotopaxi” or the outline of it on the map made of roses on the soccer field behind the training center. Oh, Saquisili! That’s where I’m going! It took me almost a week to remember how to say it. And with that, I had my home for the next two years.
So here I am and I feel pretty lucky. Two years still seems like the rest of my life but I am definitely not living “under conditions of hardship.” I have my own room, bathroom, and wireless internet (!!) on a family compound of sorts. My own door to the outside, my own keys, my own TV, my own semi-functioning toilet. Hot water is not a guarantee and I have to pour a bucket of water in my toilet every time I want to flush it but all things considered, it’s pretty swank. I live in the center of town across the street from the Plaza de Papas. Every Wednesday and Thursday, the camionetas come down from the mountains full of everything from llamas to herbs. The Plaza de Papas turns into a small city as food stands are set up, animals are sold, and produce is stacked into neat little piles. The sidewalks turn into supermarket shelves as people sell everything from buckets to dish soap to movies to shoes…LITERALLY all on the sidewalk. You can’t hardly walk through the streets. From early Wednesday morning to late Thursday night, people are milling about hoping to get a good price for everything they’ve brought to market.
The other five days of the week, I might as well be living on the frontier or a ghost-town in the wild wild west. There’s stores and internet cafes and a park that’s currently closed for construction. Other than that, I’m left to my own devices for entertainment. Given the fact that I’m surrounded by countryside and Kichwa farms, I’ve decided to become a professional campo walker. I’m hoping the dirt roads out of town provide me with enough entertainment for the next two years.
My host family situation is pretty ideal. I live with an older lady who also works at the high school. She has one daughter who lives in Chicago of all places. She goes almost every year to visit her daughter which leaves me thinking that even long after I’ve left the Saq, I’ll be able to see her on one of her visits to Chicago. She’s already given me the scoop on all the good Ecuadorian restaurants in the city. She’s pretty quiet and leaves me with just the right amount of independence, anything from cooking copious amounts of pasta to letting my friend Alice spend the night last weekend. The rest of the family includes random uncles and cousins who come by for tea or dinner. Everyone has been very friendly and I honestly feel at home. Like I said, pretty ideal.
Everyday is a challenge but that is one thing I DID expect.