February 6, 2012

a handle bar mustache bandit rides into the sunset

Yes.  This is from THE DAY.
This is the speech I delivered to my fellow PCVs at our Close of Service conference, the last gathering attended by everyone.  During and since the conference I've felt that same feeling you feel in your stomach when you are young and in love or when something really awful happened to you or when someone has died.  A heavy, dull ache.  I'll write about that later.  Anyways, I lot of inside jokes here.  Don't worry about it.

I watched Lukas as he stepped away from the podium having delivered his Swearing In “MUZUNGU!” speech. He had something or other about our role as proverbial Boda Men (and Women) asking people where they're going and how we can help them get there.  I marinated on that for a minute and after several other event formalities we broke into fragments of small talk, photos, and hors d'ouvres.

It’s worth noting that this scenario now terrifies me.  Small talk.  I don’t know how to talk about much outside of literature, metaphysics, the doings and transpirings of The Group, and, well, poop. 

(It was pencil thin, though completely solid, and very lightly colored the other day.  First time in two years it’s looked like this.  It’s incredible!)

Anyways there I am in a linen suit peering through the fog of a hangover and out from a Beatle-ish mop top and over a handlebar mustache which I had carved the previous night.  There I am.  I saw the Ambassador schmoozing his way in my direction.  He paused, gave me a once over, extended his hand and said “When the going gets weird, the weird get going.”  Yes sir they do.  That is indeed what they do.  It did get weird and we did get going and now here we are.

 And we are weird.  Really weird.  Not unique, special, different or any other euphemism.  That would neuter the description.  We’re weird. 

Just agreeing to come here and do this whole thing is weird enough.  How many of your friends took this ever so scenic route after college or retirement?  Can you count them off on one hand?  We are a self selecting banditry of weirdness, as weird as a troop of monkeys.  More weird than a troop of monkeys.  We started out weird and for better or worse we’ve gotten weirder.

For the worse we’ve become painfully frugal.  I’ll just say flat out cheap.  If it’s free we’ll eat it or drink it or pack it home on the six hour bus ride.  We’ve developed questionable hygiene practices.  Like the opposite of immaculate…de-mamaculate if you will.  We’ve pooped (see there it is again: poop talk) on shoes, buses, river beds, caveras, and Lake Victorias.  We’ve pooped in so many places and so many circumstances that hovering over a hole in the ground seems normal rather than cause célèbre.   And after two years in the mosh pits that pass for lines here, we often confuse boorishness with assertiveness; long ago having determined dignity exchanged for “fairness” to be a reasonable bargain.

But our little band has become weirder for the better as well.  Perhaps you’ve become savvy to the complicated truths of the world.  Maybe you’ve become more disciplined in some regards and less uptight in others.  Or maybe you’ve learned to cook or garden or raise a dog.  You know your specifics better than me.  There isn’t much that’s universal about the Peace Corps experience.  It’s a fit custom tailored for you.

But here we are a clan of 29 goofballs, husbands, hippies, warlocks, pilgrims, poofs and gurus sharing 29 iterations of one common experience.  We’ve been away from all those influences from back home.  Away from the family and friends, the career, the culture, the comforts; we have been forced to muddle through this whole thing as best as we could. 

As only we could. 

The things you’ve said and done and thought these past two years are Who You Are.  It’s been two years.  Nobody can fake it that long.  I’ve never felt more true to myself than I do right now and that’s the Grand Universal Peace Corps Truth.  And while that authenticity shouldn’t be weird it certainly seems to be and that’s something we all share. 

So I hope we all hold on to what we’ve found in ourselves.  And I hope we don’t stop exploring just because we’re finishing with our service.  I’ve got the emotional sophistication of a 15 year old boy with a Victoria’s Secret catalogue but I hope that if you feel like crying you’re not doing it because this is the end and you’re going to miss pooping in a hole and talking to your friends about it.  Even if the end is hard, you don’t want to be in Peace Corps forever.  Of that I am certain.

Rather I hope that we can all cherish the past, accept the present and embrace the future.  We’ve got some heavy hitters in our group and I’m so excited to see where we all end up next.  I know we’ll still travel around…meet people…get into adventures…you know, wander the Earth.  Be thankful for the experience but don’t linger too long looking back.  Look forward to all the awesome things coming our way.  Keep going forward, straight on ‘till dawn.

In his swearing in speech, Lukas told us that we were Boda Men (and Women) and our job was to ask people where they were going and how we could help them get there.  I think that we’re spaceships.  Really weird spaceships.  Tearing through the heavens at the speed of light.  And space ships don’t come equipped with rearview mirrors.
These people.

1 comment:

tangata said...

thank you very much.
the 'stash is definitely