Trip Start Nov 09, 2006
9Trip End Nov 18, 2006
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But we were still separate, and over the days, the Learning Vacation bonded into a group with its own identity. On the second tundra buggy ride, which was just us, there was a general consensus that it was a lot better not having them with us. Not just because there was more room on the buggy, but because they had become "other."
That group left before we did, and we had the whole Center to ourselves for much of a day, which meant, most pragmatically, shorter lines to use the bathrooms and showers. But there was also a sense that we didn't have to share it with anyone else, it was ours.
Then a new group came. We returned from the second tundra buggy trip to find them clogging the hallways and the bathrooms. They looked as surprised and dismayed to see us as we were to see them.
When I first ran into two of the newcomers in the bathroom, we didn't greet each other warmly. I didn't welcome them, they didn't make any overtures of their own. I thought they were looking at me suspiciously (but since I always think that about strangers, I can't say for sure if they were). When I came out and needed to wash my hands, neither moved away from a sink to let me in until I asked. Up until that time, everyone--our group and the previous one--had all been aware of the needs of the others around them and would have just moved out of the way automatically. Needless to say I didn't have a very good first impression of these new people.
Then I started hearing things from other women in my group. How these new people were a bunch of complainers, like they were expecting a four-star hotel and were looking down on the accommodations. How one newcomer said to her friend, "I wonder when they're going to replace the toilet paper rolls," only to be informed by one of my group that there was plenty of toilet paper on the back of the toilet and they could put the new roll on themselves. They left the bathroom a mess, didn't leave the shower doors open when finished (even though there were about five signs saying to do so), left the soaking bathmat on the floor instead of hanging it up, slept in the shared living area (the "quiet room") instead of in their beds, talked loudly after 10 in the evening, didn't wait their turn at meals, and so on. We generally had the impression they thought they were better than we were, that we were nothing but a bunch of eco-tourists.
After hearing more and more of these stories, I found myself assuming the worst of them. I found the hot water tap not fully off one afternoon and attributed it to them. All the waste water from the Center goes through a sump pump and there are about seven million signs all over the place warning you not to flush anything but toilet paper and human waste down the toilets. I started thinking that one of the members of the other group was probably going to flush a tampon and block the whole system.
Part of the problem was that they were already a bonded group when they arrived at the Center. Unlike my group, who had arrived at different times via different methods of transportation, these people had all driven from Montana together. They were worn out when they got there, and apparently had not been properly informed about the conditions. From what I heard later, nothing about the trip had been what they'd expected, so they were also disappointed. It makes sense that they were grumpy and resentful. And because they already were a group, they didn't feel any emotional need to reach out to us, just as we didn't to them.
It's this thing people do, even good, kind people. We form groups and exclude the Other. It's what makes world peace such an elusive, probably impossible, goal.