(Really sorry about the title. I couldn’t help myself)
So I don’t mind telling you that the food situation in our household has been exquisite lately. Behold! Months of hoarding and vigilance has resulted in this perfect storm of ingredients:
From left to right: A jar of tom yum paste that showed up, mysteriously and by itself, at one of our grocery stores eight months ago; a bag of dried lemongrass, chilies, galangal and kaffir lime peel that a pal brought back from her Southeast Asia trip this summer; coconut milk, which our fancy American store just started carrying last week.
Add some lime juice, vegetables and tofu and oh hey, check it out:
This shit tastes so much like Thailand, it makes me want to weep.
Wait, what? Thailand? As in Southeast Asia? Oh, you mean, like, the place we’re going for about four months starting in July? Yeah, great, hold that thought for just a second, I need to search the entire internet for Laos travel blogs.
Just kidding. I’ve already found all those blogs.
Here is one strange thing about being deep in your second year of service: Realizing that there are people in the newer class of volunteers who are preparing for upcoming international vacations, while you, dullard that you are, have yet to leave the country, or even travel very extensively inside it.
Another strange moment: You are stalking another (non-Mongolia, long-finished) PCV’s blog. You are actually reading the whole thing, every last entry. This person takes amazing, exquisitely lit photos; this person is a very fine, observant writer; this person seems to have had a genuine, meaningful, small-town experience (deep connections; neighborliness; a sense of family and belonging), the kind of experience that makes people want to join the Peace Corps in the first place, the kind of experience that sometimes, when you’re being brutal in your assessment of your service and your relationships, you feel you have not quite had. This person Really Did It. And their photos are way better than yours.
Then you come up for air. You realize something. You browse through the posts again and see that yes, it’s true — this person, in their two years, took at least five vacations out of the country, including two visits home to the states. For whatever reason, this fact reminds you of the central truth of Blogging and Facebooking and Peace Corps (as well as anything else that’s similarly romanticized): People are full, to the brim, of their own smelly crap.*
Woah! Let’s rein this in a little. I guess I just want to make the following two points:
1. I don’t mean to be a jerk about people’s experiences and their representations of those experiences. Maybe that blogger’s service really was that pure and heartfelt; maybe it really was better than mine in some ways. Point is, I’ve been trying to not b.s. you (or myself) on this blog. Things are awkward with my host family and they always will be; I get annoyed when I feel that somebody in my community is trying to nakedly use me for their own benefit; we don’t have a lot of money and sometimes that makes me grumpy. Et cetera. And it’s because I’m trying to avoid b.s. that I feel comfortable telling the internet that
2. Hooooooooly cow I need to stop thinking about vacations and traveling. I have been all up in Lonely Planet and Wikitravel and Time Out Asia as of late. When I have a free moment, I Google stuff like “Myanmar Bagan guesthouse price.” I am actually on the precipice of making a list of outfits I want to take with me on our trip (even typing that sentence makes me quiver with anticipation). I mean, I think I’m finally starting to come out of my third quarter blues — I had an actual pang, like a wistful pre-nostalgic pang, at work today — but jesus, I need to keep my head in the game. Seven more months! Only seven more months in this beautiful place that has been so good to us. Only seven more months with my teachers, who are friendly and hardworking and fun-loving and beer-drinking and basically everything I could have wanted in a group of colleagues and friends. Those things are not b.s., and I only have seven more months to enjoy them.
And so I’m doing that thing where you take a picture every day for a year.
It’ll be a good way to keep me here, in the present, I think. Anyway. To 2012! To appreciating things!
* One day this past summer, I was in the van with a fellow trainer, on our way back to Darkhan after a session with the new volunteers. He’s a young Mongolian guy who’s worked for Peace Corps five summers straight; he possesses a surfer dude accent and does Elvis impersonations and is beloved by all. We started talking about misconceptions, and I asked him what his misconceptions had been of Americans before he started working with them. His answer was hilarious (“I thought you guys were clean and dressed nice all the time”). Then he asked me what people’s misconceptions were of the Peace Corps, and I tried to explain the vision most people seem to have in their heads of a volunteer’s day to day life: That we all live in tiny little villages where we know everybody, and we do lots of good, meaningful work all the time with enthusiastic coworkers, and everybody loves us and we love everybody. And then he paused and said, “But that’s…not real life.”