A woman turns to me and says, “Could you please pass the passive aggressiveness? It looks scrumptiously tempting tonight.”
“Oh, sure, here, let me spoon some onto your plate. Is this enough?”
“Não, quero engordar, menina.”
“No problem. Ok here.”
“Ainda não. Ainda não chega.”
“Now have you had enough?” I think to myself while delicately trying to force smiles and compose social decency enough to get myself through the day and be a mature individual. The woman to my right continuously feeds off the lush, fatty and ever plentiful plate of one of the most bountiful attitudes I have unfortunately found to be a huge part of my personal experience here in this beautiful country, and that attitude and mentality is none other than the worst type of aggressiveness, none other than the grand daddy of all let-me-slowly-torture-you-and-laugh-while-you-suffer aggressiveness. Come on, people, we all know it. We’ve all been there. We’ve all done it (and if you say you haven’t you’re lying).
Let’s traverse down the road of none other than passive aggressiveness.
Now, of all roads for us to pick our lovely afternoon walk together, this one is certainly not the peachiest, nor is it filled with luscious coffee shops for us to get unusually caffeinated together. However, I’ve decided—after long deliberation and the persistent, reminding nag of this road’s existence—the traverse is worthwhile, necessary, and unavoidable. Worth mentioning for crystal clarity, though, is that these experiences are mine and mine only. They are not meant to be generalized to all Mozambicans or other volunteers. The topic-at-hand has continuously been a very present and consistent part of my life here; it constitutes much more time and mental energy than I would have ever fathomed possible.
And let’s get to walking.
What a beautiful day, a day filled with the most beautiful clouds I have ever had the pleasure of seeing in my entire life. Do you see how they plume out towards the top as if they exploded violently out of a jar into the deepest and richest sky blues? Oh, and the air! The freshness of being in the Moçambican matu (bush) with none other but the greens of mango trees, tall grasses, and oddly shaped flowers. And didn’t you say you were thirsty? Let’s grab a drink, especially since we don’t know how long it will be until we can find another soda.
“We’d like duas Coca-Colas, por favor.” Thanks, e vamos!
What a beautiful school! We have to go in it. I’ve never seen such a well-constructed school in Moçambique before, how awesome. The teachers greet us and chat. And amidst our chat enters two young and jovial female teachers. They fix their eyes on me.
“Olá, como está?”
“Estou bem, obrigada, e você?
Suddenly, within the prolonged nasal pronunciations of the ever clogged-up sounding slur that Portuguese brings with it, a teacher fixates her radar and complete concentration on me, and glares.
What is she glaring at? Why isn’t she answering me?
Her eyes deepen into her skull a millimeter as her gaze becomes heavier. She no longer is processing conscious thought and the only activity to which she is doing at the moment is a full body analysis of every article of clothing I’m wearing, how I look, the patterns and textures of all the inter-workings of my blouse, the fact that my shoes are different, the fact that my hair isn’t fake and isn’t braided to my other hair, how my teeth are straight and that I still have all of them, the fact that she smells coke on my breathe and wishes that she also had one, etc. Her gaze is more than fixed; the paralyzed non-movement and incapability of doing any other action yet remain in a drunken lull of analysis tells me everything, and worse, makes for an awkward, uncomfortable interaction.
She knows all of it.
She perceives all of it.
She wants to figure out all of it.
And from here starts a slew of questions, and as each is answered, her deepened eyes come back to life as she storages each piece of information ever so caringly within the recesses of her mind.
- How old are you?
- How long have you been in Moçambique?
- Why are you here?
- What do you do here?
- Did you finish university?
- Oh, interesting. Already done! Do you have children?
- You don’t? I have 3. Well, you’re married, right?
- But don’t you at least have a boyfriend here?
- Aren’t you going to be lonely here? You need to get a boyfriend.
- Ok, Fidelity. Fidelity?
- So you don’t have a farm, right?
- Yea, I thought. That’s probably why you look so nice. Where do you get your clothes from?
- I like your blouse. Can I have it?
- But we’re friends. Don’t friends always share?
- Oh, but you can always buy another one. Don’t you want to be my friend?
- One day I’ll take you to my house. How does that sound?
The questions never stop. Forgive the bluntness, but the likelihood that each is crafted with a very particular secondary intention and onward motion to continuously grapple and pull more information out of you to get a mint-condition, perfect collector’s edition baseball card of you with all your following statistics and information is likely, in my opinion, to be high.
As each question is accordingly unraveled, with it comes a deepening in malevolence and acute jealousy coupled with an awkward adoration and respect that spirals into even deeper dislike and discomfort.
3. Why are you here?
Me: I’m here because I wanted to help another country that is less developed than my own and have a chance to help develop the capacity of individuals towards personal and community goals.
Moçambicana: I’m here because I was born here. I live in a poor country and if I could I would move to South Africa for the opportunity to get more money.
4. What do you do here?
Me: I’m a high school teacher and work a lot. As a result, I’m actually very busy and wish I had more free time to get to know Mozambique and this community better.
Moçambicana: Before teaching I stayed home and cooked. This is my first year teaching.
5. Did you finish university?
Me: Yes, I graduated with a degree in philosophy at the age of 22.
Moçambicana: I haven’t gone to university yet but really want to.
6. Do you have children?
Me: No, I do not. I’m too young for that in my life right now.
Moçambicana: I had my first child when I was 17. I just had my 3rd child six months ago.
7. Aren’t you going to be lonely here? You need to get a boyfriend.
Me: That’s honestly just not a part of my culture. Although it’s normal here to be dating or married to a multiple men, I really just don’t want to do that nor would I be happy with that. Rather, I’m happy just dating the one person I’m dating.
Moçambicana: The father of my children lives in South Africa and is a miner. I have a boyfriend here, though.
12. Where do you get your clothes?
Me: Most of my clothes are from America and I brought them with me when I came here.
13. Can I have it?
Me: No, I need my clothes or else I’ll get cold or be stuck naked.
Moçambicana: You don’t need clothes. You have a lot and can go buy more whenever you want. Give me your shirt.
16. One day I’ll take you to my house. How does that sound?
Moçambicana: Silence, again.
“Teachers here walk demoralized,” the chemistry teacher tells me while we’re walking home from night school in the pitch black. I stumble clumsily on the unevenness of the road and stupidly embarrass myself; thankfully, in the darkness he can’t see much. I intently listen. “They aren’t valued by others—whether it’s the community or the school directors. We work many hours for not much money while the entire community believes that we skip classes or have inappropriate relationships with the students. Even if we are hard, sincere workers, no one will recognize it so there’s no incentive to be that.” We stop after having reached my house. He continues, “And if you want to go on with your life to university or realize dreams you have, you’re not going to be able to unless you’re a part of the political party. People want to keep you demoralized so that everyone is in the same position; we’re all suffering, don’t you get it? As soon as you go on and do something better than others, they are already thinking of ways to bring you back down to their level—down to how educated they want to keep you, what you wear, what your house looks like, even what you eat. It’s jealousy at its worst; we’re a poor country, and unfortunately we still have a mentalidade de pobreza even though we’re developing. That’s why we walk the way we do. That’s why we do what we do. Está a perceber?”
He asks if I understand.
Now, how could I not understand?
Isn’t it obvious why an American would be the target to some not so indirect passive aggressiveness?
We’re young and still have our futures to make.
We don’t have children yet.
We have nice clothes.
We have access to money.
We have the possibility of having only one steady boyfriend or girlfriend that more than likely is not cheating.
We’re coming to this poor country, where others are suffering, because we want to.
Even worse, we volunteered to come to this suffering country—without pay.
We’re generally all very nice.
We’re generally all happy people.
A nightmare has entered my mind. It reeks a foul stench. It laughs an evil laugh. It dances a sickly dance. A nightmare has entered my mind not yesterday, the day before that, the month before, or even the year before. It entered when I was only a little girl while playing house with my brothers and sisters. There I was, a doctor with a family of five—my wonderful husband and my three beautiful children, one boy and two girls. We all live in a large, well-kept home on the side of the street with friendly neighbors who all respect us. We are happy as a family. My children are healthy. There’s no other care in the world. Now that I am older I can see that my dream—my husband, children, house, occupation—is really nothing than the beginnings of my nightmare. Yes, it marks the beginning of knowing that that dream, that stupid, pesky dream, will never be my own; those were not the conditions I was born into, nor is it the culture to which raised me. That dream haunts me, and as of now, it thunders into my memory with a sharpened sting each time it is recalled.
And here she is, this American, coming into my school having just enjoyed a refreshing soda. She is educated, will be supported by the economy and political power of her country’s well doings, will have a husband that supports her and who is faithful towards her, will have as many children as she wants without her husband forcing her, will have prospects for having the ability to choose her occupation when she returns to America. And my god, she is so beautiful, too! Look at her hair! It’s so smooth and not ugly like mine. And her skin! It’s so creamy and white. Mine is just black.
And here she is, this American, coming into my school having just enjoyed a refreshing soda. She is educated, will be supported by the economy and political power of her country’s well doings, will have a husband that supports her and who is faithful towards her, will have as many children as she wants without her husband forcing her, will have prospects for occupation when she returns to America. And my god, she is so beautiful, too! Look at her hair! It’s so smooth and not ugly like mine. And her skin! It’s so creamy and white. Mine is just black.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Um, correction, Mr. Franklin, make that less than three hours. Fish and American guests stink after only three hours, apparently. They bring with them the wafting realizations about what others are not. Others are not educated. Others are not employed. Others do not have nice clothes like this American girl. Others do not have faithful husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends. In this one person, in this one measly twenty-something-year-old American girl, is everything I am not; she is none other than my walking nightmare.
Thankfully, guests, whether they are guests of the house or school, are unlike fish in that they have the capacity to empathize and understand the feelings of others, and with that, I’ll take my cue, Mr. Franklin. I suppose it is none other than my time to go, to depart, to bid my farewells.
We carefully gather our things and head out the school’s gate. We fasten the door behind us and continue on in the well-maintained and established road. Instead of feeling offended, upset, or depressed, more understandable is to know that road to which we walk. No one frolics here frivolously; we walk with a purpose on this road, with a purpose to understand the walk and experience of others. “How easy it is, though, to get offended, upset, or depressed!” I think. Better, though, to leave it, leave it all, exit the school, fasten the gate, and walk away. “I’m thirsty,” says my friend. “After all, it has been several hours.” She makes a good point. Let us leave, walk away, and move on. And what do we do? We get on with our lives. With compassion we leave that which we cannot help, that which we did no harm yet understand why we would be salting the wound, and that said, let’s go find that coke, shall we?