I was recently asked a very unique question: "why did you join the Peace Corps?"
You may be thinking, "that question doesn't sound very unique." You're right. The question itself wasn't exceptional in this case, but rather the person asking it: a Mozambican woman. Two years in the bush and, to the best of my memory, a woman had never asked me a question with the purpose of simply learning about me. Sure, they'd asked my name, where I'm from, if I have siblings -- the facts that you could look up on my Facebook profile. But I'd never talked to a woman about my beliefs or passions -- the things that define me. I don't remember ever being asked my opinion on anything more significant than my taste for the design on a capulana.
Why did you join the Peace Corps? The uniqueness of this question didn't even occur to me until she'd asked it. Then she asked what I'd studied in college and why. WHAT. While I'm categorizing her as a general "Mozambican female," she's certainly out of the ordinary: she's a law student studying in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. She's educated and westernized and I felt, for the first time in two years, that she was a woman that I have a lot in common with -- one that I could be friends with.
It was a betrayal of the fundamental promise of Peace Corps: that we could be sent anywhere in the world and create intimate, valuable relationships. How much easier I form friendships with people like myself.
. . .
While Mozambican men are generally more educated and sociable than women, I've certainly had trouble relating to them as well. They are generally warm and generous but also extremely untrustworthy and irresponsible with anything of value. Even with Mozambican teachers whose salaries double my monthly volunteer stipend, my relationships have been repeatedly damaged or forfeited at the expense of my possessions:
Viegas purchased himself a TV with money I'd given him to buy me a bike;
Daniel faked a life-threatening heart condition so I'd give him money to travel to Maputo;
Ussene abandoned me at Machanga's bar when I refused to pay for his entire night's beer tab;
Hassan threatened to hang himself if I didn't help pay for his graduation garb.
I've found more controversy with friends in 2 years in Mozambique than I have in the rest of my life in America. The possible explanations are numerous: I'm white, I'm an easy target, I'm here only temporarily, I'm assumed to be wealthy. Reasons aside, it's been very hard for me to maintain friendships with Mozambicans as profound as those that I've made with other PCVs.
I spoke with PCV Sam recently about my irrigation project and what would become of the funding if it wasn't complete by the time I left Mozambique in December. "Is there someone you trust in Machanga that could you leave the money with?" he asked. The reality: though I've never even met them, I know that I could blindly trust the incoming Peace Corps Volunteers with the money. And, though I've met hundreds of them, I know that I could not trust any Mozambican. Sam sighed and responded, "Yeah, I figured."