Maybe the best way to organize my thoughts is to talk a little bit about how I've changed. I have to give credit to Jessica Luo, a friend and fellow Kennedy, for the idea for this. I love her, and I love lists, so it makes sense:
How Chelsea Has Changed So Far
- I no longer feel (as much) embarassment when discussing bodily issues. It took a surprisingly short amount of time to lose my inhibitions and propriety when talking about the various illnesses and symptoms that I've encountered since moving here. I remember sitting in a medical session at training when our doctor was going over what comes in our medical kits. When she started talking about a MIF kit, I promised myself then and there that I would never use one of those. A MIF kit is a way of procuring and preserving a stool sample for when one gets sick at site and might not be able to get tested for a few weeks. Well, that lasted all of five months. If you thought pooping in a hole was rough, imagine pooping/diarrhea-ing/slowly dying into a plastic container the size of a film cannister and then giving it to someone to analyze for parasites. See? You're grossed out and I'm just talking about Tuesday.
- I don't chew as often. I'm not sure how I came to this conclusion. Perhaps it was today, when I was eating some cole slaw I had made. It was really good. I was enjoying the crunch and the texture of the raw cabbage (incidentally, isn't cabbage GREAT? So good for you, too) when I realized that I don't really need to chew with most of the meals I eat in Mali. For breakfast, it's porridge. For lunch and dinner, it's either a couscous thing, toh, or rice and sauce. I kind of chew, but I haven't masticated in such a long time. It's really nice to masticate and use your molars to their full capability. I read somewhere once that when people say that they're craving something, they are craving the texture. For example, when I crave M&Ms, I really just want the crunch. The theory then argued that I could satisfy this craving with something like carrots or celery or cabbage, getting the texture that I crave and also being healthier. Now, I hardly believe that my body could be tricked into thinking it is just as happy eating veggies as it would be if I were eating M&Ms (especially dark chocolate or almond M&Ms, mmmmmmm). But it's just a thought. I do love vegetables, though.
- I'm desensitized to skinny children. I don't want to get all Save the Children on you, but malnutrition is a serious problem here. I have been here long enough that I can distinguish Kwashiorkor from Marasmus and identify children at risk for severe dehydration. Bloated bellies are the norm, knobby knees and tiny kids are what I see every day. It's sad. A varied diet is near impossible for most people in my village and for most people in Mali, and it really makes a difference. Nearly everyone here is malnourished (excepting me, since the Peace Corps gives us daily vitamins), but it's especially noticeable in kids. Take home message: get your protein.
- I love peanuts. See a previous post for more details.
- I see my American life in a completely different light. I don't really want to go into too much detail on this point, because I suspect of all the things listed here, this is the one that will change the most with my time and experiences here. Suffice it to say that my priorities have changed, my opinions on lots of social issues have changed, and my attitude has changed. Some of this is positive, some of this makes me feel jaded. BUT this is all part of the process. I knew that Peace Corps would irrevocably change me, and some of those changes have taken place already. Some have yet to develop. I am excited to see how my view of America, Americans, and my (past and future) American life evolves.