It’s some small irony that when you hit Mid-Service Training it means you’re more than halfway through. The timing varies by post and by class and by year, but at the end of MST, we of PCM-15 were only eleven months out, ten if you want to take the standing offer to leave thirty days early.
It’s a cliché to say that the time has flown, and it wouldn’t be right, either, not all the way. The days haven’t gone inasmuch as my perception of time has grown confused—I can barely account for the last thirteen months and definitely not for their order.
The ten weeks of training back in September and October 2013 seemed to stretch on forever, longer than all the months that have passed since June lumped together. I keep thinking that we celebrated Mexican independence in late July instead of September, and I can’t make anything that’s happened since stick in my mind apart from the All-Volunteer Conference, Día de Muertos, and Thanksgiving. All one-hundred-twenty odd days apart from those? Can’t account for them.
Maybe I just blocked it all out after this
I wrote awhile ago that Peace Corps volunteers make good bigots. Generally, statistically, we’re privileged white people traveling to all the poorer, browner, and yellower parts of the world. We arrive in classes of universal inexperience that serve as crucibles for culture shock and adjustment frustration. All of our angst and anxiety bouncing off each other in conversation after conversation. I want to get into that bigotry. My bigotry.
I’ve brought up volunteer chats as a mechanic twice now, and I’d like to explain. Imagine that you’re at a big weekend party with all of your friends, and after two solid days of debauch, one of your hosts sits down to tally what everyone has contributed so you can split costs and share the burden. It’s going okay, but then one of your friends starts complaining about how little she drank compared with everyone else and makes a scene over her bare-minimum contribution while the rest are happy to round up and pay it forward. You think about it for a couple of minutes after it happens and then you let it go.
Now imagine you’re one of the last to leave. It’s you, your hosts, and a couple of other stragglers. One of them says, “Can you believe how cheap whatshername was just now?”
“Yea, what an asshole,” another friend chimes in, and suddenly you’re thinking yea, she was an asshole, and you spend the next ten minutes consumed by breaking down how and why and what a total culera that chick was. Prejudice grows between us like this, through nasty little circlejerks when we aren’t paying enough attention to what we’re doing to each other.
I’ve got pictures of my legs today. I went on a water-quality-monitoring expedition with some other volunteers and guys from the office this weekend. We checked on the quantity and physical characteristics of water salamanders, which over time give us a picture of how bad or good the water is. We did this in beautiful Pinal in a couple of spring-fed, barely-above freezing rivers, and as soon as I’ve got photos or video of me and Trey and Ulises jumping in and cussing our lungs out, I’ll put them up. What the river also had were black flies. The kind that bite people when they’re trying to measure salamanders.
The kind that bite you sixty or seventy times on each leg
They also carry, shit you not, parasites that cause river blindness. Trey and I have been scratching ourselves raw for days, but as long as we don’t end up with a disease you diagnose by spotting worms in your own eyes, we’ll be alright.
Getting to the point of the post, Hemingway’s got a collection of short stories called Men without Women. The book explores the titular condition and finds that we (and given the book, the premise of the post, and my own orientation, I’m gonna be talking about hetero men) are worse off. That the women in our lives fill some void, lend some balance, that without them, whether by virtue of something intrinsic to them or projected on them by us, our rougher edges, worse natures, insecurities and failings emerge.
I might be reading into things
I’d have to agree.
There are perfect travelers.
Alex Guyton is one
People who cross borders and languages in a way that makes you angry. Alex taught in Sardinia for a month on what I think was two semesters of Italian and used the thousand Euros to travel the Continent and the UK for four months. She was a family cook in Germany and a goatherd in Switzerland. She missed crew and snuck into the employees-only bit of the boathouse in Florence, and when they found her she ended up with an appointment to scull under the Ponte Vecchio. Which cut short her impromptu rendezvous with a beautiful Australian who had to catch a train for the Himalayas in the morning.
Then there are graceful travelers. Here am I.
This might have something to do with it
Airport waits don’t bother us and we’d let the TSA stare at our tackle for free if it gave the sweaty masses an excuse to stumble through the security line faster. Strange food and strange people and strange languages don’t put us off; we feel more or less at home wherever. Which might be, in my case, because I’ve got no real home.