I don't seem to be able to run far enough to prevent my compatriots from shaming me.
I was sitting peacefully in my office yesterday trying to submit an article for publication when a colleague I had never met before called me on the phone. He'd received an e-mail from a friend in Ukraine and was mystified by what it said. All he managed to get out of it was "tragedy," "horrible problems," "life has no meaning," "senseless," and "really bad." Obviously, my colleague got very worried that somebody had died or gotten really sick. So he called me to see if he could come by and have me translate the e-mail. Of course, I agreed.
The longish e-mail addressed a single issue: money. There were endless complaints about how the author of the e-mail hadn't been receiving her salary for 3 months and will probably not receive any salary in the future either (like anybody forces her to stay at a job that doesn't pay.) And her daughter had to offer bribes to pass every single course she is taking in college (which, I'm sure, nobody is demanding of her. My people love offering bribes when nobody is asking. It's our national pastime). And she had to spend all her savings on those bribes And life has no meaning any longer because there is no money. Money, money, money. The e-mail ends with this Ukrainian person congratulating her American friend on his wonderful life, filled with travel and fun. Which is something she will never have because she has no money. And her life has no meaning.
While I was translating this letter for my colleague, I was curling my toes in shame. There he was, looking like a kind Santa, this academic who spent his entire life travelling to underdeveloped countries with the goal of helping people. How could I tell him that his so-called friend was taking him for a ride? That she probably dresses a lot more expensively than he does? That, in all probability, she owes her place of abode while he either pays rent or has a huge mortgage? That it's highly likely she considers all Americans to be stupid and there to be used?
"Life is pretty difficult over there, right?" the kind colleague asked me.
"Erm. . . yeah. . . I guess," I managed to mumble.