Lately, I have been feeling like I have two lives. In one, I am a teacher at the secondary school in Estaquinha, living with Luisa and Nelta in a little concrete house. I eat corn mash and rice every day, take a bath over my latrine with buckets of water, speak Portguese most of the time, go running down the same stretch of road. I never go out at night, except to watch a bad action movie with my neighbors or to celebrate the birthday of the child of some of my co-workers.
In the other, I am a “Peace Corps volunteer.” I hang out with other Peace Corps volunteers in cities or at the beach, and while we can all communicate well in Portuguese, we speak English often and loudly. We drink beer and eat pizza, shrimp and Indian food, complaining about food, transportation and various other petty annoyences here, fantasizing about things “back home.” We check the New York Times and Facebook on our cell phones, rip TV shows from each other’s hard drives and trade classic books from the Western canon.
Both of these existences are overwhelming, all-consuming, and while I feel like I am able to be more or less the same person when I am in either sphere, there is a tension between them that I feel might not get resolved during my time here. I need each life to sustain the other. While I am perhaps remarkably content in Estaquinha (most of the time), I think I am able to keep my morale high because the opportunity of imminent escape always exists. Similarly, my austere life and tangible work in the mato offers some grounding and balance to the non-stop party that I sometimes encounter with my American friends. My ostensible and dominating reasons for joining the Peace Corps was to help a needy community, get to know a new culture, and to challenge myself, but I can’t pretend that the camaraderie and romantic sense of adventure that I get to indulge in with other volunteers isn’t an important and postive aspect of my experience here so far.
Maybe I shouldn’t feel guilty, but I do, though I’m not always sure about what. Every time I leave Estaquinha, I feel like I am missing out on something here, but that doesn’t diminish the need to get away, to speak to someone from my own culture who speaks my own language, to run errands and talk with and e-mail friends far away. I need the advice and support of my American friends when I am frustrated with colleagues or bureaucracy, and their ideas on how to move forward with projects here. But when I feel like we have drunk too much, partied too hard, spent too much money, been too idle, I am happy to return to my own bed in my own house. where there are few distractions, no cell phone service, where at least one part of my role (teaching English) is clear to me, and where I am learning more and more all the time about myself and the world around me.