Shortly before I left for Niger, I was asked to give a speech at the second event of Ignite SD and choose to talk about my upcoming adventure and the packing it required. While composing the piece, I sought the advice of Jeremy, a good friend who I enjoy hiding away with in the corner of a coffee shop talking about journalism, relationships and life. At the time, Jeremy was preparing to spend the summer in Yemen and this topic was also on his mind.
Jeremy and I had both read “Vagabonding” by Ralph Potts and lusted over the idea of abandoning our current lives for one that flowed through airports, train stations and highways. I told him I wanted to talk about limiting my life down in order to travel for an extended period and he sent me a his thoughts on topic, which I wove into my presentation.
One particular thing he mentioned was choosing each item you bring carefully. It has to be something that will bring you comfort in a completely foreign place, but nothing you aren’t willing to lose along the road, where things are often broken or stolen.
This theory seemed to match a piece of advice current Peace Corp Niger Volunteers gave with packing suggestions: don’t bring anything you don’t want destroyed, because Niger will probably destroy it.
So, yesterday, when I retrieved my iPod — one of two pieces of sanity for me, the other being my journal — from my bag and saw a grotesque black blob on the screen, panic didn’t consume me. It was broken and my life was music less, but I was unreasonably calm. My friend Julia, who also depends on music for stability, commented that she would be bawling if she were in my place.
I could’ve I supposed, but it wasn’t necessary. That was the risk I took by bringing it into the desert. Living in one of the poorest countries, it seemed silly to be upset over an electronic that is a luxury.
It wasn’t the first electronic I’ve broken since being here. I almost fried my MacBook at one point and my headlamp barely lasted me two months. Still, I am healthy, happy and my essential needs are fulfilled.
That being said, the Peace Corps is tough, and being removed from the basic amenities, I can’t feel guilty for indulging in the small things that bring me calm, such as music. If that’s what I need to build the motivation to walk out my hut each day, so be it. As I’ve been told, there are no brownies points for those that suffer the most. And, knowing that my three-year-old iPod would probably quit at some point in the next two years, I reserved a bit of cash for a new one, which my mother has already purchased and is on its way to me.
My iPod brought me comfort in this strange place, and then it broke, like my friend and the other volunteers said it might. The new one may break too, but that’s I’m fine with taking.
(A quick note: In the last year, I’ve becoming pretty stinging and extremely careful with what I spend. With half a paycheck beginning last August, I had to, also to pay off bills and get my finances in order to come here. However, my concept of money has changed even more since being here and the idea of spending more than $200 for an electronic makes me sick to my stomach. Still, I have yet to shake the influence of American commercialism and can’t say no to Apple. Maybe after two years, Steve Jobs and his overpriced, shiny machines won’t pull at my heart. Maybe not.)