Power went out a few hours ago, so I lit a candle, made some dinner, and began watching “Paris”. A french movie that had been recommended to me by, well, a French. The film had wonderful music that made me miss playing the piano and terrific cinematography that made me wish I was on the next plane to Paris. There were scenes of Cameroon in that film and for the first time ever, I really grasped how strange my life is. I find it strange when I see my own pictures on Facebook or the blog, where they are removed from the parameters of my life here. But to see scenes of life here in a movie was beyond me. They are the same scenes I would’ve seen in documentaries or videos on YouTube; except, now that’s where I live. I can’t find words to describe how strange that is…
At the same time, it’s helped me to remember just how exotic and amazing this opportunity is. Despite the frustrations, I will likely never again live as I am now. Few weeks ago, I had the chance to visit the French resort thanks to Juliette’s Parents’ friends. It’s not my first time to see how the expats live, but it further reminds me just how far removed they are from the people in the country. A chance to live amongst the people is rare. I can’t say that I live exactly like my neighbors since I am currently having a bowel of cold Honey Nut Cheerio thanks to my fridge and Gary’s expense account at Score (the European supermarket) that paid for the cereal months ago.
It’s a Tuesday night and I was curled up on my couch enjoying a film with a nice mug of hot tea, surrounded by warm candle light. Life isn’t so bad here. I am 22 and will be almost 24 when I leave. Let’s say I began my life of uber productivity at the age of 4 (I am Asian, you wouldn’t believe the sort of classes my mother enrolled me in while I was that age). I can take 2 years out of the past 20 years and just relax a bit. I have the rest of my life to live off of caffeine and sleep deficiency.
Fellow volunteer gave me a pep talk last week while I was going through a bit of crisis. We talked about sitting in future interviews reflecting on our time here. She said, “sexual discrimination? checked. racial discrimination? checked. every freaking rule in that equal opportunity employement handbook? checked. checked. checked.” So true. The things we deal with here may seem like mere cultural differences, but some of the things are just absurd. When was the last time an African person walking down the street of a U.S. city and someone yelled, “the black! the black!”? Exactly. For me, I’m not even white. So not only do I get discriminated living here for being “non-black”, I also have to be a race that I am not? And when was the last time your collegues told you you are too old to not be married as a girl?
I’ve been kind of anti-social and not letting the kids hang out at my house lately. Today, I realized why. I began doing more projects at the primary school that I teach at, and they are exhausting. Teaching is already difficult with the lack of supplies and large number of students. American teachers have it so good. Elementary schools in Taiwan were about the same size as the classes here, but we did have more supplies and tools. Last week, I was giving an exam, and I finally broke down and use my own money to make copies because I couldn’t bare kids turning in scraps of paper. They do that for homework, and that’s fine. But it’d just waste too much time writing everything on the board and expect them to answer questions, too. Teaching is an extremely difficult task when you have nothing to work with. Anyway, with the after school programs, all the teachers leave and I’m the only one left and it takes me on average 15 minutes just to get the kids to calm down. And then I have to constantly deal with the others who like to congregate and see what’s going on. These days, I spend on average 3 hours a day at the school and at the end of the three hours, I am so exhausted from dealing with ALL the kids that I just want to shut my door and be left alone. But as I’ve described before, that’s impossible.
Kids are great to work with, as long as they aren’t in a group. I love my neighbor’s kids. They are so cute. The oldest kid, Loïc, is one of my students and he’s really well behaved, and comes to get water for me like clockwork. The other day, he asked me if there are people like him (black) in the U.S. So I explained it to him but also added that we don’t yeall “the black” at them when they walk down the street. Then I said, “but people here call me ‘the white’ all the time. Not very nice, is it?” A few days later, I was at the bank and having a discussion with his mom (she’s the cashier at the bank) about living here and I mentioned all the attention I get. She said it must be really hard and that she admires the courage we volunteers have. Then she talked about how her son had related what he had learned from me. I was proud. I had taught one kid to properly treat White people.
The little things. They add up. I just need to constantly remind myself of that.