Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mob 101

Yesterday we had a chance to grow in the culture. There is a team here of 14 from New Zealand who have been hard at it working on the new building. (They are awesome!) We also had 7 local workers here as well. As we've mentioned, the 'new' building is actually really old so part of the renovations have been repairs on the exterior walls, a challenging thing when there are narrow alleys on two sides with a constant stream of people walking past.

Tarps had been put up on the sides of the building so that should any stray bits of brick wall accidentally break off and come down the wrong way, the tarps funnel the rubble to the side of the pathways and away from people passing by.

This happened yesterday and the tarp worked exactly as planned. Unfortunately, the impression of the people walking past at the time was that they narrowly escaped serious injury. An understandable reaction really! But when a perceived wrong occurs there is no checking it out first here. People react and think, "A wrong has been done so we must do something about it," and mob justice begins.

Steve was the first on the scene and quickly tried to calm 30 screaming men. I was about to take Hannah to her afternoon classes at school but we couldn't get out the front way because of the mob. K quickly arrived from across the street bringing his fluent language skills with him much to Steve's relief. At that point I took Hannah and slipped out the back exit. I didn't like leaving my husband in that situation but knew I couldn't do anything and really didn't want Hannah to be there either. The other kids were already at school.

After we left the mob swelled to about 60 and a few tried to come in the door. Steve sent the team upstairs to lock them inside where we're living just in case. The local workers had escaped out the back exit as soon as the trouble started since they would have been the most likely to be beaten by the crowd. The police arrived about 30 minutes later and when they said to go ahead and clear the rubble from the alley, some of the most ardent protesters turned around and helped!

We were concerned to leave the half finished work sitting without the tarp there for safety but feelings were too hot in the neighborhood to do anything about it last night. Early this morning Steve and K put it back up to the smiles of people walking past. Everything was peaceful and normal again!

An interesting and important cultural lesson! The main thing is to stay calm and in no way be aggressive back. There have been times K. has just stood there and only said, "I'll talk to one of you but not all," until everyone left except a spokesperson.

Most people here have to simply accept so much in life without the ability to do anything about it. It's understandable really why frustration levels run so high and people can become volatile. (Read the above for the rest of the story!)

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