It’s been 9 months since I left Albania, 8 months since I left South Africa. It’s been a long time, but this blog is due for an update, and some reflections on what happened.
When I returned home, things were surprisingly similar to when I left. Even with the two trips home for Thanksgiving while I served, progress in a Developed Country is of a different nature than where I came from. I got used to being up close and personal to the daily changes in my projects. They became my life and my “reason” for giving up the luxuries of home. It’s an interesting thing, that New England sense of obligation, ego, and guilt. On some level I truly believed that I was the dam, saving others from the flood. “No I’m just doing my part”, “What’s wrong with caring?”… I meant it when I made these comments. On a certain level though, I was acting on a drive even now I can’t fully explain. A sense of guilt. A desire for things to “make sense”. It was never about proving anything to anyone, or admiration for that matter… it was about quieting that inner voice that admonishes us for winning the birth lottery. After all, how is it fair that our parents pay for our college education, while other families can’t even provide their children with safety from local militias?
When I first returned from rural Thailand, western luxuries actually angered me. I remember pacing in Ballston Mall, as I nearly screamed into my phone how wrong everything was to my father. My initial drive to “fix” the situation, has died down though. The drive to work internationally and help those in need is just as present as ever, but perhaps that sense of guilt, obligation… and over-inflated ego are just now passing.
I realize now that I’ve spent much of my life being stressed and angry with myself. There are probably any number of reasons for this, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. While that ceaseless drive to be better propelled me forward to where I am today, it has also worn on me immensely. When I was placed just outside of Albania’s capital, many fellow PCVs envied my living situation. Me being who I am though, took it as yet another reason to do everything in my power to materially improve the country before I left. This sense of obligation ran so deep that I suffered from bouts of extreme loneliness. Every PCV faces this, perhaps what was unique about my situation was how I have no one to blame for it but myself. I was so caught up in my sense of guilt over the inequity in life, so demanding of myself, that I actually nearly universally kicked back every chance at a relationship. I suppose on a certain level I was furious with how inadequate we all are at tackling the problems that face our world, and it left me on edge all the time.
As I enjoy relaxing music in perfect ambient temperatures, all of those negative emotions are finally melting away. I supposed I do regret having wasted so much time being angry about the world’s state of affairs. Despite being told constantly that anger doesn’t help, I steamed internally. I was going to fix things. I was going to do it right. I wouldn’t be like them (those people not working hard enough). At some point it became more about me then it did about those that I was supposed to be helping. At one point in Byrell, I even hit a kid in the head. Not particularly hard, but considering how much meditation I was doing, you’d think I’d just let that pass. My stress level was so high though, that when he threw firecrackers at our giant group of Americans, I snapped. While this child was by no means a saint, my anger was really just founded in the stress I had built up over the years. That stress has followed me everywhere I went. Running from country to country never changed it, and never could.
So now what?
It’s great to finally have moved past some emotional baggage built up over the years, but questions remain as to what I do with my life. Of course these questions always remain. I still have nightmares sometimes of the little Thai girl who tugged at my shirt in a museum in Bangkok. I naively thought she was just a playful girl and made faces and tried to speak broken Thai to her. That roughly 8 year old girl was a sex slave. Her “pimp” was nearby and was eyeing me, and eventually asked if “I liked”. Minutes after I had left the museum, a friend of mine explained that the girl wasn’t dressed “normally” and I pieced things together. The rage that I felt after that experience mixed with those New England feelings of self-hatred to make a volatile combination. I would become an expert in International Development and “fix” it. Working in the field for years changes you though… My time in Albania has provided me with concrete foundation to maybe, just maybe making a difference. I’m faced with a question I never expected though. Do I still want to do International Development?
Now that I’m finally making decisions with a head not wrapped up with a sense of obligation, I’m able to think clearly and ask if I really want to put myself through the suffering I endured in Albania. The answer? I will never put myself through that kind of emotional hell-storm again. My suffering actually was only tangentially related to the fact that I was in Albania though. I’m the one that decided to be so distant with people. So yes, I still want to do International Development. I still want to find a safe home for girls like that first girl that woke me up so many years ago. I still want to put those that seek to use others for personal gain in prison. I still want to provide a dignified life to the men and women around the world. I just won’t be so damn miserable while I do it. If I see a way to use my skills and make a difference, I’ll take it. In the meantime, I’m happy to be alive, to be safe, and to be comfortable. I wonder how many other New Englander’s have yet to attain these simple joys?