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: Deena Duwaik
Sector: Youth and Development
Interviewed by: Rae Richards
Rae: Hey Deena, so nice to catch up with you. Can you talk a little about what you were doing before joining the Peace Corps?
Deena: Before Peace Corps I was finishing up as a double major in Political Science and International Studies at Colorado State University. I was working with International students coming to study in the U.S. as well as a side job at Macy’s. Taco Bell and Panda Express were also huge parts of my pre-Peace Corps life.
Rae: What’s the funniest thing to happen to you in the last month at site?
Deena: My site is a hotbed of comedy, I tell ya. Just last week I was at a wedding — now keep in mind Moroccan weddings go so hard they put my college days to shame. It was around 4am at this point and after over 10 hours of dancing, singing, ululating and socializing I was pretty beat. I stood up to acknowledge my host mom who dropped in to offer her congratulations, after exchanging kisses and a few pleasantries, I slowly begin realizing that I’m falling backwards. Yup, literally falling backwards. I was so exhausted that I didn’t even realize the ground was fast approaching me from behind. Everything stopped. Everyone came to encircle me, offer their aid and proceed to break out in a symphony of laughter as if I was their conductor. Of course I shared in their cackling as well.
R: What’s the toughest experience that you’ve had in the last month or so? This can be just a moment or several days — whatever it looks like for you.
D: I won’t sugar coat it, life out here can be so hard. You’re completely alone, isolated from everyone not in your village, and have so much excess time to think and over think and over think those thoughts. Between the harassment from men, only eating eggs for weeks, 15 hour travel days, 125+ degree weather, and chronic diarrhea, yeah, it can be tough. But I wouldn’t change, exchange nor regret any part of this incredibly difficult and wonderful journey.
R: How do you cope with rough periods of your service?
D: I’ve found physical activity to be quite therapeutic for me mentally, physically & emotionally. Every day I have workout classes with various women in my community. It’s a way for me to stay healthy & sane while simultaneously engaging with the women. Also, I take Deena days. Deena days are days in which I dedicate the entire day to treating myself, no exceptions. I don’t answer the 50 children banging on my door or the other 50 screaming my name at my window and most likely won’t leave my home. After one of these days, lemme tell ya, I’m refreshed and smell pretty amazing.
R: What’s the best, most joyful moment you’ve experienced in the last month or so?
D: About a month ago, a handful of girls from my village – a rural, traditional, mountainous little crevice on the road into the Sahara – were able to travel North. After over a year of facilitating empowerment lessons they were invited to a coastal city to continue their training. It was actual magic. They were able to see the beach and swim in the ocean for the first time, discuss issues they were barely familiar with, show their shoulders off and be themselves. I was introduced to five new women up there, women who were unafraid to challenge the status quo and scream at the top of their lungs “I am a feminist.” It was such a beautiful experience.
R: How do you catalogue/remember the good days? (i.e. through photos, journaling, talking to friends and family).
D: I take so many pictures I may have an actual problem. Looking back on the good times helps during periods of feeling low. I also did start journaling in the beginning of my service, when I was really attempting to adjust and integrate. Eventually I just stopped, but it’s something I’d like to pick up again. Honestly what it comes down to for me is just being able to clear my mind, find a quiet place to reflect and remind myself of why I came here, why I’m still here, and how I want to feel when it’s all over.
R: What media are you enjoying these days? Any specific movies/books/podcasts you recommend?
D: So Avatar the Last Airbender & The Legend of Korra have been huge support systems throughout my service. I’ve triple watched all seasons of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Archer & Bob’s Burgers, fell in love with authors Nawal El Saadawi and Jonathan Safran Foer and listened to my all time favorite podcast 2 Dope Queens on repeat constantly.
R: Do you have a blog or other social media platform that people can follow you on?
D: Instagram: jaiiideedee
Facebook: Deena Duwaik.
Keep a look out for the book I’ll be writing in 20 or so years.
R: Thanks so much Deena! Can’t wait to read all about your memoirs.
Thank you for reading another installment of Peaks & Valleys. Join us next month for another volunteer highlight and check out Rae’s previous interviews.