Hello from my homeland and the bowels of August, which are not nearly so sluggish and steamy as August bowels in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia can often be. I am wrapping up the summer months at my folks’ place, where the squirrels are just plain-assed crazy. They are constantly trying to perform routine maintenance on the undercarriage of my mom’s car (she claims they’re gnawing through her fuel lines, but I swear I saw one cleaning her brake pads), and trying to open the back door using momentum and mammalian gumption. What inspires them to attempt these awesome feats, which are so clearly quite outside the realm of plausible squirreldom? What sheer determination and willful ignorance propels them? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but these bushy-tailed kamikazes are my current personal metaphor of choice, as I, too, am once again attempting something which may simply be against Nature’s plan.
The last couple of months have been quite a revelatory roller coaster, and no one was more surprised by this than me. Actually, I had envisioned returning to the U.S. with a crystalline vision for a more domesticated future, which would most certainly NOT involve another gut churning semester in the trenches of experiential education in India. But then I ate some sushi- o.k. a lot of sushi. I took a really hot shower and slept like a grizzly in mid-winter. I went for blissfully anonymous walks on country roads without seeing a soul and lapped up the ridiculous beauty of the Blue Ridge, hugging me from three hundred and sixty degrees. This all took about seventy-two hours, and by the end of it, I was scrolling through websites and shooting off emails to land my next semester abroad.
What can I say, I just need to do it this one last time, and then I’m done, really. I can quit any time I want. It’s just that I feel like I’m only beginning to get what this whole line of work is about, and maybe with two semesters behind me I might be able to do more good than harm. Not that I feel badly about the way I discharged my duties over the last year, though there are a few rock bottom moments (yes, I did contemplate duct tape and a fire hose as acceptable methods for encouraging compliance). I am well aware that my experiences have been of enormous benefit to me in terms of character and professional development, leadership skills, and MacGyveresque techniques for maintaining personal hygiene “in the field”, and feel the need for just one more semester to extend the benefit of my existential bumps and bruises to others. I was once told by a hardened yet dashing veteran of experiential education in India that, out of three semesters, I might expect to have one that is truly great. Not to pin this on him, but that’s the gamble I’m taking.
My reinvigorated enthusiasm quickly yielded results, and I landed a job leading students on a service-oriented trip around the world- beginning in Guatemala, continuing on to India, and finishing in Uganda. I packed off to Berkeley to shepherd my young niece, Kate, through the rude shock of baby number two hitting the scene, confident that my life, at least through December, was completely mapped out. For a girl whose biggest concession to long-term planning involves shopping for a week’s worth of groceries at once, this was big stuff. Berkeley was wonderful, and though Kate’s favorite word seems to be “No”, she sounds like Yoda on helium when she says it, so I remain her helpless devotee. I have a new baby nephew, and I’m pretty sure he loves me best of all of his homeless big-haired aunties, so I headed back east for more family bonding (and birthing- oh, Lily, you have my heart in the palm of your wrinkly newborn hand) riding high on a wave of optimism. Then, I turned, thirty-four and got fired.
I have good reason to believe that my termination was not due to my advancing years, though the unfortunate timing of the event did almost send me to CVS for some very expensive eye cream and a Whitman’s Sampler. No, it’s just that a hefty chunk of the students who had signed up for the trip dropped out due to the utter crappiness of the present economy. Make no mistake, I am a person upon whom the blessings of a loving family and non-subsistence related concerns have been amply showered, but finding myself on an extended “visit” with my parents, no job on the horizon, on the eve of my “not in my early thirties anymore” birthday was quite a jolt. Fortunately, after two interminable weeks of negotiating and agonizing, I decided to go back to northern India for one last hurrah in “transformative education”. It wasn’t what I had originally envisioned, but it’s what popped up on the Universe’s shiny silver platter, so off I go once more. I head back to Calistoga in a couple of weeks for leader training, and to make nice with my future co-leader, who will hopefully possess all of the good humor and none of the Hepatitis of my former partner. I was hoping to do a great deal more couch-surfing in the northeast than I was able to, but I have high hopes for early December. In the mean time, I will simply cyber stalk you all on Facebook (a cruel, but infinitely diverting mistress) to fill the gaping holes in my knowledge of your daily adventures. I’ll be in the U.S. until the first week in September, and will try to catch up with most of you in some (undoubtedly inadequate) form before then.