There are a lot of useful, work-related skills you gain (or, at least, have the opportunity to gain) as a Peace Corps Volunteer. There are even more that really have nothing to do with the reality of what most of us live like and work like in America. With only 10-months left of service, I’ve been finding myself thinking a lot about the “logical next step” and how to get there from where I am right now. I’m a little out-of-shape in the department of résumé-making and job applications, but right now, mine is looking a little like this:
Youth Development Volunteer: Peace Corps, 2011-2013
B.P. 39 Batouri, East Region, Cameroon
· Making Croissants and Pains au Chocolat
o Volunteer is able to, with assistance and without the use of an oven or conventional tools, create edible, butter-filled deliciousness to be enjoyed at any hour of the day.
· Filling Polypots
o Volunteer quickly, knowledgably, and capably can fill polypots in preparation for Moringa Trees.
§ Volunteer can explain the benefit of Moringa Trees and distribute grown samples to a loud, pushing group of Host Country Nationals
· Texting in French Abbreviations
o Volunteer can effectively communicate a message through a short SMS by utilizing French abbreviations including “dmn,” “bjr,” and “ajd’hui.”
o Volunteer can understand texting abbreviations and lingo…most of the time.
· Using a Machete for Yard-Work
o When time permits, volunteer is able to do her own yard-work with a machete without inflicting bodily injury to herself or others.
· Reading Mercury Thermometers
o When wondering if she’s sick, volunteer is able to clearly read and clear a mercury thermometer in either Celsius or Farenheit.
· Explaining the Purpose of the Electoral College
o In either French or English, volunteer is able to explain the function and purpose of the Electoral College while maintaining that the existence of an Electoral College does not annul the American democratic system.
· Making Tofu
o Given certain materials including soy beans and vinegar, volunteer is able to create tofu adhering to the taste sets of both Americans and Cameroonians as well as to preach to the importance of protein for youth and pregnant women.
· Saying “No” to Marriage Proposals
o Without being phased, volunteer is able to say “NO!” to marriage proposals including by asking horrendous dowries, explaining that she’s already married to numerous men, explaining the importance of love in a marriage, explaining the demanding nature of American women, ignoring the question, and forcefully responding in the negative.
· Eating Food with Hands
o Without the use of utensils, volunteer can quickly clean all fish-meat from bones. Volunteer successfully uses couscous of a types (except corn when avoidable) to mop up sauces of all types without making too much of a mess out of herself.
§ Volunteer has retained the ability to use a fork and spoon when necessary, and excels at using knives when cutting food out of the palm of the hand rather than on a plate or flat service.
· Early Morning Productivity
o With or without the aid of early-morning rooster crowing, volunteer is able to drag herself out of bed early, make coffee, eat breakfast, work-out, shower, plan/schedule five different work meetings, and finish all her shopping at the market before nine-thirty am.
· Riding Motorcycles
o Volunteer is able to strap on a helmet, mount a motorcycle from the left side, give directions loudly from underneath a helmet, dismount from the left side, and pay a moto-taxi-man the correct fare.
· Using a Bucket-Flush Toilet or Pit Latrine
o Volunteer has mastered the use of all forms of toilets and latrines.
· Hand-Washing Jeans
o Without the use of a brush or other abrasive surface, volunteer can hand-wash a pair of jeans to be cleaner than the washing machine at the office in Yaounde.
· Cleaning Vegetables
o Volunteer knows and practices proper vegetable-cleaning methods including bleaching, scrubbing, and peeling. When boiling, volunteer actually lets the water come to a boil.
· Waiting Patiently
o Volunteer is able to calmly sit through long, repetitive work meetings as well as breakdowns on the side of the road without compromising personal opinions on timeliness or being prepared for inevitabilities.
Other non-descript skills: tearing into packages in about 4 seconds flat, cleaning and preparing beans, washing dishes, holding babies, entertaining small children with weird facial expressions, organizing coloring books, avoiding bush meat
Yep, hear that sound? Those are all the job offers for a new age, politically-minded chef/house-keeper rolling in. So many practical job skills!
I should say that I feel like I’ve gained practical, marketable skills, too, and that I actually have an idea of what the “next step” is, which I didn’t before I came here. But, it’s been these more un-tangible, un-marketable skills that have defined my experience and pushed my boundaries. There’s training for work, partners on the ground to teach you along the way, and resources to consult that can help you define your work, but the only way to learn how to deal with going without (insert favorite American good here,) or to learn to manage a household, or to be comfortable in your own skin is to learn through your individual experience. It’s been almost seventeen months in Cameroon, fourteen of which I’ve been living as one of three or four Americans in a city of 40,000 Cameroonians. Those experiences can’t be boiled down to a short bullet-point on a piece of paper, they become a part of a person. And that’s where I am now, trying to figure out what the niche in the American job market is for a cockroach-killing, bean-sorting, fidelity-encouraging, female French-speaker….