My Peace Corps Service, A Soundtrack

No, I didn’t forget about this blog. It’s not that I stopped having things to share about my experience but more like low morale didn’t really inspire me to write.  But alas, dear readers, after much reflecting and an ending sight, I’m back! And I’m here to drop this new hot fire that is my service soundtrack. I imagine most PCVs or RPCVs would be easily able to put together songs that remind them of different aspects of their service. Well, being one of those said PCVs/RPCVs, I thought about all the good, the bad, the ugly, and the funny and I’ve carefully curated these last two years into 13 songs for you to enjoy (or not) and have a better understanding of all the feels I’ve felt over the course of this experience.

SON OF MAN – PHIL COLLINS

As a society, I really think we need to do a better job at recognizing the greatness that Phil Collins brought to the Tarzan Soundtrack. And I’ll begin that effort by putting Son of Man first on the list. This song really captures the essence of the PC experience. The song basically describes Tarzan’s journey from little baby Tarzan to grown (and kinda sexy) man Tarzan. In the beginning he is socially awkward, not culturally fluent, he’s not comfortable in his own skin and he has to work extremely hard at integrating/learning in order to finally find his place and feel some sense of competency. I love it, its perfect.

Lyric Snapshot: Oh, the power to be strong / And the wisdom to be wise / All these things will come to you in time / On this journey that you’re making / There’ll be answers that you’ll seek / And it’s you who’ll climb the mountain / It’s you who’ll reach the peak 

 

SMOOTH – SANTANA FT. ROB THOMAS

Maybe it’s the opening lyric or maybe it’s the music video itself but for whatever reason, this song has always made me think of the hottest of summer days when the sun is at it’s zenith and all you can do is lay in a pool of your own sweat. Just listening to the song makes me want to sit naked in front of a fan. And despite all the not so great feelings I have for my site, this song definitely reminds me of it. Living in my town is like living on the surface of the sun – it’s extremely hot and very lively just like this Santana throwback.

Lyric Snapshot: Man, it’s a hot one / Like seven inches from the midday sun / Well, I hear you whisper and the words melt everyone / But you stay so cool

 

SITTIN ON THE DOCK OF THE BAY – OTIS REDDING

There are two kinds of boredom in Peace Corps – the kind that makes you want to scratch your own eyeballs out and the pleasant, zen-like, “I don’t have a care in the world” kind. You’ll have your share of both but this Otis Redding classic reminds me of the latter. There are some days where the boredom is so relaxing, it’s freeing – simply sitting for hours content with just letting the hours float away.

Lyric Snapshot: Sittin’ in the morning sun / I’ll be sittin’ when the evening comes / Watching the ships roll in / Then I watch them roll away again, yeah / I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay/ Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh / I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay /Wastin’ time

 

YOUNG, WILD, & FREE – WIZ KHALIFA FT. SNOOP DOGG & BRUNO MARS

This one is kind of self explanatory but this experience has such unique ways of reminding you how lucky you were to be free and uninhibited enough to move across the world for two years. There are so many light-hearted, carefree moments you share with other PCVs and I think this song’s fun and playful beat really captures that feeling.

Lyrics Snapshot: We’re just having fun / We don’t care who sees / So what we go out / That’s how it’s supposed to be / Living young and wild and free

 

ROLL OUT (MY BUSINESS) – LUDACRIS

Shout out to all the people who had amazing experiences with their host families – to make a long story short, I was not one of those volunteers and I moved out as soon as I could. I could use a lot of adjectives to describe my ex-host family but the word “nosey” is one of the ones that I think of most frequently. They asked me for and about EVERYTHING.  “I saw you bought something today, what was it?” “I  saw you at the post office. What were you doing there?” “When are you parents sending you another care package?” “Do you have cash on you? Can I borrow 50 soles?” “I heard you on the phone but you were speaking English. What were you talking about? Who were you talking to?”

Lyrics Snapshot: Get out my business, my biznass / Stay the f*ck up out my biznass / ‘Cause these n*ggas all up in my shit and it’s my business, my biznass / Stay the f*ck up out my biznass, ’cause it’s mine, oh mine

 

PRÉNDEME LA VELA – ABELARDO VASQUEZ & CUMANANA

It’s no secret that I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE Afro-Peruvian culture – its fun and festive and celebratory just like the song I picked. I think it’s so cool that I’ve had the opportunity to learn about an African diasporic community that many in the States don’t even know exist. This song reminds me of the times I’ve visited El Carmen, Chincha which is the heart of Afro-Peruvian culture, music, and dance. This particular song (Light the Candle in English) is referring to a traditional Afro-Peruvian dance called El Alcatraz that is meant to represent the fire and flirtation between two young people courting. I’ve linked a video of the dance so you can see it (it includes fire, you should really check it out!)

Lyrics Snapshot: Negrito ven, prendeme la vela / Negrita ven, prendeme la vela / pa’ quemar esa negra / pa’ quemar quemarle el alcatraz

 

LAMENTO SERTANEJO – GILBERTO GIL

You’ve probably never heard of the Portuguese word ‘saudade’ before but you gon’ learn today. Its a powerful word that doesn’t exist in the English (or Spanish) language that is used to describe a “melancholy nostalgia” or a longing for a time/place/thing (among other things). This song is a Brazilian saudade classic that tells the story of a mass migration of Brazilians from the Northeast of the country to big cities like Rio and Sao Paulo to make a better life. In this song, the singer is desperately longing for his home and detailing all the ways that he doesn’t belong in this new place. You may not be able to know exactly what he’s saying but take one listen to the song and you’ll easily be able to hear and feel the aching homesickness in his voice.

And oh yeah, you get homesick a lot during Peace Corps.

 

HOMECOMING – KANYE WEST FT. CHRIS MARTIN

Ah, my triumphant mid-service return home. Nothing felt better than stepping off that plane and feeling like you just belong in every way. No one staring at you, you’re speaking your language, eating your favorite foods, and with the people who know you the best. It just feels so amazing.

 

NEGRA PRESUNTUOSA – SUSANA BACA

Literally meaning “Pretentious/Uppity Black Girl,” this song is by world music heavy hitter and Afro Peruvian icon, Susana Baca. I picked this song because I feel like this is how a lot of the people in my community view me. I’ve learned to keep to myself and maintain a cool, aloof exterior in order to minimize unwanted attention (mostly from men) when walking in and around town. For some people, though, I think this only contributes to their curiosity about me which can be very frustrating. This song describes a man who is desperately in love with a Black woman who is emotionally distant and is clearly trying to keep him arm’s length.

 

NO SCRUBS – TLC

And speaking of men … I don’t think anything about my life in the States could have prepared for the amount of sexual harassment and unwanted attention I receive from men here. It’s a constant everyday, multiple times a day struggle and it is one of the most frustrating aspects of my service. I’m not trying to say that I’m some great beauty but more so that sexualizing women is WAY more pervasive and WAY more openly accepted in Peruvian culture than it is in US culture. Being an “exotic” looking Black woman certainly only amplifies this problem and the amount of inappropriate advances and comments I have to rebuff is truly unreal.

…. So, no, I don’t want your number, no.
I don’t want to give you mine and, no,
I don’t want to meet you nowhere, no.
I don’t want none of your time, no.

 

LUXURIOUS – GWEN STEFANI FT. SLIM THUG

This song is exactly how I feel whenever I’m on vacation and every two seconds I’m saying “Treat Yo Self!”

Lyrics Snapshot: Working so hard every night and day / And now we get the pay back / Trying so hard saving up the paper / Now we get to lay back

 

STILL FLY – BIG TYMERS

I know this song is absolutely ridiculous but I can’t help but sing it whenever I find myself in Lima. This song is all about spending money you don’t have and not caring. And I really take #TreatYoSelf to a whole ‘nother, financially irresponsible level whenever I’m there. I’m talking margaritas, copious amounts of food, bottomless Starbucks, mani/pedis. YA GIRL MAKES IT RAIN  I’M TELLIN YOU. And in my honest but triflin opinion, there’s no point to going to Lima if you don’t come back broke.

Lyrics Snapshot: Ain’t got no job, but I stay sharp / Can’t pay my rent, cause all my money’s spent / but thats OK, cause I’m still fly

 

BITCH, DON’T KILL MY VIBE – KENDRICK LAMAR

If year two of service had an anthem, it would definitely be this song. After I came back from the States, for a bunch of reasons, I just didn’t have the energy to deal with certain things and other volunteers. During my first year of service, I had never been one to frequent volunteer gatherings but occasionally, I would make an effort. The Peace Corps volunteer culture generally does not cater to introverts and there can be a lot of peer pressure to just hang out with everyone. Not that the volunteers closest to me (geographically) aren’t nice people but, to be real, I enjoyed my own company more and I was tired of pretending like “hanging out” was something I actually enjoyed in order to preserve their feelings. I just stopped caring and letting other folks kill my vibe and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my service and I don’t regret it for a second.

Lyrics Snapshot: Sometimes I need to be alone / Bitch, don’t kill my vibe

 

THE WAY I AM – EMINEM

I know I’ve said on this blog a million times that you will have the lowest of lows in Peace Corps. Sometimes it takes all your strength not to quit and go home. I know when I’m having one of those days, the thing that pushes me over the edge and has me seeing red is the staring. I know I look very different from the thousands of other people in my town and that I’m the first Black person most have ever seen in person, but I’ve never been able to fully get used to it. Its just that when you’re trying to make a place your home for two years, nothing reminds you that you don’t belong there like people gawking at you multiple times a day, everyday like you’re in a freak show. I mean, I can’t even sit in the main plaza in the evenings because people (grown folks and children alike) will just gather around me and stare. Quite simply put, I really loathe and resent that aspect of my service, not gonna lie. Now, I know those are strong words but they describe my sentiments pretty accurately. Some days I can bury those feelings but other days, when something has already set me off, it seriously enrages me. And this is where I really empathize with Eminem on his song The Way I Am. He expresses gratitude for his career and at the same time expresses a profound resentment and anger towards his complete loss of anonymity and the constant attention he receives from strangers.

Lyrics Snapshot: So they always keep asking the same f*cking questions / What school did I go to, what hood I grew up in / The why, the who what when, the where, and the how / ‘Til I’m grabbing my hair and I’m tearing it out / ‘Cause they driving me crazy / I can’t take it I’m racing, I’m pacing, I stand and I sit / And I’m thankful for every fan that I get / But I can’t take a shit in the bathroom / Without someone standing by it / No, I won’t sign your autograph / You can call me an asshole I’m glad / Cause I am, whatever you say I am

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. lacalaw2 says:

    I was going to scroll through and read the song titles, but once I saw how well thought out this was, I quickly scrolled to the top to read it thoroughly. I’m glad I did. Thanks for sharing. My favorite from your selections is Negra Presuntuosa!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. bdwhite says:

      Thanks for reading! And I just love Susana Baca so much and that live performance of of Negra Presuntuosa give me life lol

      Liked by 1 person

  2. i absolutely loved this for numerous reasons. the reasoning behind the songs the rawness yes girl ! .. dont be surprised if i hit you in a year or so asking to steal and credit your idea. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. bdwhite says:

      Steal away! I’m really glad you enjoyed it!

      Like

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