Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How do you measure

You can measure the passage of time in pretty much anyway you can imagine, the least imaginative of all being the counting of actual seconds/minutes/days/weeks, etc (that being said, I’ve been in Samoa for 111 weeks now, only 2 weeks left). And as much as I’m a stickler for being early to everything, I’ve come to consider time a fairly abstract concept because of how we measure it. Even the measuring doesn’t matter so much, because we usually notice time most in its absence – once it’s gone or there doesn’t seem to be enough of it. “If I had one more day, I could have done…” “there just isn’t time to…” When I first came to Samoa, time had a huge presence in my life. Everything mattered because I had made a lengthy commitment and this was only the beginning. I lived my life in differences by comparing my newly acquired life to what I was absent from. I could measure my schedule in terms of favorite TV shows, weekly routines, and holidays because I had so much time here to think about what I had left. I had no idea what I was coming to, but I could sure tell you what I had left behind.

However, time is also a very strong neutralizer, and eventually new turns to normal, the past recedes, and everything seems ordinary. That took about a year for me, mostly because I was so resistant to accepting certain parts of my life here (you really mean I have to live with all this noise?!). Now, one of the hardest things for me is to think about what two years back in the States might look like. I told my parents the other day that I feel like I’ll be coming home in the middle of “Back to the Future,” and in some ways, I really will be (I’m pretty sure my watch is smarter than my phone here). Two years in, it doesn’t feel like I’ve spent two years away from the US. My life has been my life the entire time I’ve been here – where has all the time gone?

Just for grins, I’m going to measure time in headlines – one a month for every month I’ve been in Samoa. This is what has happened the past two years, do you remember?

October 2010 – 33 miners rescued in Chili after spending 69 days trapped in a mine

November 2010 – scientists at CERN trap antimatter for 1/6 of a second

December 2010 – Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

January 2011 – Arab Spring starts with death of a street vendor in Tunisia

February 2011 – Major earthquakes continue to shake Christchurch

March 2011 – Japanese earthquake and tsunami

April 2011 – Royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton

May 2011 – Osama Bin Laden found and killed in Pakistan

June 2011 – Volcanic eruption in Chile disturbs air traffic across the South Pacific

July 2011 – Two terrorist attacks in Norway at a government center and a youth camp

August 2011 – US credit rating downgrade to AA+

September 2011 – Occupy protests start

October 2011 – Steve Jobs dies

November 2011 – Penn state football scandal

December 2011 – Samoa moves west of the IDL, skipping December 30th

January 2012 – Italian cruise ship capsizes

February 2012 – Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II

March 2012 – Putin wins presidential election in Russia

April 2012 – 8.6 magnitude earthquake in Indonesia, with an 8.2 aftershock

May 2012 – Tornado season wreaks havoc across the US

June 2012 – Massive wildfires throughout southwest US

July 2012 – Summer Olympics begin in London

August 2012 – Curiosity rover lands on Mars

September 2012 – US embassy attack in Libya

October 2012 – “Perfect Storm” hits the northeast coast of the US

November 2012 - Obama re-elected President of the US

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Favorite Pictures

Preparing to finish Peace Corps requires a lot of preparation and planning, at least if you’re me. I want to give pictures to some of the families in my village, so the other day I went through EVERY SINGLE PICTURE I have ever taken in Peace Corps. I have them all saved on my computer according to the month they were taken. Some months didn’t have enough pictures, so they were combined, so I don’t have exactly 25 folders of Peace Corps pictures, but pretty darn close. As I was looking through them, I remembered all kinds of things that seemed to momentous at the time, but have actually almost entirely faded away now that I’m looking back. Staying with my neighbors in town the night before their brother’s wedding. Making koko Samoa every afternoon when the falekomiti was being built. Running away from little fishies when my sister came to visit. So much has happened, it’s unbelievable. I never thought I would forget a single second of my time here, but I’ve forgotten quite a bit.

Anyway, I found a lot of pictures that I loved that I had also forgotten about. I tried to pick one from each month (again, not quite 25) that was my “favorite” of the month. Mostly, it’s the moment caught in the picture that I love, whether it’s the silly pose or the scenic view. From an outside perspective, it’s hard to tie most of these pictures to a specific event, but I remember exactly what was happening in each one of them.

If the uploading worked correctly, they should be in chronological order.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Letter to Myself

At the end of our training, we wrote letters to ourselves that would (hopefully) be returned to us to read at the end of our service. We got our letters back at our Close of Service conference, and while it was fun to read, I also felt it was a little pointless. A letter from the future me telling me what to expect would have been more helpful. That one would have reflections and advice instead of just musings about what might happen and plans that didn’t actually come to fruition (not that that’s a bad thing). Looking at my letter to my future self, though, my past self could have probably used a few lessons from my current self. So here’s what I (now) have to say to me (then) about what happens over the next/past two years.

Dear Natalie,

Yes, that’s right, you are still Natalie. You will fully embrace your identity as Tali when you get to your village, but you’re not quite there yet.

These next two years will be everything and nothing that you expect. You will have those quintessential Peace Corps moments – random power outages, no running water, way too many kids jabbering away at you in a language you can actually understand (for the most part). You will also have plenty of moments that step right out of life in the States – hot water and air conditioning, fancy cell phones, and what will seem like too much English for your time here to qualify as “the Peace Corps experience.” Don’t worry. Just as much as you dislike the familiarity (Peace Corps is supposed to be like nothing I’ve ever known before) you will love it when you are looking for something comforting to remind you of home, or at least give you a break from Samoa.

I do have a few words of advice (and maybe some warnings) for you.

You will be sick. It will be miserable because you are in a foreign country and so far away from familiar facilities or anyone who would baby you and bring you orange juice to take your pills. Remember that time you were so sick on Thanksgiving at Grandma’s? Expect that at least 3 or 4 more times, not to mention everything else that happens. Colds, strep throat, it’s all here waiting for you.

Don’t worry about water. Yes, it will seem like your life is ending every time it goes away, but that doesn’t define your life for the entire time you are here. By the end of your two years here, you will hardly remember what it is like to survive on less than a bucket of water a day and you will miss doing laundry at the waterfall (you can’t be bothered to do it under regular circumstances because why go to all the trouble of hauling everything a mile and a half down the road, washing it, then carrying it back, when you could just let it soak in your shower?).

Go to all the trouble to build all those relationships in your village. The sooner you learn to ask for help and to ask for the things you want, the easier it will be to get the things you need. These relationships are essential to every aspect of your well-being – emotional, physical, and spiritual. You will not survive without your neighbors and the family across the street, and everyone else is just icing on the cake. Love them, appreciate them, and show them at every opportunity how much they mean to you.

Stop comparing yourself to other PCVs. Do whatever it takes so that you don’t measure yourself by their lives. Skip out on training sessions, pass up Peace Corps outings, whatever it takes. You will survive without living your life in their presence or shadow. As you told Mafi the other day, your life isn’t actually lacking, it just seems like it is when you compare it to everyone else (I don’t want to hear your bellyaching, this is true! Even when you don’t have running water, you still have water. It just takes a lot more effort to get it, and you use a lot less of it). At the same time, they are still your peers and your Peace Corps family. They deserve a lot more respect and patience than you sometimes show them.

Otherwise, don’t worry too much. I can’t tell you how much energy you waste worrying about what will happen, what hasn’t happened, or what might happen. It’s worthless. Whatever happens, happens, and you have survived it so far. You will grow so much, do amazing things in your village and at school, and manage to keep learning Samoan throughout your entire time here. Eventually, your life stops shocking you and turns into a daily routine again. This is both good and bad. It is good because it means you are less stressed about every little thing that happens. This is actually really good. It’s bad because you aren’t constantly amazed at how beautiful everything is about Samoa and begin to lose the details of what makes it so wonderful. Occasionally you still lose yourself in the sunset, the sound of the ocean, the technicolor life you find yourself in, but not continuously. If you can, try not to lose sight of that. Both while you are in Samoa and wherever you find yourself in the future. Life, the world, is amazing. Take the time to notice everything about it.

If nothing else, take heart from the fact that you are writing this now at the end of your Peace Corps service. Everything that happens (or from your perspective, might happen) has been surviveable. Ya, there are things you could probably do better if you had a chance to do them over, but don’t dwell on it. Focus on yourself now, and look to the possibilities of the future without forgetting the lessons of the past. Yes, sometimes it seems absolutely impossible to go on, but there will also be about as many times when everything feels so heartbreakingly real, beautiful, and alive. Whenever you doubt yourself, know that you will do amazing things while you are here.