every now and again, i say something that just makes people laugh, completely innocently and outside of my intentions. for example, one day i went to work at the school, despite a blossoming headcold and general discomfort. "oh," they said, "you are sick. go home and lay down" and i said "maybe i should. i don't want to get everybody else sick, too."
cue laugh track.
and my clumsy explanation of germ theory. because when i'm sick, everyone around me is going to be too. surrrre. in this instance, the science teacher eventually was able to substansite my claim that illness can, indeed, be passed around like a soccer ball. but there have been several other concepts that i have tried to express to people, where i get the same response:
you say what. (not a question, a statment. so incredulous they can't even make it a question. it's like they're telling me to think about what i'm saying and say it again)
if you're wondering what makes people say those three little words (you say what.)
here are some examples from MY life
-volcanos. when the volcano erupted in iceland, it interupted air travel, which in turn stranded some tourists here and forced others to be stuck there. what is a volcano, i was asked on several occasions. with some people, i didn't get past saying the center of the earth is so very, very hot that rock melts. and the concept of pressure. and an exploding mountain. clouds of ash. that funny word molten. it must have taken me hours to invent such a fantastical story. that was so much better than my little yarn about giant plates under the ground causing earthquakes.
-the mafia. this one was really fun to explain. oh, i started off with the classic example of drugs and restuarants, but that quickly became too abstract so we changed to cows and bitiks (little stores), and families and "boys." but really, is there a society that operates around, under, and over the law? probably not.
-and my personal favorite. i actually suggested that there are countries in asia other than china, and that every asian person is in fact, not chinese. this one was really funny, then incomprehensible. i was really proud of myself, though, because eventually i truly made them understand and believe. i pointed out that they can tell by looking at an african what country he or she is from, even though most people from europe or america can't, and that while africa is very big and has many countries, most people think of it all as one place. i felt so good to hear them say "asia is the same way?" and sometimes, when we see a movie with an asian character, they ask me which country in asia they're from instead of just saying "the chinese"
racial sensitivity is on a very different plane here.
-while we're talking about geography, i also have attempted to spread the word that america isn't really just the us, that the united states are one country, and canada is not a state but an independent nation. and that there's a central and a south america. and i have drawn several maps in the sand showing the almighty atlantic, and that "toubabado" (the place where the toubabs live) is actually several different continents and they are fairly far apart.
*in case you're new to the blog, toubab is the generally accepted word for white person here. the little children see you walking down the street and yell it "toubab! toubab!" then they usually ask you for a minty, which means a piece of candy. under no circumstances do i ever give them candy, or money, or whatever it is they ask for because the last thing you need to learn at such a young age is that you can get something for nothing. i (and quite a few others) become quite enraged when i see tourists throwing candy among crowds of kids. they will fight each other. there will not be enough for everyone. someone will end up crying. and they will ask every toubab they see, for the rest of their childhood days, and maybe their lives, for handouts. this concept, by the way, also does not go over so well with the gambians. "you say what. you don't give them candy because they ask. if i had money, i would give them candy"
well, my well-meaning friend, therein lies the problem. you don't have money, and if you did you would spend it on giving children candy.
this post took a philosophical turn i wasn't prepared for. i can talk about my opinions on sustaniability as it pertains to this culture, and development worldwide, until i'm blue in the face. but i want you to read this blog so you see what's going on here, not in my head. sorry. but i think it's an important concept for us all to think about, so i'm glad it came up.
in other news, my friend did this on her blog and i think it's a really cool idea. if you have questions for me about the gambia, the peace corps, my day-to-day life, i would be happy to do a little FAQ blog post. we'll make the deadline next weds, just comment with your questions, facebook me, or email me. and if i don't get any questions from toubabado, well, i'll make some up.