Challenging Assumptions and Taking the Leap

I’ve been thinking about faith lately, contemplating the reasons we believe in certain things and choose to allow so called reason to take the reigns on others. Do we choose these distinctions or do they just somehow develop? Can the balance shift and should we seek out challenges to encourage our assumptions to change?

Something I’ve been feeling in the last 9 months is that what we know to be true is never static as long as we allow it to grow. Ideas, beliefs, faith–all these things are dynamic and should be dynamic for social and personal change to really be affected. We can so easily get caught in our knowledge, in what we know to be true, that we forget how to learn, forget that discovery comes from the sometimes unforeseeable opening of the mind.

I’ve become so jaded while here. I came to Africa thinking change was possible and somehow along the way my thoughts shifted to a deadlock. Everywhere I looked I saw roadblocks to change from the very people who could benefit the most. All the stereotypes we laughingly discussed at the beginning of training seemed to be true. From believing that people here wanted my help to assuming that I was irrelevant and unwanted, my truth made a complete shift. I struggled with finding friendships among women who seem to just perpetuate the injustices against them, and men who daily and constantly harass me to the point of demoralization. Sometimes I really do just want to give up because I know that nothing I do here is going to have any sort of impact in the long run, so what’s the point?

Volunteers get together and binge drink. Sometimes there’s a therapeutic b*tch session where we complain about the administration, the country, the people, the corruption, but mostly people just drink themselves into a stupor so they don’t have to think about it at all. It’s cathartic in its own way, I suppose, but not particularly helpful and not something that I participate in often. There’s something so juvenile about it, like being trapped in a frat house party where no one seems to justify the real occasion. I’m not trying to blame the volunteers; life here is difficult and frustrating so much of the time. But we do get so trapped into our own assumptions and our own frustrations that no one really says anything about anything anymore. It’s just the same thing every time, hoping to pass the time away so we’ll be one more day closer to being finished with the pointlessness of these two years.

The last three weeks I’ve been paying my thirteen year old neighbor girl to come over to my house on Saturdays and help me with my laundry. I get everything set up, she washes, and I help her hang the clothes up to dry. She’s quick and efficient and gets 500F out of it, which is a pretty good deal for us both. This last Saturday she didn’t show up at the time we had agreed on, 10am, which was extremely irritating for me. I assumed that she had either forgotten or didn’t care enough to respect my time or her money and I was grumbling pretty angrily to myself while I started doing the laundry on my own. I was starting to scrub a t-shirt when I thought to myself that perhaps something had happened, maybe there was an emergency. Of course that would be my first thought if I was paying an American girl to come over and help me. I would immediately worry about her and want to check up to make sure she was okay, not angrily assume that she had ditched me for some other more interesting activity. Why did I make the choice to be upset with my neighbor for those reasons? Was it a choice? I tend to think yes it was.

I am conditioned to think the worst of my fellow neighbors because time and time again, the worst is what I’ve seen. When a Beninese man comes up to me, my first instinct is to be aggressive and dismissive. I am rude automatically because so often I am harassed. Is this fair? I don’t know. I’m not sure if it was wrong for me to assume that my neighbor had ditched me. But when she showed up, an hour later, she explained that she was making lunch for her little sister and brother because their mother was traveling somewhere and couldn’t make it to my house on time. She said that she would have called but that her family cannot afford a cell phone. Immediately I felt both guilty and elated. Guilty because I had assumed that she was just being lazy and in reality she was working much harder than myself. Elated because a small part of my cynicism had been chipped away by this girl with her honesty and strength. I realized, for just a moment, that my time here did not have to be shaped by the static preconceptions I’d developed, and all I felt then was joy.

As far as faith goes, I know that nothing is certain. I know that challenging our assumptions is the only way to get to a place of acceptance, of peace, because if we let ourselves, we will be surprised by small acts that alter our perceptions. Before I got here, I knew I would change the world. Three months ago I knew I wasn’t going to make it all the way through my service. Today I know that with an open heart and mind, I can be changed. I wonder what I’ll know tomorrow?


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