This page has moved to a new address.

The Legendary Brian and Brandy

In the "Cult of Escapism": The Legendary Brian and Brandy

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Legendary Brian and Brandy

Four months before I arrived in my site, two volunteers finished their services and returned to the U.S. I've been hearing about them ever since. After volunteers leave a community, the people remember them to varying degrees and in different shades of affection. For Brian and Brandy, the affections ran deep and their memory borders on legend.

My site-mate and I have lived in the shadow of that legend our entire services. While not the first volunteers in my community, Brian and Brandy were the first that left a major impression, the first significant non-missionary gringos to live in the town. So we were constantly compared to them:
“Laura, Brandy used to sew her own dresses, why don't you?”
“Yak, Brian and Brandy used to teach at the school, why don't you?”
“Yak, Brian used to regularly save infants and puppies from burning buildings and wells, why don't you?”

The Legends
Some of the comparisons were easy to live up to; for example, the most common thing I heard about Brian was that he played sports. Well great, I love sports and would have played even if he hadn't, so that was a gimme. Some comparisons were more difficult however, particularly because they weren't entirely accurate. The most common: “Brian and Brandy spoke fluent Ngäberre” and “Brian saved dozens of people from a catastrophic flood.”

First of all, by their own admission, they didn't speak anything close to fluent Ngäberre. Second of all, damn. I was kidding about the burning building thing, but the flood story I've actually heard many times. During a massive flood a few years ago, B&B were living on what turned out to be an island and flood plain (no one told them), along with many other families. The island flooded and, cut off from the mainland, the residents were forced into trees and on top of houses for a few hours. At some point, Brian helped his neighbors' kids on to the roof of their house and then climbed into a tree. That's the true story. Again, the legend has taken on such extreme forms that one person told me that Brian and Brandy were the only ones who sensed that the flood was coming and, despite doubt and resistance from the island's inhabitants, convinced everyone to get into trees, thereby saving something like 80 people.

How do I live up to these inflated legends?

This inflation is a reflection of the impression that they left on people. B&B are remembered fondly and so their hindsight value is improved. This should be what every Peace Corps volunteer strives for: we should be so loved by our people, that they remember us doing things that didn't even happen, of possessing abilities that we didn't actually have.

Brian and I playing volleyball
I'm thinking something like: “Oh yeah Jack (once I leave, they'll start correctly pronouncing my name too), he was eight feet tall and had a PhD in neuro-biological-molecular chemistry. He also inseminated 17 virgins without even touching them and performed open heart surgery on an infant with tweezers and a pair of scholastic scissors. Plus, he saved more people than Brian ever did.”

This past week, Brian and Brandy returned to visit after just over two years and I was excited to meet the flesh and blood legends. In several extended interactions with them, we discussed how Soloy has changed, how they remember their services, what it's like coming back. (We also talked about Boston University – turns out we all went there). They also deflated some of the more popular legends and explained how they got so integrated and so loved.

“No one would talk to us for almost a year. Our primary project fell through before we even go to site and so we were also scrambling to find work. We were determined to make these people talk to and work with us.”

So it turns out that B&B began by responding to the challenge of making a stoic people love them. They succeeded and in their success, created a shadow for future volunteers; a shadow that Laura and I lived under for two years. I told Brian this and he responded, “Well, hopefully it was cooler that way.”

It was. It was much easier for me to integrate, because people already had some experience with Peace Corps volunteers. I wasn't quite as weird or aloof or utterly perplexing as B&B must have been and this made my service easier and more flexible for me.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to throw a puppy into a well and then save it – legends don't just make themselves.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home