By Natchisiri (Froy) Kunaporn (Bishop’s)
Being surrounded by the luxury of the hostel, I can definitely feel the isolation from the reality outside the ‘bubble’. A wonderful chef feeds us, there are a couple of women who do our dishes and laundry, and the hostel is constantly being cleaned. I try to be very helpful by fetching bath water (and showering cold!), doing my delicate laundries and some small dishes. I find myself being very careful not to do too much that it seems like I am taking their jobs away. The women here use the word ‘assist’ instead of help. They want to assist us and want our assistance; we all learn better that way.
Because of early nights and early mornings, my dreams lately have been very vivid. Walking out of campus is like snapping out of one. Almost like a sudden feeling of falling, or a slap in the face. When outside, the living conditions of many villagers are bittersweet to see. Even though most villagers I’ve passed have sincere painted smiles on their faces, nearly everyone had no proper footwear, ripped clothes, and drippy noses. Already coming from where poverty is very saturated, I try to accept what I see. Using a model that describes the five stages of culture shock (Pederson, 1995), I find myself struggling back and forth between the Honeymoon stage and Disintegration stage (anger at self). Sometimes it’s blissful and sometimes I get snapped back to the horrifying truth about life of many who are living right at our doorsteps.
But I guess truth is not always horrifying. When a colleague of mine was feeling guilty about the help she was receiving from the villagers, a Malawian lady said to us that they are so proud to ‘assist’ us. As long as we do our parts, it will all add up in the end. She also told us that people here have no choice but to be happy, because they know that life is short, and that they have no time to sit down and feel sad about the unfairness of luck. If people can choose where they want to live, some places may even be deserted. Being alive is enough push to keep people striving. ‘We can’t be sad forever because we know that life is going to end one day’. That kind of attitude is what I imagine stage four, Autonomy (acceptance) will be like. I think I am on my way.