Living in a Fishbowl

One former member of senior management described Peace Corps as living in a fishbowl. Especially if you live in a village with no electricity or running water you are the village television. Everyone watches what you do and you are the subject of frequent “water cooler” conversation.

E.g.

Villageois 1: Sara, where’s your bike?

Sara: I’m walking, I’m trying to get exercise.

Villageois 1: That’s cool. But why don’t you have your bike

Sara continues on to the market on her afternoon walk

Villageois 1: Did you see the nassara without her bike

Villageois 2: Yeah. It’s weird. She has such a nice bike.

I think the best way to describe being a foreigner in a village is the following:

Imagine that you have someone with blue skin come to your village/school/house. He/she can speak their language, but he/she is the only person with different physical characteristics. Of course you are going to stare; you are going to talk about him/her, babies will cry when they see him/her because he/she is different. This is the first time you’ve ever seen a person with blue skin. 

It’s good to keep this in mind, but it still hurts my feelings to be called nassara, to be stared at, or to make babies cry even though I’ve been here for 18 months. 

It’s hard to escape this fishbowl even in Ouagadougou. At our transit house I feel like I’m living in an even smaller fishbowl surrounded by other PCVs constantly watching you. 

One classic pop culture example of this fishbowl phenomenon is television show “The Real World.” This is back in the day when MTV used to still play music videos and didn’t sell out. 7 strangers were placed in a house and were constantly captured by cameras. Generally people with opposing political beliefs were placed in the house to encourage arguments and make for good television. E.g. They would put someone in the house who was openly homosexual and someone who detested homosexuals, and of course they would fight.

Now, my “Real World” knowledge isn’t that great because I did not grow up with cable. I did watch “Survivor” and “Big Brother” which were variations on a theme, except there were rules, and a $1,000,000 prize. 

Reality television in the US is famous for producer involvement sensationalizing stories, and provoking contestants or cast members just for the sake of “good TV” I remember going to the UK and seeing US reality shows with a disclaimer that producers were involved to heighten and intensify certain situations. Apparently producers in the UK do not provoke contestants like they do in the US.

If MTV wanted to make a pile of money they could follow PCVs around with cameras. We already live in a fishbowl, and it would make for great television. Put cameras in our Transit House…boom, there you go. 

I don’t endorse the creation of a Peace Corps reality show because I don’t think we should sell out. Also, I feel that PC could be grossly misrepresented and its representation could be damaged. However, after shows like “The Hills,” “Laguna Beach,” and “Jersey Shore,” at least a Peace Corps reality show could bring sustainable development to the mainstream and it could be a valuable recruiting tool. 

I personally feel the only time I escaped the fishbowl atmosphere was when I went to France. It can be challenging but I don’t think I will be in this situation again, certainly not in the US, so it is truly a unique sociological experience.

I Guess it’s back to the bowl…*glub* *glub*

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