Monthly Archives: January 2002

Flight itinerary, the Asia sampler

A few days ago I received my Begin to Learn Nepali Language booklet and audio cassette. I’ve realized quite suddenly that I’m going to be learning a foreign-foreign language. Perhaps it should be renamed, Learn to Speak Nepali in Your Wildest Dreams.

There are some handy phrases in the book. There are inclusions, purposeful as they may be, that give me pause. For example:

Are there poisonous snakes around?

I don’t know Nepali culture. Please teach me.

Mother cooks delicious food.

I will not eat today. I am not feeling well.

Last week I made my flight reservations. My parents realized I was leaving the country and not going camping. (My mother insists I bring a compass in case I get lost. And who knows, maybe she’s right.) For me, it was a great relief to have tickets in hand.

Once I get on the plane, there’s no turning back. Before I fly to Kathmandu, I’ll attend a ‘staging’ in San Francisco with other Peace Corps volunteers heading to Nepal. (I’ve heard the group is around 58 people.) After a one-day introduction to life as a Peace Corps volunteer, I will head to Kathmandu.

I’m not sure how many actual hours it will take us to get to Kathmandu from San Francisco, but because of time zones and the International Date Line, we arrive in Kathmandu around 48 hours and 20 minutes after leaving San Francisco:

Date Departure airport Departure time Arrival airport Arrival time
Feb 18, 2002 SFO, San Francisco 12:25 NRT, Tokyo 16:45
Feb 19, 2002 NRT, Tokyo 17:50 BKK, Bangkok 22:25
Feb 20, 2002 BKK, Bangkok 10:30 KTM, Kathmandu 12:45

Counting from today, there are 21 days before departure. Let me stretch my legs while I can.

Violently sentimental garbage

If at any moment throughout the day I could write down the fleeting impulses caused by my upcoming departure (in 34 days), psychoanalyzing my anxiety would be much simpler.

Exactly when I got it into my head to join the Peace Corps is something I wish I could remember, probably because I was more articulate about it then than I am now. How many times have I heard people half-heatedly proclaim, I’m joining the Peace Corps? It’s enough to make me vomit.

Somehow the collective social consciousness thinks of the Peace Corps as a French Foreign Legion but for conscientious objectors. Are you failing in college? Out of jail with nowhere to go? Unemployed but unwilling to live with your parents? Hell, join the Peace Corps.

What I’ve learned about Peace Corps volunteers is that they are a group who, as a generalization for example’s sake, have their lives in order, insomuch as they are willing, transitory expatriates; however, I can’t deny the opt-out factor. At a time when future plans are discussed openly at family functions, joining the Peace Corps is an easy decision (usually answered with a breaking Oh).

A year later, I was riding buses and teaching kids.

A year later, I was riding buses and teaching kids.

I’ve never met anyone who has joined the Peace Corps (or U.S. armed forces for that matter) because they had an immediate future planned out. And as I put behind my college life, I realize that the rest of life isn’t necessarily any different than before. I’ve chosen a cheap, unique, and moderately elite graduate school: I turned in applications, went to interviews, and even took a few tests.

Just as I was nervous leaving for college, so am I now. Just as I met smelly people who could hardly read or write, so will I in Nepal. My worries are no different than at any other time when I moved: nervous about making friends, retaining ties to old friends, adjusting to a new lifestyle, and the terrible realities of pending dysentery.

I’ve been lucky to have the support of friends and family, which hasn’t gone unnoticed. My good friend Randy sent me a farewell card and wrote on it a few quartets from T.S. Eliot’s The Dry Salvages:

Fare forward travellers! not escaping from the past
Into different lives, or into any future;
You are not the same people who left that station
Or who will arrive at any terminus.

When I arrive in Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, the newness of everything will invigorate me. Thinking of it now gives me an anxious sense of happiness. When the waters are still, let us mock the storm.

Maybe I’ll just join the French Foreign Legion if this Peace Corps thing fizzles. It’s just the first entry, of course.