The Belgian Bitch
Returned to Somoria a few days ago to find a new volunteer at camp. Remy. He is from a small village in central France. In fact, nearly all the French volunteers are from villages. The director prefers people from rural areas rather than the city, with a particluar distaste for Parisians. Provincial over metropolitan. The people are bred with higher quality salt. City dwellers know how to work in corporate offices, a useless skill in the bush. Country folk know how to work the land, work with tools, repair broken infrastructure. Talents that have a premium in the wild. How I was chosen to work on this project is beyond me. Perhaps they thought San Francisco was a village.
Remy is a French hippie. But of the new organic urban breed, not tie-die and Birkenstocks. He has long hair and an even longer beard. Most of the keeper staff here are afraid of him because they are convinced he is in Al-Quaida. He's quiet, soft-spoken, with a gentle manner. I liked him immediately. He lives in a camper van and parks it in desolate regions of France. He's a gypsy with a meditative demeanor. On the rare occasions when he speaks, he chooses his words carefully, words which carry interest and significance. He is not the French version of me nor am I the American version of him. But we are kindred souls. I am certain I will remain friends with this cat long after we leave the project. The staff here at camp are in various health conditions. Alex is recovering from a nasty case of malaria because she waited too long to begin in her treatment dose. She tried to medicate with a traditional healer but that only served to prolong her symptoms. Camille is recovering from her bronchitis but Mattieu is bed ridden with malaria. So it goes. A new week, a new victim. Patiently waiting for my turn. So far, most of my health issues have been skin problems. Lots of infected bite wounds and a heinous boil on my forearm that gains height and mass each day. This bastard is gonna get ugly. Last week, I was stung by a bee just under my eye. Fortunately, the swelling on my face has subsided.
After six weeks, my French skills are improving but I speak like an Indian (corn, not curry).
"Woman, you get food. I make fire, hunt animal. Next, we eat. After, you and me make baby."
I can really only speak in present tense. If I want to indicate the past, I just throw in an "avant" (before) to begin the sentence. For the future, I'll add an "apres" (after). Communication, from a language standpoint, has not been the dreaded problem I anticipated. Between my hacked French and their butchered English, we manage. However, communication from a sharing of information standpoint has been difficult. Our camp manager, Mattieu, is very talented and capable, despite being just 26. He leads by example but he fails to communicate. I must take the initiative to ask alot of questions here, otherwise the information will not come voluntarily. Coupled with the language barrier, it has led to a few problems, most of which were quickly sorted out. But one unfortunate problem for me surfaced and there has been no resolution.
After being here less than 2 weeks, Carole, the vet from Belgium, confronted me at the dinner table one evening. As I got up to leave, in front of the 8 other volunteers, she asked if I would help out more with the cooking and cleaning around camp. I was so shocked by the aggressive request that I didnt know how to respond. It was a painfully awkward moment which I carried some resentment until she recently left the project. Her comment was inappropriate on multiple levels. First, she is not the manager so its not her place to comment. Second, if she had a suggestion for me, common courtesy dictates that she pull me aside to speak in private. Third, there was no awareness or recognition on her part that the source of her perceived problem might have been the fact that I was new to the project and dont speak fluent French. Some insecure people or those with esteem issues often feel the need to discredit others in an attempt to elevate themselves. The French, in particular, are notorious for the condescending sneer which often accompanies their comments. Most of the people here, however, are well-traveled and enlightened enough to avoid the stereotypes of their proud little nation. Her comments caused alot of irrepairable damage for me because I was unable to defend myself in French. I discovered later that she had spread false rumors about me to others, which of course turned opinion against me. My friend Amoury, who I have grown close with here, was the only one to have my back. But this has been one of the most difficult aspects of integrating into the team. Most of the staff are in their 20s and the immaturity is obvious. I get on well with most people here but Carole and her clique remain a problem. I have distanced myself from them and although we remain polite on the surface, sharks lurk just beneath. The irony is that she is a princess with a sense of entitlement. All she does is order people around all day and the volunteers kiss her ass because she's a vet and she's older than most of them. I wouldn't kiss her ass or any other body part if her and I were the last two animals on Earth. Im just thankful the Belgian Bitch is gone.