So long, and thanks for all the pap

It turns out that not only will I not make it in time to avoid medical separation, but the reinstatement process generally requires that you be stable for 6 months out of a year.  Which is just too long to wait around here in the meantime.  So I will be officially leaving Peace Corps as of next Thursday.

It is sad.  I miss my village, and many people in it.  I feel bad for them, thinking that they were going to get help and then being left high and dry.  Also, I wanted to make it through this challenge and say that, yes, I lived as a PCV for over two years.  Hiking in the mountains everyday probably also makes the list of reasons I wanted to return.

But I’ve also gotten tired of just waiting around here.  45 days in one spot, without crowded taxis to take me into town, with no challenge, just hasn’t appealed to me.  The governmental bureaucracy I had to deal with was tortuous, and quite honestly concerned so much with PR that their concern with PR is their main public image (and not a positive one).  And honestly, I was growing rather cynical of any attempts to help the children learn; they would just go back into the same broken system once I left.  There’s not much an American volunteer can do if South Africa itself doesn’t decide to make education a priority.

So time to head back to Milwaukee in a couple weeks and see what life has to offer.  It’s kind of nice having choices again.  And I’ve rediscovered my love of music in the past month; I really want to see if there’s anything I can do professionally with it, once I practise hard for the next year or so.  Already got some great blues pieces to play through on this mandolin, and I’m looking forward to a book on Gypsy Jazz coming in.

I’ll be heading out on more adventures, so I’m keeping this blog up.  I’m still looking toward the future and trying to find time wherever I can to make the world a more awesome place.


The Long and Winding Road

Update!  Kind of.  I thought I was going to be able to take advantage of a cancellation to get an appointment tomorrow, but I was wrong.  So it’s almost certain now that I will not make it back in time before the medical separation period is over (45 days).  That doesn’t mean that South Africa is rid of me; I can still apply to be reinstated, especially since I won’t be going that much over 45 days.  But still, it’s annoying.  Especially because the wait isn’t due to treatment, but because I still haven’t started the actual treatment yet, since Peace Corps cares more about getting the right paperwork and written evals done thrice over than about the actual care of its volunteers.  Ship them out after a half hour informal chat; send them back after in-depth monitoring from multiple professionals, with whom Peace Corps won’t lift a finger to help you get appointments in a timely fashion, while conditions worsen under effective house arrest, when everything could have been taken care of in a week or two back in South Africa had anyone listened to me.  Have I mentioned that I’m getting a little miffed about the situation?  At least the inefficiency and incompetence reassure me that I’m still on the government dime.

I doubt that I can manage any trips around things here, especially since I have to be ready for cancellations at any minute, so excursions to Billings or Milwaukee or Chicago or whatnot are out.  The only thing keeping me reasonably sane and occupied at the moment is music.  So seriously, send me messages or something, or set up a Skype-jam to give me incentive to play more.  Secret admirer gifts for Valentine’s Day are also accepted.

In Defence of Pessimism

I’m spending an awful lot of downtime right now, waiting on Peace Corps to decide that the paperwork is finished so that they can actually get around to taking care of me.  So I’ve been doing odd things; most recently, I picked up a mandolin and have been spending hours learning how to play it.  I’ll be a bluegrass star by the time I get back to South Africa, at this point.  But I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking, about a million and one things.   So first thought, for this post: I’ve been told by various people that I need to be more optimistic, often by people who seem downright offended that anyone take a negative view to things.  And I’m kind of sick of it.

We all know the standard “glass half full/empty” scenario.  And in such a scenario, it may very well be rational to take the glass to be half full.  After all, one might as well be happy, all other things being equal.

But I, as a professional pessimist, don’t take the glass to be half empty.  Other things are *not* equal.  My claim, rather, is that the glass is darn well near gone.  The optimist might claim that the glass is half full, or even entirely so.  This is mere delusion.  It is an emotional security blanket that might give her peace and comfort, but at the cost of her ability to actually engage the world as it is.  Polyanna-ism is highly selfish.  

Other optimists might rather say that we should be grateful for the water we have instead of cursing what we lack.  As long as they also act on that latter knowledge, I guess that I have no serious quarrel with them; it is when they again wrap themselves up in “gratitude” to feel better while ignoring that lack that I have my concerns.

The pessimist claims that the world is actually in a bad spot.  She does not merely say that it can be viewed as such, but rather that things are actually messed up.  And recognition of this mess, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us, is a necessity to doing anything about it.  She might be factually wrong.  In that case, give her facts and evidence to show her otherwise.  But to deride her for being negative and critical, as if such were in itself a vice instead of active engagement with the world, is to showcase one’s own emotional inability to cope rather than make any statement about the pessimist.

In the end, emotions don’t tell us about the world.  They tell us about us.  Feeling good, feeling bad, feeling something to be true or false, are mostly meaningless when we assume that they refer to something more than, well, how we feel.  Which is not unimportant, and is ignored at one’s own peril; but to take them as our compass to the world would be like me saying to myself: I am madly in love with that woman, therefore we will be together one day.  The fact that a view makes someone feel bad or out of place is not in the slightest bit a piece of evidence that such a view is wrong.

So please, I implore my readers, don’t put people down for pointing out the uncomfortable.    Thank them for having the courage to do so, and honestly assess whether they might be correct.  Challenge them in turn if necessary, but never let comfort and peace of mind seal you off from the world.

And speaking of being sealed off from the world, I’m still sitting here, playing music and writing blog entries, probably for at least another month (though who knows? It’s not like I’ve had any clue about what was going to happen the rest of this trip back).  Send me messages and emails and music and, I don’t know, funny pictures or something.