I’ve finally found it! The book I needed to read this entire time. Thankfully, after reading it, I have not changed my mind nor been deterred in the slightest from joining the Peace Corps. Actually, I had quite the opposite reaction. I’m now more excited than ever! Like the author, when I decided to join, I had to do much of my research based on the accounts of other Peace Corps volunteers. Dillon Banerjee, an agroforestry Peace Corps volunteer from 1994-1996 served in Belo, Cameroon. When he got back he wrote this book to make up for the research he could never find.
For anyone looking to join Peace Corps or even anyone interested in what Peace Corps volunteers go through, this is a very genuine, very frank question and answer session with everything the government seems not to tell you. I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT. I read it in one day and these are the most interesting things I pulled from the book, whether relevant or not to me. I really do appreciate what Mr. Banerjee has put together. All the information below I found in his book entitled:
So, You Want to Join the Peace Corps…What to Know Before You Go
1. “The Peace Corps approach to language learning has been hailed as one of the best in the world” (Banerjee 33). This little tidbit of knowledge reassures me greatly. If this statement is true, this experience is going to be my best shot at learning a language.
2. At the beginning of Peace Corps, every volunteer was issued a motorcyle. Since that time, studies have shown that motorcyle accidents were the leading cause of Peace Corps deaths. Now we are mostly just issued mountain bikes, though motorcyles are still occasionally given out for work related distances. Thorough training for both the dissembling, cleaning, and riding of motorcyles and mountain bikes are given at the time of training (Banerjee 57-58).
3. This one was shocking to me, only because everyone has been telling me how skinny I’m going to get on the third world diet: “Men tend to lose weight, women tend to gain weight in the Peace Corps” (Banerjee 64). This trend seems consistent throughout the world, in whatever country Peace Corps volunteers serve. Apparently, it is because local diets are high in carbs and starch… as we women know, not the best for our middle! But don’t worry everyone, I’m sure the work planting trees and working in the fields will trim me right down.
4. The statistics for Peace Corps volunteers who have access to electricity and running water is much higher than you or I might have expected! Mind you also that this is coming from a Peace Corps Volunteer survey from 1997, so I am sure that these statistics have probably only risen in favor of electricity and running water.
- 25% lived with no electricity, 25% had electricity sometimes, and 50% always had electricity (Banerjee 46).
- 28% never had running water, 30% sometimes had running water, 42% always had running water (Banerjee 46).
- Unfortunately for me (or fortunately, I guess however you want to look at it) as an agriculture volunteer living in Africa, I have the lowest chance of either one:
- 53% of ag volunteers had electricity and 46% of African volunteers (Banerjee 46). These were the lowest percentiles in both categories of region and work sector.
- As for running water, only 41% of African volunteers had running water only sometimes and 51% of those working in the ag sector (Banerjee 46).
5. I’m still not quite sure what I think about this one: Many times, Peace Corps volunteers hire a local villager to do the cleaning, laundry, and some cooking. Now before you baulk (like I did) consider some things. Banjeree says that while you might be determined to do all of this yourself and you of course can choose this route, by hiring someone in your village, you provide them with the opportunity to make some honest wages and stimulate a tiny bit of the economy within the village. You might be providing them with the job opportunity that leads to their education, start-up funds for their own business, or money for family expenses. Even though your Peace Corps stipend is minimal and forces you to live within the means of the village, you still have enough to choose this option if you wish (Banerjee 49). I’m still thinking about it, whether I choose to or not, and perhaps this situation will not even present itself to me. I guess we’ll find out…
6. As an animal lover I am enthusiastic about this next finding… Apparently, many volunteers adopt a pet when they are doing their two years of service. Sometimes they save a dog from the local stew pot or take a kitten found on the street under their wing. Either way, these animals provide companionship for the duration of their service. In Banjeree’s case, he owned a cat and when he finished his service, he passed her on to the next volunteer taking his place (Banerjee 54).
This is not, by any means, the only golden nuggets of information I acquired from this book, but they are some of the more entertaining.
We will see how many of these come true for me. Keep it fresh everybody, until next time…