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On being back in America, an RPCV


I’ve been back in America for a while now so it seems fair to update you all on what it is like, you know, coming back to America.

To sum it up as fast as I can, no one thinks I’m important or interesting anymore, things often are not where I left them three years ago (I mean both places, like the Spice Terminal in Reading Terminal Market, which I just today discovered is no longer there, and things, like a Joe Sacco comic book and my blender and my French press), more things are automated than I think need to be automated (doors, toilets, sinks, towel dispensers, supermarket checkout lanes), and public transit is unnervingly efficient and consistent in terms of where it goes and when and how much it costs to get there.

So, then. I am happy to be back and to be back in Philly, but every once in a while I find myself wanting to cry because I miss my host family, or embarking on a long-winded story about that time that that thing happened on the kombi (that no one is interested in hearing). I have realized that all the news reports I’d been reading about how hard it is to find a job nowadays were not exaggerations, and have the worrisome suspicion that many potential employers view Peace Corps and Fulbright as a fun three-year vacation I took rather than as three years of me managing projects, writing grants, and collaborating with everyone on any project they could think up, all with me speaking either Macedonian or Albanian. I feel moderately to very abandoned by Peace Corps, and would like to humbly request that they one day consider giving more to their former volunteers than a few thousand bucks, a reusable grocery bag, and a Peace Corps mug. (I mean, like, options to buy healthcare if you have a weird return schedule, not more money.)

I’m going to stop now, because I’m trying not to spend too much time reflecting on how strange it is to be on the other side of this Peace Corps thing. For years it was my only goal, and it never occurred to me that one day I would finish Peace Corps and would have to figure out what would come next. Now I’m almost 27 years old, unemployed, uninsured, and hoping that I work things out soon. Fortunately I can do so while reading my library books, eating Reese’s cups, and drinking all the good beers Philly has dreamed up in my absence.


How We Kill Bugs in the Peace Corps


Last night as I was brushing my teeth and admiring my good looks* I noticed a GFB (that is, a Giant F…ing Bug**) on the wall behind me. More specifically, a GFC (Giant F…ing Centipede).

Now, there are a lot of ways to kill bugs. I believe that some of the more accepted methods are to quickly and painlessly smush them, or to flush them down the toilet.

But if there’s one thing that holds us Peace Corps volunteers together, it’s our sense of creativity. We like to “think outside the box,” as it were, and as such I find it hard to hold to such time-tested methods of killing bugs. Also, this bug was huge and to smush it or flush it down the toilet would have required getting a little closer than I wanted, given my inability to remember from sixth grade science if it’s centipedes or millipedes who are the bad ones.

So, toothbrush in mouth I ran out of my bathroom, kinda lopsidedly since the last thing I wanted was for my head to come within two feet of the centipede. From another volunteer I learned the trick of taping bugs to walls, which effectively immobilizes them and makes clean-up easier than smashing them into my textured walls.

Armed with the packing tape I ran back in the bathroom, cut off a big piece and stood there for about five minutes, repeatedly coming (I swear) within inches of taping the GFC to the wall. “One, two, three… Okay, one, two, three!….Okay, this time I really will…”

But the longer I stared at this GFC the more I realized how big it was. Taping a bug like that to the wall is no easy piece of work. If he made a run for it he could easily touch my hand, or worse.

Toothbrush still in mouth, I ran back out of the bathroom and found a box of band-aids which I dumped out on my coffee table. Armed with this box I ran back into the bathroom and affixed the tape to the box so I could smash/tape the GFC without having to get too close to it.

About this time it occurred to me that this was a pretty large bug and that I might need some additional means of immobilizing it. Lacking Raid, I ran out of the bathroom and got the next best thing, a spray bottle of stove top cleanser.

Take that

Back in the bathroom, after another few minutes of starting at this GFC (sometime in here I did get rid of the toothbrush), I realized that a flimsy band-aid box is no great protection against a bug with so many legs and possibly poisonous teeth, or whatever. So I ran back out, got my dish washing gloves from the kitchen, and thus arrayed returned to the bathroom with my be-taped band-aid box in one hand and stove top cleanser in the other.

With such improved defenses it only took me about a minute this time to actually smash the GFC. But, as is typical of me, I lost my nerve a split-second before hitting the bug and as a result wound up with a few centipede legs attached to my packing tape and a now alarmed GFC landing unnervingly near my foot.

Panicked, I began spraying stove top cleanser after the little f…er (I mean, not so little, but whatever) until I managed to chase him into the depression in the floor where my shower is. I was pretty near to dying myself from all the toxic cleanser fumes I was inhaling, and just as I was beginning to seriously consider that the GFC might not be affected by my attempts to murder him, his motions began to slow.

I think I drowned him.

Armed once more with my bandaid box I smashed him into the tile before throwing away the largest part of his body in my trashcan along with the band aid box and washing his lost legs down the drain.

And that, my dear readers, is how we kill bugs in the Peace Corps. Good thing I am not in Africa.

* I never look better than at 11:30 p.m. while brushing my teeth.

** As part of my effort to be a stand-up sort of volunteer I am trying not to curse on my blog.

This Country Changes You


In Macedonia, I say yes to pretty much everything.

Coffee? Yes, absolutely!
A third bowl of tavche gravche? Yes, absolutely!
An hour in the janitors’ closet, which has smoke instead of air? Yes, absolutely!
Want to see a cow slaughter? Yes, absolutely!
Want to watch us make pita for three hours? Yes, absolutely!

An unintended side effect of this seems to be an increased openness in all areas of my life, manifested as an intense interest in ads for diet pills and all products advertised on television. If you need to find me, I am probably with my host mother, clipping ads for cellulite cream and discussing the most effective methods of weight loss that don’t involve actually eating less.