31 October 2007

time is relative, or did you misread einstein?

For those familiar with the cultural adjustment curve, we're rapidly sliding out of the honeymoon stage.  Waiting for the internet the other day, someone expressed it best: "We're tired of always having to be 'on.'"   After training is over, we fend off the armies of children on the walk home only to have to continue entertaining our families with our language practice and other silly firenji behavior.   Being constantly amusing was fun in there for a while, but it gets tiring and dehumanizing - I understand the lives of zoo monkeys now.  My mother brought a neighbor over to stand in the doorway and laugh as I chopped an onion the other day, and no less than two other neighbors came over to watch me make my water (an elaborate chemical treatment/filtering process).   I don't speak much Amharic or Oromiffa yet, but I get enough to realize when I'm being talked about. 


Craving solitude isn't normal here, so there's no chance to simply sit and write a letter or read a book without a small child climbing on you or your family urging you to talk.  It's a fishbowl life in the most ridiculous sense of the word.  Couple that with food that is charitably described as interesting and the gastrointestinal difficulties that often follow (I've been spared thus far...knock on wood!), and it's a constant battle to stay on the bright side.   We've described it as a bipolar life - one minute you're feeling good, excited to be here, and then one little moment or person ruins your day and puts you in a funk.   Fortunately, we're all going through the same thing, so everyone's incredibly supportive and willing to listen to you vent or simply hug you, since, chances are, they'll be in the same place in a few days while you're on a high.  


Everyone says training is the hardest part of the Peace Corps, and they're absolutely right.  This (relatively) short time period with a finite end in sight feels transitional, so you tell yourself you'll be living independently, cooking your own food and living on your own schedule soon, but then you realize that's still almost two months away.   Then, you realize that independence also means being alone without the friends we've come to rely on for a break from the zoo animal life.  It's hard to believe we've all only known each other for a month - I suppose daily discussions of bowel movements help us bond quicker than is usually possible in the free world. 


But moving away from things that are less-than-cheerful (since I don't journal, this is my way of constructively venting), we're finding other ways to cope with cultural adjustment.   An informal recreation committee organized a massive game of ultimate Frisbee on Saturday afternoon, and although the firenji parade to the stadium attracted fewer followers than we'd expected, those who did find us were thoroughly amused.   Nan, one of our senior volunteers, taught some kids how to throw a frisbee while the rest of us played.  Living this high up is rough - we were all dying after the first game, so we switched to a three team rotation for a while, followed by one final, full-field sudden death match.   My team dominated, but I wasn't much help since my Frisbee skills are virtually nil.  I'm improving though - I even caught a few short passes.   I tried to explain the game to my host mother as American football with a plate, but she didn't seem to get it.  It was one of those David Sedaris-Easter-in-French-class moments.   Sadly, it seems none of us brought a football, so touch/flag games are out.  We're entertaining discussions of volleyball and dodgeball for future games.  


There's ice cream at the Nagash Lodge.  It's no Ben and Jerry's, and it's only available on weekends (which, apparently, do not include Friday nights), but it's ice cream nonetheless.   It's not great now, but ask me in a few months and I bet it'll be delicious.  There's also a pair of giant turkeys roaming the grounds of the lodge.   Not entirely sure where they came from, but with Thanksgiving fast approaching, we're discussing kidnapping them for a feast. 


Speaking of fat Americanism, I can now join the club of other volunteers who have had their families call them fat (usually only a few minutes removed from a conversation about how we don't eat enough).   While looking at my pictures from home, my mom and her sister laughed and pointed out how fat I was.  Seems the vast majority of us have had similar experiences.   Coming from a culture that teaches women to worry constantly about their body size and base a good deal of their self-worth on their physical appearance, it's been hard for all of us to deal with.   None of us are particularly large by American standards.  We told our language teacher that that was possibly one of the rudest things you could say to someone in the states, and she laughed and explained that it's a compliment here.   Not to capitalize on stereotypes or anything, but being "fat" means you're rich enough to eat regularly and hence are probably pretty healthy.   Thanks to many meals of watery oatmeal, however, I'm losing weight.  I don't care if fat is good here, I'm still an American conditioned against jellyrolls.  


Sharon, our beloved 66-year-old volunteer and surrogate grandma, was telling us about two of the young volunteers from her Lesotho group who ended up getting married after their service ended.   She's a big fan of PC weddings.  In her words, "I know you all are young and energetic and have needs.  It's important that you stay safe and get them from each other instead of taking risks."   We all almost died laughing.  I love Sharon.


Since we're not getting less interesting to the begging, screaming children, we're conspiring to find ways of amusing ourselves when they attack.  When they shout firenji, we respond with "habesha," which is the Amharic word for Ethiopian.   The kids aren't fazed, but their parents always laugh hysterically.  My friend Levi (a former college defensive lineman, to put this in perspective) likes to jump at them to scare them away.   He's the only one big enough to do it effectively, but it's amusing to watch for the rest of us.  It's a small victory, but at least most of them have stopped trying to touch us and are now satisfied with a friendly wave.  


I'd love a polling data update on the Presidential primary races.  (PS. Thanks Claire for the package - the Obama stickers were a big hit!).  If someone could post some recent numbers, I (and several others) would be eternally grateful.  College football updates are also welcome.  Letters too!



-How We Are Hungry , Dave Eggers (little bro, that's your cue to start mailing your sister her books!)

-Powdered Gatorade mix

-Small football (deflated!)

-Blank CDs

-Cheddar goldfish crackers

-Peanut butter anything (reese's PB cups!)


-Kraft mac and cheese

-Ramen noodles (oriental flavor)



Anonymous said...

Hey Jess, getting your blog updates. Hang in there, stay safe and healthy, love ya.
old man

Claire said...

Top 10 in College Football:
1. Ohio State 9-0 (plays Wisconsin on Sat)
2. Boston College 8-0 (oh ACC, how you are not very good at football; playing everyone's favorite punching bag, FSU, this weekend)
3. LSU (3) 7-1 (plays Alabama on Saturday)
4. Oregon 7-1 (playing Arizona State this weekend)
5. Oklahoma 7-1
6. Arizona State 8-0
7. West Virginia 7-1
8. Kansas 8-0
9. Missouri 7-1
10. Georgia 6-2

You;ll notice that UF is no longer in the top 10. That would be (most recently) thanks to Georgia, who beat us 42-30 last week. We're still top 20, but it is not pretty at 5-3.

Political update:
Hillary (45%)was still polling well ahead of Obama (22%) and Edwards (13%) nationally, Democratic debate last night, nothing will probably change. Iowa has moved up its caucus to Dec. 3. Obama has had serious criticism recently over having a "ex-gay" gospel singer sing and speak at campaign events in SC.
On the Republican side, Giuliani still polling ahead -- 29% for Giuliani, 17& for Thompson, 14.5% for McCain and 11% for Romney --(and beating Clinton slightly in a head to head matchup nationally) but Christian right is NOT pleased.

In interesting news, Stephen Colbert is running for president in South Carolina. Seriously. Just in SC, but he is actually filing papers to be a Democratic candidate tonight/tomorrow. Media is confused over how to treat this. Some reports have him polling in double digets nationwide.

Happy Halloween! I love reading your updates.

Claire said...

Sorry, Iowa caucus is January 3, not December 3. My bad.

Stay safe!