I feel it's appropriate that my 100th blog post is about the one phenomenon that has been such a cornerstone of my Peace Corps experience.
The Fishbowl Effect: n, a feeling of (or reality) where your every move is watched, carefully observed, scrutinized, and judged.
This is something that you are warned about prior to Peace Corps and something you will experience throughout the duration of your service. It will never cease. And after more than two years living in my community I am always surprised at the level of fishbowlery going on around me.
For example, there are people who shout my name from near and far, whom I am pretty sure I have never met, and if I have, I’ve never actually held a legitimate conversation with them. But alas, they know me. Will I ever know the amount of people that know me? Probably not. I have been approached by people from and in communities other than my own who ask if am such and such person. 9 times out of 10 I am that person. Only rarely am I confused for another Peace Corps Volunteer.
As one of the only “Whiteys” in my community, I stick out, I get it. My movements are easily spotted. I may or may not walk the same road every day at almost the same time, fine. But boy does word travel fast. My every coming and going is noted. If I travel to some event in another community, when I reach home, I am asked how that event was? Someone always sees me at said event and tells everyone. If neighbors have not seen me for a few days (a weekend), they automatically assume I went back home. Why would I go home and not tell any one? Why would I go back home and leave all my laundry on the clothesline? “Strangers” offer me rides, and know exactly which gap to drop me, without me having to tell them. Any time I go to the local club, come home late (or early), it does not go unnoticed. Every guest is questioned. God forbid I wear short pants (which judging by most standards here, are really not that short!); they are always pointed out to me. If I am seen with a “black man”, questions arise.
Sometimes it can be quite frustrating. Actually at first it was really annoying. No matter what I did or didn’t do, it was discussed and scrutinized. I generally do not care what people think of me, but as a representative of the United States and all that Peace Corps embodies, reputation is exceedingly important. This was drilled into our brains from day one of training. We are at work 24/7. We never stop representing our country and our program. It is important for many reasons in addition to being an ambassador, but also for safety. Our reputation determines the level of acceptance and willingness to work with us from our community and its members.For the most part I welcome it. It means I always have some one looking out for me. Unlike the U.S. where you can rot in your house for days before someone notices the smell or cares enough to make a call, my neighbors question my whereabouts every time I come or go. They run shady characters from my yard. They give me fruits. It makes me feel cared for; makes me feel important. I feel like a celebrity when I walk down the road. School children, from schools that I have never taught at, know me and come running to give me hugs, pet my skin or feel my “doll baby” hair. People who don’t know me, want to get to know me.