Rae Richards, 129 TESS
Welcome to a column meant to explore the highs and lows of Peace Corps volunteer life—in Thailand and beyond. Each month, we highlight a current Peace Corps volunteer somewhere in the world and discuss the best and most difficult experiences that they have had in the last month. Through storytelling, we can glean how different and similar life is between volunteers across provinces and borders—enjoy!
Volunteer name: David Gardner
Site: Ambato, Ecuador
Interviewed by: Rae Richards
Rae: Thanks so much for talking to me today David! I’m very excited to finally interview you.
David: Of course, of course.
Rae: My first series of questions are some fun would-you-rathers. First up — would you rather always be ten minutes late or 30 minutes early?
David: Ten minutes late. I already am going to be ten minutes late so I might as well have it be a “thing.” It’s not my fault! People could be like, “Oh, he’s ten minutes late again, not his fault.” Also, I live in Latin America so if I were 30 minutes early to everything, I would really be at least 2 hours early to everything. [Laughter]
Rae: Next question– would you rather only have shirts two sizes too big or only have shirts one size too small?
David: I hate big clothes for some reason– like I hate when my pant legs are too long. So I’m going to have to go with one size too small. S’medium it is.
Rae: Final one — would you rather give up social media FOREVER or give up movies and television?
David: Social media. I talk to enough people, but I love movies. Plus I see people I hate on social media all the time.
Rae: I’d probably pick the same. I feel like social media has more negative outcomes in my life than movies.
Rae: So now to switch it up, I would like to focus on a low moment you’ve had in the last few weeks — anything challenging that’s happened. Does anything come to mind?
David: Yeah, oh absolutely. The challenges of being in a very urban program have been rough lately. An example — in Ambato every Monday there’s a big market day so it’s extra busy here. And this last Monday I was running errands, paying rent and bills and everything. So going through the busiest day of the week, all these people around me, bumping into me, I had this moment where I was like “Another year of doing this. This is my PC experience.” I don’t have a quaint market day in my village. I had no idea my experience would be like this, and seeing other volunteers who live in remote, rural places, make it hard to not to get tired of the city life.
Rae: Yeah, the energy in big cities is so different from the countryside.
David: It is! And there’s no escape from the hustle and bustle. It isn’t that different from what America felt like. I still have a lot of parts that are similar in my life here. It almost feels like a very extended time abroad at times.
Rae: When you’re having these rough patches, how do you cope and work through these feelings?
David: Number one is — you know the GIF of Michael Cera’s character in Arrested Development just collapsing in to the floor from exhaustion? I do that.
David: That first. Just letting Ecuador beat me. “I yield!” After that, picking myself up. I have to be gentle with myself. We all kinda say it here, “Ecuador will break you down, and you have to let it.” Like when you’re in quicksand — OR the Devil’s Snare from Harry Potter. Sometimes it’s best to just go with it.
Rae: I love that — not struggling, just accepting your life at site. It’s a huge lesson I’m still learning. Do you have a favorite song or movie to help you rebound?
David: Well I’ve been watching The Office, which is great because no matter how hard things can seem here, at least I don’t work there! [Laughter] And talking to my partner and my two good friends in the Peace Corps helps me so much. Even though we have wildly different experiences, at the core of it we are going through very similar things and can relate to each other.
Rae: The struggles are eerily similar, despite the changes in context between volunteers. So now that we’ve reflected on a low moment, let’s focus on the opposite — have you had any awesome victories in the last month you’d like to share?
David: Yeah! So it was a lot of work to get another volunteer placed at my school. They had to tour it, I had to find them a host family, and I had to set up a visit day for staff to come out here. It was a ton of coordinating between my school staff and country staff. And we are finally getting our volunteer! I just scheduled their visit for next week, but I’ll get to meet them this weekend.
Rae: When you have these victories, what’s your go-to for celebrating?
David: For me, it’s just walking around my school and realising that I am having little wins here. My actual site may be a city of thousands but my school community is a little site of its own. And here, I am having an impact. Also enjoying my cool apartment and having a crappy Ecuadorian beer is nice after a long day. Then in terms of celebrating with my friends back home, I talk with people a lot. I video call people every week — a very cool upside of having reliable internet here.
Rae: All good things. What is your media consumption like these days? Any good recommendations for podcasts or movies you’d like to share?
David: I’m always reading here. Nothing like the Peace Corps free time to get you to read long fantasy novels like Game of Thrones! [Laughter] Same with TV, as I’m finally watching the Office all the way through. I’m also listening to a sports podcast so I can keep up with all the sports. It’s super bro-y but it helps me stay up-to-date with the world. Like I recently learned that everyone in the NBA is obsessed with wine. Carmello Anthony is almost a qualified sommelier!
Rae: That’s wild, I didn’t know that. Doesn’t the NBA have the most diverse viewership of all major sports leagues? I thought I heard that somewhere.
David: I think so. Everybody loves basketball.
Rae: Well thank you so much for talking to me today. How can people follow you on your Peace Corps journey from here on out?
David: My Instagram is davidgardgnar. I don’t post super often but if I go on a cool trip, I’ll update it.
Rae: Excellent. Thanks so much David!
Thank you for reading another installment of Peaks & Valleys. Join us next month for another volunteer highlight and check out Rae’s previous interviews.
Questions, comments or suggestions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org