“Wherever we go,” I’d declared to Woody at the start of our Peace Corps application process, “I want a nice beach, friendly bugs, and a good mattress.”
I figured I could make friends for America without having to suffer.
“Friendly bugs” would be the only one of the three I got as houseflies were plentiful. And, oh yes, the occasional mosquito was curiously lethargic.
I gave up on the idea of a nice beach upon learning where Kazakhstan is.
With Russia to the north and west, China to the east, and the other “Stans” (as the press continues to refer to the countries of Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan) to the south, Kazakhstan, the ninth largest country in the world, is the world’s largest landlocked country.
As for our mattresses, turns out horsehair, even just four inches of it, works well enough.
While I didn’t get any of the things I’d expected, I did get friendship. I also got acceptance, hospitality, and laughter. Not in that order. In fact in almost the exact opposite order.
Laughter. First I laughed, giggled actually, with my new counterpart, Gulzhahan. I couldn’t remember the last time I had giggled and it felt good.
Whenever my colleagues and I got together, particularly during my second year, I laughed: that deep-down-in-the-belly laugh that hurts if it goes on too long, but that’s OK, it’s worth it because you just don’t want to stop, the laughter feels so good.
Hospitality. I couldn’t enter a home without feeling as though everything came to a halt while I was made to feel welcome. The Kazakh saying, “A guest is a gift from God” is taken seriously. I’ve not felt like a gift from God since my grandmother was alive and I was ten. It was pure grace.
Acceptance. This was so important. I made amazing cultural faux pas every day.
- I pointed at words on the board (an index finger there is akin to a middle finger here. Need I say more?),
- I sat on my teachers’ desk in front of the classroom (tabletops of any sort, even desks, are considered holy),
- I drank from my water bottle during class time (a sign of impulsivity and lack of discipline in their eyes),
- I refused food when it was offered (the height of insult), and
- oh so many other things I had no clue about those first few months.
Yet, I was never made to feel slighted or embarrassed. I never felt “tolerated,” either. Indeed, I felt accepted and appreciated daily.
The only down side was that I got rather used to it, which made it harder to adjust when I came home.
Friendship. Of course. What else could there be after laughter, hospitality, grace, and acceptance?
My friendships were with women who would have been excluded from my circles here in the US, in my culture, simply because of our differences. Not there. We were of different religions, some of us held different marital status, we had different income levels and education, and we were different ages. Yet we loved each other, cared about each other, and accepted each other as equals. We learned from each other. And, for me, I just liked to hang out with them.
In hindsight, it’s good I never found that beach.
How about you?
What disappointments have you faced that, in hindsight, turned out to be a blessing?
Have the traditional barriers of age or religion or income prevented you from forming friendships?
Wouldn’t you just love to dip your toes in that beach scene? (Thanks again Diana)
L. E. Carmichael
I can’t think of a specific example, but things that don’t go the way you hope often turn out to be best experiences, with the best memories. Thanks for sharing this story!
Lindsey, How nice to find you here. Welcome. I hope you come back often. I’m enjoying your website <http://www.lecarmichael.ca>. I knew you were a fox fan (that’s fox, the four-legged kind; not Fox), but didn’t know you offered workshops on setting up a WP website. I need to learn so much more.
Janet ,This (delightful) story reminded me of the saying “sometimes our greatest obstacles turn into our greatest blessings.” In all the stories you share, the things that stand out the most to me are the generosity and friendliness of the people. The gift of those memories must carry you through. Lovely!
PS, And I don’t know why comment Luv doesn’t like my link??
Indeed they do. They were so poor in material things (by US standards), but rich in enjoying the people in their lives. I try to remember that every day.
As for Comment Luv, post again and be sure to check the comment Luv box. That my be the trick. I certainly want to be sure your website, Memory Writer’s Journey at http://krpooler.com gets some press here. This week you’ve got a great blog about Twitter. I think that’s how we met, is it not?
Thanks for stopping by. It’s always a pleasure to have you.
A wonderful post. Me too! All the best things that ever happened to me happened by chance.
Hey there handsome. Nice of you to stop by. Yes indeed, Chance has been good to us. That’d make a great dog’s name too. Don’t you think? “Here, Chance.” Hmmmm.
So many cultural differences to think about and learn! I’m glad you could use my beach video. Having a beach would be a huge distraction for me, too. 🙂
Yes indeed. But I found as long as we all kept our curiousity, we did OK. Some days that was easier than others.
The beach in your video is so lovely. I think I like it mostly because it’s so empty, just a wide expanse of nature. Beautiful. The waves were a bit noisy, though. Too bad you couldn’t just turn them down a notch. (now there’s a good trick)
So glad you stopped by. thanks
What a lovely post, Janet! As I mentioned previously, I find your Peace Corps posts fascinating but you really give us a glimpse of your life then and what it meant. That is fine writing, Janet.
Karen, hello. Thank you for your kind words, particularly touched that they came from you. I love your voice. Reading your blog quiets me. Glad too that you continue yo enjoy my stories. As I, yours.