Thursday, December 22, 2011

Walking Away

note:  this is kyle speaking here: school is out and I've had some time to think.  thus, here comes a thought or two your way (beware...there will be more in the coming days).  hope it provides a window into our life here

It has never been my strong suit.  I’m a people pleaser.  I like people to be happy.  Saying “No” and sticking to it has always been hard.   Turning around and walking the other way is a notch or two higher in my book than just saying “No.” And on top of that, it’s harder saying “No” when it comes to people seemingly worse off than myself.  I’ve struggled on 2 fronts with this walking away phenomenon while being here in Africa, one good and one bad, amidst my people pleasing mentality.  Let me explain:

Input this people pleasing tendency in an African marketplace. We went to one yesterday.  If I were to stick to my natural bent, I would leave with empty pockets and hands full of bags every time we go shopping.  The persistent business owners would devour my approval addict affinity (we both usually walk away drained from all the bartering and incessant desires to have us “come and look.”).   Africans love to see white people…especially ones in a marketplace.  Saying “No, Merci” upwards of 4 times is almost necessary to pound the point home you don’t want to buy something (along with the occasional “not today” line).  Them pleading you to “just take a look” because it would “make me so happy” is the first step down this path.  Walking away is something every toubab (white person) out here needs to learn…especially in a marketplace.  Walking away is necessary here. And I’m getting better at it.  It gets easier the more times you do it. …But it is something I don’t want to get used to by any means.

Scenario #2: Input this mentality anywhere outside a marketplace.  Kids coming up to you with yellow bowls and no shoes, torn shirts and dirt ingrained jeans asking for money (your typical talibe kid…good article here).  Handicapped people along the roadside begging.   Women who are seemingly widows or whose husband is no longer with them and with 3 kids sitting on the side of the road (all day).  A man in tattered clothes slowly walking barefoot alongside you on the street.   Taking the girls for a walk and seeing people living in shacks next to buildings only 4 “blocks” from your home.  It’s pretty unnerving.  At least it can be.

Given those scenarios, walking away doesn’t always seem the right thing to do.  You can become calloused to these sights.  The sights are wrong.  What do you do?  Things shouldn’t be the way you see them (at least in my Western eyes).  “What can I do?” is usually the question I think.  And don’t get me wrong.  People are wonderfully happy here and have managed to look out for their needs despite their scant resources and position in life they find themselves.  Nonetheless, I think turning the other way and walking away can be a slippery slope.  I don’t ever want it to become easy. And unfortunately it has become easier.

It’s been a fine line, with ignoring leading to acceptance on one side and disturbance, hopefully leading to action motivated by compassion on the other. 

So what have we been doing?  We’ve been trying to impact those outside our own “American bubble” here but still in our world.  Those we can get to know and build relationships with.  It’s mostly boiled down to befriending those around us not connected to the school(often the guards we see hanging out around the neighborhood)  and baking cookies/giving them goodies when we have the chance (as well as always greeting them, as this is very important here).  Mainly just trying to show small acts of love.   Planting seeds.  Exercising prayer and patience (neither of which are my strong suits at least).   It’s tougher to help in tangible, practical, relational ways given the assumed “need “here than I had envisioned but we are trying to do our part.  The language barrier has been a HUGE stumbling block to really engaging and knowing the people, rather than observing the culture.  Nonetheless, it’s the situation we find ourselves in.  It’s been a process. 

And I hope the walking away feeling continues to disturb and disrupt.  I hope that part never changes.


Kyle, Maggie and Hayley said...

Good thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

knit wit said...

It was so good to read this. Thank you for sharing and keep the insights coming and MERRY CHRISTMAS!