When I get back home, noone is going to recognize me. I'm going to bake my own cakes, dry my clothes on a clothesline, and shower no more than twice a week. It's all I need! I'm going to take public transportation, I'll never leave my plate unclean, and I'm going to greet everyone on my street, everyday. It's how it should be! Man, it's going to be great!!
I have heard segments of this paragraph (this paragraph can continue on into infinity, as you could easily imagine its concept) nearly every time I get together with fellow PCV's. The same thing, except (ironically) even MORE flamboyant promises of change in character come from shorties (short-term volunteers) that I commonly meet when in Jinja. I smile, nod, and consider the differences I'll make in my American life when I return to it. Sometimes I'm even the one saying these things, I'll admit; I'll be extremely confident in my own future alterations of self. Yeah. I'm all talk.
Can I live with no electricity, no computer, no running water? Can I live without daily portions of cheese, red meat, and a microbrew? Will I manage? Absolutely. Proven that. But when I go back in June, and then go back again at the end of 2012, you can bet your sweet butt you'll be able to find me at Spanky's. I'll be the guy eating a double patty, rare pimento cheese burger with the latest dark beer on tap in front of me. There will be another glass, filled with water (shot from a magic gun) and ICE on my side. I will be watching ESPN on a flat screen and perusing internet from the wi-fi connection.
There are certainly many attributes of my daily life in Uganda that I'd love to carry over when I eventually move back. But to think that it is as simple as doing as while I'm here...that would be to underestimate if not ignore a number of factors. Culture and the norms that it produces are powerful forces, and they carry more weight than one might care to believe. Putting a clothesline out in your backyard in Uganda is nothing more nor less than a necessity; there is no other way. Doing it in the suburbs is going to raise a few eyebrows. People will associate you as a "kind" of person, based on this. The kinds of people who take public transportation in Uganda are simply not the same kind of people who take public transportation in America. Anybody been in a Greyhound station in a major city? Yeah. It's a different scenario completely; to not recognize that is to not fully appreciate the exceptional situation we are all currently in.
I think someone would respond to me with something like, "what I am going home with is a new perspective about how life is lived in other parts of the world." This is a big part of why most of us are here; but I have to ask what good a perspective is if we're not going to come away any different because of it. It isn't like we didn't already know, or couldn't have somehow easily discovered the current situation of people in parts of the world like Uganda. All you'd have to do is read one of the thousands of other Peace Corps blogs that are being produced, and you'd have a pretty good picture. We wouldn't have the personal stories, we wouldn't have the fine details that would make these perspectives as powerful, fair enough. But when I'm back in America, sitting on my couch with A/C on, what good is that?
Before everyone goes crazy, I don't mean to say that all of us will simply revert back to our old selves, taking things for granted and driving our 8 mpg klunkers, although I do think that will be true of more than just a small portion of us. I only mean for us to appreciate the culture with which we've been placed in. It is through this culture that we have learned to live in such a low impact way, and yet still in a way that we feel comfortable, healthy, and happy. To assign these changes as changes to our own character, however, is at best premature.
We don't have reasonable capabilities of the many luxuries that we were accustomed to in the U.S., but that doesn't mean we won't want them when we're back. It doesn't mean we can't once again become set into the exact same person we were before we left. It really doesn't mean anything at all. Right now, we're all following the norms of our society, just like we did in America. Breaking norms is a lot harder. Especially when you don't have a 2-year get out of dodge guarantee.