Today my group and I went to visit a Municipal Development volunteer at her site, in order to get prepared for our own impending site assignments – yes, I am also a “Muni”….
While I’ll be probably be working in an OMP (Office of Municipal Planning) for an as-yet-unknown “county” of Guatemala, this girl who we spent the day with, Ana, she works in an analogous office, the OMM (Municipal Office of the “mujer” or woman). Both the OMP and the OMM work on a variety of topics within the municipality, everything from infrastructure projects and community initiatives (more the former) to domestic violence claims and reproductive health classes (more the latter). How these work possibilities will pertain to me, I’m not sure – maybe I’ll work with both offices within my community. Really, it depends on where I’ll be living and what the work environment is like (are my coworkers motivated or unmotivated? Well supported financially and politically, or devoid of resources and marginalized? I’ll have no idea until I arrive).
Herein lies the beauty (and terror) of a Peace Corps assignment – it’ll really be up to me, as I understand, to navigate my way through the ambivalence that is inherent in volunteer service. Once training is finished (I’m currently 2 ½ weeks in), I’ll be assigned to a community and an office, then pretty much on my own. The resulting experience could be smooth sailing or completely dysfunctional, or anywhere in between. It all depends.
Sure, I’ll have to report to the Peace Corps main office periodically, submit proposals and reports every once in a while. Sure, I’ll have a counterpart with whom I’ll be working, a Guatemalan national who can help me identify, design and execute various projects. Sure, I’ll have completed 11 weeks of language and professional training (with which I’m pretty satisfied, I must say), formed significant personal/professional relationships with other Municipal Development volunteers in my class (with whom I can collaborate or consult), identified significant resources (including potential funding possibilities available through USAID) and understood the remarkable medical support provided by staff nurses …. but it’s just gonna be me out there. It’ll be just me and a desk, inside in a concrete box (an office?) surrounded by a lot of people that don’t speak my first language and behave with a completely different set of cultural norms. The Peace Corps office, the support, other volunteers….they could easily be hours distant, a chicken bus ride (or two) away.
(yes I have a cellphone and yes the coverage is good here and yes the Peace Corps has emergency/contingency plans)
It’s crazy, sure! But I’ve been excited about this for a while, and I’m still excited. I’m looking forward to how my experience develops. I think the next 26 ½ months will bring lots of surprises, as well as some incredible personal and professional opportunities, so I’m happy to be here.