20 November 2003
-- Manatuto, East
For me, the first four months have been a period of testing:
testing to see if I really want to be here, in this town, with
this organization, for another twenty months; and of the community
testing me out, figuring out how seriously to take this giant
come to volunteer in their midst. I've learned quite a bit about
how things do and don't work here, and how I can maybe get a
few things done if I stay here long enough. I've decided to
stay, to stay true to my commitment, put up with Peace Corps'
bureaucratic and managerial problems, work through the quirks
of living and working in a different culture, and make myself
a home here. Without a doubt, the host family I chose to live
with, and that which Teresa graciously referred to me, has been
the force coalescing all the reasons for me to stay.
The young girls, my little host sisters, so eager to engage
the world, so curious about their environs, so full of playful
energy, ready for seemingly any challenge, and for whom a discussion
of relatives lost to the struggle for independence is as commonplace
of my listening to my grandfather's stories of working on the
railroad survey crews, have brought such joy into my life, teaching
me what it is to feel a part of a huge family (9 children to
a mother with 9 siblings).
The other day, I was watching several of the kids picking jambua
from the tree below my window. They didn't see me watching,
I just enjoyed watching them reaching for the fruit and sending
their little brother up in the branches to shake down the barely
ripe, dry-juicy, waxy fruit. Mikaela eventually saw me and laughed
up at me. I'd just broken open a green coconut their older brother's
friend had sent down from the coconut tree out back, and was
drinking the sweet, warm, smooth water from inside. They didn't
believe it was really ripe, so I challenged them to come up
and taste for themselves. To my surprise, Mikaela and her little
sister, Dercia, came up and we had a relaxing afternoon discussion.
They tasted the sweet liquid and laughed as I was the only one
that could drink a whole glass without breaking into an inexplicable
laughter. They finally, after four months, admitted that their
father was not Sra. Lina's current husband, Sr. Domingas, but
was a man of Chinese decent from Suai (on the south side of
the island). Now this is more than obvious to even the most
casual observer, for three sisters are close carbon copies of
each other, while their other siblings share no physical traits.
But I didn't protest the firm response I'd received twice before
that all the kids had the same father.
The kids tried out my new three dollar hammock that isn't even
work half that, and they asked me why I don't kill any animals.
Being a Buddhist gives me an explanation easy for them to grasp,
but they were equally interested in the ideas that not killing
animals and vegetarianism also saves resources, and is good
for my health. Mikaela has recently told me she doesn't eat
meat (na'an) any more, but her sisters all laugh and quickly
point out the lie in the claim! However, Mikaela has taken a
dislike to beef (buffalo meat) and pork. I am always quite careful
not to preach, and try to point out that my interpretation of
Buddha's teachings is mine, not shared by all Buddhists, and
that I do not criticize anyone for killing an animal for food.
Still, I just heard tonight, that Teresa's host sisters were
on the radio the other day talking about my eating habits! Apparently
they and the radio-show host thought it interesting, but said
I should eat more fish so I would not be so skinny! I could
use a few more pounds, but eating more or differently won't
add them at this point.