Sunday, December 2, 2007

Cerebral Wrestling


The Peace Corps experience puts you in a place and gives you the time to do a lot of thinking. Few of us are prepared to meet our own thoughts and difficult questions our brains ask us.

Some wrestle with questions of did they make the right choice, some with is their time here going to make a difference, and others with life in an autocratic-theocratic society. For me, the main mental struggle is how can I, a person of immense relative wealth, integrate into a primarily subsistence economy?

Here I sit, in a room with a propane gas stove, electric refrigerator, a mountain bike chained out side, all of which magically appeared, drinking a cup of coffee with a pen in my hand writing on a pad of paper to be transcribed onto a computer to be posted on the internet, watching children dangerously climbing a mango tree to get their breakfast. It seems what I require for subsistence living can only be attained in a dream by many around me. Yet there is a peace in their lives.

A family boy is able to create beautiful Samoan designs on cloth. The final products of beauty are given to others because beauty and his talents are to be shared. I now enter the picture providing money to buy more cloth, t-shirts, and inks in hopes of selling these items for money that the family desperately needs. What am I doing? Am I turning a thing of beauty and love into a commercial commodity for tourists? Am I inadvertently forcing my way of life on him? What does he think of me?

Those who contemplate joining the Peace Corps or a similar endeavor should be prepared. The struggles of climate, hygiene, language, and food pale in comparison to the wrestling match you are to face with your own values and way of life.


Teri said...

For what it's worth, here's another perspective to consider...
From your description, it appears the family desperately needs money. The boy has a talent for creating beautiful Samoan designs on cloth. Samoans clearly value the sharing of talents and beautiful things. Does the act of selling his artistic works necessarily diminish their beauty or the love that was put into their creation?

Also, imagine the potential good to be done with the money he brings in for the family. Perhaps a baby with a scabies infection will receive medical attention sooner and avoid a great deal of suffering. Maybe a young woman will avoid losing teeth in her early 20's because she's had her own toothbrush and toothpaste while growing up.

Perhaps this is a typically Western view. Hard to know.

Anonymous said...

Loved seeing the new pictures of you two in paradise. It makes me feel better to see a more recent photo showing you happy and healthy.
As far as the wrestling with values, I don't know what to say. The peace you attribute to the simple way of life sounds like the harder way to go...