Why I never went to Law School After Peace Corps

One day toward the end of my service in 1992, I heard a knock on my door. I opened it and saw the chief of the village summoning me to court under the local BAOBAB tree in the scorching hot African sun. He had his offical headdress on with hundreds of HUGE FEATHERS sticking out of it. And he was speaking Chichewa in a harsh tone.

He took me down the road about 3km from my home and summoned me to sit under the tree, where I was interrogated for over 14 hrs. My dog had been eating local chickens. And chickens are a source of income to Malawians, not Dogs. I guess I was not feeding my dog enough protein after she gave birth to 5 puppies. I was feeding her fish, but not enough while she was nursing.

So she resorted to killing the neighbors chickens. The villagers demanded money. They wanted to kill my dog named Brandy. I had to negotiate a fair price to keep her alive and be convinced they would not kill her behind my back.

After 14 long hours, I coughed up about 300usd to save my dog's life. I paid a helper liberally 30usd per month to feed his family of 10 children. So I can fairly say I coughed up enough money to feed my village for a year. That was fair, I guess.

But after that, I knew I could never put a price tag on a life, animal or human. That was when I decided not to go to law school. EVER.

Fast forward to 2010. I went back to the town I came from to see a 90 yr old family friend who I had not seen since I was a young child. She happens to be a white woman in the Deep Deep South USA who lost her husband at age 35 and had to raise 5 children on her own. She had to work and had to hire 'help' (al la la the book THE HELP). The help I met at her party was an elderly African American woman who had been with the family for over 50 years.

I was enjoying a birthday celebration with my friend's family and her neighbors, when suddenly I found myself overhearing a conversation about a dog 'eating chickens'. I sat silently and listened to an elderly African American woman speak maliciously about the fact some white person was upset that her dog was eating her chickens. The elderly black woman was asking my elderly white friend how to solve the problem. Never once did I hear that the white people wanted the dog killed. So I imagine some kind of monetary negotiation was taking place.

I could not believe that half a world away from East Africa to deep South USA that I was hearing the same story. The very same story half a planet away 20 years apart. At that point I realized that no matter where I went, I was an 'azungu'; a white person in a nonwhite person's culture. That I may never 'blend in' even in my own country.

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.