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Post-Peace Corps Changes

The title of this post is erroneous – life at any moment cannot snuggly fit under a single category and time cannot be divided into pre- and post- eras. I may suffer from a severe case of the Lykke Li “Everybody but Me’s”, but attributing changes to Peace Corps has always fallen flat for me. It’s been a convergence of being in my first job post-college, East Java, living under my host Mom’s roof and being in my early 20’s. Very much like my personal identity paradigm shift that took me from the very rigid and very French 50/50 split “a moitie Congolaise et a moitie Americaine” to a more self-confident and flexible space afforded by English where each of my molecules were 100% American and 100% Congolese and then some. There has been a unique mélange of circumstances, influences and intentions these past two years, which have certainly resulted in new ways of thinking and reacting. Here they are, sans gif’s.

1. I want to pay full price for things.

While USD120/month certainly goes a long way in East Java, I did try to make my purchases count. In college, I remembering discovering Trader Joes and bringing bags and bags of fruit and vegetables home, the byproduct of loving low prices and shopping while hungry. I allowed my CVS card to determine what I might stock up on that week. Hell, I went in on that free pizza and soda at whatever college group meeting was happening that night. Now, I’d rather save up for something that I really want and know that I want it based on my willingness to pay the full price. Focusing on finding dealsondealsondeals seems to take the focus away from being more involved in understanding supply chains. I’d rather have less that I can love more because I understand it. I’m hesitant to opt into programs, to get on email lists that will get me 50% off of something I don’t really need.

2. I consider my family first.

My only thought the last few months of Peace Corps was, “I need to get to my sisters, I need to get to Chicago.” I’ve always taken for granted how empowering it feels to be part of my family; we’re all expected to follow our own paths, regardless of the distance that may be physical, philosophical, or emotional. That’s a critical way of how we function and the beauty of having a mother like mine is that your achievement is measured based on how good you are to others. But there’s been a budding thought in me to consider my family members first. That is scary and in all honesty, wasn’t supposed to happen. Families are arbitrary. To pick out 3 people out of a lineup of millions and say, “These ones, they’re most important” is ludicrous. But there’s so much meaning there, I don’t want to miss out on it.

3. I’m interested in self-curating.

I badly wanted to be a Peace Corps volunteer and be wherever, whoever the invisible forces pointed me towards. By the end of my first semester of teaching, I wanted to wear all black every day and put my hair back in a hard ponytail – everything to hollow out the space I might be occupying in order to give my students more room to grow. Today, I find myself saying no to any decision that doesn’t fit me perfectly and isn’t firmly built on a tower of logic and aesthetic. I want to have read certain books, to be learned and poised in the clothes that I walk around in. I wasted more time, ran my head through many walls by not putting up strong limits of who I am and what my capabilities are.

4. I’m much more ready to listen, there’s no saying ‘no’ to anyone – that’s a ridiculous choice.

I just read this great excerpt from Milan Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting about a character he creates, Tamina:

“Almost always there is someone sitting on a barstool, trying to talk to her. Everyone likes Tamina. Because she knows how to listen to people. But is she really listening? Or is she merely looking at them so attentively, so silently? I don’t know, and it’s not very important. What matters is that she doesn’t interrupt anyone. You know what happens when two people talk. One of them speaks and the other breaks in: “It’s absolutely the same with me, I …” and starts talking about himself until the first one manages to slip back in with his own “It’s absolutely the same with me, I …” – The Book of Forgetting and Laughter, p. 110

I am no Tamina, but the way I experience most conversations is similarly devoid of personal need. I enjoy listening, and yearn to make something happen with anyone willing to give me some time. Indonesians are (apologies for the generalization) incredibly easygoing and open. Conversations with strangers could be un soulagement, rather than something to get worked up over. It isn’t that people cannot connect to my work in Indonesia or my context the past two years, I just don’t want to offer it up for workshop-ing.

5. I have little patience for talk, for finding creative solutions to spur social change.

I worry about this one. I put on MSNBC or CNN in the morning, I glance at various news sources, I take long walks in (probably not Chicago enough) parts of Chicago, I try to make friends. But I don’t see opportunities, I don’t feel urgency. The rage I feel has softened in parts into deep sadness and in other parts has been frozen until I am able to act on it. I can’t live in conversations that don’t end with action steps, though conversation is where things start. There’s a lot of wasted breath in our history, too much information shared to not be horrified that our global society looks as it does. I see this now as fact and the working context that I will be working in for the rest of my life. Somehow, I’ve lost the fight that I used to have about being for or against, even aware or unaware, of social justice issues. There’s nothing glorious about that stage, though there is a lot of movement and emotion. There’s little controversy left in me and more personal considerations and I’m not sure whether that calm is what it should be, or whether it is taking me to a docility that will only be compounded year to year.

 

There’s my list for now, I think many friends are experiencing their own sets of ideological adjustments with age. I’d be more than interested to hear them.

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