Yesterday, a friend sent a Facebook message my way. She’s currently serving in Peace Corps Togo, West Africa. We often correspond, detailing our Peace Corps lives to each other. This time, we were comparing English clubs. My seventh grade English club has twenty-five students. We use a classroom, with a projector hooked up to my laptop. When I’m feeling lazy, we stream YouTube and sing karaoke songs.Catie’s English club has a slightly different feel. Two hundred children stand around her in the dirt, as there aren’t enough classrooms. A group of adults stand on the sidelines, staring at the weird white person trying to teach the hokey pokey. Hopefully it doesn’t rain, as class will be cancelled. And god forbid the cows decide to walk through her dirt classroom again; it takes forever to drive them away.
When I was studying abroad in Senegal, I spent a week living with a Peace Corps volunteer in a “typical” rural village. No electricity or running water. I slept, drenched in sweat, under a mosquito net and ate meals varying between peanut and fish paste. Every day at the well children would burst into tears at the sight of me; I was the first white woman they had ever seen. This is what I had envisioned Peace Corps to be. And it sounds like it is, for Catie.
For me… it’s a little different. Mongolia is at crossroads between historic nomadic tradition and the global 21st century. A rusty old wood burning stove keeps me warm, but I have a hot plate and refrigerator to make meals. Our school is old, with the wood fires failing to adequately heat the school, but Wi-Fi is available sporadically. Many families own a car, but every morning I pass men herding cows on horseback. My hair and body get washed in a big plastic bowl, but I’m expected to wear more make up to work and spend more money on clothes than I ever did in America.
Catie and I live incredibly different lives. As different as the temperatures will be next month- Togo around 120°F, and Mongolia reaching -40°F. Even Peace Corps goals vary drastically in the two countries. In Togo, it is to help citizens rise out of extreme poverty. In Mongolia, to lend a hand in the current change in status from “developing” to “developed”. Neither I, nor Catie, was allowed to choose what country we were placed in. But each of us is (for the most part) content knowing that at the end of two years, we will both have acquired knowledge and memories that are completely unique; whether it derives from milking cows in sub zero temperatures or sweating bullets while making peanut butter by hand.