Villagers of Alapars, like any community, all have different reactions to the Amerkazi staying in their village for three months. I feel that most are actually very excited about us being here. On any given day I will be walking with Mike and a man will come up and shake his hand, obviously welcoming him. As an aside, men do not shake women’s hands here, nor do they approach women, so when I am alone I do not experience this because it would be improper. Other people stare at us with curiosity as we walk by and when they get the courage ask us von zez, how are you. Others stare at us mistrustfully, doubting our motivations for being in their community. And sometimes, if you are very unlucky, they shout at you and as a few volunteers from my village have experienced they throw rocks at you.
I have to say I have had quite the positive experience here. I have made friends with many of the children here and they seem to be excited to talk to me. Every day as I walk home from class, tired, frustrated and carrying a heavy bag, a smile is always brought to my face as I hear Barev Alisa, Von zez followed by tiny little echos of barev. As I walk away from the school and into my neighborhood the kids playing outside are always very excited to see me. They come up to me or call out to me with little smiles on their face that tell me that for whatever reason they are proud that they know the American in their village. One day as I was walking home, Kristen, my neighbor walks straight up to me, grabs my hand and leads me into her house. As I turn the corner with her, her mom, dad, tatik and papik as well as some siblings and cousins were all sitting around hanging out. She was so excited to take me to meet her family. Her tiny little hand held mine so tight; there was no way for me to escape. I approach timidly, I don’t speak the language, I am afraid I am intruding, and honestly I just don’t know what to say to these people. Kristen brings me up to her family and immediately the whole family springs into action. Tea is made, introductions are made, and a whole lot of awkwardness ensures. The thing is, the family was genuinely excited to meet me. I don’t really know what was said but I know that as tatik took my hand in hers and cusped my cheek, she was genuinely glad to meet me. I don’t know if I have ever experienced that feeling in the U.S.
Today as I was walking home, super tired from having 4 hours of class on a Saturday, I speedily walked past Kristen’s house hoping to be left alone. I knew I was in trouble when I heard Barev Alisa x6. I look up and Kristen and about 5 of her cousins were all outside waiting for me. I say hi to them, and pat Kristen on the head and keep moving. I turn back to say hajo and feel a little tiny hand grab mine. All of a sudden I notice I am being escorted home by all the kids. They all want to walk me home. The littlest one who must be about 4, does not let go of my hand until we get to my gate. Even on a bad day I cannot help but laugh at the thought of the sight of me being escorted home by a bunch of tiny little kids. I have to say I am so lucky that this has been my experience. Even though I really just wanted to come home and sleep today, how can you not smile after that?