Samwise Gamgee, Despair, Spelling Bees


For the last week or so I’ve been reading The Lord of the Rings, usually while humming the soundtrack to The Fellowship of the Ring or listening to it on grooveshark. Over the past year-plus I’ve developed some strategies for coping with the weird stresses of Peace Corps, which are more along the lines of “I don’t feel like I can leave my house because I’ll be recognized by every six- to fourteen-year-old child in my town” than they ever were in the States, but this is the first time I’ve ever tried so desperately to immerse myself in another world. I mean, against all odds I haven’t reread the Harry Potter books since coming here, and only a couple Roald Dahl books, and only a couple of Tamora Pierce books, while is all to say that I’ve kept this fantasy-escapism thing to a limit.

But now, I give up. I am tired from this spelling bee project we are doing, and how just when things seem to be going okay it all falls apart. In the past week I have argued with a teacher about the fairness of eliminating a student, argued with a parent about the rules of the spelling bee, gotten sick, worked on a grant for my school’s library, used more tissues than I thought was possible in a five-day span, slept more than I thought was possible in a five-day span, and stepped in a giant puddle of freezing water. (Today was the first snow.) If it takes Frodo and Samwise Gamgee to get me not wanting to die, I am going to spend every spare minute reading about their trials and tribulations, which are far more significant than mine.

The spelling bee final is this Saturday. I had thought that at this point things would be easy, you know, “all downhill from here.” But instead I’m facing, horrified, four pieces of poster board brought down from Tetovo that I have to turn into posters and signs, getting the bee schedule to all the teachers who need it, finding prizes for the top three students in each class, apologizing to my director for the amount of oil we’ll be using to heat the school for an extra day this week, and the fact that three village schools are probably dropping out from the final because of the cost of transporting students to D.

I know that things in Macedonia tend to happen last minute, that it’s not abnormal for things to fall apart, or appear to fall apart, like this, only to come back together about twelve hours before the deadline. But it’s still disheartening to look at this project and its potential for crushing the dreams of countless students in the D. – M. region – now not only because they might not win the bee, but because they might not be able to come at all. And I try to look at what I’ve done over the past two months, halfway hoping that it was me who messed up – that I didn’t explain properly where the final bee would be held, or how many students from each grade would be invited – because it’s easier for me to think of it being me, just me, who made a mistake, rather than this mess being the result of “That’s the Way it is Here.”

This time, though, it wasn’t me. If you need to find me I’ll be laying in bed, wearing my hat and gloves, reading The Fellowship of the Ring, and trying really, really hard not to think about what else will go wrong between now and four pm on Saturday.


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