11-21 Fishbowl Effect

On the Fishbowl Effect or Why Aquariums are Inhumane

I know that I am supposed to remain culturally sensitive at all times and I know I’m not supposed to judge people in this culture based on my own cultural mores, but there are some days that that is very, very hard to do. Take for instance, what we refer to as the fishbowl effect.

The fishbowl effect is where we are watched, every second of everyday. Not just subtly or surreptiously observed as people go about their own business. I’m talking about being blatantly stared at. If we go for a walk, people will stop their conversations to watch us walk by. If I sit outside the house to read my book, I have an audience with a minimum participation of about 4. Dinner time is like monkey feeding time at the zoo; if I choose to sit on the porch to eat, that too requires an audience. At least the audience stays about a hundred feet back in the cover of the nearest shelter. That doesn’t apply to times when Jason and I want to train. Then, all bets are off. In the first twenty minutes of training we have yet to acquire an audience of less than 8. This is not an audience at a respectful distance that you can pretend doesn’t exist. This is an audience that sits as close as possible, like 10 feet away. When all I really want to do is work out, I get to do it in front of a group of people as they blatantly and unapologetically stare at me. We made the mistake one day of training during soccer practice. The entire team stopped, came over and sat down in a half circle around us to watch. That same day, a truck drove by, decided what we were doing looked interesting and drove onto the soccer field to join in the watching. It drove away and came back with more people to watch us workout. The first time it was odd, the second time funny and now it has gotten old. I’d really like to practice falling on my ass without the added pressure of twenty pairs of eyes.

I do understand that we are the best amusement to happen since the last volunteer got here and I understand we are doing something that looks interesting. I also understand that in this culture time is a fluid thing and if something more interesting comes up you can drop what you were working on and pursue the new thing. Understanding it doesn’t help. I still feel like a dancing monkey doing tricks for the amusement of others. I think if there was less of a sense of “let me sit and watch” and more of a sense of participation, I wouldn’t mind as much. I think if it were only during training and not every moment I’m outside my house, I wouldn’t mind as much. I think if we were being talked to or treated as part of the community, I wouldn’t mind as much. But right now, I’m feeling like a fish in an aquarium. Here to be stared at but never interacted with. I’m Ni-Van equivalent of 24/7 TV channels.

I don’t think I’ll be going to an aquarium anytime soon. If I do, I might find myself trying to have a conversation with the fish.

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