All this time.. The monotonous, seemingly rude questions make sense, because people ask about what matters to them; what matters is culture and what is normal. Normal isn’t static, changing from one place to the next. The only normal is change.
Do you know how to cook okra? That’s always one of the first questions. Are you married? Do you have children? What church do you go to?
Those are things that people ask.. Even after 2 years, I still get asked by people who know me. It may sound silly, but these are questions people here hold dear. They ask because they want to know if I am one of them, if I understand their question in local language, if I see the ways they live and if I have adapted.
I never will be one of them.
It took me a long time to fully understand that. It will take generations of people to grow and die for people to look past the whiteness of my skin. Maybe we will never get past those judgments.
It hit me like a wall.
After reading Janne Robinson’s Facebook post..
“What do you do?”
“What I love.”
It should be simple. In America, work is life. Your job becomes who you are. It shapes you. At least the privilege I grew up in, being raised in the suburbs, in a middle class family, no one told me who to be, or put a deadline on my life. It’s a very fine line, as American society still expects women to play the housewife role, but many of the women I know, have molded that to fit what they want. Not just mothers and teachers, but as senior level staff, positions that allow traveling, and ultimately, making their life their own, making that choice- to have kids and the American dream, but to not fit inside that one box.
Here what is important are the questions from the beginning.. Family, religion, being a good wife.. Like how big your family is, how many children you can produce, if you can cook local foods, care for the household. If you’re a 30 year old female, you should be married with multiple children.. Example: me.
People here do not have the privilege to think big, at least not far outside the box. The box here seems suffocating to me. As a female who is told, I work like a man, then has to say, no, I work like a strong woman.
Both places can learn from one another, I think, about what really matters.
I think the questions should be changed.. to what actually defines people.. I continue to ask myself,
What drives me?
What is my passion?
What would I die for?
What do I love with an intensity that is fierce? Where my heart would starve without it and if lost, my soul would lose its glow.
They work for me though, because I can choose.
In many ways, on many days, this job is soul crushing. It can eat me alive. Like a python does with its prey. Whole, slowly, big gulps.. And what an awful way to go.
Yet, in many ways, being here has also restored me. I can’t explain it except that today, I was sitting on the stoop in the back of my mud hut, finishing a book and stopped to really study my backyard. I wanted to remember the details.. The landscape I saw everyday but often times, did not really see.
I was taken and swept away with watching the wind blow through the tall grasses, watching them bend and move with every gust. Watched them flex, and thrive in the harsh sun, but stand strong when the wind abated. Back and forth, to and fro.
And it all clicked.
That’s how I feel. Pulled and pushed, knowing my roots, yet standing tall in a place that has become home, but where I will never be of here.. Tall even when change makes me feel short. Broken at times, but never actually snapping. I guess that’s debatable, but even the best and strongest of grasses bust with storms and strong winds and then regrow or turn into something else, right?
I exist to be better.
I am here to give love and know love.
I am here to listen.. To really try to understand this world and its people.
I am spiritual and my heart pulses with the ways of the natural world.
I know I am connected. I feel it.
As long as I feel that heart beat, I know I cannot go wrong.
It’s hard to know though, but I think often times, I tell myself things to push aside my truths. Maybe for ease, comfort, sanity, guilt, or safety.. But what a world it would be if we all said,
“What is your passion?”
“Who are you?” .. Instead of, “What do you do?” .. Or, if because our culture dictates, we must ask, if we said in response.. “What I love,” and truly meant it.
If there were no boxes, just open conversations and dialogue.
That is my hope.