Adventures in Peace (Corps)

Going Gray

It’s starting to happen. The time has finally come. I’m nearly 43 years old and my hair is beginning to turn gray. I can’t believe it. Those of you who have been cursing me with furious envy, pinning your effigeous (that is not a word, but it should be, and it would be related to the word effigy) voodoo dolls near the scalp with pointy needles can stop. Your hard work has paid off. My deep brown, curly locks, the only physical asset I can say without hesitation is the one I never wished to be any different (even though a few years ago I may have UN-regrettably dyed it many different shades of the rainbow) is starting to change. Each turning strand from root to end is white as though it was always meant to be that color. I find it strange how the entire shaft of hair turns white, instead of growing out gray from the root.

It’s a funny thing to be having this happen to me here in AZ. This is a hard place to live. I haven’t completely figured out why that is yet, but time is not kind to the people that live here. Men and women alike often look much older, sometimes ten to twenty years older than their actual age. It’s rare to find a person over 30 who looks good for her/his age, and when I tell people how old I am they nearly fall on the floor with shock and surprise. It’s great for my ego especially coming from the land of plastic surgery, Botox injections, obsession with breasts, booty, and waist sizes. This is not to say that women here don’t have regard for these things–the Diva Spa offered Botox—but they’re not spending their money on it. I feel like I moved from the land of fairy tale beauty to a place that is probably more realistic as most people in the world can’t afford to pay to look good the way that many of us do in the States.

Here in AZ, the first thing to go are the teeth in a person’s mouth. I’ve heard and even witnessed, that parents will let the baby teeth in a child’s mouth simply rot out. Why care for them if they’re just going to fall out and be replaced by new teeth? There’s no understanding that caring for ones baby teeth can affect the strength of ones permanent teeth, and there is not much education towards dental hygiene. Because these habits towards proper dental hygiene are not cultivated from a young age it’s difficult to convince a teenager the importance of brushing (flossing is practically unheard of. From what I understand, floss cannot be purchased in the regions, but it is available in Baku, the capital city. PC provides floss to us and I brought a bunch of it with me because I had hunch about this) and so by the time they have reached age 20 the teeth in their mouths have rotted and are replaced with gold teeth or enamel caps. I have met many whose wide smiles have revealed a mouth full of gold. Part of it is the cultural mentality, and part of it is cost. Though it’s not terribly expensive to visit the dentist and have your teeth repaired, preventive measures are rarely taken. Ikane, for instance, suffered from severe tooth pain. Every time she would eat she would hold her jaw in agony. Finally she went to the dentist and he told her that she needed to have her “clever teeth” pulled. I asked her how much it would be and the cost was only 5 manat per tooth. This was a couple of months ago and she still has not had her teeth pulled. It’s not only a matter of money though it’s also a matter of the time it will take for her to recover from the surgery. She has a baby to take care for, a house to clean, and a husband who is at work from early in the morning until late in the evening that she has to cook for.

As a general rule, young women in this country are beautiful. They are thin, with long and short fashionable haircuts, they wear tight jeans, short skirts, sweaters that layer their shapely bodies, high heels, and sexy boots. When I first arrived in AZ I was surprised at how sexy the young women dress. Even the young Muslim women who choose to wear a hijab are sexy. I was told that the women in this country are very conservative dressers, but many of their fashions often resemble fashions that we wear in the States. However, something happens to them after they marry and begin to have children. Most gain a ton of weight, and stop dressing to look attractive. They wear shmatas on their heads, tights with calf high socks, skirts, and loose fitting sweaters or shirts. All the sexy goes out the window. Much of that style or lack of style is a result of Soviet influence, so many of the post-Soviet countries’ women tend to look like this, and I suppose it’s also a result of managing a household without the luxury of any help. Also, there is no trend of exercise for women. All the sports complexes are geared towards men and most of them are empty. Even if a woman wants an outlet for exercise the culture offers her nothing.

The men aren’t in much better shape, though my observation has been that not as many of them are as overweight as the women. However, they don’t look good. They work hard at whatever jobs they can get and there aren’t many of them to be had. They also smoke like chimneys. Men smoke all the time, women don’t smoke at all. After living in a city where cigarette smoking has been banned from nearly all public arenas, it’s grossly obvious how toxic it is.

I know we have our issues in the States too. After all we are the fast food nation, and obesity and heart disease are huge problems. Outside of Baku and Sumgayit there is no fast food in AZ. And, for the most part, people here tend to eat relatively fresh foods even though they are drenched in corn oil. Yuck!!!

So here I am, my hair turning gray, caught between the obsessive awareness we have of our bodies in CA, particularly in Los Angeles, and the extreme lack of awareness that exists here in AZ. It’s really interesting to see how culture has such a big effect on our lives and defines the way we live them. Here in AZ women are not encouraged to exercise and watch their weight, men are not encouraged to stop smoking, and from what I have seen and the people I have talked to there doesn’t appear to be a movement starting to encourage these positive behaviors anytime soon. Then…across the world…in the U.S., CA is the poster State for great health. What a dichotomy of difference I find between the two places. I find it really interesting.

8 responses

  1. Just wait till your chesthairs turn gray too. By the way, I never used effigeous voodoo dolls on you and your hair. Must have been some really bad friends who did that.

    As for dental hygene and tooth repair, now that gold is so overpriced in the commodities market, those in AZ may be the new ‘secret rich’. We have profit sharing retirement plans, they invest in gold teeth; it’s anyone’s guess who’ll retire better.

    And to think that the US is not even the best place in the world for medical care…. Contrast the US system against the number one ranked country in the world and we might look like AZ to them – relatively speaking. Imagine working for the PC in a part of the world where health care is practically non-existent — suddenly AZ may look fairly decent – again, relatively speaking.

    But it is interesting to experience the differences, isn’t it?

    Bye for now, me

    December 21, 2010 at 11:45 am

  2. Lori

    Well, don’t worry, if you decide to dye your hair your gray roots WILL emerge from your scalp a bit at a time.

    Your blogs are amazing, and I hope they become a book of essays on your experience. It’s almost like you are describing another time in history altogether. Very hard to imagine. Why is it that jeans and boots have migrated to that part of the world, but not public health initiatives?

    I read an article today that facebook has so many members that it numbers third compared to the size of the biggest countries in the world. Only China and India have more citizens than facebook has members. I don’t expect that AZ is big on the facebook craze, given your comments about the culture there.

    I wonder how the men feel about their women giving up the beauty schtick?

    Love you, love the blog,


    December 21, 2010 at 5:25 pm

  3. CAREN

    Love your blogs, Glendene! I read them all, but don’t always comment. You are a great writer and make the reading so enjoyable. Keep it up. I am learning so much from what you are writing.

    Welcome to the world of grey hair. It’s about time you join the club! ‘

    You must look like a super model in AZ! Watch out for the Paparazzi. People are soon going to be talking about this beautiful American woman who has graced their land with her presence.

    I love you dearly! So proud of you and so inspired by this journey.

    Big hugs and kisses and Happy Holidays.

    Love you. ~C

    December 21, 2010 at 6:43 pm

  4. Audge

    Haircolor becomes a food group at some point in every womans life.

    Just think, with your new membership @Diva, you could turn some of the women there onto personal maintenance. Like the new Jane Fonda of AZ.

    I was quite intrigued by the scarifices. It’s very Biblical Judaism in some ways.
    If you think about it, the way they raise and slaughter animals is totally organic and humane. I mean ,what USA livestock industry allows their chickens to “free range” on the back porch?? Which is why I stopped eating meat and fowl quite recently, BTW.

    I heard on NPR satelite radio that electronic waste (old phones,computers,mp3 players etc) in the USA are all ‘recycled’ to china and surrounding poor regions where they are melted down by CHILDREN to extract metal components for resale. This process produces highly toxic emissions which deleteriously affect the kids doing the work, the soil, enivornment, and poison the river water near which this process takes place.
    IS AZ subject to that sort of bad behavior by way of the USA too?

    Love your blog, love the work you’re doing , and love you!!


    PS I was just noticing that my eyelids are starting to sag…

    December 21, 2010 at 8:26 pm

  5. moniica

    I love reading your blogs! It pulls me away from my myopic life here in LA and reminds me that there is an interesting and diverse world. I need to travel.

    Well, on the gray front, all I gotta say sweetie is welcome to the club. I’m learning to embrace my wrinkles, gray hair and cellulite (not really but it sounds good). Damn, I took my youth for granted. I should have appreciate that soft, beautiful, wrinkle free skin I had. Oh boy, 50s should be a hoot.

    December 21, 2010 at 9:15 pm

  6. Dear Glendene,

    Joined the “instant gray” club I see. I have so many that just appeared out of nowhere this year that I do believe that the deadly combination of constantly changing eustress/distress is the key to Peace Corps couture. I am hopeful that you will be able to instill some good habits into a few of the children as far as taking care of themselves a bit better and in the meantime, remember to take care of you! I miss my bubble baths, but lavender tea is the next best thing,
    Love and Happy Safe Restful Natural Beautiful New Year to You!

    December 27, 2010 at 3:09 am

  7. stacey

    embrace the gray.

    December 28, 2010 at 11:52 pm

  8. P o E

    PHEW! what a relief… they have botox….! if for some reason i get stuck in Turkey, at least i can get my “fix” in AZ….

    January 3, 2011 at 5:41 pm

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