Everything Is Normal
At some point in the last few months, life in the Peace Corps became normal. I think it was during the “festive season”, which is basically a three-week party leading up to New Years. Previously, I hadn’t really partied much at my site, but in the festive season drinking and partying is pretty much all anyone does (many places of business close for a week, even two). I didn’t do anything too crazy, just spent time with people I like and had a few drinks. It was satisfyingly normal.
Partying (and the accompanying alcohol consumption) was the final frontier. Many things that I enjoyed doing in the States I’m unable to do here. But many things I enjoyed doing in the States are very much available here. Social drinking was the last also-available-in-America pastime that I hadn’t taken up. I’m not talking about getting hammered, just having a few drinks and spending some time with friends.
There’s always been something slightly taboo about drinking here in Peace Corps South Africa (or as we call drinking in South Africa, taking alcohol). During our first few months in South Africa (training) we were repeatedly warned to not drink publicly, as it can cause embarrassment. Not to mention the additional risk you create for yourself. I had occasionally drank at social occasions prior to this year's festive season, but they were always big affairs involving planning, the company of multiple trusted persons, and paranoia about being seen by people from school or church, even while I would run into respected members of the community far drunker than I would ever get.
Alcohol consumption was not the only thing I adjusted to. When I first arrived here, everything was completely insane. People said the craziest stuff, monkeys raided the trash, cars gave you no room, darkness was the most terrifying thing ever, every other woman I met hit on me, and everybody asked me for money all the time. None of these things faze me at all anymore. They’re part of my day, as normal as a morning cup of coffee would be back in the USA.
I think it’s a combination of apathy, comfort, savviness about the culture, and familiarity with my home, but drinking and socializing here now are just like drinking and socializing in the States. And drinking and socializing were the final frontier. It’s somewhat ironic that as Peace Corps Volunteers adjusting to our new cultures, we first become comfortable with the most exotic things–eating crazy foods, traditional dance, religious ceremonies, perpetual funerals. Something about total unfamiliarity makes things easier to adjust to. It’s the social rituals that most resemble things we do at home–family time, raising children, dating, socializing, workplace politics, even simply hanging out that have been the most difficult for me to adjust to.
On one hand it’s fantastic that my totally not-in-Kansas-anymore life is no longer a drain on my mental energy. On the other hand, being in the Peace Corps has become…boring. I now find myself living a life that’s perfectly decent with an interesting job that pays terribly. Yes, Peace Corps is now a job. It’s a pretty cool job, but no longer nearly cool enough to justify making shy of $300 a month (which is high by Peace Corps standards; middle income country!). So I find myself with 8 months of service left, somewhat eager to get back home, get a job, and resume a “real life”. Whatever that means. (Although, I’m also dreading saying goodbye to this place and all the amazing people here…that’s going to not be fun).
I think these sorts of feelings are relatively common for Peace Corps Volunteers with just a few months left. But that does not make these feelings any more surprising to have. My crazy Peace Corps life suddenly feeling “normal” is the least normal thing that’s happened to me here.