Thursday, December 17, 2009

Then I see your face drop.

I have struggled with many things lately. Some were just ideas, some were problems, some were things I had done and some were things I wished I had done. When you’re in a country that is essentially unfamiliar, you are inevitably put in unfamiliar situations as well.

Some of the answers came to me quickly like, ‘Should I starve my dog so she will eat all the cockroaches in my house?’ I decided that was morally wrong, although you wouldn’t believe the internal battle I had with that one.

Some answers came to me within days, like ‘Should I go home?’ During my two week stint with Dengue Fever, I questioned my ability to actually survive here, emotionally and physically. I asked one of my local friends here what he thought and his answer was ‘This is your home.’ That still makes me smile.

Some answers came to me without me even realizing it, like ’How do I say no?’ We are brought into a third world country with the notion that we are needed. That we have resources that they themselves cannot get and because we are American, we can. Neither is true. For my first three months here I felt guilty for being brought up with so much and knowing I had so much to go back to. So I gave everything I had. If someone needed money I gave it to them. If my kids wanted a party, I threw one. If a parent wanted a night alone, I kept their kids. I am currently in the thick of month four broke, tired and frustrated. The kids want parties every weekend, the same people I gave money to last month are back for more and I have 14 year old boys sleeping in the other room (weird and inappropriate--I’m aware). For the last two weeks, I have been struggling with the thought that if I didn’t extend favors I am greedy, but when I do extend favors they become greedy. And it wasn’t until Shafeeka (my 12 year old who lives down the street) came up to me with three dollars she had saved, because I just didn’t have three dollars on me last week, that I realized my favors were doing them no good. If anything, my favors were handicapping them. I was doing them a disservice by not believing they could do it on their own. By saying no to Shafeeka, she learned how to save three dollars to go into town, and she was proud of it. So that’s what I’m working on--balancing out my no’s and yes’s.

However, some answers have yet to come, like ‘How integrated do I want to be?’ The main focal point of my Peace Corps training was integration. It’s an essential part of your Peace Corps experience; however, it is equally as tricky. I have set aside personal barriers and nuances in the effort to better integrate myself. I let sweaty people press tightly on me in vans. I hold back my tears when people hit dogs. I don’t stare at women openly breastfeeding. I walk slower and dance faster. But where do you draw the line? In order to be fully integrated, should I also hit kids in school? Allow men to disrespect me? Hate gay people? Sleep with multiple partners?* The Peace Corps talks so much about how we’re supposed to be like the locals. But what part of me do I keep? This question, I fear, will be haunting me my whole two years.

If I don’t blog before then, I hope everyone has a great holiday. And to my family--I will really miss you this Christmas.

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself--Leo Tolstoy

*Mom and Dad--I’m not seriously considering sleeping with multiple partners.