Friday, June 06, 2008


Four o’clock in the morning is a tough time for a pickup – I guess it’s good to get to the airport early before international flights, but as I sat there waiting for check-in to open, I thought that a later pickup and more sleep would have been a better option. The good news is that with leaving Thursday and returning Tuesday, I never really adjusted to being in the U.S., opting instead to go to bed relatively early and waking up early; I have had late-night discussions at Reunions past but didn’t suffer for the lack of one this time, and it was peaceful to get up and out while most people were still asleep.

The flight to New York was smooth. There was another PCV on the plane – actually, an RPCV now, from the now-second-year Health stage, being med-sepped. He told me the tale of a high-school-graduation trip he took to Peru. The tour guide was a little old man, who it turned out had learned English from this PCV’s great-aunt, who was in the Peace Corps in the ‘60s. At the time, Macchu Picchu was not a big tourist destination, but here she was, teaching English to prospective tour guides in the hopes of starting a tourism business. It was the old man’s last tour; he thought he recognized the name and something made him sign up to lead it. Along the way, they met several little old men (one had a picture and the great-aunt towered over all of them) who remembered her and had been successful with her help and gave them letters to give to her. She had had a stroke earlier but was able to comprehend the letters when they were read to her, and she died a couple of months after hearing them all. What a story – it’s the one he used on his Peace Corps application. I think it’s rare that you get to know the impact you have on other people – it remains to be seen what sort of legacy I will leave in the Peace Corps. Then again, I do feel I have made an impact on Princeton and touched many people there, which is one reason why I go back every year – a nice segue into the weekend.

I took a taxi into Manhattan, took another cold shower at my sister’s (last year it was funny – she said she didn’t want me to get too comfortable; this year I just made it quick), briefly said hello to Pam and Sabrina (who were expecting me the next day and were therefore surprised) and took off for Penn Station. Having two suitcases and a carry-on that converts to a backpack was tricky but I managed to negotiate the steps and the on and off; Howie met me at Princeton Junction and now everything is intact in his guest closet (although the tape didn’t hold – but everything was packed tightly enough that it didn’t shift much). He asked what kind of cuisine I wanted – I thought Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Thai – and we ended up having Italian, but a fresh caprese salad was quite welcome. The campus seemed quiet, and my dorm room faced away from the courtyard, and it wasn’t hot and humid as it was last year, so I actually slept well (not something I usually do at Reunions, whether or not I have jet lag).

The next morning I went to a panel on the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, moderated by my favorite professor but also featuring three civil engineering alumni, all of whom could have spoken all morning and I would have remained interested in what they had to say. A friend from Chicago was in the audience, and afterwards we went to Nassau Street where she helped me buy lipstick (I thought I had brought 27 months’ worth with me but it was more like 21 months’ worth). We also spent some time watching a New Orleans funeral band outside the Class of ’58 memorial service (they had a Mardi Gras theme) – a true lagniappe.
I snapped a picture of our Class Ivy, and met Arlene and Rob for the next item on my dance card – lunch, this time Indian food. We usually attend a University awards luncheon but this year took a break from that, and it was nice to have the time to talk (and to eat Indian food). We walked down to the Campus Center, where I saw a Princetoniana Committee exhibit (I joined this committee just before I left and contribute comments from afar but haven’t attended any meetings, so it was nice to do this). Then I went to another lecture by my favorite professor – I had heard most of this talk before, but I find him inspiring. My friend Elisa and I were talking about life-changing things – she’s about to go on a trip that everyone tells her is going to be one. It started me wondering what has been life-changing. I could say attending Princeton was one, but wouldn’t the college experience anywhere have been part of normal growth? I think Peace Corps will turn out to be one – it was all I could do not to use “inshallah” (God willing) or “labas?” (How are you?) every time I saw someone this weekend, and I think aspects of the culture will remain with me (more on that in the next six months, I suspect!). But I can say without reservation that taking Professor Billington’s Structures and the Urban Environment course freshman year was life-changing. I wouldn’t have been a civil engineering major without it, which led to the next thing and the next, and I think it gave me a way to appreciate looking at built things that I still have to this day.

On to the Princeton Alumni Weekly reception and then to Thomas Sweet ice cream and then I met up with La and talked with her and also Leesy for a while. Then, due to an unstoppable force that started when I saw “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” at Shawn’s house on the rummy weekend, I went to see “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Was this a wise choice compared to two hours spent with friends I don’t see enough of even when I’m in the same country? Probably not, but it was my first movie in a theatre since summer 2006, and it was fun (and it may gain me street cred back here with the other PCVs). I made my way to the 35th, 25th and 30th Reunion courtyards, finding people I was hoping to see at every stop, and once again called it an early night. My Moroccan orange and black clothing was a hit, too – I may need to buy more.

Saturday morning I took a campus walk with Marc and David, back for their 25th, and we went on to the Band concert (hm, perhaps joining the Band was also life-changing). Then it was on to a class luncheon, conveniently held inside so that we were sheltered from a major rainstorm (I would have said monsoon had I not just bought the Southeast Asia book!). Then the rest of Reunions went very quickly, as it seems to do. Lots of people to talk to but not enough time with any at the P-rade, Band Reunion and Quad. A lawn concert and fireworks (featuring, among other things, the Indiana Jones theme, for good measure). A search through several tents for select individuals I hadn’t seen yet and was destined not to see. And all of a sudden it was Sunday morning and I was on the train back to New York.

Here the plans went awry – Mercury in retrograde, or just the ESPN baseball contract? The time of the Mets game, which had been set for 1:00, was changed to 8:00. This meant that my nieces could no longer go – and much as I wanted to see one last game at Shea, the point was to go with them to a baseball game. It (and other circumstances) also meant no Annual Card Game, though it made me realize that had I had a choice to make, my priority would have been the card game. We’ll just have to have the 2008 game in early 2009 and the 2009 game in late 2009! Not only that, but my nieces ended up seeing Indiana Jones on Sunday afternoon instead of baseball, and had I not just seen it, I would have gone with them!

I ended up taking a walk across the park with my sister – it was a beautiful day – and we had walk-in qi-gong massages. We walked back and I had Mexican food and a pedicure. I played a quick game of Apples to Apples Jr. with my nieces before they left, but all in all I didn’t see much of them, which is too bad – but at least it won’t be as long before I see them again as it was the last time. We found takers for most of the Mets tickets and I found a second wind – the beautiful day led to a beautiful night and it was a fun game with nice company. Farewell, Shea Stadium, the place where I saw my first baseball game (I can’t say that per se was a life-changing experience, but baseball in general has been significant).

Monday was another whirlwind day, though, as with last year, it was theoretically a “bonus day” after the packed schedule of Thursday through Sunday. I started with a walk twice around the Central Park reservoir – the park is just lovely and I want to send some kudos to its public restrooms – they weren’t nice just because I’ve gotten used to squat toilets and lower standards of cleanliness here, they were nice. My sister had made two appointments for me – one with the author of a potentially-life-changing book she had me read and one with the osteopath/alternative physical therapist I saw last year. Both appointments were very positive and I am thinking of them as steps towards what lies ahead. In between I saw Debbie – since she had done all of my shopping for me, we had time to do what she wanted to do – play Piffle! And we had Chinese food. I also saw my nieces for a few minutes between school and their next activity, walked again across the park (I told my sister that if I didn’t sleep on the plane it wasn’t because I didn’t do enough walking – sadly, I didn’t sleep on the plane!), went to the bookstore and did a couple of errands for my sister, and then it was off to JFK and the trip home.

A crowded overnight flight with no sleep made for a zombie-like Tuesday. But before I took the train back to Meknes for the grand taxi to Azrou, I went to the Jewish Museum of Casablanca – it’s open only during the week so this was a good day to go. It was hard to find, but the taxi driver persisted (even after I told him to forget it and just take me to the train station) and he waited for me since there were no taxis in the area and it would have been hard to get back. The museum is the only one of its kind in the Islamic world, and it contains photographs and artifacts. I have seen similar photographs and artifacts in the synagogues I have visited and in antique stores, so I wouldn’t say it’s a must, but it was a nice complement to the things I have seen and it’s nice that the museum exists.

Impressions from the weekend – first and foremost, it was great to see friends and family. Email and other means of communication makes them feel not so far away, but there’s no substitute for seeing people in person. It was also great to be in Princeton and New York – I find both very energizing. I found myself glad to be eating cuisines I had missed but don’t want to get in the habit of eating out a lot when I get back – it’s expensive and too many calories. I found myself overwhelmed by choices – at CVS in Princeton, at a health food store in New York, at Barnes and Noble, at the grocery store. I was able to make purchases, but not without some paralysis. A lot of money was spent in a short amount of time – I think I was just making the most of the weekend, but it was a bit of a shock. I love the mountains and fields here for walking, but walking on the campus and in the city was also good. I keep talking about cutting back when I return – maybe skip the fall football game at Princeton now that I will have missed three, fewer baseball games and cultural events and even weekends away – I picture myself making less money than I used to and enjoying the time at home to read and write and cook for myself. But I did have a great time with all of weekend activity and I could easily see myself doing that when I return to the pace of the U.S. – will I be able to have a more simple life?

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