#177 Rude-ass kids and the local version of honky
submitted by Greg Vaughan who blogs at Agrarian Ideas
“Ey, Yovo, Yovo! Cadeau, cadeau!”
This chorus has followed you everywhere you go for the past month. It was cute for maybe two days, then it started seeming really rude. Where the hell are these kids’ parents? Haven’t they taught them it’s not polite to point and stare and yell at people? I mean, if they did that to a local adult, these kids would get shushed and probably hit by a whole range of onlookers, relatives and non-relatives. But then you start to see adults everywhere egging their kids on, whispering, “Blah blah blah blah yovo, blah blah blah blah cadeau. Hahahaha.” What the hell? Don’t these people have any sense of decency?
By the end of your first month in-country you’ve assembled an entire philosophical discourse on the topic. By yelling at foreigners, by designating them with a specific name different from the term for local people, these kids (and the adults who’ve taught them) are objectifying you. They don’t consider you quite human. And by asking constantly for money or gifts, which no logical human being would ever ask for from a complete stranger, they are perpetuating the dynamic of dependence on the rich world. Don’t they see that the rich world has always taken more than it gives?
Initially you’re somewhat charitable in your assessments. You figure that local missionary groups or passers-through must have established this dehumanizing dynamic by throwing candy out their Land Rover window, or corralling kids around them as if they were cattle to distribute donated notebooks or something. But you’re not like that. You’ve read about local culture enough to explain it to the locals. You’re genuine, you’re in solidarity with them, with these little yelling bastards.
Before long, you realize that you, the expert visitor to this dusty village from the rich world, have become the oppressed. These humble farmers and their impish children are oppressing you, dammit! Now you know what minorities feel like back home. Or, well, actually, like US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney maybe you’ve got it worse than minorities! They don’t get pointed at and heckled on the streets, do they?
The more astute see the facial features inherited from your Chinese parents, and scream excitedly “An nyoung” (thanks to the local Korean textile factory for that), or the Korean features of your face and scream “Ni hao” (thanks for that to the Chinese infrastructure project employing only Chinese laborers). Right neighborhood, but still offensive. On the other hand, if you’re a generic white gringo who’s always fancied yourself exotic looking (though no one else has), you might initially relish the “Oye blanco, dame dinero” you get from kids who confuse you with the Chilean peacekeeper force stationed nearby. But it too becomes tiresome after the first seven times.
By the second month of “Blan, blan” you start madly yelling back “Nwa, nwa!”, and by the third month you just scowl at the kids. When you hear, “Howahyou givmeewandallah,” you chase them off and remark to any nearby adults that they should be ashamed to have local kids asking for money from strangers. Don’t they feed their kids?
By the fourth month in-country you’ve taken it upon yourself to mount a public education campaign. You authoritatively scold children when they point and giggle, “Mzungu!”, and you tell parents that in your culture it’s rude to talk that way to adults. You help the kids realize the importance and autonomy of their own countrymen to feed and care for them. Who buys them their clothes? Who grows their food? Who pays for their schooling? All locals, not foreigners. “You see kids, you need to realize that truly sustainable development must come from local actors, not from outsiders.” You seem to be making headway, as now everyone in the village knows you, probably as, “That touchy bature who doesn’t like when you call her bature”.
Your fifth month is smooth sailing. You’ve adjusted to local culture, you’re speaking the language well, and you feel you’ve closed somewhat that cultural gap between you and the locals. You’ve accepted that you’ll never totally blend in or go native, but the present situation seems to be tenable.
One day you wake up and walk to the local schoolhouse for a scheduled meeting, and you are faced with a horrendous sight. It’s short-sleeve-collared-shirt-and-slacks-wearing white people, with the whole village clustered around them, handing out Bibles and M&Ms.
By your sixth month you’ve accepted your fate, like the abused street dogs people delight in kicking around here. You feebly ignore the kids that have once again begun to hound and heckle you as you shuffle, hunched, to your daily work routine. You are nothing more than a yovo.