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6 Months

I’ve been encouraged by a good friend to get back into blogging. Apparently my life has the potential to be mildly interesting when put into writing, although I have my doubts. I’ve been back in the States now for a good 6 months and have also been unemployed for 6 months. So really, since I’m still job searching, I have no excuse not to blog.

In reconnecting with old friends since being back, the most common questions I get (aside from asking about my PC experience) are “what kind of jobs are you looking for?” and some variation of “so what do you do all day?”. I’m starting to dread both of these questions. For the first one, I really don’t give a hoot anymore what kind of job I get, I just want something to do and some money. In the first few months I had great ambitious, idealistic tendencies towards international development/non-profit work in a metropolitan area. But is it really so surprising that I’ve lost my luster and enchantment after 6 months of looking for the perfect job that in reality will just be a standard desk job that may or may not make me want to bang my head against a wall from staring at a computer screen for too long? Cynical? Probably. But that said, I do have some quasi career-change ideas/plans in the works that I’m not quite ready to share yet. In the meantime, I’ve moved to the D.C. area yet again and am enthusiastically looking for “right now” jobs. I have a few things that have potential to work out soon so I’m hopeful.

As for what I do all day…well. Let me tell ya, I’ve gotten this doing nothing thing down. On a good day, I wake up around 8:30, eat my breakfast and drink my coffee, work out for about an hour, freshen up and eat lunch, sequester myself in a coffee shop or library for the afternoon to pound out some cover letters and cross things off the “to-do” list (Even I am asking myself what a person with nothing to do has to cross off of a to-do list), and then hang out with friends in the evening. On a bad day, I wake up around 9:30, forgo the workout, and after drawing out my morning coffee, try to come up with a plan for the day and inevitably end up staring at the walls for about an hour trying to figure it out and coming up short. After a few more hours of putzing around the internet, pacing, and thinking about doing something mildly productive like cleaning or grocery shopping, I finally give in to cable television, and watch endless episodes of HGTV’s “My First Place”, “Property Virgins”, “House Hunters”, “House Hunters International” and “Property Brothers” while bemoaning the fact that my friends are all busy recuperating from a long day at work or class. As a result, I’ve learned quite a lot about realty.

Having recently made the (temporary?) move out to the D.C. area, not much has changed aside from the fact that I’m dealing with some delayed culture shock. Being back in a metropolitan, high-population-density area is rather overwhelming after village life and Iowa life. But I’m gradually readjusting and I have the added distractions of free museums and better shopping and at the very least I can kill two hours of the day on public transport to and from the city. So yeah, that’s that for now!

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Iowa you make me smile

So I went to the eye doctor today and the following conversation took place with the RN after we chatted about Peace Corps for a bit:

RN: If you could go to any of the countries I’m going to list which one would you go to: Russia, Alaska, Dominican Republic, Peru, or Thailand. 

Me: Um, Thailand. 

RN: Which one is safest?

Me: Well, Alaska…

RN: (nods as if I just gave her some helpful advice) Well my daughter is going to study abroad over May term and those are her choices. 

Hi-freaking-larious. I mean, I wonder if I could go to Alaska and get away with asking some random person I meet there, Hey, if you could choose a country, would you go to India, Iowa, Denmark, Mexico or Fiji? Oh, and which one do you think is safest for an American? Yeah, I wonder if I could get away with that…man, this is right up there with Soybean Sudden Death Syndrome in terms of entertainment value. Iowa is such a riot! And hey, maybe this should become a ploy to get out of staters to come. Here’s what I’m thinking for a commercial-  Visit Iowa and you could see yourself studying abroad in Alaska or finding the cure for Soybean Sudden Death Syndrome! Is it just me? This seriously made my day.

Existential Crisis

I think my timeline for being relatively calm, cool and collected about being home and unemployed has expired. I’m now in full-on existential crisis mode…what am I going to do with my life? What do I want to be when I grow up? Where do I want to live? Too many never-ending questions with no clear answers. The thing is, when I was in Peace Corps, no matter how unproductive or poor I was, at least I could always say, “I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer, that’s what I do”. And there was that lovely tight-knit community of PCV’s in which no matter how crappy your day was, there was always a friend somewhere nearby with just as crapy of a story to tell (neighbor offered money for sex, somebody poisoned dog, mugged in town, in a khoumbi accident, etc. etc.) and no matter what there were always chores to do if you really wanted to stay afloat. This is really the clincher for me I think. On an average weekend in the village here’s what I’d find myself doing to the point of exhaustion:

  • Laundry by hand, average 2 hours (scrubbing, rinsing, hanging to dry, dumping out buckets of dirty water, collecting laundry from the line)
  • Sweeping the floors
  • Washing the floors on hands and knees with a bucket of soapy water and a rag
  • Dishes (no running water, dump out dirty dishwater outside)
  • Shooing goats away from the rubbish bin and laundry water
  • Boiling and filtering water for drinking
  • Walking to the shop to buy bread for the week’s sandwiches
  • Cooking, if electricity on, on a hot plate, no counter space, one knife, one pan, etc.
  • Bathing myself (pre-heating the water, bucket-bath style)
Now on the weekends…well I have a washing machine, dishwasher, clean drinking water, a car to buy groceries with, and lots of counter space and appliances to cook with. Not that I’m complaining about any of this because it’s great, but it’s kind of a big drop in weekly manual labor and it’s left me with so much free time I’m not sure what to do about it.
Anyway, it’s not so much that I don’t know what I want to do with my life ’cause I more or less do, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to do it/waiting for somebody to hire me while staying sane in the process. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just be a blogger and one of those people who practically lives at the gym.

My life right now basically consists of going to the gym, writing cover letters and unhealthily obsessing over tv shows geared towards teenagers who like to sing through their tumultuous high school years. I got pretty good at having lots of free time in South Africa and actually making something of it instead of staring at the walls for hours on end so I’m doing pretty okay with this unemployment thing. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be reminded of what it’s like to be “busy” for the first time in nearly three years and maybe actually make money for the first time in my life but for now I’m determined to embrace this time to work on projects.

I brought back some pretty African fabrics from my trip to Zambia (which I never wrote about due to it being illegal as far as Peace Corps was concerned. Now that I’m an RPCV I’m going for full disclosure) and have had visions of at least one of these fabrics turning into something skirt-like. I’m not much for sewing or domestic stuff but I figure now is the time to try. In the past when I have wanted to alter an article of clothing or make something from scratch I would casually mention it to my mother who would get out the sewing machine under the condition that I would learn how to do it for next time. Well, I’ve been agreeing to that for years and about 95% of the time I sit next to her and flip through a magazine while she “teaches” me and I grunt some sort of noise of understanding. Occasionally she’ll say “now do you want to finish it?” and I’ll say something along the lines of “oh I’d just mess it up” or “you look like you’re almost finished, I’ll do it next time”. The process is invariably repeated the next time. Well, with my mother currently in Palestine I have three choices, wait for her to come back in three months, pay a stranger/acquaintance to do it, or attempt to do it myself.

I’m going with option three. So far I’ve purchased a pattern and zipper and checked out some Martha Stewart book from the library about sewing. Next step, wash the fabric. After that my confidence drops off significantly. But who knows, maybe I’ll have some undiscovered natural talent for sewing and fashion design that will propel me to the ranks of “Project Runway” and solve my unemployment dilemma for good.

It’s a little hard to believe that just a month ago I was getting ready to get on a plane to America. I’m still getting used to high-speed internet. Like, I’ll click on a link to gmail and then while I’m in the middle of thinking “okay, what else do I need to do while this loads?” it’s already loaded. Doing stuff on the internet is no longer an exercise in patience and multi-tasking. It’s weird.

In other news, I learned recently that Soybean Sudden Death Syndrome is thing. For reals. Who knew?

Bathing in America

Let’s be honest here- in the Peace Corps I came nowhere close to bathing every day. In a normal week I probably bathed twice, a good week three, maybe even four times. And yeah, in the summer I was probably a little smelly. But everyone sweats constantly in the summer in South Africa and body odor is not really a problem so it didn’t really matter. My hair certainly looked greasy but black people don’t wash their hair very often and grease is good so no problem there. Prior to Peace Corps I was an every day bather no exceptions but when bucket bathing in 50 degree or colder weather became the norm, I cut back to every other day. This was the first few months of Peace Corps and I wasn’t quite ready to commit to anything more extreme. Once I got to site, I did have access to running water and a bathtub but if I wanted a warm bath I either had to a) heat up water with my 1.5 liter kettle enough times to get enough hot water to make a bath feasible, or turn on the “gieser”, my host family’s hot water heater, which they liked to use sparingly since it sucks electricity like crazy. Anyway, I cut back on the bathing even more. Well, if I was super sweaty I’d usually sponge myself off before bed but the hair didn’t get much attention and I got used to it.

Now that I’m home I’m realizing that showering every day and washing one’s hair every day is normal and expected. I do enjoy a nice hot shower but I just can’t see the point of showering every day. Not yet anyway. I just feel too clean. It’s already getting cooler and fall-like so I don’t really sweat unless I workout and I only workout every other day so hence, I only shower every other day. I admitted this to my friends (thinking this was a fairly reasonable thing to do) and got a lot of shocked and disgusted looks and comments like “uhh, you’re not in Africa anymore…” Oh well, I’m realizing more and more I’m just a little crazy by Iowan standards.

Customer Service Overkill

One of the things I was excited to be reunited with upon my return was good customer service. Customer service in South Africa is generally ridiculously, hilariously bad. Most of the times I went out to eat with friends in cities or towns we had to repeatedly ask for tap water with our meals before it was delivered to us. Sometimes it came halfway through the meal, sometimes we asked 5 times and it never came. One time I was trying to print some pictures at a little Kodak kiosk inside a Walmart-esque store. There was an employee standing in front of it doing something at the counter next to it. She was blocking my way but since it looked like she was busy I stood there awkwardly for a bit, thumb drive in hand. After a minute or two of this when she hadn’t acknowledged me I said “sorry, can I use the machine?” She looked at me, looked at the thumb drive I was holding up, and went back to what she was doing without saying a word. At that I just ambled around her and squeezed my way into the foot of space between her and the machine.

I will say that I greatly appreciate being smiled at, greeted, and offered help by employees of the various businesses and stores I frequent in America. What I do not so much understand is a lot of what happens beyond these basics. I went to a new grocery store that opened up by my house and here’s what ensued:

Checkout lady: Hello, how are you?

Me: I’m fine, how are you?

Checkout lady: Did you find everything you were looking for? 

Me: Yup, I did thanks. 

All the groceries have been scanned or whatever and the total has come up, I have my credit card in hand ready to slide through the machine.

Checkout lady: What else can I help you find today? 

Me: (after a second of faltering confusion)…um, I’m all set. 

Checkout lady: Okay then you can go ahead and slide your card! 

Now I assume that this employee was simply following instructions in double-double checking that I had had no problems at the grocery store but, really? If I really didn’t find everything I needed I would have told her the first time I asked and if I wasn’t ready to slide my card and pay I wouldn’t have had my card in my hand, hovering over the machine. Can too much customer service be construed as bad customer service? I think so. It’s like the mother who goes one step too far in her motherly nagging. It ruins a good thing. Kinda like when I walk into a Gap and I’m one of two people in the store and the three employees there all give me the same 30-second spiel about what’s on sale that day. It really just makes me want to abandon my search for the perfect cardigan in order to avoid the eager gaze of 6 eyes with nothing better to do.