Saturday, August 28, 2010
side by side
I’ve talked before about how Peace Corps is a dichotomy. At times I think it may just be the unfamiliarity that makes everything seem this way, but sometimes I feel like this is a place where the extreme seems to thrive and both sides of the coin coexist side by side.
Since I have been in country, I have seen great savannahs, impenetrable rain forests, and vast swamps that look as if man has never even been near them, and I have seen factories pumping what looked like used motor oil directly into a roadside ditch right outside their property, forests leveled and plains burned to make way for new farmland, and entire towns coated in dust from all of the construction in the red earth.
I have had unknown children sprint up to me wanting to do nothing other than hold my hand, and I have been woken up at all hours of the morning by other children fiercely demanding that I give them money, a computer, or any number of my other possessions, which they inexplicably know I have.
I have seen life on the highway. Literally. I actually saw a woman give birth on the side of the road. But I also saw death on the highway when a man fell from his perch on top of a moving truck and had been gorily ripped open, lying with his insides spread over the road.
I am always easily recognized as someone “not from around here”. This, at times, has resulted in total strangers inviting me to take lunch or tea with them, or just thanking me for coming to help their country. At other times it has resulted in people yelling at me to “go back to (insert foreign country here)”.
I know people that work from sunrise to sunset, cooking, cleaning, farming, and getting their children off to school every single day, but I have also walked past groups of men who, despite being drunk off their asses before noon, can’t afford their own children’s school fees. When they incredulously demand “YOU GIVE ME MONEY!” they often don’t even hide the fact that they are planning to use it to buy more booze.
My complexion, darker than most Western workers but much lighter than their own, has caused total strangers to want to take a photo with their favorite international football stars Carlos Tevez or Cesc Fabregas (me), but it has also gotten me furiously accused of being a terrorist or a Muhindi (person from India), probably both of which implying equal disdain in the accusers’ eyes.
I have seen months, packed with new and exciting things every day, fly by in an instant. I have also felt the hours stretch so long they seemed like weeks where I would hardly leave my apartment or speak to anyone for days on end.
I have met people who have selflessly devoted their entire lives (not just the two years I am giving up) to the service of other people, receiving hardly anything in return outside of their own contentment, but I have also seen hordes of people who have taken jobs in aid or religious service only because they are the best paying (and most easily extorted) positions available locally.
I have met local people with hardly anything to call their own share meals, lend money, and even take in lost children to raise as their own, expecting nothing in return, but I have also seen people in power with their hands in the pockets of needy schools, orphanages, and any other number of other organizations.
Having said all of these things, I guess it’s not altogether surprising some of the mood swings that I, along with many of the other volunteers in country, experience, but I think it would be a mistake to attribute them entirely to outside forces. Sometimes I feel up when everything is going wrong, and sometimes I am down for no reason at all. I guess I haven’t quite figured that one out yet, but I’m looking into it.
Special thanks to my friend, Devon, for the photo. He took the shot and photoshopped it. I liked it so much that I couldn't help but steal it. I feel like the photo does a great job in getting the point I wanted across. In his own words:
THIS is Peace Corps. Same pic. Flip it. Desaturate it. Sew them together. Bright, warm. Black/white Drab. It's the "ups" and it's the "downs." And when you put it all together, it's a beautiful view... sunrise on the horizon. The beginning of a truly unique day.
You can check out Devon's blog here - http://megandauganda.blogspot.com/
I also have my new address finally. Check it out on the right side of this page under "Contact Info".