Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Unexpected Frivolity

I had all kinds of expectations about the “ enlightened” and “back-to-basics” person I would be post Peace Corps. I remember thinking that after two years living with only the basic necessities (which actually turns out not to be true seeing as I have electricity, a cell phone with perfect reception, my computer, an Ipod, and a faucet in my compound) that I would come home and be disgusted with all things materialistic, and superficial.

For example, a few weeks before I left, a friend was planning his visit out to see me. I remember triumphantly declaring to him “I don’t think I’ll want to stay in a nice hotel when you come. It will just be too much culture shock and way too overwhelming.”

During demystification I heard an outgoing volunteer comment to a fellow PCV, “Oh, look at all the incoming PCV’s stuff. It’s so new and nice and clean, and…pretty.” I remember thinking that that was such a weird thing to say. And I took it kind of personally like, “my stuff wasn’t ‘hardcore backpacker’” enough for the Peace Corps or something.

Now I totally understand where she was coming from. It’s the same phenomenon that led my Thies family to comment that my Tupperware containers were beautiful, and why my little sisters are preserving the box that the doll figurines my mom sent them came in, and why my host mom will barely let my little brother play with his new counting/rattle book, and why every article of clothing I have is “ina yoodi” (pretty).

Because there just aren’t new, or shiny, or different-looking things here. Everyone has the same stuff and they literally use it until it falls apart. Nothing stays looking new for more than a few hours and ten more people in your house probably have the same thing anyway so its pointless to get excited about.

I might still go through the “hate everything materialistic and wasteful and pop culture related” phase when I COS (Close of Service), but at this point in my service the total opposite has happened.

In my amazing birthday packages for instance, I received a Glamour magazine. Now, I almost never read that stuff at home. I’d occasionally skim People magazine at the gym to keep myself entertained during mind-numbing Elliptical machine workouts, but that was pretty much the extent of it. And I was (and actually still am) irate at the hype, attention, and media time that Anna Nicole Smith’s death received right before I left. I mean really? Uninterrupted reporting on a porn star’s funeral? Seriously CNN? Really?

But when I got this Glamour magazine, I literally spent the entire afternoon outside in the shade with my family, on my stick bed and read that magazine cover-to-cover. I positively devoured it.

And I can’t believe I’m about to admit this in a public forum, but I feel like you should all understand the extent of my newfound appreciation of all things pretty, clean, and good smelling…

I had some useful things that arrived in my packages like soap, food for Ramadan, pocket packages of Kleenex, vitamins, etc.

But my favorite new item, (that when I saw it I think I actually shrieked out loud with joy), was the shiny, new, white Ipod headphones with GREEN RHINESTONES. My dad sent them to me because my old ones were barely functional, and I think he meant them as a joke, but they are absolutely my new favorite thing that I have in country. I mean, they’re totally frivolous, and I love them for that. Sure I have other stuff that is kind of functional, but probably unnecessary (a silk pillowcase from Mom for my birthday for example), but the rhinestones are so totally over the top and non-functional that they take the cake.

In a way it’s kind of pathetic. Who would have thought that Peace Corps Senegal would bring out my inner (some might argue NOT so inner) princess?

But at least I’m not alone. When I’m at the regional house, we girls all sit around and look at 6-month-old magazines. We talk about clothes, and trends we’re “missing out” on and complain that we don’t have more up-to-date “junk” magazines. I mean we all know that they are trash, and “in life” (as PCVs are fond of saying) most of us probably took pride at being disinterested in celebrity gossip, but not anymore.

I think at root here is that it’s exhausting to constantly talk about our “PCV lives.” And of course we talk about that a lot of the time. But it can get so depressing and frustrating to constantly talk about what isn’t working in Senegal or at site, being discouraged by the slowness of grassroots development work, failed and successful projects and meetings, sick children, the heat, gross food, being lonely, and our families peculiarities.

Sometimes you just want to look at pictures of Brad Pitt and wonder if he and Angelina Jolie really will make it? Or yearn for fall weather just so that you can wear that perfect J Crew sweater with matching earmuffs.

So for the time being I am mostly comfortable with the fact that the Peace Corps has brought out the princess in me.
And the next time I wear my rhinestone headphones I am going to smile…and maybe even do a little dance.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah, ma petite princesse californienne... Ne te cache pas: "a little princess never hurt anyone".

Aprobechas de tus auriculares super increibles ;)