Skill of Perspective

All Peace Corps Volunteers come from lives of relative comfort. We had washing machines, refrigerators, and we didn't have to cross the room every night to turn off the light then curse ourselves for leaving something on the floor between the light and the bed, and then scream in pain when we trip on said something in the dark. We all gain a new appreciation lets say for those modern conveniences. I, for example, bow to the washing machine. When I see it, I kiss it, hug it, and say sweet nothings during the spin cycle. I do the same thing for the dryer. But because the washing machine knows I love it more, it puts up with my infidelity. However, of all the things I miss, what I have to go most out of my way to overcome the inconvenience of is the refrigerator.

I used to live with an amazing host family. I was treated like a daughter by my host mom and like a tia by my host neice and nephew. When I first moved in with my family, they refused to let me pay for food. I compromised and I would buy food that I liked and wanted and share with the family. The arrangement suited everyone and soon after I became in charge of dinner. I loved introducing them to my food culture and different foods I could make from other parts of the world. It was always a guessing game to see what my host dad would eat.

With this wonderful house and family came most of the major kitchen appliances a girl could ask for. I even found a hand mixer, but this was all taken away by a security incident and Peace Corps whisked me away to a new house. I had a big empty house all to myself except for a few previous residents, the rat, spiders, and very mobile colony of ants that enjoyed light sockets and switches better than dirt.

This house had all the indepence a gringa could ask for. I no longer had kids running in and out of my room, I cooked every meal for myself, and for the most part nobody worried if I stayed inside to read for an afternoon. I borrowed a bed from my host family, a table from my new landlord, and proceded to buy everything else I needed little by little taking as much from San Miguel as my pockets could afford and my arms could carry. I gained a toaster oven and a hot plate that electrocuted me if I was foolish enough to use a metal pot AND metal utensil to cook. I ended up with many kitchen utensils as fellow volunteers closed their service, but I never got a fridge.

Many people had told me that a fridge would have been their first purchase. I didn't buy one for several reasons. 1. Cost: buying the fridge plus paying someone to bring it to my house would have been expensive because I lived so rural. It is doable but problems occur with number two. 2. Everyone in my site would have known that I had a fridge and that would have set me apart from my community. Because anyone that can buy a fridge and pay someone de un solo- all at once, has got to be rich.

Because of these reasons I put my decision on hold to see if could survive without one. This decision changed my shopping and eating habits. Say goodbye to eating meat and dairy regularly. Say goodbye to keeping veggies or opened canned goods for very long. Say hello to beans, rice, pasta, canned and packaged goods that can be consumed rapidly and buy smaller quantities and more frequently of vegetables. Just being able to feed myself became a challange

There are people who will say this next bit of advice is just happy horse crap, but I consider it a survival skill. The advice is: Any situation is a matter of perspective. Instead of looking at what you don't have, concentrate on what you do have. I couldn't eat most of my favorite foods with any kind of frequency unless I wanted to make trips to the capital every week (not feasible). So I had to start planning meals and trying to jazz up what I could get.

I definately learned the hard whay what the phrase "shelf life" meant. I had a couple of fuzzy green months where I would open a bag or container and discover that other life forms had inhabited my future meal. I learned that any sauce (bbq, ketchup, hot sauce, and soy sauce) that has vinegar as one of its first three ingredients ain't goin bad. Mayonaise has so many preservatives nowadays that its shelf life is a couple of weeks. Canned tuna, spices from the states, and individual packets of pasta sauce are man's greatest gifts. If your main diet consists of beans then dress'em up right and take them to a CHILI dinner. Lentils are your best friends because they don't need much water or time to cook and limes and curry powder are easy to get a hold of in El Salvador. I found a way to make a vegetable soup that lasted for three meals and cost less than a dollar.

It wasn't all easy, remember the fuzzy green months, but it can be done. This is not a story that says if I can live without a refridgerator I can do anything. It is a story about perspective. In any situation, peace corps makes you move houses, you have no fridge, or your community is unorganized, there are solutions that you can look for. It is easy to get bummed out about having to eat the same thing everyday or missing your old host family. You are allowed to be upset for awhile, but after that start looking for solutions and ask around for advice. You will get there in the end!



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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.