Own the fight

Something happened this early September that I’m not allowed to talk about here. At least not in the way I’d like to, heavily laden with expletives and a sprinkle of incitation likely to attract an enemy or two. I was going to keep quiet, and for the first 29 years of my life I’ve done just that. Not anymore.

A particular injustice was committed against dear friends of mine, and it made me very angry; the kind of angry that burns like a buried coal, slowly cooking any who dare linger by the surface. That anger ignited me as well, branded me with outrage, and finally lit the wick on that missile called action.

It’s not Kyrgyzstan that forced my hand. There are things about every country that must change. But it was the nature of the injustice, committed against my dear friends that made me start flipping tables. There is a kind of righteous rage, and I will not stand idly by as injustice continues to flourish.

A volunteer friend of mine told me I need to pick my battles. That I’ll go crazy trying to fix everything. I can’t fix everything. I know that. I can only do the work of one person and yet—that person is I—and I will be responsible for every moment of time that I can control and use to steer towards a freer and just world.

There is a fine line in Peace Corps service when it comes to expressing opinions about a host country. How do you pay well-deserved respect to a wonderful culture and turn the screw on the wrongs at the same time? How do you not come across as offensive or disparaging? In my so far brief state of incensed fury I haven’t fully arrived at an answer. But I do know that it party lies in owning the fight. I can fight for America because she is my home, my motherland, because at her breast I was nourished and weaned. But how do I do that for Kyrgyzstan? Ah—Kyrgyzstan is my home too. This is my village, my school, these are my students, my friends, my conspirators, my fellow survivors in the wake of what we call life, plowing its way through our valley.

I do a disservice to anyone I tell that everything is fine, that the nature is beautiful, the food is good and people are generous. Those things may all be very true, but we wouldn’t be here as Peace Corps Volunteers unless there were things that needed to change. Who can deny that corruption ravages a nation? That ignorance is a turn back to the dark ages? That poverty saps the health and joy of a man? These were things I knew existed, but they floated over me like a cloud, just out of reach. Yet no cloud of oppression is innocuous but spreads and seeps quietly until all are caught in its disastrous roar. Unfortunately I didn’t see it until it had settled about me, until it was my lungs filled with its poisonous air.

So I will fight. I will take whatever near or distant hill the limits of my body and circumstances will allow. The battle has always been there, but now—it’s mine.

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