July 10, 2011
11 months from yesterday, I will be officially released from Peace Corps Service as aRPCV (i.e. Returned Peace Corps Volunteer). How exciting!
I have a feeling that the vast majority of New Xade residents were drunk last night. I watched from my window as two ladies stumbled down the road in the winter wind in the middle of the afternoon. I was approached by two men who had been partying since 2 AM the night before. Two lady friends visited me with beers in hand and asked me to listen to the party going on down the street at one of the houses.
I paint a dire picture when I talk about these things, but the truth is, as my friend said so clearly (and yet slightly slurred) last night, “What else is there to do in a settlement on Saturday night?” I had just finished my first (albeit only) beer. What else IS there to do? I encouraged my friends to relax tonight and have fun. One of them had just had a baby a few months ago and her sisters are visiting. Goodness knows, she is going to miss her family when they leave next week. So they should have fun on a Saturday night. (As a precaution, she told me she's going to sleep on the floor next to the baby so she doesn't accidentally roll over him in her sleep)
But as I wake up this cold blustery morning and look out my windows at the desolate and empty landscape beyond, I remember those who suffer for alcoholism in this village. It’s not my friend or the government workers who live in nice concrete houses that block out most of the wind and cold on a day like this, it’s the people who call this village their life, the adults and kids who live in houses like this one. The families who, right now, have to buckle down under blankets in the freezing wind—I’d rather be drunk through the winter too. I remember in my early days, I would walk around the village and encounter whole compounds full of drunk adults, red, white, and blue cartons of Chibuku, the traditional brew, strewn around in the sand, young children, not yet potty trained walking around bottom-naked licking the insides and asking me for money or sweets as I pass by.
That’s the real reason I choose not to walk around anymore. I hate seeing the shabeens. I hate seeing the children. I hate being asked for money to buy a guy a drink, for sweets, for the very shirt off my back. I know if I give these things away, I won't hear the end of it. My friend Ketelelo came over the other day and said he was very hungry and wanted pizza. I told him I didn’t have anything and stood with him outside for nearly an hour, listening to his stomach grumble. I was tired and mostly annoyed to have to entertain company with a happy smile pasted on my face.The day after that, Ketelelo led games for kids in the OVC support group for 3 hours.
I wonder if I’m mixing up the stories here. I've been telling myself for a whole year: "feeding children is not your job." But if a hungry child comes to my doorstep again and again, and this hungry child is someone I now consider my friend, someone who I respect and admire, am I supposed to turn him away? The lines between right and wrong are muddled—what am I doing here but encouraging and enabling people to be the best they can be? Maybe sometimes, all someone needs is a hot meal. What kind of monster have I turned into?