It was a nice visit this week, because several other volunteers were also in town and we were able to spend time together. On Saturday morning at our favorite cheap breakfast place it felt like we were being continuously accosted. First there was an elderly women begging for money from all of the people eating in the restaurant. We shook our heads no and kept up our conversation in English. She lingered for quite a while and made her way back to us saying a phrase that every volunteer I know hates, ‘no seas malita,’ or ‘don’t be bad’ (*in the dictionary to call someone ‘mal’ that way it translates to ‘evil’- so maybe possibly it means ‘don’t be evil’).
I hate when people say this phrase to me and it is always when they want me to do something that I don’t want to do. When that lady came back for the final word to us ‘no sean malitas,’ I guess I overreacted a little, because I told her it wasn’t necessary to call us ‘malas’ and that we in fact were not ‘malas.’ I probably should have just let her have that last word.
The next person to accost us was a man who apparently had a sign reading that he was deaf, but I did not notice his sign at the time. He approached us and put small cards on the table in front of each of us. 2 of the other volunteers warned me not to look too much or touch the card, because if I did this man would expect me to pay for the card. Inside the cards there might be jokes or puzzles, but if you look at them you have to pay the man. So we all avoided looking at the cards in case he would mistake it for interest in buying them. The man waited for a few minutes and then made his way around picking up all the cards off the tables before he walked out. Only he forgot one of the cards on our table, so I shouted after him to let him know he forgot his card.
Those other people at the restaurant probably thought I was such a jerk; first telling that lady off and then yelling at a deaf man. When the third and final person came around to beg from us I just shook my head no and tried not to think about how I told that poor old lady off before. It felt like I had been pretty harsh.
This week a lot of drama unfolded with my sexual education class in a small town 2 hours walking distance from Tacabamba. When I first went to this town to ask for permission from the APAFA (parent association) of the high school, they were very suspicious that I worked for the mines. We spent about 30 minutes talking about what Peace Corps is, who pays me, why am I in Peru anyway, and why do I want to teach their kids. At the end of the grilling they decided that they would give me permission to teach their kids on Monday afternoons.
A couple weeks ago when another obligation came up on Mondays I thought nothing of asking the kids from my class in El Naranjo to just meet on Tuesdays instead. My logic was; in a community with no electricity and no running water what other activities/obligations where these kids going to have. As it turned out when the parents realized that I had changed the day of the week of my class without asking their permission they were very offended.
I received a phone call from the director of the high school informing me that the APAFA was unhappy with me and wanted a copy of my contract with the Municipality. I don’t have a contract with the Municipality I work for the U.S. government, but either way that didn’t sound so good for my classes continuing. My friend Ellie helped me brainstorm how I could find a solution that would make everyone happy-I don’t know what I would do without other volunteer’s help in these situations. So I typed up a schedule for the rest of my classes and dropped them off at the director’s house so that he could pass them out to the kids and they in turn could show their parents.
I only received one more angry phone call from a parent, but I was able to explain that it was a misunderstanding and that it was not my intention to offend anyone. I think that everything is all cleared up, but I guess I won’t know for sure until next week. It is frustrating when people are so uncommunicative with me, but expect me to be super communicative with them. The situation is not ideal. Normally a Peace Corps volunteer works in the community where they live, the people know and trust them, and they are able to receive community support for whatever activities they are doing. In El Naranjo the people may or may not still think I am a spy for the American mining companies and I do not know anyone (except for the 22 teens in my classes and the male nurse who is never available to work with me).
It is not fair for me to march into this town and expect for them to just get on board with some stranger teaching their kids. It is not reasonable for me to expect that the people from El Naranjo are going to understand how I have structured my classes or why I want to work with their kids in the first place. I had imagined after living here as long as I have that I would be fluent in the Peruvian world view, but sadly I still am not. A lot of the time I can anticipate how people will react, but I don’t understand their logic still. It is funny how deep our American way of thinking is engrained.
We are taught from a young age in the U.S. that if you work hard you can achieve anything, we should strive to leave our country better for the next generation, and we are personally responsible for our success or failures. Here in Peru; I imagine from generations of struggling to survive in extreme poverty, the ideas above are unknown. When Diamond and I worked on developing a latrines project for 3 months only to have the Municipality tell us they would not be funding the project (after they strung us along, everyone month they would tell us come back next month we’ll let you know about the budget) the reaction of the families in our project was: ‘the Muni misled us again,’ and ‘remember how last time they said they would do a project and they never did.’ They weren’t even all that surprised and they certainly did not appear to be as angry or frustrated as I was-or at least they did not express it in a way I would recognize as anger. It seemed more like complacence.
Things are fine the way they are, why should we change? This is how things have always been and it was good enough before so why not now? When promises of change are made they often are not kept by the people that make them. One really important thing I have figured out is that I cannot want it more than the people I want it for- or rather people have to want to change or else I am just smacking my head against the wall and feeling like a failure.
Whew, that got kinda serious, huh?
Thanks for reading and chau for now,