Tuesday, March 17, 2009

9 to 5

I have been asked many times what my daily, “9 to 5”, schedule is like here in Paraguay. What does it mean to be a Peace Corps volunteer? What time do you wake up everyday? What time does your day end? Then, after I try to answer these questions, I hear “you’re so lucky, you can make your own schedule…” While there is truth in this, as volunteers our workday begins when we want it to. We do not have 9 to 5’s. There is no time clock, or supervisor monitoring the halls. Peace Corps is not Office Space. No, Peace Corps is so much more than a 9 to 5, and I am more than an employee.

This weekend my good friend, a fellow volunteer, came to visit me in Mboi’y. After a hectic week, we decided that the two of us deserved a relaxing weekend. Saturday night, to make it uber girly, we watched the movie 9 to 5 (if you have not seen this movie, basically… you need to). In the midst of all the laughing and recounting stories of similar situations “back in the corporate world,” I started thinking: I am working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 730 days. I do not have a 9-5. I do not clock in, and I do not clock out (well, maybe in my mind sometimes). I always bring work home, because my work is my home. When all is said and done, my supervisor is my entire town, and they reserve the right to call on me whenever they please.

“Umm, yea… Courtney, I’m going to need you to go ahead and come in to work tomorrow. Great, thanks.”

I never thought I would miss the corporate 9 to 5 so much; the ability to clock out at the end of each day, and know that I can make the rest of my day, or weekend, whatever I want it to be. Now, ok yes, I do recognize that the corporate world is not easy and there is a lot of baggage carried around by everyone, everywhere. However, at the end of the day, a Peace Corps Volunteer lives in their office. There is no going home. While I love this aspect of my job, there are down sides (as with everything in life) that I feel I should share.

Currently, I am teaching English and helping to create a legally recognized neighbor commission that will be the governing body of my community center. I cannot be more thrilled that things have/ are taking off, and so quickly. I live in an amazing community, with amazing people that understand the value of hard work, integrity, and participation. Within three weeks, we already offer two courses (English and knitting), and should be offering more as soon as April. My English course, which lasts 10 weeks, has 40 students! So with all of this said; why is it that at the end of the day I have my doubts about being a volunteer? The answer to that question has to do with my personal life, or, the fact that I do not have one.

I spent three months of training learning cultural sensitivity, among other things. So I came to my site knowing that there would be many situations where I would have to put aside my own personal beliefs, habits, and routines in respect to my community. As volunteer, we all make sacrifices. However, what they do not remind us is that there is no cultural sensitivity training to Americans on the part of the community. Everything I do and say is new to them, and I can turn people off just as easily I can turn them on, to my work. When I say the Peace Corps volunteer works 24 hours day, I am referring to the fact that everything we do is known, and judged, by our communities. I do not blame my neighbors at all, I am a guest in their home which means it is my responsibility to respect their ways of life and costumes. But at the same time, this puts a huge damper on my personal life. For the most part, I do feel like I am able to be myself. But, it is not always easy.

(You may need to read my blog post: How many Paraguayans can fit on a bus)

For example, if I have visitors at my house anyone who wants to know about my visitor knows. Normally, if it’s a girl (which they normally are) there are no questions asked. But heaven forbid I have a male friend over… then the questions start flying, and the gossip starts flowing. Out of the five or so Americans that have lived in Mboi’y, 4 have married Paraguayans. The odds are not in my favor, and they know this. I want my neighbors to be interested in my work, and not my personal life. This has resulted in a sort of paranoia that I am not necessarily proud of. I try to give a good balance of professional and personal, because this is my home now too, but I am in constant fear of doing or saying something that can jeopardize my work. My first couple months in site, I was dating a Paraguayan that lives in another town. When he finally asked me why I always come to see him, and I have never invited him to my site, it hit me that I have to make some real decisions about what kind of volunteer I am going to be. I decided that I did not want to have any guy stay over, alone, at my house unless we were serious and I was ready to introduce him to my community as my boyfriend. This was a personal decision based solely on my personal feelings and concerns. There are many volunteers that date in and out of site and have no problem with their communities knowing. I, however, have decided not to… and this is not easy.

“This is the toughest job you will ever love.”

But, there are ups and downs to everything right? Hmm, ups to being a PCV in Paraguay? I DO get to set my own schedule. I DO get to know that I helped changed an entire community. I DO get to take 2 hour naps in the middle day if I so desire. I DO get to look back at this experience and know that I grew more as a person in 2 years than many do in 20.

So, enjoy that 9 to 5 you have!

- Wong


Erica said...

Celebrities are kept under a microscope, 24/7. And they hate it. What I hear is that you, my dear Courtney Wong, of whom I am so very proud, you manage your responsibilities with respect and love. Why? Because you represent your family, church, and country. Also because you have bonded with your community. Why? Because when you love someone, you care what they think, you want to please them and you want to be there for them. You have always been like that, very thoughtful and caring.

Here in the US, no body even know when you come and went you leave. And no body stops by to say “hello”. Not good!!

But the people in your adopted community have come to love and admire you. It don’t help that they are not busy with everyday hustles and bustles, so they have the time to keep up with you, their local “celebrity”

In any case, I do feel your pain. But you must know, at this stage of my life, I will gladly change places with you. I want to belong to a small community where everybody knows my name. Where we can sing and dance, talk and laugh and just hang out.

You are doing the right thing by keeping your personal life from your work/home life. It’s just that your work life is all around you. The time will come and you will know when to share. Keep in mind that your entire community will want to give their opinion, just like your family do. And you will want their approval. Why, because they love you, just like we do.

Being a young girl, and away from home, I am comforted that you use all your God given gifts: one in particular, your “gut/sixth sense” instinct may have already saved you time and time again.

Hang in there. You will be back here before you know it.

God bless you.

Always kissing your life.

Erica said...

I love you!
Kissing your life.

Seriously Though said...
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