I remember before I left for the Peace Corps a friend of mine who was a freshman asked if we could get lunch so she could learn more about it. Granted, I hadn’t lived a single day of my service at that point, but I’d talked to RPCVs and spent a lot of my time daydreaming, so we met up. She asked me what I thought the hardest part would be – the latrines? the dirt floors? the bugs? Without hesitating I said, “Probably the loneliness.”

Now, looking back, I see that I was wrong. I was on the right track, but I didn’t get it. So I’m writing this because perhaps you don’t get it either.

Loneliness is a fair word to use, but I imagined the loneliness all wrong.

For some reason, when I thought about this impending LONELINESS, I imagined myself alone, in a house, on top of a mountain, perhaps, with all of this TIME on my hands. Like, I would have so much time in these years that I would be writing beautiful letters every afternoon to all of you.

That’s crazy because the Peace Corps would never ask me to serve the nonexistent community of this mountain of solitude. They will send a volunteer to where there are PEOPLE. (This blog is really enlightening, huh?)

ALONE is not part of their game plan. It’d be pretty hard to affect peoples’ lives when you’re on that private mountain making orange juice by hand or whatever I thought I’d be doing with all that TIME.

The loneliness I familiarized myself with before coming here is passive in a way. Because I’m not lonely-all-alone, but rather lonely-all-SURROUNDED. It’s exclusion.

Please don’t misunderstand me when I use such an ugly word as exclusion. I’m invited to all of the parties. These people would do anything for me. They care about me. They protect me. They defend me. They have never made any attempt to exclude me and they’d be so sad that I feel this way at all, but it’s not in their control. It’s outside of our control. I will never not be a foreigner. I can never have lived here all my life. I can never put on their culture and wear it, and they can never step into mine.

When you say you’re a Peace Corps volunteer most people assume that that means you’re a pretty cool person. 

Maybe that is justice, because what you DON’T KNOW, is that in our sites we suffer the most horrifyingly, nausea-inducing, uncool moments. 

I remember walking out to sit on my porch one night, I had very little energy, and wasn’t looking to visit with anyone. A group of teenagers were hanging out at my neighbor’s house and even though I am older than them, have seen more of this world, read more books, and lived more independently than any of them, I felt so absolutely uncool. I felt a blush of embarrassment that they’d see me sitting alone. I knew that I could walk over there (if I’d had any kind of desire) and maybe they’d say hi and smile, maybe a few of the lovesick high school boys would perk up, but I was not wanted there. I don’t belong there.

In every moment of the day: every interaction I have, every joke I laugh at, every silent moment the simple true statement that I don’t belong accompanies me.

The not-belonging doesn’t mean I’m not happy here. And thank the Peace Corps gods, it doesn’t mean that I can’t do my job. But before I couldn’t imagine the loneliness.