How can you give a gift when the balance of power is so badly weighted as to basically be a straight vertical line? For we Americans, we wealthy and confused (are we generous, guilty, or desiring of sharing the things we love and put so much meaning into?) little Americans, with our language taken from us - we want to give. But we want to give the things we treasure - to show gratitude for allowing us to come into the community and for being so patient with our cameras, our energy. But how CAN we give? We're so far from the first to bring boxes of school supplies - and yet, there are none in any of the classrooms. But if you got a pen, and were hungry, wouldn't you sell the pen for crackers? So how can our gifts make sense?
Edward asked me what I was sorting, when I was inventorying medical supplies before Zumba class the other day, and it was a pile of dental floss (many small packages, a few yards each). When I explained, he asked me to put it in the clinic pile because if given directly to the people, they'll use it as fishing line. The things I don't about about this kind of generational poverty - and the things I don't even know that I don't know! - make me useless. As a giver of any kind. People say, "Oh, I learned so much from 'them'" in reference to a poorer or less powerful society and I've always - and still do - take that to mean that any people with less than us will teach lessons about what is really important - love, family, laughter, connection to the community. And I've thought that was total crap. And to be honest - I still do.
But my head is figuratively spinning tonight as I come to grips with low little - how nothing - I'll contribute here. I'm stunned and embarrassed to realize that what will be learned here will ONLY be learned by me. But not the sweet things in life, not at all a reminder of the simple profound pleasures. Instead I'm learning the profound depth of sameness the third world endures. The pain of meeting daily needs with nothing leftover at the very best, or a debt as the sun falls, at the very worst. But never two pennies to rub together - never enough to have one task done for a week or a month. Every day is exactly the same and you're lucky to just catch up every 24 hours. My human desire to communicate with the person in front of me, but the overwhelming reality of a boggingly large group of individuals in front of me.
By way of hard details, the flickering generator light tonight makes me laugh - it's terrible illumination that gives me a headache, and it is still more than all the people here have.
Most of the women volunteers swapped clothing stories tonight - yup, most of us are heavier than we were a week ago. And in our Rose & Thorn sharing tonight, my rose was the baobab trees and their evocative emotions. My thorn was reaching wifi for the first time in almost eight days only to have it be down today. I really want to hear from John - about his backpacking trips and plans, that he is OK, that all is well at home. It's 9 PM here, 11 AM Sunday there - and he is so close to me right now. I can't feel if it's because of nerves or a problem, or if he just wants to hear from me, too.
Finally tonight, I am burdened with a good bit of despair. I feel so much like I'm letting you all down. I've put on music for the first time since arriving in Africa - Sigur Ros - in order to let these intense feelings of disappointing you flow through.
Don't get me wrong - enough of you warned me.
"I hope you don't think you're going to help/save/affect anyone."
"You know you're not going to make a difference, right?"
"What can you do in two weeks?"
"It's arrogant to do this."
"Just go to any town and you'll find someone who needs help. Why go with an organization, that costs money?"
Oh, I came with much caution and pessimism - those are all direct quotes from professed friends. I haven't thought I would save anyone. But now I feel I owe you - you who sent me and Meggie off with contributions, and so much excitement and love. How can I come home with nothing tangible to show you? How can I come home broken?
There's the septic tank, thanks be, and the joy of Zumba. And that very well might be it. So if it is - I have to let go as this second week starts. If that is all there is show for it, by way of successes, then that is the truth. Or all there is for others. The soul lessons have been great, as I can even understand them so far. And the affirmation of intuition as a guiding force has been deep. Within ten minutes of meeting all the volunteers, I was immediately drawn to Leslie - the world is full of soul connections and one here is a sweet surprise, a little reminder that life as it was ticks on and on, and I'll rejoin it - but the Tanzanians won't.
I was asked by Emmanuel if all us Americans - can we all afford most of the things in most of the stores? How to explain a platinum ring, a vacation house, owning two cars for two adults? WalMart versus Saks? How do I talk about disposable diapers and throwing away food? Or closets of clothes so big we probably could not make an accurate list of every tee, every pair of panties, every coat, sock, shoe and baseball cap that we own? I actually didn't recognize Moses tonight, when he came to stoke the fire, for he was in a new jersey! After I got back John said, when I was explaining how I struggled to explain poverty in America to Emmanuel, "Oh, I get it! It's like, how do you explain the difference between flying ON a plane and flying on your OWN plane? How do you explain the difference a Bentley and a Ford Focus?"
If the choice had to be made right now, I wouldn't come back to Tanzania. It is so broken, and I am so small, that my little dollars to the deaf women who make crafts, or to Mamamorrie for doing my laundry, just seem to make it worse. Dangling the prize in front of Wile E Coyote but never, not once, letting him win. And we are the roadrunners - moving too fast. Someone said to us, during one of our evening lectures, "You need to slow down, America, or we really will never catch up."
So I guess I want to apologize for how little - or negatively - I might effect Pommern, when you sent me with such enthusiastic support. I want to apologize for possibly bringing back more pain, a deeper understanding of grinding poverty, dirt, smell, anger from those who watch us zip by in a private vehicle.
I'm groundless again tonight and so I took in a little Pema Chodron reading... she's right about one thing... how can I be both so big and so small? How can I stay right where I am without resolution; how I need resolution! Ah, but how Pema wags her finger at me lovingly - no, no, no; you don't. Resolution is bad for you; better always to sit in it. And get softened because of it.