Posts Tagged ‘party line’

Cyclone (Tuesday, 2014 June 17)

June 18th, 2014

Last year Timothy came to visit me because his girlfriend was in the Mermaid Parade down on Coney Island. I am thinking now of standing on the fire escape here at Woodcrest and him telling me that I had quite an appetite for strong drink. Then, maybe the next day, we’re all standing outside in the sun and heat, running out of nigori sake or whatever we were drinking that morning, and watching the parade go by. In particular there’s a parade of muscle cars, some of which are fancy-looking antiques and one of which is just a loud car driven by the kind of person who knows how to make his tires squeal. After that car drives by, revving the engine like a beast only to stop short behind the next car, a guy in front of us says "Ha, and they have New Jersey plates, that’s perfect." Timothy, if you’re reading this, you asked if I "heard banjos" when I was in Brighton Beach. To answer your question, Brighton Beach is still civilization. For banjos, you have to go to Jersey, or at least Staten Island.

I’m getting off topic. Not too long after the cars go by, the parade starts, and before Jackie gets to go, the Brooklyn Cyclones mascot goes by. (He looks like a baseball with a duckbill and a baseball cap.) Timothy’s from out of town, so I’m explaining to him, "The Cyclones aren’t major league. They’re just below major leagues. Is there a name for that?" And the guy who made the quip about Jersey turns around and says "Triple A." So maybe the Cyclones are Triple A. (Although now that I’m looking it up, it seems like they’re Class A — Short Season.)

They don’t play at Barclay’s Stadium, in downtown Brooklyn, named after a major bank — they play at MCU Park, named after the Municipal Credit Union, open to all former employees of the City of New York. The park is in Coney Island, which, while once the gold standard for American amusement parks, is now one of the seediest neighborhoods in New York. So it’s a triple-A team playing at a triple-A stadium in a triple-A neighborhood. And when they sent me an email saying that they were observing Peace Corps Day with special seating available for anyone who used the discount code PEACE, I knew I had to go. Finally I would be able to relate to my father and his sister talking about the team’s dancing girls, the Beach Bums, walking around and shaking their bottoms. Best of all, I’d be able to heckle the Hudson Valley Renegades (?) while getting sufficiently drunk and being surrounded by other Volunteers.

We rolled up late, having had a chili dog and a Coney Island Lager at nearby Nathan’s, but as soon as I got there I knew I had made the right decision. The whole place reeked of Brooklyn spirit. Instead of ads for companies best described as "brands", the place was festooned with decorations for places like Astoria Federal Savings, New York Methodist Hospital, Midwood Ambulance Service, and Peter’s personal favorite, Send In The Clowns Entertainment Corp. A trained eye could look at the Beach Bums and easily discern the swarthy attitude of Canarsie, the tawny pride of Flatbush, or the self-important swagger of Midwood. There was a table for Peace Corps where they gave Volunteers a t-shirt with the Peace Corps logo on the front so you could broadcast your affiliation to the larger community, and it was easy to spot the section where your ticket was, even if you didn’t know exactly where to sit. Of course, PCVs don’t hurry right over to their assigned seats — instead we stood around the table and gossiped with the other (more experienced) Volunteers manning the table.

Apparently they’ve recently changed the application process? What used to take 8 hours to fill out now only takes 1, and instead of expressing a vague preference about where you want to go, you get to apply to an individual country. ("How can they do that?" Peter asked. "That’s not — they can’t do that! That’s not what Peace Corps is about! It’s about the cold hand of bureaucracy telling you what to do, and you doing it. With a smile.") Apparently if your application for a particular country isn’t competitive enough, they tell you to apply again when your application is more competitive.

To be honest, I’m with Peter on this one — if you know enough about a country or about Peace Corps to know where you want to go, you’re losing out on an opportunity for some serious cultural exchange. I had essentially no idea about anything about Cameroon before I landed there. My country selection process was almost exactly like my college selection process — random and undirected, just the way I like it. For some reason I think that worked out really well for me, although all evidence does seem to point to the contrary. It certainly does seem, though, like you’ll just get a bunch of people aiming for Beach Corps/Posh Corps posts like Jamaica or Ethiopia. But maybe it’ll sort itself out the way college seems to for so many Americans, or maybe they’ll recoup those frustrated failed volunteers and send them to slightly less posh places like Haiti and Mongolia.

The game itself was pretty forgettable, although we did beat the Renegades 5-1. More important were all the other bread and circuses that seem to surround a baseball game, even a triple-A one. For example, towards the middle of the game, a woman wearing what looked like business-casual went out and sang God Bless America, and then a little girl went out and sang Take Me Out To the Ball Game. They had a race with three hot dogs, Ketchup, Mustard, and Relish, and Ketchup won but only by playing dirty (he pushed Mustard over). The scoreboard was lit up with numbers (most of them zeroes), but I wasn’t wearing my glasses and really had no idea what most of them meant. Periodically the announcer would mention that such-and-such an event was sponsored by Kings Plaza Shopping Center, and then play a sound which was presumably meant to be some kind of theme music for Kings Plaza but was actually the Law and Order sound. Everything was chaotic and ridiculous but essentially harmless.

Everyone there seemed really cool and I had a really great time. I did not have a great $7 beer in the stadium. Instead I planned ahead and had an even better flask of Absolut Vodka (this is not a product endorsement — it’s just what I had in the house). Afterwards, there was a fireworks show (which, like the man says, wipes my brain slate clean — it strikes me silent), and then we got to run the bases. And the best part was that it was only 20 minutes from home. Go Cyclones!

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Critical Periods in the Life of an Organization Volunteer

August 10th, 2010

Note: The original uses the name of the Organization directly, and some Organization-specific acronyms. I have elided these for the sake of generality.

You will note that the behavioral reactions listed below all tend to be negative. This is NOT meant to imply that your [Organization] experience produces only difficult, unhappy emotions. It’s just that when you’re feeling "on top of the world," you don’t look for changes. Given, however, that [Volunteers] spend their two (or more) years in a foreign culture, the likelihood of ups and downs is more common, and normal. This diagram was put together by a group of [finished] volunteers in Senegal in the mid-1980’s; it is applicable wherever you are. Take care of yourself!

Month Issues Behavior/Reaction Interventions
  • Depart from home
  • Arrive in country
  • Disorientation
  • Health
  • Self-concsiousness
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Feeling incompetent
  • Nervous about personal changes over two years
  • Team-building encounters
  • Social events
  • Establish routine
  • Maintain link with home
  • Develop interests, positive habits
  • Too much structure
  • Too much routine
  • Group constancy
  • Fatigue
  • Impending assignment
  • Withdrawal
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Easy irritation
  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • Explore independence
  • Visit other [Volunteer]s
  • Make plans for first three months
  • Visit new site
  • Establish relationships with [Volunteers] and staff
  • Gather skills for immediate use
  • Assignment
  • Separation/solitude
  • Uncertainty of role
  • Fright
  • Frustration with self
  • Loneliness
  • Weight/health changes
  • Homesickness
  • Uselessness
  • Develop in-country correspondence
  • Host visitors
  • Visit peers, other [Volunteer]s
  • Establish links: NGO’s, services
  • Technical research for future use
  • Language study
  • Establish routine, sense of "I"
  • Hobbies to do "in public"
  • Simple projects: garden, trees
  • Slow work progress
  • Language plateaus
  • Cross-cultural frustration
  • "Culture shock"
  • Comparison with others
  • Overzealousness
  • Homesickness
  • Uncertainties about adaptation/abilities
  • Reunions
  • Cards and letters home. Resume forgotten relationships
  • Talk with 2nd year [Volunteer]s about experiences
  • Simple projects: crafts, meetings, classes
  • Consolidate friendships, language, etc.
  • Review this sheet on changes
  • Mid-service crisis
  • Doubt about program, role, self, government
  • Various failures over time
  • Reflection: disillusionment, confusion in resolving frustrations vs. victories
  • New trainees arrive
  • Holiday/vacation break
  • Impatience with self, program, system
  • Blame on the program
  • Constant complaining
  • Lethargy
  • Haughtiness with new trainees
  • Holiday planning/mini-vacation
  • Review work plan — set new goals
  • Plan vacation
  • Celebrate one-year anniversary
  • Develop new recreation options
  • Write long-lost acquaintances
  • Explore better in-country relationships
  • Return to language study and practice
  • Increased/more defined work pace
  • Project work
  • Awareness of time constraints
  • Realization of own limitations
  • Post-[Organization] considerations
  • Hyperactivity or apathy
  • Procrastination
  • Self-recrimination
  • Resignation
  • Disappointment
  • Downgrade achievements
  • Over-identification in behavior
  • Visit new volunteers
  • Physical activity: "Get in shape"
  • Focus on relationships at site
  • Re-examine goals and time frame
  • Apply for GRE, write grad schools
  • Explore work possibilities locally or in-country
  • Prepare for [finishing]/post [Organization]
  • Depression about perceived government
  • Anticipated separation
  • Demanding work pace
  • Consideration of extension, post-[Organization] options
  • Acknowledgement of unmet goals
  • Monument building
  • Withdrawal into work details
  • Panic
  • Procrastination
  • Frustration with self
  • Moodiness
  • Vacation/travel
  • Review work plans/assess feasibility
  • Plan "closing out" and follow-up
  • Work with counterparts on same
  • Collaboration with 1st year [Volunteers]
  • Consider post-[Organization]: resume, calendar
  • Give quality time to relationships/friendships
  • Trauma of departure
  • Concerns about social re-entry
  • Bridging new and former identity
  • Redefinition of career
  • Redefinition of host-country based on relationships
  • Fright
  • Confusion
  • Alienation
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Giddiness
  • Impatience
  • Obsession with planning and scheduling
  • Check on trends, US popular culture with new trainees
  • Do self-analysis: identify factors of self and work gratification
  • Work on self-image
  • Shop for arts, crafts, souvenirs
  • Write friends, make social plans
  • Post-[Organization] travel plans
  • Transfer skills and knowledge to trainees
  • Arrange for gifts for host family


Pets (Tuesday, 2010 August 3)

August 5th, 2010

Cockroaches and lizards are not encouraged as pets, nor are lice or scabies. However, the Health Unit staff will not be too surprised if some of these critters take up residence in your home!

From the medical manual. Thanks, guys!


Packing Guide

May 26th, 2010

So there you go.  Hope all that helps. Really, there’s no need to stress as you can either find things you forget here or have them shipped from home.  Good luck with everything, and see you all when you get here.

This is from the packing guide I got by email (as part of a nine-.doc email). Packing has been something of a focus for me over the last few weeks; it’s a little late to say “there’s no need to stress”, especially since I’ve seen four Organization-endorsed packing lists already.

On the other hand (d’un autre côté), this advice is probably pretty sage. There’s no way to prepare for something like this. You can buy things in an attempt to make yourself feel better (as I have), but since you don’t even know where in the country you’re going to go, you’re trying to predict something unknowable. I’m trying not to stress, but the entire Organization process so far has been almost designed to produce stress, from badly-designed forms to arbitrary processes and incoherent instructions demanding answers to obscure and invalid questions. It’s kind of hypocritical to turn around and say “It’ll be fine! Don’t worry!..”

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Possible issues for Volunteers of Color

May 26th, 2010

Asian-American Volunteers are often considered Chinese even when they have a different ethnic origin. They may also be assumed to be martial arts experts and asked to demonstrate their expertise.

This is in the “welcome book”, which serves as an introduction to the country I will be serving in. I found the above pretty funny — “oh, so it’s going to be just like home then?”


Starting things on the right foot

May 26th, 2010

The subject is relatively new in Cameroon. Most schools do not yet have computers, so teaching this subject will take lots of creativity.

About a month ago I got my assignment. The above is a quote.

I leave in less than a week. Of course, the story begins over a year ago when I started the application process for the Organization. Unfortunately I didn’t think to start a blog then.

I have taken to carrying my assignment with me, just to show the above sentence. It’s a little nervewracking — so much so that I impulse-bought another netbook, “just in case”.