Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Central Asia Proves Itself To, yet again, Be In The Middle of Nowhere

Let’s revisit First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria. My dad brought the book home for me after one of the acquisitions consultants at Audible recommended it upon hearing that I was planning on going into the Peace Corps. He told me that it was the kind of book that would make me not want to do the Peace Corps. Or at least…he was probably hoping that it was the kind of book that would make me not want to do the Peace Corps. In actuality, it makes me want to do the Peace Corps even more. Because you see…Eve, the author, quit. And I’m competitive. So I want to prove that I’m better than that. It makes me really want to do the Peace Corps, and not quit.

But here’s the thing…I can’t seem to get away from the constant reminders of how isolated Central Asia is. In the book, Eve ends up following her husband to Uganda. Without any background, she goes straight into talking about the affects of Idi Amin’s rule and dropping names of other African countries like the reader’s supposed to know exactly where they are relative to Uganda. Now maybe it’s a generational thing…but I had to Wikipedia Idi Amin the first time he was mentioned, because I had no idea exactly who he was or what the history of Uganda is. Yet, Eve treats it like it’s common knowledge. She even points out that the only things she knew about Uganda before going was about Idi Amin. Okay…just make me feel even more inept for having to Wikipedia him.

I would completely accept this as an oversight by an author too involved in a country to recognize what the average American is likely to know about it, if it weren’t for the fact that she ends up in Uzbekistan by the end of the book:

“When we returned to Kampala, John had several frantic messages from the Peace Corps. They desperately wanted to interview him for the job of Assistant Country Director in (now hold on to your hat and grab your atlas) Uzbekistan. In case you’re looking for it, Uzbekistan is in the souther part of what used to be the Soviet Union, near Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, and Tajikstan.”

Gee…that’s great…even the world traveler and international volunteer extraordinaire Eve Brown-Waite has never heard of Central Asia. That’s awesome. On a slightly awesomer note however…the Peace Corps has Country Director jobs? Do you think they have them for every country? Would it be possible for me to go straight from my service into Country Director?? And just like…never leave??

And on another happy note, First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria ends with a letter that Eve wrote home from Uzbekistan:

“We recently received three interesting pieces of news in the mail. One was from the State Department warning about the unsafe conditions for Americans in the West Bank; one was a news article about rioting in Yerevan, Armenia, along with a State Department warning to all Americans living in Armenia; and the third was a news article from The New Vision, whose headline read: ‘Rebels Invade CARE office in Arua.’ Bet you’re glad that we’re in Uzbekistan!”

Great! Central Asia sounds safe!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Roughing It

The whole neighborhood had plans to spend Labor Day Weekend on the Eldred’s island in Canada. I’d heard a lot about this island…the place where Rope Ferrians go to “rough it” with no cell service, no electricity, and only enough ice to keep two cases cold at a time. For various reasons, I’d never been, but I figured that this would be a perfect opportunity for me to test out my roughingness ability in preparation for the Peace Corps: would I be able to light a kerosene lamp in the middle of the night in order to go to the bathroom? Would I be able to bear the lukewarm-fire-heated “hot tub”?

Short answer: maybe not, if I had appendicitis.

A few days before leaving, I woke up (or…stayed in bed) with a massive hang over that literally took me out for the entire day. This was strange and something that’s never happened to me before. But my mom took no sympathy so I just wallowed in pain. I finally got a little curious when the pain continued into the next day. No way. No hangover is two days long. Right? As an athlete, I’ve always been a little hyper-sensitive about aches and pains. (I’ve also always been curious if I have an incredibly low pain tolerance or if I’m just in touch with my body…but that’s one of those things that’s just really hard to figure out. Like…you can’t trade pain with someone to see how you’d react to what they’re feeling.) Anyways, I had a little bit of a fear that this pain was in just the right place for it to develop into appendicitis. Which would not be a-okay while roughing it in Canada.

Finally, 24 hours later, my mom felt enough pity on me to take me to the hospital where I was diagnosed with the UTI from hell. Given antibiotics, and sent up on my way to Canada.

Coincidentally, at this time I was also reading my newest Peace Corps memoir, First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria, which is about a Peace Corps volunteer who quit, only to return to Africa a year later, following her husband on a job. The chapter I was suffering through reading while driving the miserable eight (five – ha!) hour drive to this island was about her getting pregnant in Uganda. The humor in the chapter was that not one of the doctors could confirm or deny the pregnancy for her. They all said that she was “a little bit pregnant.” (It’s on the back of the book jacket, so you don’t even have to read the whole thing to confirm this if you don’t believe me.) Of course, the fear here is that she could have had an ectopic pregnancy.

A symptom of which would be pain in the lower abdomen. Similar to pain that could be mistaken for appendicitis. Or maybe mistaken on a urine sample as a UTI????????

The author goes into some detail about the fear of having an ectopic pregnancy in a place like Uganda…or like on an island without electricity in a country with socialized medicine….

Now…I’m on birth control, I use condoms, and apparently am very unattractive because I haven’t had sex in like three months. So realistically, an ectopic pregnancy would have been impossible…but I was obviously asking myself a lot of “what ifs” as I laid convulsing in chills on the beautiful and warm sun porch on the island without electricity. And even though I kept on eating and drinking and taking those antibiotics they gave me, my fever kept on rising and rising and my vomit bursts got closer and closer getting to the point where I just couldn’t take the antibiotics anymore. (Is that an over share? Or was the pregnancy part an over share?)

So ultimately mommy and I gave up roughing it and packed up the multiple suit cases we had brought to rough it for the weekend and headed back to the marina and back to the US and non-Obama-care medicine where I was ultimately treated for a kidney infection.

Moral of the story: damn am I happy that the US was only five hours away from roughing it. And what am I going to do if I get a kidney infection in freaking Kazakhstan??

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The First Book

Ironically, perfectly, dauntingly titled this is not civilization (no caps perhaps because capitalization hasn’t yet reached Central Asia?), I sat down to read Robert Rosenberg’s novel in about two days. I was captivated. He wrote autobiographically (I think) about his experiences before, during, and after a term of Peace Corps service in Kyrgyzstan. Sound familiar? There’s a reason I picked it up off the virtual shelf that is This book provided me with my first insight on what exactly Central Asia is and where it is developmentally…and served as my first exposure to a Peace Corps memoir outside of the official ones provided by the organization when everybody has a purpose and everything ends happy.

My biggest take-away from this book is that in Kyrgyzstan it’s still completely legal and acceptable to “kidnap” one’s bride. Meaning that if a man kidnaps a single woman, she must marry him. Meaning that if I’m assigned to work in Kyrgyzstan and I’m walking down the street one day and some guy pulls me into his car, he better be attractive – or at least wealthy – because he’s going to be my husband. The book actually didn’t go into the details about if this is the case with white females. I guess the male author didn’t see this as a concern (no interest in finding a bride for himself) but I can only assume that after 2 years in Kyrgyzstan it wouldn’t matter if I was white anyways.

The real reason this tradition popped out at me is not because I’m fearful of being kidnapped – I still have that thing of mace that my grandmother gave me for like my 16th birthday – but because it fits in so perfectly well with my mom’s biggest fear of me going into the Peace Corps: that I’m just going to find love somewhere, settle down, get married, and never come back to the US. I laughed when she first expressed this fear to me because I said it would have been a possibility had I been assigned somewhere pretty like SE Asia…but that I thought it was very unlikely that I would find love in Central Asia (is it just me, or when you picture Central Asia/Russia, is it impossible to conceive of a 20-30 year old male? The area just seems devoid of them to me…probably my sub-conscious mixing together everything I know about the region: being that it’s had various purges and wars throughout its history, wiping out that entire demographic of the population). Anyways…didn’t think I would find love in Central Asia. But then I learned that in Central Asia, LOVE MIGHT FIND ME. That sounds a little super sweet and like a slight possibility, so Mommy now again has reason to be worried.

The second thing I learned from this book is: once in the Peace Corps, always in the Peace Corps. After his term of service, the main character leaves Kyrgyzstan for a US Foreign Service job in Istanbul (this is all starting to sound like my own future autobiography) where he is eventually tracked down by two of the people from his previous village begging for exorbitant sums of money…assuming that since he is white and nice…he must be able to provide. He of course doesn’t, because he can’t, but that doesn’t mean that his new house guests leave. It actually means they stick around for months, just hoping that one day he’ll give in.

I’m not sure I’m too excited about the possibility of villagers I serve coming to find me years later asking for favors. Although the way he describes it, Istanbul sounds beautiful. So I guess that’s a worthy trade-off?