Following my recent post, Current Volunteers Tell All, I’ve continued to send questions to my fellow PCVs via text message. This time the poll question gives some insight into the various obstacles we face.
If you had to choose your #1 challenge or stressor here, what one word sums it up?
- The most commonly mentioned challenge was: Apathy. It’s nearly impossible to help a community when no one wants responsibility for making change.
- Cultural factors were also a common theme: Cultural miscommunication, Unclear responses so I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing culturally, Unrealistic expectations, Misunderstandings, Lack of planning, Poor communication by counterparts, Inconsistency, Corruption, Inefficiency, Indecision
- Since more than a third of current volunteers are in education, a lot of challenges involve the school environment: School, Lack of school management, Inconsistency, “Hellacious” environment, Corporal punishment, The way children are treated
- Young, single females put unwanted attention high on their list: Jamaican males of any age, Harassment, Unwanted Attention, and I quote:
“(Desperate, disgusting, womanizing) men. I am not a piece of meat, d@*^it!”
- Other general feelings: Feeling useless sometimes, Unappreciated, Homesickness- being close to America yet still in Jamaica
- And other mentions: Space, Hot, Religion, Money- or lack of
The reason I bring up the topic of challenges is because so often people at home have a one-sided view of Jamaica. When we were flying back here from our trip to PC Headquarters, a guy on his honeymoon told us, “Wow, you’re so lucky to live in paradise!” Yes, it is beautiful but that’s just the surface.
To be honest, I’ve had a really rough time lately. There’s a situation at work that’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever dealt with and definitely the most challenging work environment I’ve experienced so far. I’m trying to learn to do what I can while not letting the set backs get to me. It’s times like this that make it discouraging to think that some people might see this as a two-year vacation. Not that anyone should pity us. But support and encouragement truly helps. I am so incredibly grateful to those who have reached out to me and got me through this past week or so!
To Care or Go Crazy: The fine line between not caring and going with the flow
I’m a Type A person. I like to have a plan, I like to be on time, I like efficiency. I knew when I came to Jamaica I would have to let a lot of that go, but actually, I was looking forward to the change. I enjoy the slower pace here. It’s also nice that there’s less pressure and stress to be productive all the time. But let’s be honest, things still need to get done!
In Jamaica, there are additional obstacles in daily life that hinder progress, no matter how motivated you are. So many things are out of your control- most of the challenges mentioned by PCVs above are things we don’t have the power to change in our two years here.
Unless you want to go insane trying to force things to get done all the time, you just have to embrace the lack of productivity sometimes. You have to lower your expectations for progress. Repeat after me: “No problem, man.”
On the other hand, I think this mentality can be taken too far. While caring too much can drive you crazy, it’s still not permission to throw in the towel and start coasting your way through life. Some obstacles we have to give in to and others we have to do battle with. It’s important to keep moving forward and to reach for little victories along the way.
(I think our friend and former volunteer, Linda, does a great job of explaining this dichotomy in the first minute and a half of her interview, so I included that video again here.)
3 thoughts on “To Care or Go Crazy”
I love your journal poster, Michelle. Hang in there. Just saw this quote in the NYTimes by Wes Jackson of The Land Institute: “If you think you’re going to complete your life’s vision in your lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough.”
I hope work has calmed and thank you for your continued sharing! As I prepare to embark on my mission years, I so appreciate your reflections and perspectives.
I don’t know if work here will ever be calm but it is feeling better lately. Glad we can both share our experiences together. Best of luck in Cambodia!