September 24, 2003
PEACE CORPS PATIENCE
So now is the time to practice "Peace Corps Patience," to throw myself to the wind of an altruistic ideal, the pursuit of which, should be my primary beacon through the application process. It is the time to relinquish any attachment to the destination of my heart's desire and give in to the vagaries of a possible sudden change in destination or departure date originally set at nomination. At this stage, I am waiting to be medically and legally cleared, but most of all, I am waiting for that precious call from my placement officer to lift me from under the weight of uncertainty and offer my assigned country of service.
Although this call might be a relief in theory, I'm bracing myself for the reality of the logistics and decisions that must follow in its wake: terminate my lease, find a tenant, pack up my furniture, store my furniture, sell my car, terminate my insurance, change my address on everything, and deliberate on hundreds of minute considerations about what to bring...Too much? Too technical? Too formal? Too casual? Too heavy? Too valuable? Can it wait to be shipped? Is it allowed to be brought into the country? Can I live without it? Will I really use it? What are appropriate gifts to bring? What can I bring to simplify my complicated family history? What can I bring to teach people about life in America? What can I bring that is funny and entertaining? What about games or songs to teach?
My head spins with all of this and more! But for now, I can only wait and quiet the chatter of my nerves by looking to the immediate, and taking things one day at a time. It is the kind of patience and mental control that must operate within the reality of what one knows for certain, and control the urge of a wondering mind to avoid ambiguous conjecture to which there are no immediate answers. I can only equate this mental discipline with nighttime SCUBA diving, where you must focus on what your flashlight reveals, and not on the vast, dark, undulating ocean around you.
I was forced to practice this once when I flew to Dar es Salaam for the first time to meet my expedition group for a Tanzania adventure. Months before arriving, I was told to find a place to sit in the airport, and wait for a man named Moses to pick me up within one to four hours after my arrival. He was to recognize me from a faxed photograph, and it didn't matter where I parked myself. He would find me. I had no other contact information otherwise. Waiting was all I could do. So I deplaned, extracted my backpack from the plane's belly, and sat down. No sooner had I pulled out my thick novel to carry me through the hours, did Moses appear and whisked me out of the airport. All that nervous anticipation about what I would do in an African country alone, if I didn't meet Moses, never had the chance to rear its head in reality. It was all just spent energy.
September 21, 2003
TO FOLLOW MY FEET
Tonight I learned the reason why I have wide, flat, peasant feet. It’s because my maternal grandmother was from Isan, the northeastern region of Thailand. Isan is predominantly agrarian, and everyone there is poor. It is the picture perfect postcard photo of women bent over, knee deep in mud, tending the terraced rice paddies fringed by swaying palm trees, under the background of hazy rolling hills. Isan was the last place my aristocratic Lopburi great-grandmother would have wanted her second son to select a wife, which also explained why my mother had been so abused by that family. She was the polluted bloodline, and she passed that peasant blood on down to me, straight down to my feet.
My feet have been horrible and totally ill suited for the life that I’ve led. They are not only flat, but are flanked by bunions so big the right one is often mistaken for a sixth toe. And because they are so heavily calloused, I really don’t need to, and probably should never wear shoes. While every ounce of my heritage was expecting me to wake up before the sun in a thatched-roof hut with its cool, smooth bamboo mat floors, and walk out into the soft muddy fields, I was squeezing the painful breadth of my feet into stiff penny loafers, tennis whites, leather boots, high-heeled corporate pumps, and even slinky CFM stilettos.
All my life, I was really meant to be wading in the rice fields. Perhaps that is why my life has culminated in an opportunity to be, literally, “out in the field”. My feet are taking me away from painful materialistic confinements and into a world where they will feel more “at home.”