Madeleine Aggeler, 126
In an effort to better understand the day to day life of Peace Corps Volunteers around the world, Peace Corps has sent out staff to observe volunteers at their sites. These are the findings from one trip to Uttaradit, Thailand.
We were assigned to observe Ms. Madeleine Aggeler at her site in Uttaradit, Thailand. When we arrived at her house, she emerged looking like what can only be described as “a hungover Amish woman recovering from a week-long bender during which she wrestled with pigs and slept in dirt.” Despite her appearance, the volunteer insisted that she does live primarily inside, and does have access to running water.
While we waited for Ms. Aggeler’s co-teacher to arrive, we asked her about what had drawn her to the Peace Corps, and what were her qualifications. She made a crack about being fairly adept at the English language, but did not follow up with any actual skills.
At school, Ms. Aggeler hurried to her classroom where she pulled up tabs for Facebook, Gmail, and Tumblr on her computer, though she had been browsing all three at her house just moments before. She scrolled through her news feed, referring to everyone as either a “dummy” or a “cutie” and in two cases “a cutie, but a real dummy.”
Ms. Aggeler’s first class of the day was grade 5.
“They’re my favorite!” she exclaimed, hurriedly jotting down a lesson plan about occupations, “Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to adopt some of them and bring them home with me. Just a single, twenty-three-year-old gal and her twelve to fifteen Thai children.”
“Aren’t you not supposed to have favorites when you’re a teacher?” I asked.
The volunteer ignored this question, and stood up to greet the stampeding crowd of ten-year olds. She and her co-teacher taught some basic vocabulary, but seemed to spend most of their time fawning and cooing over the children. By the time she had hugged and high-fived the last fifth grader out of the classroom, Ms. Aggeler’s demeanor had changed considerably. She was tense and stony faced. When we inquired about the sudden shift in her mood she look us straight in the eye and said “Eighth graders.”
It was immediately clear that the middle-schoolers had the upper hand, and the volunteer seemed to spend most of her time glaring at an unruly group of boys in the back of the room who continually mocked her Thai and threw things at the two girls in the front of the room who were trying to learn. Ms. Aggeler’s secondary counterpart spent most of her time on her phone, or outside of the classroom on mysterious calls.
Third period was cancelled for no apparent reason. It should be noted that at this time the volunteer repeatedly asked me if I was single and made a number of untoward advances before grabbing me and whispering “I am so alone.”
We ate lunch in the second grade classroom with a group of six other teachers. For the most part the women ignored Ms. Aggeler, who stared blankly into the distance, but occasionally they would all begin screaming at her at once, insisting she eat more, or asking whether she understood what they were talking about. One woman repeatedly got very close to the volunteer, and stared directly into her face without saying a word. The other teachers smiled encouragingly as the volunteer laughed and shifted nervously in her seat.
“She does that every day,” Ms. Aggeler explained as we walked back to her classroom. “I have no idea what she wants from me.”
Fourth period was cancelled when neither her students nor her counterpart showed up, and Ms. Aggeler spent the hour going through old pictures of herself on Facebook.
“I used to be a cutie,” she sniffed, “Look how shiny my hair was.”
She opened tabs for The Economist and The New Yorker, explaining how important it was to stay informed, and went on to rank every member of the Kardashian family according to looks and business savvy.
“Rob could be a top tier Kardashian, but come on… socks?”
Fifth and sixth periods went by without incident, except for one fourth grade boy who wouldn’t stop humping random objects. The volunteer shrugged as the boy went to town on a bookshelf, sighing: “Go for it, little man. Less eye contact, though.”
After school, the volunteer let the kids play games on her phone and climb on her before going home, where she immediately undressed and passed out in front of her fan. After about forty minutes, she threw on ratty gym clothes and went on a walk around the nearby dam. On the walk, we asked her what she felt she had accomplished in her twenty months in country. She bumbled through an answer about “connections” and “cultural exchange”, before grabbing a handful of dirt, throwing it in our faces, and running away. She made it about thirty feet before falling to the ground, gasping for breath. After throwing several more objects at us when we tried to approach, she finally allowed us near her as long as we didn’t “ask stupid, personal questions.”
We dropped Ms. Aggeler off at her house, and said our goodbyes.
“I know it might not always seem like it,” she added as we climbed into the car, “but this is where I want to be.”
She smiled and lumbered away, sweaty, disheveled, and ready for seven more months.