The Loneliness of a Peace Corps Volunteer (page 2)
The Loneliness of a Peace Corps Volunteer
page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4
PCV at the Door
Cathy punched me in the arm and shoved me, “He’s speaking English, did you hear him? Go open the door. It’s Gary!” I stumbled into my leather boots and opened the door, just as “Bam, bam” rang out. In barges this tall, bulky man, flamboyant black hair with a mustache. His fiery eyes make me think he has been chased by a bear.
     “Jesus, Gary, are you alright?” Gary went straight for my straw mattress, which served as a couch. He sat there, head in his hands, then he lurched upward and walked around the black trunk that served as a dining room table. Cathy stayed in the bed and watched his circling. I sat down on the mattress and waited. After a couple of minutes, he slowed down and sat next to me.
     “Can’t stand it anymore. No one to talk to, no one to date, no one to drink beer with. Hell, there is no place to drink beer. I can’t speak Quechua and barely any Span . . .” He didn’t finish his sentence. Tears burst out, a rumbling of sobs overcame him, his shoulders started shaking. I put an arm around him; he leaned against me and cried.
     Later, when I headed off toward bed, Gary whispered: “Leave the kerosene heater and lantern on, will you please?”
     In the morning over coffee, the three of us discussed what to do. We had been in-country for only a few months, but Gary’s Volunteer days were over. He intended to take the train to LaPaz and hand in his resignation to the Director, then take the next flight to Los Angeles.
     Gary and I then walked to the train station As we sat against the adobe wall of the station waiting for the train, he reached over, seized my hand, and said, “You saved my life last night.” “Glad I could be there for you,” I muttered, and then we lapsed into silence. The sun was out, the wall was warming us. I wondered if Gary was envisioning the southern California beaches. I began thinking about the northern Michigan lake where I grew up. Summers of intense heat, cool deep waters. Unlike Gary, I was unable to confess to myself or anybody else that I too was unhappy, not yet despairing, but headed in that direction. Unlike Gary I was tethered, I was married. I was being depended on.

Another Vol in Trouble
A couple of months later, about dusk, the telephone rang.
     “Bill, it’s Jim. You gotta come here; I’m not doing well. We’ve got to talk.” Jim was a PCV and, like me, from Michigan. He was a nurse and had been placed in Colquiri, a tiny village, another thousand feet up the mountain from me. More than a half-day’s bus trip away.
     I left early on a Saturday morning joining the chollitos. They carried children and market wares wrapped around their back and herded goats and chickens up into the old run down school bus, called a “collectivo.” Suitcases and crates were tied down on the roof. I could hear them move about as we chugged around mountain curves. I sat on an inside seat so I couldn’t look down the steep drop-off, hundreds of feet to a dry riverbed.
     The inside of the bus was colorful and joyful. Brown, sunburned faces, exposed to the sun for a lifetime, the women smiled and joked, their children content to be physically close. On the other hand, the campesinos and the miners slouched, their shoulders burdened, they barely looked up. Even on Saturday nights, drunk, they did not sing nor dance. They wandered out of town with slumping shoulders.
     “You want a cup of coffee? How about a beer? It’s warm but you already know that.” Jim’s feet were well planted, shoulder width apart. His bald head feathered with some wisps of light brown hair. He looked 35 not 25. We started with coffee, murky, mud like, strong. I took mine with leche. We sipped and I looked around his adobe room, much like ours. A Peace Corps bookcase made of cardboard, (called a “locker”) in one corner. A lantern and kerosene heater plus a kerosene enofe (a little burner).
     “Let’s go for a walk,” I suggested. Jim jumped up, startling me, his 5'7" frame blocking the door.
     “I don’t want to go out there. I’ll have to talk with someone. My Spanish is so bad they can’t understand me. I’m practicing hard but being a nurse up here and not understanding them is a joke. Mostly I hide out in my room.” He purses his lips, his eyes focused on mine, challenging me. I move away from the door.

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