Like, a toddler tantrum, making-a-scene-in-the-cereal-aisle kind of meltdown.
That's an exaggeration.
There are literally* no good gifs of the Wicked Witch of the West melting. What else is the internet for? Why do you let me down now, internet, today of all days?
December 1 is International HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. I wanted to use this awesome school competition/jeopardy game thing my friend Dan made; my office wanted to go with the predictable slide show + a million students + media cuz that's cool. I was outnumbered and bullied into finding the materials for the day - even if I didn't agree with the approach, I wanted to take advantage of the students who would be there to try and give them some sort of useful information.
Additionally, my office is really into organizing these marches from the D.Sh.P. to the auditorium using students holding signs and banners to raise awareness. This is a really cool idea with absolutely zero practical application. You can't give a bunch of dumb high school boys a sign that says "STOP AIDS" and expect them to magically realize, "Gee whiz, my personal health is something I ought to take responsibility for - maybe I should practice safe sex and perhaps even get a blood test to make sure I'm healthy, because when I reevaluate my life decisions an STI is something I sure should worry about!"
The girls aren't much better - they're usually too busy taking selfies to actually read what their signs say, which would also qualify them to be "dumb".
The usual shenanigans occur (the auditorium double-booked itself, so there are three high school students demanding that their presentations are more important than ours so they should go first; we start a good hour late; the teachers take the best seats in the house and leave their students to total unsupervised anarchy in the seats behind them; the director shows up with some new doctor who wants to spur-of-the-moment present with us; etc.) but the real kicker was the candles. They handed out candles to students - students who were roughhousing, jumping over seats, wrestling, with long hair and scarves and synthetic coats, taking selfies while waving their wax sticks of death around - and they were lit. I saw the auditorium go up in flames before my eyes in some kind of Albanian apocalyptic vision: the synthetic upholstery catching on fire, the ancient wooden seats acting as kindling, the mad rush of 600 people to the exit doors, all of which were locked except for one, and myself amidst the inferno thinking "What a dumbass way to die." The worst part is they tried this last year and I (thought I'd) said that was totally unnecessarily dangerous and we should never ever ever do that again. But what's my opinion/love of living worth, anyway?
Thankfully, my doomsday predictions were for naught. I have survived to tell this
Even worse than the candles were the whistles. Oh, my God. There's this Albanian whistle that usually shows up at weddings - those cramped, sweaty, incredibly loud torture chambers - and it is way louder than anything else there. This whistle is so loud, so piercing...it's unbelievable. And I hate it with literally every fiber of my being.
But throw a zillion high schoolers together and the boys will have whistling contests. Before the presentation. During the presentation. While people are talking. When the lights are on. When the lights are off. Whistling, whistling, whistling, WHISTLING, WHIIIIISSSSSSSSSSSTTTLIIIIINNG. Who needs Chinese water torture when you can set a few pubescent Albanian boys against each other?
Needless to say, no one paid any attention to the presentation, anarchy reigned**, and I effing lost it. Hands over my face so I didn't have to look at anyone, fingers in my ears to try and assuage the whistling assaults, shaking in indignation and anger and frustration and despair, trapped by a ring of people saying,
"Oh, don't worry Mary, this is just the way it its."
"There's nothing we can do about it - students will always be horrible, hopefully we taught a few of them something!"
"Don't be upset, your material is really good!"
"Don't worry, why are you upset? This is the way it is!"
And that, my friends, is the worst part. Worse than the unexpected fellow presenters, worse than the death wish candles, worse than the whistling: the apathy. The lack of responsibility. The indifference. The "Well, we did our job and took some pictures so let's go drink a coffee now." attitude. How can I begin to express why I'm upset to the very people who are part of the cause?
Especially when I really do care about these people. They do their best in a toxic environment where ingenuity and intelligence are punished and bribery runs the show. My coworkers drive me insane, but they really do care about me and value what I try to do (even if they smile, nod, then do the totally opposite thing), and I'm lucky to have them. But I swear to God, they're also trying to kill me.
...and I'm sitting here all, "There's no place like home!" Because at least the shit at home is shit I'm used to dealing with.***
I was recently talking to another volunteer about how hard November seems to be - last year was awful, too - what with the holidays and seeing pictures of family and friends together and missing home. Some days, this country is like a pumice stone and I feel like a weight is dragging my face across the surface and there'll be nothing left of me when I get back to the States. So I take a five hour nap, wake up even more grouchy, text and complain, call and complain, skype and complain...and nothing works.
But then again, I know in a few days I'll wake up and feel okay again. These things just have to run their course.
*and I meant literally literally, not "literally" as in "figuratively," which is apparently an official thing now.
**Oxymoron? Non sequitur? Neither - this is a land where Contradiction runs free and the Impossible drinks a coffee with the Incorrigible.
***except when I awake from my reverie to find myself clicking my heels together, instead of ruby slippers I'm wearing hand-knit village socks and chanting "it's finally happened, I've gone insane."