Thursday, June 24, 2010

All these stories

One of the things I will most most dearly is my little outdoor balcony. I'm on the top floor of my building and have a nice view of the courtyard, all the windows of the other apartment building, and the street. It only holds about 3 people maximum, is a bit grimy, and the railing is bowed out so that I feel it might give at any point (even if it is cemented solidly into the balcony), but I've spent a great deal of time out there. I have my morning coffee and oatmeal there in the summer, play my banjo on it in the evenings, sit with a book in the sunlight; but what I do most often is just watch people and events.

If you've ever seen the film Rear Window--and if you haven't, you must--you'll remember that much of the movie is simply Jimmy Stewart's character watching the windows from his apartment, and all the events that transpire during the watching (one in particular, of course). I've often joked to people that much of the purpose of my watching is waiting for a murder to happen so that I can recreate Rear Window, but it really is just a joke. The truth of it, as I was reminded today, is that what happens on almost any given day is much less eventful than even the mundane things that Stewart's character sees.

I was reminded of this because today happened to include something much more out of the ordinary of what I usually see, but even that was not terribly exciting. You see, someone died quite recently in the building across from me. I know this because one of things that people here do when a person dies is to display the lid of the casket outside the stairwell of the building to show people where to go, and to indicate that someone died there. I watched as several people got out of a car to go in. The men stopped before going inside to tuck in their shirts, and finish the last of their cigarettes, and then the story ended for me.

You see, much of my watching is of incomplete stories, snippets here and there really. I see women doing laundry, children playing in the courtyard, old men playing chess, young men smoking and eating samitchka (sunflower seeds), and lots of people doing just what I'm doing--sitting at their balconies or windows watching everyone else. The truth is that there are so many stories going on in each window, but all of us are just getting little pieces here and there from what we can see going on at the edges of the window--I suppose I could weave that into some larger metaphor, but I'd rather not be trite. Let's just leave that as literal as its intended.

I spent a lot of time, especially in my first year, trying to find out some way to go out and "make a difference." I don't want to disparage that, of course, because I still am trying to do that even as I leave. But there have been these large gaps of time where I wasn't doing much of anything in that regard, and I spent a lot of time resenting that, as we all do. Peace Corps often gets set up as a "go out and save the world" kind of mission; and of course, development is a big part of what we're trying for here. But what took me a long time to realize is that the gap times are every bit as important as the busy times. As I've come to accept these periods of inactivity, ones that are unavoidable here, I've also spent a lot more time just watching, and listening. I don't think that's something I used to do enough, and I worry about being able to do it when I go back (but not too much; I don't want to spend much of the time I have left here worrying about the future). I only ever got to see bits and pieces of these stories, but even the most every day, redundant parts I've enjoyed watching.

I have now just about a month left of my little balcony. I'm still semi-waiting to see that murder and be sucked into the plot of Rear Window. But mostly I'll just keep enjoying watching these little pieces of peoples' lives.