One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “So, what do you do?” Given that there are over 8,000 Peace Corps volunteers currently serving in the world and none of us follow the same schedule or exact job description, I’d say that’s a pretty valid question.
The first answer I have- There is no typical day. As a former Type-A person who loves lists, schedules, and plans, this lack of structure was one of my greatest fears as I entered Peace Corps life. Ironically, that very same aspect has become one of my favorite parts of my job.
In my case, I am one of about 50 Sustainable Agricultural Development volunteers currently in Panama, and one of about 5 or so who are specifically tasked with agribusiness development. I live in a small community in Bocas del Toro, and the supervisor in charge of the agriculture program lives and works in Panama City, a twelve-hour bus ride away. So, not only do I have no fellow co-workers (in terms of other volunteers) but I also have no day-to-day supervision. Pretty different from a 9-5 with your colleagues and boss right down the hall, right?
However, don’t mistake the lack of supervision with a lack of work. If anything, I feel even more accountable for my day-to-day activities, especially since I still occasionally get comments like, “It must be nice to take a 2 year vacation” or “So when are you going to get a real job?” While it’s true that I do have more down time than someone working full-time in an office, I also never get to leave work. I’m a volunteer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, no questions asked.
As I mentioned, every day is different. Sometimes I have events, trainings, workdays, or meetings, and if I do then my day will generally revolve around that.
For example, once a week I generally hike a little over an hour to visit my neighboring volunteer (who works with water and sanitation) to hang out and work on coordinating projects, on Wednesdays and Saturdays I meet with two different artisans’ groups to learn about local crafts and help them with basic business practices, and during the school year (March-November) I teach English to two elementary school classes twice a week. I’ve also organized training seminars for local producers and am working on putting together an after-school youth program.
However, if I don’t have anything specific on my schedule, this is more or less what I do:
In the mornings I take my time and wake up slowly. Sometimes I’m up at 6:30, sometimes I sleep ‘till 9 or later. Then, I make breakfast and some locally grown coffee and spend an hour or so reading and planning out my day. The mornings are usually when I appreciate my job the most; When else is getting ready for work going to be this relaxing?
Next, I usually go pasearing, a Central American custom that basically entails taking a walk to visit families, completely unannounced. Usually the family will give me some of their home-grown coffee or hot chocolate, and occasionally I’ll also get a bite to eat. I always hold by breath and cross my fingers if they mention food, as it would be considered disrespectful for me to turn away a gift. Best case scenario: rice and a piece of meat. Worst case scenario: Chicken neck with boiled green bananas and a fermented grape nut juice. Regardless of the food, it is always great to hang out with the families and talk about upcoming or potential projects. They’re not only the closest thing to co-workers I’ve got, but also my closest support system. One family even told their kids to call me tia, aunt, so that I would feel like I was a part of their family too!
Once I’m done pasearing, I almost always have my own work to do. Common chores include cleaning up after the chickens and pigs that roam around my house, washing my clothes in the creek (I’ve recently upgraded from rock to old-fashioned washing board), or working in my garden.
In the evenings I like to spend time experimenting with food and cooking a nice dinner. After his visit, my dad claims that I would be the best person to have around while camping- all of my food is hiked in, none is refrigerated, and my only appliance is a gas burner. I even like to get fancy sometimes; I’ve learned how to bake brownies on the stove!
A high point of my day is when I get visits from neighboring kids who can’t wait to go through my game box. In the evenings we usually color, play cards or checkers, make crafts, and sometimes even play games on my iPad (Which they’re currently obsessed with.)
If I’m lucky there might be a bit of cell signal at night to call home. If not, bedtime comes after a cup of tea and a nice book. To end the day, I tie my shutters open, snuggle up with my puppy underneath my mosquito net, and drift off to the sounds of birds, bugs, and the creek by my house.