Sunday, June 8, 2014

Daenerys would be an awful Peace Corps Volunteer

PCVs have lots of free time and as such we consume a lot of media.  A country wide favorite? A Song of Ice and Fire (or Game of Thrones if you discovered the show before the books).  I read all the books early on in my service, and now that season four is out am slowly devouring them.

But I have to say, Daenerys would be an awful Peace Corps Volunteer.

Seriously, marching into a city and forcing it to abide with your personal views is just not how it goes. No wonder she has problems in Meereen, even with an army at her back.

Things here work slowly and many times invisibly. Especially when you're not just hoping to teach kids how to read, but change a cultural outlook.  And even if you're looking to teach technical skills, it still has to be done right in accordance with the culture here.

For example, a full day training involves feeding people here three times. Not just lunch. And if it's more than one day, you have to have a closing ceremony and invite all these people who had very little to do with the program just because they're important.

You get lots of headaches here. Not just because planning things is a hassle but because it's hard to see if what you do has any impact. Ethiopians never say when they don't understand something. So you do your post assessments and learn that no one learned from you.

Or they learned something trivial, like 'torch' is UK lingo for 'flashlight'.

Peace Corps tells us to look at the small things we do to keep us sane.  The kid who smiles when you give him a book and settles down next to you to read it aloud. The girl who enjoys your English club so much she brings a friend.

Throw a stone in a pond and watch the ripples grow.

But it always seems to escape notice that ripples are temporary. They grow and spread out, but eventually disappear. I know my milklady's son, who I've known from womb to walking, will forget me.  I know the girls in my English club who slowly started speaking out more and gaining confidence, will revert back when surrounded by the Ethiopian culture that oppresses them. The girls on my soccer team might remember how to do a give-and-go, and I'm pretty sure that my teachers will remember my name only.

And that's all kinda depressing.

I'm leaving soon, 50 some days. Is all I'm leaving behind memories of my face and name, a two year span of memory that says 'a foreigner worked here for a while' ? Have I actually taught people lessons and skills that they will still have in one year? Five?

I want to say yes.  That kids now have a better grasp of English, that they now know a bit more about other cultures, that they have better self-esteem if they've attended any of my GLOW camps.  And all that's probably, most likely true, so there's that.

But Ethiopia isn't just where I work. It's where I live, and I can't help but want to make life better for everyone here.  To install ideas of gender equality, to show people how to analyze an issue to see where is the problem and how can it be fixed, to foster self-improvement.  I want Ethiopia as a whole to be better.  Or maybe just Huruta. My school. My compound family.

I'm not Daenerys, marching into a city and declaring all the slaves are free.  I can't change the education system so that those in the teacher colleges aren't those who failed 10th grade. I can't make every child born get a birth certificate, so the 'must be 18 to be married' law can be enforced. I can't force parents to have their sons help their sisters with chores instead letting them play in the street.

It doesn't work that way.

I wish it did.

No, all I can do is live my life here. Teach small, easily digestible skills, and live in a way that merges my culture with the Ethiopian one and hope some of my progressive thoughts and actions serve as a model for those around me. That yes women can go to a cafe alone. That yes they can say no to sexual advances. That they can give orders to men. That reading is a good thing. That one should always be doing something at work, not just skipping a lesson to stand in line for sugar.  That problems shouldn't just be complained about, but solved.

Maybe it works ( I hope so) or maybe it doesn't (as I suspect).

(Or maybe the end of my service had turned me maudlin.)

Still, I'm glad I came and served. 


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