Sunday, March 23, 2008

why now?

before i move on to the next stage in my peace corps story, from training in babadjou to my posting in wum... i'd like to address something that's come up recently as i share this blog with the people around me.

a couple of friends have asked me how i’m doing this and why now? how am i sharing such intimate experiences and emotions so publicly? and why after all these years? i’m glad they asked. b/c i hadn’t explicitly thought such things through. the two questions are directly related. in fact, i think the answer to the second question (why now?) answers the first (how?). it’s about emotional distance, objectivity and time.

as my brother omar put it, “things need to settle before you can reflect back on them with fondness... things like [broken] bones in your arm and freshwater parasites.” yes, the scars have healed and the bones set and settled... both the physical and emotional scrapes and breaks, of course. and i think all the parasites are now gone! i’m no longer as wrapped up in these events as emotionally as i was when they happened or in the first few months or years that proceeded them. in short, emotional distance... not distant, but removed enough to approach objectivity.

on some level, it’s almost like reading about another person. that’s part of who i am in there in those journal entries... but it’s no longer all that i am. and there’s some distance in that, as well. i can, somewhat objectively, read and analyze what i was thinking/doing/writing... with the full weight of that 2-year experience and the succeeding 5 years. though it’s about much more than just years. there’s maturity and growth in hindsight, as well... time is a big part of it, but it can’t just be measured in years passed.

as for intimacy and privacy, i think there are some internal mechanisms at play there that i’m not always conscious of... and, thus, that readers are probably not aware of. first, this has been a gradual process. i started rereading my journals about a year ago. then typing some of them out and sharing them. then, more systematically, typing out entire journals and looking for patterns. finally, late last year i started posting them. i think that gradual process helped ease me into all this.

second, there’s always been some vagueness in my journal writing. things i just didn’t write or go into detail about. i can’t say that i very consciously followed rules or knew when and what to self-censor... but rarely, if ever, do i write about other people to process issues that i have with them or about incidents that are deeply troubling or disturbing (physical pain notwithstanding). third, and perhaps the final filter, is the fact that i’m still editing out a few things as i post the entries... both for my own privacy and the anonymity of family, friends and colleagues. it isn’t much, but it’s enough to make me that much more comfortable with what i’m posting.

being comfortable enough to share all this now stands in stark contrast with how and what i kept to myself, kept inside and didn’t share when i first came back from cameroon... there certainly wasn’t enough emotional distance then, with all the fresh scars and broken bones i came back with. there was also the fear—no, anxiety—in answering the inevitable “so how was it?” question... even from family and friends. or my anxiety at not knowing where or how to start answering that question... fear of rambling and having their eyes glaze over. all that has dissipated now. i’m much more comfortable in my post-peace corps skin... and confident about what that experience meant and means to me.

my peace corps years are basically the only time in my life that i journaled as much as i did... not sure why? processing, catharsis, coping... documenting, recording, analyzing. trying not to forget. knowing that i’d want to and better remember this (read this award-winning essay, better remember this, by a volunteer from kenya). knowing, subconsciously, that i’d need to revisit some of these events to learn from them or move past them... or to write about them. whatever it was, it felt right. and it was never much of a burden. in fact, it was a way to ease the burden of loneliness, confusion, boredom and frustration. to say nothing of all the good times and epiphanies that i tried, in part, to capture in some of these entries.

all parts of our lives are important... perhaps equally so. but some parts stand out for learning, growth, pain, maturity, exposure, experience and amassing the raw material for patience, wisdom and presence. the time that stands out in my life were my 2 years in cameroon... and the next few years (these very years i’m living now) in which the rawness of that experience is gradually being shaped into something less rough, more refined and more conscious. insha’Allah.


  1. I had to de-lurk for this one. I appreciate your sharing this with everyone who is willing to read. Found you through the PC blogs ring a few months ago and have enjoyed reading your stories. In the short time that I've been reading, I've seen your confusion, loneliness, and growth. It's wonderful! Thank you for sharing.


  2. thanks for "de-lurking," fatimah!... i really appreciate you reading and sharing your thoughts on the blog.

    keep in touch!

    peace :)