In addition to trying out celebrity, Peace Corps gives the opportunity to try out being a minority. Granted, we are not looked down upon as far too many minority groups back home are. There are still plenty of experiences which I will take back in my views of minority groups at home.
First of all, it is incredibly isolating. I am making friends here and there are people I enjoy hanging out with. They still have a completely different cultural background. Things that are hilarious to them don’t even get a chuckle out of me and vice versa. They come at any discussions with a different set of assumptions. This is great for expanding my thinking. Its isolating when I am the only one who has a given viewpoint. I am learning how things are done here. I have not learned everything yet and wouldn’t without spending years and years here. This means that I am reminded in countless minor ways that I am not of this place. I am an outsider, no matter how much they enjoy having me around.
There is also the language barrier. Peace Corps does a great job with the language training. I feel very comfortable speaking Bislama. I have still only been speaking it for just under a year and don’t have a full grasp yet. Language is more than just the words spoken, it is a way of looking at and describing the world. Simply translating what I would say in English to Bislama does not always succeed in getting the point across. Another reminder that I am an outsider.
Here in Vanuatu we also have a local language problem. Bislama is the primary language for a very small portion of the country. Yes, I can communicate with most people in it. However, when they are talking to each other, they do not speak Bislama. There is no way Peace Corps could have trained us in our local languages. Htere are over 100 languages in a country the size of Maryland and they didn’t konw which one we’d be in until the end of training. This means it is up to us to learn the language if we are interested. There is no Rosetta Stone for Apma. It is one of the best studied languages here so we do have resources to draw on. They’re still minimal. I sit in the Nakamal and don’t understand very much of whats going on around me for most of the time. Asking for translations constantly just gets tiring. There are a number of people who always start off talking to me in language. Its definitely helping me learn but I am not there yet and almost always have to ask for them to repeat more slowly and often get it a little wrong.
Being an outsider is a lonely and frustrating experience. For me, the people all want me here and are incredibly welcoming. When I go home, I want for myself to keep in mind that the minorities there have many of the same difficulties without the welcoming atmosphere.