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Peace Corps Today: Huts, wells and smartphones

Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Los Angeles, California

On a brief hiatus from my Peace Corps service this past Christmas, I found myself sitting at a bar trying to summarize what I do to an Australian girl I’d just met. Explaining Peace Corps in casual conversation is pretty difficult. Most people quickly zero in on the living conditions.

“Wow, that’s full on!” she exclaimed after I’d given my quick synopsis. “So, is someone minding your hut?”

I do in fact live in a thatched hut in Senegal, West Africa – though my hut has electricity. I dodge goats, sheep, and wild dogs daily while biking precariously through sand. I pull water from the well and wake up to the cries of mosques and roosters.

But all of that is the adventurous side of Peace Corps life. How do you get across the bizarreness of a job that is a lifestyle, dictated by dichotomies and defined by your own initiative? Often you end up sensationalizing it for a few laughs, glossing over how difficult it really is, or accidentally painting yourself as a save-the-world hippie.

The truth is, Peace Corps service is what you make of it. And that is just as open-ended as it sounds.

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