All right. I live here now. So when will I actually start feeling like a real volunteer?
I’ve been avoiding writing a post that’s anything other than rote list of experiences. Because 1) there’s a lot that goes on and it’s all exciting and new for me and 2) because I’ve felt that there’s nothing I could say that couldn’t be better expressed by another volunteer. Someone who’s been here longer. Someone who’s on a committee. Someone who’s super well-integrated. Someone who absolutely never binge watches Firefly when she could be outside speaking Spanish. Someone who doesn’t wake up every morning to the thought, “I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do today.”
A few experiences for context: I’m doing my observation right now. I have something like 10 possible school campuses to choose from. My actual experiences in the classroom have ranged from watching 10+ different classes silently take the same exam to being abandoned in a room full of 4th graders with the vague directive to keep them busy. The local schools end at 12:30 at the latest, leaving me with plenty of time to really marinate in my cluelessness. Due to a nationwide teachers’ strike, I don’t know the next time I’ll be setting foot in a classroom. Yet more time with my cluelessness.
And I’d like to be honest about that, but my thought process generally runs:
“Am I a real-enough volunteer to start writing about thoughts and feelings? Have I earned that yet, or do I need to hold some community English classes first? Teach a co-planned lesson? Hit my sixth month? Year?”
I’m not looking to turn this into a melodramatic assertion of authenticity (“Yes!” She screams off the balcony, tears streaming down her face, “I am a real volunteer! I have been one all along! The real volunteer was within all this time!”).
But I am working on viewing what I do every day as the work of a real-enough volunteer, even though my work hasn’t officially started yet.
I’ve taught the neighbor kids how to play spoons. Last Saturday, we grabbed my (waterproof, shockproof) camera and took pictures of the town. Which quickly devolved into a full on photoshoot as they started putting flowers in my hair and ordering me to strike a pose. I’ve painted mascara mustaches on myself and my little brother, showed up to people’s houses and made a series of more-or-less successful desserts.
There have been introductions, ice cream, language-related awkwardness, bus rides, hikes, and spur-of-the-moment decisions that have all contributed to the slow, slow work of making myself at home in a new community.
I’m still figuring out what I’m doing in the schools. I’m sure I’ll still be figuring it out a year from now. But for now, this is what a real(-enough) volunteer looks like.
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