Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pioneer Days

At most American elementary schools (in the Northeast at least), there is a delightful period of study often known as "Pioneer Days" in which young students are invited, to some degree, to reenact, through field trips and hands-on activities, the lifestyle of real pioneers. The definition of "pioneer" is generally loose. I've seen it applied to everyone from the earliest colonists at Roanoke to those preoccupied with Manifest Destiny centuries later. I suppose technically the "Pioneer Day" equivalent of the former should properly be called "Colonial Day".

In any case, I always enjoyed "Pioneer Days". There were visits to one-room school houses, days on end spent playing dress up and even one field trip all the way out to Plymouth. Unfortunately, try as I might, I never really felt like a pioneer. Not even weeks of playing Oregon Trail on the computer, or essentially LARPing it in Mr. C's fifth grade class ever gave me a genuine sense of what a pioneer's daily life looked and felt like.

Finally, a decade later, Peace Corps has given me that experience. I realized this while elbow deep in flour, kneading bread. I wasn't making bread for the sheer joy of baking. I was making bread out of an actual need. The shop was out and I was hungry. Similarly, I do not always go for long walks in the desert for pleasure. I go because I need to get somewhere and my two feet are all I've got. The same goes for hopping rides on donkey carts going to fetch water, doing laundry outside in a bucket and any number of other things that you may consider quaint or old-timey, but I now consider part of everyday life.

Living like a pioneer in the Peace Corps isn't so bad, but I do miss the costumes. It's pity I left my bonnet back in the States.

For those of you who don't know what LARPing is, it stands for live action role-playing. I can't remember my character from fifth grade, but I think my husband almost drowned while fording the Platte. I definitely lost of few oxen, and my children died of cholera. Fifth grade was pretty scarring for me, but at least my table (ahem, wagon) didn't turn into the Donner Party.

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