As a warning to anyone who has a fear of roaches, uh, I’d advise you not to read past the pretty picture of Africa I drew.
A few weeks back, when we arrived at our site in the field, after sitting in planes and cars for several hours, I went to use the latrine, which was very nicely constructed (venthole, mesh wiring around roof, windows, latrine slab, etc).
Inside, I found huge roaches the size of my fist in the latrine. There were only five or six, and since they were mostly just chillin’ I let them be, and later someone obviously fumigated the place because it was empty that night when I used it again. After that point, I saw a few smaller roaches here or there, but nothing out of the ordinary.
I admit that I went American and girly for a moment, and quietly yelped and jumped back. The site manager, who was on his cell phone nearby, said, “Cockroach?” and then told a nearby staffer to go and step on it for me.
I was like… um… that… won’t work. And I’m not that big of a wimp. One I can step on. Several I can step on. Dozens and dozens I cannot step on.
Still on his cell, he came over and realized what I was talking about and had the staffer bomb the latrine, then sweep it out (never breaking stride in his cellphone conversation). Long story short, I opted to utilize the facilities elsewhere.
When I told this story to a friend, she and I laughed about the differences in expectations, and how our bodies and minds adapt. Working in a refugee setting, she had a similar story about grasshoppers carpeting the latrine floor. And while it’s a little gross, your expectations are different, and in so, your reactions adapt.
What I’d expect in the US is different than what I’d expect in Juba. And what I expect in Juba is quite different than what I’d expect in the field. My reactions to each is directly proportionate to my expectations.
In the US, one roach is unacceptable. In the field, five roaches were acceptable. Dozens and dozens were not.
Although if I’d stayed there longer, I’m sure I would have adapted to that as well.
This incident led to some interesting conversations with colleagues and friends about expectations of various things – food, health care, housing, electricity. Expectations naturally change depending on where we are, and how it ties back to design and implementation of international development projects is another interesting discussion that’s too long and serious to go into here.
Although interestingly enough, rodents are unacceptable to me everywhere. I’m more prepared for them out in the bush somewhere, but they’re still unacceptable.
But that’s because rodents are evil.