As of April 4th, I have been a Peace Corps Guyana Volunteer for exactly one year! Some days I can’t believe how fast the time has gone by and other times it feels like I’ve been here forever, but either way I’m really proud to have completed a year of service! It hasn’t been easy but I learned more than I’ll ever be able to teach, I’ve grown a lot, and I’ve created relationships that I wouldn’t trade for the world. As I make the final lap of service, I’ve been thinking about what I want to accomplish in this next year and how the previous one has enabled me to do things I never imagined.
I just finished reading Born a Crime by Trevor Noah and highly recommend it! He talks about growing up in South Africa at the end of Apartheid and says a lot of things that made me think of Guyana. This one quote really stuck out to me: “People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.” I thought about this for a long time. I think he’s getting at something important but it’s even more complicated than that on the ground.
This past year I’ve been trying to teach people how to fish–I even came with a few fishing rods! But the challenge is not in showing them how the fishing rod is operated. The challenge is more basic. First you have to go to the community and see if they even want fish. Maybe they’ve always eaten chicken and aren’t really interested in catching fish with you or maybe they’re allergic to fish. Once you decide that the community does want to eat fish, you have to find people that have time to fish.Then comes the hard part. You have to convince those people that fishing is a good idea and will benefit them. Even when the community has decided that they would like to eat fish it’s challenging to get people to meet up and start the project. Next you have to find a time when all those people can get together for their lessons. Then the group has to decide what kind of fish you want to catch. Will it be fresh water or ocean fish? Little fish or big ones? The fish next door or the fish that live two hours away?
You can see how this gets really complicated. Before you can even get working on the project you have to work to understand community needs, convince stakeholders to support the project, and get to know the people involved. This is what I spent most of the last year doing. When people in the US ask me what I do here, my answer is often “it’s complicated” because I haven’t solved very many problems or completed any life changing projects in the last year. Mostly I’ve learned how to ask questions. I’ve learned which questions I need to ask. And I’ve learned how to interpret the answers I get (although I freely admit I’m STILL trying to understand creolese).
So as I turn the corner and enter my last year here I’m finally feeling equipped to start meaningful projects because I’ve spent so long learning. I still look forward to all the things life will teach me this year but instead of crawling along I feel like I’m finally starting to walk. It’s a long time coming and very exciting.