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You Must Change Your Behavior

May 24, 2012
Zed Fake Gun

Yes, this disturbs me just as much as I’m sure it does you. They found this small black tube and posed with their ‘gun’ on my porch. I asked Zed why he needed a gun and he said, “It’s for the people who try to beat me.” My stomach flipped and I asked, “What about your ma. Would you shoot her…?” Eerie reminders of where I live. We’ll leave it at that.

I should be in Ganta right now sitting at Beer Garden with Matt.  But, of course, TIA.  I hastily packed my bag before school and went to the parking as soon as we finished class.  I waited about half an hour and they called me to the car.  Oh, holla holla broke out!  The driver had put unregistered passengers in the car and there was no seat for me even though, again, I was the first to register.  The driver started screaming at me as the Union man tried to forcibly remove the ol’ ma from the car.  I threw up my hands and told her to stay.  I didn’t want anything to do with a trip like this.  “I’m taking my load, my man,” I yelled, “Put me in the next car.  Let it be so!”

Well the next car never left and half an hour later they moved me to a third car.  I sat there with one other gentleman, watching rain build to the north, and when I finished my book at 6:00 it was time to surrender.  We both agreed it as too late to travel and went to get our money back.  No one could find the Union man or the driver.

More yelling ensued.  I sat quietly in the corner of the dingy yellow room.

Finally the driver appeared and some man I didn’t know started yelling for him to give my money back, “This is our Peace Corps American lady!  She can’t travel after dark!  Let the woman go home!”  I hadn’t said any of this, but he was right on point.  The driver reluctantly fished in his pocket and returned my $250.  I thanked him and went back to town for beans, rice, and beer.  I suddenly feel like the walking dead so it’s just as well I’m not sleeping on Matt’s floor tonight.

Earlier in the day I was excited and ready to go, though.  A lot of rudeness has happened today and I was ready to escape.  I spent the morning cleaning the house and preparing it for my absence but was interrupted at regular intervals by two types of frustrating visitors.  The first group consisted of students who were suddenly concerned they’d failed 2nd or 3rd period.  It was difficult not to laugh.  That was more than six months ago.  It’s too late!

Marcus, one of my 11th graders, called me a flat out liar when I said he’d missed two weeks of school each period.  I showed him the grade book and he demanded I recheck each page of the attendance book.  “You must change my grade,” he said unflinchingly, the most words he’d ever spoken to me.  “You must change your behavior,” I stared back intently.  It was one of the rare occasions my voice has shaken with indignation, “I know your life is hard.  It’s unfair and I’m sorry.  But when you choose to enroll in school it is your job to learn.  Any employer in Liberia would sack you for doing the kind of poor work you do for me.  I cannot and will not give you a grade you haven’t earned.”  I went on like this at some length fueled by some nerve he’d unintentionally set aflame.  “If you’re missing school because your parents need you to work for them then you need to explain to them how important your education is and how seriously you must all take next year, your senior year.  I know they love you and want what’s best for you.”  When I finally finished he was silent, “I understand, Ms. RB, thank you.”  “Thank you too,” I replied and watched him drive out of the yard on his motorbike.

My second type of unwanted visitors consisted of people I did not know who expected me to wave a wand and chunk money in the air.  “I understand you had a program yesterday.  I’ve come to sign up.”  One girl who I recognized from the EARTH fiasco got rude when I tried to explain it was only for Central High and only current 10th, 11th, and 12th graders who attended the program.  “But I graduated from Central High last year!” she literally stomped her foot.  “You needed to tell us.  You are very unfair!”  Oh, my usually dormant temper threatened to flare!  “Excuse me?” I said in a low voice.  “I believe it is you who is being unfair.”  I explained again that it was only for current students and that I had informed the people it concerned, which did not include her.  She shot me an icy stare, tossed her head, and stomped out of the yard.  “What is wrong with you?” I muttered to her back.

Daniel Fake Gun

I try to remind myself boys play with toy guns everywhere. There just happens to be a fresh sub-text here they’re too young to understand…

I’m getting really frustrated with all of Sanniquellie expecting me to be their savior.  I have been assigned to 200 extremely disadvantaged students.  It is them I desperately want to help.  I’ll be lucky to get a fraction of them.  One or two lives changed is all I hope for.  One or two dreams come true.  I know that’s a tremendously big thing to say, but I believe in big dreams.  Because what if you can?  When you think of it that way you can’t help but try.  What if Festus could win a scholarship to study abroad?  What if George could realize his dream of seeing Monrovia?  I must draw a line somewhere and it falls at the gate of that school.  Yes, I love all of Sanniquellie, but so many of them talk to me only when they think I can do something for them.  But the kids who are with me every day? They aren’t faking a thing.  It’s so hard, but I have to say no and be rude sometimes otherwise they’ll destroy me and I won’t help anyone.

Leaving campus today I lost my temper.  The junior high students are always typically immature, and today was no exception.  I was leaving and a pack of them stood by the gate.  “Quiepolu!  Quiepoluuu!” one of them called tauntingly, the Mano word for ‘white people.’  I shook my head, “You are embarrassing yourself, my friend.”  He rattled off something else in a mocking tone and I turned on my heels.  “No!  You will not talk to me like that.”  I walked back with the full intention of marching him to the principal’s office to have an example made of him.  He assumed I was going to beat him and took off running.  (To be honest, I was mad enough I could have.  To give so much and still be treated like a dumb animal!)  I knew I would look a terrible fool if I chased him, though, so I turned to the rest of the group, “What is the boy’s name?”  They said they didn’t know which just infuriated me further, “Don’t lie to me.  WHAT IS HIS NAME?”  Someone mumbled, “I think it’s Prince.”

I was going to get nowhere.

I turned to them and launched into yet another rant.  “I am sorry I am not your teacher,” I said, “but that does not mean you can disrespect me.  I have been with you a year.  I am not quiepolu.  The 11th and 12th graders are extremely grateful I am here.  It will not be fine for them if your rudeness makes me leave.”  I immediately felt guilty for the last part because I saw several 11th graders watching and I didn’t want to scare them—I keep promising!

I pushed through the crowd and left campus, fists clenched to still my hands from shaking.  Then not fifty feet away I ran into 12th grade Saye and he all but hugged me, pulling back and grabbing my shoulders at the last second when he remembered I was his teacher.  His giant smile calmed me immediately.  I asked how he was enjoying the Shakespeare I’d loaned him and he grinned.

Man, life throws you around sometimes…

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Andrea permalink
    June 17, 2012 11:26 pm

    I’ll be going back to Jamaica for a 4th year this November and while it doesn’t compare to the dedication you’ve shown to Africa, I know how it feels to build relationships with people and have some of them “burn” you by asking for more and more.
    But I know you are making a difference. I know hearts and minds and futures have been changed by your presence. Keep pressing on, friend. Keep running the race…

  2. blondie permalink
    June 18, 2012 1:50 pm

    While my clients and I have the comforts of being in America [at least for treatment, some are legally and illegally from other countries], it still infuriates me when some people you’re trying everything to help burn you. Some who don’t look at what they do have and try to blame me for not having everything to hand to them or believe they’re entitled the more. ‘Things shouldn’t be this hard!’ when I know they still don’t truly know what hard is. When I get frustrated and think I can’t do my job anymore, I think of the clients I have helped. Even if they passed away, I helped that passing have at least a bit more peace to it. Then I think of my mom, who made it to this country on her own hard work of getting herself through school in the Philippines to finding work in the US. And now I also think of you, working hard for these children who can’t take anything for granted.
    I’m sure many futures have been changed by you and I hope more and more of them realize what a resource you are!

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