My blog was recently added to the Peace Corps Journals website, so I need to get my shit together. Anyone who stumbles across Expatriate Act in its present form will observe that there are more entries about kimchi than there are about the Peace Corps and China combined. They will also notice that I don't write very often. I vow henceforth to be more consistent and less cryptic. But in the meantime, for those of you new readers who are curious about who I am and how I came to the decision to sign away two years of my life to the U.S. Peace Force, here is a timeline of the events and non-events that pushed me to the edge of the diving board upon which I am now perched, shivering in my idealistic Speedo.
Let's go with the present tense, shall we?
June 23rd, 2008
I wake up in a pile of medical records on a hardwood floor in the Schöneberg district of Berlin. My roommate is snoring, so I take a shower and spend close to an hour massaging the crick out of my lower back and scrubbing away the carbon ink stains that seep into one's skin when one is reduced to sleeping in a pile of one's medical records. As I return to the bedroom, covering my genitals with a handtowel, a board creaks underfoot. My roommate snorts, flips over, and resumes snoring. I decide to join the Peace Corps.
I complete my Peace Corps application. I email three references and assure them that I am not asking for money. My references are wary but receptive.
In the meanwhile
Life in Berlin cannot be sustained much longer. I am teaching six hours a week. The exchange rate has reduced me to cheese slices and Nutella. Under duress, I take up smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, which I can neither roll nor smoke very well.
I am interviewed over the telephone. I stammer and talk too much. The interviewer seems neither impressed nor disappointed with my performance, which only adds to my anxiety. By the end of it, the desktop is basted in engine coolant. I hang up the phone, convinced that I won't get into the Peace Corps. I resume my search for organic farm work in Tuscany.
Sometime in August
I give up on Berlin. A teary-eyed farewell to the snoring roommate. Leaving half of my possessions behind, I walk out into a 5 AM squall, clunking my wheeled luggage down a cobblestone road until I find a taxi to take me to the airport.
The flight home is overbooked, so the kind (albeit smarmy) people at American Airlines offer me a free night's stay in Berlin, along with several thousands of frequent flier miles. But I am so delirious that I decline the offer and board the plane. Twelve hours later, I arrive in New York to find that my connecting flight has been canceled. I find the cheapest available hotel room, a $250 unmade bed on the 19th floor of a bombed-out Holiday Inn in Jamaica. I sleep for sixteen hours and catch a plane to Chicago the next evening. Because my connecting flight to Omaha has long since departed, I have to reschedule for the following morning, which carries a surcharge that costs more than the ticket. For the third time in my life, I collapse on a bench at Chicago O'Hare and wake up to the whirring of the 5 AM floor buffers.
After a two-week furlough in Nebraska, I set off to teach English in Mexico. At some point, I learn that I have indeed been accepted into the Peace Corps and that they are considering placing me somewhere in Central Asia. I keep my fingers crossed for China and my toes crossed for Kyrgyzstan.
Mongolia it is. Tentative date of departure: May, 2009.
The more I read up on Mongolia, the more squeamish I become. The image that comes to mind is of a yurt, windblasted and utterly alone, trembling upon a frozen alkali flat. Hermitage will teach me a lot about myself, I figure, but do I really want to know that much about myself?
The mierda hits the ventilador. Spiraling towards bankruptcy, my school gives me the boot and wants me out of town by the end of the week. I spend a lot of time pacing around my room and swearing. In the midst of all this, the Peace Corps sends me a typically brief email which illuminates nothing. They want me to call them ASAP and after many failed attempts, I get through to them.
"Well," says my placement officer, "I know you're supposed to be headed to Mongolia in May, but we've had another position open up."
I try to sound as disinterested as my adrenaline will allow.
"It's with a university teaching program," he says, "and it's in ... the People's Republic of China."
"The People's Republic of China," I murmur. "Ah, yes. I've heard of it."
(I am pumping my fists and jumping on the bed.)
"It starts in July. You still have the option of serving in Mongolia, should you so desire. We'll give you about a week to deci -"
"Let's do China," I sputter.
"... whoa-kay. You're sure about this?"
"Yes. Count me in."
I spend the rest of the night trumpeting the happy news to coworkers, students, taco vendors, mariachis, nuns, rodeo clowns, narcotraffickers: I ... am ... going ... to ... China! But no one is as excited as I am, so at the end of the night, I throw a fiesta de autocompasión on my balcony, with four green sauce burritos and a bottle of Indio (con limón).
The rest you probably don't care to read about, and I don't care to write about it, either. EKGs and x-rays. Coughs and turns. Hepatitis vaccines A through Z. A tussle with a baby raccoon: may need rabies shots. Passport applications. Visa applications. Nagging doubts. Long, reflective car rides. I leave in 14 days.