10.3.13

Where are the hardships?

There are good ships and there are wood ships and there are ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships and may they ever be.
Best toast ever. Toast is great but don't let it get too hard. Now hardships, those are something else.I am rereading the PDFs the Peace Corps sent me because I have to check a box that says I did that.

There are a lot of half-contemptible things in these documents. Apparently, for example--I may not drive in my host country, or while traveling to any other country where the peace corps currently has volunteers. I may ride a bike, but I may be discharged from my service if I operate one without a helmet.A lot of the documents want to prepare us for disappointment and loneliness and existential questions about not being able to communicate. It's going to be interesting experiencing those tribulations for a second time.

When we moved to France, Sebastien did not have the same linguistic handicaps that I did. He had been visiting France since his early childhood and his greatest problem with speaking is that he's too creative with words. So I'm going to do my best to be compassionate towards him and that newness even as I struggle myself. In some ways, being in a couple for Peace Corps service makes us lucky--we will have each others hard won companionship  after all. In other ways it will be more difficult, as it has been in France, as it could only be in a country with which neither party has any cultural ties.
But we will have dim sum, that's something.
I wanted to share with you a few quotes from the manual that I found particularly amusing.
"Your host families have probably even been warned that you’ll be unintentionally boorish now and then and that they shouldn’t take it personally."
So that's cool. Anytime I fly off the handle, throw the baby out with the bathwater or cry over spilt milk I can just look at my host family levelly and remind them in English, they had been warned.
Better still, there is an entire section of one manual titled: Where is the hardship?
That had these two gems:
"Doing without is part of the image and mythology of the Peace Corps, and some Volunteers associate it with success. In truth, there is no such equivalency. Even if you do have hot running water, you can still cover yourself in glory just as easily as a Volunteer who sleeps under a date palm and takes sponge baths."
TIL that some people in the Peace Corps get to sleep under date palms, and this fact apparently renders me jealous. But it's an interesting point to make. Just look at all the stuff I won't be taking into industrialized China:

Lol, just kidding. Of course I'll bring duct-tape. 

And I admit that I do find myself a bit wrapped up in the mystique of hardship (and camping.) Nobody's culture should be treated as an opportunity to camp, I actually know this but there is something excited in me that just loves to pack and be prepared and takes great pride in having expected outcomes and then encountering them. I actually prefer those things to pitching my tent in the rain or playing with magnesium and steal, trying to get a fire lit.
...but if I'm being completely honest, playing with magnesium is actually kind of worth it.
Even still, I know that China is going to be a changing experience. It would be limiting to imagine just how. But I might actually feel guilty -guilty, I say!- for not suffering enough. Graciously, the manual urges me to rest assured that I will suffer. Existentially. Possibly to the point of depression induced sickness.
"So in the meantime, don’t worry: It’s still noble work even if the shop on the corner does carry M&Ms. They’re probably stale anyway."
Talk about injustice!
I take it back, please don't.

I've been walking around realizing that I actually enjoy Spring. And it turns out I'm also really going to miss Paris.
 I feel kinda silly for saying that. But there are a million things to celebrate right on my block. How many times  in my life will I ever live near a coffee roaster again? The lady behind the counter knows how I like my beans ground. moulee pour un cafetier italien. Pas de sac. Comme d'habitude. She always says warmly before she wishes us a good sunday.

One time, I was in the mood for a burger but didn't have the dinero for Chez Jeanette so I walked into a bucher shop about two doors down  and asked them if they had any ground beef left. The butcher furrowed his brow  at me and picked up what I considered to be a good cut of meat. Feeling certain that I had mispronounced steak hachee, I tried again, very polity to say it more slowly. He just rolled his eyes and dropped the meat in the grinder.
Just like that.

There is a Pankistani man who sells ripped DVDs from on top of a box every night, right across from where all the free degustations are hosted. He's always so cordial when we talk that I actually look forward to our small intereactions.
I hope he never gets caught.

Feth, I love it here! No decent brunch places but hella good, Indian food four businesses at a time.  I can't even bring down the trash without smelling fresh mint or apples from the fruit stand below our flat. Not to mention the roasted chickens and pigs each time I step on to the balcony, in winter. A short stroll on Saturday gets you to la fontaine Saint Michel where you can manage to find kebab for 50 centimes cheeper than on my street. Or closer even, les forum des Halles if you want to spend an afternoon in the FNAC pretending you can afford a two euro pocket edition.
I have so many good memories of the canal Saint Martin. Drinking cheep german beer along the quai with Clement while he plays his guitar. By bike past the banlieue Saint Denis onward and further till the sidewalks end and the fields begin.

The Fete de la Musique. June 21st, you'll always be there. That was my main reason for coming to France that first summer in 2009--even if I was still in Madrid at the time.
I'll miss you, Summers nights taken by storm and by foot. Hearing accordion players playing non ironically from my bed.
Amazing falafel in the Marais. The best kurdish food I've ever had. A hotdog stand that juices fruits and sells bagles. Ti-punch. Seeing whole skinned rabbits along side the chickens in shop windows.
Coming back from class by velib.
And walking back to my flat with a hot baguette against my side on a crisp Autumn's eve. It's memories like these that keep me so addicted to adventuring.
Our weekend was pretty full. 
On n'a pas fait que la fête, mais comme meme.
We went to my favorite bar, Le Mauri7, on Friday night. Sebastien and I kept it light. The rest of the gang got back around 6 AM. I had to teach Saturday morning and so I wasn't trying to over do it. I'm glad I didn't either, because Saturday was beautiful and Seb and I walked all around the 12th arrondissement along the Promenade Plantee. The city has converted an old raised train line into a garden. We did the whole length, back tracked and then walked home through Bastille  and in through the Marais and back along the Seine. 
Went to a great house party last night not far from here and really enjoyed ourselves. Today I have  to update the FTP server for my class but I plan to do that from bed. It's cloudy and I just want to read. I think I borrowed a book from someone last night called Charly 9. It smells like cigarettes and rhum so I don't want to touch it today. But last night I was very exicited to start reading it.
Makes me wonder what tomorrow will bring. Likely more hardship and peace corps paperwork. But I feel existentially prepared for such an onslaught. I will face it with his hand in mine and by the grit of my teeth. I will likely also have coffee. Ground. For an Italian coffee maker. No plastic bag. Like usual.
Bonne Dimanche.
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