Welcome to the My Peace Corps Story podcast Episode #001 and what I hope will be the start of something great. My goal is to share the varied and unique stories of current and returned volunteers.
On this Episode:
- My friend Jordan Wicker, co-host of the Speaking Easy Podcast, joins the show to interview me
- I talk a little about my Peace Corps service and my new book, Service Disrupted
- We discuss the Peace Corps, storytelling, and devel into why I started My Peace Corps Story
My Peace Corps Story
Where and when did you serve? What did you do?
I served as an agriculture and small business volunteer in Burkina Faso from 2012 – 2014. For my primary assignment, I worked with a women’s cooperative that processed and packaged locally harvested rice.
What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?
More than the food I ate or things I saw in West Africa, my most valuable memories were the conversations. It was through the many long hours of conversations that I built friendships and began to see into another culture. In my journals, I recorded one-liners that stood out during the day. To me, these single sentences underscored how my new friends, family, and acquaintances viewed themselves, the world, and me.
What do you miss about the Peace Corps?
Community, conversations, and connection.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, large portions of my days were spent talking to people in my village. People regularly came over to my house for no other purpose than to say ‘hello’ and make sure everything was well. It was not foreign to spend long hours seated, talking face-to-face. Sometimes, those hours weren’t even spent talking, but rather merely being alongside others.
Burkinabé valued conversations and greetings. They were not locked away in their private lives. While smartphones, social media, and a culture of individualism were taking hold in Burkina cities, villages still clung to earnest human connection.
At first, the innumerable greetings, salutations, and customary conversations annoyed me. As an American, I didn’t understand why I needed to ask how a person was doing, how their work was going, how their health was, their family, their husband and their kids, before buying tomatoes. The first time I found myself trapped sitting in silence with another person for an hour, simply being, I mentally reviewed the long list of ‘better things’ I could be doing instead. Soon, I learned to love these conversations. Love the silence. Love the being.
Do you have a favorite quote or local saying that you’d like to share?
In Dioula, they say, “Jirikurun men o men ji la, a te ke bama ye” or “No matter how long a log stays in the water, it doesn’t become a crocodile.” As a volunteer, I had to recognize that I would always be slightly out of place in Burkina Faso. Rather than fight it, it was much better to come to terms with and accept the fact that I was different—a lesson applicable beyond the Peace Corps.