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4.08.2009 ||> Escaping the crazy
Before coming to MBA school, I have been in two abusive relationships. The first was with a boyfriend when I was 18 and the second was with my first counterpart in the Peace Corps. They were both different patterns of abuse, but down at the most basic level, all abuse is about control. As anyone who has ever known me can attest, I have a deep-seated hatred of being controlled in any fashion.
So, I made a friend when I came to business school, and I was lonely and wanted a friend. Despite my misgivings, I got sucked into her orbit and was her friend for about 7 months. Then, early March, we got into a fight (as we seemed to do once every couple of months or so) and something in me changed. I was going through a low point and couldn't deal with her anymore, so I cut her off. And the more I cut her off, the crazier she got. I had already dealt with her lying, her misrepresenting me and my other friends and her wild mood swings, but this was like all of Sybil's 13 personalities all came out at once.
So, I did what I am accustomed to doing when faced with a troubling situation with another person, and consulted the emotional abuse checklist. She fits most of the criteria. Here is a sample that I could answer "yes" to:
- Is jealous of other friends, and will insult people you like.
- Wants control of clothing, opinions and decisions.
- You have feelings of dread and that you are walking on eggshells.
- Claims to have power you don't and that if you misbehave, they will punish you.
- After abuse, will become increasingly affectionate, and express so much sorrow and self-hate that you end up comforting them.
- Lies about insignificant things.
- Makes contradictory demands.
- Does unrequested favors and then gets angry and hurt when you don't reciprocate.
- Says negative things about a trait you like about yourself.
- Insists that all you have in the world is them.
That is actually a culled sample. I can answer more. The thing is, that there are very few resources for a toxic friendship, and the prevailing advice is just to cut off contact with that friend. A little hard to do when they will be in the same program as you for another year.
The thing that makes me really uneasy is that she has threatened me in the past, and she is getting crazier and crazier the more I have cut her out of my life. She had three conversations last week with a mutual friend about how I was cutting her out of a meeting with a professor after she told me I had to do a group assignment on my own. Nothing my friend could say could make a dent, because she kept going into circular logic.
I'm really at a loss, but it just proves again that if I listened to my gut in the first place, none of this would have happened.
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In the Peace Corps Uzbekistan, my safety and security officer was named Alijon. Alijon's key phrase was always 'Be vigilant.' Always know your surroundings and watch the people around you for both guidance and warning signs.
My first night in Santiago, I totally failed Alijon. I was walking with a group of friends when a boy snatched my purse (attached to my wrist) and ran off with it. I just reacted out of instinct and ran after him shouting, 'Help me' in Spanish. I guess he got nervous, so he threw the purse under a bench and I was able to retrieve it.
I want to be clear that I don't believe I was any physical danger at any time. What embarasses and angers me is that it was a crime of opportunity. The boy thought it would be safe and easy to take my purse from me. And, in a way, it was. I was with my friends, I was looking at everything around me and I wasn't being vigilant. I didn't notice that almost every woman on the street had a purse with a long strap hanging crosswise down across the body, or that we were in place that was seedy at best, or even that we were being too loud in a group - in English.
I don't know why that is. Why, after seven years of traveling all over, did I get to be the easy mark? I think it was being a bit cocky and in the moment that did me in. But, I'll tell you on thing: it reaffirmed all the things I do everyday that keep me safe. I'm going back to the long-strapped purses and the base level of paranoia I get in large groups or crowded, public spaces.
I promise from now on that my new watchword is vigilance.
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One of my friends from the Peace Corps is living in the US now after getting married to an American and obtaining her visa. Yesterday we finally got to talk after playing phone tag for about 100 years. The phone call had so many facets to it that it could be about 5 blog entries, but the first one was about the holiday season.
It is damn hard to find non-Christian holiday cards. Much more difficult than last year. Bashi is Muslim, so when she goes to find cards to send to her family for New Year's, it's especially difficult. I explained to her about last year and Bill O'Reilly's War on Christmas fakery, and managed to remember it as even more ridiculous in the telling. How did people get sucked into that?
I made it my mission this year to find the most secular of cards. I believe I have only bought 3 cards that even have the word "Christmas" in them. But I have also been to the third largest mall in America to do so. How many other people have that option?
I think some of it comes from the idea that non-Christians are somehow "offended" when Christians wish them a Merry Christmas or sing carols around them, or do any of that secular stuff that's dressed up as religion. I don't think any of us are, but I do find it disorienting, like someone is wishing me a Happy Father's Day in February. I'm never going to be a father, and it's not the day of the holiday, so why?
Something that crystallized it for me was this short clip of Good Morning America that I saw on Friday. Glenn Beck was on (which is why I only watched for a second), extolling his usual idiocies and saying that if someone non-Christian is wished a Merry Christmas, the proper response is "thank you." Well, of course, I always say thank you too, but with the same feeling that a Christian would have being wished a happy Ramadan. Or being wished a happy birthday in August. A bit perplexed, yes, but with the sentiment that the person was only saying it to be nice.
So, I'm not offended. Can I please have my nice, secular selection back?
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I went to GNC yesterday to get more protein powder for the aforementioned protein diet. I was pretty excited, as the powder I found was about 100 calories for every 20g of protein and less actual mix. Less powder = easily consumed milkshake. This morning, I cracked it open and opened it. I shook it around a bit and saw something that looked like the edge of a scoop. I grasped the edge and pulled it out.
It wasn't a scoop.
I really don't know how a fully formed fly can actually find itself perfectly preserved in a powder. Like many parts of bugs in average food, it shouldn't it by all rights get mashed in the mix, leaving me blissfully ignorant? But no, it was whole and lightly dusted with protein powder.
Many thoughts went through my head in the instant I plucked it from its grave. Had I still been in the Peace Corps, I would have probably just shrugged, chucked it, and made myself a shake. For a second, I thought of doing that. However, I have other, more squeamish people to consider. My second thought was one of frustration , as I only had the higher calorie shake mix to use today rather than this low calorie powder.
Tonight, we are taking it back to exchange. I'm not outraged or anything, but I do want a new canister. And maybe a coupon for something else. That would be nice.
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Ok, so after looking at three Internet cafes in the area that I live, I have come to the conclusion that people here don't get that you have to actually have the Internet to call yourself an Internet cafe. If you don't have the Internet, then you are a "game club" or "computer club" but not an "Internet club." So there.
So I have 33 days left until I quit Uzbekistan and go on the last vacation before returning to America. My students have been handling this in different ways. Some have been giving me the Big Attitude either because they know that I am leaving and won't be able to do too much about it or just because they're teenagers and that's how teenagers handle new situations. Other students are being really sweet and playing on my heart-strings. My 10th grade is surprisingly cool, asking me for my address when I get back to the US so they can write me letters and such. It's one of those moments that makes me all gooey and think, "awww, maybe I'll just give them all As and then they'll always miss me." One of my 11th grade classes on the other hand makes me want to leave and pronto. I teach the equivalent of the honors 11th grade and they definitely think they are the best too. The other 11th grades are cool, but the "smart" class makes me want to bang my head against a wall ala Ally McBeal. It's a good thing kids aren't aware of the power they have to make or break a parent or teacher's day. The exploitation would be terrible.
After classes, the teachers and I talked about getting ready for Teacher's Day, which is on the first and a huge holiday here. Apparently, it was decided that all the departments have to do some sort of "routine" for the director. One of the teachers offered to do a strip routine. While we all saw the merit, it was voted down as we were all worried about our jobs. So we're doing a poster instead. Another good thing that students aren't aware of: that we're all as crazy as they are, we just hide it better.
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At the conference I was at a while ago, I was having a little difficulty and just overall cranky. One of the people I came to this country with, a guy that I think is okay, said something kind of jerky to me. I had a feeling he was being jokingly insensitive, so I called him a name that was also insensitive, but along the same vein of lightness. Then he called me the same name back. We knew we were both joking and were smirking at each other, but what I found weird was that no one else knew. People at the table I was sitting at rose to his defense, everyone looked uncomfortable.
I talked about to a good friend of mine later who was there. She had also half believed it and said that people took it seriously because they think I am serious when I say things. That because they take what I say at face value, some volunteers think I'm a little unbalanced. At the same time, I have been referred to as the Queen of Sarcasm by other volunteers, which is a title that I think fits much better than "unbalanced" as I have never considered myself a particularly serious individual, but definitely a sarcastic one. As it appears, this came as a bit of a shock, but it got me to thinking about the labels we put on people.
I came to Uzbekistan with the people at that conference. We have all known each other for two years, gone to the same parties, worked on the same projects and talked to each other about everything. We're not all close and some of us really dislike others, but despite all the sniping and annoyance, the lust and sometimes love, we are pretty comfortable with each other as people we can count on. And yet, I think we still fix our own personalities on each other, not seeing the others for who they are. The crazier volunteers think we're all nuts. The serious ones take everything any of us says to heart. Those of us that live in a world where everything is a joke, think the rest are joking. How can we be so blind to not see each other after all this time? How can we ever stop and break free?
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Yesterday, I realized that no matter how detached I can be at times, cooly handling a situation (such as police extortion) that would have the average American reaching for a tire iron, I can still flip out on an almost apocalyptic scale.
After a bout of Insomnia, I fell asleep, waking to find my landlady calling me, telling me she wants to put furniture in my apartment. She told me about this two months ago, and despite not being happy with more furniture in my already fully-furnished, two-room apartment, I had no choice so I just accepted. Her friend went to Russia, leaving it all to her, what else was she supposed to do? Put it in her apartment? No, no, no! Put it into my apartment, of course! Besides, it was only going to be one or two pieces... right?
She came with a moving van full of furniture. I almost had a stroke from the stress induced by not killing her.
Obviously, the situation collapsed from there. The cool thing about Russians is that they don't take yelling badly. In fact, two people can have a perfectly civil conversation, even agree with each other, and to the non-Russian speaker appear ready to come to blows. So, I exercised my culturally-approved right to yell at the madwoman. It went something like:
Landlady (surprised): It'll be alright!
Me (tearily): No, it'll be a nightmare! There's already too much. I no longer live in an apartment, but a furniture store! How can I live in a furniture store?!
L (hedging): We'll take some furniture out tomorrow...
M (who has heard that one a hundred times): I can't live like this! There won't be any space! Good God!
L (motioning me to relax): Calm down my good girl, Everything will be fine!
M (refusing to relax): You don't want to live like this, how could I?!
And so on. It was quite a scene. I finally had a guy from Peace Corps come and translate for me because It was difficult to communicate and I wasn't understanding everything she was trying to say. I, of course, wasn't getting too much across either but my obvious rage. Today we settled everything. She didn't move nearly the amount of furniture she promised to, just dumped what would make me go over the edge at my neighbors. I'm baking a cake for the neighbors later in gratitude. They know how she steamrolls people.
In a way, it's a good thing. Right now, I'm looking forward to America, where it's actually illegal for a landlord to do this.
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The quarterly volunteer newspaper came out and in it was a rather interesting article about being back in the western world. The author wrote about visiting Italy and simply noticing all the appalling behavior that it took us months to get in the habit of over here. Here, the manners are different, and if we didn't lose a few that Mom taught us, we wouldn't have gotten very far. Back home, it's going to be an uphill battle to remember them. After reading her article, which shows just a few breaches, I could definitely add more to the list, from what I noticed and what Kelly pointed out to me in Prague.
I her article, Amie noticed her atrocious table manners, which I share. I also hover over my plate now, shoveling it all in with a spoon like there will never be food again. Not to mention that sharing plates not only does not bother me, but I expect to eat from the same plate as others. I am also not as concerned about washing the dishes with soap as I once was. Given a choice, I'll do it, but I don't feel grossed out if someone just uses hot water. However, I will be highly offended if someone sets a drink in front of me instead of handing it to me or flips the bread upside down. Were they raised in a barn?
The second biggie was public transportation. In Uzbekistan, if you don't start pushing old ladies out of your way, you might as well walk because otherwise you'll never get anywhere. People are vicious (especially the old ones) and will use anything it takes to get in a bus, shuttle or metro car first. It took me two and a half months to start pushing people out of my way and unfortunately now, I'm a pro. In Prague, where people tend to wait in line, say please and thank you, etc., I was out of control. I didn't have to worry about being the Ugly American, because I was the Ugly Russian.
There are some manners that I think are better than the ones in America. Taking off your shoes before entering a house seems much more civilized to me. Since 70% of household dirt is tracked in from outside, it's also a cleaner habit. In addition, Uzbekistan could teach Americans a thing or two about being hospitable. I've never felt more welcome in anyone's house than I have here. Of course, the rub is that no one in America would want to invite me over anyway until I clean up my act a bit in other areas.
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In the two years I've been here, I've read four real-life adventure books about average people who have done amazing, cool things. These books weren't "I was in a car accident and my dog saved me" type stories because that's not an adventure anyone has a choice in. These people chose to do something outrageous for some time. One woman worked in Antarctica for three months, another worked minimum-wage jobs to test the idea of a "living wage" out. The men hitchiked: one across America without money and one around Ireland with a fridge.
These stories are very inspiring. Before I came into the Peace Corps, and in the first few weeks I lived in Uzbekistan, I used to think I would be on this great adventure. Now it just seems like the same old thing every day. In the past, I have occasionally felt myself drowning in ennui. I wish that I could do something so exciting and unique. But then, could adventure be in the eye of the beholder? In the middle of their travels, didn't these people also think time and time again, "Why am I doing this?!?" I know I do. In that case, what does this say for people in general? If even adventurers don't feel like what they're doing is compelling while they're doing it, could everyone be on an adventure and just not know it?
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So after the bombings, a friend and I decided to get on out of Tashkent and so we took a 12 hour drive to the city of Urgench. Along the way, we were casually molested by sketchy Uzbek men until, waking up to find a hand hovering near my breast, my friend slapped his hand, called him an animal and told him that he should be ashamed of himself. The minibus pulled over, everybody sort of looked at us and when the guy was properly embarassed, we continued on.
Urgench is a very nice-looking city. Everything looks clean, the roads aren't very bad and the taxis are cheap. We even managed to stay at a decent hotel for a good price. The hotel didn't have a third floor, which we found rather odd, but we aren't picky at this point, so it was just an interesting aside. Urgench doesn't have much to offer it in a cultural sense except that it is a convenient 30 minute drive from the city of Khiva, which was the last famous city on my list of Silk Road cities to see. For a dollar, you can climb a minaret, unless of course, you are afraid of heights like me and chicken out. I did sit on a camel though, so my ego was soothed a little bit.
The other cool thing about Khiva was that it's not as touristy as Samarkand or Bukhara. People were laid back and seemed to like bargaining with us in Uzbek or even Russian. At the other two cities, sellers can be really awful about insisting on speaking in English even when their English is unintelligable. In Tashkent, if someone starts bargaining in English or prices in dollars, I just walk away. Everything was pretty cheap there too. We ran into these cute pre-adolescent girls who were pushy as hell and hilarious. They kept undercutting each other and giving us pendants as "presents" so we would buy the expensive stuff. I think they should found a car dealership together. They're naturals.
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Keeping cool in an Uzbek summer is all about degrees. Certain things raise the body temperature and are thus to be avoided as they make one sweat profusely and feel miserable. Other delights lower the body temperature and make one grateful beyond measure.
I had an idea the other day about how nice it would be to set up a kiddie pool in the living room, fill it up with cold water and just sit in it all day. Alas, I have things to do, so I instead rely on cold soups, ice cream and cold showers to get me through the long, sweaty days without air conditioning.
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I keep having these "only in Uzbekistan" moments. They are really funny, at least in my own head. The first happens to me every single morning as I walk to school. As I go along through my apartment complex, I see the public dumping ground, full of burning toilet paper and other niceties. But this isn't the best part. The absolute best part is the cows and sheep grazing on the used, burning toilet paper. Yep, that's where I live. At first I wondered what that burning smell was, but now that I know, I'm wishing I didn't... Okay, maybe it's just me, but it's pretty funny. It doesn't bother me as much as it might because at least I'm a vegetarian.
The next great funny thing is this big detergent brand in the former Soviet Union is called Barf. That's the expensive Uzbek brand. There are others like Tara and Arta, but Barf is my favorite. If I get a chance (and can afford it), I may get a box just to scan. It's pretty funny. I love going to the bazaar and watching old ladies haggle the price for a box of Barf...
The last moment comes from the other trainees and volunteers. See, my toilet flushes toilet paper. This is a big thing. Usually, you either throw it into the pit or throw your used t.p. into the trash to be burned later. But mine flushes it, which no one here seems to really believe the first time. Their eyes get all wide and they look at me jealously like what did I deserve to get such a toilet? And it's not even a pit! Then they go throu apapolexy when I tell them that every once in a little while (once a month and better it be when the moon is full...) and it you turn the cold water handle just right I get warm water. Oh yeah, gets them every single time.
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So I had my first day of class the other day, September 4th to be exact. Woah, doggie. The teacher basically threw me to these tenth graders completely unprepared for anything. I thought I was just going to be observing that day, but apparently not. I don't know Russian, they don't know very much english. So here I was talking to these kids who could really care less. Did I mention how unprepared I was? So I was like, "Does, uh, anyone like American music?" Silence. "Britney Spears?"
Naturally, at the mention of that holiest of pop icons, everyone in the room lightens up and starts saying their favorite American bands, which are like Eminem and Britney pretty much. So that lasted for like 5 mins. Then it was just a question of filling up the rest of the 45 mins I had left. Let's just say it was pretty horrible and leave it at that, ok? :) But honestly, I'm much better when the kids can actually understand what I'm saying. Really. A whole lot better.
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That's Uzbek for "hello." Thought you'd never hear from me again huh? :) Well, Maybe I won't go away just yet. So my ride into D.C. and then to Germany and then to Turkey was... turbulent. Fun, but turbulent. Did you know that people's feet swell when they are exposed to too much air travel (like 24 hours of it?)? Anyway, the group of volunteers I'm with is pretty fun all around. We've go a couple requisite skanky guys, a few loudmouths (me included!) and assorted others. I am right now in Tashkent, Uzbekistan at a web cafe. The Peace corps sent us here with some instructors and we were supposed to hack it out on the streets of the 4th largest city in central Asia or something. So our teachers were like "let's go to bazaar" and we were like "internet, internet!" and I suppose we won after all. But it's a really nice break because it's been one class or seminar after another since we got here.
I actually don't know where i'm going to be placed yet, because I'm a secondary teacher and there are lots of places open. Right now I'm learning the Uzbek language, which is Turkic I think and maybe, hopefully I'll learn Russian as well! It was very interesting at the last bazaar I was at (a bazaar is like an open air market where you haggle for stuff like detergent and toilet paper!) because we were the only americans they had seen in a long long time and they seem to really like americans over here. So they kept trying to say "hello" and "what is your name" and touching us and giving us fruit and such.
Anyway, I should go right now, since my teachers are looking ready to go shop... but I hope everyone in the States is doing good and please comment if you have something to say since I love reading them!
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So one of the peace corps people that's coming along decided to set up a yahoo group for all of us so that we could get the straight dirt on what will probably happen. All I can say is that I hope I get placed in a city. I'm really good with cities, less so with rural areas where I will have to bathe from the bucket of water that I got from the town well. Okay, I think I could live with that too, since this is a once in a lifetime opportunity...
But you know what's wierd? I keep having dreams about wierd stuff. And I think I can tell that my subconcious isn't nearly so nervous because they're suddenly getting better. For instance, a month back, I dreamt that I had gone back to my old apartment and that my nutjob ex-roomate and I were forced to live with each other again. I can not tell you how nightmarish that was... it was pretty awful. But then, last week, I had a dream that I came back to the same apartment and that the bitch had died and her friends were collecting her stuff (including her stinky, obnoxious animals) and everything was mine... which I'm taking as a sign that my mind is clearer. Ok, not that dreaming my roomate was dead was very good, but I don't think my subconcious liked her anymore than I did.
Maybe I should seek help... :D
Labels: peace corps
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