The Married Life: Peace Corps Life as a Couple
By Jarod Ring
How long have you been married?
Two years this week.
How many children do you have?
Because we are practicing family planning.
Because we don’t want children just yet.
Oh…you must be stagnant!
They say the first few years of marriage are sometimes the most difficult. But what if the majority of those first few years are spent in a 3 world country in the middle of nowhere, with no electricity or running water, nobody to speak English to, no comfort foods available at the local grocery store, no friends or family to talk to when you are having a bad day, what then? What happens when everything familiar to you is stripped away, when nothing makes any sense anymore, when you can identify with absolutely nothing, nothing except for your better half?
Most of you would probably say that serving in the Peace Corps as a married couple would make PC service much easier. And although I have never served as a single person, I would have to say you are probably right. You can never put a price on having your own built in support system with you 24/7 or hanging on to the single most important thing to all the while leaving everything else behind, especially when that one thing speaks discernable English to you. Not to mention is also beautiful and shares a bed with you. Who can argue with that?
There is no doubt that serving as a married couple has its benefits. To be honest, I would have it no other way. And to be even more honest, I am not sure I would make it two years at our site alone. Two years of odd lip smacking sounds, an array or grunts and weird moans reassuring someone that you are listening, the strictly observed, prompt and punctual meeting times (yeah right), the extremely accurate estimate of all distances and time frames (please), the ever so pungent smell of the breath of your translator beside you during some Rwandan gathering, the discouraging 2 hour hike straight up the mountain just to catch a bus another 1 ½ hours to the nearest PCV, not to mention an endless line of awkward situation waiting to unravel themselves on you around every corner…yup, not sure I could handle two years of that alone.
But I would be lying if I said that serving as a married couple is a cake walk. On the contrary, it has its share of difficulties, frustrations and hard times. Married life here in Rwanda is so unlike anything we have ever known before. In Rwanda, more specifically in Banda Village, gone are the days of 810 hour work days, fighting the traffic rush home just to spend a few evening hours together, have dinner together and hear about each others day. Yes, those days are long gone, vanished, lost in a hazy memory of amazing food, restaurants, movie theaters and countless other entertaining past times. You can all identify with that. Now, it’s all us all the time, every meal together, mostly every morning, afternoon and evening together. Peace Corps life has brought on a whole new dynamic to our marriage. But, it’s only natural to cling to what is familiar when everything else is taken away, right? Who wouldn’t do the same? However, there is no doubt this 24/7 closequarters
living has brought on its own new share of frustrations. I mean let’s be honest. One can only handle so much Jarod before they are ready to spontaneously combust. There are times when Sarah flat out says, “I need a break from you for a while.” At first this was tough to hear, but I have come to understand her more over time. There is no girl time here, no girl talks, girls night out for pedicures, dinner and a movie or whatever it is that girls do on girls night out. And I clearly don’t fit that role well.
Also, the necessity to cling to what is familiar (in my case my wife) can lead to a sense of identity loss. Sometimes you feel you are slowly morphing into one blob together, your independent self and identity slowly fading away. I understand well that being married requires a giving of yourself, compromising, sharing and in some ways even meshing into one person. However, married life in a PC rural village takes this concept to a whole new level. This has been something we both have had to learn throughout our PC experience, to live with, deal with and make the best of. It’s usually a simple as one of us taking off for the morning or afternoon somewhere in the village, spending some time alone. Other times it may require man time, wielding a machete on some tree branch for me or a girl talk for Sarah. Either way, we have learned over the past 19 months (and 3 years of our marriage) to handle these issues.
Another frustration of being a married couple in PC is the exclusion that comes along with it. This one is tough to explain but there is no doubt we are in a different category as a married couple and therefore, in some ways (that we don’t necessarily love), treated differently. Whether it’s not being invited to a party or gettogether, not being included in a conversation or not being invited on a trip, the “they’re married” card definitely comes into play at times. And, I am fine with that. It’s true. We are married, happily. This has just been tough learning to deal with and accept because back in the US, we both had many friends, single or married, that we were able to frequently hang out with.
All in all, as I mentioned before, I wouldn’t trade life in PC as a married couple for anything, except maybe some boneless Asian zing wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, just kidding, but seriously. The benefits of having the love of your life with you in such a unique and special place, sharing each and every experience with you, not knowing what each new crazy Rwandan day will bring is priceless. Knowing that no matter how many eyes glaze over as I recount stories of our life in Rwanda, our experiences, our encounters, Sarah will always be able to relate and understand. We will always have our memories here, experiences, and good as well as awful days in Rwanda that we will never forget. That can never be taken away from us. And that is something special.