I have a general rule not to give anything away in my village. For one thing, people ask me for pretty much everything they can think of. A man I hardly know will come up to my doorstep and ask me to give him my bicycle in the same tone and with the same guileless expectation of fulfillment that my next-door neighbor would ask for some matches or sugar. Grinning, I’ll tell him to get in line behind the 27 other people who have already called dibs on my Trek 3500, and the next day the same thing will happen.
And for another thing, foreigners are synonymous with aid in much of rural Zambia and donor dependency is a big issue. The Peace Corps exists in part to provide a more sustainable alternative to traditional development, so I’ll consider my service to have been a success if all I’ve accomplished by the end of two years is convincing some of my neighbors that not all white people are here to give away money.
However, some of the neighbor girls who sell me vegetables appear to have found a loophole in the system.
15-year-old Chanda skips up to my door yesterday morning holding a bowl of okra.
Chanda: I’m selling okra!
Matt: I don’t want okra.
Chanda: [waving a scolding finger] Ba Matt! Buy some okra.
Matt: But I don’t like okra.
Chanda: I need the money to buy a notebook for school.
Matt: [paying her] SO not fair.
Chanda: [smiles winningly] I’ll come back tomorrow morning with eggplant, okay?
Matt: Guess what I like even less than okra?