Tuesday, November 2, 2010


All last week I intended to blog- so much has happened! But as soon as one event finished, another followed so fast that it clotheslined me as I raced to finish yet another thing. However, after this past weekend, I am eternally grateful for my busy life. While I had a hefty to-do list, Saturday and Sunday were far too devoid of any structure or activity; so much so that I ended up psyching myself out and losing hours of sleep as my thoughts banged around my head like a dog chasing its tail until the early morning. Sadly when you live in a country where there are precious few reasons to leave the house, you do go a little crazy with nothing to do and no Starbucks to welcome you into its fragrant bosom during the dull hours. In summary, the roller coaster that is life in the Peace Corps was so apparent in the last few days that I just had to write about it.

A perfect little example that sums it all up was my glory and victory this morning when I realized that my herb seedlings has sprouted! Throwing my hands in the air with glee, I lovingly examined the tiny sprouts, complete with tender green tips and tall, proud stalks. I was terrified that my efforts at windowsill gardening would be a massive failure. I longed for beautiful, healthy plants to nurture and to give me a lush, tasty oasis in a world of brown and gray. But here was evidence of my success. I wasn't barren after all! All the careful watering and planting had paid off. Gleefully I grabbed my bag and headed out the door. And then I saw it. The soil that I hadn't used to plant anything was also sprouting little seedlings. Damnit! Apparently the cow poo that I'd gingerly gathered to throw into my home-brewed soil mix was a much better gardener than I. Not only did the basil not blossom, but the shit was thriving. Excellent. My hopes had soared, only to get a steaming bovine dump dropped on them. But now I've leveled. I've resolved to give the herbs a little while longer to show me they think life is worth living. I will continue to water and watch vigilantly in hopes of fresh thyme and cilantro. But if not, I will retire the idea that I might have a green thumb waiting to blossom and accept the fact that you can't grow shit in the tough soil with only a handful of hours of sunlight. Or maybe you can only grow shit...I know something as small as seeds seem trivial but here is the rub: life in Mongolia is concentrated. There is very little to do, so in consequence things grow in perspective to your otherwise humdrum life. A tiny seed becomes monumental when it is your only hope for mint all year.

First on my recent roller coaster there was the lift up- I got a job! I know it's definitely jumping the gun to get a job for a year from now but I received an e-mail from a former Mongolia PCV who said the organization I was interested in working was actively looking for employees. So after much resume editing (thanks, Mom and Dad!) I sent in my inquiry for employment and was greeted with a thrilled response. On Saturday night I had the official interview with the Director and he seemed super enthused to have me on board. Horray! Pending my sustained interest, I have been hired as a Leadership Resident at the Harpswell Foundation in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Harpswell Foundation is a pretty sweet group. Dedicated to foster positive female leadership, the Harpswell Foundation has two dorms in which they house poor young women from the countryside who show academic aptitude and promising leadership qualities. My job will be both a mentor in informal settings and a formal teacher for English, critical thinking and current events classes. This is a particularly exhilarating turn of events, as it is the first step in my rather harebrained scheme to travel the world stopping occasionally to work. Pending funding, I would like to stop in Cambodia, India and Ireland to work with NGO/non-profit organizations for up to six months and travel in between jobs. It is something I've had a mind to do for a while and I am thrilled that the journey is looking like a possibility after procuring employment in Cambodia. This future sojourn seems like a really great way to get international work experience and see the world. I have a site mate about whom people whisper 'that man has lived life- he's seen the world.' And in dedicating my next few years to travel and work abroad with a variety of organizations, I hope to be living life as aggressively and hands on as he has. I want to really LIVE as Maude told Harold to do in the cult classic.

But then my roller coaster plummeted. After getting what I wanted, I began to have second thoughts. Did I really want to sign up for more years of thumbing through my friends Facebook party photos, glumly and acutely aware of what I was missing? Was I resigned to not have a normal early twenties experience, complete with a dingy Brooklyn apartment and a rock-and-roll lifestyle on the cheap? Could I miss that? Sitting alone in my apartment, somehow my thoughts went from exhilarated to terrified as all the choices that I could make loomed towards me ominous and heavy. In that moment I felt so heavily that that with freedom comes the ultimate prison- you must chose your own path, the hardest thing when all roads lie clear. I also realized something rather unsettling about myself: I am afraid of mediocracy. That is a common fear among people of my generation, I think. Many friends of mine have expressed the same wariness. Knowing that, I let my mind wander back in time. Did every young person with their life in front of them quail in terror at the idea of a normal life? I wondered: did Joan of Arc, at the ripe childbearing age of 16, secretly freak out at the idea of being a provincial wife and mother? You have to admit, claiming to hear the voice of God and leading an army is a great way to avoid average. But seeing as she beat the rest of us to the punch, what could I do that is truly exceptional?

Finally, with my thoughts spiraling around the empty apartment, I pulled up my big girl panties and went to hang out with some friends. We congregated at my site mate Ned's house and that's when I hit the jackpot. Aimlessly flipping through his movies I discovered the entire 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' series on DVD. Apparently Ned has some hook-ups in the Hollywood set and his friend sent him the final movie which was not even released when the package was mailed- in addition to the first two. So late Saturday night and Sunday I indulged in the story I love so much. Allowing myself to become seduced by the lifestyles and cafes of Sweden, I spent hours in Europe last weekend. Even as I strolled around the market later, visions of ancient streets leading to sweeping views and Westerners sipping cappuccinos nestled into their scarves flashed in front of my eyes. The story of the Millennium Trilogy is rather addicting. Filled with intrigue, excitement and plenty of badass-ness, the tale of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist is one of the most page-turning adventures I've read and translates well to screen. The simultaneous familiarity and exoticism of the European setting and characters like old friends were a comfort food for me. The hard part came when the screen faded to black and I looked out my window to gaze upon trash bag tumbleweeds over broken glass and dogs fighting next to drunks. I understood with a pang that I was worlds away from the Millennium headquarters.

My final and most recent rise and plummet included my students. On Friday night we had such an amazing Halloween party! With over 40 people in attendance, the kids enjoyed bobbing for apples, a doughnut-on-a-string eating race, arts and crafts, musical chairs and pin the witch on the broom. My best students out did themselves with crazy makeup and costumes. We had a great time taking pictures and just being goofy. I feel incredibly close to the students in my older class- after a year and a half of classes that last 90 minutes and meet three days a week we are really tight. But yesterday something really gave me pause and reflect on how well I really know my students. Talking about our current unit on advertising, the subject of China was came up. All of a sudden my dear, sweet students turned into close-minded hate mongers. The amount that they detest the entire Chinese nation and everyone in it took me by surprise. I tried to reason with them but they insisted that hate for China runs in their blood. They tried to convince me that without exception that all Chinese were vampires and terrible people. They used the word 'dirty.' For me as a teacher this was the ultimate defeat. Last year I assigned them projects on figures such as Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Martian Luther King Jr. and we  have talked ad nauseam about civil rights and the like. And they are such good kids; bright and kind in so many ways. But yesterday they continued expounding on their hate, despite my devil's advocate questions, until it became too much. I realized with horror that they were racist and totally comfortable with it. They went to great lengths to justify their blind hatred with wrongs done to people unknown and battles fought centuries ago. With a sharp intake of breath, it dawned on me that I had just made a birthday cake for a racist. Class time was up anyway so I ended the discussion abruptly. It was exhausting and tragic, sad and draining. I had tried to tell them that hate would only hurt them, that others would think them ignorant, that you can't judge an entire people based on a few bad ones, but nothing would stop their lust for Chinese blood. They had turned into monsters of the worst sort before my very eyes and nothing would reverse the wretched transition. It weighed heavy on me all night and returned to me in the morning. Nothing I could say could save these children- the ones I love the most here in Hovd- from themselves and the sheer hate that has been infused into their blood. They have doomed themselves

With every up and down that holds me in its grips here in Mongolia, I have to make adjustments. I make concessions about everything from how I view my students to the way I see myself. I desperately hope that one day my life will level out but I know that's probably not in the cards. So in order to cope for the time being and in the spirit of Halloween I feel that I have helpful ghosts. Not the spooky kind, but the kind that will pop up to meet me unexpectedly. I am lucky to be able to consider the strong spirits of Maude, Joan and Lisabeth as model women. I can look to them for inspirational doses of fearless badass or eternal optimism. When life is tough I think of Maude's loving vivacity or when I catch shots and hollers from the teenage boys I channel Lisbeth's steely resolve. Perhaps it's living too much in the imagination but it seems to work for now. I know these bouts of whiplash will be a constant thought my time in Mongolia. I also know that the best I can do is preach only love, water the plants and pray to the ladies.

1 comment:

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