The End is Near
May 21, 2008
“A scientific genius is not a person who does what no one else can do; he or she is someone who does what it takes many others to do. The genius is not a unique source of insight; he is merely an efficient source of insight.”
- The New Yorker: May 12, 2008
“The fact that the least conservative, least divisive Republican in the 2008 race is the last one standing—despite being despised by significant voices on the right—shows how little life is left in the movement that Goldwater began, Nixon brought into power, Ronald Reagan gave mass appeal, Newt Gingrich radicalized, Tom DeLay criminalized, and Bush allowed to break into pieces.”
- The New Yorker: May 26, 2008
May 22, 2008
The date has been revealed: I depart Kyrgyzstan on August 21, 2008
I received a phone call yesterday in the middle of my final lesson of the morning. (I usually don’t answer calls during lessons, but we were playing games yesterday – it’s the final week of school, no one studies.) I excused myself from a conversation I was having with a few students and answered the phone. It was my program manager.
“Salam, Jason. How are you?”
“Good, how are you?”
“I am good. I’m calling to tell you that your early COS date has been approved.”
“Oh, that’s good. What date do I have?”
“Ok, thank you, see you soon.”
“You are welcome, see you next week.”
The above dialogue was in Kyrgyz. Most of my conversations with my program manager are in Kyrgyz these days. She loves being able to have full conversations with me in Kyrgyz. I love talking to her in Kyrgyz because she is the only person I talk to in country that I can understand everything she says. She speaks a very clear and adapted Kyrgyz, sprinkling Peace Corps terminology (in English) in her conversations with me. This being said, I still have a slight delay in my comprehension. The delay has shrunk over time, but it still takes a few seconds for full comprehension of words and sentences.
After I hung up the phone I paused. “My COS request been approved,” I thought. A slight happiness ran through my body; followed by a second thought that froze entire body. “I leave Kyrgyzstan on August 21.” My facial expression clearly changed drastically.
“Mister Jason, what’s wrong,” one of my students asked my in Kyrgyz.
Forcing my lips to part, I responded with a faint, “nothing.”
For the past three months I knew I would be leaving some time in August, but nothing was ever concrete. Previous to my fourth lesson yesterday, my knowledge of when I would leave was revealed to those who asked, and to myself, in a series of ellipses. “I leave in August…” Suddenly I had a date. My entire service, my life in Kyrgyzstan, was abruptly given a date of closure.
As my students stared at me I felt my forehead tighten and my eyes widen. My back sunk into the chair and my thoughts took flight. “Wow, on August 21 I will be home. My life in Kyrgyzstan will be over.” Sounds kind of dramatic now as I recall it, but I’ve been able to keep myself clear of major departure anxieties by keeping my departure a distant thought. I don’t want to think about. I can be a very open person when it comes to emotion, but by and large goodbyes are my weak point.
I have two levels of emotion during departures: stoicism and sheer destruction. I have no doubts that leaving Kyrgyzstan will be the latter. Thing is, I really can’t afford to fall apart for a while. I’m not going to lie to myself and believe I will be able to hold myself together when I leave. But that is three months away. I think I will take the stoic approach to my impending departure for a while, but inevitability has a way keeping the clock ticking. When the time comes, I will have my carry-on ready. I wonder if carrying pieces of myself in my carry-on counts as human trafficking?
Where my thoughts escapin’
Where my music’s playin’
Where my love lies waitin’ silently for me.”
- S and G
June 4, 2008
“How I dream, Natasha, how I dream,” he was saying, waving a small, whistling stick. “Am I really lying when I pass off my fantasies as truth? I had a friend who served for three years in Bombay. Bombay? My God! The music of geographical names. That word alone contains something gigantic, bombs of sunlight, drums. Just imagine, Natasha—that friend of mine was incapable of communicating anything, remembered nothing except work-related squabbles, the heat, the fevers, and the wife of some British colonel. Which of us really visited India? . . . It’s obvious—of course, I am the one.”
‘Natasha’ – Vladimir Nabokov; The New Yorker: June 9, 2008
(Circa 1924. Translated, from Russian, by Dmitri Nabokov.)
June 7, 2008
“American anxiety springs from something much deeper, a sense that large and disruptive forces are coursing through the world. In almost every industry, in every aspect of life, if feels like the patterns of the past are being scrambled. “Whirl is king, having driven out Zeus,” wrote Aristophanes 2,400 years ago. And – for the first time in living memory – the United States does not seem to be leading the charge. Americans see that a new world is coming into being, but fear it is one being shaped in distant lands and by foreign people.
Look around. The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is in Bollywood, not Hollywood. Once quintessentially American icons have been usurped by the natives. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year. America no longer dominates even its favorite sport, shopping. The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American. These lists are arbitrary and a bit silly, but consider only ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.”
- Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World (excerpted in Newsweek May 12, 2008)
I quote this article above because by the end of the entire article I can honestly say I was beaming with happiness. Sounds kind of Anti-American doesn’t it? If it does, then so be it. I love my country and I am proud of where I am from. But something inside of me loves knowing that America is being challenged as the great empire it once was (and may still be). I love that developing countries are becoming developed. I love that former colonies are stepping up to challenge their colonizers. I love that America is not the best.
I should probably remind you now that I am not anti-American. I am very far from it. The benefits and possibilities my country offers me are incredible and I’m thankful everyday to have them. There are many things that I may not be able to do if I were not an American (writing what I am could be one of them), and I am glad that our country has fought so hard for the freedom it allows its citizens.
The great thing is we can still be a great country, all the while sharing the spotlight with the rest of the world. What a beautiful thought! Honestly. A world where people all over the world start to live on level playing fields! I know, I know, sounds far-fetched, but check this: it’s about time that Americans started using the world map instead of just the US map. We are not the entire plant. There are other countries that share our globe with us. America, you have a 50% chance of having a Black president come November, the Latin-American population is growing daily and will not stop (people have kids remember), and soon, if it has not already happened, America is going to be challenged for it spot atop the world’s economy.
And while Americans are screaming about the threat of losing our top spot, I am very loudly voicing my love for it! Why you ask? Well, I think the world could be a beautiful place with so many new colors helping to paint the global mural. Why do so few people know about Bollywood? Why do so few Americans care about Soccer (or Futbol as the rest of the world knows it)? Why are we only one of three nations on the ENTIRE PLANET that does not use the metric system? You want my answer. Well too bad, you are going to get it anyways. I believe this is so because deep inside the souls of many Americans there is the belief that we are better than the world around us.
I’ve seen this even in Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and many other foreign-aid workers who come to Kyrgyzstan to work. Many Volunteers are here working, but they never really see the people they are working with as their equals. There is a lot of people here to give everything they can to help the people of this country, but good handful of people of those people could care less about the people they are helping. Volunteering and aid work to them is more of a selfish act; something that makes them feel better about returning to America and showering once a day or having a school system with books. This is by no means the majority of PCVS or foreign-aid workers, but sadly majorities are not always the people that leave the greatest impressions.
America needs to get off its horse, put on some walking shoes and explore the world around them. This doesn’t even have to be done traveling the world. The beautiful thing about America is that so many cultures, languages, and peoples live within the borders of our country! We can simply wander around some of great cities and see and meet an endless diversity of world cultures. Getting Chinese take-out does not count as exploring the diversity our country has. But little things can be done. Try talking with a British co-worker about something other than David Beckham, inviting your Mexican neighbors over for dinner, or maybe heading to a Japanese cultural center for a relaxing day.
There are so many little things that we can do to see what our great world has to offer us, but so many people chose not to for what reason? For fear of the other? For fear that the other may be equal to us? Get over it America! We are not the greatest. Ok, yeah, we have a military budget that equals Africa’s GDP and enough nuclear warheads to take out a third of our solar system. But what does that really mean? Are we really such a macho group of people to believe that our military strength alone makes us great people? 50 Cent was shot a few times and likes to talk about guns a lot, but does that really make him a great person? As a country are we not above the frat-boy machismo persona?
I still think America is a great country. But I also think there are a lot of other great countries. I believe America is great because of its diversity, because of its culture, and because of its history. I am bothered by our country’s fear of the unknown. We want our lives orderly. We want to know we have control of the paths we follow. Let go America! The free fall is so much more exciting and filled with wonder!
June 13, 2008
“It was a nice feeling to have a Microvac of your own and Jerrodd was glad he was part of his generation and no other.”
- Isaac Asimov, “The Last Question” (1956)
I wonder if all generations wonder this about past and future generations. Does everyone believe that where they are now is far better than where they once were? So many free thinkers, yet so many people locked in their love for who and where they are!