Thursday, October 9, 2008

Existential Crisis

Recently, I went through old journal entries to recall my thoughts and feelings before coming into the Peace Corps. I had repeatedly worried that I would wake up one day in July and ask myself just exactly what the heck I am doing in Africa. That day never came, at least not until today, nearly middle of October.

I’ve been hanging out with the two French volunteers and their Cameroonian friends quite a bit recently. They’ve become my new support network. And then it daunt on me today. In a few months, they will be gone, and I am left alone and will need to start over and build a new network of support. In the past few months, life has been nonstop excitement with meeting new people, experiencing new things, and living each day not knowing what’ll happen. While the unknown is exciting, and I’ve become quite accustom to dealing with rapid changes, I also see all these to be horribly exhausting in a few months’ time.

Thoughts as such tend to have a sort of domino effect. I worry about having to make new friends and build new support, and then I start to worry about what if I can’t make any Cameroonian friends whom can understand me. Let’s face it, the culture difference is so vast that even the Frenchies and I have conversations about the “great mystery of Cameroonians” that we’ll never understand. Then I worry what if my French never improve to the standards that I hope. To be honest, I may be holding my standards a bit too high. It’s probably unrealistic to hope that I will be able to speak French the way I speak English. In relation to language, I worry about if I’ll ever be able to get real projects off the ground. I flip through my toolkit everyday that encloses a great deal of information, but most of them involve being able to speak French rather well.

Time passes quickly. It’s already middle of October. What if I wave through the next two years as I did the past few months? What will I tell people in my next job interview just exactly what I did for two years in Cameroon? These concerns may be premature, but they are very real. No two Peace Corps experiences are the same. That’s marvelous, but also frightening. I am beginning to feel that lost sense of direction. I don’t have a syllabus to follow. I can sit in my house all day and read English novels, eat American food and listen to western music without stepping into reality, and no one would say a thing. It’s liberating, and scary.

I live amidst such dichotomy. On the one hand, I absolutely love the freedom to enjoy life as I please; but on the other, my workaholic nature is driving me up the wall. Yesterday, Juliete said, “you need to learn to do nothing, like me.” That’s when I realize where all the antsy feelings are stemming from. I can’t just “do nothing”. I’ve been running everyday, baking, cooking, cleaning, reading, etc. But I still feel restless. Then I realized that all these things that I do to fill up my time were considered “time fillers” in my life in the US. I did all those things when I wanted to procrastinate from real work. I cooked and went to the gym so I could delay an hour at the library. I did laundry so I could put off figuring out the capital structure of a firm or learning the Pigovian theory. But now, time fillers have become my life; I have no substantial work to speak of. And it is weird.

I am in no means regretting or think this is a colossal mistake. I just need to find balance and well, chill out. Two years is a long time; but it’s not. I only have 22 months left. That’s just a little over 5 times what I’ve done. Again, that contrast between having too much time to do nothing and not having enough to get work done is causing substantial stress. And thus, begins my quarter-life crisis (3 years too early).

4 comments:

ourmanincameroon.com said...

That turn over of friends is something I have experienced in expat living.

That's why long term expats become less and less sociable - and less open to making new friends - they just tired of meeting and then later saying goodbye to people.

I'm not sure there is answer - it's just something we all have to get used to. But, it is hard, I know from previous experience.

Michelle said...

yep, the quarter life crises sucks. i got mine at 23. i'm finally beginning to see the light of day now that i'm 25...but sometimes i still wonder what i'm going to do with my life. :)

Megan said...

:(

I'm sorry that you're feeling blue, but I'm sure it's just one of those days/weeks. Once you're in a good mood again, your drive is unstoppable. The thought of you not accomplishing anything in your two year stint in Cameroon is absolutely impossible in my mind - so no worries!

I hope the next two entries I'm about to read are happy ones b/c I'm feeling the same vibe right now that is in this entry! :(

Mark Chmiel said...

Breathing in, I calm my body
Breathing out, I Smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.