Famous Last Words, Photoggling

The Sappy Goodbye Post

“We live in time- it holds us and molds us- but I never felt I understood it very well. And I’m not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time’s malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally, it seems to go missing – until the eventual point when it really does go missing never to return” – Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

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Applying to Georgetown, I compared my life to a kaleidoscope. Be it sleep deprivation or an actual stroke of brilliance, I explained how my life was gradually changing and I was working to keep up, figuring out how each piece fit into the narrative of the moment. Naïve as I was, I wrote as though I was the one slowly turning the kaleidoscope–as though I was the one in control.

This fact–lost in the hundreds of applications and college brochures–became irrelevant, only to resurface this past spring when writing a paper about Proust’s Combray for a French class, which references kaleidoscopes as the narrative searches for an essence of truth. At one point in the book, the narrator describes how his grandmother constantly disrupts the manicured garden, creating a cycle of work for the gardener. Essentially (as I argued in my paper), the grandmother becomes the turning force of the kaleidoscope, scattering everything into a new image.

And then, about a month ago, I found out that I was accepted into the Peace Corps, and this metaphor once again reemerged. Life was not slowly turning; it had abruptly shifted, jolting me out of one future path into another. More importantly, I had little say in the speed of its rotations; grandmother had left the garden and I had little choice but to keep up with her disruptions.

All of this rambling brings me to this: How to say goodbye for two years?

Suddenly I had three days left in DC. It was not enough time, but I suppose there never is enough time. After what felt like a casual hour or two to chat, each goodbye ended with the sudden sprint of time racing towards the end.  

And then time slowed.

Back in Idaho, with a month until departure, I fell into a routine of biking, running, walking and eating copious amounts of Mexican food. I became reacquainted with my childhood home. I remembered that people here are friendly and that wave from a guy in his truck was probably not sexual harassment, just an Idahoan courtesy. I remembered that running through a sprinkler actually feels amazing in a dry climate and that you could smell a rainstorm coming from miles away.

I also had a chance to return to Sun Valley in the summer, something that I had not been able to do since the summer before my junior year. Shoutout to my new best friend Lenny for reminding me that not only will people in Idaho stop to chat with you on a hiking trail, but also will walk up to you, sit down with you and chat your ear off for an hour. Also to Dominic, the nine year-old who asked me why I wasn’t married and if I could drive. (Answers: Um…hadn’t occurred to me yet? and Yes. In fact, I’ve been driving since you’ve been in diapers. I’m hella old, bruh.)

(Also, may or may not have stocked up on the Cabin Porn™. This is for all the pretty people who asked me what there was to do in Idaho.)

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As the smattering of goodbyes start to dwindle, I have slowly realized I am ready to go.

Although I know will miss everyone and I know I will miss the hundreds of the important events happening in their lives in the next couple years–the biggest pull to stay stateside–in the words of a sage friend, “there’s always going to be something that you miss.”

I cannot always be there for everyone. More importantly, I cannot put off living my own life in order to watch others live theirs.

With this realization, I pack my bags: the only physical sense of closure I’ll find, as I neatly fit (read: stuff) everything into two international regulation-sized bags and a backpack.

As for the people? Thats far less easy and much less organized. People don’t stay where you leave them–they grow, they move, they change–and all you can do is enjoy the image before it turns.

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“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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Famous Last Words

The Return of the Artichoke (This Time for Africa)

For those of you who do not already know, I have accepted a position with the Peace Corps in Cameroon where I will be working on a Maternal and Child Health Project.

In honor of this news, I have decided to resurrect my blog. Once dedicated solely to my tales in Tajikistan (see all prior posts), the next two years will feature my adventures in Cameroon.

FAQs:

When are you going?

I head to staging on September 7th and will leave the country on the 9th.

How long will you be gone?

27 months.

What’s a Cameroon?

A prawn.

That’s in Africa, right?

Correct! And just to jog your memory, here is a map:

Africa-Cameroon

And another map!

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Also here is a brief overview of the country.

What will you speak there?

English, French. Possibly Fulfulde and/or Cameroonian Pigdin English (Kamtok).  Or one of the other 239 languages spoken in Cameroon.

Can I write you?

YES! Please write me. All pigeons, owls, snails, etc. can be directed to:

Jessica Rempe

Peace Corps – Corps de la Paix

B.P. 215 Yaoundé, Cameroon

Other forms of communications include: e-mail, Facebook, WhatsApp, and message-in-a-bottle (although no promises on a response to the latter)

Can I visit?

If you find yourself in Cameroon anytime in the next couple years, please let me know–I’d welcome the company!

Where in Cameroon will you be posted? 

No clue. Stay tuned…

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Famous Last Words

Changes and Strangers

“We die to each other daily. What we know of other people is only our memory of the moments during which we knew them. And they have changed since then. To pretend that they and we are the same is a useful and convenient social convention, which must sometimes be broken. We must also remember that at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.”

―T.S. Eliot, The Cocktail Party

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When I was preparing to leave the States last winter, I started googling quotes about travel. Searching for reassurance, wisdom and mostly just inspiration for a name to this blog, I stumbled upon this quote. In this paragraph, T.S. Eliot somehow managed to encapsulate my fear of leaving Georgetown for a semester. I suppose it could also be summarized less eloquently as FOMO. But it was more than just a fear of missing out, it was a fear that I would come back and find things so changed that I would once again be forced to adapt: leading to two culture shocks for the price of one.

But now, after over a week of having returned, I have a new fear:

I wonder if I have changed.

Watching myself slip into the simple summer life, it feels as though I never left and nothing has changed. As comforting as it is, I feel dissatisfied. My enamored delight wans with each spoonful of peanut butter along with my excitement over the things I missed, the things I always had taken for granted. I start slipping up more in Farsi, as important English words are rapidly returning. It is amazing how fast the language leaves, along with the reality of the experience.

And it’s frustrating because I want this trip to mean something.

The people. The rapidly changing cluster of friendships forged in a week, only to be gone in another. The mountains. The experience must be more than just “my time abroad”.

Or maybe I just feel this pressure to have a life-changing experience abroad. Perhaps it is something that signifies my return to Georgetown and the high-achieving lifestyle it encourages or maybe it is more of a discontent with how easy it is to return to my previous routine.

My privileged life becomes ordinary.

Is that the essence of reverse culture shock?

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It has been almost three weeks now since my return and slowly I am finding changes:

-The end of the free truffle era at Godiva

-Cracks in relationships I hadn’t noticed before

-New stores: others vanished

-People following newly discovered interests

The changes are subtle, but slowly I’m learning where to look. Maybe in a day, a month or even a year I might even be able to look at myself and figure out how I have grown since going abroad and figure out its role in my narrative.

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Famous Last Words

The Spiel: Jess N Stan

Places that I have given the spiel include (and are not limited to): in a classroom, on a chairlift, through e-mail, on a taxi to the airport the morning after my 21st, at a party to a crowd of my parents’ slightly tipsy friends, and now here. I have become so proficient in giving the spiel that the reality of it has become even more distant; but as January 21st quickly approaches, it seems fitting to give it one last time as way to begin this blog.

Famous last moments before the spiel:

“Oh you are going abroad in the spring? That’s wonderful! Where are you going?”

“Tajikistan.”

And thus follows the confused silence, launching me into giving the spiel.

The Spiel:

I, Jessica, will be studying abroad this spring in Dushanbe, Tajikistan where I will study Farsi, which is a dialect of Persian. Due to the complicated relations between Iran and the United States, I cannot exactly go to Iran to further my Farsi studies. Fortunately, Tajiki is another dialect of Persian and American Councils offers a program for Farsi in Dushanbe, so traveling there offers me the opportunity to study both.

FAQs:

Where is Tajikistan?

A former Soviet satellite state, Tajikistan is one of the “stans” located south of Russia. It is west of China. It also is north of Afghanistan, a fact I sometimes omit depending upon whom I am telling.

China, the odd one out in this map of Stans.

Is it safe?

Of course, most of the remaining landmines are marked clearly with a pictographic sign. Anyone who does not want to lose a foot should be able to interpret the following:

The poor unfortunate figure who stepped on a landmine. Courtesy of my acceptance handbook.

On a more serious note, as with travel to any place, Tajikistan will be a safe as the decisions I will make as a traveler and guest in the region.

What color will you dye your hair?

Honestly, I hadn’t really considered it. Although I have always wanted to experiment with life as a brunette, I feel dying my hair will do little help me blend in, especially once my roots start growing in. There is a very good chance that I am going to stand out even without blonde hair so being mistaken for a local is a lofty goal. Instead, I am going to spend my time focusing on improving my language skills and engaging with the community without offending an entire nation.

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