I don’t know if I’ve mentioned before that I love my new host family. Well, they’re not so new now. Anyway, my host mom, as I said when relaying the whole shower debacle from my first day here, is pretty chill. My host dad, God bless him, will actually do work around the house. I’ve seen him do dishes, laundry, ironing, and vacuum. And then there’s Leyla, my five year old host sister. She’s cute as a button. Now, mind you, I don’t particularly care for children, so for me to say she’s cute, means she really is cute. She talks like a grown up. I have no idea what she’s saying because she’s speaking in Russian, but she sounds like a grown up. One day she came into my room with a stack of Oriflame catalogues (Oriflame is like Avon) and an abacus. She opened up to a page and asked me in Turkmen what I would buy. I’d point to a couple things and she’d nod her head professionally and show me on the abacus how much it cost. Another time she’d play music on a toy computer she has and dance and ask me to dance with her. She’s a total ham. And the best thing is, she’s not annoying. She doesn’t whine or cry about things and she doesn’t pester me. She’ll come into my room if she wants to play but if she sees I’m busy, she’ll leave or just sit on my bed and look at pictures in one of my magazines. One time she asked to comb my hair. She spent quite some time getting it the way she wanted it, arranging it into some weird twist across my head with lots of her colorful clips in it. Even then, she acted like a professional she must have seen somewhere. She would very seriously tell me to hold the comb while she was working with a clip or to hold the clips while she was combing. It’s strange for me to have a sister, especially a little one. But so far, it’s fun.
I wanted to build an English language library at my school for students who want to work on their reading. There aren’t really book stores here and the ones that are here only offer books in Russian and Turkmen, so English books are a great resource. There’s a great organization in the States called Darien Book Aid that donates books to Peace Corps volunteers and others. I just got my package from them about a week ago. It was twenty pounds and carrying it from the post office to my house really did a number on my arm muscles and back. But opening it and pouring over the books to see what was sent was so delightful. There were books in there that I kept out to read before I’ll take them to the school, including some Kipling that I hope to get through before I go to India. I was especially excited to see a copy of Grimm’s fairy tales because I did a unit on fairy tales with my seniors in the States and I think it would be a good unit for my advanced students here. I took the books to school in stages (remember I walk 45 minutes to get there) and catalogued them in a spreadsheet. I also have some books a fellow PCV gave me I’ll be adding. His mom sent him five copies each of a few books like Island of the Blue Dolphins so he could use them with his advanced club, which is something I might do as well.
If you want to help out, you could send books (new or used, doesn’t matter) to my address in Balkanabat. I’m especially looking for young adult books and more especially with strong female characters. Stargirl would be good or books from Lloyd Alexander’s Vesper Holly series. Darien sent some classics like Jules Verne and Shakespeare. As nice as those are, I think they’ll be a bit advanced for my students. I’m reading The Tale of Despereaux to them to work on their listening skills and that’s a good book because it’s fairly easy for them to understand and fun enough to keep their interest but has some new vocabulary like ‘egregious’ that will help them if they take the SAT (as some of them are planning to). Another thing to consider is possibly graphic novels and comic books (of an appropriate nature).
Also, if you’re looking for a good charity to support, check out Darien’s website at www.darienbookaid.org. I’m not the only volunteer here who has benefitted from their generosity and we’ve all been pleased with what they’ve sent.
Things You Don’t Think About when You Sign Up
There are things you expect when you sign up for the Peace Corps and then you start your service and experience things that never crossed your mind when you were back in the States preparing to leave. At least, they didn’t cross mine. I expected that it would be “weird” for a while living in a new culture and difficult at first learning the language and customs. I expected some isolation, some delays in communication back home, some awkwardness with host families, some adapting to the climate.
I didn’t even think about physical stuff until I got to country and the volunteers at our training told us to expect diarrhea. But that wasn’t the worst of what I experienced. Yeah, I had a few bouts but in addition to that here are some of the things that have happened with my body:
· Vomiting (only once so far, thank God. I would rather have diarrhea. I could never be bulimic.)
· Jammed finger (this happened at the Christmas football game and still hasn’t fully healed. I fear that knuckle will always be tender and I will come to refer to it as my “old football injury.”)
· Concussion (unconfirmed, but I was knocked unconscious during that same game.)
· Blisters (I get one in the same place every time I do laundry. Remember I do it by hand.)
· Sunburn (yes, I’m a foolish person for not wearing sunscreen. It only happened once.)
Charley horses (for about ten days straight, every night, sometimes in both calves at once and not just in my calves but also thighs and groin. My theory is they were from dressing professionally for PDM and wearing heels every day when I hadn't in several months.)
· Insomnia (happened on several different occasions once for three weeks straight, always stress-related.)
· Nighttime paralysis (stress-related as well, perhaps the most frightening thing I’ve ever experienced. I literally could not move, even to call out for help. I thought I was going to die.)
· Uncontrollable violent shaking (again, stress-related. Noticing a pattern? Second most frightening thing I’ve experienced. Thought I’d throw up or pass out.)
· Loss of appetite (varied causes, sometimes the food, more usually stress.)
· Spotting (for two months straight. This was a result of going on birth control for, ironically enough, reducing the number of periods I have in country. If you read my “live like a PCV” post and read about using public restrooms, that’s exactly the scenario that made me decide to go on a pill that lets you have only one period every three months. Hopefully my body’s adjusted now because feeling like the woman in Matthew 9:20 is not an experience I want to have again. It’s strange how many things here make me think of Biblical passages, or the entire book of Job.)
· Headaches (I get one almost every day I’m in school when I hear a teacher screaming at their students, and they all do it.)
· Slower healing (if I get a blister or sore muscles from a workout, for example, it takes longer to heal than it did back home. I’m guessing because of my diet.)
Well that list might read as a bit of “too much information,” but I want to be transparent in what my life is like. And that being a volunteer is more than showing up to work a few hours a week; we work 24/7 as ambassadors in our community and with our host families. We’re always “on” so it takes a toll. But I’m not writing this to complain, just report.
There are other things you don’t think about before you leave. Things that involve interacting with people, especially other Americans. Good things and bad things. I’ll leave you with one more thing I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect to fall in love.