As my one-year mark in Jamaica inches closer, I have been thinking a lot about behavior changes. I have changed many of my behaviors to adapt to my environment, and in some cases I have also made my environment more comfortable for myself by modifying it to resemble my pre-Peace Corps lifestyle. Some behavior changes were extremely easy to make…sleeping under a mosquito net and not leaving out any sugary treats (as it will immediately attract ants and fruit flies) are two examples that were necessary to make, but didn’t really affect me in any huge way.
Some changes were (and still continue to be) more challenging, such as...
- Peace Corps discourages nighttime movement, and therefore I rarely go out at night. I long for evening strolls, bike rides, and other moonlit adventures. I daydream of all the fun things you can do in the city in the night, and miss walking around the Cedar Swamp trails in the quiet Vermont evenings, bright from the moon and snow.
- Jamaica is very keen on appearances, and I came to the island from living in the sticks at a farm school for two years. Being presentable doesn’t quite match up with the “function over fashion” lifestyle I was living back home.
- Sometimes, it is extremely difficult to convince myself to do the things that I know are helpful in terms of social interactions. For example, there was never a time that going to church was disadvantageous to my service. Even months later from attending a service in my community, someone may introduce themselves with a smile and mention that they saw me at the church that one time. However, some Sundays I simply cannot talk myself into going into a situation where I know I may feel uncomfortable. By now, feeling uncomfortable is almost a comfortable feeling. I started to treat these times like the thought of exercising; just do it and you'll 99.9% be glad that you did afterwards.
- At times, I may feel self-conscious about my community’s perception of me. Projects pick up and slow down and my schedule is all over the place, and I think it is puzzling to those around me that I don’t have a Monday-Friday 9am-5pm sort of situation. However, I just work hard and try not to get wrapped up in those fears.
A good example of modifying my environment for the sake of my own comfort is my camp shower. I live in the coolest parish, on top of a hill, so the water is never warm. George bought me this camp shower, ($7.99 US) and instead of appreciating it, I initially had an attitude that I wasn’t to accept such a gift; I am a Peace Corps volunteer and I am supposed to suffer through cold showers. However, this mindset is ridiculous. For one, some people in this area DO have hot water heaters, or at least boil water for their bath. This easy addition to my bathroom has made the task of showering something that is relaxing (hot water) and enjoyable instead of doing the cold dance as I shampoo my hair.
Another example of making it work for me is hand-washing clothes…or deciding that I wasn’t going to anymore. I hand-washed my clothes for my first six months of service, and I only made them “clean enough”. One day, a washer and dry were installed at Peace Corps office. I was fascinated by this new toy and when I had to travel to office to see a Peace Corps doctor, I stuffed my sleeping bag sack full of clothes and carried them with me, about three hours from my house to the office. White clothes that haven’t been white in months came out looking brand new, and my sheets felt clean for the first time.
After I have used a washer and dryer again, I admit I haven’t been able to go back to hand washing. I don’t go into Peace Corps office often, but with a little help from Google I have found out that a nearby university has a Laundromat that the public can use at certain hours. Hallelujah!
Is it lame to do my laundry at a Laundromat? I don’t care anymore, my clothes are actually clean and that makes me happy. Is it putting a dent in my stipend? No, it is actually very affordable, and I don’t have to spend an entire day hand washing, which I will never be good at.
So, in a lot of areas of my life here, I have appropriately adapted my attitude or habit, such as putting more effort into my outfits and ironing my clothes for the first time in my life. In other areas of my life, I found ways to make it work for me, like dragging my clothes to a washer and dryer. I believe behavior changes and stubborn comforts are a balancing act that all Peace Corps volunteers actively work at during their service...at least I know I do.