It might not be nuclear, but to PC volunteers, it’ll be close enough
If you’re a Stanley Kubrick fan, you know that this sequester nonsense is kind of like “Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Probably the greatest black comedy in history, the film looks at what happens when a rogue general goes completely off his nutter and orders a tactical nuclear strike against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Of course, the prospect of worldwide nuclear war and the ensuing, skull-melting fallout, plus the looming threat of the Soviet “Doomsday Machine,” designed to detonate if any attempt is made to defuse it, should all be enough to dissuade either side from ever doing anything that stupid, right? Right?
See, the sequester was actually orchestrated, much as it pains me to say it, by Obama himself a few years ago. Like the “mutual destruction” agreement between the United State and the Soviet Union — a very real-life possibility to boot — these deep, across-the-board, automatic cuts were designed to be so devastating that Congress would have to be either positively insane or a bunch of whiny, kowtowing coward-babies who can’t be trusted to not s**t in the bathroom sink, much less act in the nation’s best interest.
In any case, I want to take a look at perhaps one of the more overlooked organizations that stands to suffer significant cutbacks: the Peace Corps. For one thing, last week was officially Peace Corps Week. Also, I’m married to a former volunteer, went to school with several others, and did a stint in the Conservation Corps, a domestic, environmentally focused offshoot of the program, so I feel some kinship and a niggling sense of responsibility. So, to maybe shame you into having a productive dialogue with each other instead of blaming this whole clusterf*cked situation on those damned conservatives or those damned librulls, here’s some of what every PC volunteer endures, and what every one of them are in danger of enduring. 1. Some Parts of the World Are Kind of Unstable
And, news flash, these are the countries most in need of the kind of assistance the Peace Corps provides. Destabilization, if not the outright cause, exacerbates domestic discontent, fragile economies and already difficult-to-regulate militaries and police forces.
Of the six or so Peace Corps volunteers I know, for example, two of them have served in countries that either underwent a military coup during their tenure there, or just after: the former in Honduras and the latter in Madagascar. The Madagascar volunteers were almost immediately evacuated without incident. For some reason, the Honduras volunteers were not picked up until violence directed against the volunteers and other American visitors began to spike dramatically.
Forgetting for a moment the very real danger of your personal livelihood and life being threatened. Imagine what it must be like to know that there is no stable government. Bands of militaristic factions operating autonomously, patrolling or not patrolling at their discretion, extorting citizens either by orders or at a whim. What government there is is slapdash, and opinions waver as to whether or not the international community will consider it legitimate. There is little regulation except baser instincts, except the human animal left to his own moral devices.
A little dramatic? Maybe. But remember that the next time you start calling Obama, or hell, even Bush, a tyrant. You have no idea.
And speaking of having no idea… 2. The First World Is Oblivious
Call me insensitive, but I barely batted an eye when I was told Michael Jackson had passed away. Maybe it was because I valued his existence strictly on an artistic level, and it had already become painfully aware that his last gasp of brilliance was expelled with the overambitious “HIStory” double album way back in 1995. Maybe it was because I was about three hours removed from a particularly strenuous hitch during my Conservation Corps summer, and just wanted to get as much sleep as possible before my teammates and I headed out to replenish all the toxins we’d worked off during the previous two weeks.
That same day, my wife, then unknown to me and serving in Peace Corps Honduras, received a similar message from a friend — just after the country’s military coup. She would tell me, after some months of dating, exactly what she thought at that moment: “Well, that’s it, then.” Meaning: any chance of mainstream coverage for the coup was now obliterated, all because a reclusive celebrity had finally kicked the bucket. Recently (as in yesterday), she received a Facebook message from another acquaintance serving in Madagascar (the region has been somewhat restabilized), bemoaning the nationwide effect of that country’s teachers’ strike.
Granted, there’s a lot going on in our nation right now, but still; you’d like to think that your first response to the crippling of education in a developing nation like Madagascar wouldn’t be “Whuh?”
Our American celebration of the celebrity — which borders on mania — isn’t, in this context, even about bad timing or unfortunate coincidence. Recall, in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack, when Ambassador Stevens’ memorial service was being held. It was a solemn, sobering, somber affair, and was rightfully given ample, yet minimalistic coverage by most major news outlets… except the Today Show, where Mama Kardashian was discussing her recent breast augmentation surgery.
This goes beyond timing, and is simply a reflection of societal priority. 3. You Are Alone
Professionally: Unless you work in education, where you have a built-in structure involving a school year, loose curriculum and classes, you are responsible for creating your own work. That means applying for and implementing grants, identifying local need and initializing the project, etc. It means reading and navigating cultural boundaries, and working with and around them. It means, in some cases, white guilt.
Personally: Let’s be clear — this is a jarring experience, in all contexts: culture shock goes without saying, and depending on your previous financial situation (a couple of people I know went from making $65,000 a year to working for PC stipend), it’s an economic backhand. If you’re lucky, you live with a mildly affluent local family, with a giant guard dog named Lobster. If you’re not, well… good luck.
Medically: Let’s be clear again — your body is going to freak the ever-loving thunderf*ck out. Your bowels will empty so often and violently that your butthole runs the risk of becoming a cosmic anomaly. You will coat your body in ointment to close your pores and smother out the ticks. You’ll spend so much time in self-quarantine that soon the townspeople will start coming to you and asking you about the meaning of life.
There are over 210,000 people willing to undertake this kind of work-hell in these kinds of conditions. The least we can do is not make it suck for them even more. You Might Also Like: