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22nd November

“England was like a rich man after a disastrous orgy who makes up to the household by chatting with them individually, when it is obvious to them that he is only trying to get back his self respect in order to usurp his former power.”

Franz Kafka ‘The Trial’

I went to a training workshop yesterday on how to set up and maintain a school library run by a couple of VSO volunteers (the British equivalent of Peace Corps).

I am going to make some sweeping generalizations based on this experience.

  • VSO is a much more paternalistic organization.
  • English people expect to be treated deferentially.
  • VSO volunteers live in relative luxury compared to Peace Corps volunteers, even though they are losing all their funding and are all going home.
  • VSO volunteers don’t learn nearly as much language as PCV’s. Why would a British subject in an ex-colony not speak colony?
  • VSO likes bureaucracy – their ideas for how complex they wanted to make a library here were ridiculous, pointless and completely impractical. Do you really need a huge list of library rules as well as a separate library policy?

I identify as English, so I’m sure I suffer from some of these faults too. But it’s very interesting to see how the ex-colonial power operates in comparison to the new world hegemon. I have certainly shown previously that I am not an uncritical cheerleader for Peace Corps’ work here, but I am thankful to have the opportunity to work for them and be backed up by their resources. I think working for VSO would be a far lonelier experience, there are not as many of them, they don’t integrate due to their shorter length of stay and their lack of local language.

“I began to understand that my anguish about being a man adrift was false, that for me that dream of home and security was nothing more than a dream of isolation, anachronistic and stupid and very feeble. I belonged to myself alone. I was going to surrender my manhood to nobody. For someone like me there was only one civilization and one place – London, or a place like it.”

V.S. Naipaul ‘A Bend In The River’

It was strange talking to people who are going ‘home’. Going home to England, it made me slightly home sick, something I haven’t felt for a while. I have only spent one month in England over these past two years, which when seen written down doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but it has felt monumental to my psyche, to my roots. It is mad worse knowing I won’t be ‘home’ for at least another year and a half.

Feeling homesick here is a confusing experience. My home before here was New York. Do I miss there? My home home is London. Do I miss there? Truthfully, neither make me feel sick thinking about the realities of them. Except the realities of food there. I’ve been fantasizing about broccoli, spinach, peas, runner beans, asparagus, mange tout, parsley, spring onions, lettuce, rocket/arugula, courgette/zucchini, …

Apologies, sidetracked by my stomach.

Where am I going home to after this? Home home. Or make another home in America. Right now my plan is, at the end of my service, to make my way back to London over land through Senegal, Mauritania, Morocco, Spain and France. Then stay in London for a little holiday, then back to America to take advantage of the Peace Corps fellowship programs.

“And then England – southern England, probably the sleekest landscape in the world. It is difficult when you pass that way, to believe that anything is really happening anywhere. Earthquakes in Japan, famines in China, revolutions in Mexico? Don’t worry, the milk will be on the doorstep tomorrow morning, the New Statesman will come out Friday. The huge peaceful wilderness of outer London, the familiar streets, the posters telling of cricket matches and Royal Weddings, the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar square, the red buses, the blue policeman – all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.”

George Orwell ‘Homage to Catalonia’ 1938

I just received a wind up radio, along with some amazing math teaching resources from my generous Godmother Patricia. Before I had left for The Gambia she had suggested I get a radio and I had considered her old fashioned and slightly out of touch in her suggestion. In America I never listen to the radio and similarly most people that I know of my age rarely listen. The technology of radio becomes redundant when it has to compete with television, Internet and iPods.

Here, however, the radio has a monopoly of my interest currently. The first time I managed to tune into bearable BBC World Service news broadcast, I jumped for joy. Hearing fluent BBC English, along with the fact that the reporter was telling of Kate Middleton’s pregnancy, kindled a British pride in me I’ve never known. It is easy to romanticize England when you’re stuck out in the bush, but with the clear consonants and enunciated vowels of BBC English flooding my hut my yearning for that green and pleasant / grey and vibrant land reached new heights.

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