The content of this blog is the creator's own thoughts and does not represent the views or opinions of the Peace Corps or the United States Government. I would also like to apologize for all my spelling and grammatical errors... there will be a lot.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Look Into Peace Corps Mental Health

I’ve begun to see a common trend in Peace Corps volunteers… we are all bi-polar. What I mean is that we all seem to have drastic mood swings during our service no matter where we serve. Peace Corps actually gives us a little chart about our predictable changes in moods here. After my 6 months here, I have noticed I tend to fall in one of 4 moods

Mood 1: Holy Crap I’m in Africa!

I normally have this thought when I wake up. And tend to have it whenever I experience something very “Zambian” like eating termites or hitching a ride on an ox-cart. This is generally followed by a sense of awe, and amazement at being here. I tend to also have this feeling when I encounter some strong cultural differences. Like a conversation about how hip-hugger jeans are creations of the devil and need to be prayed over before they can be worn. I also have this feeling when I do something I never thought I could, like when I biked up my nearby hill of death, or when I built my own oven.

Mood 2: My Life is Amazing

I tend to have this feeling when I manage to have a full conversation in Bemba, my students actually understand what I’m doing, I help my host family pound groundnuts, or I when I walk outside at night and see a blanket of stars above my head. Africa is a beautiful place and getting to actually experience the culture first hand is amazing. Especially for someone like me, I really treasure the moments when I’m allowed into the lives of the people I’m working with. While I’m marveling at my own luckiness, I imagine little singing blue birds following me and I’m tempted to skip around my village. I prance about with a smile so wide it actually hurts my face.

Mood 3: I Just Want To *insert activity from home*

Something normally triggers it like I just dropped all my water on my head, when trying to take a bath, or my braiser wont light. It’s no secret that in Africa everything requires a lot more effort – cooking, cleaning, bathing, and even sleeping. You have to really think out your day or you’ll end having no water to wash your hands or not having any food. So sometimes I think “God, I wish I could just use a microwave!”. This mood also includes certain activities. In America most of my friends were men, I tend to stay up late, and I’m agnostic on a pious day. In Zambia I do none of those things, partially due to availability and culture. I miss being able to call up one of my male friends at 3am to go to a dinner and just drink coffee – all 3 of which aren’t available to me and would result in complete a lot of misunderstanding in my village. These are the moments I feel homesick, not even for anyone or thing in particular I just miss having a certain way of life.

Mood 4: This Game Sucks I’m Going Home!

Thankfully this mood is rare and generally is fixed quickly. But it happens. I normally have this reaction of “I just want to go home!” after something goes very wrong or my nerves are rubbed raw. When no one shows up to a meeting I’ve been trying to hold for days, when the particularly forceful children (who are rich btw) on my bike ride to the BOMA run after me pulling on my clothes asking for money, when men are just plain vulgar and rude to me when I’m just trying to buy my tomatoes for the week. There is no way about it, being a white person in Africa means that you can’t blend in. People will always have something to say to you or to ask you for and everything you do is a production. It’s also hard when you get charged 3 times the normal amount for things and you hear everyone you pass say “Muzungu!” or “Buuga!”. Normally you take this in stride and even use it to your advantage to get a villages attention but sometimes it’s just plain tiresome and all you want to do is be somewhere where you don’t feel like an animal at the zoo.

I can honestly say I have had days where I have gone through all 4 moods at least twice. Its just the nature of the work, and living in another culture. As a side note this blog entry was inspired by an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” about steroid induced mood swings (we laughed at how much it resembled Peace Corps moods). The more you know.

1 comment:

Christina said...

Awww i miss It´s Always Sunny :( Totally agree with you... thought I was the only one in my country who was newly bipolar, but turns out tons of people are here and elsewhere. It´s normal. It´s annoying but it happens.