Tired and emotional lately, but not in a bad way. I'm inclined to sentimentalization and romanticism these days, perhaps because it's really starting to hit me that I'm going home and I won't be back. The students seem especially sweet and funny – this one saying he will miss me (replying, when I tell him that Peace Corps will send another teacher in July, “But we want you!”), another thanking me for teaching them (“There are only two teachers in the school who care about the students and you are one of them. The others just want money”). I still can't connect many of the kids' faces to their names, but there are many that I do know, and their little quirks and jokes and even their behavior issues seem very endearing. So even if I'm dismayed to realize just how little material I've covered and how poorly many of the students have mastered it, and even if I recognize that a large part of the students “missing me” is more about missing the novel entertainment of a dorky white American than missing my stellar teaching, I'm still not feeling quite as cynical about being here as I have at certain times.
I've also been feeling sentimental for different reasons. Everybody here has a sad story about how the war has touched their lives, and it's very easy to become callous to them, even if I believe their truth. When someone comes up and begins pouring out a tale of woe – you know my mother and my sister died and I had to flee my home and then there was no food and I lived in the bush for eight years and now there are no jobs and I have no money and my three children are sick and I need money, could you give me money? -- I feel (I'm ashamed to say) more repelled than sympathetic. “God, not another sob story,” I find myself cynically thinking.
But then someone will tell their story in a way that penetrates through the thin shield of involuntary indifference, and it's heartbreaking. One of the teachers sat down with me at lunch the other day and told me his: about fleeing to Ivory Coast, about his wife leaving him and returning to Liberia with his five children, about being reunited with them 9 years later, about how two of the children had died and one had been forced into service as a child soldier, about how the other children were completely illiterate because their mother had kept them home to use as labor instead of sending them to school, about how he blamed his wife for ruining the futures of all of his children. It was strange and sad and somehow enlightening to hear this man sitting across from me tell me in a straightforward, almost upbeat manner “My children are wasted. If my woman had sent them to school then I could enjoy them now that they are grown, but I am sad to say that they are wasted.” I couldn't help but think – no wonder people here sometimes seem to me to act in crazy, strange, illogical ways. They have been forced into crazy, strange, illogical situations that no human being should have to endure.
My emotionality has also been enhanced by the fact that, by telling people that I am going home soon, I have opened the floodgates of request. It's awkward, annoying, heart-rending, and sometimes darkly humorous to hear the things that people expect an American to be able to do for them. People who see America as the golden land of opportunity ask me for things that are both pathetic and completely unrealistic – for example, that I buy them a plane ticket and allow them to live in my house as a cleaning person. When I try to explain that it doesn't really work like that – that America doesn't exactly open its arms to immigrants with less than a primary school education and that Americans don't particularly like relative strangers squatting in our houses -- I am often met with disbelief. A security guard with a local NGO wrote his full name and address down on a piece of paper and asked me to find him a wife, and when I told him that most American women probably wouldn't be too keen on marrying someone they had never met, he told me that there were plenty of American women who “needed an African man” and that I could find them on the internet. He would look himself, he told me, except that the internet at the NGO blocked all of the most promising sites for finding American wives.
So yes. In the waning days of my service, now that I know that home and comfort and family and friends are just around the corner, I'm seeing things in a more positive , sympathetic light. I'm doing better at recognizing the humor in different situations instead of being annoyed (as when the other day someone told me I was looking SO FAT that he almost didn't recognize me on the street). And while I'm happy that this whole (to use a horrible cliché) crazy roller caster ride is coming to an end, I'm already missing some aspects of life here in Liberia.