I'm going to Korea and Malaysia for vacation later this month to see some family and friends. As I was mentally preparing myself for some smart dinner conversations, I got stuck on this particular scene:
A fancy restaurant, courtesy of rich uncle
rich uncle: so jungyul (one of my many names), how's it like in Africa? (oooh impromptu inspiration, on my holidays I'm going to do a count on how many times people refer to where I live as "Africa" instead of "Tanzania" on initial encounters. I might add a third category, "Tanzania, where's that?")
jungyul: (slightly self-concious by the fact that he has spent thousands of dollars of his father's money on an expensive education in America and reaping the returns by volunteering, and also by his less than spectacular korean language skills) Well, when I first arrived in Tanzania, if a student came to me and told me "teacher, I'm having trouble doing my homework because I cannot afford a notebook," I would have responded by feeling sorry for his poverty, and wondering how tough his life must be if he cannot even afford a notebook. Now, if the a student asks me the same thing, I would think about how terribly lazy, what an unmotivated student he is, and respond "what'd you want me to do?" in an overtly sarcastic way. I would do so because I know that a notebook costs only 300Tsh, and even a poor student would manage to get one out of the slightest desire to study.
As I replay the above scene over and over, I wonder, why? And, I also ask, does this have another layer? Is this just the surface of a larger psychology?
To that I say yes. When I first came, I was concerned about proverty, writing about it on this very blog. It seemed to be common, yet not as easily observable either. I tried to grasp it, wanted to understand it more. I think I succeeded in that, but I also wanted to be a solution. I was concerned about issues of family economics, and wondered what I could do to involve myself in its alleviation. Coming from a political science background, and volunteering under the name of a development agency, albeit its heavily political nature, this was my default mode. In fact, it was one of the reasons why I applied for this.
But now, I'm less concerned with the notion of poverty. Poverty exists, but in a more personally detached manner. Perhaps I have negotiated myself into living with it without being bothered by it; or I believe poverty to be less of a disenfranchising force; or I have come to accept to certain degrees the theses of social darwinism, no free lunch capitalism, and Werner Herzog. At the moment, I'm more concerned with simple school matters: what subject to teach, how to teach, to lead which extra curricular activity, etc.
I hope the above scene does not continue with the question of why, because I really don't know. Maybe there is no why.