Friday, December 21, 2007

Wither to undermine?

Well. It's been a couple days since I did this. I've been spending lots of time with some folks, and that's been cutting into my blogging time. Now, I'm on the plane back to JFK, currently winging my way over the Atlantic. Flew out of Kabul about 20 hours ago as I write this (It's 12:15 local Kabul time, or about 3:45 AM Thursday Kansas time). Stayed in Dubai for about 8-10 hours before getting on the Emirates flight. There are six of us on the flight, I'm not sitting by any of them, however. We had a good time in Dubai, I think. It was pretty freaky - I don't think going to the Mall of the Emirates is exactly the best cultural re-integration after being in Kabul for five months... It reminded me of all the things that I don't like about the States. The commercialism, the crass consumer impulses. We walked by two Lambroughinis, which was kind of neat, but that was about 1 million dollars of cars. There is so much good that could be done for a million dollars... So much good. I was somewhat overwhelmed for the first hour or so in Dubai. It kind of wore off, because I can adjust to things pretty quickly, but still, imagine a massive mall (and we all know how much I like malls already) as the first place you go after being in an under-developed, third world country for five months.

We ate at Chilis, and I was sort of reminded as to why I don't like chain restaurants. Except for the beef 'bacon', the Bacon Burger was exactly the same as the States, as was the Molten Chocolate cake. We also went bowling, which was kind of fun, except I tossed one strike to start out with, and never bowled less than a seven after that, but couldn't clear the pins any other times. Frustrating, but I guess decent for not bowling in at least nine months. The one very nice thing about Dubai is that it was 80 degrees (fahrenheit) out, and coming from 30s Kabul to 80s Dubai was nice. Of course, Kansas is probably going to be cold (I know it's going to be cold), but that's just the way life goes, I guess. I've gotten a lot more used to the cold, after living in a house where you can see your breath in the morning.

This morning, well, about 28 hours ago, I moved out of the house that I had been living in, and into my new apartment. I wasn't entirely thrilled to move, I had known that I was going to have to move out of the house since I was occupying a house that a family on sabbatical lived in, and they are returning after Christmas. But I had thought that I was going to move down to another house that had been occupied by our music teacher and business manager, who are in the States next semester so she can have their twin girls. However, that changed this last week when the school hired two females to fill the music teacher and admin assistant positions that are going to be open next semester. So, I got moved into an apartment. The reason I'm not entirely thrilled about this apartment is that it's in the administration building. My apartment is right next to the Director's office. Which, again, doesn't entirely thrill me, but it was better than the other two options that I could have had. I think I'm mostly disappointed because I was looking forward to being in the nice house, lots of space, and now I'm in one little room.

On the plus side, however, as I was moving in, I talked to one of the guys who works in the admin building, and he is going to get me a wood stove installed over break. Those things are absolutely awesome. I went over and 'babysat' our science teacher's kids... well, not last night, but Tuesday night, and they have a wood stove in their house. I asked the oldest, a five year old, what the temperature was, he goes over to the mercury and says, "I think it's 80!" Now, I'm thinking that perspective is the issue, because the thermometer is about at eye-level for me, and that means it's about two and a half feet up in the air for him. I go over and look, and sure enough, it's 76. Warm. And their living room is pretty good sized, I think it's going to make my room nice and toasty. Now, I just need to get a chair or couch into that room somehow, and life will be good. I also need curtains, good curtains. I didn't really unpack my stuff, I just couldn't bring myself to, somehow. I think when you're moving the day before you leave, that's excusable, right?

I have to confess, I have and have not been looking forward to this break. I adjust to change pretty easily, but it is not my favorite thing in the world. I've grown comfortable to my stable, predictable, boring life in Kabul. In a way, I've just transitioned my lifestyle from the U.S. to Kabul. While things are definitely not exactly the same, (I am not saying they are at all,) but lots of things are the same. I do my work, just like I used to. I don't get out much, I don't have tons of acquaintances or friends outside of my compound group (which is a ready-made social group like the one I grew up in), and I'm not a very exciting person. Going back to the States is going to be a transition, however brief.

And I find that I'm scared of easily slipping back into the culture. I find that I have learned and discovered some things while in my third-world home about my first-world home. I've learned that the entertainment culture exists everywhere, Afghans are big consumers of Hindi soap opera and American professional wrestling (if I had a dollar for every Jon Cena t-shirt I saw, I'd be a rich man.) But the Afghans aren't as taken with the celebrity aspect as Americans are. I've also come to appreciate that all the things we have, all the comforts we try to hold on to, they just aren't as meaningful. Sure, I like walking down to French Bakery, I like being able to buy KitKats, and I really appreciate eating American-style food. But if I couldn't do that in Kabul, it would be fine. I've also learned how much people are the same all over, and you can be who you want to be wherever you are, regardless of who other people are. I don't know if that makes sense, it does to me.

One other thing that I find is my ambivalence towards being back in the place where I come from, which is and isn't going to feel like home. I'm going to be happy to be home while missing home. I'll be happy to being back in Kansas, in what I think will feel like a pretty familiar place. I'll be happy to be back around friends and family that I have not been able to see for months. But it just won't exactly be home. I'll be moving out of the house I had been renting, which had become home. I'll be moving stuff back to my parent's house, which was home and somehow always comes to mind when I say home. I'll be back in a city that I think I will still know like the back of my hand, for I called it home for twenty years. And I'll find myself renewing acquaintances and catching up on friendships from there, part of or most of how I defined home. And all my family will be in town, which is one of the main ways that I visualize home. But home won't be the same. I'm going on vacation to home, not going home to live. That will be fundamentally different than anything since I last lived away from my hometown, for one year in college. So I know this is going to be different, and while I'm home, I'll be missing home. Because home won't be the same as it used to be, and I have been developing a new home.

When you live as many of us at the school do in Kabul, in close community and on a compound, life, home, and family become wrapped up in a different set of standards and definitions than they would in the States. You have this forced, easy, intimate community. You have a family that is related to you, and then you have a family that you exist with. I have a really great family in Kabul, and I'm going to miss them over the break... maybe not all of them consciously, but some of them very much. I don't know if you haven't been in that situation that I can easily explain that to you, and I've already typed out a lot here.

I want to close with a couple of thoughts that have been on my mind fairly constantly lately, but I don't know how to unpack them from the circumstances that surround them, because without that context, it might not make sense how they relate. I'm going to do it anyway, because it is not the best idea to get into those circumstances right now, so either you can read between the lines, or just try to appreciate my odd thoughts where they lie.

I've talked recently about choosing to be joyful. I find that being joyful is like being peaceful, it's a state that you can enter regardless of your emotions. There are some things going on, in my life and in Afghanistan, that I am not particularly happy about, but I can, all I can do is be joyful about them. Rejoice in the trials because of what they produce. Likewise, there are some things going on that unsettle me, disturb me, cause me to wonder and process and think. But I am seeking peace in those situations. I don't always succeed at this, mostly because I don't set my mind on the proper things. But when I can, it is then that I find peace. And even in my uncertainty, even in my lack of understanding, even in my struggle, when I set my mind in the fashion and on That which I should, I can have peace. My emotional roller coaster doesn't change, but my attitude about it does.

I've been writing for almost an hour, and I wrote some other stuff for nearly an hour before this. I'm about exhausted of writing, and I don't know how much I will actually blog while I'm in the States, so this should be enough to get you, my loyal readers, through a couple of weeks without Russ.

*Edit* since I wrote that on the plane, it's been another 12-24 hours, I've mostly stayed awake, made it back to KS, drove home from Wichita, went to a high school choir/alumni caroling party, drove the car around for it, came to my house, talked and goofed off with my roomate for a while, and am now going to bed at 1:30ish A.M. local time, or 12:00ish Friday P.M. in Kabul. So I've been awake with minimal sleep for 60 hours. I'll report on how long I sleep.

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