Readjusting

I just wanted to link to this blog post to give everyone a sense of what its like to be a part of the rat race, ticking time bomb again. I could write a whole article on my experience, but this post is much more entertaining than me sitting at my mom’s house looking for jobs all day.

What They Won’t Tell You at COS About Life After Peace Corps.

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‘R’ is for Returned

I’m officially an RPCV and was given Interrupted Service. Theres a few loose ends to tie up, paperwork to process, and other business to take care of. I think the word “interrupted” couldn’t describe it more accurately. My life existed in Zavkhan, and now it doesn’t. With very few goodbyes and lots of tears,  I winded up back in California with little money and no real plan. Life does that sometimes, but I’m okay. I’m lucky to have a great family. I wish things had resulted differently, but I can’t control that. I will always think of my students and my friends living in Zavkhan as the peaceful people they were, and I miss them. I will cherish the experience and how it has changed me for the rest of my life.

I’m in Amsterdam with my family who I haven’t seen in too long, eating plenty of bad food and pretending I can exist in western society and culture without freaking out a little on the inside about enormous quantities, expensive prices, cleanliness, and other exorbitant luxuries. But now that the Peace Corps chapter of my life is over, I’m moving onto the next one, whatever that may be.There is only so long you can dwell on the surface level of things, because the next day always comes.

The political climate in the U.S. is much worse than I anticipated, and my generation’s apathy is becoming more and more of a cause for concern. I don’t know how requesting clean water makes people radical activists, instead of people simply speaking up for basic rights. Sexual assault is becoming more and more socially accepted as a reality we can’t change and our public can’t conceptualize public health care or a world without prejudice. It all just makes me so sad. I’ve come back to my own world worried. I can only exemplify the peace that I wish to see in world, following the advice of our good friend Gandhi.

Talking to my friends and family about all of this, I realized that we’ve lost faith in the media, and in “facts.” In these times, my only true belief is that artistic expressions are more important than ever. One day, years from now, we’ll see the art from today and see the impacts that society has on our grief, anger and hope for a better future.

That’s enough of my idealism for today.

Thoughts

I am privileged to be from such a liberally minded place, and have the option to wear what I want, have a decent amount of freedom in choice of jobs, and bare-minimum levels of respect from the opposite gender.

I never thought that these things were a privilege, but a right. A basic human right to live freely, being who I am without prejudice. I want to believe that all mankind can exist peacefully as humans rather than marginalized groups of people who are treated differently. I am not so naive, though. I mistakenly carried this thought in my heart for most of my life, believing that everyone, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, will receive equal opportunities, because the universe is a happy, sunshine-y beautiful place and everything ultimately works itself out in the end if you just open your heart to possibility.

Ever heard of parents who “raise their daughters and love their sons”? I don’t have any proof that this is true with most families, but can only back this with my personal experience. I worked part-time jobs since I was fourteen and went to public school while my brother went to private school and wasn’t expected to work. I always felt like he was allowed to fly under the radar, and never got punished for anything he did. They were just.. harder on me.

“Sanne,” she would say, “You need to know how to take care of yourself. You can’t rely on anyone else. You’ll lose.”

Now, I don’t think parents do this purposefully. They do it to protect their girls. Because the world is ugly to girls. Especially to naive girls.

Five Things About Consumerism

Thanksgiving is supposedly “use-less-stuff Day,” an effort to get Americans to buy less tumblers that they just keep in their cabinet and never use.

  1. I just saw buttless panties for sale at Victoria’s Secret. A cashier caught me and asked, “so are you looking for some backless panties?” I kept myself from snorting and said I thought it looked funny and that I’m just taking a picture to send to my friend. “Here,” she said, “this is what its supposed to look like from the front.” Then she said, “Yeah, I actually don’t know what these are used for. Latest design, I guess.” I pause. She pauses. “Have a nice day!”
  2. I purchased a latte for $6.55 at my local coffee shop, and my insides might have actually curled in on themselves. She smiled a lot though, and when she gave me my change she told me to have a blessed day and I felt like I might need to throw up a little.
  3.  I went to a yoga class, only being able to because of a promotional offer for new students. Didn’t know it was heated. I wore cotton and by the end, I was dripping with a puddle of sweat around me. At the end of class, I noticed that there were several students wearing super-fashionable high-end yoga gear that some famous person might have designed. They were not as visibly sweaty as I was. I felt an overwhelming need to buy the clothes they were wearing, except I spent all my money on the promotional and I probably won’t wear it anywhere besides the classes I will no longer afford to attend after the month is through.
  4. Payment plans for Dre Beats headphones at the AT&T store. $20 a month for a year, and you’ve paid off the headphones Dr. Dre wasn’t even able to afford when he started Death Row Records. By then, of course, you’ll need to start a new payment plan for the new model.
  5. My local grocery store is allowing customers to order in Thanksgiving food, so they don’t actually have to cook for themselves. They can just go in on Thanksgiving, and pick up the food. More time for football.

Minimalism is a concept that you can only truly grasp if you’ve had the fortune to have too much of something, and then feel the need to post tiny notes around the house that say shit like “ruthlessly eliminate clutter from your life.” In my experience, people collect to feel secure. They like to have things to keep them from needing to worry about anything. Growing up, my dad was painfully frugal and his favorite word was “no,” so I always get to feel guilty when I buy something exorbitant.  Can’t call myself a minimalist or a spender, but I’ve become acutely aware when someone or something is trying to sell me something, especially when I never needed or wanted it in the first place.

Happy “Use-Less-Stuff” Day.

PS

I’m in America.

A Little Update/ New Beginnings

I haven’t posted in a while, partly because of how crazy busy I’ve been lately. A lot has happened since February. Spring came and left, and summer is in full swing. I had to take a good, hard look at my service (again) and figure out if the positive outweighs the negative. I ultimately had to request a site change because the difficulties at my HCA (host country agency) spun out of control and became a safety issue. My work has been tremendously rewarding, and the kids in my life are infinitely way cooler than the adults.

Special Olympics in February was wonderful for our 7 athletes who have barely had the opportunity to leave Zavkhan. And since then, I created a Happy Center off of Govi-Altai aimag’s model, which was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever accomplished. The Happy Center is a bi-weekly program for children with disabilities to come to interact with other kids, play games, learn life skills and hang out. The idea behind the program was to help socialize children into the community, and while the program was a moderate success, I sometimes felt like I was taking a few steps backwards because so many of my counterparts and locals were confused by the purpose. In those moments I take deep breaths and am glad the children are happy. This is one of those moments where I have to accept “good enough” is better than nothing at all..

The biggest challenge in my work is motivating my colleagues to work on projects, and they were often preoccupied with either grading copious amounts of papers and assignments or scrolling through facebook.. I was essentially mostly doing work outside of my assigned host country agency.

Peace Corps recognized the issues I faced, be it gender, harassment, resistance to change, etc. but I have spent a lot of time questioning their methods, be it the best intention possible. I was disappointed by staff on so many occasions, by the time I hit a tipping point, I was almost afraid to approach them. Mongolia changed country directors, and there was a shift in administrative policies which are confusing and disorganized. During in-service training, a staff member who will remain unnamed, suggested I return to America after a conversation with my counterpart who he tagged as “unmotivated.” I was devastated. I figure he believed that the issues were too complicated to solve. But I did end up telling all his superiors about the unnecessary suggestion he made
that I voluntarily terminate my service. Upon having to report the assault to them, another staff member asked me if the differences were “just cultural.”

But I won’t bother you any further on the shortcomings of the underfunded, understaffed and overworked US Government organization that I happen to work for and depend on..

I am happily tucked away 30 hours from UB, and moved into a new apartment with a new HCA, living in the same city. I have a new director, who unfortunately already discovered I have tattoos and said they were муу, but is the sweetest woman who desperately wanted a volunteer for her school.

I’ve been relocated to the Music and Dance College in town, and have a cute little studio in a house where other teachers from my college reside. The mood is an airy contrast to the shadows of depression in my last HCA. They are impressed by my Mongolian speaking skills, which always makes me shy. I think that when foreigners speak Mongolian, it always comes as a bit of a shock. But in Uliastai, there really in’t a huge presence of English speakers so I don’t always have a choice..

I will write more about my experiences as a female volunteer, and how gender roles in Mongolia affect my daily life as opposed to living in America. Something that has been burning on my mind…

Peace.