Back on the porch. The heat wave’s still going in DC, and I think we’re flirting with the big double-oh today. I’m definitely moist.
If I wasn’t such a lazy asshole I could have gotten some sun along with the ovening, but shadow takes over at the crack of two, so that was out of the question. I did manage to make it up for my important and relevant trip to Lauinger Library, where I received training on and then checked out a Canon Rebel T4i, which will be supplying all the pictures for this post except its own. I’ve got a chunk of security deposit from 3616 T that isn’t going to Mexican airline tickets, and I’m hoping to pick up a DSLR, also in the footsteps of our own Maya G. I won’t be able to afford a T4, but I think that’s okay, since Peace Corps safety and security training assured me that everything I own will be stolen at least one and one half times while I’m over there. They also differentiate two types of assaults by ’caused serious injury’ and ‘assailant required serious force to dislodge.’ There was no option for ‘volunteer only got beat up, like, a little bit,’ which was disconcerting.
I’ve been thinking a lot about keeping in touch. In all likelihood, I’ll be seeing the internet at least at work, and at the very worst every two weeks, and with that kind of timeframe, it would probably always be faster to send email, especially if the Mexican post is anything like its Spanish mother. Alex, Eric, and Danielle know that the trip through the royal mail was months long and anything but certain. All the same, people put stock in physical correspondence, and I plan to take advantage of that the entire time I’m away, currying favor one poorly typed page at a time. To that end, I’ve been compiling a dehumanizing spreadsheet of friends and acquaintances with dates of last contact, physical addresses, and personal data to mention, like my county treasurer used to hoard in his rolodex. ‘Inquire after Mrs. Johnson’s health. Unless unsure if alive. Two kids.’ It’s like my parents’ Christmas card list, but less mercenary.
All the important thoughts after the jump, because I’m terrible at this
I think it might finally be time to spend some letters on the Corps. Some of you (Alex) know that the PC has three goals for every volunteer. You can read them verbatim, but in brief: 1)Assist the people who’re hosting you and attempt to improve their quality of life. 2) Be a personal diplomat for these United States and represent the least murderous aspects of norteamericano culture. 3) Try, during your stay, on your return, and for the rest of your life, to convince the people back home that we would, in fact, be better off treating the people you stayed with more like people and less like target practice.
The second two goals have always been the most compelling to me, and I said as much in my interview. I think that volunteers can do tremendous if limited good through their projects. But there isn’t a lot that we can bring to the table that an educated person from the host country couldn’t except for a poor grasp of the language and culture. The second two goals, however, seem, you know, somewhat achievable. If each PC program can reach 500 or so people a year with a positive impression, it’s not much, but you can hope that it’ll ripple out.
And goal three is really where it gets good. Because the hope is ostensibly that (in the same way that TFA hopes that volunteers will go on to be administrators and crush teachers’ unions) PC returners will go on not just to preach the virtues of their adopted peoples to their friends but also to occupy positions from which they can bring their human understanding of their host country to bear in policy. Which is why it’s honestly pretty strange that there’s no Rangel-equivalent PC fellowship. It seems like placing returners in State should be a priority.
Only recently have I thought more critically about the second two goals. I was having a talk with new roommate Gabe Pincus, crowing about 2) and 3), and how Afghanistan, before the Soviet invasion, was apparently the place for volunteers to go. Wide open spaces, exotic people and languages, near oriental rules of hospitality, the Edward Said in all of us, and then I stopped. ‘If,’ I thought, ‘so many volunteers had made their way through the last home of the Commander of the Faithful with enough years to grow up and occupy positions of policymaking power, or at least to contribute to the academe, why was our foreign policy in the country so fucked?” Why did Americans of every stripe take so long to learn the difference between an Arab and a Pashtun, or even where the country is on a map? Why indeed had anyone thought it was a safe bet to supply the Mujaheddin in the eighties? Or to invade in the aughts? Or to think that any occupying power could set up a lasting puppet ? It’s mesmerizing; the British invaded twice in the 1800s, and nobody in our century thought to learn a damned thing.
Both we and the Russians did exactly the same things. There’s even this incredible little parallel where Biden told Karzai that he’s nothing more than the mayor of Kabul, which is almost verbatim what the British told their quisling Afghan.
So I don’t know what that all means for me. It’s obviously moronic to claim that the Corps is any kind of failure because of Afghanistan, but I think that it does say something about goal 3. Namely that the ‘as long as you live’ bit is important, and that you’ve got to be goddamned loud about it. That you may have an obligation to put yourself in a position of power towards foreign policy—that having accepted the generosity of your host people, you owe them not just idle praise to friends and family, but real action on their behalf. If we keep funneling drones to the Mexicans and my future folks get Predator’d, in some sense I’d be responsible, unless I’d muscled down every avenue available. Unfortunately, in a generation where each successive administration sees foreign policy put into the hands smaller and apparently more bloodthirsty groups of people, the avenues available to me or any other volunteer are becoming both scarcer and more vitally important.