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Friday, July 2, 2010

Ignorance is Bliss





Ignorance is Bliss
June 5th

A common topic of conversation between volunteers is the good and bad sides about being able to understand the local language. As 2 years closes in on us, most of us have gotten to the point where we are generally comfortable with speaking our new tongue. We can chat on the bus, barter at the market, and argue with the neighbor women about the best treatment for a cold. Although our grammar may be far from perfect, and mix-ups are still a pretty normal occurrence (I ironically continue to mispronounce the verb ‘to get married’ with ‘to die,’ per one example), and for most of us the linguistic hurdles are far fewer than they were a year ago. However, it has been brought up in conversations between us that there are also downfalls of understanding most of what’s happening around us, and as one of my fellow volunteers recently put it “sometimes it’s just honestly better for your sanity to be blissfully ignorant of what’s going on.” This usually pertains to moments when the conversation concerns the wedding plans of a various relative for about the BAJILLIONTH time and you feel like your head is about to explode, or when your host aunt is complaining YET AGAIN about the effect the wind is having on her arthritis and blood pressure, and you really just wish she would shut up already. Moments like these often bring back the teary-eyed days of nostalgia when, as new volunteers arriving to a party, we would sit and be blissfully ignorant for the next few hours, tuning out to our rice palov and only taking our cue to leave when we would notice the shift towards the door, and thus guestimat that the gathering was wrapping up.
I was thinking about these moments the other day while babysitting my host siblings. They quickly tired of the television and playing with an assortment of cups that I had laid out for them, and so decided to fall back on their old favorite pastime: using my body as their personal jungle gym while I tried to read a book/ write a letter. Most of the time I generally tune out their constant babbling unless it pertains to either immediate danger or tears, or if of their toes accidentally ends up lodged in my ears while they climb over me. But during this particular instance, as my host 5 yr old host brother practiced somersaulting across my knees and my host sister demonstrated her capability of wrapping an entire braid of hair around my ears, it was a little harder to tune them out. Their kindergarten chatter gradually turned to what they would do if their mother didn’t come home that evening, and somehow my sweet little siblings came to the morbid conclusion that they were going to go Donor Party on me, and feed on my carcass to survive.
“I suppose we could eat pretty much everything except her bones”. Malik concluded, poking at my arm. My host sister agreed, then added, pulling on my braid,
“I guess, but what will we do with her hair?”
“We could sell it at the Bazaar! I bet we’d make a lot of money!”
“Yeah, or we could give it to grandma. She’s always saying she wants more hair anyway. And it would be really fashionable” Malik concurred, and added.
“Ok. But, I don’t want to eat her skin. What will we do with that?” My little host sister thought about that for a minute.
“Mom always peels the potatoes before she cooks them, so we’d probably have to peel her too.”
“Really?!? Oh man, that’s a lot of work!” As I lay there on the couch beneath a mound of squirming children, the Salman Rushdie book in my hands temporarily forgotten, I begin to wonder where this conversation might be leading. But just then, my host brother found a particular flexible position by doing an upside-down backward bend over my tops of my knees, and my host sister screeched at him,
“Holy cow Malik, you look JUST like a monkey!!!”
"No, I don’t! Don’t lie!”
“Yes you do! Do you want a banana, Monkey? Here monkey boy, take the ban-naaaa-naaaa!” This was followed by one of those high pitched screeches you generally hear from spoiled kids while being dragged from the toy aisle at Wal-Mart, and thus the next fifteen minutes consisted of them arguing over his resemblance to Curious George, and insulting and taunting each other with various animal names and offers of fruit. The conversation concerning cannibalism was thus abandoned, leaving me perplexed and thinking, “Man those were the good old days when I couldn’t understand anything.” Which leads to me conclude, it’s not called ignorant bliss for nothing.


An Update of Summer
June 15th

With just a few weeks in, I’m already having a more interesting summer than I have had the last few months of school-where I was basically on autopilot-zombie-mode until the last bell rang. After our All-volunteer conference in the capital, which was a well-needed break for everyone and a good chance to catch up with people that I haven’t seen in months, I went back to my work site to gear up for some extra curricular craziness. As my assigned school is a bit of a slacker, and I really didn’t feel like pulling teeth to organize another camp, I agreed to help the Russian school with a health camp.
Our funding however, fell through at the last minute, so we decided to do just a regular English camp-this year with a Space theme. We planned a five-day camp, and it worked out pretty nicely, with about 25 students, and 2 assistant students. Lots of arts and crafts like paper machete, pop up cards, and solar system mobiles. I had a good time, got to stretch my creative muscles cutting about a billion pieces of construction paper for the kids, managed to get coated in paper machete, and had fun dumping a bunch of squirmy kids in water-all in all good times. Then the following week turned more serious- a five day long teacher conference; organized, written and presented by yours truly. Although I have already presented at numerous seminars over the last year or so, a five day long program was pretty daunting, and left me frantically pouring over all my teacher training materials into the wee hours of the morning to scrape up enough material to teach them that wouldn’t bore them to death. Luckily a few teachers helped out giving short presentations so I was able to write a pretty decent lesson plan of themes we could cover over the course of the week. All in all, it was pretty successful, and I enjoyed working with all the teachers-and I even learned some new techniques and ideas myself from some of the other women! So with that finished, and the center and my time freer, I’ve added some new summer classes to my schedule (including a TEOFL prep class and a Spanish class! Whoop!) and I am ready to cruise until July-when our Fourth of July party (as well as the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps) will be held at the embassy. And everyone knows what that means: Imported wine and an open bar. Let the summer
madness begin!

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