Minute With Mike

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 12/30/96.

September 12, 1996

One of my great joys here is mail, both receiving it and sending it. Frequently, I write about my frustrations and I dwell on various shortcomings here. I have to admit one of my motivations for coming to live in an exotic locale was to live with less, and to brag about it.

Granted the difference in material wealth between here and home is great, but I need to remind myself and you of the truth of my situation, lest my portrayal casts me as a 1990's Tarzan.

One of the goals of Peace Corps is to have its volunteers live modestly in their community, and we do, far more so than other ex-patriates and other volunteer organizations. Still, I lead a privileged life here. Through the school, I have access to a truck (though I'm not allowed to drive), to a telephone, to satellite television, to a basketball/tennis court, and to a drum oven. We have three hours of electricity a night, which doesn't sound like much until you spend a few nights crowded around a kerosene lamp.

I have a three-bedroom house all to myself, with a fridge, a gas stove, a porch and two big water tanks that hold more water than I can use. Plus, I have the 80 pounds of luxury items I brought with me from America and access to more by mail.

Lumi District has an estimated population of 23,000 people, which makes it the most populous district in Sandaun Province. Even though most of these things don't work quite as well as we are used to them doing in America, I live in the top one percent materially here, possibly even the top one-tenth of one percent.

In light of these facts, sympathy for my condition here is misplaced. I'll be here two years; others will be here all their lives.

Luckily, happiness doesn't depend on material wealth. In an effort to emphasize the positive, here are some of my favorite things about living here.

  • I don't think I've ever been healthier, which will please the Peace Corps Medical Officer only slightly less than my mother. I eat right. I exercise. I get plenty of sleep. My work environment is relaxed, which is less stressful for me, if not particularly efficient.

  • I have lots of time. I don't really have more time-days are 24 hours here-but it feels like it. I work less, and I do more work around the house, but I have fewer commitments and other demands on my time. I'm learning to play guitar, which I never could quite dedicate time for, until now. I read, I write, and I even star gaze. All things I've never quite made time for before.

  • I love the mountains. The Torricellis don't possess the grandeur of the Rockies, but the Rockies aren't blanketed with tropical rain forest. Even more fascinating are the clouds, from the morning haze to the threatening grey skies in the afternoon to the bright pillows at dusk.

  • This is an ideal place for star gazing. The night sky is distinctly bright, and since we're near the equator, the stars rise and set from east to west. So during the course of the year, virtually the entire night sky will be visible.

  • Only the hardy star gaze in Minnesota in January. It's an endless summer here. It's not as humid as on the coast, so my biggest concern is to remember to wear sunscreen so I don't look like fried chicken or need to have my nose reupholstered when I come home.

  • I love teaching. It's not a coincidence that my strongest bouts of homesickness occur after long absences from my classes. We were told in training: "The kids will keep you going." It's true.

  • At night, instead of 10,000 mosquitoes, a fabulous collection of moths gather around my house light. The pale green and deep purple and bright yellow moths are a stunning reminder of the biodiversity.

    (Michael Jacobson was a reporter for the Paynesville Press before joining the Peace Corps.)

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