silly Western expectations

Today is my last day in Bosnia, the first of my Kiva placements.

I have committed a year to volunteering with Kiva, and I initially hoped to write a book about the experience.  Last August, I imagined myself sitting on a street corner in Kenya, smoking cheap cigarettes.  Poor children would laugh in the distance and I would sigh, reflectively, finally understanding the meaning of it all.  I would walk down the street with a child on my back, high-fiving locals and getting a thumbs-up sign from the local nurse.  My eyes would turn that perspicacious blue, seen only in the eyes of worldly travelers.  I would return home and talk about my experiences in smoky cafes, always to a captivated audience.  “You can’t understand what it’s like until you get out there,” I would say, wisely. “The experience changed my life.”

But since coming to Bosnia, I have barely written anything at all.  My notebook is filled only with doodles.  Even blog entries are a struggle.  I don’t know what message to take from all this, only that it has made me deeply happy.  My eyes may still be an unworldly grey, and I may not have learned the deeper meaning of life, but hot damn do I have memories.

I’ll remember the distinguished placement of  teddy bears on living room couches.

I’ll remember listening to stories about love and romance in the time of war.  I’ll remember the women who made love in tanks and fields of wildflowers, amid bombings and gunfire.

I’ll remember meeting Kiva borrowers, who offered me tea and smiles.  I’ll remember their pristinely clean houses; their cows and pigs and chickens and vegetable gardens.  I’ll remember the realization that they live on less than $200/month, and that despite their polished tea cups, they cannot afford visits to the doctor.

I’ll remember fried cheese pastries, with pools of oil that I eventually slurped with a spoon, like the sweetened milk at the bottom of a cereal bowl.

I’ll remember dancing in the discotheque, celebrating the cheapness of alcohol and the immediacy of the music.  I’ll remember my soul being touched by the accordion.

I’ll remember meeting Nermina.  During the war, a bomb went off in the market while she was holding her 4-year-old son.  He was decapitated in her arms.

I’ll remember The Apple Guy, who would smile and slip an extra apple into my fruit bag.  That extra apple was always the one that tasted best.

I’ll remember feeling stupid.  Stupid in my interactions with people.  Stupid in my expectation of self-enlightenment.  Stupid that I thought I could contribute anything to microfinance, a field I know nothing about.  Stupid for even writing this blog.

I will not be writing a book about my experience.  In “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” Michael Chabon refers to “sentient apes.”  And that’s how I feel.  I am a sentient ape.  But Bosnia has been fabulous.  I’m off for a few weeks of travel, but will arrive at K-Met in Kisumu, Kenya in January.  Perhaps my high-fiving, thumbs-up fantasy will still occur.  Happy holidays!


About the author