Tuesday, April 29, 2008


It's snowing outside. I'm wearing several layers of clothing. I had 3 cups of good coffee this morning...and wasn't afraid of running out and not having any for months. I drank a beer last night that was not Biere Niger. If I want to go somewhere...I can just borrow one of the two cars my family owns. I have no worries that I will be able to post this entry as soon as I finish it.

I haven't conversed in Zarma in weeks. I am bombarded by sensationalist news stories. If I plan to meet with someone and something comes up, I am expected to inform them immediately, even though I don't have a cell phone. I have no idea how much water I have used in the last 24 hours. Though I am constantly reminded how glad people are to have me home, I don't feel like I quite fit in anymore. I am cold.

I don't really know how to explain the way I feel about being home. It's home. It's definitely comfortable in many ways. But it's awkward in others. It's not the same as it was and I don't really know if it's changed, or I've changed, or both. I still don't really know what I'm going to do. I can't really motivate myself to commit to anything right now: job, phone plan, car, anything. It's as if by doing that I'm officially tethered here. I know that's not true. I know that if something came up that could send me back to Africa, I could find a way if that's what I really wanted.

One of the things I think I'm having the hardest time with is reconciling the existence of both here and Niger. I realize now that when I was over there, the United States kind of stopped being a real place. I knew it was there, I remembered that it was a cool place to live with lots of stuff. I heard about it on the news. I talked to people there regularly, but it didn't really exist. Time over there was on hold while I was gone. Now that I'm back I realize that that's not the case. Things have changed. And, I'm faced with the fact that it really is a place. And people really do live like this completely oblivious to the rest of the world. And they're quite happy that way. It's like my head isn't big enough to hold a world view that contains both extremes. I can't bring myself to not expand the picture to still contain Niger, but juxtaposed in my mind, Niger and the US coexisting makes no sense.

So I guess I'm wrestling with that dilemma. At the same time, I'm trying to figure out how to readjust my life here to account for the various things I've learned or habits I've picked up in Niger. I have come to the conclusion that I have entirely too much crap. I have so much stuff in my room that I don't need. At all. In any way. Most of it doesn't even really have any sentimental value.

One of the things that's disturbed me the most is that when I was hanging out in Burlington, just walking down the main shopping drag in Church St., I was amazed at how tangible this deep seated urge to buy was. I could feel it like I feel the force of gravity. Somewhere deep in my unconcious I was driven. I had money in my wallet and it needed to get spent! Where is this coming from? I didn't even really want anything, except to spend money on shit I didn't need. I don't need to buy a Wii, I can play the one at my friends' apartment. But because I really did want one, I was compelled to drift into game store after game store. I resisted, but still had this nagging desire to spend money.

Is the subliminal advertising demon so thoroughly pervasive and effective? Or was I just caught up in the collective unconscious flock? I don't know but it was really frightening. Watching the news is a similarly unsettling experience. I was never aware, I mean really consciously aware, of how sensationalist the news here really is. Now that I've spent 2 yrs completely unexposed to it, it's amazing. The way they put together stories, and choose their words, even the presidential campaigns sound like sporting events. They make every little story seem like a life or death struggle. It's something I hardly ever saw in international news.

I keep saying that the peace corps is the best deprogramming machine the government doesn't realize it's paying for. I think it's very true. Don't get me wrong, I still very much love America. But there are some frightening undercurrents at work that were just not visible until I spent time completely free of them. It is really amazing how much the media influences, if not outright controls, us.


At 4:17 PM, April 29, 2008, OpenID ladysaphira said...

juxtaposed in my mind, Niger and the US coexisting makes no sense

It's not just in your mind - it makes no sense that we have such extremes in a world where everyone insists we have a global community.

I've been without TV for 2 years now and I really can't handle the sensationalism any time I'm in a place that has it even though I haven't left the US. I get all my news through NPR these days. Even PBS (which I get on cloudy evenings only) has more "commericials" then I really can handle from those supporting businesses...

And I think more then anything I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one overwhelmed by the sensationalism of "news" these days...


At 7:31 PM, April 29, 2008, Anonymous Marisa said...

hi! i'm a pc invitee heading out to niger in july - i've been reading your blog since i got my invitation, and i think it's amazing. indispensable. just thought you should know :) keep writing!


At 10:28 PM, April 30, 2008, Anonymous Jennie said...

Well It's good to know I'm not the only one that thinks they have entirely too much stuff. I studied abroad with some Tuareg in Niger last winter and I can totally relate to the feelings you mention. I don't think any of those feelings ever really leave you...everything I own can fit in my Saturn and I STILL feel like I've got too much junk. I actually get mad when people give me presents that aren't edible or somehow extremely useful. Keep fighting that consumerism and best of luck in the future.

At 10:17 AM, May 17, 2008, Blogger Genghis Khan said...

Ah, conflicting emotions- I'm getting ready to have those pretty soon. Mine'll be rawer, yours will be more refined. We should discuss them extensively over pints or bottles when you're in the Minneapolis area.

- GK


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