Serving as a couple is definitely giving us a very different experience. Not having served as a single volunteer personally, I can’t make any sort of judgment as to whether its “better” or “worse”. I don’t even think that there is a better or worse involved. Its just different.
The most obvious is the support we give each other. Peace Corps Vanuatu is trying to cluster volunteers so there is someone close by. On the outer islands, “close by” can be a couple hours walking. The other PCVs are amazing people and I have gained some truly wonderful friends in a surprisingly short period of time. However, even the best friend is not the same as a partner. For a married volunteers, my nearest neighbor lives in my house. We have each other right there.
Cell phone service here is getting better but can still be VERY unreliable. Unfortunately, it seems to be that when Gaea goes traveling, so does our cell service which takes away our primary support here. Being on different projects means we often don’t travel at the same times. Me being tied to the school schedule makes it very hard to be able to travel whenever she does.
We also have more autonomy than many of the other volunteers. There are ups and downs to this. On the upside, when we are both at home we get privacy. People are much less willing to intrude on a couple than on a single person. On the downside, because of the privacy it takes longer to form the solid connections that are critical to life here. I’m also pretty certain that we would be picking up local language more quickly without each other’s English to fall back on.
Then there are the gender issues. Gender is huge here. We both feel like being married makes us even more aware of the divides. Being married and talking to each other a lot, we each have a much more comprehensive view of the other gender’s experience than we could otherwise. We also get asked about aspects of our relationship that might not directly come up if we were single. There are questions to Gaea about whether she will get in trouble for not cooking me dinner. There are questions to me about where Gaea is if I am doing wash. These really point out how different the expectations are for men and women. We both feel like being a couple makes it harder for us to socialize. We like spending time with each other and often do. People here do not have much experience associating with the opposite gender. When we are together and hanging out with someone it is always awkward. Its just not a thing that’s done here so people don’t know how to deal with it.
Of course, there are also impacts on our relationship. We both tend to be overly busy and fairly independent people. At home, the ven-diagrams of our lives looked like links in a chain. Here it is most like one circle with a little sliver on either edge. We spend A LOT more time together than we did at home. There are times when this gets stressful. I don’t always enjoy being stuck with myself. I feel bad for Gaea. Overall, I feel like we are both even more sensitive to each others moods these days. Taking care of a few extra things when the other one is stressed is done completely on autopilot. We’re a lot more sensitive to building resentments about anything. I’ve always felt good about our communication but here we have a lot of time to talk. We talk about everything. We also discuss our work and bounce ideas off each other, which often ends in more work for both of us. We talk about the gender divide. We talk about the nakamal and gossip about the village. We talk about people from home. We dream about the future and tell stories from childhood. Sometimes there are even some good philosophical discussions, which I very much enjoy.
I know that we would each be having VERY different experiences were we single volunteers. I feel like we would be more integrated and spending more time in the community. We would be eating more meals with other people. We would probably have more friends among the people here. We would also be on our own in the individual sense. We would have to deal with issues without support based on an intimate knowledge. There would be a lot of differences. Neither of us regrets the difference of experience but it is definitely one of the things that has an impact on our service and is on our minds fairly frequently.