Friday, April 27, 2012
The past couple weeks or so have been a slooooow painful blur of anguish, frustration, and mostly anger. Nothing in Botswana has changed, except me. When confronted by a project I once long ago was involved in, I respond with a sigh, or a grunt, or a disinterested mumble if I have to do something. Even my facebook status updates and comments are filled with petty, unjustified digs at the people around me.
I had a wake up call yesterday. I have those periodically when a friend, stranger, family member slaps me upside the head and says, "hey! you! wake up!! you're being petty and we can't stand it any longer!"
I realized what was really bothering me: I'm leaving... and I can't wait to leave.
What bothers me isn't that I'm leaving, is that I am so head over heels ready to go. I joined the Peace Corps as an idealistic middle class suburban Jersey girl under the disillusioned idea that I was beginning my journey towards being the next great martyr for society, a new Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, that lady scientist who lived with the apes. I thought I would discover a new home, I would adopt a new family, I would learn the language, customs, cultures, I would come home with my suitcases delicately balanced on my head, wearing leathers, and dancing to the beat of African drums, one child on each arm. Instead, I came, I saw, I cowered. I peeked out from my fortress of solitude, with heavy double curtains to block out the hot african sun and peering african eyes, I saw poverty and my heart was overwhelmed. I did what I could, but there is so much need, it could never be enough. I can never do enough.
Here's a metaphor...
Last week, my parents' generous friends sent a box of children's toys to the school, including 7 plastic kites. Worried that the kites would walk off on their own, I decided to introduce the kites to the kids myself. But there are nearly 300 kids in that school, and I have 7 kites. Being great and generous and wanting to serve the poor is wonderful, but when approached by a crowd of hungry people when you only have 1 basket containing 5 bread loaves and 2 fish and no Jesus-miracle in sight... you have 3 choices:
1. give everyone a crumb and then get torn to pieces
2. leave the basket and run for your life before the crowd tears you to pieces
3. stay and turn those 5 loaves and 2 fish into feast yourself
The past 2 years, I have been defaulting to option #2. Leave the basket and run. Literally. I've been bringing in small programs, activities, and supplies and dropping them like a sniper would target a victim out of a large crowd, drop him, and move on. Why, just the other day, I brought in 2 footballs to the hostel students, all 100 of them, left them with the matron, and before the kids could see me, ran. Within days the balls were deflated.
I wish I had had more courage to stand and face the onslaught this past 2 years. Maybe, if I had opened myself and become more vulnerable, I would be prouder of myself, prouder of the village, closer to its people, more satisfied, more ready to go home. Instead, I'm ashamed. I'm not Mother Teresa. And I'm unlikely to reach her level of sainthood, at least not anytime soon.
Peace Corps has been a humbling experience. Even though people tell you your whole lives just how insignificant you are, somehow, you want to believe that you're special, that you can make a difference, that you can be the change. But effort after effort, you realize, the world is just too big. Yours is just a drop in the bucket of change. Not even Mother Teresa could cure suffering in Calcutta, she could only relieve it for some, but she inspired a generation.
Today, I am grateful for the efforts of the over 200,000 currently serving and return Peace Corps Volunteers, for all the missionaries, sponsors, volunteers, teachers, tutors, and after school program assistants I know who are doing what they can to contribute to that bucket, to help our society become the equal, wonderful, peaceful place I hope it can be one day in the future. It's salvation to know that my puny efforts are not all there is.
Monday, April 23, 2012
Today, the young boy I've been helping, the one he says that he's 19, the one that cleaned my yard, the one that I'm trying to get back into school, the one who hangs out with 8 year-olds and comes up to my chest in height, who looks like he could be 8 himself. He came over and asked me for condoms. Then he told me he was 24, and that I was 25. And that he was hungry. I gave him condoms and told him to find food elsewhere. I asked him if he was having sex. He nodded. He said, after the sun goes down, he has sex in the huts. I said who with. He shrugged, I don't know, he said. I told him to look for a girl who is not young, a girl his age, a girl who he cares about. He said yes. yes yes. I told him to always use a condom. To always ask. Not to rape. Yes, yes yes. I asked him if he knew how to use a condom. Yes. I asked him if he knew what i was saying. He said yes. Then he told me again. He was 24. There are no girls in Xade that are my age. He said. You are 25. I said yes. He said, I'm hungry in sects. What? I asked. I'm hungry, he said. In sex.
I stood there, leaning on the screen door, classical music wafting out of my house. The screen door squeaked as I tried to hold it still against the wind. Who takes care of you? I asked after a short pause. He looked confused. Who do you live with? No one. He said. Your mother? Yes. Your sister? Yes. You should find someone to talk to about these things, an older man. Yes, he said. Serala? (his uncle). Serala is in Ghanzi. He said. I turned my head to look away from him. How old are you? 24 he said. You told me you were 19, then you told me you were 16. What year were you born? What's that? He asked. Your birthday, when is your birthday. Ninteen... Nineteen Ninety One he said. And this year is what? I asked. Two Oh One... Two. He nodded. So you are... nineteen. I told him. Yes. He said. How old are you? Nineteen, he said. Ok...
We stood there, the screen door squeaking, and then I turned my head away from him and stared at nothing, thinking about what my neighbors have told me about his drunken mom and his younger siblings. Wondering if it would be the right thing for me to cry, or if it would be the wrong thing not to cry, for him, for the girl, for the future. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him, bending his back over my porch railing. For a moment, he no longer resembled the young boy who I've been giving jobs to and talking to, trying to mentor. He was an old wrinkled man, just like the many old wrinkled men in the village. No shoes, tattered clothing, the smell of tobacco, alcohol, and smoke clinging to him like body odor. Bent over. With no name, with no age. Soliciting me for sex. 6 in 10 are HIV positive. I realized that despite all of my half-ass attempts to change his life, this young boy who knew barely any English was going to turn into that old man, was already that old man.
Despite my feeble attempts, young children are still going to run away from here and men are still going to resign to stay here for the rest of their lives. I hadn't tried very hard, I hadn't tried hard enough, or there was nothing I could do anyway. Me, this naive girl traveling around the world and throwing money at problems because I'm too afraid to really care.
Oh yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;
That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroy'd,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;
That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivell'd in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another's gain.
Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.
So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.
LIV, In Memoriam A.H.H., Tennyson
Friday, April 20, 2012
"After having relayed the matter to Insurers & assessing the merits of the claim, it is noted that the incident is covered by Insurance Certificate 120000000038. However, the claim amount falls below the agreed deductible (Excess); therefore we are unfortunately unable to assist you in this particular instance."
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Saturday, April 14, 2012
bored. I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do while I brush
my teeth is run around my house and check...
Phone service, check.
Cooking gas? check.
I boil water for coffee, finish brushing my teeth, and sit down in
front of my computer.
Today's morning activity was apartment extras. I say extras because I
already found my soon to be apartment in the states. I've already
walked around it a dozen times using google maps (at a rate of about 1
frame every 10 minutes because my internet is so slow), I've already
checked out reviews of the local restaurants, found parking permits in
the area, and traveled the route to my soon to be university campus in
my mind. It's exactly 0.9 miles away, and the reviews say it takes
about 5 minutes to walk. Until I'm actually there I can't actually
walk it, but in my head and in my dreams and in the night time while
I'm falling asleep I'm walking, biking, driving around the streets of
Pittsburgh, exploring it's restaurants, cafes, boutique grocery
stores, clubs, working out at the school gym, taking notes at
lectures, meeting professors, looking for a part-time job...
They say that the end of Peace Corps service can often be like this.
You disengage, you begin to feel anxiety about the future, you start
daydreaming. I suspect the solution to this is to write farewell
letters, say goodbye, force yourself to be here. I see now why so many
volunteers have parties when they leave. It's an designated time to say
goodbye to everyone we've ever met here, big or small: people who have
had profound impacts on our lives but we take them for granted every
day. People like the post office attendants who know my name, the
grocery store lady who shares my lunch, the drivers who act as my
bodyguards when I travel.
My friend Ketelelo came over last night. He'll be going back to
secondary school in a couple days, after that, I may not see him
again. I gave him all my old art supplies and a moleskin sketchbook.
He gave me a card that he wrote and illustrated. It was very creative,
very beautiful. At the risk of embarrassing him if he finds this blog,
I want to share what he wrote on top because it was touching, "My New
Xade, Our Wame." (Wame is my setswana name). The sentiment wasn't what
touched me, sentiment rarely does. Rather it was the simplicity of the
message that brought my racing Pittsburgh-bound mind to a halt and
forced me to take stock of where I am and who I'm with. It was sweet,
it was simple, it was not necessary nor expected.
No one has ever actually told me, "Hey, I know it sucks, but thanks
for being here." I hadn't realized that the sentiment even existed.
Now that I know it does, I realize I have to be careful. I can't just
whiz in and out of here without saying goodbye. It's something that I will
regret later, on the plane ride home 2 months from now, lying in my
new bed in Pittsburgh 6 months from now, popping up in my mind as I'm
studying for a test a year from now. 2 years is nothing to sneeze at,
and if you're going to say goodbye, you better do it right.
I've boxed up my souvenirs, taken pictures off my walls, and every
time someone comes over, they leave crating a box full of my old
stuff. My life here is walking away from me chunk by chunk...