Friday, July 31, 2009

Can Peace Corps Volunteers go on rescue missions?

When I get a chance to look at the news headlines each week I usually see a story about the war in Afghanistan. Since I arrived in Turkmenistan I have been scanning over these headlines, yet not often clicking on them to read the full story. Frequently stories of success are tainted by the overwhelming majority of stories about death and bombings. Sadly, these stories about soldiers and combatants who have perished during the war are so common that they have become trite. I do want to stay informed about what is happening in Afghanistan, and recently I read the story about American troops pulling out of towns and cities and I have been keeping up to date on the situation in Basra after the “changing of the knights.” Although Turkmenistan and Afghanistan border, one may live in Turkmenistan without even knowing that there is a war to the south. Life here seems so far from the turmoil across the border; the only evidence of the war is the refugee camp in southern Mary Welayat filled with mostly Afghan refugees. When my parents called me last week and told me that a guy who I have known since I was little had been taken hostage by the Taliban, I was shocked. This news made the headline I later saw on Al Jazeera (my English language news channel) of personal concern, and I would have probably barely noticed it otherwise.

All of a sudden, I felt so far away from home. And all of a sudden I realized that each soldier mentioned in those headlines means the world to their family and friends back at home. Here I am so close to Afghanistan and I thought about what my parents would do if they got news that I was in danger over here. I think about my safety constantly, and so does Peace Corps. Because of the government’s control, this country is extremely safe and despite my previous concern about the close proximity to Afghanistan, I have never felt in danger here. My heart goes out to Bowe and all of his family and friends back in Idaho. We all think about our family and friends back in America so often and find comfort in the memories and photos that we bring along with us. It is difficult enough being so far away from all of your loved ones, and I can not even imagine how much courage it takes to make it through the day in Bowe’s situation.

The second goal of the Peace Corps is to teach host-country nationals about American culture and traditions. The third goal is to educate Americans about the country where you are doing/did your service. After my primary work as a teacher, my job is to build an understanding between cultures. With so much resentment, anger and frustration across the border, Turkmenistan is next door to a country where America is viewed more as an invader than as an ally. I want to be a part of the process to build awareness about cultural differences and to educate about tolerance and appreciation of foreign cultures. I am not talking only about teaching Turkmen about America, but I believe that Americans also have a lot to learn about the world at large.

Did you know exactly where Turkmenistan was before you saw the little map on my blog?

Do you know that there are an estimated 2 million ethnic Turkmen living in Afghanistan?

Because I am cut off from most news sources here, I have been religiously reading any magazine (Economist and National Geographic have been my favorites) that I can get my hands on. Because of my lack of news, I am making a huge effort to try to stay informed, and the result has been me staying more informed that I often was in the U.S. I never thought that this would be the case. It is not easy to stay up to date, but with some effort (and everything takes a bit more effort here) it is entirely possible and necessary. I may live in an isolated country, but I do not want to feel isolated myself. I have spent this past week thinking a lot about my family and about the people I care the most about. I will be honest and say that it was not the easiest week for me, and it was probably the most homesick that I have been so far. Yet even when I miss all my loved ones so much, I know that I don’t really want to leave. I am so lucky to have so many people who are supporting me and encouraging me through all the hard times. In less than one week my feet will be on British soil and I will be gorging myself with avocados and digestive cookies, freezing my butt off in the 26-degree weather and catching up on the last 10 months with some good mother-daughter time.

Recently I have become addicted to watching Top Chef and I have almost blown through a whole season in a week. I basically sit in front of my computer and squeal about all the good food that I can’t have. The losing dish on each episode looks great to me. I have already started my list of “foods I must eat in England” and I want to write to Top Chef and recommend they do a Peace Corps volunteer quickfire challenge where the contestants have the rudimentary cooking facilities, supplies and equipment of a PCV. Let’s see just how good they are when they have cotton seed oil, rice, moldy carrots, onion, one pan, one gas burner that barely works and a knife that barely cuts garlic (those are the only ingredients my first host-family had available at one point last winter)!

No comments: