Monday, October 7, 2013

July 31 in Pommern.

(As written in my journal that day; grammar and minor edits only. Italicized portions are additions written after the trip.)

At breakfast, Edward tells me I'm not allowed to work today. "One more day to rest. You don't leave the mission house this morning."

I'm so disappointed. To lose a second day!? Nearly my last?! But within thirty minutes of breakfast - one plain slice of bread (so oddly sweet, I need some sourdough up in here!) and 1/3 of a banana - I find I'm ready for a nap. So perhaps Edward knows best - and perhaps he's been through this before with a previous volunteer (ha, ha, ha - that's a joke; I know he has).

So today I find stillness, whether I want it or not. And it ends up a very powerful day, connecting with fellow volunteers. 

We're finally discussing openly our frustrations with African time versus American time, and our complete inability to understand how teachers can fail to show up for class, say, as happened today - there was a prominent death in the village. Then everything stopped. And so students go without teachers and lessons, while Nurse Patricia is in a fog (tells Meggie, who has been there yesterday and today without me) and can barely work. Most volunteers were sent back to the mission house. Everyone is feeling useless. 

Rather than find this stoppage an admirable sense of community, we volunteers are mystified and frustrated. You can't stop everything, every time a person dies! Or can you?

Oh, and on another note, Dr. Elton leaves a line of eight sick patients while he watches a tree being cut down, using a rarity here - a chainsaw. It seems that every, and any, interested person has the right to be involved in any decision or event - and so we have a village, region and country possibly incapable of making forward progress. Every voice is heard, maybe, but also everyone who wants to stop working to watch how cool it is to see a tree get cut down can take a break. A break, a break, a break.

I believe in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and we get into a group discussion meandering around it. Is there true happiness without emotional knowledge of the full self, and are we here to help, to hurt, to be neutral observers? Can we forge personal connections with villagers when the need to manipulate us is so great? (And so justified.) 

We asked each other if we'll try another Global Volunteers trip - yes's and undecided's. 

We discussed how this is called a volunteer vacation, or voluntourism, and can that phrase take a little pressure off (of, ahem, me)? Did white, Western colonialism create a culture of dependence - and are we reaping what we've sown? 

And then my great revelation - in which I realize, truly, for the first time, that for all the talk of global natural resources and the water wars we're sure to see - only one thing seems certain to me; we in the West aren't going without our hot showers to help anyone here. We'll absolutely let them die, and the clean water and availability of oil will winnow down to being available only over America eventually, and probably zoom right down on D.C. as the last place with modern comforts. 

I didn't write this to be heartless - or inflammatory - or because I think it's OK to let people die so we can have hot showers, cars, plastic baggies in our lunch everyday. I wrote it because it smacked me hard as truth. We will absolutely watch people die if it means we get to keep our Stuff. If it means we have to give up a lot, including the comfort we're used to, for them to live lives we don't understand and don't respect, I just don't think we're gonna do it. One of the problems a volunteer wants to solve here is to get the children to eat with a spoon, not their fingers. Porridge is wasted, it's messy and dirty, she argued. Tell me we're going to give up life as we know it for them? 

In the afternoon, I convinced Edward I was feeling recovered fully, and that I was ok to go to Zumba with Meggie - her last class, and my last chance to see the high-school girls. I promise I won't dance - I've been sick, I need to rest, I know. I'll watch. Lies! All lies. I dance one song, and that's where all the YouTube videos previously posted are from - not exactly in my best form dance-wise, and it sure tuckered me out - but it felt great to get my blood flowing a bit, to dance with the girls, to watch Meggie leading them in total joy and confidence. 

Tonight Edward gives a little lecture on Tanzanian migration patterns (of the Bantu and Masai, largely, and some Indian and Arabic), and then on modern society here. Of course the most interesting part if the Q&A - yes, polygamy is common. Yes, the 1964-65 history of integrated education, that sent people all over the country to school, to learn Swahili, broke tribal loyalties and thus has prevented civil war. Yes, men here think American women are funny - they hear in our country we talk more than men. How can that be?! Men do the talking! And that women in America expect to do all the same things as men - they get it in concept, but really can't picture it.

Tomorrow: hopefully I get to go back to work!

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