Rachelle Shea, Botswana, 17 HIV Civil Society & Capacity Building Volunteer
If you are a PCV serving in sub-Saharan Africa then you’ve heard the term “posh corps.” It’s a term that helps convert your bitter jealousy into pride, allowing you to revel in your own hardship. It sets you—the true rugged volunteer—apart from those basking in luxury and posh lifestyles in the southern regions of Africa. I happen to a posh corps volunteer, serving in the central region of Botswana.
I want to paint you a picture of some of these posh amenities. I wake up in thick, foam mattress which rests on an oak bed frame under a mosquito net. I cook breakfast on an electric stove aside a full-sized fridge. I cook all my meals in a non-stick pan and enjoy eating them while seated on a leather two-seater sofa. I have two functioning toilets and two functioning sinks in my house. I also have a shower head. At work, I share a small air-conditioned office with several other ladies. Some other volunteers have their own offices with large desks and wifi daily. And as if that wasn’t enough, the past several weeks all of the volunteers went to the capital to attend technical trainings, one of which was at the Cresta Lodge. This was undoubtedly the nicest hotel I’ve stayed at in my entire life. The hotel staff greeted us with sparkling juice and we enjoyed lunch buffets with goat cheese, smoked salmon, and chocolate mousse, all on Peace Corps budget.
Now the interesting thing about this is that Peace Corps Botswana has one of the lowest ratings of all posts for volunteers’ satisfaction of their service and one of the highest dropout rates. Having been here just 8 months, it is still difficult for me to understand why this is. But what I know is that a large majority of my conversations with other volunteers involve trying to conceptualize our role within the cultural complexities of the HIV epidemic here in Botswana. In order to prevent the spread of HIV, we must literally advocate against deeply ingrained cultural behaviors, such as having multiple partners at once or older men sleeping with young girls. Sometimes it feels that our work is the epitome of colonialism: Westerners preaching a “better” culture or behavior in a developing country. Other days when I can’t even get the police on board with gender equality, it feels like the work is meaningless in comparison to the enormity of HIV epidemic.
As Peace Corps volunteers, it is unfair to compare our challenges. We all have them and we all have to overcome them. And every post has those shining volunteers who still manage to radiate pure joy when they tell stories of their experiences. These volunteers are not telling stories of clean toilets or regular wifi use. They talk about cooking dinner with their neighbors or spending the weekend playing with the kiddos in their villages. They describe the people they have fallen in love with at their site and say, “I couldn’t survive without them.” So despite my posh lifestyle and despite the grand challenges of working within HIV prevention, I must remind myself daily that happiness in life comes through shared experiences. And there’s no better time or place to accomplish this than while living a slow-paced life for two years in a beautifully unique country.