Sunday, March 28, 2010

Istanbul, Not Constantinople

Just kidding about the internet access, apparently. I thought the Istanbul layover would be more hectic, what with touring the city and all, but as it turns out travel is an hour there and back, and all the cool stuff is closed on Sundays, so most of us (including me) have elected to hang out in the airport for the five or so hours until our flight to Bishkek. It's very cosmopolitan in here, and much nicer than JFK. We got two meals and three movies on the flight here, and I caught "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and part of "The Invention of Lying" before zonking out. I'm starting to reek a little - some people went in search of a shower at the airport hotel, but in the spirit of weekly bathing I think I'll just stick to a reapplication of deodorant. Short hair was a good choice.

In meeting everyone, I've started to notice that I'm among the youngest. Applying to the Peace Corps requires a college degree, but I figured most people would be newly graduated, like me. Instead, the average age seems to be about 26 or 27, with some people doing the Peace Corps as part of a graduate program, some already out of grad school, some a few years into a career. There are two married couples, both (I'm guessing) about 30 or so, and one guy who looks to be in his 50s. After the basics (age, hometown, degree, PC program), popular questions include what you packed and how much you've studied the language. Generally, people seem not to have done much, either because they didn't feel like it or out of a fear of learning something wrong and having to be retaught.

I'm surprisingly awake and surprisingly hungry considering my sleep schedule and the amount of sitting I've been doing lately, respectively, and I expect there is a crash coming. I think we're meant to arrive in Bishkek about 1:30 AM local time (which, by the way, is 10 hours ahead of EST, 12 ahead of Mountain), but no one seems to know if we get to sleep or if we have to start in on training and such right away. I'm hoping for the former.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Before You Hang A Right

I got up this morning about 3:30, and was in enough of a hurry not to think about lasts (plenty of time for reflection now, unfortunately). I caught a 6:40 flight to Philadelphia, where it is in fact cloudy and raining - not at all as advertised. The hotel has Wifi, so I'm able to post this last post before tomorrow. They trickled in somewhat slowly, but now there are about 70 of us Peace Corps Trainees. The people who had to come from the west coast got to arrive the day before, while others showed up by car with families in tow. Sign-in was at noon, the process much ameliorated by my having filled out all the paperwork beforehand. Apparently there will be more inoculations in Bishkek, but for today all I got was this lousy H1N1 shot. Vaccines were followed by hours and hours of expectations, advice, logistics, etc. I admit I dozed occasionally - not wandering the town wasted on vodka was something I'd decided against before today. People all seem very nice, and very diverse. I met a guy from Bloomington, but there are people from all over, and of all ethnicities. For some reason, I think I was just expecting white people. Everyone also seems to have made friends with everyone. I have no idea how that works, but I always feel a little left out.

There was a lot of talk about dedication, and commitment to service: things we're meant to ponder before getting on the bus in the morning. For some people, I suppose this means ending relationships, selling houses, choosing one career over another. Five months ago, a group like mine came to this hotel, expecting to leave for Turkmenistan the following day. Instead, they were told the Peace Corps was pulling out of the country, and sent home. Some of those people are here now, having had to move in with friends or parents in the interstices. It sort of feels like that could happen again - am I really going to Kyrgyzstan? I'm still in America, so it kind of feels like just a vacation. I'm realizing that I really like living in this country, and I'm not sure if I want to leave it for two years in the prime of my life. I think my worries are based on a couple of misconceptions - that two years is a huge amount of time that will pass very slowly, and that Kyrgyzstan is a cold, dark, bleak place where hairy people drink vodka and write depressing books. The latter, at least, will (I hope) be dispelled quickly and soon, and I think the knowledge that if I really do hate it there I can, in fact, leave, will actually make it easier to stay. The first three months will be a good barometer, so I will stick them out and see how it goes.

Tomorrow's trip will take about two days and won't include internet access, and I have no way of knowing how soon I'll be able to get online in Bishkek. So until then, wish me luck.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Drinking Milkshakes Cold and Long

Tomorrow, technically, I'll fly to Philadelphia, where I'll get shots and learn about the Peace Corps. I'll fly to New York, then Istanbul, then Bishkek, where I'll take shots and learn about the Peace Corps (and spend three months learning the language and the culture of Kyrgyzstan). I'll go to my post, and I'll teach kids of approximately high school age how to speak and write English. My family, maybe some of my friends, will visit me occasionally. I might even get to come home for a week or two. I'll probably make lifelong friends. Maybe I'll meet my wife. It'll suck sometimes; others, I'll have a lot of fun. I'll post to this blog. I'll do good things, and I'll feel good about them. After two years, I'll come home. I might move to California and go to law school while working as a Peace Corps Recruiter. I might not do that.

It's strange, knowing with relative certainty the way the next two years of my life will play out. Not the day-to-day things, of course, but the big picture. It's supposed to be very exciting, but it feels more like watching a movie I saw a few years ago and still remember the major plot points of. I almost want to have served in the Peace Corps rather than actually serve.

I'd been in a sort of holding pattern since January, when I got my assignment, waiting for the end of March to come. Now that it's here, every time I do something, I suppose it will be the last time for a long time, maybe ever. I want some Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, but I think I'd feel too much like McVeigh. This must be what going away to college feels like, too. I like Lafayette, and I liked growing up here. It will be hard to leave, but I realize that while home is a place, it is also a time and a group of people, and those latter two are almost all gone now.

Enough melancholy. This will be fun. I hope you'll enjoy reading about it.