This week has been so frustrating for me. Probably the most frustrating so far. But, I’m optimistic that things will improve before long. According to my Peace Corps manual, most volunteers go through a period of culture shock that lasts about 6 months and has 5 stages. As the book predicts, this slump occurs right before adjustment takes place. I remember glancing at the write-up about culture shock before, when they distributed the manuals, thinking, “Not me. I’m different.” Looking back, I was wrong. Therefore, I expect to overcome this hurdle after In Service Training, which takes place in Nairobi the second week of April. After that, the manual predicts that I will begin to use the language and become more active in my community. I’m ready to get to that stage; this one sucks.
Everyone and everything annoys me lately. Let me vent.
- Teachers asking me for money. Or my crystal light. Or water bottles.
- Having to hide my new things so I don’t feel bad when I tell them no, I have only 12 crystal light and you’re not getting any
- People sitting too close to me
- People talking to me in Luo even after I tell them I don’t understand (in Luo), and they know English
- People who talk slow
- People who walk slow
- The word mzungu
- “how are you”
- Sitting in a room full of people speaking Luo, then someone calls my name and thinks it’s hilarious that I didn’t hear them the first 5 times they called my name –why would I be listening when I don’t understand ANYTHING?
- People just waltzing into my house after only knocking.
- People asking me what I’m going to cook, then acting amazed I know how to cook.
- People telling me I’m going to get fat.
- Being asked if I will “sponsor” people.
- Jokes about my last name. So clever. I’ve heard it before….
- People trying to talk to me while I’m reading. Or writing. Or pretending to be busy so they won’t talk to me.
- People NOT putting the lid back over the choo hole of MY choo that I let them use.
- Diarrhea that isn’t mine on the floor of my choo
- Crickets – everywhere. In my boxes, in my shoes, under my bed.
So, that’s the list. It may not seem like a big deal. I guess it’s not. I’m healthy and safe. It’s just been a little tough lately. I still struggle with why I’m here, what I’m trying to accomplish, and what defines success. It’s hard. And as they clearly explained during the application process, it’s a job without much guidance or instruction. I don’t receive praise or direction, and it’s hard to know if I’m really being productive. It’s not really like I wasn’t aware of these challenges, it’s more like I wasn’t aware of how I would respond to them. Blah blah blah.
I know things will get better though, and I know that this is just a spell. My kids are great and I enjoy teaching them. Even though it is tough, the tough things have the greatest rewards.
So, I realize now that I forgot to tell you what was so awful about today that made me hate everything. It really doesn’t seem like such a big deal now, but at the time, it was just overload.
We had a parent/teacher meeting today, and about 20 or 30 parents showed up. It was supposed to start at 9, but in Kenya, that means around noon. The first parents came around 9, and more trickled in even as the meeting (which started at 11:30) was going on. Before the meeting, around 10, Mr. Ajode told me that I would be responsible for teaching the parents a little sign. What?!?! A little notice, please… so I asked him what I should be teaching them, how long, etc… and he said “Oh, only about 30 minutes. Just basic stuff.” Huh. Well, nice to know. So I was instantly irritated and noncompliant. He asked what I wanted to teach them, and like a two year old, I answered with a question and asked him what he wanted me to teach them. He suggested school. He started a list of words for the school, and when I made suggestions, he explained why that wasn’t a good idea. Whatever. If you want me to teach them, I’d like to be able to teach them what I want to. But whatever. So then we made a list of things in school and things in the kitchen, and went to tea. After tea, he gave me the list and said we should go to the meeting because they were ready for us to teach.
Several benches were lined up facing two long tables under shade trees at the upper end of our compound. The “bosses” were at the long tables, and all of the parents were sitting on the benches that the children sacrificed for the day while the meeting took place. Mr. Ajode and I had a seat on the back bench, and I sat and steamed while everyone around me carried on in Luo. Finally, we were called forward to do our lesson, in front of all of the parents, members of the BOG, teachers and workers. After standing in front of everyone, Ajode said to me “I will speak, you sign” and then started reading the list in Luo. Awesome. I understood nothing, everyone was looking at me before I even stood in front of the crowd, now I had their full attention, and it was obvious I had no idea what was going on and understood nothing. I just stood there. Then Ajode turned to me and looked at me like “what’s wrong with you?” and started signing. Humiliating. About 20 minutes later, the public humiliation was over and we joined the parents in the children’s seats again. My seat was taken, so I stood in the back, trying to recompose and resist the urge to cry. Mr. Ambalo gestured to a seat in the front, at the “big kids” table. I sat there for a few minutes, still aware of everyone watching me since I was now sitting where they could easily stare at me – and I’m still trying not to cry. Then they called forward a few special parents, I don’t know why, it was Luo, and they came to the front and started taking seats. Then I realized I was sitting in one of their special seats, so I stood up again, feeling like I just did not belong here at all and had to leave because I couldn’t keep from crying any longer.
I came to my house, let it out, and then sat under the shade trees with the kids for about another hour while their meeting continued. It was so humiliating. And then the kids kept asking me what the meeting was about, and I admitted I had no idea because it was all in Luo, which was kind of like salt in the wound. Blah.
The meeting ended, we ate lunch with the parents, and I sat by myself and steamed until just enough parents had left so I could go back in my house without seeming like an asshole.
So, that was probably my lowest low I’ve had here so far. Thinking back, it wasn’t really that horrible, and if the same thing happened today, maybe I would have been able to handle it a little better. The timing was bad, I was already in a funk, and then that just pushed me over the edge. Good days and bad days – they aren’t all like this.