It is a Friday night in July, early evening. We sit communing upon an outdoor porch, enjoying the sea breeze, the sunset, afterglow from an excellent day of wreck diving, and muchomucho-extra-cheese-pizza. To the detached, untrained observer, surreptitiously gazing in at our cozy party of twenty, our converse embodies the perfect stereotype of crunchyhippiefeelgood Peace Corps bonding time: we are, in turns, standing up and sharing with the table at large how much we love them, how PC has changed our lives, how much luck we wish one another, how we will all go on to do great things. Perhaps, to this casual, slightly cynical observer, it's an exercise in generalities, clichés. But to us, it is all true. Holy.
As I munch my pizza and listen to the ruminations of these happy shiny idealist people (who just so happen to be some of my best friends on the planet), my wanders, strangely to that oh-so-classic-80s-childhood-Tom-Hanks venture: BIG.
Thinking back upon my initial entrance into the Peace Corps, I like to think of myself as the movie protagonist upon that first night in the amusement park. Evening's on its way~darkness gathering fast~it's raining, and I'm fed up [in my case, with the world at large]. And so, boldly, I seize matters into my own hands.
I approach a mysterious (yet promising-looking) contraption, stare thoughtfully at it a moment. We size each other up, Zordan and I.
-Can this mechanical fortuneteller in a box really fulfill my every wish?
-It's worth a shot.
Holding our breaths, we Micro 74s insert our collective nickels, squeeze our eyes shut...under our breath (or, perhaps, in our minds) we utter our secret sacred long-hoped-for prayers.
-I wish to save the world to grow up spread my wings stetch them fulfill my lifelong dream learn seek know (myself?) venture to LIVE BIG
Sharply suddenly we intake our breath yet tighter, (earnest anticipation!) open our eyes, and...nothing happened. We walk off through the rain, discouraged.
And yet, in the morning, we wake up to find...WE HAVE BEEN TRANSFORMED INTO GIANT COCKROACHES. (Just kidding. Thanks, Kaf.) [Take 2] WE'RE IN THE PEACE CORPS!!
~to have a long-held wish so suddenly granted is simultaneously wonderful and profoundly disconcerting.
We are dogs tails-a-wag. Will it be the wondrous, long-planned for adventure of marvel, of delight, of benificence?
Full of coffee and vigor, we pack our bags and head off to the glittering, imposing, pleace-of-hopes-and-dreams, success & failure...MICRONESIA!!!
Our first day-of coconuts, smiles, and sunshine-holds all the hoped-for wonder and more. On our first night [think Tom Hanks pushing his bureau up against the door in the fleabag motel room in the slums here], reality sets in. Roaches scuttle across the floor, mosquitoes (hordes of them!) hover ominously DIRECTLY OUTSIDE the opening to your mosquito net [they're certainly disease-ridden, you can just FEEL it], voices uncomfortably close distance from your window [did you remember to lock it after all?], and, after your long, harrowing, sleepless night, to "awake" to the crowing of THE ENTIRE F***ING ROOSTER POPULATION OF THE PLANET EARTH??? AAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH! Was this really what I wanted yesterday from the magic fortunetelling machine? you wonder.
Groggily, you rub your eyes, make your way outside into the brand-spankin' new reality you've proudly acquired for yourself. Head up Madison Ave until you reach...FAO Schwartz! [FAO Schwartz, in our case, being Nan Madol.] As, after ten minutes or so of walking, the unspeakably amazing, beautiful ruins come into view, your jaw drops. This is what you wished to be BIG for.
After exploring awhile inside this incredible labyrinthine wonderland, you suddenly emerge out into the bright warm daylight, gaze out toward the sea. You're suddenly looking into...a desktop background. Cool crystal azure waters fringe a tiny, white sand island housing a stand of leisurely-looking palm trees. "This can't be real!" Yet it is.
And not only are you living in it, this masterwork of perfection, but you notice a bump out on the horizon. Halfway between the ruins and Robinson Crusoe's island, a tall rock juts straight out of the deep water--a perfect natural diving board! Only when you climb the warm rock, barefoot, do you truly discover its perfection. At ten feet up, it's just high enough to be daring, just low enough to be moderately safe. You step to the edge of the rock, breathe deeply, look down into the churning sea below. [It looks like a hundred foot drop now.] You breathe again and leap. Perfection. You spend the laughing afternoon with your friends, flying through the air into the aquamarine sea as the sun and the sea and the universe smile down upon you, and you are happy, happier than you'd ever contemplated being, than you knew possible.
There will be, of course, further (alternately amusing and tragic) missteps/learnings/lessons/difficulties in this alien universe.
(Anyone who has ever learned a second language, for instance, has undoubtedly carried on a conversation as unintentionally humorous as Tom & friend's:
she: (coy) Should I come up?
he: (excited) Oh, like a sleepover?
[she laughs nervously as he waits in eager anticipation]
he: Okay, well I get to be on top! )
One instance that springs immediately to mind occurred while making coffee, of all things. I was making myself a cup one morning, and asked my host mom if she'd like one too. She would.
Anyway, my host mom goes outside; when she comes back in, I tell her that I'm fixing her cup.
-No, no, she says. You fix yours first.
I want to explain that I've already made mine, this is her cup.
Me: Don't worry. Nga orek tari!
She and my host father burst into uncontrollable laughter. Minutes later, once the belly laughs subsided and I finally coaxed an explanation out of them, it turned out that--in carelessly omitting the object of my "doing"--I had just matter-of-factly told my host parents, "Don't worry. I already had sex!" Oh, Megan.
And so, as we--my fellow M74s and I--have travelled along in our own little Brave New World (really as foreign to our former selves as was adulthood in NYC to Little Tom Hanks), we feared and laughed and stumbled yet, ultimately, triumphed.
My eyes sweep fondly across the familiar laughing, crying, happy faces around me again. I'm back from my trip down memory lane. "Well," I think to myself, "that day, in the rain, we knew not for what we asked." But damn are we glad we did.