Firstly, thank you for your replies. They were great to read, and somehow beautiful. I feel your support speak through them. I’m sorry I could not keep my commitment to post this on time; between lights out (no electricity) at the office and then no internet connection in the past few days, I couldn’t post this until now.
My expectations for one month into my placement:
I expected that I would be better able to deal with my need for progress, achievement, and rationalize my performance in the context of adversity. In fact, when talking about work, I have some definite guilt for feeling like I haven’t accomplished as much as I should by this point. It is a difficult balance to strike, between knowing what is reasonable, and what has been reasonably derailed by external circumstances. In part, I feel as if I should be able to overcome these obstacles without a delay in productivity, which isn’t really realistic.
I expected that I would begin to know people at the office, and start collaborating on field visits, work monitoring tech adoption, and knowledge management and information management at the office. The former two haven’t happened at all, partially due to the week-long holiday for Ramadan. Disappointing. The latter two have been taking baby steps, and I feel like I have made some good foundations for relationships with about 1/3 of the office staff so far, and notably the Director and the MIS (takes care of data management).
I expected that I would be beginning to make personal connections with people. This is a huge check mark. Perhaps you’ve noticed, but a lot of my blogs, learning notes, stories through phone calls and emails have been about the people around me. I feel very comfortable with some key people in my community, and am exploring various levels of closeness with a variety of people (with interesting results! Watch out for a blog post on relationships later!). I’ve realized this morning that I have found a “Dorothy”. For those not acquainted with the term, Dorothy symbolizes the person that we are working for as individuals and as an organization. It is an easy way to represent our motivation, but also who we are responsible to. My first Dorothy has always been the families that are broken by poverty. I now know that I am personally invested in a real person also, my young friend Gani (short for Ganiwu). He’s around 13, goes to work on the farm every day, is an excellent dancer and welcomed me to the dance floor, jokes around and is mischievous, plays Frisbee with me, and has an amazing smile. He’s also not going to school this year, though his friend will. This makes me really angry. I have no idea how academically talented Gani could be, but I feel like he deserves the opportunity.
I expected that I would be able to blog twice a week, and spend some small time connecting with the chapter specifically and with friends and family back in Canada personally. Success has come with the blogging and personal connections, though I have expected more comments on my posts. I can see you reading them, but part of the value for me is to see what you think as well. I think there is huge room for improvement with my chapter connection. Hopefully with the commencement of the school year there will be more opportunities to connect.
I expected that I would be uncomfortable most of the time up until this point. This has not happened on nearly the scale that I expected. This is both a blessing and a curse, as I feel safer if I’m comfortable, but my rate of learning skyrockets when I’m uncomfortable. This is something that I am actively working on so that I can involve myself in uncomfortable situations more often.
I expected the guinea fowl to be annoying. They are REALLY annoying. Sometimes I forget about them but they always come back louder and squawkier than ever. There is no way to describe the ridiculousness of this bird.
I expected to be uncomfortable, potentially sick, and generally needing adjustment to my home life. I did not expect to be living in a bona fide village, but living without electricity, internet, or even phone coverage sometimes has been largely fine. Sleeping on the floor took a few days to get used to, and “freeing yourself” in the bush is not the ideal situation, but years of h-core outdoor expeditions have prepared me well for these small inconveniences. The biggest surprise is the almost complete lack of English in my immediate home life, which is at times hilarious, instructive, and frustrating. It makes learning Dagbani, the local language, a huge priority for me, which will probably have highly positive spillover effects for my work. I am enjoying learning how to communicate with these people that have taken me in and are tolerating my eccentricities. There is lots of laughter. And recently, I can hear people saying that my Dagbani has improved, and that I can speak it small. AND THEY ARE SAYING IT IN DAGBANI AND I UNDERSTAND! WOOHOO
Expectations for the End of Placement (capital letters means that this section is very important and therefore set in stone)
I expect to have met real people. Real in the sense that they are neither wholly good nor bad, but people that I can think about and interact with and live with. People like my friends and family in Canada. This is my major motivation for becoming a JF, as I felt that to continue to push forward my involvement with international development and EWB, I needed to make these relationships with real people, and move beyond dealing with the abstract small farmholder in rural sub-Saharan Africa/poor person with low opportunity in developing country name here. Success here looks like the stories I excitedly tell my friends and family, the memories that make me grin, and the anger I feel when I think of situations I have experienced. It means deep emotion connected with people I know.
I expect to have become accustomed to seeking out uncomfortable situations. It’s hard to get my head around the concept of making myself feel uncomfortable intentionally, but I also know I deserve to learn, and my learning comes from being fundamentally challenged (creating the discomfort). I think that a good measure of success here can be the frequency of me feeling uncomfortable by the end of my placement, and continue into my life in Canada. Noteworthy here is not only my ability to get into uncomfortable situations, but also learn enough to get myself out of them, and know how to mitigate the discomfort in similar future events.
I expect to have influenced, in a small or large way, the culture of the office I am working within. I see the effects of Marc-André on his colleagues, and know that it is possible. This extends to both internal office dynamics, and ability for the office to facilitate quality extension services to farmers. I am excited to see how we can transform the Director’s vision of a competent, independent, and cohesive team into action in the coming months. If even we can lay the tracks while I am here I will have considered this effort a grand success.
I expect to have laid the foundations for an increased ability for EWB Canadian Programs to connect with our African Programs. I know my perspective is somewhat uncommon on my team, which doesn’t sport a huge store of recent chapter connection, and uncommon at my chapter, which does not host extensive knowledge of overseas development realities. While I am happy to be a conduit for these informational flows, I have a vision that our two major sectors of EWB work can work, learn, and collaborate much more closely than they have done in the years I have been at my SFU student chapter. Success here looks like a fundamental understanding of all EWBers that solving problems that matter generally involves behavior change of people, and that the work we are doing in Canada and in Africa is creating learning that is transferable. Different contexts mean different incentives, environments, and barriers, but people remain people, whether we are trying to push adoption of fertilizer application or fair trade buying practices.