by Addie Bryant
What is adventure? It occurred to me recently that my idea of adventure before I joined the Peace Corps is significantly different than it is now. Most people think of Peace Corps as an adventure — walking through the jungles of South America, sleeping in a hut in Africa, wild animals everywhere you look, natural dangers while hiking. But this, at least for me, is hardly the case. I too thought I would be “roughing it.” I didn’t know exactly how but I made sure I brought little of value, no make-up, and no cute clothes. Adventure just doesn’t require such things. Now, I am in the Peace Corps and I know it’s okay to bring back valuables from the States, to buy make-up (my mom even shipped me my favorite eye liner), and to wear cute clothes to keep up with the locals and the other volunteers.
Do I still think Peace Corps is an adventure? I guess people outside Peace Corps would say ‘yes’ for sure. But now I think of adventure as something very temporary. I feel like tourists visiting here or other developing countries are on adventures. Passing through makes it an adventure. But what I am doing here is living. This is life. The people who live like I do here, the locals, they aren’t on an adventure. They are living in the same way I am. The only caveat there is that my situation is temporary and I know it, which pushes it back into the adventure category.
Maybe it’s the way adventure is defined for us in our minds and by Webster:
1 a : an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks; b : the encountering of risks
2 : an exciting or remarkable experience
3 : an enterprise involving financial risk
I certainly took a risk in coming here and certainly some people say living here is a risky venture. But, the kind of adventure here in the Peace Corps isn’t like white water rafting or canopy tours (though they are certainly available here). Maybe definition two is the best: a really remarkable cultural experience. A friend recently told me how a new volunteer about to start her service in El Salvador gave a list of the things she had ready to go — all the tools for roughing it without electricity, water, living in a mud hut, etc. My friend had to tell this new volunteer that the chances were actually pretty good that her basic needs would be met at whatever site she landed. Most volunteers here in this country have some access to water and electricity even if it is infrequently. The new volunteer seemed disappointed. My friend assured her that she shouldn’t worry; she would rough it in other ways. This struck such a chord with me. I joined the Peace Corps expecting a whole lot worse. And, yeah, there are conditions I live with that a lot of the people in the States can’t fathom (cold bucket baths, no sinks, latrines, no A/C, mosquito nets) but it really is not that bad.
There are definitely sites in countries where Peace Corps volunteers suffer more as far as basic needs go. Here, in El Salvador, we suffer the adjustment to a different culture. The adjustment can be hard and even when you think you’ve made it, you think you are in, something will come to pass that knocks you right back down. Maybe that’s what adventure is. Maybe I am still on an adventure, but the idea of what it is has changed.
Addie Bryant served two years in El Salvador as a Youth Development Specialist in the Peace Corps. She has returned home and is in graduate school studying public policy at the University of Virginia.