The Dreaded Readjustment: Or…why I’m not good at air conditioning

The blog is dead, long live the blog. Or…something like that. Yes, just as some other famous figures in history have returned from the other side, so too shall this blog be resurrected. Thus sayeth the internet. Well, OK. Perhaps it was never really dead. Perhaps it was only abandoned, whimpering and waiting for someone to just come POST something on it already. Poor forgotten blog. He’s been whining and crying for me to pay attention to him every time I open a browser, saying all he really wants is to be cared for and loved while I blatantly disregard him and look at pictures of cats. “Shut up, blog. Can’t you see this kitten is riding on a vacuum?!” I say. “But..but…I’m LONELY! And unfulfilled!” he’ll respond.As far as blog feelings go, I hear lonely and unfulfilled are particularly strong and incapacitating.

But I digress. Yes, the blog will return and take a new shape. Of course, I’ll write some more about Peace Corps and the misadventures I face in America as a somewhat recently returned volunteer, but I also plan to finally share some of the crazy stories I collected while traveling post service. Check back to read about a chakra cleansing in Nepal, getting stuck on a mountain in Sri Lanka, cycling through ruins in Cambodia, acquiring my first life regret in Hawaii and much, much more.

Wow. I can feel the future excitement and anticipation from readers positively humming around me like a fallen power line.

So much ground to cover, so many stories to tell. But today, it’s time for me to finally address that dreaded time period in the life of any Peace Corps volunteer – readjustment. Oh yes, readjustment. A quick google search will tell you that the actual definition of readjustment is “the act of adjusting again (to changed circumstances).” However, Peace Corps roughly defines readjustment as, “Ha ha, good luck in America, you’re super weird now and you should probably just accept that you’re going to cry in every grocery store you go into. Also, everyone’s going to ask you weird questions and not be able to relate to you and let’s all talk about our feelings now.” Or at least that’s about how it was defined for my group in our “Close of Service” conference.

You know, they weren’t exactly far from the truth. I do freak out in grocery stores. Often. I mean, all of the produce LOOKS the same and is super shiny and waxy, 80% of the products in the store are pre-packaged, and probably 50% of what you can buy is just unhealthy crap that we throw into our mouths as fast as humanly possible while watching horrible reality TV. OK, I may be exaggerating a little, but that is certainly how it feels to go to the grocery store. And as far as being super weird is concerned? Not only do I find myself slipping up and using Azerish slang with people who have no idea what I’m saying, I also can’t stand air conditioning anymore and have some strange aversion to many modern conveniences. Great. The most surprising thing, though? I was expecting a LOT of questions. A lot of stupid questions.

“Are there cars in Azerbaijan?”

“Was it scary being surrounded by Muslims?”

“Don’t they sacrifice babies there? I swear I read on the internet/saw on TV/heard from that homeless man on the corner that they definitely sacrifice babies there.”

And while I DO see a lot of ignorant crap on social media or elsewhere about Islam, here’s the kicker. I really prepared myself for the many weird questions people would ask. I made a conscious effort to equip myself with some good answers that would both interest people and teach them something new about Azerbaijan and the post soviet block. What I didn’t prepare myself for, though, was NO questions. Sure, there have been a few here and there, but for the most part, people don’t really seem to care that much. I find myself screaming in my head, “Wait a minute! I just had this amazing and life changing experience that shaped and molded who I am at this moment in unfathomable ways! Don’t you want to hear every detail?!” Well…no. The barista making my latte doesn’t want to hear every detail. Unlike the old women on marshrutkas who insisted on asking any personal question about me they could dream up (How much money do you make? Are you married? Where do you live? Are you a virgin?), the barista has her own things to worry about. I’m not unusual or unique or special to her. I’m just another person in line, waiting for her to make my coffee. In some ways, it’s disappointing to not be a superstar anymore. I find myself missing the stares of disbelief when I go running. I miss being told I’m pretty all the time. I even kind of miss people laughing at me when I commit some faux pas. At least they were paying attention. And though friends are well intentioned, most of them aren’t really interested beyond the 5 minute elevator speech and formalities, nor can they quite understand the things I’d want to talk about should we have an in depth discussion without having experienced it themselves.

So what do we RPCVs do to cope? We just keep our mouths shut. We stay quiet and bitterly realize that as much as people try and as much as they want, they just aren’t going to get it. Not 100%, anyway. We wait until those wonderful moments when we can connect with other RPCV friends, let loose and be the weirdos we’ve become. No need to explain why I’m suddenly sobbing inconsolably into my guacamole, saying how wonderful and terrible it is and blathering on in some peculiar foreign language – they just get it and are probably sobbing and blathering right along with me. They, too, feel like foreigners in their homeland. They, too, are trying to navigate the long, monotonous process of adjusting to life in America.

None of this is to say that I, personally, haven’t been blessed with an amazing family and group of friends who, even when they don’t quite get it, are sensitive and supportive and do their best to make me feel comfortable and at home. They have put up with my impetuous outbursts. They have hugged me when I’ve felt overwhelmed. They have smiled and laughed with me as I’ve marveled at the brilliance of washers and driers.

So where is this going? What’s the point of this? Honestly, I’m not sure. Maybe there is no point. Maybe I’m just always going to be that weird girl who has to put on a sweatshirt whenever the air conditioning is turned on. Maybe I’ll never quite get used to life in America again, and maybe there are parts of my Azerbaijani identity that will stubbornly refuse to change and will stay with me for the rest of my life.

What I can say is that I’ve managed to come up with my own definition of readjustment:

Readjustment is a wild, relentless, head-spinning, mischievous, dirty little bitch who, whether through tears or laughter, will take you on the ride of your life and open your eyes to new perspectives on boring and formerly familiar situations. And when you look at it that way, I guess I should just enjoy the ride, shouldn’t I?


4 thoughts on “The Dreaded Readjustment: Or…why I’m not good at air conditioning

  1. Carrie, I’m glad you’re back online. I’d love to hear your stories and so looked forward to them while you were having those experiences. So…. that means you come this way or Ryan and I come your way. How about meeting in between? Love to you and your family. Always, Linda

  2. Hi y’all.I’m a rpcv reading your adventures as if they were my own 50 years ago (India 16, 1965-67). welcome to the international rpcv clusterfuck club. This stuff (your experiences n mine) is same ole, yes, you went thru the same incontrovertibly mess-up 200K also perceveered and endured, all around the world… and when your 50th comes around (as ours will in 2015), you’ll rejoice, yes rejoice you has those experiences. Return, rejoice, do not retreat, you are one of the priviledged few.. to know you endured, you did it, dammit. Congrats, rpcvs all over Mike G

    • Mike – Thank you so much for your encouraging comment! Congratulations on your upcoming 50th anniversary of your service. I would be very interested to hear about your service in India in the 60s! I was lucky enough to travel there after my service, and it was unlike any other place I’ve ever been.

      Thanks again for your comment! 🙂

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