The Peace Corps has produced some amazing writers. Here is a short piece by another fine writer who served in Ethiopia years ago. In this short slice of life, Kathy distills the Peace Corps experience that I am sure is shared by many RPCVs throughout the decades of the Peace Corps, in all the villages where Volunteers lived and worked.
When I read the letters that I sent home from Ethiopia, letters that my mother saved, I wonder at the ordinariness of these letters sent from a place as extraordinary as my village. How quickly I became accustomed to the life there. How mundane it all seemed so that there was nothing to write home about. Keeping live chickens locked in my shint-bet (outhouse) so the hyenas wouldn’t eat them was normal. Standing on my bed and throwing a sixty-pound butane gas tank at a scorpion crawling toward me was not a feat remarkable enough to record. Carrying my blanket to David and Nancy’s house in the middle of the night because I couldn’t stand the rats running around my roof was forgotten as soon as my landlord put a cement floor in my saar-bet (grass house) and the rats disappeared. Throwing two hundred exam papers at the headmaster in front of the student body because I was thoroughly frustrated at his lack of concern over students’ cheating almost got me sent home but never made it home in a letter.
Life had become routine and yet, in my Ethiopian village, just living from moment to moment took a concentrated effort. Drinking a glass of water, for example, was not something I did hastily without thinking. Standing by the back door looking out at my garden, I held the glass under the tiny spigot of the water filter while it slowly filled with liquid, the color from pale orange to deep red depending on how long it had been since the filter was new. While the sediment in the water settled to the bottom of the glass, I looked out the back door at the hills in the distance, wondering how to teach the passive voice to my ninth grade English class.
Finally, I sipped the water slowly so as not to stir up the little piles of whatever that was lying on the bottom of the glass. When I got close to the sediment, I went out to the garden and poured the remaining drops on a struggling carrot plant. Everything was connected: the garden, the students, the river, and drinking a glass of water. When it became time for me to leave this life where ever action required thought and intention and had consequences, it would not be easy. I had become accustomed to the complex routines of living in that grass house and I did not want a life that would require less of me.