Too Retarded for Shoes
Posted by Cris on August 23, 2007
Growing up in an age of increasing politically corectness, I have grown used to people using roundabout terms for things, such as different-abledness, height challenged, African-American, etc. So its been a bit of a shock to come here, where people dont speak this way because A) they dont have the language skills in English to do so, and arent familiar with the terms, and B) people are overall more blunt and less sensitive.
Take a class lesson on the body and description for example: I explain the terms (short, tall, thin, fat…) and then have the students describe one another. The first guy up is a man named Mulugeta, who is what we would term, in the PC phrasing of our time, “big”. He isnt fat, he is just BIG: tall, muscular, thick, with the accompanying barley-pop belly. So the fist description of Mulugeta is, “He is fat.” Mulugeta, rather than bursting into tears or threatening lawsuits as he may in the USA, just grins and shrugs a bit. The kids I teach are even more blunt: “He is fat, has big ears and a black face.” Or, “She has no hair, small eyes, a big nose, and a big mouth.” Overall its quite refreshing. Why not just say she has a big nose, or that he has big ears? I do still chuckle when they describe eachother with colors though. “You know Tigustu? He is very black.” I always want to reply, “… and that makes you what?” Its even better when they describe the people they find attractive. “I want a girl who is chocolate color.” Looking around the room I say back, “What- milk chocolate? dark chocolate? Vanilla chocolate? What about macchiato colored?” Im not saying there isnt difference in skin color here. There is, ranging from what I’d call cafe-au-lait all the way to blue-black. But chocolate? They all could be described as chocolate.
The pinnacle of all this un-PC-ness came when Amy and I visited the Brothers for Charity home, which is a home for developmentally-disabled men run by Mother Theresa’s charity. The home shelters people of all shapes and sizes, literally, from polio-stricken balls of legs and arms, to severly mentally disabled men who sit and drool in a corner all day, to guys with one leg who are only a bit delayed mentally (one of which completely annihilated me at ping-pong, despite having to balance on crutches. I couldnt even score points on his no-legged side.) Most of the guys were “living” on the streets before they came, and at the home are provided with beds, food, safety, things to keep them busy if they can handle it, and similarly, basic education ranging from shoe-tying to cabinet building or welding, again depending on what they can handle. The man running the place is an Indian priest who has been doing similar work for around 20 years. He was very nice and showed us their whole impressive opreration, but it was obvious that his years working with these men had scrubbed all the PC terms and euphemisms from his vocabulary.
As he took us around he introduced us to the men, he always gave us a description, sorta, of their mental abilities. “This boy, he’s been here for 5 years and now only acts a little retarded.” The next one: “This boy is clever- he can keep his shoes on most of the time.” Then, “this one- he’s too retarded for shoes.” We went out on the balcony, and there were a few piles of feces in the corner. “Oh, we’ll have to get someone to clean that up,” he said, “some of these guys have been in the street so long they cant stand using the toilet. They just wont stop shitting on the balcony.”
He was calling things as he saw them, and obviously had nothing to prove and nobody to impress. His is a labour of love and faith, and he certainly isnt in the business to make money. His way of speaking was shocking at first, but as with my students ended up being refreshing.