Friday Five

Five Things I Didn’t Realize Would Be So Awesome About America

Clever Wordplay
Puns. Wit. Sarcasm. Emphasis. Double entendres. Adjectives. Where have you been for the last two years? It took a few weeks for me to get all of these as the flew past my ESL teacher senses, but now that I have I find myself giggling at random moments about things I heard that are tickling my brain. Or thinking of new ones on my run. Because that’s not creepy to see someone running on the road chuckling to themselves.

Calling People Out
Especially while utilizing said clever wordplay. And realizing that not only are my verbal capabilities coming back, but they’re able to correct another person’s. Unless I totally misread the situation and end up falling on my face, ‘breaking’ my own in an attempt to do so with someone else’s. Awkward.

Getting the Whole Picture
And being able to ask questions if maybe I don’t totally have it the first go around. I eventually stopped asking many questions in Thailand because I either wouldn’t get an actual answer or there would be a lot more to the situation than what I was being told. With a little thing called ‘being surrounded by native English speakers,’ I’m almost overwhelmed by the amount of information I get on a daily basis without putting in nearly the same amount of effort as with Thai. Half-awesome, half-TMI.

Nearby Friends
To visit most of my friends in Thailand, it required the scary task of walking out the front door, getting a ride 30 km away to the nearest town, and then however many more buses and hours of Thailand required before even seeing the face of that glorious one you spent all this time to get to… and all you wanted to do was lay down afterwards. Outside of my best friend living states away, it continually amazes me to throw spur of the moment plans together with new work friends and having a crazy thing called, a social life. Sometimes, I even go out after dark.

Going Out to Eat
I guess I sort of knew this was going to be amazing, but maybe not the depth of how spectacular it is to glance, go back over, read more in-depth the pages and pages of menu options waiting to be devoured. Seriously, everything I eat bursts onto my tongue with flavors I long missed in Thailand. Especially fruit and veggies with seasoning. Granny Smith apples and strawberries never have tasted so good.

Transitions.

Sixty-Four. That’s how many days I’ve been back in the US of A. It feels like 2013 has been such a whirlwind of a year so far and it’s only just starting to slow down, bit by bit. It’s so weird to think how much time I spent counting down my time in Peace Corps, but when it came to actually packing and saying goodbye to my people, it seemed like the rug was pulled out from under me.

Before I left Thailand, life was jam-packed with goodbye dinners and activities (like lots and lots of shopping). After getting over a moderate amount of jet lag (it was the opposite of the last time I came back from Asia when all I did was sleep, I had trouble staying asleep for more than a few hours at a time), playing tourist with my family and eating, eating, and more eating crammed my days. Ten pounds worth. When I was in the airport in Bangkok, I didn’t want to leave, leaping into the unknown of America. Looking over the past two months though, I feel mostly an intense joy/happiness to be in the world, to be where I am, with the people I’m with and as most Peace Corps Volunteers can tell you, that’s kind of a rare feeling in your service.

Not that it’s all bad. I keep telling people when they ask about being a PCV, I’m glad I did it, but I’m glad I’m done. I’m proud to be in this small group of people known as RPCVs and grateful for meeting and making my Thai friends. But damn, life is freaking amazing here. All food tastes better. Flowers seem brighter. Hot showers any time of the day! (I cannot possibly over-exaggerate how incredibly happy this fact still makes me) Seeing the occasional motorcycle go by makes me giggle. So many clothes options to try on and outfit myself with. Real grocery stores with aisle upon aisle of so many different kinds of foods! That one was a real mindblower. And that shadow on the floor isn’t a mouse, scorpion, or cockroach… it’s a piece of fuzz!

The best and worst thing about coming back to the US is working. Ready to relieve the pressure of an entire village watching my every move and judging me for it, I decided to apply at a restaurant near my house for a server position as a low-key part-time job. Much to my surprise, I was  actually hired a lot faster than I anticipated and started before my brother’s one month home leave was done. I truly like most of the people I work with and enjoy the variety that comes with each day of serving. It’s forcing me to get out and interact with people and making me see ways I’ve changed that I never realized. Thailand really taught me the value of IRBing (how do you like that old school vocab?) and showing some heart juice worthy kindness to people.

There are two main things I do not like about being back in the American workforce. One is the amount of time you have to devote to making money. I would get pissed when teachers blew off school to sit around and chat or do ‘important paperwork,’ but  a lot of ‘work time’ didn’t actually feel like work after two years in the system. Now it’s mostly work and a few flashes of play. I’m not driving myself to the brink of craziness like I was doing to myself before Peace Corps with 12 hour work days, but this five-day a week with mostly nonstop working stuff is getting tiring. Doesn’t anyone want to stop for a kanome break? Where are the tea shops on motorcycles? Between work and working out (see runner life), I’m having trouble keeping up with this blog and enjoying things outside of work. Like having a social life. Compared to life in PC, I feel like I have almost no time in my day to sit around, stare at ceilings, think for hours at a time, start insane craft projects, and read a book in a day. It got incredibly lonely at times, but I miss the large amounts of me-time I was afforded on a daily basis.

The other thing is being confronted, sometimes on a daily basis, with the bad parts about America and its people. Why don’t we smile more? How can we waste so much obscenely delicious food? (It would make so many PCVs so very, very happy to even take leftovers). Why aren’t we kinder to people? Why do we get mad at people/things that had nothing to do with the reason we’re mad? And most importantly, why don’t we tip better? : )

I suppose that’s the biggest transition of coming back to the US, learning how to deal with it as a real place with good and bad parts. During PC service, there were sometimes only a glimmer of good times and we would use America as this mirage and chant the mantra of x more months, x more months. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is pretty grand during this transitionary time.

Tuesday Travel Photo

Chattahoochee river walk… that’s a mouthful. With the recent cold snap moving through Pittsburgh and big brother taking a new ladyfriend out there, my travel toes wouldn’t mind dipping in for a stroll along this beautiful Columbus, Georgia river walk.

P.S. TIckets have been bought for one of my American Friday Five places! Travel bug is getting its groove on.

Friday Five

Five Things I Learned in Peace Corps– And it’s more and more evident the more time I spend in the US in my post-PC life.

Being a Minority
Being a tall, white women doesn’t quite put me in the majority in the US, but it’s not like you’re putting a round peg in a square hole. In Asia, this round peg would never fit in. I never truly considered how difficult life can be to not be a part of the accepted image or norm of a society’s makeup. And it’s not like Thais were ever really that mean to me about it! When I think about the civil rights movement of the 1950s, the open hostility some still display for those not of the pre-accepted standard of what we should look like and how we live our lives, I feel like I’ve taken a bite from the knowledge and empathy tree and relate a whole hell of a lot better with them. And realize we are them just as they are us. Even if someone is a different skin color, sexual orientation, or intelligence level, we are all people and deserve the love and respect of one another.

Lucky
Seriously though. I know people joke about ‘first world problems’ and every person  deserves to feel what they want about their issues, but the times I would think about how incredibly lucky I was for being an American and having all these rights and hopes and possibilities for my life… I can’t even count. We have life in our bodies. A plethora of obscenely delicious foods to consume. And even, hot showers. I think we, as a country and a generation, need to put things in perspective a little bit and realize, we have it pretty fucking awesome. And that’s enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.

Life Is Really Unfair
This is one of those ‘real world’ lessons that our Moms always tell us, but you don’t fully realize until your most hardworking student still doesn’t do as well as her peers despite all her effort and desire to learn. Not to mention the five brothers and sisters she’s helping raise, get to school, and manage allowances for all of them. The most she expects from her life is to be the wife of a rice farmer. And then I think of all the people who don’t take advantage of all the advantages we have or abuse the system we have in place to give a hand up to those in need… the inequality of the situation is like a slap in the face. And never has that stung so much as it does after seeing it with my own two eyes.

Get Over It
We, as Americans, get really worked up about things. Road rage, cursing out Mother Nature (true story, someone went on a rampage the other day at work), bugs in your life, someone leaving the coffee filter full instead of dumping it out… these are not things that should not produce a very large reaction in someone. At least it didn’t in Thailand. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, all problems, big and small, will eventually work themselves out. I don’t know if it was the ridiculously relaxed atmosphere in Thailand or if it comes from seeing all kinds of Peace Corps projects/ideas being a complete and utter failure, but I’m finding it’s really unnecessary to get stressed out over things that will eventually be fine. So the next time you feel a wave of worry or stress or anything in that family, take a breath, realize you’re doing pretty great considering the circumstances, and take a leaf out of the Thai book and have a beer. Even if it is nine o’clock in the morning.

America Isn’t Perfect
In the dark, lonely ‘I’ve been cooped up by myself in the village for too long’ days, memories of America and the possibility of spending time there again in the future were like a shimmering mirage of paradise. I mean, do I need to write another paragraph of how great life is for us? But if living in another culture teaches you one thing above all others (outside of a renewed appreciation for your home) is that there is a different way to do things. Some things are better, some things are worse. And while this RPCV feels an immense joy every single day spent in the US of A, there is a lot of ugliness in this magnificent place. Maybe it’s changed or maybe it’s my eyes that have been forced opened after an experience like Peace Corps. I tend to lean towards the latter. Still, I love you America, for better or worse.