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: Nico Delgado
Interviewed by: Rae Richards
Rae: Hi Nico! It’s so nice to hear your voice, it’s been so long. For this first part, I’m going to ask you some would-you-rathers. Are you ready?
Nico: I’m down.
Rae: Would you rather always speak your mind — no filter ever — or never speak again?
Nico: Always speak my mind for sure. I already do that right now. It’s hard to shut me up. [Laughter]
Rae: Excellent. Would you rather only have one close friend or have endless acquaintances?
Nico: One close friend. It’s important to have a person who knows you really well, how you function, someone you can count on.
Rae: I feel that. Okay, the last one — would you rather be able to change the past or see into the future?
Nico: Woooow. [Laughter] It’s funny you say that because part of my Peace Corps experience I’ve been really trying to focus on is being in the present moment, being mindful of the present and what ways I can be here. But I don’t know. If I saw the future, would I have the ability to change anything? Or would I just know what’s going to happen?
Rae: You’d just know what’s going to happen.
Nico: I’ll do the future one then. I don’t want to change anything in the past.
Rae: I’d probably answer the same. They’re both kind of tough choices, I don’t want either. [Laughter] Anyway, now I’d like to pivot our conversation and talk to you about a low moment you’ve had at site in the last month. It can be anything that comes to mind — a week, a month, just a moment. Anything you’re willing to share?
Nico: Yeah. So I’m a queer volunteer, and being at site means that I’ve had to go back into the closet. And the hardest moment for me was when I was at the town fiesta and everyone was having a good time. I was there with a local friend– he’s great, he’s a great guy and I’m not mad about this moment but it was really hard. He was constantly trying to set me up with a woman, trying to force me to dance with women, constantly trying to relate to me by talking about that. That was a really hard moment for me because not only was that situation uncomfortable, but it was a reminder that I can’t be my full self here. It’s a really hard reality to face. Yet I think I needed that experience to realize some things about myself, realize who I need to be at site and what kind of new identity I have to create for myself here.
Rae: Thank you for sharing that. That is a really difficult experience to have for a moment in time, let alone two years.
Nico: Yeah, but if you have the big picture in mind it’s worth it. It’s worth it for me.
Rae: That leads well to my next question: how do you cope with these difficult aspects of service? It sounds like you’ve worked on your perspective a bit but what are other ways you deal with these rough parts of service?
Nico: I would say being around the kids really helps me. Kids are always in such a good mood and they always love you. That’s one of my coping strategies and luckily, it’s not hard– most of Peace Corps is just interacting with kids. [Laughter] Also, I’ve been practicing really thinking about the things that I’m grateful for each day. At the end of each day looking back on what went well for me — not just work related things, it can be “Oh my host mom made my favorite food today” or “Oh I got a text from a family member I’ve been missing”. I think it’s important to focus on those moments because even on the roughest days, you have those sparks. It’s easy to get caught up in the things that we don’t have.
Rae: Thank you for sharing that. It sounds like you’ve figured out a good strategy for yourself. Now I’d like to talk to you about something a little happier — have you had any victories or joyful moments at site that you’d like to share?
Nico: Yeah so in one of my elementary schools, we had been talking for a few months about trying to do a community garden. This last Friday we were able to do our first session with the kids. I could have started it alone during the summer but I really wanted to do it with the kids and professors. I wanted everyone there and the kids to be excited and learning. Also I don’t know a ton but I’m willing to learn so it’s something we are doing together. So that whole day at the school, it was great spending quality time with the kids. Seeing them so excited, having them ask “What can I do?”, seeing them doing an activity that they are really in to, that nobody forced them to do — it was great. I’m not just here to teach English. My feelings about teaching English are mixed but if my community wants it, I’ll teach it. But I’m glad I can offer something else and I’m glad that this is an activity that involves everyone at the school, not just me. Also things at my site are very gendered — boys and girls don’t like mixing. Especially with sports the girls will usually just sit out or form their own team. But on this Friday I had another volunteer with me and we were like “Let’s mix up the genders here.” The kids did not like it the first couple of times but finally they gave in. It worked! I was so happy that they finally felt comfortable mixing the two groups and working together. I felt really proud of that moment even though it’s so small and so simple, I hope it can make some of them reflect on the difference between men and women. Both are capable of the same things.
Rae: That’s a really awesome experience. So cool you were able to help them get past that. Here in Thailand we definitely struggle with similar gender dynamics with the kids. So great that you facilitated that mixing up, even if for a day. Do you have a way to catalogue these memorable parts of your service?
Nico: I definitely take a lot of pictures. I upload them to my computer– I’m very visual so it’s nice. With my journal I usually write about personal feelings, not necessarily “I woke up today and did this” but more significant things I feel that I want to write down. I also will post things on social media but I’m not keeping a volunteer blog or anything. I don’t have internet at my site and I just don’t feel like I need a blog. The way I’m keeping track of things makes me happy and content.
Rae: Yeah, you’ll still have plenty to look back on. Speaking of media — what media are you consuming lately?
Nico: A podcast I listen to is Café con Chisme. It’s really good — two queer Latinx people who talk about current issues and how it impacts Latinx people. They keep it 100 and it really helps me keep in touch with my community while I’m at site. And it’s so nice to listen to English sometimes. [Laughter] Also I read this book recently that another volunteer passed on to me called Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. It was about a doctor’s perspective about aging and dying and how we treat elderly people in the U.S.. It was a really good book to read during my service and I would recommend it. Really good for thinking about issues that never would occur to me out here.
Rae: Excellent, thank you for sharing. My last question is normally “Do you have a blog?” but I know your answer is “no”. So do you have any social media that people can follow you on?
Nico: Yeah I post most of my Peace Corps stuff on my Insta. It’s nicopicodegallo.
Rae: Thanks so much Nico! Great catching up with you.
Thank you for reading another installment of Peaks & Valleys. Join us next month for another volunteer highlight and check out Rae’s previous interviews.