Ed. Note: Next week we will be running dispatches from current PCVs -- Peace Corps volunteers -- in Mongolia. Here's a poem in their honor by one who knows them. -- DL
How It Is In the Peace Corps
Shy idealists come, sing,
study strange languages:
High hopes, seeking friends,
"am I tough enough to stay,
and can I bear the isolation?"
Hot summers surprise;
goats are slaughtered for the feast,
their arteries plucked out by crooked fingers
thrust into blood and guts.
Dust devils blow sand into our hair;
friends pull together, eyes smiling,
to hold up tent poles in the storm.
Later, loneliness and frost arrive,
bodies stiffen and turn numb
hunching over a coal stove,
heating water for weekly bathing.
Winter comes: "I'm so fucking cold}
and sick of mutton and miss home;
I've never smelled so bad and, by the way,
does anyone really love me?"
We go from ger to outhouse,
strange, coldweather beetles
busily building our shit stalagmites,
rolling up our small possessions in a ball.
Fermented mare's milk, vodka,
whiskey, wine --
the blessed release of friends,
my fellow kind:
talking over each other's words on weekends,|
arms around each other's necks:
they say we're too unruly and it shows,
but we need this and
we need it bad!
Visitors come and we put on a jacket
and a show:
to lead our class through songs and recitations,
and showing what we do.
We fetch the cattle from the field,
the water from the river;
we clean our space or not
and bake plum pudding for the VIPs.
At Christmas, deep depression,
we get a sack of coal from neighbors
and shed bright tears of gratitude and pleasure.
Our host's children, our students, are our family;
we love them but feel sometimes like pets,
playing a role called "young American,"
fed and led but kept outside the house.
Our hosts are strong and brave and keep us close,
but have been known to disappoint us:
they can be brutal, think us naive,
shock us with lies and petty vices,
while we seem soft and callow.
Still, we suffer what we love:
we asked for this and still think it is worth it;
we will miss it when it and we are gone,
and we become just ordinary again,
instead of being small celebrities.
We'll always remember this life until we don't,
or at least until we board the plane for home,
when we will start a family in the suburbs
forgetting that old young savage on the steppes.
All now is strong emotion, love and anger,
a pride and testing ground to prove:
I am a man, I am a woman and can make
a better world if I just meet this challenge.
I'm in the stream, beating against the current,
making headway, showing my resiliance;
I sense the other swimmers all about me|
and will not forget this unforgiving river --
until I'm returned to the safety of my shore.
And that's how it is in the Peace Corps.
– Mark Minton