A Moment of Clarity

Monday and Tuesday were our Mid Service Conference. It proved to be a slightly boring experience, most of which doesn’t deserve to be spoken about here. There were a few interesting nuggets I gathered from it/experienced though.

The first revelation is that this was the beginning of the end. I really felt like we were “descending the mountain” as the Armenians say. There was a lot of talk about a possible All-Volunteer conference in November (which is an annual thing here that had its head placed in the guillotine of budget cuts) and then some more talk about our COS (Close of Service) conference in April. It’s very possible that the next time I will see all these people again will be at the COS conference when we are essentially saying goodbye.

That gave me the impression that it’s all downhill from here. A lot of us are somewhat jaded, a little cranky, and a bit disenchanted with the bureaucracy. We had a psychologist from PC Washington there, who, while a bit long winded, won some points for being a Cardinals fan and knowing the smell of Decatur. During his session he had us think of a metaphor to describe our current mindset in our service. My metaphor was that it felt like mile 14 of a marathon, where suddenly you find yourself running alone. All the half marathoners have finished, leaving just a few crazy souls left with you out there on the course. Our A-17s seem to be dropping like flies and soon they’ll all be gone. And the 19s still aren’t quite with us yet, so the weird feeling of being the lone group will persist for a few more weeks. There were other interesting metaphors, such as the simple illustration one guy made full of dark humor: a stick figure falling off a cliff towards a watery grave where a shark with an open mouth awaited. The stick figure was exactly halfway down his fall.

The reality is that the last group began checking out mentally at random times beginning around Christmas and continuing into the spring. Now is the time where I feel completely at ease here, kinda speak the language, and generally know what is going on. They say it is our most effective time, which I hope is true. It’s just a matter of mustering that internal motivation to get some more good stuff done before the Lada Niva that is your idealism sputters to a stop.

Another revelation is that everyone is beginning to plan what’s next. Life is funny in that way – you dream and plan for something like the Peace Corps. It takes months or years to actually get in. Then when you’re finally in there doing what you dreamed about, you find yourself thinking about the next thing when you’re only halfway done! I am very good at reflecting on the past and thinking about the future, but not always great at cherishing the moment. It’s interesting for me to see a bunch of other people in our group kind of doing the same. Well, I can’t say they’re not cherishing the moment, but when you are toting around a GRE prep book, how can you be?

I’m Going to Grad School seems to be winning the post-PC popularity contest right now. But it’s a close contest, with Extending For A Third Year of Service nipping at the collective ivory towers of I’m Going to Grad School. Once upon a time I wanted to attend a top 5 business school, get a prestigious MBA, and become a CEO somewhere. Then I worked at AT&T 😉 When asked if I am doing grad school, the answer is a firm “no” at this point in my life. I don’t have the desire to, and I don’t think the world needs another International Affairs Master’s degree with the volume the PC pipeline is churning out.

The rumors were swirling about who is considering a third year of PC. Some of the names were surprising, and some were not. For some the idea is surely like a security blanket – delaying the inevitable return to whatever you left back home. For others it is a matter of unfinished work, unfinished experiences, and a desire for more. People have asked me, and again I can say that my name is not just placed into the “No” hat, but it is actually stitched into the interior. I love my PC service, mostly, but part of that love is knowing that it will end in about a year’s time. The more I am here the crazier I am. Well, I was already crazy for wanting to do this. But seriously, the more I am here the more I realize it is just kind of a bubble in my life that is its own unique thing. It will never be replicated, never be replaced, and hopefully never be popped! But it is so unique that sometimes it feels like a somewhat-useless bubble. Sure, there are invaluable lessons being learned and my life outlook has changed for better or worse. What I really mean is that I don’t see staying here a 3rd year as any sort of additional help in my life going forward. I’m going to have to reintegrate into Western society and continue my life as I see fit. I learned so many lessons in year 1, and probably grew more as a person during that year than I will in year 2. It’s just the marginal utility of the deal. So if year 2 isn’t quite as Miracle-Growish as year 1, then year 3 will be like, “Oops I forgot to water Plant for a month.” I have respect for those who do a third year, but my work here will not demand a third year from me and I just don’t have the desire.

One other thing I realized during this time is that I am integrated. Yes, I might feel like a stranger on the street in Vardenis sometimes. That’s just Vardenis at large. Indeed, there are people here who care about me and consider me part of their community. The fact that I realized this is nice, because it’s much easier to see how many people don’t know you and don’t care about you than to appreciate the ones who do. It was evidenced yesterday when I was still in Yerevan after the conference. I got a phone call from one of the girls at the office. She asked if everything was okay since I hadn’t been to the office in a few days. Oops. Guess I didn’t tell everyone where I was going. I came in this morning to a mixed reaction of “We’re glad to see you!” and “Where the hell were you? Don’t ever do that again!” Most of that was because my counterpart hasn’t been in the office either. But still it was cute and endearing. Similarly the shopkeepers and the postmaster will ask where I was after an extended absence. Try to get that at the reliable yet cold US Postal Service or at Wal Mart. Well, hopefully you don’t go to Wal Mart often enough that they know your personal business!

Also, I realized that I have great dental genes. I got my one and only dental cleaning of service yesterday. 16 months without a cleaning, yet no problems.

Finally, I started a trend. One volunteer came to the conference with a great moustache. Another shaved his beard into one during the conference. So my own stache lives on on other faces now.


7 Responses to “A Moment of Clarity”

  1. Aunt Kim Says:

    Oh my, the unmistakenable smell of Decatur. Strangely enough I’ve grown to like it. Do people who work in the sewer business do the same? Point to ponder.

  2. icenugget Says:

    Every time I cook beans I have a smell-induced flashback to being on the plant floor when I was 18. Good or bad, it smells like home.

    Sewer folks I think lose some of their sense of smell, the body’s way of coping, similar to my dad. Ed Rowe went in one time on Dirty Jobs and almost died from the smell, but the workers were just fine.

  3. Brad the Dad Says:

    It’s Mike Rowe, but you probably don’t see Dirty Jobs very often in Armenia. Speaking from experience as a resident of Decatur and a sewer plant employee, you do get used to it. Officially it is called olfactory fatigue, as your nose gets tired of the odor. If you get away from it for awhile it comes back.

  4. icenugget Says:

    Thank you Brad the Dad! I haven’t been around cable TV enough lately I guess 😀

    Olfactory fatigue…so that explains why Peace Corps volunteers can’t smell themselves.

  5. Peter Says:

    The same goes for hippies who mostly shower monthly, mostly.

  6. Emma J. Says:

    I can’t believe that you’ve had midservice already, NUTTERS!! This post sums up PC perfectly. So true about planning too–took me a year and a half to get an invitation, I don’t even have midservice until January and looking up grad programs is about all I do when I go to my capital…..is it particularly American? always striving for the next great thing? Tough to say. Learning to savor (and be grateful for!) the moment good or bad, though, is a skill to be cultivated–the only way to get through the really rough times…

  7. icenugget Says:

    Emma, maybe we get through the tough times by focusing on what is next. That’s what I did in the cubicle days.

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