When I was eleven, a friend’s mother came to school and talked to us about her experience living and working in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Already a geography nerd and travel lover, I’m sure it didn’t surprise my parents when I came home that day and announced that when I grew up I’d join the Peace Corps.
For years I thought I’d be living in a hut in French speaking Africa somewhere, living that totally romanticized, stereotypical life I’d seen in movies. I studied French in school, Anthropology at uni. And when I applied in 2013 I thought I’d be headed to Cameroon or Rwanda.
So my invitation to Jordan came as a bit of a surprise.
Thirty four of us arrived in the Heshamite Kingdom of Jordan in October of 2014. I’d never been to the Middle East in my life, and most of my ideas of it came from friends who’d been and the chaos you see on the news. Jordan turned out to be nothing like I expected- the people friendly to the extent of what’s been called having a culture of “aggressive hospitality”. The food excellent and putting all of us in danger of either gaining five hundred pounds or diabetes by the end of service. The cities busy, built up, full of shops and restaurants with Roman ruins scattered about within. I always felt safe and secure (more so than many places in the US) despite what was happening in countries next door. And I found nothing more beautiful than the sound of the call to prayer (…except the 5am one, especially with the guy in my village who couldn’t carry a note to save his life).
It was also damn hard. I knew going in PC wasn’t an easy job, but I quickly found out just how intense it could be. Four hour long Arabic lessons most mornings during pre-service training (PST), followed by culture and technical training. You were constantly exhausted from trying to understand what your host family was saying (I knew zero Arabic going in). And once we got to site, it became pretty clear that being a Youth Development volunteer was going to be a lot more work (and a lot more difficult) than running a couple summer camps and teaching girls life skills.
There were days, quite frankly, where I questioned my life choices. I thought I’d made a huge mistake. And then a moment later four of my s Trashtudents would show up at my house telling me to come quickly- thirty girls had shown up to my cancelled English class anyway and wanted to learn. Or my six year old host sister would come down to my apartment with fresh harisa (Jordanian semolina cake) and a shy “good morning how are you” in English. And I realized that maybe I was doing something good after all.
So when all of us were called to a last minute meeting in March we didn’t think of the possibility of it that ending. Until the Country Director told us to shut off our phones. “There’s no easy way to say this- we’re going home.”
We were evacuated three days later. It was, hands down, the hardest thing I’ve gone through in my life. The goodbyes were heartbreaking, especially those to my 8th graders and our Language and Culture Facilitators. There’s so much to say about it, and about our five months in Jordan as a whole, but other volunteers have blogged about it much more eloquently than I ever could (I’ll link them below).
Although my time in Jordan was over (for now, anyway), my time in PC wasn’t. I was transferred to a literacy program in Guyana, South America, starting just six weeks after arriving back in the US. It was difficult and chaotic, but here I am writing this under my mosquito net in my new tropical home. Just three months ago I was riding camels in Petra and drinking sweet tea and Turkish coffee like it was water. Lately I’ve taken speedboats as taxis and gotten used to sharing my morning cold shower with frogs and geckos. Life really couldn’t be more different.
My time in PC hasn’t exactly gone the way I imagined as that eleven year old girl. I couldn’t have guessed the evacuation, two PSTs, three host families, two languages, two continents. Who knew I’d help with olive harvesting, dance at a Palestinian wedding, and have training sessions about piranhas and electric eels in the space of seven months?
I’m lucky, really. Even among PCVs this chance to really get to know two different places, different cultures, is rare. Part of my heart will always be in Jordan and I know that Guyana will take a piece too. It’s not the PC experience I thought I’d have, nor is it the one I necessarily wanted coming in, but it’s the experience I’m having. And while not always easy, I think it’s important to just embrace the chance I’ve been given.
I’m not entirely sure how often I’ll be able to update this blog (the internet here’s pretty sketchy/unavailable), but I’ll do my best to show you what life’s like here in Guyana. And maybe look back at my life in Jordan, too, from time to time. But I’ll do my best.
So here’s to the next two years- may it stay full of surprises (but, you know, maybe no more evacuation surprises. I’d like to stay in one place).
*Check out these three fab blogs by my fellow J17s. There are lots of good blogs out there, so do a bit of googling, but these guys were with me throughout.
Molly (my forever neighbour): http://mollyinjordan.wordpress.com