"The body is the harp of the soul. It is yours to bring forth from it sweet music or confused sounds" Kahlil Gibran

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Everything has its Vanquisher

The fog of culture shock has now worn off.  More and more it seems that it is more shocking for me to witness American culture in its day to day forms reaching out to me from radios and TVs that still somehow have the most recent hip-hop on them and overpriced American shampoo and deodorant that frequents a few shelves here.

I am however still caught off guard to see downright bizarre and funny products staring back at me from time to time in a land where there is no quality control or grammar correction. My favorite such product is the “Hongli Cockroaches Killer Paste” the label says that it is formulated to complex scientific principles the most important, “According to the Biological inadaptability principle, everything has its vanquisher!” One word, Epic! Science here must have come so far since I have been in the states, first the speed of light is exceeded, now it appears that instead of evolution, genetics, adaptability, we have the vanquishing power of inadaptability. After buying this exceedingly cutting edge product I brought it back to my house and attempted to vanquish the 1.75 million (*last census) cockroaches that have made their kingdom in my kitchen and occasionally send me envoys to my small bed room city state crawling on my body while I’m sleeping and causing me endless paranoia about how they morph under my mosquito net.  BEHOLD the Vanquisher! A small plastic syringe with green stuff… we are on day three and I feel like the vanquisher might be a little overwhelmed and misleading, to my dismay it says “a kind of effective method to kill cockroaches” on the side.  I think cockroaches here, some the size of small skate boards are immune to the “biological inadaptability principle”

I'm on a Boat!
This past week I was lucky enough to hang out with the US Navy on the HSV Swift. They took in a few of us volunteers and gave us the first American breakfast we have had in months (or years) for some. They were here to help train the Gambian Royal Navy.  So for the past two weeks I have spent time with some Navy folks, played some vollyball and frisbee and got to know what it would have been like to have taken a more militarized career path. Wow, Peace Corps Navy, they are both interesting and fascinating ways to see the world.  I think we have much in common as far as the sheer isolation is concerned.  We Americans are so used to having family, friends, and culture in easy access through a quick car ride, phone call, or a few clicks of the internet. Which brings me back to how it all effects you after the culture shock wears off and just you are left.    

Maybe I have been in the Gambia too long but it seems like goats are everywhere! I didn't know recruitment was down that much. Baaaaahhh means enter right?

The Death of Culture Shock and Insanity.
I am much more fascinated as of late to see how I have changed now that I am adapted. I am definitely not the same person I was when I came here. Heck I can't even tell who I was from 6 months ago.  When there is nothing around you to ground you to a sense of identity it is incredible what you discover about who you are or who you thought you were.

This is not always a good thing. I had a close friend tell me a few weeks ago, "If I had to do it over I would have punched the person who said I would be a good Peace Corps volunteer. There is no way I can recommend this experience to anyone and there is no way I would have done it over again had I had the chance. I liked the person I was before I came here. Now that I am here, I don't like the person I have become."  

Statements like this have haunted me, because though I feel very differently (ie I would absolutely do it over again), but there is a death of idealism. Across the board, every volunteer I have talked to has said the following things about their experience and how it has changed them.

Things Volunteers I know Have said about Peace Corps
  • I have become more of a realist now. I am not out to save the world.
  • I have a new view on Africa, aid funding, and development work. Usually these views are overwhelmingly that we should stop aid funding and that much development work actually is misguided through corruption and misunderstanding of need
  • I have become more conservative. SHOCKER right. Myself included we have all seen how the misuse of aid and interfering in foreign economies usually does not help the entrepreneurship of that country when they are looking to start their own businesses. Usually, the mass grab for aid funding keeps these people from learning how to do business on their own. Too often the first world is looking over the developing world like an overprotective parent doing the work for them without the child learning anything. This says nothing about political affiliation, just conservative in allocation of funds to the developed world, and the merits of business when the markets are "fair trade"
  • We usually due to days, months, and years of thinking gain new perspective on ourselves and what we want to do next in our lives
  • We are not afraid of traveling anywhere. The world once in all its fearfulness is now a playground as many of us have confidence to be the only American in a crowd of 1000's
  • Many of us pick up smoking to battle the stress of being the only American in a crowd (I have not, but I just work out all the time)

I think we have found our vanquisher. This culture and being isolated in a small box the size of Connecticut with 2 million Gambians changes our very selves. Personally I have noticed:
  • I have a much longer attention span. I read 2000 page books, and then sit down to watch movies and am disappointed when it ends after 90min feeling like it just started and that I know nothing about the characters
  • I have complex routines that slow me down including daily listening sessions to the BBC, yoga, meditation, weekly laundry that I do by hand in a wash bucket. Meticulous cleaning and picking up of things (an unheard of procedure for me in america)
  • I feel like I have the capacity to be dedicated to things. Instead of hours in America, you have to think about Gambia in terms of days and months so a challenge to imbibe no sugar for a month is not as difficult because a month is a few hours in America. This gives me the impression I am in a relativity capsule where time is flying by back home and I will come back to a Planet of the Apes or conversely technologically superior race when I return to America. They will be using their I-Phone 7 as a tivo, video game system, camera, computer, breathalyzer, flotation device, frisbee, and/or hover coaster. All of which will leave me going "how do I text? to which someone will laugh and show me the ESP device where I can communicate directly with someone's thoughts" holy crap then!!! Everyone will look at me and say "Join us" in a creepy, "we are all one" voice. Then they will plug me in to the 'Steve Jobs' Memorial Hive Mind then it will be alright though because all thoughts will cease except for what i product to buy next... for example: buying our i-Bark (virtual dog) and making him speak (play music). Petting him (calling china)...feeding him (inserting our credit cards in his mouth is the only way to feed your i-Bark as he feeds on our credit and maybe someday our souls..) Shall I regress from my apple owned distopian future. 
  • Hmmm finally ahh I might be going paranoid... maybe I should stop exposing myself to cockroach poison and DDT... I am going to end it here 

The i-Bark is coming! Be afraid

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