By Eloise Sheerin (Trinity)
At home in Ireland I would consider myself to be someone who is a very good judge of character and sincerity. Here I am not so certain. I find myself struggling with contradicting thoughts. It is natural to want to think the best of people but I have found that sometimes this is seen to be naive. I am constantly switching from each extreme of the spectrum. Either I take someone to be genuine and sincere or I am constantly searching for the ulterior motives behind someone’s facade. It is proving hard to find a neutral position.
I feel naive and over optimistic when at the positive end of the spectrum. It is easy to get lead astray into difficult situations when your assumptions were wrong. When we were doing a health meeting in the Chilanga Court I was excited, hopeful and optimistic. I thought everyone understood the approach of Praxis Malawi and how we were trying to empower the community to take matters into their own hands and work together to better their community. We are not here to provide immediate relief but support and long term sustainable relief. We were talking of exchanging knowledge on sexually transmitted infections and family planning. The discussion was in depth and riveting and everyone seemed to be reading off the same page. I felt the empowerment, felt by what I thought was the whole group, but I soon found out that not everyone felt this way. A man came to us and asked us for aid now. I wanted so bad to help him now and give him whatever he needed to get his problem sorted. By doing this I know I am just feeding into the oppression and culture of dependence so evident here. I felt deflated as I dropped my guard and demonstrated naivety.
You can learn to grow a thick skin here.
This kind of experience forces you into a cynical and untrusting frame of mind. I find myself at times expecting that people are lying to get something from me. I start to think that any gesture that appears to be a friendly, nice gesture is just a game to get some prize. I have been pleasantly proved wrong in my thinking thankfully. When visiting the school for the blind, we were warmly welcomed and invited back in the afternoon to observe a choir rehearsal. On returning, the children had changed into nicer clothes and the performance was so breathtaking and moving that I will never be able to forget it. Even while I was sitting watching and listening to this heartfelt and moving exhibition of the magic music can bring to your soul, I was thinking ‘oh sugar’… here comes the request for money. For the last part of the performance, before the electricity cut out and the class was dismissed, I was thinking up possible ways in which they were going to approach us about money or charity. We had deep discussions with the teachers and principal following and not once did they expect or ask for anything from us. Instead they completely understood the approach we had. They discussed how they feel their method of teaching visually impaired students wasn’t adequate for some students who had learning difficulties also. A suggestion was made that they contact the school for learning difficulties and exchange knowledge. They were shocked at how they hadn’t considered this before and wanted to ‘buy’ the idea from us. We assured them it is free and to take initiative and use it. We found out yesterday that they already had a meeting and it was successful!
These experiences boost your trust in humanity. I get a boost and I am back to naivety and over optimism, then I get a blow and I am back to being negative and cynical. This process is cyclic. The problem I have is remaining somewhere where I am prepared for both scenarios. Finding a harmony, like the voices of the school choir. A neutral! I assure you, I am working on it!