I’m sitting in my Italian apartment two days before beginning my final European jaunt to Paris and Amsterdam with my best friend Martin. Outside the weather is boiling hot, but I know that it will be this hot all the time when I get to Togo. I probably won’t have electricity to run a fan, or a freezer to make ice to chill down the water in my hand. While my departure date is set for the middle of September, Togo still seems a long way off.
I’ve gotten a bunch of materials from the Peace Corps explaining the various crises that will befall me right after I start service. I am personally trying to look at them all as cheerful ways to build character J but this is difficult when I am going to have to reroute my entire life again. The manuals I have received clearly delineate many of the problems I am likely to have, such as difficulty to communicate, a high degree of alienation from Togolese society, living out in the bush with no electricity or running water, the weather and food and mosquitos, getting sick, having to bike a long way to get to town, spending long days working in harsh conditions, bearing the failure of many projects I have attempted to start, and the list goes on.
However, one thing I didn’t count on was that the problems would begin before I even left Italy. Since last December, I have had a problem with my knee after banging it against the angle of a seat while cooking. Despite many attempts large and small to heal it while I have been in Bologna the problem has not been resolved, and I have decided that it will be much easier to take care of once I am back in the States. I thought it would go away, but it hasn’t and I don’t want to go to Africa if I will simply be useless. I’ve tried resting, a lot, knee braces, seeing an orthopedic, a special laser surgery, stretches, special exercises, the list goes on, but still nothing. Soon after my triumphant return to my patria I will be having a meeting the orthopedic to determine my fate, but until then I can only wait.
I feel confident that I can get this knee better by the middle of September and head off for Africa. I am gradually getting used to the fact that unexpected events and problems constantly happen not only in science and in the Peace Corps but life in general. Just yesterday I went to the post office in Bologna’s city center to send a very heavy backpack of books to my home in NC and discovered that they had to be specially wrapped and addressed and weighed with labels in certain places and closed in a certain way so they could be reopened and on and on. Rather than being angry about this, I had been expecting it, and was immediately resolved to the fact that sending these books would be an all-day task. This kind of acceptance would never have happened before Italy! Maybe now I won’t be so surprised when I spend months creating a Natural Resource Management plan for farmers in the semi-arid Northern region of Togo and they simply ignore all my advice.
On a more lighter note, I am having a little going-away party tonight with some Italian friends in Piazza Santo Stefano. They will help me finish the beer remaining in my fridge (it usually sits there a long time because my roommates and I always drink only water for meals) and we will talk a little more in the language that I have tried for 11 months to adsorb. I really think that it is too bad Italy did not have more colonies in Africa, South America, or the Orient back in the day so that my language skills would have some benefit outside this country. I heard recently that Eritrea was an Italian colony, but I doubt they speak the language there.
Heading off to Paris in a couple days, I will have the opportunity to practice some of my French. Or should I say, j’avrai l’opportunite’ de practicer mon francais! Or is that wrong… ANYWAY, Martin and I will be staying with some French people and hopefully strolling down the Champs Elysees while I say something close to grammatically correct to our hosts. I am excited!
There is a lot coming up in my life. Leaving Bologna is the next big event, and while I will be sad to leave the city many of my friends, foreign and Italian, have already taken off for the summer. My plan to take this final trip, graduate in August, and take off in September seemed spectacular, but as I know plans inevitably change or transform or metamophosize into something else completely. All this preparation for the Peace Corps, from big things like taking most of the semester to learn French to small things like setting myself up with a teacher and class to write to while I’m in Africa, seem to mean nothing if this knee does not get better. But I will thwart it out, for mine is a heart made of iron!
Can’t wait to return to the U.S. and see what reverse-culture shock is like. Should be interesting…