The Joy and the Struggle
It’s an amazing feeling to reach a stage in friendship where words are not entirely necessary to convey feelings and/or emotions. In a month’s time, I have developed an incredible bond with my host family which has been, for the most part, void of any fluent conversation. As my language has progressed, so have our levels of communicative understanding. But beyond the level of verbal communication, I have developed a friendship born from the seeds of life’s simple things. It may sound a bit cheesy, but a smile, or a hug, or a laugh, can say a thousand words. I do not plan on using my smile to get me through two years here (even though it is quite a cute smile, if I say so myself), the language is still a passion of mine. But it feels good to know that I can goof around in any language, have a water fight with my host siblings and call it sharing culture, or just give my little host sister a hug, and all of them can be done without the use of language.
I remember having countless conversations before I left to come here about how big of a step in my life joining Peace Corps was for me. What an obscene understatement. Peace Corps is not a step you take in your life; junior high to high school is a step, Peace Corps is a free fall. I feel as if I have base-jumped from a cliff into cloudy valley; every so often I am thrown into the cliff by a gust of wind and then, slowly, I regain control and work my way back into the free fall. I really never feel like I have control over anything here besides what goes on inside my head, and even that can be a bit shaky at times. Don’t get be wrong, I am not going crazy (crazier) nor am I disliking my experience here. I am simply stating that uprooting myself from everything I’ve ever known has proven to have much more effect on me than I could ever thought. I love what I am doing and I love where I am at. There are plenty of crazy reasons why I am so happy with what I am doing. Happiness now, though, in my present situation, rises out of the conquering of the unknown. It’s this crazy part of my “happy” reasons that scares me because they involve putting myself time and time again through struggle, turmoil, and countless trips into my soul; a place which I have rarely visited in my short lifetime.
In a short month here I have taken many journeys deep into my soul, and I have truly surprised myself with what I have found. The most expected find and dually the most challenging has been that gaps between where I have and where I have never gone. Deep inside of my soul and my thoughts there are endless dark tunnels dying to be explored. The scary part is that I have taken a few initial steps in the past month into these tunnels and I’ve struggled immensely with what I found. Amidst all of my confidence and budding intelligence lies a very unsure young man. Is it insecurity? I don’t know. In a very ironic twist to “soul searching,” I have grown more and more confident with myself as I find out more and more about my insecurities and shortcomings. All of this exploring has taken place during my experienced of isolation; feeling the pains of loneliness has really opened me up to many of my “insecurities.” I remember having a conversation with a dear friend of mine, Dr. Martin Forward, over lunch a short while before I left. He was sharing with me many of the emotions, joys, and struggles that he went through during his long stay in India during his youth (to be exact, when he was 23, as I am now). The one thing that stuck with me was his discussion about the loneliness; he stayed far away from warning me, he simply laid it out there for me to have in my mind. I remember him paying special attention to idea of feeling completely isolated and lonely in the middle of a crowd. I wish now I would have prodded a bit deeper for more of his insight. It is amazing how I can be surrounded by an entire country of people, Peace Corps volunteers included, and still have moments where I feel entirely isolated and alone. And the scary part is that I am still month away from leaving for my permanent site. I have eleven other trainees in my village with me and I see the other fifty-eight volunteers twice a week for different training sessions. I am far from lonely yet; soon long winter days will truly begin the test.
It’s inevitable though, I have never been a part of anything in my life that has come this close to closing me off from everything I’ve ever known. Granted I have pictures, a laptop, and some movies. But try talking to your parents in a picture frame or attempting to telepathically talk to your best friends, it just doesn’t work, I’ve tried. Due to a lack of constant outlets for conversation with people I have known my entire life, I have been forced to really take the time to explore my thoughts with the person who knows me best: myself. Only time will tell how crazy I really am.
This past Tuesday Peace Corps revealed to the K-14 group where their permanent sites will be for the next two years. SOCD volunteers were told what NGO they would be working for and TEFL volunteers were told what school they would be teaching at; and it was all coupled with where in Kyrgyzstan we would be doing out respective jobs. My site for the next two years will be on the Northern shore of Issyk-Kul Lake, in the Issyk-Kul oblast. I will be the first volunteer to serve in my village, which means that I will really have a chance to set the stage for Peace Corps the people of my village.
And that brings me to my next point: my role here as a volunteer. The past week played host to a collage of emotions brought on by the PC site announcement, some crazy stomach issues, some great TEFL training sessions, and some wonderful moments of personal growth. Amongst the crazed emotional roller coaster, I have really started to analyze the role in which I have the opportunity to fill here as a volunteer. For the first time, I have really saw my position, and the rest of PC, as playing a key role in allowing KG to transition from the grips of the USSR into a thriving country. While teaching English to secondary students may not seem like the most economically boosting project a volunteer can take on, I have been shown the light recently.
Peace Corps truly aims for the goal of sustainability. We, as Peace Corps volunteers, are not here to help out for a few years, and then move on to another country. There really are many programs set up, both within the TEFL programs and SOCD programs (which includes a new Health Branch this year in which three volunteers from K14 will be pioneering), that are in place with the specific goal creating to sustain. As a TEFL volunteer I am expected to teach 18-20 hours of English a week. But that is just one small component to my job once I reach site. Every TEFL volunteer is sent to their site, and their school, to help build up a firmly planted English education program that can sustain itself once the volunteer leaves. It seems kind of lofty to think that in two years I can head into a school and turn a program around. But that is not what I am entirely meant to do. I need to head to my school, and village, and get things rolling, get the village and the school thinking and trained to organize and run their own dynamic English education program. Essentially I need to play an “invisible” role for the next two years. I need to help the village realize that all of the help I am offering up to them can, in time, be done by themselves. To me, that is the goal of sustainability, and that is a goal that I, and plenty other volunteers, have. I will get back to you in two years and let you know how things go.
Thoughts on Life:
Treading the water of youth can be fun for a while, but eventually you need to choose, learn to swim or find the shallow end. There comes a time when you know you have to make this decision, even if you are not entirely sure what the decision means. I have reached a point in my life where I know from here on out, my future will begin to unfold and I will have to make decisions as options are laid out for me. Everything from love to my future career will be looped into my time here with Peace Corps and my life in general. Decisions regarding both will eventually have to be made, and I know and respect that. The only issue is that I truly feel as if I am only beginning to learn who I am, to really dive deep into my soul and explore my inner workings. But then I already know that this is a lifelong process, and that I am going to have to come to terms with the fact that my life will forever be shaped how well I understand myself. Understanding myself has proven to be very essential in examining the world that surrounds me. I love the world I live in, it provides me some of the greatest free movies (people watching!) and free lessons (getting and losing love is a lesson that may suck to learn, on all levels, but can prove to be very necessary to experience).
I spent the large majority of my twenties searching the depths of my soul, both in my own mind and on the soil of many foreign lands. The crazy part is that I never knew I was really taking a look into my soul. Only now, living in a foreign country have I begun to understand that all of my traveling, my thirst for knowledge, has been rooted in a passion to unleash and uncover parts of me I never knew existed. The passions and desires found deep in the soul waiting to be found and released for consumption by the heart and mind. I have become entranced by what my soul has revealed to mem and I plan on diving deeper and deeper as life unfolds.