Today I learned how to cut cabbage. Except I thought I already knew how to cut cabbage. In fact, I’ve done it many times. But today I sat through an extensive lesson from my host mother and younger host sister, Fiona, as they detailed the finer points of the process, all the while enduring giggles from my other siblings at my apparent blunders.
Much of the learning we endure as Peace Corps Trainees is obvious enough: language lessons, instruction on education best practices, classes on Volunteer safety, security, and medical risks, and so on. However, some of the most important learning that takes place in the Peace Corps is far less tangible. These are the small things we have to learn (or re-learn) in order to survive everyday life in a different cultural context or be productive members of a different society.
Bathing, cleaning, and washing clothes take on a different context when the American automation of these processes are stripped away. I have to plan these things carefully into my day, rather than allot ten minutes for them where possible in an endless busy schedule. Washing clothes is a multi-hour process that my host siblings still tell me I do incorrectly, and we are in disagreement about just how hard I should scrub my clothes in order to ensure they are clean without damaging them. How I miss the washing machine!
I have had to learn how to peel potatoes again. As a good Irish girl, I was very confident in my potato peeling ability, but my first attempt was met with laughter before the seven-inch blade handed to me for the task was pulled from my hands.
“Mama wants to speed up the cooking,” my host brother informed me, “you will have to learn later”.
Until this moment, it hadn’t occurred to me there was any learning taking place. But as I have come to realize, many of my day to day interactions can be turned into teachable moments, and I – despite being here as an educator – am doing very little of the teaching.
Sometimes, I feel like a small child again, being carefully instructed in the proper ways of doing things. I have had to be reminded several times to greet everyone as I walk by them, and that failure to do so might mean that I have a problem with them, or that I am very ill. It is a lesson that is very much reminiscent of my mother’s instructions on proper handshake etiquette when I was in middle school.
I’m beginning to understand why PCVs and RPCVs all say that we learn more as volunteers than we could ever hope to teach. Sure, we can teach some things and hope that our students will find practical applications for the English that we teach or the secondary projects that we start. But, at the end of the day, we are being taught cultural and life lessons, not skills, and in many ways these are more valuable.
Listening To: Don’t Care, Galantis
Word of the Day: Gushobora (To Be Able To)