Wednesday, November 15, 2006

No, seriously. Why?

I despise small talk. It's just spewing words to fill the silence that exists between two people who don't actually have anything to say to each other. Unfortunately, my life is filled with it. I don't blame people for making small talk -- I make more than my fair share of it -- but I still loathe the process.

Since I applied for the Peace Corps, small talk has further declined in its appeal. I would be asked about my plans for the future, and I would mention my matriculation in the Peace Corps (actually, I'm going to start abbreviating Peace Corps: PC. I know that those letters already represent two acronyms, but you're a smart person, figure it out). Since this appears to be an interesting topic on the surface, the person decides to probe deeper.

"Really, the Peace Corps? Do you know where you're going?"
"Um... Sub-Saharan Africa... Probably..."
"Oh yeah? so that includes...?"
"Basically all of Africa, except the countries on the Mediterranean."
"Oh, wow. What will you be doing?"
"I don't know really. Something to do with teaching and math."
"Is that what you want to do? Teach?"
"No, not really. It's just what I'm qualified for."

(note: most small-talkers don't have the courtesy to abbreviate PC)

At this point, the other party in the conversation realizes that I know nothing about my assignment, and that I may have nothing interesting to say about this topic. Then, they strike gold.

"What made you decide to join?"

This should provoke an interesting response right? Unfortunately, I don't have the propensity to delve into the myriad of reasons for which I chose PC service. I tend to replace the lengthy, true response, with a much more concise and flippant response:

"There was a character in a book I read once, who said 'I'd like to live my life based on doing good stuff, instead of just not doing bad stuff'."

"I don't really want to get a job yet, and I don't want to go to grad school yet either."

"Cause it'll be a sweet adventure."

and of course:

"Because I really don't have anything else to do."

Some of you may be thinking to yourself, "Hey, [insert response here] is exactly what Rishi told me!" Don't feel neglected. It has taken me a few hundred words just to finish the exposition here, you still aren't even sure what this post is about. I've showed complete disregard for the patience of my audience, as well as any semblance of MLA formatting.

I've spent so much time giving canned responses to this question, that it is going to take some serious effort for me to honestly answer this question in full. So here it is, the real response to that wonderful question:

Why did I join the Peace Corps?

And why am I only occasionally abbreviating the agency as PC? Shouldn't I be more consistent? Do I realize how confusing it is for me to switch aimlessly between verb tenses and perspectives? Have you realized how confusing it is for me to have switched aimlessly between verb tenses and perspectives?

I digress. Why did I join the Peace Corps?

I should start at the beginning, but I sadly can't remember when that was. I don't remember when I first heard about the Peace Corps, which would be a sappy start to this explanation. I also don't know exactly when I began considering it, which would be a much more logical start. I guess I should start with the last concrete non-PC (non-Peace Corps, not non-Politically Correct. Fuck it, this abbreviation thing isn't working very well) life plan. This is also a great sappy beginning, although I have retroactively added a significant amount of gravitas to the event, in the tradition of all great historical revisionists.

A Doctor. I was going to go to medical school. This was of course, the perfect response to any Indian adult's questioning of my future. I would make a lot of money, I would be helping people, I would be swimming in gold-digging women, and I would be driving a sweet car, but not too sweet, because I don't really care about money, after all, what would Gandhi do, aside from ending four lines of run-on sentence masochism.

Then, I went to India for a winter, and decided to go backpacking in the Himalayas (for those of you who haven't seen me tell this story, I usually deepen my voice and breath on my knuckles before rubbing them against the breast of my shirt, thus making such a pretentious statement seem, well... not as pretentious [also, does anyone know the history of this gesture? It seems quite silly]). I was planning on hiking a trail that was frequently blanketed by fog, and often poorly marked. My Lonely Planet guidebook recommended that I hire a guide. I went to a travel agency and discovered that a guide for four days would cost me 1100 rupees, whereas a porter would only cost me 500 rupees. The guide would talk more, but the porter would carry my stuff. Of course, I took the porter.

At some point during the trek, I discovered that my porter, a 4'11" 100 lb man in his late sixties, had twelve children. He had to support his family on 125 rupees a day. That's a bit over three dollars. Still, he was happy. He spent his days in the mountains, enjoying the peaks of Kanchenjunga and Everest. Thus came the proverbial epiphany in which I decided not to pursue a career in money-making, and instead do something that I would truly love.

So, this Himalayan mountain man made me rethink my priorities, and decide not to become a doctor. That and something about my grades not being too hot, as well as ten odd years before I made any money, and the fact that I hadn't gotten any women as of yet saying that I was planning on becoming a doctor, but mostly the Himalayan mountain man.

This feeling was augmented several months later when I worked my first summer at Matawa, a YMCA camp in Wisconsin. There, I worked hard, but loved what I was doing, and realized that I couldn't spend my life doing a job I didn't love.

So, what were the things I loved? Pumpkin pie, music, movies, pseudo-Irish pubs, and puns. Aside from making a film about a punk band that makes it big by winning a battle of the bands at O'Malley's, before crashing out of the stratosphere due to an uncontrollable addiction to Thanksgiving deserts called When Irish Pies are Beguiling, I didn't have a whole lot of options.

Sometime between the summer of '05 and the following October, I happened upon the Peace Corps. I had decided to leave the country for a while after school was over, and this seemed like something I should look into. I began the application process, and as it went on for months (which I will describe in tangent filled detail in a later post) I had to figure out if I really wanted to do this. And I've written a couple of pages and have yet to give a good reason as to why I am joining the Peace Corps.

So... why did I join the Peace Corps?

Firstly, the "do good stuff" line applies. I really do often feel like I am just trying to avoid the pitfalls of life, rather than trying to do something worthwhile. The avoidance of the negative is much less appealing than the pursuit of the positive. I have spent many a dime in movie theaters, bars, restaurants, museums, concerts, and sporting events, but scarcely a penny on charity.

I once told a story to a philosophy class in which I was enrolled, about how I don't believe people are inherently good. Since I was certified as a CPR/First-Aid professional rescuer, I thought that during the Katrina disaster, I could go down and help. So, I called the Red Cross, and told them that I would skip the first week or two of school in order to help people in need. They responded by saying that they have a lot of volunteers down there, but I could really help out by donating money. I thought about the $183.44 in my bank account, but I had been saving up for an iPod, and I wasn't going to let my mp3 coated dream slip out of my hands. So I didn't donate the money. I had visions of myself reaching into the gushing waters of the Mississippi, saving women, children, puppies, and jazz musicians, and being lauded by the people at home who admired my efforts. Signing a check isn't quite as heroic. I concluded that I wanted to help these people because I wanted the fulfillment that you get from doing good things, not because I actually was good. I was actually just looking out for number one.

My professor countered by telling me that this pursuit of fulfillment could be construed as evidence that people actually do want to be good. He was a sharp guy.

Anyways, I think I actually want to do some good. That's reason number one for joining the Peace Corps. Putting something good into a world that has stacked a lot of chips on my side of the table.

Secondly, I'm a big fan of having adventures. One of my favorite quotes is by G.K. Chesterton: " An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered." If there is one thing in life that I am always trying to do, it's have adventures. Remember the line in Pulp Fiction, when Samuel L. Jackson is going to quit killing people, and John Travolta wants to know what he is going to do?

Jules: I'll just walk the earth.
Vincent: What'cha mean walk the earth?
Jules: You know, walk the earth, meet people... get into adventures. Like Caine from "Kung Fu."

That's more or less the Tao of Rishi.

Finally, I want to join the Peace Corps, because I hate a U.S. Navy commercial. You know the one where there's gratuitous use of blue lighting filters, and a bunch of people are in a helicopter, then a raft, then an aircraft carrier, and then a piece of text comes on the screen, in a font that consists of letters that are all scratched up like they had been draped across an ornery cat, and it says "If someone wrote a book about your life, would anybody want to read it?" Well, aside from my mother, and people who like endless digressions, lengthy sentences, and supercilious observations about life, the answer is no, no one would want to read it.

So here's to a story worth writing, and more importantly, a story worth reading.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

So, I Desaided to go to Uganda...

Well, since I've exhausted many hours perusing the blogs of many a Peace Corps Volunteer, I've decided to start one of my own. Hopefully this page will help me keep in touch with friends, family, and voyeurs, as well as allow me to document the next few years of my life.

Apparently there are some rules regarding blogs written by Peace Corps Volunteers, but since I'm still an invitee, I'm pretty sure I have free reign until I depart. Still, this means that I won't be cursing, which really is the crux of most of my jokes, thus reducing my writing from hilarious to merely wildly amusing.

Also, make note of the fact that you can comment on any of my posts. Not that my insightful post-modern discourse deserves third-party commentary (I'll be lucky if there is even a second-party involved), but most people who are reading this are people that I want to hear from.

Finally, most Peace Corps Blogs have a picture of the blogger on the main page, along with a bunch of greenery in the background. I assure you, I will be staging a photoshoot here in Cross Vegas soon enough. Until then, find me on facebook.