Firstly, I must apologize to all those who have been following my blog somewhat consistently for the time elapsed between now and my last post. I will admit that it has been difficult to sit down and write to you these last few weeks, given the pessimism I have been feeling and my attempt to avoid writing anything negative. But at the same time, I have come to believe that these more challenging periods are arguably the most important to report, although this realization is something that I have never acted on in my past travels. So I have now delivered the disclaimer and here it goes.
I have explored the idea of international development and relief work and the NGO sector comprehensively over the last four years throughout college, internships and other forms of pursuit. It has been a passion of mine and I have never questioned whether or not I would end up working in this field. Although I understood that I was far from being a seasoned expert on all issues involved, I had introductory knowledge on food policy, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, disaster relief, and organizational structures from the smallest NGO in eastern African to the UN agencies of OCHA, UNHCR, UNDP, and Unicef. I was well versed in topics of debate relating to sustainability, recognition of gender-specific issue and corruption. I always knew that there was a significant gap between my academic knowledge of these issues and field experience, but I felt like I was more than well prepared to thrive at the ground level…Life is great when you know everything.
And despite all this wealth of knowledge and critical understandings of situations and interaction with those who are the actors within this arena, I still had no idea about what I was in for. The only thing worse than the ending of a honeymoon is when the honeymoon wasn’t even that good anyway. You start wrapping your mind around the idea of making this your life and you slowly start inching towards adaptation and stability, and just when you think that you can do this the ground drops from underneath you and the reality that you thought you knew was like living an episode of Dora the Explorer in comparison to what your life will really be like.
If you are wondering whether I am aware of the degree of ambiguity my words have displayed, the answer is yes, I am well aware. I will now continue…
Going back to what I was saying earlier a paragraph back. I just feel so naïve in taking my world here and my organization at face value after everything that I knew about the field of development work. I guess it just goes to show how much more powerful life experiences are than academic and abstract concepts or how bad I needed to be humbled and brought back to earth. Despite everything I had learned and everything people told me, I still believed that my organization, the people I am working with, the government health structure, and everything else were actually doing alright here…then things start to slip out. You find out that everything is just as complex and corrupt and interconnected as you were taught, but you really can’t believe it or understand it until you live it and it is your life. It’s easy to learn about all these things in a classroom because you are a removed observer and you think, ‘o I can fix that…or, that doesn’t look too hard’, but when you are living that reality and you begin to process the concept that your work probably won’t change anyone’s life and it definitely won’t change a society…that’s a tough pill to swallow.
So as you might have taken from all this, work is tough. And when you don’t have any of the distractions or coping mechanisms that are available to you in other contexts coupled with the full-time job of living as a complete outsider, with another language, culture and race that acts as a social wedge between you and everyone else, the realization that ‘Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore’ takes new meaning.
But you live and wake up in the morning and start your 2 hour walk to work through the village, through the bush, the mountains, and the fields, and you start to think that maybe everything isn’t so bad after all. Maybe if I just bring down my expectations, reevaluate the situation and develop a new strategy for the next few weeks, then maybe I just might be able to make it until July. And then the next day is better because it has to be and you’re more prepared for the next hit you’re going to take, because it will come.
So I know that there might have been a more obtuse post than my previous ones, but I feel like it is the best way to describe everything that is going on without posting everyone’s business on a universally accessible website.
Once again, thanks for tuning in and I will be back in a week or two.
O ya…Feliz Cinco de Mayo! Tonight I will imagine my corn meal and spinach to be a nice, juicy, cheesy chile relleno and my water that I fetched from an uncovered, untreated oil drum in the backyard as a nice cold glass of Negro Modelo...Ooo life is sweet.