You know about rose-colored glasses, but do you know about the Peace Corps sunglasses? No, because I just made it up. Everyone looks through their own lens in life. Whether you are optimistic, pessimistic, cynical, or perhaps naïve, people view things differently. I’ve noticed that after a point in your service, you slip on Peace Corps sunglasses. These glasses have a rainbow of colors and change depending on the day, but overall there is one thing that stays the same.
We Volunteers are awful judgmental. It comes with the territory though. We spend 27 months living in difficult conditions. We are deprived of food, washing machines, cars, and a score of other wonderful things. We earn the right to be judgmental to some extent. Here’s how it goes.
Yesterday, I met an African-American living in Ghana. We all looked at him after hearing him greet us and looked puzzled. Is he American? Turns out he is. My friend and I were flabbergasted, awe-struck, and intrigued. We see other Peace Corps Volunteers often, but we rarely actually see other regular Americans. So we briefly chatted with him then went on a tour of a cashew processing facility. The place was loud so we couldn’t talk to him, but he was around our age. After the tour he was telling everyone more about himself. His mother is Ghanaian and his father is American. He has lived in Ghana for 4 years. Alright everyone. Let’s repeat that. FOUR YEARS. Got it? Okay. So needless to say, I was staring at him like he was a piece of juicy steak. It was just too crazy to believe that this guy just upped and moved here and landed a pretty damn awesome job. He was talking about how cheap stuff is over here – to live. But then, he said the real kicker. The one thing that made me remember I was wearing my Peace Corps sunglasses. He opened his mouth and said: “Oh, I don’t eat local foods. I go to hotels and get the American style dishes. I’m afraid of getting sick.” Me:”So, you never eat chop?” Him: “Nope, never.”
And just like that I lost ALL respect for him. I was judging him like that American Idol guy – Simon something.
You live in your mom’s country. You have been here for 4 years. You live outside of the capital. And you do not eat local food. It is so ridiculous for me to even fathom. It would be like me in Germany only eating McDonald’s because I was afraid schnitzel would make me sick. NO. You know what? HELL NO. A huge part of living in another country is enjoying local food. Trying new things and getting out of your comfort zone. This is why other people think Americans are arrogant, because we stick our noses up at things that aren’t familiar. And guess what? I’m judging you for it.
Judge judge judge. I understand that all people, no matter what culture you are from, need to feel connected to their roots. Many times this is through food. In Ghana, food is king. Life revolves around food. Farmers bring home their food for the evening. Meals are eaten in a group setting, all hands are in the pot. Refusing to participate in this aspect of the culture is (in my mind) insulting. Food is the gateway to integration. Food is the gateway to a culture. You can learn so much about another group of people by eating their local meals with them. Why would you stick your nose up to that?
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
So, you see these Peace Corps sunglasses are pretty laser-like. When I hear about expats living in Ghana and never stepping out of the capital, I judge them. When I meet Dutch volunteers who refuse to conform to modesty standards, I judge them.
I have a feeling those Peace Corps sunglasses aren’t easy to take off.