if you live in dc, i highly recommend checking out the folklife festival down on the mall. they are featuring peace corps this year and as part of the celebration, peace corps peru flew in four artesans from peru to display their amazing weaving and sculpting skills. i got to be there on monday for their first day. three of the ladies have never left peru before and two of them come from very traditional mountain communities. although i had never met them before, i felt like they were women from my peace corps town. they are all beautiful, with great smiles, and totally shy. but i mean, who wouldn't be shy about going to a totally foreign culture and displaying something very close to your heart while people take pictures and talk in a language you can't understand? as people starting coming by the booth, one of the ladies was noticeably tense. i asked her if she was ok and she said that she felt embarrassed that she was in such a "developed" country while her own culture was so "undeveloped." i heard that all the time in peru but this time i could make a better argument of why peruvians should be proud of their culture. i told her that we had lost a lot of our traditional culture so we now have to find people who maintain theirs and fly them to the states so we can see them. this got her to smile a little bit and by the time i left in the afternoon she was more relaxed. she said she really could see that people were respectful and excited to see her in action.
but oh man, it's crazy brave to put yourself out there like that. even me and all of my peace corps friends, who felt totally prepared to live in another culture, went through a lot of nervousness and embarassment and frustration in order to live there. i once heard the peace corps described as a "really good book that i would never want to read again" and that feels true to me (although i still dream of a second service later on in life). i look back and remember that some days-especially during the afternoons of the rainy season--all i could do was set those little baby goals of just walking out my front door for five minutes so i wouldn't be a shut-in for an entire day.
at the time, i felt pathetic that all i could manage was a few breaths of fresh air in the midst of a groggy, food-comaed afternoon. but looking back now, i feel kinda proud that i was able to take back control in some small, concrete way. it's these little life-coping skills that are the real gift of living abroad, i think. i used them all the time when i returned and was thrown into being a first-time grantswriter with almost no support. i would freak out if i had to think about the entire proposal, but i could handle just rewriting the one paragraph about our policies on disabled students. i would do enough of that and soon the grant would be done and then another and then another (until i had to quit six months later but that is another interesting story..)
i still do it all the time. my ideal version of myself takes her camera everywhere and keeps beautiful illustrated journals and can wax poetic about the alignment and benefits of each yoga pose. but the reality is that most of my photo of the days come from my iphone and i have filled exactly two pages of the new watercolor journal i bought a month ago and i say incredibly vague things like "this restorative pose makes you relax" (duh) or "keep your back leg strong."
but it's enough enough enough enough enough. it's a life and a pretty good life at that. after my knowing my friend lara for over five years, she shyly played and sang a beautiful version of david bowie's "let's dance" for me on her guitar. i've never heard her play again or even talk about her guitar. it was an incredible moment and it didn't need to be anymore than that. if we make ourselves believe that we have to be superhuman in our talents, then we crash fast and try to forget that we even wanted to do that. if we let ourselves make marks and sing songs and build steam while disregarding any image that comes from these acts, then we get into the beauty of creation itself which i believe is so much bigger than any of us. in our culture that is obsessed with being recognized for our greatness, we forget that we all great in our own messy, quiet ways and that sometimes it takes a little time for things to fully develop or be understood or praised.
so today i stand in support of just showing up and doing the best you can and knowing that each little act of creation, whether or not it's perfect, it is so completely needed