I woke up this morning at the normal time to which I allow myself to sleep when I don’t have to teach in the morning, around 8 a.m.
By this time, all the students are already at school, which means, for a few moments, my neighborhood is relatively quiet.
This morning, though, as I was in my kitchen heating up water for tea, I heard people outside my neighbor’s house. She’s a nice lady and makes her living usually by being a tailor. In the past few months, she’s also started selling the local moonshine out of her house. For 100 CFA, men come by, take a shot of sodabe and then ride off on their motorcycles, rarely staying more than 5 minutes. One of my favorite nighttime activities is to sit on my front porch and watch how many of the men who stop by I recognize, either as colleagues or the father of one of my students.
When I came back from vacation three days ago, a small hut with benches and tables had been erected outside her house, I guessed in an effort to expand her business, at least expand it out of her living room. And business has expanded, the area outside my front door becoming less like a front porch and more like the street outside a bar, but besides moto horns and loud voices, there haven’t been any real complaints.
And so, this morning, as I sipped my Harney & Son’s Tower of London tea, I silently toasted the men taking shots of sodabe next door at 8:30 in the morning.
My mom sent a package and three weeks later I finally got it in my grubby little hands. After lots of miscommunication, I thought it was lost, until a student, Florida, helped me and got it where it needed to go.
The inside was amazing, she fit so much inside a flat rate package! She has some magic powers when it comes to shoving things inside of a suitcase or box–hence the reason I usually ask for her help when packing. But wow! She even sent some kids books which will be perfect for the classes I’ll teach at the Primary School next month, and I’m so stoked to have cinnamon and Italian herbs to cook with. AND CHEESE! Velveeta! I have no idea what I’m going to do with it yet, but it will definitely taste better than the expired cheese from the supermarket that smells like the inside of my dog’s ears.
Thanks mom! 💙 Time to test out some Italian herbs!
I call her “Nabu”, and she is my 7 year-old host sister. She is the oldest of the siblings here and therefore takes on most of the responsibilities of the household. At the tender age of 7, she often carries around her (rather rotund) host brother Ibrahim, 2, on her back. Have you ever seen an ant carry a blade of grass? Yeah, it kind of looks like that. Nabu is a dancer by nature. At any given moment, sans music, she will be dancing. When you see her demure smile paired with her charmingly erratic gestures of pure joy, you laugh, then you dance too.
On Being a Chinese-American Peace Corps Volunteer in Georgia
This is a blog post that is extremely important to me personally; although I’ve been speaking about making this post for a long while, I wanted it to be absolutely finished prior to uploading it. It’s not quite polished up, but I hope my series of thoughts helps in understanding daily life for me in Georgia.
I want to make it clear that this blog post consists entirely of my own personal experiences as a Chinese-American Peace Corps Volunteer here in Georgia; and the resulting reflections are purely my own as well.
I hear a soft knock outside my classroom door today and there stands one of my reading intervention pupils. She wants to practice writing her name and soon we got to talking about Islam. She tells me about fasting for 30 days for Ramadan because “if you love God then you fast” from sunrise to sunset. She teaches me that Muslims cannot eat pig because he “has Satan in his body. If I eat him, I die.” She tells me she must pray five times a day and wear her hijab, or head wrap, all the time. She gazes at me, smiles, and says that she feels most beautiful when wearing her hijab. I have her put it on to show me and she was clearly correct. However, our school doesn’t let her (or any of the other Muslims who make up 39% of the school) wear them during the day because we were founded by the Church of Uganda. Sometimes the others at the schools say bad words to her for being a Muslim, even teachers she says. I tell her that whether she’s green or purple, big or small, Christian or Muslim, she can always be my friend. She giggles and asks if I will go to mosque with her one day; I happily comply but only if she lets me borrow her “smartest” hijab. We pinky promise and she continues writing her name over and over again with a joyful grin across her face.
…The Congress of the United States declares that it is the policy of the United States and the purpose of this Act to promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the people of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower, and to help promote a better understanding of American people on the part of the peoples served and a better understanding of other peoples on the part of the American people…
Act of September 22, 1961 (Peace Corps Act), Public Law 87-293, 75 STAT 612, Which Established a Peace Corps to Help the People of Interested Countries and Areas in Meeting Their Needs for Skilled Manpower, 9/22/1961.
On March 1, 1961, President Kennedy signed the executive order establishing the Peace Corps. On September 22, 1961, Congress approved the legislation that formally authorized the @peacecorps. Goals of the Peace Corps included: 1) helping the people of interested countries and areas meet their needs for trained workers; 2) helping promote a better understanding of Americans in countries where volunteers served; and 3) helping promote a better understanding of peoples of other nations on the part of Americans.
I’m not 100% better, but after hearing novio telling me that he’s “desperately impatient” for November to come, it gives me all the more energy to get thru whatever funk I’m in, get my act together and stay busy for a couple more months (and then 3.5 months after that till the end of my service).
I got some cheering up comments at the high school this morning while talking about Nutrition, too. While talking to the 7th graders (primary is k-6, high school is 7-11 (no 12th grade or middle school here)), I was telling them how lucky they are to have so much fresh fruit available here to make amazing smoothies and juices instead of soda and how I’m trying to take advantage of such fruit before I go home in March. They said “NOOOO, YOU CAN’T LEAVE.” I also told them not to worry because they’ll be (hopefully) sending a new health volunteer here after I’m gone. “IT WON’T BE THE SAME. I WON’T LIKE THAT VOLUNTEER AS MUCH AS YOU.”
I guess I AM known in this community and admired by some. Especially with kids, that’s a huge spirit lifter.
Peace Corps has it’s ups and downs and I only have 7 months to go. I’m happy, I’m sad, I can’t believe I’m on the last stretch. I felt like THIS was only yesterday…
I don’t wear makeup. I don’t care if my legs are shaved. Clothing labels mean nothing. Things that used to matter so much no longer do. Don’t get me wrong, I still like to look and feel nice, but I do it on my own terms and only when I want to.
We are pleased to (have) found out that Peace Corps Volunteers played an essential role in (the) life of Stela Brinzeanu, author of Bessarabia Nights book. This is her story: About 18 years ago, Stela attended an English language camp where a group of Volunteers were present. Stela still remember how she and a group of friends watched these “jolly” Americans laugh and play. She recalls questioning why they were so “happy.” Stela remembered a particular Volunteer with curly hair at the camp. This Volunteer told her that she could be anything she wanted to be and she could do anything she wanted to do. In Stela’s words, “That was the first time anyone had told me that, and when I look back on that moment, that was a changing point in my life. In my estimation, Peace Corps Volunteers are soul farmers. They plant seeds in the souls of children and in the communities in which they serve. They may never see the fruit or evidence of that seed, but please tell them that change and growth are happening.”
I close and lock my door and walk the 17 steps out to the street. I turn left and walk the 43 steps to a small structure off the right side of the road.
Beneath the rickety roof of loosely woven palm fronds sits a woman, probably in her late twenties, frying fish in a large cast iron skillet over a charcoal fire. I do not know her name. In my head, I call her “Fish Lady” although I would never say this to her face.
“Good evening,” she says.
“How are you?”
“I’m fine. And you?”
“Fine. And the cat?”
“Two hundred,” I respond, handing her the Tupperware container that now permanently smells of fried fish.
She places four pieces in the container and exchanges it for the two hundred piece in my hand.
We have this same interaction every night I am in my village. She is always in the exact same spot. I usually respond the exact same thing to her questions. (Though I sometimes trying the entire interaction in local language instead of French.) The entire journey will always take me 14 minutes to complete.
But at least someone in my village notices when I’m not there.
“See you tomorrow,” I say, turning to walk the 43 steps back up the street.
During our pre-service training, I somehow got the idea that my teaching experience would involve eager female students who craved friendship and meaningful connections.
When I was placed at a small vocational school for construction and engineering, my little bubble popped. My students were almost exclusively male, and really they couldn’t give two flying farts about English. Hanging out with their strange, gawky foreign teacher wasn’t really high on their list of priorities.
The one exception to this was the English majors–a group of 25 bright and quirky students taught by my husband. They became my surrogate students last year. There would be days when I felt like a complete failure, unable to connect with my students. I would pour all my energy into my lessons, only to receive dull responses from boys who’d been up all night in internet bars playing League of Legends. It was Jeff’s English majors who came to my parties, who attended our English corner. It was these kids who made me feel like I wasn’t the problem.
In May, the class will graduate. Many are moving on to other cities–Shenzhen, Beijing, Shanghai, where they will translate or do HR work for construction companies. Many students have gotten positions in Africa, since Chinese companies are doing loads of construction work in places like Algeria and Tanzania.
Soon, their close group will scatter…but right now is a magical time when they are all filled with opportunity and dreams. Life is a gigantic possibility, and no limits have been set.
Last night we had a goodbye dinner for the class, since they will spend next semester interning at various locations away from campus. The students cooked up a storm, hammed it up for the camera and went crazy when I brought out my nail polish collection.
Youth is such a gorgeous, infectious thing. This beautiful group of girls have been an amazing part of my time in China, and I will always remember them.