I am in the capitol now. It took me two days to get here, and there are probably two days’ worth of things I might say about it. But I will have to go in search of dinner in a little while. Also there is the matter of needing a comb.
So instead I’ll just pick up from here.
The Capitol is entirely different in my mind from Y-Town. First of all, it seems to me to be enormous. I expected to feel this way after a year in a town that can’t have a population of more than 3000, but it seems even more enormous than I thought it would.
As we drive through the blocks of flocks approaching, I think I could get lost here. It is a stunning thought. It is disorienting and a little frightening. It is so disorienting that when the bus pulls into the stand and a taxi driver starts asking where I want to go, I make arrangements without taking my bag. One boy—my student, who is not actually a boy anymore, but a man—comes running after me to remind me.
The hotel where I stay has a coffee place downstairs. I mean a real coffee place. I order an Americano that tastes like actual coffee. While I am sitting there, I start to take in that there are other foreigners here.
And I don’t know who they are or what they are doing in Country X.
It’s the weirdest thing.
It’s hard to explain exactly why this is weird. It’s weird because I see tourists who come to see our holy site, and we all know they are tourists and what hotel they are staying in and that they will most likely be gone the next day. And then there is the forestry guy. And the two Japanese volunteers. I know their names. I know why they are in Country X.
I don’t know everyone in Y-Town, but I know more or less when someone has come from somewhere else. Not just the obvious ones—the ones from other countries—but when we have holidays and people start to come in from other places, I know all of a sudden there are people around I don’t recognize.
For Country X, Y-Town is a big place. Big enough, anyway. But it is small enough that I am in a kind of bubble all the time. I am in a hive, and almost everyone knows my name. They know what I do for a living. They know where I live. They know when I go to bed at night and that I don’t drink alcohol. Not everyone knows this, but if the topic comes up, there is someone around to tell them all this. I am known.
I am also looked after, but that’s not quite the same topic.
It’s an entirely different experience than I think is possible to have anywhere else in the world anymore, and as this crosses my mind, I realize this is why I haven’t wanted to leave. It’s why I signed on for two years and why I didn’t want to leave Y-Town except in the company of friends, for short periods and short distances, for nearly a year and why I came here to the capitol only reluctantly.
It’s an entirely different way to be.
This way of being has been mentioned before—other volunteer teachers will tell you about this after they leave their postings, but it’s something you have to live to experience. It is beyond merely the cultural difference of a new country. It is the cultural difference of a new country plus a life that remains almost entirely rural, that is still organized around the village: hardly anyone I know will actually be in Y-Town over the holidays. They are all going back to their ancestral villages.
It turns out that this experience really is special. And I really do like it.