Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Is this what JFK had in mind when he came up with the Second Goal of Peace Corps?

The second goal of the Peace Corps is to u a better understanding of America and its peoplehos within the host country. Usually I fulfill this with casual conversation, sharing American food, or explaining pictures of Boston and home. Often, Rwandans ask me questions about how things are done in America, and I’m put in the position of distilling our massive and diverse culture into a neat answer that can be conveyed with my meager Kinyarwanda vocabulary.

I had the funniest conversation the other day with my counterpart and the head of my village. They asked me if men in America can take more than one wife, so I explained that they can’t do so at the same time but they can after a divorce, of which we have many (and likewise, women can take a second husband). And that some men, and some women, take girl/boyfriends despite being married, but that I think that happens in Rwanda too and usually it’s frowned upon in both cultures. They asked me if sometimes men might have kids with different women and therefore a few different families. They asked me who would get the kids so we got into court arbitration, child support, etc. I told them that there is a slight bias towards the mother getting the kids, and they seemed to think there would (or should?) be more men getting custody. I said usually a man (particularly athletes and rappers) who has children with several different women would rather find new women to have relations with than take care of the existing kids so usually the mothers get the kids.

I kid you not, the head of my village then said he wants to go to America some day and impregnate a woman. (Good luck dude, you’re a great village leader but with your middle-age paunch, your total lack of English and money you would not have so much game…)

Throughout the conversation, they kept asking my opinion on all of this and I kept navigating between keeping up my reputation as being “serious” and culturally appropriate while speaking for all of America on the topic with some semblance of nuance.

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