Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Serving as a couple; reflections

Today is our third wedding anniversary. Tomorrow marks our second year of living in Morocco. Many people have asked us what it's like to be in Peace Corps as a married couple. We've been asked this by both fellow (single) volunteers, as well as people back home. Most people assume that our experience is in many ways "easier" than our single counterparts. I'm not going to say that our experience is any easier or harder than that of single volunteers. Everyone has their own unique and valid point of view, which is effected by many factors, such as; location of site, quality of work, acceptance by their community, race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, personal comfort level, etc. in addition to marital status.

Today I'm going to examine how being a married Peace Corps volunteer has effected me. So here it is; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good:

An Excellent built-in support system. Though I consider all my SBD (small business development) stagemates friends, there's nothing like having someone around who really knows and understands me. Plus, when I have a bad day at work, Jon always finds a way to make me feel better. On the other side of this, Jon is my biggest and loudest cheerleader. It's important to have someone in my corner rooting for me, especially when others don't seem to even understand what I'm trying to do.

Having someone around that speaks my language, literally. After two years of communicating in a language that I never spoke prior to September 2008, I can meet my basic needs, communicate effectively with my HCN (host country national) counterparts, and joke around with people on a basic level. But true understanding is hard to come by and deep conversations are almost non-existent in a language that is not my own.

Lack of harassment / unwanted attention. Our town is small enough that I don't have to be walking around next to Jon for people to know who I am and that I'm married. Because of this, I do not receive a lot of harassment in my site. The few times that I have experienced low levels of unwanted attention (men asking for my number or making kissing noises) it's never from someone I see on a regular basis or who knows that I'm married.

Community acceptance and respect. In some ways I feel that Moroccans (men and women) have a higher level of respect for me, because I am married, though it is hard to put my finger on why exactly this is. I think that it has to do with the culture. Marriage is seen as a more permanent and sacred union.

Sharing the work. Washing clothes, cooking, shopping, cleaning; it's all a lot easier (and more enjoyable) with an extra set of hands.

The Bad:

Always having someone to be compared to. This was an issue in the begining because I didn't pick up the language as quickly as Jon did and I didn't feel as confident in general while speaking. I heard a lot of "she doesn't know anything" when in fact I did just as well as Jon on our language test and was on pare with most of my stage, it's just that when there are two people right next to each other, it's easy to compare. Now I'm experiencing a different sort of comparison. Because Jon ran into issues with the men that he was assigned to work with and no longer goes to the Artisana on a regular basis, I'm constantly bombarded with questions about him, "where's Jon" "why doesn't he come?" "is he sleeping?" "you come every day and he never comes."

Community integration. Though I'm a shy person by nature, I often wonder if I would have stronger friendships with Moroccans if Jon wasn't here. Sometimes it becomes an excuse not to have tea with someone because Jon's expecting me to come back home at a certain time, when in fact, I know that he wouldn't mind if I came home later than expected. I also feel that we might not get as many invitations to come over for lunch or tea because we are a couple and people just assume that we want to be left alone, while a female (or even a male) volunteer living on their own would be perceived as being particularly miskina (a poor thing) and in need of company.

The ugly:

Dealing with the fact that Jon is having a very different experience here than I, and that his experience has been a particularly difficult one. The fact that he has been very depressed for a long time, and that he has wanted to go home over a year, makes me feel guilty, selfish, and responsible for his misery because I do not share most of his sentiments or want to return to the US before our service is complete.

There you have it, the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a married PCV. I can never tell who is reading this blog, but I know that before coming to Morocco I read the blogs of many volunteers that served before me to get a better idea of what to expect. That is really the biggest reason behind writing this particular post. Everyone will have a different experience, but to those of you that are married and are thinking about joining the Peace Corps I have one thing to say.

Keep in mind that at any particular point in your service you can be in very different places emotionally. Try to help and encourage your spouse along as much as possible and remember that no matter how things turn out with Peace Corps, whether you end up serving just one week or complete your service, you need to keep the bigger picture, your marriage, in mind.


faye cassell said...

Congratulations on the wedding anniversary!

Also, I have been on a serious paper bead making kick since I read your blog post. The perfect round bead continues to elude me...

Nancy said...

Yeah for you, Emily. Very well written and informative blog entry. I read your blog all the time, and like that you have been having some time to make more entries now. Maybe Jon would care to put his side down in an entry, always enjoyed when he wrote, too.


Emily and Jon said...

Mom, I do want Jon to get back into contributing to the blog but he just doesn't want to. He's going through a faze where he's just not into this kind of stuff. He hasn't been updating his other blog either.

Faye, I'm so glad to hear that you've been on a paper bead making kick! Make sure you check out my later post titled Fun With Paper Beads! In it is a link to a video tutorial that I found extra helpful in making more regularly-sized beads.

Matt said...

Thanks for this. As a couple serving here as well we often wonder if we are feeling the same sediments as other couples which are here. It makes me feel better to recognize we have some of the same struggles. Thanks again for posting this!