The first film I watched in a movie theater after a year in China was The Simpsons Movie- and it was perfect. To be in a huge darkened, air-conditioned auditorium with a couple hundred other folks looking to suspend our disbelief for a couple hours. To escape what we know and trust as absolute and believe that there is a two-dimensional, yellow cartoon family who will face a devastating life challenge and rise above it.
I miss sneaking in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and trying to crack open a can of Hamm’s without anyone else hearing. I miss dropping $3 at a second-run theater to see a film I’ve waited for patiently. I miss being in that big dark room, and forgetting about everything that was outside of it.
This photo represents a double whammy of stuff I miss: the serenity of restful sleep and sauntering about in a dress.
I don’t remember the last time I woke up feeling refreshed- as if the six and a half hours I spent beneath my dusty mosquito net, on top of the overly-firmed-slightly-padded-cardboard-box-excuse-of-a-mattress replenished me. The heat and anxiety, from the outside in and the inside out, doesn’t help much in having sweet dreams and waking with a spring in one’s step. Instead I’m plagued with nightmares and groggy mornings of achiness.
And the dresses, oh my, how I’ve missed wearing dresses. Culturally, in these parts, a woman wearing a dress in public is apparently harmful to men and therefore frowned upon.
I can’t wait to return to a place where beds are meant for lulling one to sleep in its infinite mooshiness and where a woman can wear clothing that does not cover the very limbs that she was created with (because god forbid that we acknowledge that we have legs that prop us up and move us ahead).
It’s not so much that I’m disheartened or sullen, because I’m neither of those things all the time. Although I do find myself drowning in moments of dejection, like a flash flood, treading wildly desperately and trying to swallow a breathe of fresh air. But eventually, I find land and crawl onto shore to roll around in the sand and sleep for a while.
It’s not these moments that are stripping me of me.
It’s more about how much of what used to make my life fulfilling and worthwhile has been slowly drained from the tiny pores of my yellow skin.
A year and a half is a lot to ask of students and teachers without giving them a plan, curriculum or proper support. Especially when so much is riding on their success in this intensive English bridge program. Students and teachers alike are hollowed out, exhausted and trapped.
We’re not afraid of hard work, this past year will attest to that, but we are human beings who need enrichment in multiple facets of our lives. We cannot continue to be healthy, living in a vacuum that consists of a singular building and rooms either filled with desks or beds. How do we teach our students to live, inhale life deeply until your chest can’t puff out any further, if they seldom venture outside to breathe?
When one’s life is only consumed with work, with the people she works with, with her workplace, with thoughts about work, that person is no longer who she was, but rather what she does.
I’d like to not feel like a shell of a person, a shadow of my once vivacious self, and be me.
* This is a photo of our 2006 Portland fridge, right before my departure for China. Gus and I made a pinata of my head for a going-away party. People were supposed to smack it around for candy, but I think most folks felt too sorry for my sunken head to swat at it so it survived and I stuck it in the fridge for a photo.
Human beings are social animals, we seek out interaction to let our minds spill out bottled-up ideas, daydreams and to share the emotions that spring from our heart, mind and hands. We need other people to validate that we are here, that we bear a presence.
I miss going to parties, to social gatherings, to watch the body language of strangers in dimly-lit corridors or to sit comfortably between two friends on the overstuffed sofa of a friend of a friend’s. I miss the possibilities and twinkle from the eyes of new people you meet, looking into the future imagining all the things we can do together as friends.
Even as I sit here and type this, it seems ridiculous that I would miss people while living in one of the most densely-populated countries of the world. We laud cross-cultural understanding and global friendships, but it takes an enormous amount of work to settle into a rhythm of communication. There is no ease here, no mutual understandings. There’s a lot of awkward talking in circles in pidgin versions of each other’s language.
I’m tired, I lack the energy to invest. I’d like to walk into a room with folks idling about, folks who have all gathered at this particular place because we are invested in something seemingly trivial like art or music or literature. I want to meet people and not have the event become mired in me being an American and the other person being a citizen of a developing nation where I’ve ostensibly come to aid.
I want it to be easy.
Chatting with Jeff:
Jeff: how does one get a lum jum?
Amy: do you know someone who is seeking a lum jum?
Jeff: the lum jums are funky
if i send you a case of local PBR
will you send me one?
actually, i’m seriously not into drinking in bangladesh
its really depressing
Jeff: my guess is the supply is …. not optimal
i hate that i have no social life
so drinking just reminds me of how depressing this all is
hrmm… im trying to think of what you can send me in exchange for your very own super awesome lum jum
by the way, you’d have to wait until i get home to the US to get one
because i dont trust pillow stuffing from these parts
Jeff: hmmm…whatchoo need from hk?
is this what our life has come to?
not trusting pillow stuffing?
Summary: 1) Don’t trust stuffing from these parts. Once you see burlap sacks full of stuff that looks to be vaguely animal hair/re-used mattress innards spill onto sidewalks, you’ll share this sentiment.
2) I don’t drink anymore. I say to my Muslim friends: Job well done. We’ll see if this will remain once I return to the land of heathens.
My darling mixte bicycle. When I think of Cilantro, it’s flush of fond memories of pure freedom of movement, of just being able to hop onto the bike and with nothing more than just my feet pressed against pedals. Then I was off.
I miss the rides, the fresh, chilled air rushing over my cheeks. I miss knowing where I was, where I wanted to go and how to get there. I miss the long aimless rides with no destinations except to go.
“Miss, how do you eat supper?” Loda was curious about how we fed ourselves since moving out of the school building, and its dining hall, months ago. “Do you take food from the dining hall to your home? Do they cook for you there?”
“No, Loda, we cook for ourselves.”
“Miss!” Her eyes widened in shock.
“What? You don’t think we can cook?!”
“No, miss. We know the teachers can do many things. But you are too busy, no? You have no time.”
This was true, months ago, when I barely had time to schedule in bathroom breaks. But as we progress and gain a better handle on our work and quasi-personal lives here, we’ve found time to keep ourselves nourished, if only somewhat haphazardly.
“Cooking is such a waste of time, miss,” Loda continued.
“It’s not that bad.”
“No, miss. It’s a waste of time to cook here. It is different in America because you can just go and buy some vegetables in a bag and open the bag and you can eat it like that. Here you have to wash the vegetables, examine it to make sure there are no insects in there, clean it some more. You have to do that for all the vegetables. It’s a waste of time.”
Most families in Bangladesh, beginning in the lower middle-class bracket, have servants and housekeepers who perform all daily house chores, which includes cooking. While Bangladeshis (women, mostly) do cook, their servants do the prep work, the tedious washing of veggies and such. Loda, who knows we don’t have a servant in our homes, was appalled that I’d waste time with menial tasks when there were larger responsibilities looming in front of me, you know, like educating her. The way she sees it, since I come from a place where clean, ready-to-eat vegetables flow freely from bags on produce shelves, its difficult for her to imagine that I could handle the inconvenience of veggie washing.
I had to inform her that yes, while we do have an abundance of fresh pre-washed veggies, American do still actually wash food too. I mean, only when we can find a free moment in between all that casual sex we engage in.
Speaking with her got me to thinking of all the awesome foodstuff that I’ll be devouring when I get home, the least of which is about every item imaginable that is stocked at Trader Joe’s, the one man in my life who has never disappointed me.
Upon my homecoming, I shall tear through a bags of organic baby spinach and gulp down gallons of soy milk! I’m gonna make mountains of salads, topped with baked beans and soy meats! I’ll lay down two slices of nutritious multi-grain bread and stuff it full of tofurky, mustard and veggies until its too thick for me to hold with merely two hands! I’m gonna inhale the aroma of homemade veggie noodle soup, filled to the brim with organic cherry tomatoes and chunks of veggie meatballs!
I’m gonna bake up a storm, the oven will never not smell like something sweet is emitting from within its amber chambers. The first thing I want to try to make are peanut butter and jelly cookies! Yes! PB&J cookies!
Do you hear me, universe?! Sure, you’ve beaten me down, banished me to a country where there is an absence of drink and salads. But I shall rise! I will rise high and mighty, like a phoenix smothered in rice and daal. I will shake the oil-saturated curried cauliflower off my wings and I will dance in the aisles of grocery stores lined with shelves and shelves stacked with breakfast cereals!
Oh, glory, glory, hallelujah!
From Saigon, Vietnam. February 2007.
Happy valentine’s day (or another painful reminder of my one-year forced celibacy.) Don’t take it for granted, my friends.