But hopefully not. Here’s the deal:
There is a well known cycle that all PCVs go through over their time at site. They start out very excited, elated, happy, and any other mood that implies extreme happiness. Everything is new and interesting. Then after some time, the exact length depending on the individual, PCVs get depressed as they wonder if they are achieving anything, find that they miss home, family, and their fellows PCVs at other sites, etc. Then mood goes up and down a few more times, eventually, hopefully, ending with contentment or happiness with the random ups and downs of life.
I started with a negative slope. I was gung ho (sp?) and ready to go on Wednesday, but then left on Thursday. When I arrived I was very excited to meet everyone, but then there was a teachers’ meeting (which I attended) and there were too many people for me to remember names and my mosquito net was too small for the bed etc. BTW, this is going to be a pretty negative post, so (especially you, mother) keep things in perspective and remember that my situation is likely to change rapidly. That said, on we go.
So I was still okay on Friday when I reported to the school. I talked to a few teachers, went to the final assembly and introduced myself (while missing most of my voice due to a cold), and then the teachers all came to my place with soda and beer to relax and chat. Everything was still fine, but then the weekend hit and all of the teachers went back to their families. Because transportation is so difficult and expensive here, most families are split up for large periods of time. Most of the teachers here live in town during the school terms, but have families that live in villages sometimes far away. They go back during holidays and do some farming. Nearly everyone disappeared.
And then the children. All of you who know me know that I hate being in the spotlight unless I am in charge. Often even then. There are about 8 different children coming and going from my house throughout the day, and if I sit outside to read they will just stare at me. For hours. Literally. When I try to talk to them they shyly look away. When I tell them to leave (in any language) they come back minutes later. When I go inside to escape they appear at my windows. It drives me batshit crazy.
Last night I finally broke. A few kids were hanging on my window sill telling me to “give us the car (referring to a toy tractor sent by my grandmother)” and “give us money.” Now, I know that in Ateso this wouldn’t be rude, but the direct translation into English is and why the hell should these kids be asking me for anything anyway? I told them no, and that I would not be giving them anything. I was even a good sport about it at first. Smiling, gently shaking my head, using polite Ateso phrases, etc.
At last I told them (nicely) to go away. Instead I heard sweeping. They were sweeping the porch of my home. I knew what was coming next and had a hard time keeping my temper. And, of course, it came. Three heads popped back into the window and they took turns saying “come look at your place,” “your house is finished,” “finished your house,” etc. I told them that, no, I would not go outside, I did not ask them to sweep, and I wanted them to leave. They responded, “we like chapati,” “give us 2000 (shillings)”, “give us soda”, and so on. Finally I yelled at them (rudely) in Ateso to go away and that I would never give them anything. First, though, I explained that it is not okay to do a service for someone and then demand money without first asking if that service was wanted. I don’t think I got the message across.
And today, again. Even the nice boy I talked to yesterday who was herding cattle through my yard. We had a nice talk then, and he was telling the others to stop asking me for things. But then he went right along with it. So I told them that if they ever asked me for anything again, they would not be welcome at my house. That has stymied it for now, but likely not for long.
So, yeah, last night and this morning I was about to lose it. I even had dreams where I would meet Ugandans who would be very nice, and then ask me “what can you do for me?” I’m stuck in an awful position– for which I blame the NGOs that come through and throw money everywhere– of everyone thinking that I have a lot to give and that I’ll just hand it over. Neither are true. A few seem to understand, and I think it will improve a lot over time, but it is difficult for me to want to dedicate my life to helping people who look at me as a walking dollar bill. Or like an animal in a zoo. On that note, when I went out to eat yesterday a little child saw me and started crying. Apparently I’m the first white person he had ever seen. I said “biai bo (how are you)?” and he cried even harder. I have to admit that I found this hugely amusing. I wish the other kids would cry and run away too. Bleh.
Ahhh… It feels good to vent. REST ASSURED that, really, I am fine. I just need some work to do and I will have some next week. And I have met some people who genuinely seem interested in just being friends with me (though one seemed like he was going to offer me his daughter for a wife…) or with working with me (or both). My counterpart is great and very helpful, and my superviser is very nice. I have a meeting with him tomorrow morning, where we will pound out goals, responsibilities, duties, timelines, etc for my work here. I kind of hope he has me working from sun up to sun down. I’ll update on that later this week.
And what else? Just to make sure I don’t leave you with a bad taste in your mouth: I am now the proud owner of a kerosene stove and a charcoal iron (!). I haven’t even tried to light the charcoal yet, but I definitely have clothes that need to be ironed. I also met a young guy in a crappy situation that I will be trying to help out. He’s 17, living on his own with no parents, and has yet to finish primary school. I still need to find out how honest he is being with me, but at this point I think I’m going to pay him (well) to do some simple chores for me and I offered to help him pay for his school uniform and notebook to go back to school. He asked me today if I would go with him to the school to register, which I think is a good start. I still don’t know if it’s a good idea, but at the very least he’ll start off the next term by going to school and having a little food.
It’s one of those crappy situations where there are MANY young men like this guy and, living on a PC salary, I can’t actually afford to help very many out. I let him know this, and told him that I am simply unable to do this for more people (which may or may not be true, I’ll see how it works out). He said he understood and that he won’t go running to others saying “that muzungu will pay for you to go to school!” Then I would have a thousand people knocking on my door.
As the g-pa told me, you might not be able to save all of the starfish washed up on the beach, but the ones you throw back into the ocean will certainly be glad you did so.