Today was Orthodox Easter, so a Happy Easter to all of you! It came rather late this year, but did finally arrive. In Georgia there are no Easter bunnies delivering baskets of Cadbury Creme Eggs. It’s like they don’t even know the reason for the season. But fortunately there are some other pretty nice traditions that make up for this. They dye hard-boiled eggs a deep color of red in representation of the blood of Christ. They make a yummy sweet bread called paska, sometimes forming the loaves into the shape a lamb, which is quite impressive. And people greet each other by saying “Christ has risen!”, to which one responds “Truly, has risen!” This is wonderful except that the word for risen in Georgian has many consonant sounds that all run into each other, one of which also happens to be the French-like “gghhh” sound that is supposed to originate from the throat. For me it often does start in my throat, but trips somewhere on the way out and not-infrequently deteriorates into a hacking cough as I choke on my own saliva. So for me, saying this in a way that resembles the actual word is quite a challenge.
The other thing that I really admire and love about Easter in Georgia is the way it also serves as an occasion to remember loves ones who have passed away. On Easter Sunday or the following Monday, families travel to the cemetery where their relatives are interred. They go to the plots and clean them up, sweeping away any debris and pruning the weeds. They place flowers and some of the red eggs at the head stones, and then they toast their relatives with glasses of wine and sprinkle some of the leftovers on the graves. I was able to join my host family for this touching ritual last year and it was a profound privilege. I think it’s really beautiful the way my family and other families here in Georgia dedicate time to remember and honor those they have lost.
So that’s what was going on today. As for the day before that and all of the other days of the previous month, I don’t really know where they went or what I did.
No. That’s not true. I know where they went and what I did. I spent the last month turning into a giant ball of exposed nerve endings. A Stress Monster, if you will.
“What is a Stress Monster?” the chorus asks. “Is it like a regular monster?”
Yes, in some ways, it is like a regular monster. Though I never intend harm. For example, if I tear a person to bits with my teeth and bare hands* it’s usually just because I’m irritable and unable to focus my energies in a positive and constructive way.
I certainly don’t want to be a Stress Monster. In fact, I’ve been doing everything I can to avoid becoming one. I journal. I talk to friends. I stare at the wall for hours at a time and let my brain go to mush. But like Dr. Jekyll, I can’t keep Mr. Hyde from coming out. Like Dr. Bruce Banner my stress breaks free and all of sudden I look down and find I’ve mutated into a giant green man wearing ill-fitting cut-offs.
“But what is causing you so much stress?” sings the chorus.
Leaving for Peace Corps was hard and terrifying in many ways. I’ve gone back and read some of the stuff I wrote around that time and I’m pretty sure we would all agree that I nearly cracked up during the whole process of preparing and leaving. I was bananas. But y’all, I think it turns out that leaving Peace Corps is way scarier than getting into it.
“How can it be scarier?” ponders the chorus.
Sure, going away for two years to a different country and a different culture where I don’t speak the language and am away from the people I love the most is terrifying. But you know what’s possibly even more terrifying? Unemployment.
“Go on.” urges the chorus.
Peace Corps was a plan. I knew I had a place to be for two years. I knew I had a job and security and purpose. And there would be people who would greet me and shepherd me and take care of me and feed me. And that has been the case. I have been totally shepherded and very well fed.
But now? That’s all ending in about six weeks. And I’m staring into an abyss. For the first time in my life I’ll be leaving a job without having another one lined up. It’s the first time I don’t know what the next step is going to be. Is the next step for me going to be a well-paying job in a lovely office building in Washington, DC, in either the nonprofit or government sector? Or will it be a cold death on the streets of Washington, DC, wrapped in a gray homeless outreach program-issued blanket? It’s a mystery!
“Aren’t you maybe exaggerating a little bit here?” asks the chorus.
Of course I’m exaggerating. As I’m wont to do. But underneath all this exaggeration is the honest truth that I’m genuinely nervous and frightened in a way I haven’t been in a long time. I read articles about how Americans are still struggling with unemployment or how once you’ve been out of work for more than six months you’re probably screwed and will forever and always be un- or under-employed**…and then I die a little inside. The unknown future is a terrifying thing.
“But you knew this was coming!” yells the chorus. “Have you not prepared?!”
Yes, I have prepared! I’m no grasshopper! Before I ever joined Peace Corps I built a savings cushion (in addition to the resettlement allowance I’ll receive from Peace Corps) and kept my student loans to a manageable level. I have the safety-net of kind and generous people who have offered a couch to rest on or a willingness to pass my resume around. And I’ve begun the job hunt, though that’s hard to do sometimes from this distance. So I’m working on this. Truly I am. But the threat of a long period of unemployment is still real and looming.
“Fair enough.” remarks the chorus.
So that is where I am. The other factor contributing to the metamorphosis into the Stress Monster I’ve become is that I’m starting to process the true fact that I’m leaving the home I’ve known for two years. Yes, I miss America very much. Every single day at this point. After all, it’s been two years since I’ve been there. I keep imagining the moment I will pass through passport control and get my stamp and the border guard will say “welcome home.” And every time I imagine that tears well up in my eyes. Every damn time. (Right now. This is happening RIGHT NOW.)
But I also think of leaving my family here. My friends. My coworkers. The kids in my English conversation group. Piso! And that makes me cry, too. There is a real chance that I may never see some of these people (and cats) ever again. And that is a terrible thing and makes me so sad. I’m working hard to appreciate every moment and savor all these experiences because I know I’ll miss so much of this when I’m gone. But I find myself knotted up inside a lot, too. I just don’t know what to do with all these emotions and feelings. So they take on a life of their own. And out comes the Stress Monster.
“You’re a mess.” concludes the chorus.
You’re absolutely right, chorus. I’m a mess. A complete and total mess.
In summary: It’s Easter. I’m sorta cracking up. And I’m available for hire.
But, per usual, I’m probably stressing for no reason. It will probably work out ok in the end. I’ll probably find a job. I’ll probably find a place to live. I’ll probably not perish in a downward spiral of unemployment and poverty.
Anyway, to end this on a cheerier note, here are some nice photos I took at least year’s Easter that I never got around to posting. I hope you enjoy them. Happy Orthodox Easter to you!
Dying Easter eggs naturally using the roots of a plant called endro.
They turn out a beautiful deep red, which is meant to symbolize the blood of Christ.
At the cemetery there are tables set up where you can have a feast. Ours was small with just eggs, paska, juice, and a bit of wine.
The graves are lovingly cared for and maintained. At Easter people place flowers and red eggs near the headstones.
In Georgia it’s quite common to get one’s portrait etched onto the marker. This fella obviously liked to play chess.
And sometimes people plan ahead. This headstone is ready when she is.
*Hypothetical situation, naturally. I have not actually torn any people to bits…though sometimes when, for example, people cut me in line or light up a cigarette next to me in a minibus despite the No Smoking sign clearly displayed above the driver, it’s hard not to think about it.
**I’m not going to link to these articles because there is no reason for us all to be stressed out. Just trust me that they exist.