Last week was the yearly Peace Corps Week, when returned volunteers are encouraged to go out into their communities and share Peace Corps experiences. Since I am currently substitute teaching, it was pretty fitting that I present to local schools. While I don't look back on everything with rose - colored glasses, there is still something special about opening up young minds to the outside world. I also tried to do my part by sharing photos and stories for a presentation at UC Davis, but it wasn't quite the same without a live audience of kids.
My brother does a pretty good job at keeping me in check about not relating everything in life to Africa (with a nice, friendly, "this one time when I was in Senegal..."), and I try not to talk about it too much. That being said, I really enjoyed talking to these kids about what life is like in Africa. I spoke with a group of fifth grade classes, and, at my old elemantary school, the same group of K-3 classes where I once was a student. That really opened up their eyes - that someone who once had the same teacher and sat in the same chair moved across the world and ate giant lizards.
As much as I looked forward to taking part in Peace Corps Week, it was one long week. As one of my friends put it best, my life sounded like a bad country song. My grandpa's garage was broken into, one of my students had major disciplinary problems, I found out I have even more Peace Corps-related health problems, my dad's truck was stolen from right in front of him, and, oh yeah, a cat I've had most of my life died. I've gone through 4 cats in 2 years now, not the greatest record.
Somewhere between the astonishment that someone had the gall to take my dad's truck off our ranch and the child I taught who I still cannot believe may be unredeemable, I felt the weight of the maddness of our society. Then I remembered watching the kids in my village run around with a cat on a pole the day after my own cat died, the crazies who were left behind to beg, the daily marriage proposals (by guys who already had three wives), the women who begged me to take their babies, the guys who played soccer while their wives cooked their dinners over a fire from wood they choped themselves, my village counterpart who stole money from the kid's garden, the cutting ceremony that took place mere weeks after our public declaration against FGM, Haruna who used USAID money meant for the village for his own personal projects, my Eaux et Forets (waters and forests, government agency) counterparts who marched into my village with guns and "borrowed" my acacia and cashew seeds, my village uncle who took my money but never fixed my leaky roof, the peace corps guards who were like family to us and "let go" with almost no notice for gun-toting official guards who were of less help, the thousands of daily gerndarme stops and bribe paying, the opened package and $20 made-up customs fees, the Pulaar prostitutes who played in the tamba pool with a customer while we were swimming and were payed maybe $2 for their "work", the left behind children at the Dakar orphanage, the unexplained deaths and gut-wrenching sound of wailing.
Besides the presentations I did, Peace Corps Week gave me another chance to reflect on what life was like back in Africa, and how much different it is from America. There are still inequalities in both places. The student who caused me so much grief? Maybe he came from a broken home, and was broken himself. If anything, the past week has given me a renewed sense that help is needed in all places (although, of course, the need is more urgent abroad).