Champagne Problems

11 03 2012

With all the “hardships” we Peace Corps volunteers endure, it is easy to get caught up in the difficulties of our time here rather than the good stuff. When it’s 95 degrees and there isn’t any water, it’s easy to furrow your brow, let your heels hit the floor a little harder, and groan about the terrible misfortune that has befallen you.

I’ve come to think about all the little frustrations of service as “Champagne Problems.” Back home, you may think of them as “Living in a Developing Country Problems” or “Duh, you’re in Cambodia Problems.” But for Peace Corps Volunteers I think these truly are “First World” or “Champagne Problems.” Look how we got here. We are privileged to be able to travel to another country, let alone live here. This is an experience very few in the world have the opportunity to do; we should enjoy all the “privileges” that we can while we’re here. After all, it’s not this hot in the US, the spiders aren’t nearly as big, and it’s awfully hard to find a good bowl of ant soup there. We should be so lucky to get giardia in the States. Do you know how hygienic restaurants are there? This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, folks.

Not to mention while we’re complaining about dogs barking in the middle of the night, the weather being too hot, and cockroaches walking away with our food, Cambodians are the ones living here. Not for a two year culture experiment, but a lifetime. And the Champagne Problems we complain about are the least of their concerns.

So not only am I a little skeptical of complainers (including myself), but I’ve also found that for me, it’s been much easier to have those otherwise rare feelings of intense happiness here than in the US. So, yeah, the water might be out for a few days, but you know I’m the one enthusiastically yelling “Waaaaatttttttteeeerrrrrrrrrr!” when it unexpectedly comes back.

How can this not make you happy? Every time I see it, I think, "Silly tree, that's not where your fruit should go."

There seem to be a couple thousand ways to get quick bursts of concentrated happy in Cambodia:

  • Adorable kids yelling hello (or screaming and running away) when they see us.
  • Getting the hammock swinging just right.
  • A cold drink after a long bike ride.
  • A student saying hello on the street and calling me “Tim,” “Mr. Tim,” or “Teacher,” but not “’cher.”
  • A seller having our usual purchases ready for us as soon as he sees us coming.
  • Hearing the calming end to a long day of wat music.
  • Finally hearing the difference between four Khmer words you used to swear were exactly the same.
  • Killing mosquitoes with our electric racquet.
  • Cooking food you thought was previously uncookable due to a lack of oven, cheese, yeast, crème brulee blow torch, liquid nitrogen, etc.
  • Mango season.
  • The deep green of the rice paddies during rainy season.
  • When a student or coteacher uses a word or grammar point that you taught them the class before.
  • Actually lesson planning with a coteacher.
  • Getting a project idea that you’re passionate about.

Cute kids are everywhere, but not all wear suits.

So, just off the top of my head, there are 15 happiness-inducing Peace Corps moments. The list could be 10 times as long, of course, but then it would be even more boring than it already is. The point is that there are things here that make you curse and smile, but you wouldn’t smile nearly as big without the cursing. Being grateful of our minor annoyances helps keep the whole experience in perspective.

-Tim

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4 responses

12 03 2012
kbergen

Very true! Thanks for posting this. It’s something I think it’s important to remember, but sometimes forget (please call me on it). Also, mango trees look ridiculous. I laughed the first time I realized that’s how they grow.

12 03 2012
Em

Perspective is everything. My roommate said she has paralyzing stage fright. I said “hey we’ve thrown grenades. Stages rarely blow up.” Perspective.

Glad you have the happy bursts.

17 03 2012
Jill Preston

Thanks for the post. We’ve given ourselves the gift of appreciation by being here.

2 04 2012
Barbara Muller

There will always be the complainers and the grumblers but you have come to understand the beauty that exists around you. Perfection does not exist anywhere on the earth. Keep on discovering.

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