A Little "Peace" of Heaven
Most Americans, used to being connected to the rest of the world twenty-four hours each day via wireless phone, television, and computer, may find it inconceivable for anyone to give up the most basic of creature comforts. Yet there are thousands of Americans willing to sacrifice such conveniences for an experience of a lifetime. Currently, nearly 9000 Peace Corps Volunteers work in 76 countries to teach children, protect the environment, start new businesses, and provide health services.
I had no time to lament about living without television or phone service during my Peace Corps experience. Life became so exciting, I eventually stopped griping about the varmints in my home: mice, roaches, bats, scorpions, and snakes.
Well, I admit to never getting used to the snakes.
Living in a rural town in Northeast Brazil kept me fully occupied. Yet, I enjoyed traveling, learning to speak Portuguese, and experiencing an exotic culture. With the lack of conveniences, it seemed like a two-year camping trip.
But there were difficult moments when I asked myself why I had ever joined the Peace Corps. I realize now that, in my youthful naiveté, I wanted to change the world. Instead, it was I who changed.
Mystery writer and former Peace Corps Volunteer Kinky Friedman wrote that he had never seen the United States so clearly as when he stood by a lake in Borneo. I experienced a similar sensation in Brazil. Seeing the United States from a global point of view uncovered flaws I hadn't recognized at home. At the same time, my own country and its opportunities were seen and appreciated in a new light.
In Brazil, I taught high school and worked on community development projects in Nossa Senhora da Glória, a village in the state of Sergipe. Everyone called the town Glória, which means "Heaven" in Portuguese. How a place with no running water, no sewage system, and electricity only four hours each night could be called "Heaven," may seem inconceivable. Nevertheless, I grew to love the town. It changed how I perceived myself, and more importantly, my vision of the world.
Brazilians freely shared their lives, their sorrows, and their joys. Those with barely enough to feed their families showed me their appreciation with gifts of homegrown eggs and vegetables. They corrected my Portuguese, forgave my mistakes, and treated me like a daughter. While inspiring me to unrestrained celebration during Carnaval, they helped me survive the poorest of conditions with a smile, a hug, and the faith that tomorrow would be better.
The ads say that the Peace Corps is the "toughest job you'll ever love." Despite my successes in the intervening years as a teacher, an artist, and a writer, I still consider my Peace Corps service as the most rewarding thing I ever did. It wasn't easy, but then nothing worthwhile ever is.