Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Peace Corps Book Club Part 2: River Town

On a Valentine's day unlike any other, I spent another ninety minutes with the CRPCA book club, this time in the welcome company of Peter Hessler. He is author of River Town, a book about the time he spent teaching English at a college in China's Sichuan Province. As I began to read Hessler's book, it's understated charm slowly began to infect me until the reading of it became a careful indulgence, something to be savored. I found myself poring over it's pages, often re-reading sentences to be sure that no edifying morsel of stark, expressive prose was left unexamined.

Perhaps what stands out to me most about Hessler's stories in River Town is the compassion with which he manages to capture the people and events of his time overseas despite countless baffling, often humorous examples of what makes the Chinese culture so inscrutible to the American mind. What makes the book even more interesting is the fact, we learned, that it was written in just eight months during Hessler's difficult reentry period following his time in the Peace Corps.

In a delightful turn of events, my good friend Stephanie Austin turned out for the book club and we proceeded to have a Valentine's day evening, conspicuously free of flowers and lovers' sighs.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Taxes, and Flight Plans, and Cars, Oh My!

Well, as my March 1 departure looms ever nearer, it's beginning to seem as if this Peace Corps thing isn't just something I've been hallucinating for the last year and a half. The first thing that really made it seem real was getting rid of my car. I've had my '93 Toyota Camry since about 2003. As of last week I no longer have it. It's an odd feeling knowing that a constant, faithful presence in my life for 7 years is gone and I won't see it anymore.

I did my taxes on February 1 so I'll have time to receive my refund from the IRS and mail a check to the Oregon Revenue Department before I leave. I have to give my mom the power of attorney so she can do this for me while I'm gone. Even after spending more than 3/4 of my AmeriCorps education award (which counts as earned income), I still have a refund larger than what I owe the state (hooray for not finding work!) such that my net refund is $371. That get's me most of the way to buying a ticket home for Mom and Rich's wedding!

What really made me reckon with my future, though, was an email I got yesterday saying it was time to call the government contractor that would make my travel arrangements to staging in Washington, D.C. A phone call later and I was booked on a flight out of Portland on the morning of February 28, bound for the capital via Chicago. Yet another threshold crossed.

The Peace Corps has given me a document to share with friends and family who wish to keep in touch with me during my service. In addition to hosting it here, I'll be attaching it to a big email I send out when I'm about to go: