When you travel to foreign countries, and go off the tourist beaten paths, you begin to meet people who have lots of questions. If you can speak their language, or a language they understand better than English, they have even more questions.
My parents favorite example of this is when they came to visit me in Ukraine. They had already been in the country for a few days, and we had just taken a very long train ride from Kiev down to Crimea. When we got there, my parents had so many bags that I thought it easier to get a taxi. So I walked up to the Taxi stand, and asked the man with a Lada for a ride. I explained in Russian where we were going and bargained with him on the price, and off we went.
“I thought you were a foreigner when you came up,” the taxi driver said as we got underway.
I laughed. ‘I am a foreigner,” I responded.
The where are you from’s followed, and to my parents the next 45-50 minuets were unintelligible, as the taxi driver was asking me a million and one questions at break neck speed. He had all these questions he wanted to ask about America, and what life was life.
When we got out of the car, my mom asked.
“What was he saying?”
I responded he was asking me questions.
I thought for a moment and tried to think of the funniest question he had asked and responded, “Well one of them was: Why can’t you build houses that can’t fall down in earthquakes?”
For me, this is a fair question, they don’t really have earthquakes, so to them they see houses that have fallen down, and they have never been in one. (Except those who were in Tashkent during that earthquake)
Yet to me the most interesting question I’ve been asked was by a 14 year old girl.
She came to my office one day in school, skipping her History class. She sat down talking with me, and as school was ending I didn’t force her to go back to class.
I had explained to her a few months about the Central Asian Institute as I was looking at their website when she had been in my office earlier, and she loved it. I now sat there explaining Peace Corps, and then afterwards explaining Kiva.org and what a Kiva Fellow was, because she wanted to know what I was doing after I left them. She listened and then asked me, “Why do you help?”
This question, since it’s asking has baffled and confused me. I help for so many reasons that I could probably write a book about it (mentally noted). But I the reason its been so perplexing is, its never something I sat down and thought about. I just did it. I am what my mom refers to as a Professional Volunteer. I help people in many ways, and I am sure there are millions of reasons I help each person.
I am also sure you all help people in different ways big and small everyday. Its part of growing up in our society, we help, we volunteer, we do what needs to be done to help our community. I thought of explaining all of this to the girl. But in the end all I could think to answer her question was:
So I ask you to do an assignment. Look at something simple you do often (the reason you buy recycled toilette paper, the reason you swim, the reason you work with your kids to do their math homework), and I want you to ask yourself Why do you do it. I do not want you to have a one sentence generic answer, and I do not want you to send it to me. I just want you to think about why you do this one thing.
Why should you do this? I could say it will help you figure out something about yourself, or makes you think more clearly about your actions, something to waste time, question stupidity of something you do often, or for the time you are in the Hindu Kush or off fishing and someone asks you why you do something you have an answer. But in the end its simple.