I've been fairly good about putting on my professional face, partly because I have the clothes to match. Until someone casually says, "oh, the monkeys are here!" and I turn to squeal at the monkeys. And once again I'm a 12 year old.
I started this post with the best intentions a couple of weeks ago, but here we are in November with elections over and I still haven't published it. Ah, well.
This morning (a couple of weeks ago, now), I was chatting with a few people about an upcoming meeting in Livingstone; a co-worker mentioned that we might need to look for our own accomodation. "Oh!" I started, my hands a-flutter, "there's this lodge I know that has muffins!" Blank faces surrounded me. Wrong demographic; one person going back to the states and 2 living in Lusaka (both just having been in the US). I realized they wouldn't get it, but barreled ahead. "The muffins, they're um... well, they're really big. AND, the last one I had was chocolate!" The blank faces were bordering on amused; I threw up my white flag.
My life pretty much revolves around food - it's a Peace Corps thing, or maybe just a living-in-rural-non-western-wherever thing. Last month, I skipped off to Livingstone with a friend for a night.
"Did you go to the falls?" my mother asked.
"No," I answered, "we... well, first we went swimming. There was a pool at the lodge! And then we ate. Then we got drinks. Then we ate again. The next day, we um... ate. ... That was about it. It was fantastic."
A staff member in Mali joked (in that 'no, seriously' way) that PCVs are the first in line for food and the last to leave, and that it never changes. In Mali, I ate meals with my host family. I was content, but really good food was a rarity. When we (PCVs) got good food - holidays, restaurants in the city, thoughtful group meals at the house - we loosened our belts, undid our top buttons, and packed it in. Because really, who knew the next time you'd be eating something so good?
But then I was in the states for this 'transition,' and I ate a lot of good food. And here... I'm a decent cook, a solid baker when resources are available. In Mali, they weren't. Here, they are. I can get fruit, veggies, and cheese every day (except Sundays... the world shuts down on Sundays). A couple of days ago I made cheesy leek muffins; tomorrow I'm planning on a ginger pear galette. But I somehow haven't let go of the "quick, eat it all!' mentality. Good restaurants are revered and my food baby pops up whenever I visit them. My excuse is that there aren't any good restaurants in K-town, but considering how well I'm cooking, does that really matter? The point to this all, if there even is one, is that something in my life is going to have to change. When discussing what I was making for dinner one night, my mom said, "Well you certainly aren't going to come back as skinny as you did coming home from Mali." And she's right; either I need to stop eating like a starved PCV all of the time, or I need to commit to exercising. The likelyhood of either of those options is slim, especially with muffins calling my name.
What with all of the fancy cell phones floating around, strangers here sometimes take pictures of me. Some of them try to be covert, act like they're texting (who texts like that!?), but some of them are blatant about it. I'm usually pretty rude, turning my head in the other direction, or even walking away. My feathers get ruffled, I act all indignant - Who are you to take a picture of me just because I'm white? But the real question is Who am I to act all righteous?
In the western world, it would be weird if you started taking pictures
of strangers. Imagine the reaction if you went to a small town where
almost no one knew you and you started taking pictures of their kids.
How well do you think that would go over? But in developing countries
around the globe, we do just that. And somehow, it's become normalized.
So of course people here pull out their phones to take pictures of you.
Previously, all pictures I took were for my own use. The vast majority were of people that I knew - family and friends in whichever country - and I assumed that they would say something if they didn't want their picture taken. Here, I don't know that many people, and my photos how have the potential of being used by other people and organizations. Suddenly, I'm considering consent forms, carrying around an ink pad for finger prints of people who don't have a signature.
When someone takes your picture in the states, you understand the ramifications. You know it could end up circulating the web, that many people will see it. This will sound silly, but I don't think I've ever sat down and hashed out the ethics of taking someone's photo when they don't have that understanding. I've never really considered that someone might not mind their picture taken, even like it, but they may mind it going up on facebook, being emailed out, etc., if they knew that was a possibility or - in some cases - understood what that meant. So then what?
I'm trying to let it go when random people take photos of me with their phones. And I've become much better about asking if I can take someone's photo, of showing it to them afterwards. The response is positive more often than not. But when I ask that question, should I be explaining that I may or may not put the photo on facebook, use it in a future presentation, etc? And when I take a photo for work and request a consent form - how do you explain to someone that their photo has the potential of being in some form of mass media? It isn't realistic, so instead we stick with a simple "Can I take your picture," or pointing at the camera and then pointing at them. It seems to be going well, that's all I can really ask for right now.
Also, if you have a moment, read this article on Peace Corps guilt
Peace & Love