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!
PCV Name: Corley Hicks
Country of service: Vanuatu
Date of interview: August 26th, 2018
Interviewed by: Rae Richards
Rae: Hey Corley, I’m so glad you agreed to be interviewed. Thank you for your time.
Corley: I’m excited about this. I wanna do a similar kind of interview project in my country.
R: I love it. This has given me so much perspective for my own service. Hearing a lot of commonalities– it’s astounding how many shared experiences there are among volunteers. We don’t all have the same experience but others do understand. So jumping right in– can you speak a little bit about what you were up to before Peace Corps?
C: I had wanted to join the Peace Corps in highschool but wasn’t sure why. I knew I wanted to be abroad but not pay for it. [Laughter] I went to school– between my sophomore and junior year of college I went to Peru and ‘found myself’ [laughter]. So I found a workaway organization and taught English in Peru for a bit. It shifted a lot of my perspectives for me. I am usually a 5 year plan kinda person but seeing how to live outside of that was really good, helped me shift my perspective a lot. I was like, “This is something I wanna do.” So I applied for the Peace Corps then but didn’t end up graduating as soon as I thought I would. So I canceled my application and applied 6 months later to teach English in Ecuador, because I already spoke Spanish. That interview went really terribly so the same day I got my rejection letter from Ecuador, Vanuatu emailed me to interview. My first thought was, “Where is Vanuatu?” [Laughter] But I googled it and it looked really pretty. So I did more research and did the interview and it was kinda serendipitous I guess– I got the invitation four days later.
[Technical difficulties ensure, Rae downloads a new application on her phone to make another call]
R: Okay we’re back. Can you talk to me about the funniest thing that’s happened to you recently?
C: So today, I had a weird morning at church: I have just moved to this new site, only have been here for a week. Sidebar- the consequences of missionaries and their legacies is very strong here. So I go to this church for the first time. There’s this very intense pastor there. We are talking and he is asking me about America– just a nice little chat but a bit intense. So then the service starts. Everyone goes and sits down. My host mom is very active in the church and runs the Sunday school so I was there with her to show I am invested in her life. But then all of the sudden, the pastor says, ‘Sister Leisau (my name in the community) is here everyone!’ And earlier, when we had been talking, he had mentioned a prophecy that talked about someone from the U.S. bringing good things to the rest of the world. But now he is mentioning my name in connection to this prophecy– which is news to me, I guess I missed that part. In the middle of the sermon, he again starts talking about how, ‘Sister Leisau is bringing the prophecy to us’. And I was just like, no. No. I kept thinking, ‘I’m just here to help with literacy rates! Please don’t put this on me.’ [Laughter]
R: What a rollercoaster of a story. Thank you for sharing that– what a delight. To pivot quite a bit now, I’m going to ask you to share a low moment you’ve had in the last month or so. It can be a singular event or a larger period of time, whatever you’re comfortable sharing with us.
C: So I’m not going to share the entire story but long story short, at my previous site, I woke up one night and someone has broken in to my house. They were underneath my mosquito net when I woke up. I didn’t see their face or anything so I didn’t have a lot of legal leverage. So I was pulled out of my site, obviously, while we waited for the community to settle a bit– it wasn’t clear what actions would be taken. For those first two weeks, I got a lot of calls from people in the village and from my family, but it became clear that for various reasons, the case wasn’t going anywhere. I stopped getting calls. It was decided it wasn’t alright for me to go back. After about a week, they decided where my new site would be. During this time, I wasn’t allowed to call my host family from my first site because Peace Corps was sending a staff member to my site, which takes a while in an island nation due to flights. On top of this, the island next to my first site is an active volcano so they evacuated everyone, meaning I really couldn’t contact anyone. And there was an earthquake two days ago, too.
So now I’m at my new site and I’m integrating again and I feel like I have purpose once more. But I feel like I’m betraying my first host family by building these new relationships here. I really loved my first site– it was ideal in every way. It’s why I joined. It’s been hard to stay but I made a commitment and I stand by that. I feel guilty for leaving– not for what happened– and for not being able to talk to them. And I get to move on from it.
The positive to come from this is that because my new site is near the capital, I’ll be able to help with the next group’s training (PST) and I’ll be able to share this story with them. People move sites a lot. Things like this happen. There are more natural disasters here than any other country in the world. Sharing this story helps people know it’s okay and they aren’t alone if it happens to them.
R: It’s an interesting opportunity you have– despite this traumatic thing that occured, you have the opportunity to talk to other volunteers and support them. Thank you for sharing that. To follow that up, what are some of your go-to coping mechanisms? The story you shared is particularly painful so if you want to stick with general things, that’s perfectly fine. Anything that helps you take care of yourself during your service.
C: I like going to the gardens with my family– the other day I went to the garden with my family and dug banana trees out of the ground. It was such a nice moment. I had missed the earth. Moving forward, I want to keep tending to my garden. It’s so nice to be outside and be quiet with others, creating something. It’s so grounding for me. Like you can do yoga or make a nice meal but for me, it started feeling very forced, like ‘Look at me, I’m being healthy!’ [Laughter] But feeling like I’m part of something, part of a cycle, it feels so good.
Also, our Peer Support Network is really new here– we haven’t had our training yet. But I’m on it and have been able to help others process things in their service. So helping other people, even when I am struggling, gives me the chance to not wallow in my own feelings. Helping others helps me. It’s such a good outlet for me.
R: I’m sensing a common theme here– that for you, seeking out community is a really powerful way to cope? It’s really awesome to know that’s what you need and then to be able to go find it.
C: It’s also something I did not know I needed before I came here. I didn’t realize I was looking for community until I got here.
R: That’s beautiful. Can you speak on a really joyful moment you’ve had in the last month? Specific moments or days or weeks– whatever comes to the top.
C: I have a host uncle here. He has traveled a lot for work and is very worldly, which makes him very easy to talk to. The other day, he was like, ‘Hey we’re going down to the coast to cut firewood. Do you wanna come?’ Which is something that women don’t do a lot of here. I was excited to be invited. So I went and all the kids came, too. We walked to the beach and we cut a bunch of firewood with a chainsaw. Then on the walk back, the two year old was kinda fussy and the uncle asked me to carry them back. So of course I agree, but the baby doesn’t really know me yet, so they’re all shy and don’t want me to hold them. So the uncle doesn’t know what to do, and I offer to carry the chainsaw and that allows him to carry the 2 year old. So he puts the chainsaw on my shoulder and at least 3 times on the way back, he asks if I am still okay. ‘Are you sure? We can stop and rest.’ But I was like, ‘I’m fine!’ And eventually we get back to the house, where the grandma and some aunties are hanging out. And they were very impressed with me for carrying this heavy thing the whole way. I don’t know that it marked a real shift, but it felt to me that after that moment, even for a couple of minutes, women who I didn’t really know yet and hadn’t spoken to a lot were like, ‘Hey. What are you doing? Hi.’ Then they invited me to stay for dinner. It was a really beautiful moment. It was a moment where I think I showed that they can talk to me like anyone– manual labor helped that shift. They don’t have to treat me like a guest.
R: That’s awesome. Do you have any ways you like to catalogue these joyful moments?
C: I do log my exercise– on my wall it’s a certain number of squats or pilates or whatever for each day. I like checking things off and keeping track of things because I know I’m at my best when I’m active but here, it’s so easy not to be. And in my planner, I log three things I do each day so I know how much stuff I actually do. It’s easy to think I don’t do things every day but I try to remember the big and the small– taking naps, doing laundry, going to circumcision ceremonies. I also long form journal basically every day, trying to think on how I am feeling. Also at my new site, I have really good service so I can call home and talk to my boyfriend, talk to my mom– it’s really helpful.
R: What’s your media consumption like these days? Do you get to watch Netflix, do you like certain podcasts or books? What’s good?
C: So I bought a hard drive here and everyone shares a bunch of stuff. I like to read before bed– I do a lot of reading. The shows that I’m in to back home are too heavy for here. [Laughter] So I can’t watch it at site. But I’ve been watching a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Now that I have service at site, I’m on Instagram a lot. [Laughter]
R: Thanks so much for sharing, Corley. Best of luck with the rest of your service!
Thank you for reading another installment of Peaks & Valleys. Join us next month for another volunteer highlight and checkout Rae’s previous interviews.