Olivia McGeever, 128 TCCS
I was sitting in my final interview before heading off to site.
Rumpai, our training manager, told me she was worried about me, afraid that my optimism would be weighed down by the isolation and hardship of my service.
I was slightly offended but laughed and told her I’d be good. (I think I said great, yikes).
But yeah, she was right.
Peace Corps is the spiritual retreat I couldn’t escape. I was forced to explore every part of myself and face my not so compelling characteristics, like my murderous reactions to loud, large geckos.
I’m easily my own best friend when I am surrounded by love and validation, close to yoga studios, can chill in air conditioning and have my independence. Put me in that scenario, and my self-esteem is through the roof.
But throw me in a village, where my appearance is the main topic of discussion, along with my every movement, habit and reaction, and my self-worth is gonna waiver.
You’re fat, you’re thin, you’re not eating enough, you’re eating too much, you look better in skirts.
She runs, she walks, she eats, she eats fast, she eats fruit, she doesn’t eat meat.
Did you eat? What did you eat? Eat more! You’re fat.
It’s only my first month and I’m permanently exhausted, just walking out my door is work. I’m not having meaningful conversations (or any conversations), I’ve read 11 books in four weeks, and have bucket showered 4 times today because it’s 100 degrees.
How the hell do I take care of myself in this situation?!
It’s hard. It’s SO hard. Everyone tells you it’s gonna be hard, you told yourself it was gonna be hard, you try to explain to your family and friends the degree of hardness but there’s just no way to understand unless you’re doing it.
We talked about coping mechanisms in training. I wrote about how I’ll do yoga, run, and meditate. I’ll read, paint, and write. These are all things I love doing WHEN I love myself.
There are days when you’re spiraling out of control, and can’t come up with a single reason why you’re there and just wanna curl up in a ball and watch movies and/or cry.
These days come, I accept them.
But I’m disappointed in myself because I’ve read the books. Eckhart, Deepak, Rumi, Pema, I knew what they were talking about.
Be present…be aware of your ego…you are not your thoughts.
Easy when you’ve got the love, the validation, the yoga studios, etc.
Not so easy I found, when you haven’t spoken English fluidly in 5 weeks, are constantly parched and profusely sweating most hours of the day and are massively struggling in the love yourself department.
The more time I spent alone, the more judgmental I became of myself, and then of others. Then you get to a point when you’re almost forcing yourself to be miserable in order to validate how hard it is. IT’S INSANE or I’m insane, it’s all up for debate.
My first weekend away from site, I traveled overnight 7 hours to my destination. My expectations were high and I was looking forward to seeing friends and unwinding.
24 hours in, I was sexually assaulted by the creep working at the hostel.
This is not the first time someone has felt authorized to my body nor was it the first time that they persisted even after I said no and physically resisted.
But I’m 9,000 miles away, and 5 months into this commitment and so I get back to the village and kind of lose it. I can’t move from bed, I can’t stop crying and I’m thinking, at what point do you throw in the towel?!
Apparently not then, my school showed up to my house with a fruit basket, sitting on the floor of my empty living room trying to figure out what I needed to be happy. The next day, there was a table and chairs in that room.
Thai people are the most generous people in the world. I’ll never go hungry here, nor lose my celebrity status, it’s been nearly 2 years and I’m still a big f***ing deal.
The beginning was rough, and it’s been rough every step of the way since. After a year, I felt really broken, and at that point, you feel like you’ve put a significant part of yourself into this work and why haven’t there been results? It feels hopeless.
I’ve had “a-ha” moments that come weekly or monthly since I’ve got here. Eating dinner with families, playing with the kids, being able to communicate something meaningful to someone, getting the same prices as the locals, having a successful class, seeing small signs of growth in my kids, the slow change from “foreigner” to “Olivia.” Moments like these always feel slowed down so you can hold on to them a little longer. I try my best to remember this when the tough sh*t starts piling on again.
But sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, the bad is just bad and it’s meant to be felt fully.
When Trump was elected, I really let it out, my crying was the highlight of conversation for days.
When I had to end my work relationship with one of my Thai counterparts after months of stress and tears.
When learning more about my students home lives left me feeling in even more despair, and questioning what could I possibly offer this community?
These experiences of course tore me down, but I’m more resilient because of them. Peace Corps helps you embrace all the cliches of hardship un-ironically.
You end up accepting that your work probably won’t be sustainable, and start lightening up the pressure you put on yourself.
You try to skip the guilt when planning to get away for a weekend or two, knowing that it’s better for your sanity to be in AC for a couple nights.
You try your best not to compare yourself to other volunteers/ people back at home/ every single person on social media, and you learn over and over again just to embrace your own story.
It wasn’t until 6 months ago that I really noticed my roots here, my closeness with my kids and their families, my school and community.
And it also wasn’t until a few months ago, that I reconnected with my spiritual practice, and realized that meditating, doing my yoga, writing about my experiences will help me face the tough stuff, move through it, and start loving myself again.
My panic these days is how will I possibly adjust back home? How can I leave without my kids and my dogs?
I’m already feeling nostalgic for all of this which feels psychotic because I’ve shed so many tears while being here, complained about every possible nuance, have expressed to friends and family that if I had known what these two years entailed, I wouldn’t of signed up.
AND YET, as I lay beneath my mosquito net, I know that this has been the most profound experience of my life so far, and I wouldn’t change an ounce of it.