I am networking. Or that’s what I am told. I’m firing off head-spinning numbers of emails to friends and friends-of-friends and friends-of-friends-of-friends, trying to find out more about what I’m getting myself into. I’ve talked with returned Kiva Fellows and social development professionals and microfinance entrepreneurs and World Bank employees and Tajik women with rooms to rent, and in every case, their enthusiasm and hospitality and generosity with their time has been a much-appreciated surprise. I am really grateful for it.
A different type of person would find all this invigorating. New friends! New contacts! New insights! A whole constellation of people who want to help me find apartments and meet up while I’m in the country and adopt me into their families for holidays! I, on the other hand, collapse into my bed after a three-hour email session so drained I can hardly think straight.
I am not used to this. “Help!” I wrote to a friend. “I am being tormented by a pack of baying extroverts who want to talk to me all about Tajikistan! And they won’t stop introducing me to all their friends! Help! Help!” I was only half-kidding. I am an introvert, and navigating substantive conversations with scores of new people, even through a computer screen, saps my energy to the point where I have none to spare for anything else.
I’ve been in this head for long enough to know that introversion is as much a part of me as brown eyes or hiking boots or wanderlust. It’s who I am. But I also know that I can push past it. Sometimes, and especially abroad in unfamiliar cultures, it really pays to give up your sense of agency and let yourself be swept up in the incomprehensible twists and turns of other people’s attempts to interact with you. It can be draining, it can be confusing, it can leave you reeling at the end, but every so often, it explodes into beautiful colors in front of you and opens up ways of thinking you never would have discovered on your own.
And isn’t that what all the best adventures are like?
(By the way, Greg, explosively extroverted, has offered to put on a Paci mask and borrow my identity and “do all the tedious work of befriending these people for you” while I sit back and watch. “We’ll both benefit!” It’s really tempting!)