I should be at church.
A little girl came to the window about 20 minutes ago and asked if I was going to church today. “It's Sunday!” she admonished me.
I know that I should go. I should be making more of an effort to integrate, instead of sitting here in my house, playing with my laptop. But I really, really don't want to do it.
I don't like going to church in the US, and I know that the experience here will be especially awkward. Obviously, I stand out no matter what I do here, and I know that, but somehow I'm particularly dreading the idea of having people watch me at church. I'm uncomfortable enough in any kind of church without having that discomfort intensified by being an object of examination.
At the same time, I think that people would really appreciate the gesture. Trying to become more involved in the community isn't rocket science – just making an effort to do things the Liberian way (eating Liberian food, shopping in the market, going to church, and so on) is huge. Of course, having said that, I'm not doing a great job of it. As I mentioned, my housemate and I are paying people to wash our clothes and haul our water, and our landlord told us that people in the community are always commenting on how lazy we are. And while Liberian food isn't terrible, it also isn't great, and I prefer to cook for myself or with my housemate most of the time.
To a certain extent, I feel like I need to take care of my own needs and not worry about what other people are saying. As Peace Corps mentioned to us in training, there are a lot of very bored people here, and monitoring the actions of the Americans is great entertainment. So no matter what I do, I'm sure that there will be some amount of criticism. In light of that, I should just do what I need to do to ensure that I am staying happy and sane, even if it causes some grumbling somewhere.
At the same time, why did I come here if I'm not going to bother trying to be a part of the community? If nothing else, I can think of a myriad of ways in which the effort can pay off for me personally. In a place like this especially, connections are key. For example, there are a lot of things that are only available in the capital, Monrovia. Seeing as how the capital is 9 or so hours away by a very bad road, I'm not likely to get out that way again very often, if ever. But if I know a wide network of people here, then I will have a better chance of getting the things I need from the capital from someone else I know who is traveling out that way. Of course, the more important point is that I can't fulfill any of the three goals of Peace Corps without making an effort to be more involved (the three goals of Peace Corps Liberia, for those of you who are unfamiliar with Peace Corps, are: 1. the work itself – science and math teaching, 2. promoting understanding of the US and American customs in Liberia, and 3. promoting understanding of the Liberian way of life in the US).
So what do I do? I think that the key is to find another way to become more involved, one that I'm more comfortable with than going to church. I really need to find a way to volunteer in the community hospital – I think that doing that would accomplish my goal of more community involvement in a way that works better for me personally.
Of course, it's easy to say that now. But it doesn't help me feel any less guilty about staying home today. In a more general sense, I think that this dilemma illustrates one of the most difficult balances to strike as a volunteer: how do I stay happy and mentally healthy enough to do my work effectively, while still pushing myself to have the greatest impact possible during my time here?