Yesterday I arrived right at lunch time. As I walked into the dining hall, I got lots of flashes of recognition, big smiles, waves, and whispers of “Mana Anata!” from girls. The older girls. The younger girls (7 years old and younger) mostly pretended not to see me, which is weird because I was probably closest with them. I went over to their table to bend down and greet them, and they mostly ignored me, though it was clear they were pleased I was paying attention to them. In Psychology 101, we learn that these kids are “insecurely attached,” loving someone who is inconsistent in their affection or presence, so reluctant to show too much affection, though desperately wanting it. Moments like these make me feel so sad and frustrated. Why am I spending so much time with these girls (and baby D in Swaziland), showering them with the love and affection they so desperately want and need, only to abandon them like everyone else in their lives has? I can’t decide if these relatively short times of love and friendship are ultimately worth the inevitable abandonment, and it makes me feel so guilty.
Yesterday and today I’ve seen some cloth flowers in some of the girls’ hair—something I taught them to do. It just might be one of my biggest legacies as a PCV, but at least they look beautiful and have something to remember me by.
One of the girls asked when I was leaving, so I told her Saturday. Instantly there was a chorus of “no, leave on Sunday!” “no leave on Monday!” With finality one girl announced “no, leave in July.”
As I prepare to return and live in America after 3.5 years of living abroad, I will reflect on something that happened while I was back for the holidays. I was at Rockafeller Center in New York with a friend and asked a woman passing by to take a picture of us. There is a line across the display screen of the camera, but this doesn’t affect the photos. She was nice and as she handed the camera back to us she smiled and casually remarked that I should ask for a new camera for Christmas. But why? This one still works. I know she meant nothing by it, but to me it seemed to reflect this American need to constantly replace and upgrade that I find extremely disconcerting. If people in America could only see how my friends and neighbors here will use their t-shirts, phones, shoes, and cars until they literally fall apart. How some of my bridge school students (in Swaziland) took home the cardboard boxes from a new furniture delivery to put on top of their “mattresses” for extra cushioning. The idea that someone would just get rid of or stop using a perfectly functional, high-tech digital camera because of an aesthetic problem would seem completely ludicrous to people here. In a lot of the world for that matter.