Life comes in waves here. I can feel incredibly happy, excited, everything is lucky go la-dee-da, and not ten minutes later come crashing down as I literally fall into a ditch. Understanding the roller coaster of emotions volunteers can go through within even a single day, I try to practice prudence and flexibility in dealing with both the good and bad. Even when things go awesomely, it can be dangerous to let my emotions swing to widely to either side of the pendulum less Murphy’s law comes to take its vengeance.
Usually these periods come in bouts of days, weeks, or even months before emotions change. Check out this long range volunteer life cycle [future blog post], but a few days this past week showed me how quickly events can change, and if something bad happens it will usually be outweighed by a touching experience later.
Walking home from work one day, I passed a group of children, of which I pass hundreds each day, near my house. The kids almost always ask for money or pens or a soccer ball or something, and I usually smile and keep going, sometimes I stop and talk with them, explain my job (penniless volunteer), and that asking for money just because I look different (like a tourist) is actually rude. It depends on my energy. On this particular day, the group of boys yelled at me “GIVE ME MONEY!,”, without a hello or any greeting at all. In addition, they were clearly not street children, had backpacks and school supplies, and their uniforms were suspiciously clean. So as I passed I yelled back “YALANYM,” which means “I don’t have any,” and kept going. Usually the kids laugh and giggle at my bad pronunciation, but one rabash (rude/obnoxious) kid in the group picked up a stone and hurled it at me, where it hit the back of my head.
I whirled around, pointed my finger at the kid and in my scariest teacher voice said he was extremely rude and he should NEVER do that again. Which in Amharic probably came out like “rude! Never! Bad! You!” or something embarrassing like that. The point came across though and an adult walking past who saw the whole thing walloped the kid up the side of the head. Not exactly what I wanted, but whatever, he deserved it.
As I turned away, holding back tears, I realized that it hadn’t actually hurt, it had just hurt my pride. After over a month of meeting people, integrating, and living in this community this was the first (probably of many) blatant moments where I was singled out like that. I was most frustrated with the fact that I had felt like in a moment where I let down my guard, a kid had found a crack and forced all my walls back up in 30 seconds.
Not 50 feet later, though, I ran into an older man who is my friend Morgan’s counterpart in her small town in Aykel. He had recognized me from a meeting and was walking down my road after visiting a friend in my neighborhood. While he works in Aykel, he said much of his family lives in Gondar and so he comes to visit a lot. In a moment where all I wanted to do was go home and eat chocolate and sulk, I bucked up and let him invite me for tea. I’m really glad I did. What would have been an awful afternoon was negated by this kind man only 10 minutes later. I’m also proud that I took advantage of a moment that I could have easily brushed off.
Another example a few days later, I left work and ran into a group of street kids who I am particularly fond of. Sometimes we chat; they are funny because they are clearly little con artists, but not quite good at it yet. On this occasion though they told me that the bread coupons an NGO had been handing out were not able to be redeemed at the bakeries because of some problem or another (it has since been resolved). Because it’s not my organization, but I know the program, I agreed to just buy the kids some bread, which is 1.25 birr for a loaf, or the equivalent of 7 cents USD. Of course when we got to the souk, 3 kids had become 15 and bread had become donuts. I agreed to buy no more than five donuts (which are more expensive) and they could share however they wanted. Mistake. Some of the older kids ran off with a few of the donuts before I could do anything, and as I tried to extricate myself from the situation one of the kids yelled “I hate you!” as I was walking away. You’re welcome, kid.
But only a few minutes later when I walked up to the Post Office to find it closed, the package man recognized me, knew I had a package and opened up just for me and called me family. It also helped that the package had chocolate in it for me to eat when I got home : )
So even in the span of a few minutes I can have equal and opposite emotions competing in my brain, but taken as a whole, this experience, while difficult at times, will always have hidden gems of moments that make it all worth it.