Friday, January 28, 2011

January 20, 2011

Well, I'm frustrated. That is the perfect word to describe this past week. I'm not necessarily frustrated by a specific event or a lack of results. I'm not frustrated by boredom or by language. I'm frustrated with people. Sometimes I just want to grab people by the shoulders and shake them. Shake them and shake them until they do something different. Until they realize that if they want the world to be better they have to start by changing themselves. I'm not talking about things like learn a new language or go to a new school. I'm talking about finally being comfortable without a routine. To not be prisoners in your habits. Sometimes people are so set in their ways that they never even see how rigid they have become. Maybe it's unfair of me to say this, it's not like I have a choice in my routine. My days are ruled by others and when I choose my schedule I usually end up isolated and alone, so I've learned to grudingly give up routine. And so far I've survived, happily. But the walls of other people's routines are blocking my ability to evolve and change. I would like to do new projects, teach health, teach teaching, build wells, eradicate diarrhea, but none of those are possible without someone else willing to break their routine. Someone else needs to be able to see beyond the importance of what they are already doing to a bigger picture or just feel enough pity to work on a project with me. Someone else needs to give up an hour here and there to change themselves. That is the wall. I've come and I've changed, but I need to be met halfway.

I have a theory. My theory is that people think I'm learning k'mai so fast that sometime in the near future I'll suddenly be fluent. Once I'm fluent I'll do great things. I can tell everyone right now that that is a complete myth. I will not be fluent, at least not soon enough to leave enough time in my service to complete miracles by myself. And if I could complete miracles I would have been a saint in America where I was already fluent.

That is sort of a tangent. Anyway, back to me being frustrated with people. This is no new concept. I remember this feeling well in America. I'm sure everyone knows someone that is constantly too busy to do anything else, even though they probably spend at least an hour a day on facebook or something similar. The person that never says no, but never says yes either. Yeah, there are busy people. Yes, some people are struggling to feed families or have some other pressing obligation, but I can probably list at least 20 people that know they should do something with their lives, but are unwilling to give up the time or change their routines. It's like going to the gym. Plenty of people have time and some even have the memberships already, but it's fundamentally a matter of discipline and true desire. Going to the gym, volunteering for your community, starting your next paper on time. These are things that people never get around to and may never get around to because they think there is always time in the future.But there isn't. You just keep pushing it off and pushing it off, sometimes pushing it onto other people.

This is actually a huge issue in Cambodia. Cambodia is so filled with NGOs that I think there needs to be an NGO governing the NGOs. Actually, I think there is one, but that NGO needs another NGO to help it out a little. But the fact that there are so many NGOs creates a dependency. Everyone's waiting for the next NGO grant before they take the initiative to do anything. There's a bit of irony in this. When we look at America, our equivalent of an NGO is a nonprofit organization, though many nonprofits actually get money from the American government, but the general purpose is the same. Generally, when I say NGO I think of an organization that is in a country to help the people of that country in some way. When I mention NGO workers, most people think of someone working tirelessly in some African savannah with little to no resources. Sometimes that's true. But here in Cambodia, NGOs have the money and sometimes have the power. The problem is that here the NGOs give the government money whereas in America the government gives nonprofits money. In both situations the organization gives help to the country. But in Cambodia, if the NGOs run out of money the government loses its budget. In America, if the government runs out of money the nonprofits close. In Cambodia, one of the best jobs you can get is to work for an NGO. That's where you can make 'big money' as long as you have one skill, the ability to speak english. This will get you a job in an NGO, hotel, or KFC. All coveted jobs. Here the tables have definitely turned. In America, nonprofits are just that, they are not profitable. Meaning that most people make no money doing work that is essential to the betterment of out society.

Although Peace Corps is not an NGO it is and organization, which is how i describe it. Most people here don't differentiate it from an NGO. Its been interesting to find out that first they think I'm rich because I'm from America, which is expected. But, they also think I'm rich because I work for Peace Corps. I always get asked about money, my salary, my rent, everything! It doesn't even faze me because I always thought it was normal. No one ever does anything to make me think those questions are rude here. But, six months in now and I'm starting to wonder. Everyone I meet operates with a set of assumptions. In America, its what you get when you meet a quiet asian girl with glasses that majored in neuroscience. Here I'm a rich foriegner that works for an NGO.

This year alone, I've seen at least three new NGO programs start in my village. I'm not sure if there are more that I haven't seen, but it just adds on to the long list we already have. It makes me wonder how much could be done if we added up all the administrative waste. That alone could probably pave some roads that desperately need it and build a few wells that don't run dry in the dry season.

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