People don't know anything about Turkmenistan- When I talked to strangers about the fact that I was recently returned from PC and brought up Turkmenistan, some of them had never heard of it, didn't know where it was, or had wrong impressions of it, referring to it as being in the Middle East or a dangerous place because of its proximity to Afghanistan and Iran. Geographically speaking, Turkmenistan is considered a Central Asian country. Furthermore, it is very safe regardless of its neighbors. I felt much safer in Turkmenistan than in America in regard to crime (travel safety is another matter, however).
It's True, No One Cares about Your Service- I have been lucky to have a few people willing to listen to extended stories of my travels and look through my pictures. But for the most part, people just say 'welcome back' and go on their merry way. Also, no one gives discounts or deals to returned Peace Corps volunteers the way they give to people in the military. Which leads me to..
Peace Corps Service Has Shown Me How Militaristic our Society Is- Our society worships war. We do. We like to say 'war is hell' and 'war is a necessary evil,' but in reality the last justifiable war we entered was WWII. We love war because it is a multi-billion dollar industry. If we really hated war, we wouldn't spend over $7 billion of our national budget on "defense." We would fund more programs like the Peace Corps that focus on building diplomatic relationships. If you're a child in Afghanistan and your parent is killed by a U.S. soldier, what do you think you'll grow up thinking about the U.S. compared to a child in Jordan who is being taught English by a Peace Corps volunteer? If you've been reading my blog, you know I'm not all cuddly puppies in my opinion of Peace Corps. It has its flaws like every organization, but I do believe in JFK's ideology that fostering cross-cultural understanding and diplomacy is vital to maintaining national security.
Since coming back, I've looked for deals for being an RPCV like getting my driver's license renewal fee waived or my excess baggage fee on my trip home waived, but no one does it. Now that I'm starting to collect scrapbooking supplies to record my experiences, I've noticed that there are tons of pages and stickers and die cuts, etc. for every branch of the military, but there's nothing for Peace Corps. And when I went to Bronner's, it was the same thing with Christmas ornaments. Each branch had several styles of ornaments celebrating them but there wasn't one single ornament for Peace Corps. In my weaker moments I get close to the point of asking someone at one of these stores (and stop reading if you're in the military because I don't want to offend you) "don't you have anything for people who serve their country by building cross-cultural relationships rather than killing people?"
A couple days ago I went to CMU to get some information on renewing my teaching license and the woman I spoke with was the ONLY person (outside of Turkmenistan) who has ever thanked me for my service. I think most people don't understand that Peace Corps Volunteers serve the U.S. There are many current world leaders who were influenced as youths by volunteers serving in their countries. It is grassroots work toward fostering positive attitudes toward America.
What Did I Do for Two Years?- I ask myself this on occasion. It sometimes feels like there's a gap of two years in my life with dream-like remembrances of another world. Did I even do anything worthwhile? I have to go back and read my Description of Service to remind myself that I did, indeed, do many good things. And it's okay that I'm taking a break and making my sainted mother cook my favorite meals. Still...
What Am I Going to Do Next?- After only about a week, I was fretting over my next course of action. Do I look for work? Well, yes, but for what time span? Do I try to find something for the months leading up to grad school and then focus solely on that? Or do I look for something more long term and put off grad school? The answer is, it depends. On multiple factors. I have jobs I'm looking into but this is also about the time I need to start working on grad school applications, and then there's the added factor of my teaching license. And I'd still like to find some opportunities to write and get published. It was nice to have Chai Times and Murphy's Law Review over in Tstan as an easy outlet for my writing.
I'm Lucky to Be from a Small Community- I don't think many of my peers in PC Tstan came from little places like I did. And after my first couple days it really hit me how nice it is to come from Peace Corps service in a country where everything is foreign and return home and run into someone I know virtually every place I go. Saint Louis and Alma still have that small town vibe where people know each other and even if they don't, they smile and say 'hi.' I ran into people I knew at stores, the post office, the doctor's office, church, and even the booksale at the Presbyterian Church. I imagined what some of my friends would think if I had taken them back home with me and they discovered that I came from a place where upon returning after two years abroad (and, sort of, five years away since I only summered here between teaching in Nevada and leaving for Tstan) I couldn't seem to go anywhere without being greeted by name and welcomed back with a smile. That's one of the best things about being back. Thank you.