One of the biggest confrontations of my life was when I was in the Peace Corps in Central America.
I was placed in a tiny Mayan village that didn’t speak Spanish, and the Peace Corps didn’t bother to train me in the Mayan language spoken in that area.
In fact, the town hadn’t even requested a Peace Corps Volunteer, I later learned.
It was a privileged, high-minded volunteer from another site that put in the paperwork.
So…what ended up happening is that I was placed in a site that was not expecting me and really had no idea why I was there.
In the midst of this Peace Corps bureaucratic failure, I ended up living in a tiny hut with up to 16 family members at one point.
I was sick for five months, lost 30 pounds, and my skin turned yellow.
I asked my boss for help, but he just told me, “I don’t want people who complain. I want people who get things done.”
I pleaded with the Peace Corps staff and explained that they weren’t even following their own guidelines to place volunteers in sites that were prepared to have them there.
Still, my boss, who was native to that country and the longest-serving Peace Corps employee in that country, had a pretty sweet gig.
He was making lots of money and allegedly getting kickbacks from placing volunteers in certain sites around the country.
I roughed it out for five months at that site.
I found two people who could teach me this Mayan language, one of whom required that I take a bus three hours to meet her. I needed to take Immodium just to make the trip because of how sick I was every day.
Eventually, I got a meeting with the Big Boss Man back at Peace Corps Headquarters, which is where my fateful confrontation took place.
Now, I should back up and say that what I’m about to tell you is NOT the right way to go about a confrontation.
I was young–23 years old–and I badly wanted to stay in the Peace Corps because it had been a dream of mine for many years.
So when I got my meeting with this boss who looked like a cartoon character Big Boss in a video game, complete with exaggerated big nose and mustache, I was not thinking clearly.
The meeting with my boss started off alright, though.
We exchanged pleasantries, and he told me how smart and capable he thought I was. He told me that this is why he put me in the toughest site he had.
This is when it started to go wrong.
I again pleaded my case, something I had been doing over and over to him and other Peace Corps directors for months at this point.
I explained that, in all seriousness, only a handful of people in the town could speak Spanish. I actually was teaching THEM Spanish at this point.
I set up a Spanish class for the children and was providing classes at night. Turns out, the Spanish levels were so low, the town turned out mainly to see a goofy foreigner stand up in front of them. It was actually pretty hilarious now that I think about it.
I told him that the living situation that the Peace Corps promised had not yet materialized.
I explained that I had no way to cook for myself and that sometimes all I would get for breakfast was one egg.
I said that the money required to go to my host family for food seemed to be going towards buying very expensive hammocks.
He ignored everything I said and again encouraged me to use my brains and not complain.
This is when I said something pretty stupid:
“You know what? You would never send your daughter to this site.”
This set him off.
His face turned bright red, and he started to yell at me. He was very fond of his daughter and talked about the private schools she went to and how much she was accomplishing.
A battle ensued, which eventually culminated in me saying, “You need to give me a site change. This is NOT right. You aren’t following your own rules.”
He literally screamed at the top of his lungs:
You are NOT getting a site change!!
At this point, something broke inside of me and tears started to well up in my eyes and then stream down my cheeks.
Seeing this, his tone softened and he said, “Oh, you seem to have mental problems. You might want to talk to someone about this.”
I had nothing left in me. I didn’t even respond.
Deep down, I knew my Peace Corps dream was over and that I would be leaving early.
I quietly responded and quickly ended the meeting.
I didn’t get what I want, largely because this wasn’t a healthy confrontation by any means.