Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Upcoming Challenges

All over the world, Peace Corps volunteers face different challenges based on their country's environment. I have friends that are going to Africa that probably will not have running water or electricity. Whereas, I'm going to Kazakhstan. Even within Kazakhstan, there are volunteers that have very few amenities in the remote villages they are placed in. However, as an NGO volunteer, the likelihood of such a placement is low.

However, one unsuspected challenge that I am preparing myself to face is the intense emphasis on personal appearance. Based on the reading packets and the listserv communication with current volunteers, it seems that Kazakhs care a lot about how they look. They put a lot of effort into always looking their best and take a lot of pride in their appearance. Examples of this include one of the Peace Corps staff saying that volunteers' bosses often talk about appearance before performance, a volunteer saying that her colleagues always talk about the previous volunteers' poor appearance, and many more volunteers chiming in about fashion and appearance. If this wasn't enough, the PC language program actually instructs us on how to ask Do you have...a washing machine, detergent, iron, lint brush, hot water (in that order!). I took Spanish for two years, traveled to South America twice, and never ever learned the word for lint brush.

Now, I don't want to make it sound like I'm a bum or a slob, but as most people know, personal appearance is not something I usually put a lot of effort into. I have won the superlative for least likely to own an iron. At my grandfather's birthday, we have video footage of my niece calling me a caveman (at least three times) due to my beard. And this past year, I did grow a mullet, color it red, and then cut it into a mohawk (mul-hawk) for a number of weeks. Of course, all of this was when I was working as a graduate assistant for the economics department at school, and people expect grad students to be a little off don't they? Based on my own personal style, a number of friends have said that I look homeless or compared me to a hobo(tard).

And its not even that I'm just lazy about it (although that is a part of it). I really believe that appearance is just this artificial facade. If we get past it and really see a person, then we are much better off. I value a person and their actions much more than their appearance. Although, I am not blind to the fact that appearance makes a huge difference, especially with first impressions. But I try to push beyond these normative social values whenever I can. End short rant.

But I can be professional. I can look nice. I can keep my clothes clean and iron them all the time. But I don't imagine it will be easy. People face all sorts of challenges in the Peace Corps. And as stupid as it sounds, this will probably be one of mine.

PS. In a previous entry, I was excited that I could keep my beard if I kept it trimmed and professional. After further honest self-evaluation, I realized that my scraggly facial hair never quite makes it to the level of looking professional, and I plan on shaving it.

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