The other day I cheerfully greeted a woman who passed by my house and instead of returning my greeting in kind, she gave an exasperated sigh, answering me with what I felt was a condescending and mocking tone. I felt stunned. It made me start to doubt all of the efforts I’ve made to integrate into my community, and I began to get the sinking suspicion that everybody in my village hated me.
(My nearest PCV neighbor Sarah tells me teasingly that I’m a drama king. I don’t know where on earth she could possibly have gotten this extremely fallacious impression.)
I was still mired in this funk the next morning, when I decided the only way I could get myself out of it was to confront my fears and insecurities head-on. So I took a deep breath and forced myself to step outside my house and started walking. And as I meandered slowly through the village, calling out greetings to bamayos as I passed their huts and receiving a barrage of joyous shouts from kids at every corner, I could feel my sense of belonging beginning to return.
At one compound I watched a family shuck the kernels from cornhusks in order to prepare it for pounding into maize flour. Outside another, I joined in a jump rope game that the little girls were playing, to the delight of the crowd of children and not a few women who had swiftly assembled around us. Later, I stopped and chatted with some bamayos and kids for an hour and got them to laugh uproariously at me as I tried my hand at pounding cassava with mortar and pestle. Much as I like to think I’m a naturally funny guy, I have to grudgingly admit that it’s not difficult to make people laugh in a place where everything you do is hilarious.
I showed the kids pictures of themselves on my phone. I promised to teach the bamayos how to make tortillas. I assisted a tiny girl in picking a small mango from a branch just out of her reach. And I returned home feeling a greater sense of community in my site than I had in a long time. I had started out that morning trying to find that sense of purpose and self-assuredness I was so desperately wanting. But along the way, I discovered that it was the village that had found me.
Later that day, I ran into that same woman who I thought didn’t like me. She greeted me with such a genuine smile that it seemed like her negativity from our interaction the day before had been all in my head. Maybe it was.