When You’re Strange
No one remembers your name, when you’re strange. Or so thought Jim Morrisson. It’s partially true. No one around here remembers my name very well, but I think it’s because Aaron is a particularly difficult name for a lot of folks. What really matters, though, is that people know I’m not from here, and that they are quite weary of any foreigners, generally. While there are many people here who are genuinely hospitable and welcoming (see Momma Rima), the majority of folks still are skeptical or suspicious about who I am and why I’m here. I imagine it’s the same for the majority of volunteers who are in CIS countries. It’s tough to break the culture of Soviet suspicion.
This is one of the main reasons that being a PCV in Azerbaijan is difficult. When everyone around you is thinking you may be a spy or that you’re strange, you are not easily accepted into the community. It’s difficult to really feel like a part of the lives of people around you. Instead, living here can feel very isolating. Which is why this research about happiness is so important:
But once you’ve reached a level of prosperity such as that in the developed world, income starts to pay diminishing returns. For instance, in Ireland, according to Gallup, 97.5% of people report having a network of friends they can count on; in France, this number is a bit lower, at 93.9%. The difference that living in a country with an Irish level of having friends makes in happiness, though, as calculated by Helliwell and Barrington-Leigh, is equivalent to roughly a 20% boost in income. Similarly, they’ve found by looking at data from the Canadian General Social Survey, feeling like one “belongs” to one’s community, province, or country can have a much bigger impact on happiness than variations in one’s income.
I can’t speak for PCVs in other countries, but I imagine that those who are in communities where they are not really accepted are particularly affected. And we certainly don’t have the income to supplement our isolation.