I havent been posting lately. The whole thing has been kind of fragmenting. I need to get my shit together. I thought I needed a place where I could be both honest and heard in writing. Ive kind of receded from that lately...
Sixth of October is a holiday in Egypt. Its the day that Egypt beat Israel and took back the Sinai peninsula. The fact that they commemorate it at all is telling about their situation with Israel. I think if a country remembers the day it won a war with a national holiday (everyone gets the day off) it is a sign there is unfinished business with that country. I mean, Americans dont commemorate the day we won Texas from the Spanish.... Or was it Mexico?
Every morning they have an assembly at school. The kids sing the national anthem and pay their respects to the flag... My first days at the school it struck me that this was a root of the overall patriotism in this country. People here are really proud of being Egyptian, in a way I never saw in the Burkinabe. It is a good thing. They have a lot to be proud of here.
An old man that works at the school got up and read something about the 6th of October holiday. In it he talked of Egypt beating "our enemy Israel." I listened to this speech and was afraid. I was afraid because in the speech, he seemed to be indicating that Israel would always be their enemy almost no matter what. Egypt shares a border with Israel. He was spouting this to kids that were as young as 3 and a half. I thought about what it would be like to hate someone who was a 15 hour bus ride away.
On the ride home the other teachers talked about it a little bit. Their response was that we do the same thing in the states, as though that were a justification. Terrorism as a blanket meaning for Arabs and Muslims, which are curiously all the same thing. When you start attaching certain behaviors to certain races of people, it is indeed racism. It doesnt make it right. But it was curious to me that when the conversation got started among them, all they could say was, "well, we do it too." We are indoctrinated with the idea of hating terrorists. But no one ever talks about why. Or at least they werent. It frustrated me. I was trying to understand why such things happen in the world and all I get is a stone wall of incomprehension, as if I were trying to pass judgment on all Egyptians. I want to know why this is happening in the world. What his words were a product of beneath the veneer of hate, and why he, or anyone would indoctrinate hate into children. I will be thinking about this for a while, there must be answers beyond the simple responses people give. If those answers sufficed, there would not be hate.
I get frustrated. I have worked so hard to work past a sheltered perspective. Usually I work myself into psychological quandaries without anyone to talk to. It makes me feel lonely. It gets harder and harder to communicate my experience to others as I diversify and individualize my experience. I find myself routinely surrounded by people who do not apparently value intellectual pursuits in terms of analyzing life or culture or the way that things are, or at least people who can love things really hard and well. I think that counts for a lot.
The group of people I work with-- I feel a bit bound to spend time with them, but lately have a really hard time finding commonality. They get really negative and finicky about things that dont matter. They seem content with being friends with whoever happens to be around at the time. This is fine. But there is a culture of subtly jabbing at others that develops. Overall I just find myself bowing out again. I dont seem to know how to interact with them very well. I dont know what to say to them. I dont know why I get like this. I know I want to branch out and meet other people. Whenever I was younger, all through high school and college I operated with several groups of friends, people for different moods I suppose, who filled different needs for me.
I am dying to be able to do something important, say something important, be around something important. The last five months of Peace Corps I felt this devastating loss of purpose and I blamed myself. I went home and wallowed in that loss of purpose because there was nothing else. Now I am here, but teaching for me is not purpose. I need to see my work in the context of a big picture, and see its utility. These are the same problems I have faced for some time now. I took this work because meaningful work did not seem to be available, and I just wanted to feel useful and be able to take care of myself again. But it is not movement. I like Cairo, and I am moving very slowly toward my goals of learning Arabic, understanding poverty in this country, learning about what NGOs exist in Egypt and what the major development issues are, finding out about their media, learning about options to find out about Egyptian culture and to pursue art and an art community. (Community which I have recently realized is an important value of mine.)
...But when I am at school, when I am around the teachers with whom I spend most of my time, I forget these things though if I remember, I feel just as alienated as I ever did in the states. I feel alienated by the things that are seemingly the most familiar. I dont know why that is.
There is the part where Frodo finally goes back to the Shire in Lord of the Rings. Sam gets married and has kiddies. Frodo gets on a boat and sails off into white light. I cant remember exactly how he put it, when he finished writing about his tale, but it mirrors how I feel right now.
Sunday has just slipped into Monday and I leave Wednesday morning for Egypt. I have mixed feelings about it. I feel good about this new step, this new possibility. I am mourning spending another 10 months away from people I care about. Missing Christmas. Burkina sinks into the murky background of the mess of life only I dont want to forget it... Before it was hard for me to put into terms for people in the states, but now, as my perspective shifts, it is getting hard for me to put it into terms for myself. I really wanted a career in international development. I really wanted to work on the hardest problems the earth knows concerning the human race. I wanted to be able to apply my very best skills to the very most dire issue. I know it sounds extreme, but this is what I wanted, to offer my life for this purpose. I still feel like I dont really deserve most of the things I have in this world, though most Americans dont, and some days I can reconcile that with myself and some days I cannot.
Work cant be my life, when it does I turn into a flaming car wreck. I felt like I had more control over my career than my love life though. Id deeply accepted for a while that I was merely hopeless about relationships but Ive changed my mind about that too. Ive become a lot more frightened of intimacy in the last few years, I know that much. Ive wondered to myself periodically if I was even capable of it recently. Ive been broken.
Maybe Ive been broken of career intent recently too. Reality has to creep in, and I need to ask myself just how much Im really willing to sacrifice. The price seems extraordinarily high at the moment. Or to be with an average lover in an average job in average America. People seem content this way often enough. Really I dont know how much Im willing to pay for the things Ive wanted. A lot of days the Peace Corps doesnt feel like much of an accomplishment. I sacrificed an incredible amount during my service, and in the past few months being in the states I have sacrificed a lot as well. Only they were completely different sacrifices. And a lot of lost diginity over not having a purpose... In the states I sacrificed my happiness more than I did in Burkina.
Lately I havent felt like I had any control over where my career goes. I see the difference in the way I approach the field, wonder if I want to be pulling teeth like that my whole life. I need to wonder if it is even worth it. Im not positive it is worth it to travel like I do. I know that I cant seem to live in the states. I feel dejected from this culture. I feel like I can't live on my own terms in this country, because my terms have been shaped by a completely different way of life anymore and maybe (consumerism and amassed material wealth, and complication of system, and fear of things that arent real)are not things that can ultimately be defied in a personal way. If the water is yellow, you will see yellow. Does knowing the water is yellow in the states make it possible to live as though the water were red?
I dont know anymore. I was flung back into a lifestyle I was born into and didnt choose with my parents, and their lifestyle at this point represents a whole lot I dont want for myself. Yet I live it here, and wonder if I will be able to take care of myself. All this while, I know I can, its just not the way other people define it. I would love to buy a little scooter and ride the subway to get around and then have the states magically have trains that go everywhere. And boats that go along the rivers I could ride. I would love to go buy vegetables from farmers and come home to cook it. Id love a place to live with big windows and lots of light and a good big front porch. Id go out there and write with a cup of tea and maybe a cigar. I think Id wear flip flops everywhere.
I could go on. I have these ideals in my head about work and love I suppose. Maybe its not reasonable to think one will construct or assemble career path. I dont know how to balance professional and personal happiness. And here I am leaving for Egypt, and wondering if maybe in so doing I am giving up on a dream, and maybe being average and being talk. I feel like Im not doing enough good by teaching English. I know that sounds terrible. I probably should explore this more, particularly so I dont sound like an asshole, but Im falling asleep...
At the moment, I have an opportunity lined up with an NGO in Nigeria after I finish in Egypt in June. I guess what it comes down to is, I dont know if it will be worth the sacrifice to me, because it will be two years away from home and is this really the direction I want to be taking? Do I really want things to be this hard, and potentially this incompatible with what I think I want in my personal life. Chris flat out told me he didnt want to go there with me because I was leaving, and yesterday I had another conversation in the ongoing series of conversations with an old friend who seems to want to date me and it seems we keep returning to the subject and between being terrified Ill lose him as a friend and me country hopping, I just keep saying no. And in general it just sucks. Its really really sucked saying goodbye to friends and knowing I wont see them. My human relationships are really important to me. And that too is not compatible with my behavior.
I have an extremely overactive imagination; my mind is always jumping to the next thought, adventure, plan, world view. I have learned to mute and stifle this in adverse company though, to gauge the level and speed it will be tolerated at, to except conversations, people and the love they offer for what it is, rather than what it is not.
Lately, I have cultivated the skill of helping the person/people Im with be the most like themselves on their own terms. Because I am a chameleon and am so many things, fit into seemingly conflicting places, identity flimsy and lucid. I will say, Peace Corps has taught me a deeper empathy and tolerance and ability to shift into perspectives other than my own and I have seen this reflected in my relationships here. And overall, in the way I interact with people. I used to mourn that it meant I had no grounding, no base, no rock. I am beginning to see it as something else, the thing that comes in exchange when you see many different things. Maybe if I had the rock it would be different, and I wouldnt feel the need to go out and find who I am. Though it can't be found, only made. And Im not sure what it is Im making.
My imagination serves me well when Im creating something. But it is, I have found, also quite the demon. It is the source of so much great joy and yes shame, because of socialization, but also, it is a thing that exacerbates fear. So that I am battling it even as it permits me to envision the otherwise impossible. This kind of fear has yet to actually hold me back in a meaningful way. There are things out there that I dont want to do because at this point I consider it a stupid risk for me (ie. I will not go be a freelance war reporter in Bagdad, though it is technically possible.) I will not go to Nigeria because they just kidnapped about a hundred tourists there. Plus, I have heard other stories from Burkinabes. I may bike and camp across the states someday, but not in the near future. I would have road a motorcycle across the Sahara, but not by myself because breaking down in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone coverage was a real risk.
These things said, I am a risk taker. I recently read a poem that lamented a "mundane existence." I look back and forward at past and future and think the world is the opposite. Anything but mundane. Though there is the tug of safety, of being around good friends and the power of watching the seasons change in one given location. There is power in that too, if it is chosen.
With the risks I decide on moving toward, my imagination moves forward too, and it splits in opposite directions and wreaks glory and havoc upon my thoughts. The glory of this opportunity in Egypt, of getting to see the pyramids, of learning Arabic, the possibility of freelance journalism and humanitarian work. The possibility of loving it. Then there's the agony of Egypt, the thought they the school may not exist (which Ive already cross verified that they do...) the possibility of getting cancer and being sent back to the states (unlikely) and overall having some sort of problem with documentation, laws and customs I dont yet understand, the gamut of adjusting to a new culture, of overall simply not knowing if I will be able to hack this foreign situation, because I won't know until I go. The possibility of a wasted plane ticket.... The thought that this will somehow ruin my future career...
None of this will I know until I go, or after. This is the knowledge I sit atop of, this is the knowledge that my imagination plays upon by the minute. And then there are the outside sources, who say yay or nay, though mostly nay. There is the influence of my parents and knowing that I will not, cannot apparently make them happy with the decisions I make. There is finding strength in it all, taking responsibility for my own life and well being and taking the plunge. I may be worrying again a few days later, but at least it is a symptom and not a cause.
There are so many options in this world. So many different lives to try on, only you cant try on them all. You can talk to people that live different lives, and this is what I plan to do, at the very base of it. All my intentions are built atop it. Only the right thing. I really agonize over the "right" thing. I grasp onto the things which connect, even as they dont connect so well. A lot of things dont connect so well. I am going to think myself out of going to Egypt if I am not careful. Today the poisin is wondering if it is the perfect decision, the best opportunity I can get, the highest sum in an array of impossible to mesure variables. Something I heard a few days ago has been sticking with me. It is better to live by ideals and ideas than it is to live by accomplishment and achievement. Im not sure why this is so, only that it feels to be true. Ideas are more nourishing than accomplishment. The big picture of a life is more than the sum of its parts. The nuances, phazes, leaps and downfalls. All of it gets rolled into one portfolio, one shot. I understand that now coming back from Burkina. Coming back was like dieing. It gave me this perspective on life that I cant seem to pass into words. The experience of a sum. A big twisted off big picture that had a definate beginning and end and is on the other end of the world. Yeah, I went to heaven, aka the US. I dont think the weekend with Chris went very well overall, for a number of hard to pinpoint reasons. Today I was thinking about why several women I know who are harder to get along with/ higher maintenence/ etc. etc are able to hold down long term relationships but I cant seem to. Before I was coasting along using my workaholism as an excuse. I dont have a hard time getting men to initially like me. Its the sustaining it part I cant seem to do. I know I want a slow paced sort of monogomy where I can get to know the person without pressure. But I still want a progression. Anyway, I think Im too tired to be writing this right now.
I knew Id been through a whole lot these past few months. But it became more apparent as I sifted through my paper journals, typing out poetry I had scribbled there since Burkina. The lows have been pretty extreme. I dont do well feeling useless, like I dont have a purpose, not having anything to work at that I believe in. Its the first time in my life that Ive ever truly faced it. Before, there were so many times that I failed, but I always failed at the details, I never saw my big picture dissolve like that. When everything I replaced it with seemed a flimsy illusion, a joke. I began to wonder if my life was a joke..
In this way, Im really glad I didnt post during those months. When Burkina ended I didnt want the whole world judging me like they had been, I didnt want to see how people might change their minds about me. I couldnt deal with knowing people didnt have faith in me anymore when I no longer had faith in myself. But worse still, I didnt know how to keep the part of me that is still Burkinabe alive. My ideals and perceptions had all been turned around.
At first the experience of culture shock was actually a physical one. An overwhelming emotional and psychological condition that rushed even into my physicality. Now Ive readjusted to the states, but Im not me anymore... In returning to the states Id lost the last dregs of faith in myself, in my ability to make it, in my ability to be an adult. You could drop me in the middle of no where with some food, water, a bike, and maybe a little money and I could make it. I know that about myself. But I dont know if I can successfully find an apartment or manage an American cell phone bill. Its such a tremendous irony.
Mostly, the experience of it anymore is the sensation of having the past two years of my life blotted out of existence. It is a space in my life which others live filled in, because they have a shared memory with the people around them. My life has been a disjointed one for a while now, and it is becoming more disjointed, as I aim to try on more and more different hats. I dont know if Ill settle on one though, and this is perhaps the scariest thing of all. That I will never find true contentment in the sort of grounding that comes from watching the seasons change on the porch with a few good friends. Maybe I will and this too shall pass.
If when I go to Egypt, Im going to create a journal for my observations on the country and my working life there. This journal is going to be for the more personal struggles and unrelated musings about life, plus probably poetry. I think it will be healthy to aim to have something of continuation. Really that's what writing has always been for me, a path to continuation, self preservation, proof of the past. If not the big picture of it dissolves, and I am without a future.