“So how was it?”
“Great! Ups and downs everyday, but overall it was a very positive experience”
“O cool… well what was it like in Micronesia?”
“It's a different world”
In the last few weeks I have had slight variations on that terse dialogue dozens of times. In a handful of words and two quick statements I attempt to squeeze everything that happened to me over the last two years into a nicely packaged response that satisfies the half-hearted curiosity of chattering acquaintances. The roller coaster of events, emotions and changes are all summed up with a simple word—“Great!” All the obscure idiosyncrasies of the islands, the wild and unexpected adventures, and the eye opening encounters are condensed into the generic observation that “it's a different world”. These simple answers don't even come close to breaking the surface of the overflowing feelings and thoughts that want to come bursting out when someone mentions Peace Corps to me. Sometimes I bring up funny or weird anecdotes that elucidate the differing lifestyles of the Chuukese in comparison with Americans, but these are often an incomplete smattering of random stories that don't encompass the true disparity of life in my two homes. On occasion I will ramble off into tangents about Micronesian politics, Pacific language patterns or Chuukese eating habits; but then the glossy eyed look sweeps over my companion’s face and I take my cue to return the conversation to more relatable subjects like the price of beer or embarrassing collapse of the Lakers.
The zoom of racing cars, consumer madness of stores, and tip tapping of Iphones have overloaded my senses and shook up my internal state of calmness. I am miles behind the curve of technology and have no idea about popular music or media. Years ago I basically taught my parents how to use computers and now they are laughing at me because I am baffled when trying to make a call on their Iphones. My friends used to talk about surf swells and bar hours, now they talk about the stock market and work hours. I am a different person and I have been thrust back into a different world.
Regardless of these differences, my return to the civilized world has not been fraught with mental upheavals or devastating culture shock. While the transition is slow and confusing, I have been surprised by how even keeled my reaction to everything has been. In addition to abandoning my loved ones in Chuuk and leaving that special life behind, my arrival in America was met with the death of a close friend, cancer diagnosis of a relative, minor stroke of another relative and a handful of other shocking events. But I guess the unwavering calmness of island living has seeped into my veins and made me relaxed even in the face of stressful situations. I have been handling each hiccup of readjustment much better than I expected and maintaining my low-key stoic attitude throughout.
It should seem like a good thing to handle each of these events without extreme emotional complications, but my nonchalant attitude actually bothers me a little bit. Part of the reason that I voluntary put myself in third world conditions was so that I could experience the full range of human emotions and place myself in situations where I would be forced to feel depression, anxiety, loneliness and all the negative counterparts of the positive feelings that usually characterize my life. Without a doubt I did come across these feelings and grapple with their crippling challenges, but experiencing those situations didn't necessarily make me more prone to feel like that. Its possible that by going through situations of negative affectivity I am now able to suppress those feelings healthily and continue to focus on the light around the edges of the dark abyss that envelops bad situations. I have always preached the ideals of positive thinking in order to overcome tough problems, but in the past I was speaking from the naïve perspective of a privileged child. I am no longer naïve and I am no longer a child, but my positivity has reinforced its legitimacy in my mind and life and proven to be the driving force behind my efforts to improve the world around me. My experiences in Micronesia have not crushed my positive optimism and reduced my world view to a hopeless cry against the desperate poverty that grinds against most of the world’s population. Instead I have come to believe that pointing our attention towards the beautiful and wonderful things in our world is a much more effective strategy to combat the problems that we encounter. Positivity and relaxation are still atop my personal list of attributes that will make our planet thrive.
I like to believe that my presence in Chuuk was the catalyst for a number of good changes in my community and helped shape the lives of the local people, but that is thousands of miles away and already in the past. I will visit there again, but until then I must readjust my mindset and be fully present in my current life. I have been struggling with the dichotomy that is keeping my mind in Chuuk, even though my body is obviously in America.
Now that my service is finished and I am back in the “real world” I must concentrate on the most important questions of my future. How will those experiences shape the rest of my life? How can I utilize what I have learned and apply it to the world I live in now? How can I respectfully spread my new ideas about humanity to others? What can I do to continue to make my world a better place? How can I continue to grow as a person? What should I have for lunch with an entire fridge full of goodies?
Thank all you readers for perusing my blog and keeping up my with my random rambling thoughts during my time in Micronesia. I tried to give you all a little glimpse into my island universe and I hope you enjoyed it. I started this blog as a diary to chronicle my life in the Peace Corps, but it morphed into more than that and expanded its focus to other things. It has shown me that I have a passion for writing and should continue to attempt jotting down my interpretation of the world. I will soon be embarking upon another adventure to the far reaches of India and southern Asia (and probably South America). So if you have an interest in following my travels I will do my best to keep you in the loop.
Kinamwe, Tong, me Pwapwa ngeni kemi meinsin
(Peace, Love and Happiness to all of you)