As I collect the various Deleted Scenes to create a small eBook, I’m finding a few I’d like to recirculate.
Here’s one from April, 2013, called Finding Serenity. This time around, I’m calling it:
Flexibility, patience, and a sense of humor
I’ve added photos to the remake too.
The words I heard most often during our two-year Peace Corps application process were, “You’ll need flexibility, patience, and a sense of humor.”
Within the successful Peace Corps volunteer abides flexibility, patience, and a sense of humor. And the greatest of these is a sense of humor.
It was also my greatest challenge.
I can do flexibility; I’m resilient to a fault.
I can do patience, too. As long as it doesn’t take too long.
But finding the humor in the world around me was impossible. At least in my third and fourth months.
I’d gone into the Peace Corps seriously determined that my two years there would be “worth all I’d (altruistically) given up.”
Fortunately, the martyr role does not suit me well.
I weighed each new challenge against “all I’d given up.” Not a pretty sight.
By October, my cultural sensitivity was dead and the hard wiring that culture embeds in us at an early age — cowboy-individualism in my American case, personal efficacy, empowerment — took over my life and colored everything I heard and saw. The result was chronic irritation and fatigue.
Feeing angry and tired is not a good way to try on a new way of being, never mind “to make friends for America.”
Corruption was an easy target.
We’d been told to expect corruption and, sure enough, from the policemen who arbitrarily stopped traffic to collect the small stash of paper tenge kept always in each glove compartment for such occasions, to the licensing bureaucrats who charged for a driver’s license — either $200 US or a sheep, depending on whether they were in the north of the country ($200) or the south (a sheep) — I saw it all around me.
New hires were expected to turn over their first month’s salary to whomever hired them.
Grades could be raised a full letter grade for a mere 5000 tenge. Even diplomas were bought.
Payoffs, bribery, kickbacks, and nepotism were rampant.
I reminded myself that Kazakhstan was a very young country, and America’s history — never mind its present — is also riddled with pockets of corruption.
In the America I idealized, though, corruption is exposed when found. Our heroes are those who fight crime, ignorance, poverty, and go on to
get re-elected star in their own HBO documentary write their memoir.
Americas schools are in trouble, death by guns is the highest by far of any place in the world, and there is an ever-growing gap between rich and poor. But, while Americans disagree on the relative importance of these issues and how to address them, we still talk about them; we protest, demonstrate, argue, debate, write letters, or just complain. And we do so embraced by the luxury of the law. An imperfect luxury, to be sure, and one we often take for granted. Such was not the case in the Kazakhstan I lived in ten years ago.
In the Kazakhstan of 2004-2006 there were no protests, no demonstrations, no letters, and no complaints. I wanted my colleagues to be angry, to rail against the system just a little. But they couldn’t. It was their culture. It was in their hardwiring.
But back to my story.
Still, I was angry and I wanted my colleagues to be angry too. I wanted them to protest, or at least to complain. I wanted them to organize, to change the way their world worked.
I wanted them to behave like me.
But they didn’t.
I called it complacency, or co-dependency, or confluence depending upon the day. And it wasn’t at all funny.
It wasn’t just that they “weren’t me.” What I didn’t see was that their world was now working better for many of them than it had for generations. They were laughing at life more than I was at that point. And it was really annoying.
Everything was annoying.
Nothing was funny.
That would have been a red flag, if I’d only noticed.
Fortunately I eventually found my way out of this pit. (Those scenes survived the editors knife.)
Each of us, in our own way, whether we plan to or not, makes a difference every day. How much of a difference, how much of a legacy, how positive or negative the impact, is for others to determine.
History. Her story.
When we toss a pebble into a river, we don’t know how that one ripple, along with all the others, will change that river over time. So it was with me in Kazakhstan. I could only toss in my pebbles.
And let them go.
That’s when I got my laughter back.
Learning what I can control, what I have power over, is one of the marks of the mature mind. This has nothing to do with culture; I’ve come to see it as a universal.
One I take seriously. Maybe too seriously. I need to find something absurd; that always makes me laugh.
How about you? When do you laugh? What helps you?