Is Ignorance Bliss?

The other day I walked into the office at the Y. Only one woman was there. She was cleaning the dishes in a tub of warm water that she had heated up either on the stove or with the electric water heater. We did our normal morning greeting, but I could see she felt terrible. Something was wrong, as it so often is with the women I work with. It seems they can’t go a couple weeks straight without a headache or some other ailment. The depth of the sadness in her eyes weighed on my soul as I stared out the window.

I thought about my own life and my current situation. It’s not perfect, but damn, it’s pretty good all things considered. Then I thought about her situation. We’ve had talks before. She worries about money. She worries about her husband. Her kyanq (life) is djvar (hard).

I thought about my future. As bleak as the Armenian February can seem, I have this little hope that I’ve been clinging onto with white knuckles my whole time here: one day I get to return to what I left. That little glimmer of hope can do a lot for one’s mental well-being through some difficult times. It keeps me on my feet and ready to tackle another day of ambiguity. I’ve talked about it with other volunteers before – I’m happy here, but perhaps a large component of that happiness is the knowledge that my existence is also temporary.

I thought about her future. And her past. I just thought about her life, I guess you could say. I compared the hopes and dreams she probably has to my own. They are quite different, that is if I was able to successfully simulate someone else’s dreams in my own head in order to make a comparison that I would base a blog post on. I dream of interesting jobs, early retirement, owning businesses, living in multiple countries, and marriage solidly founded in true love. She might be dreaming about a decent future for her kids, or a way to pay the bills more easily, or a way to make the headaches and toothaches stop. And here we come to that unbridgeable gap that I’ve come to many times in my Peace Corps experience, only to turn around back into the forest of introspection every time not knowing what to do, what to make of the situation, or how to even begin building a bridge of profound understanding of what it truly is like to be an Armenian.

There is absolutely no way I can reconcile my experience with hers. Yes, I’ve lived alongside her for a year and a half. Yes, I’ve learned her language. Yes, I’ve experienced her culture. But I will never fully know what it is like to be in her situation. “Yeah sure Kevin, but you’ll never know what it’s like to be me either.” Fine. Valid point. But the simple fact that you are an American gives me a 90% insight into your life. Until you wave goodbye to your culture and country you don’t understand how much that inexplicably random fact in your life constitutes such a huge f’ing deal of it. I’ll never know what it’s like to work my ass off for a whole month just to earn $80. I’ll never know what it’s like to feel so utterly obligated to comply with social norms that I must prepare a Nor Tari table with hundreds of dollars of food just so I don’t lose face. I’ll never know what it’s like to suffer from chronic, simple, preventable health ailments just because the culture I live in has its own unique take on why we get sick and what’s healthy. I’ll never know what it’s like to be sticking it out in a marriage with someone who isn’t supposed to love me but rather provide for me, yet is failing on all fronts.

And so I ask, is ignorance bliss? Is it good that she has never driven a car and never will? Is it good that she’s never eaten in a restaurant? Is it good that she’s never seen the ocean? Is it good that she doesn’t know what it’s like to fly? Is it good that she doesn’t know what it means to have women as empowered members of society? Is it good that she doesn’t know how nice it is to live in a clean city without plastic bags flying around like tumbleweed? Is it good that she doesn’t know what I dream about?

I ask myself this question all the time.

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2 Responses to “Is Ignorance Bliss?”

  1. Peter Says:

    Wow dude. That last paragraph might be the deepest thing you’ve touched on in this blog (in my humble opinion). I dunno, I question if you can really be completely ignorant if you hear stories about empowered women or see photos of the ocean, but if I believe in out of side, out of mind, then maybe she’s can’t really know what she’s missing out on not seeing them firsthand.

    If I’m giving my honest answer, it would be yes. I’d rather just be under the false perception that I have an okay life than really understand to what extent I’m missing out on.

  2. icenugget Says:

    Yeah, I like the question whether ignorance is possible if you have seen something in a picture that seems impossible to you. In my experience reading about something or seeing something in a picture is one thing and actually living with the ability to do those things is completely different. I would consider the “I’ve heard about an empowered woman but don’t live in a society that empowers women” scenario to be ignorance with a side of enlightenment. Like 90% ignorance 😉

    I agree with you that ignorance is probably bliss. I’m sure Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong pity the rest of us for never having seen the Earth, or walking on the moon. But my life is going by swimmingly without those things.

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