I bring up yard work not because we have a yard here; in fact I can’t remember the last time I saw an actual grass lawn in front of a house. I bring this up because lately I’ve been contemplating life in context of the often-used but especially applicable saying whenever expectations and human beings mix: the grass is always greener on the other side. To put on my symbolism hat, I went through a mood for a few days after my vacation finished where I just felt miserably fixated on how brown and depressing and sparse my lawn is in comparison to the one I‘d been hanging out on for the past two weeks. I even began to think about my friend’s lawns and how much greener they were, too. Positive thinking can take you so far (Repeat after me: “Man, I really like brown grass!”) but at some point emotional honesty has to come in to play. Sometimes the grass does look greener over there. It really does.
It occurred to me to just sell the house, pack it in, and go pitch a tent on the green grass. I didn’t fixate on this particular option, finding it extreme and knowing that I’d probably get used to brown grass again, anyway. But I thought about it. And I was still miserable.
Then it occurred to me: if I figure out why the grass is so freaking sickly, maybe I can make it greener, rather than just lamenting its sorry state.
I think the reasons I came up with are not that unusual to the typical Peace Corps experience:
I feel lonely.
I feel stagnant, as though I am stuck in the same ineffective routine.
I feel my contribution here is not that significant to anyone.
So then I went about starting some yard work, a little watering here, a little flower-planting there, a little landscaping there… that is to say, it occurred to me to reach out to the people around me to try to make stronger social connections and get new, fun, small routines going, as the larger-picture work is going to take a lot longer and require a lot of patience.
(1) I reached out to a JICA volunteer in my site and went to a Japanese cultural fair in a nearby town - we've always been kind of too busy to get together, but it turns out she is extremely nice - and we‘re talking about hanging out every other weekend or so with the newly arrived JICA volunteer.
(2) Instead of just sitting in the office all day Monday, I checked out a cultural tourism fair organized by a fellow community tourism PCV
(3) I started making lunch every Thursday with the volunteer at a clinic in town, who lives in a nearby city
(4) I called the newly-arrived PCV in a nearby town, who it turns out is super-psyched to be friends and wants to go hiking sometime soon!
(5) I dropped in to chat with all the store-keepers in town I haven’t seen in awhile; my goal is to meet more of them and have a more regular presence in parts of town I don't always go to
(6) I had a sleepover and made some delicious food with the two friends from my training group I had never visited in site
(7) I arranged to teach English for Segundo basico students every Monday with a teacher in a nearby aldea… I’m excited to make it fun and incorporate a mix of Youth Development and Environmental Ed topics.
(8) I bought a fun card game for the kids in my host family, which I have now had to play every night for two hours, but hey, I asked for it
(9) I’ve started thinking about how to make my menu a little bit more exciting and interesting … and some cool foods I could perhaps share with my host family. It’s apple season so I am thinking apple sauce and apple pie!
(10) I gave in and am now regularly providing el gatito with a can of cat food per day. It’s sometimes more than I spend on food for myself, but that regular companionship is so worth it.
(11) I’m contemplating a serious attack on the Mam language. Despite finding lessons with my teacher really boring, she’s a good friend so I think I'll stick with her and have to take my own initiative to make it exciting to learn.
(12) I met some folks from MAGA who work in our muni and are also on the Comision de Fomento Economico y Medio Ambiente. They are really excited about collaborating on projects that really interest me: family gardens, lombricompost. In the later collaboration especially I perhaps see hope for the future of trash management here. This is a huge feeling.
And there are lots of other small things outside the routine that I am contemplating doing to “free my mind” so-to-speak.
It’s not too out of the routine but I also have gone to help with reforestation with kids twice during the past two weeks. I always come back so content from the time with the kids, the teachers, and in the woods. This makes me realize I really need to take the initiative to get out to the schools and start working with them more, now that I have a solid base of confianza in the office and have some clue what the deal is.
I still feel kind of lousy on occasion, but I think the positive thing is that I’ve turned the switch on my brain to start looking for and seeking smaller pleasures out of this experience, as well as being aware of barriers I’m putting up for myself.
So Project: Lawn Improvement is underway. I will let you know how it proceeds. Based on the pilot experience this week, I am hopeful for positive results. We’re not putting in the koi pond and rhododendron bushes yet… but, at least with these small steps I am feeling more energized, and capable of making this experience more what I want it to be.