The most important thing, I believe, in the Peace Corps experience is to have a good family. The times you struggle the most are when you feel alone and the distance between you and your loved ones seems insurmountable. Loneliness is the biggest problem for volunteers, and is likely what sends the most packing within the first six months. That being said, if you find a family that you can connect with you are likely to survive your time in country.
The family has to provide more than just a room to sleep in and 3 meals a day. They have to provide conversation, entertainment, a sympathetic ear and all the things that make a family a family. They have to be totally inclusive. Let me join in with the choirs, the house projects, the excursions! Now, after seven months at site, I think I’ve finally found that.
My new family, though I’ve only lived with them a few days, are already doing great things for my morale. I wasn’t always unhappy with my first family in Zhelezinka, but I was never really happy. I was renting a room there. I wasn’t family, at least not completely, not at home. Moving in with Tanya and Slava was a big step up for me. I was family there, Uncle Jeff. But I always knew that it was temporary, so I never felt completely immersed.
Now I am living with a family of three. My sister, Sasha, has just finished school and will be moving to the city (that’s Pavlodar) in August. She will be going to a medical college there. We had a discussion how it’s possible for people to buy diplomas for about $1000 (though thankfully doctors aren’t able to buy theirs). My grandma, Baba Lena, is retired and will also be returning to the city where she has an apartment in August or September. That will leave just me and mama Lena, who works at a gas station in the mini mart. I slightly worry that the dynamic will shift a lot with this, but I get along really well with my new host mom that I’m not going to lose sleep over it.
My new family, as I’ve said already, lives in a very nice apartment in a great location in town. I’ve already had 2 banya’s in 5 days (though this has been an exception due to visitors), painted a fence with mom and sis, and watched plenty of movies dubbed into Russian on TV. I spend more time involved with the family instead of sitting in my room with my computer (though that’s what I’m currently doing).
My room is getting all set up with pictures on the wall, though one keeps falling. It’s a picture of Randy though, so it’s probably weighed down by all the dork. It’s left a big dork stain where it normally is though, so I know I’m still looking at Randy. Sorry, that was a personal aside; most of you will probably be confused. Until you meet Randy.
Aaaaanyway…Life is very good. Next week begins the first of two summer camps that will lead me right up to my trip home. Oh yeah, I remembered something I wanted to say to y’all. I get the feeling that if I had moved in with this family from the beginning, first of all it would have been awesome, and second of all, I might not have felt the massive need for this trip home. That may make some of you very sad, especially the ones that are paying of my credit card bill, but hey, I bought my ticket already, so I’m going to use it.
Alright, that’s that for this post. I just wanted to offer that insight for any of you reading this and considering Peace Corps (or preparing to go). Find a terrific family. Don’t settle for something less that amazing, because they will help you so much in your time here. It took me 6 months to learn this, so take advantage of my great wisdom before you become quagmired.