There's a farm and garden store in Mandeville called AgroGrace that I don't go into too often because every time I enter those doors, a chunk of stipend seems to disappear... How can I help it? I see bulk birdseed for sale and I remember the empty peanut butter jars I have at home, waiting to be made into bird feeders. I see packets of seeds that seem to call out, "plant me, plant me", and if I am planting seeds, I guess I should get some of those seeds trays over there. I convince myself that I simply NEED a bottle of root hormone so I can propagate lots of flowers, because my neighbor down the street with the beautiful garden said I could take as many cuttings as I wanted. It's a good thing that I am planting some food along with those flowers, because after leaving this store of temptations, I'm going to need it.
These personal projects have kept me happy and healthy during my Peace Corps service. As a lover of agriculture, I feel lucky to live in a place where I can experiment with gardening projects year-round, especially considering that I came here from the painfully short three-month growing season of the Northeast Kingdom.
One great thing is that my hobbies often overlap with my work. For example, my counterpart is very interested in organic fertilizers, so my project of brewing compost tea helps out my personal garden as well as identifying the easiest process to teach my counterpart to make his own batch. Planting seeds in my yard can easily turn into an improv environmental lesson when the neighborhood kids are so excited that they can participate in the process. When I saw how easy it was to make bird feeders, I immediately thought about how we could make them in the 4H club that I volunteer with.
I should also mention that it's a two way street; looking at the personal projects (many that serve as the main source of income for the individual) happening in my community helps with integration and learning about Jamaican culture. There are so many talented woodworkers, basket weavers, broom-makers and jewelry creators in my community to appreciate. Many take great pride in their work and are excited when someone wants to learn more about their craft.
A guy up the street teaches drums out of his garage, and I see a guitar teacher around town that I want to link up with. I saw a flyer hanging up at church for dressmaking classes---all of these are opportunities to start new personal projects that also provide an opportunity for cultural exchange and friendship.
In addition to having personal projects, setting a routine has kept me sane while serving in the Peace Corps. Every morning I wake up and put on water to heat, and stretch until it has boiled, and make a huge batch of coffee to drink. In the evenings, I try to make sure I read, practice guitar, and do a few exercises before bed. Of course, I don't always follow my routine 100%, but when I do, I feel mentally grounded and prepared for whatever comes my way that week.
If you are a currently serving or returned Peace Corps Volunteer, what are some things that you do/did for self-care or personal projects?