Monday, October 10, 2005

But I Didn't...

As an expat there are basically two ways in which you can live in a foreign country. You can live apart on a compound and have little to do with the 'natives', or you can live amidst them and involve yourself with their lives. We chose to live right in the center of a normal Tirana neighbourhood, although we did pick a large and comfortable apartment. Living in the 'penthouse' gives us a wonderful sense of privacy and serenity once we lock the door. Recently as I was walking in the city, three little encounters with the tragic reality of everyday life in a very poor country hit me in the face.

The first nearly knocked me off my feet. I was walking down a busy tree-lined street when I literally almost tripped over a small bundle laying on a piece of cardboard in the center of the sidewalk. Coins were strewn around the object and I had to wait a moment in order to walk around it. I stopped and looked down and noticed that the bundle was a small dirty baby, swaddled in dirty blankets. I looked around frantically for its mother, but I couldn't identify anyone who looked like they were watching the baby. I felt angry and wanted to sweep up this tiny package and run. But I didn't.

On another morning I was walking down one of my favourite streets in the city, on my way to a lovely small outdoor market, when I heard the sound of someone crying. Just ahead of me, tucked around the corner of a shop was a young man, perhaps 30 years old, and he was weeping- no howling into his hands. I hesitated. The sight and the sounds were overwhelmingly sad and my heart felt like it was being torn in two. It seemed no one else noticed this man in pain, and I wanted to stop and give him a hug. But I didn't.

Last week I was on my way to the computer shop for some new printer cartridges and I was watching the groups of young students hanging out outside the cafes along the street. Then I spotted a very young boy, I think he was about 8 or 9 years of age. He was laying completely still in the middle of the busy sidewalk. He was on his side and wasn't moving. His clothes were dirty and his feet were bare. No one looked down at him, no one stopped. In my mind I wondered if he was even alive. I started to tell my driver to stop. But I didn't.

These things have been bothering me now for sevral weeks. What should I have done? I should have done something. I am not the kind of person who ignores the pain of other human beings. I should have done something but I didn't. I know my excuses: I don't know the language, I don't know organizations to call, I am afraid I might get hurt, and I don't want to be ridiculed for being concerned. But despite all the excuses I may have, I know I did the wrong thing. I've always had a life strategy for dealing with new situations which involves mentally rehearsing things that might possibly happen to me and working out how I would deal with them. Being prepared ahead of time means that I will act the way I really want to. Now I am trying to working out in my heart how to deal with these disturbing experiences, because I am convinced that I will have many of them in Tirana. I want to be able to say "I stopped and helped". And I will.


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christina said...

What a difficult situation to be in as a foreigner - I can't imagine what that must have been like.

Thanks for visiting my blog today! I haven't had a chance to read through yours yet but I certainly will. Very interesting.

Gia-Gina said...

Hi Kim,
It's hard to know what to do but you will have to struggle on your own as many people do everyday. I don't know that I would of done so I can't try to dish out advice. I am going to search your archives to find out why you are in albania. Do you speak the language?

hippo_pepperpot said...

That is a tough one. I don't know what I would do either. Sometimes you don't know what the deal is... like you said, you don't want to get hurt. You don't want to be set up and mugged.

ITS said...

Argh... the conscience dilemmas? What do we do? I say do whatever feels right in your heart. You can't single-handed change an entire country, but whenever you feel like it, you can lend a helping hand. Just think of your safety first.

The most important thing is that you don't let it get the best of you. I grew up in that place and I know exactly what misery and contradictions you encounter any given day.

I would advise that you don't get oversensitive and judgmental in any situation. It's easy to point the finger at an abandoned baby in a cardboard box. Being in a far away foreign land makes it easy to fall in the above conditions (sensitive and judgmental).

However, I say that you try to be as understanding as you can, and learn as much as you can about the history and the culture of Albania. There is about 3000 years of drama and tragedy that goes prior to the abandoned cardboard box baby, so maybe it's not that simple.

Meaning, I may not agree with "women's circumcision" rituals in Africa, but I don't know enough about it to take a stand.

Anyway, I am going to put it out there for you. Feel free to contact me directly and ask about any situation you have to deal with. I know life in Tirana well, and would be glad to help.

I know how it feels to be confused sometimes. I get that feeling in Montreal all the time with the French-English hostility, and all the Poutine you can eat... (yuck)

ALIVE said...

this is my idea of what I try to do with my life - maybe someone will care :) - When I first moved to Atlanta, Georgia, a far cry from Albania, I was overwhelmed with the amount of homeless in such a big city. I was giving money to every sob story I heard, the homeless are quite creative here, but you can't do that forever. so sometimes I give, most times I dont, but I try to volunteer or donate to organizations. Knowing that you do something makes you feel so much better when you know you can not do everything. :)