Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The many masks of a PCV

Do not worry about holding high position; worry rather about playing your proper role. ~Confucius
Triple post day! Please don't forget to read 'em all ;)

Every Peace Corps Volunteer ends up wearing many different masks to fit the occasion.
Each case of course is unique and every PCV wears a different mask depending on the circumstances they are living with. In my case, I wear several masks each day.
I wear the mask of a professor at a tertiary institution, I wear the mask of a student, I wear the mask of a volunteer, I wear the mask of an American, but most importantly I wear the mask of Daniel.

My primary assignment is teaching in the IT department at a tertiary institution in the town where I live. As such, I wear the mask that identifies me in the community as a mwalimu (teacher). Being a teacher in a community, especially as a mzungu (foreigner), means that I am seen as a community member.

I wear the mask of a student every day as I continue to learn something new every day. With each passing day, I continue to remember what Mrs. Rosenberg in chemistry used to say all the time. She would continue to say "Learn something new every day." In fact, whether we realize it or not, we do continue to learn something new each and every day.
In most cases, what I learn each day is a new piece of vital information that helps me better understand the community I live and work with each day. For instance, I continue to learn about things that are appropriate and things that are not appropriate given the cultural context.

The mask of the volunteer is one of the more important masks to wear. As a volunteer working in a community that has not had a volunteer before, it is especially important that I do my best to make a good impression about volunteers, and more importantly about Americans.
Being a volunteer means that I need to take extra attention to my actions to make sure that I do not do something that may give the wrong impression of what a volunteer is.

The mask of an American is also an important mask to wear. This mask is particularly unique. Each individual volunteer has a different mask of their America. My America is comprised of not only my experiences in the U.S.A. prior to coming to Kenya, but my America mask is also heavily influenced by the regions of the U.S. where I lived, studied, and worked.
After all, each part of America is different from another. Each city or town one lives in provides different experiences, which also differ person to person. So my America mask differs from that of any other American. As such, it is important for me to share American culture and my experiences with Kenyans (and other foreigners) while keeping in mind that making any generalizations I make can create incorrect stereotypes and misrepresent America.

The last of the masks is that of Daniel - me, myself, and I. This mask is probably not a mask but the face that lies beneath all other masks. The mask/face of Daniel (yes i know its a tad weird for me to write about myself in the 3rd person but its for perspective sake) is comprised of my personality and my experiences as a whole. Up to now, I have yet to mention growing up in Mexico. That is a large part of my personality, in conjunction with all other experiences I have had. But very important to point out is that because I did live in Mexico, an important part of my personality was shaped by a different culture than that of many if not all the other volunteers that are serving with me. [Granted because of sub-cultures and the uniqueness of each individual person each personality is also going to be unique. However, it is also important to note the difference between sub-cultures (within the U.S.) and cultures (outside of the U.S.)]

Even with each of the masks and potentially the face beneath all the masks, it is important for me to keep in mind that it is very possible and even likely that several masks are worn at a time.

So it is that I try not to worry or focus on the mask(s) that I wear at any given time. Instead, I try to focus on the proper role for me to play at any given time.

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