Tag: patience

It turns out, the world of blogging is hardly unlike the global community I discovered in Chile. In just these past three months that I’ve started taking blogging more seriously, I’ve forged valuable connections with inspiring people from all over the world. To keep the ball rolling and build on my energy, the universe sent some positive vibes to the Central Andes and I was ridiculously fortunate to win a contest at Chris Richardson’s Travel Blog Support website, where he provides detailed yet easy-to-understand tips and help on optimizing blogs, travel-related or otherwise.

The prize: Migration of my free hosted blog to its very own server!

I’m so excited to announce the launch of my brand-spanking-new professional blog!

To commemorate this occasion and inspired by a couple of my favorite bloggers (Diana Simon and Janine Ripper), I’ve decided to try my hand at posting twice a week starting this coming Tuesday! As I continue working out the kinks until then, have a look around and send some comments my way if you have any recommendations, suggestions or critiques of the new website. =)

— Can’t thank Chris (a.k.a. The Aussie Nomad) enough for literally making this all possible! If you ever need support with a blog transfer, I highly recommend Chris because he made it seamless and had infinite patience with my IT newbieness along the way. =)

A Thousand Miles

I have spent a lot of time lately, walking. I used to know a guy in Japan who would walk for miles and miles, just wandering, and I always wondered how he did it. How can someone not bore themselves to death just walking around the city for hours on end? He would come back from his walks and tell us how beautiful the cherry blossoms were in a certain part of town he had discovered or what kinds of shadows the sun makes on the hills as the sun sets. In Japan, I remember thinking, what a bore nature is. I wanted to be able to appreciate nature so badly, but I couldn’t find the time; I didn’t care to find the time to slow down.

So I’ve been slowing down here and walking from place to place, almost an hour each way. As of now, I am still consumed by the following three thoughts: “Holy bejeezus, this walk is taking forever,” “My feet hurt,” and “Am I there yet?” It’s just another example of how I am so stuck on the end result, on crossing things off of my to-do list, that I don’t know how to just walk anymore.

I’m not willing to leave things unorganized. I’m not ready to just let things be. As I walk, I realize how many houses are left unfinished. In Vancouver, I see unfinished buildings and the rush to finish construction, the rush to complete the perfection that the city is to be by the time the Olympics arrive in 2010. In Huancayo, I see unfinished buildings… as unfinished buildings. That’s just the way they are, sometimes for months or years as the family struggles to earn more money, sometimes forever.

And it makes me think of the thirty houses I’ve visited in and around the city of different types of families – different structure, different situations, different economic levels. But I’ve found that the majority of families live in houses that I would consider messy or dirty. To them, it’s okay that there are a million utensils in the kitchen out of place or forever without a place, it’s okay that all their mugs are cracked or chipped in some way, it’s okay that there are irremovable stains everywhere – in the tiles of the floor, in the cabinets, the dressers, the stove, the walls. It’s okay that their closet is actually a shelf with a blanket over top, tilted a bit and never perfectly covering the entire shelf. It’s okay if there are a million projects in-progress that may never be finished. It is a situation that would normally make me go insane, but I am learning to relax.

My professor from Canada came to visit for a whirlwind week and packed in…

  • A 2-day conference on infant stimulation that we’ve been planning for months,
  • A full day of hardcore bulk shopping in the Sunday fair that spans more than 30 city blocks of the main street through Huancayo (mostly jewellery for her and millions of other trinkets that her son can sell back home),
  • And the rest of the week was spent conducting full days of research with babies and toddlers in San Pedro de Saño (a little town just outside of the big city).

Part of her assignment here was to conduct mid-internship Coady interviews individually with Maria and me. The question that had me thinking went something like this: “What skills have you learned from your internship that will benefit you in your future work?” Skills, skills, skills. The first skills that came to mind when I thought of what I’ve learned here in Huancayo had nothing to do with my internship. I thought of how I could now fill the kettle without it spilling in pitch darkness, notice the slight difference in sound when the water had started boiling, and how my internal clock knew when the 10 minutes of boiling time was up (to be sure the water was purified) because I do this every morning to make my coca tea. I thought of how I skilled I was at doing laundry by hand (well, sorta). I thought of how I learned to keep an apartment clean (because Maria made me, just kidding – sorta; she was the positive influence, that’s what I meant). And I’d like to say that I can now cook, but just the other day, I suggested we add mango pieces to our pasta dish and Maria said that it would never work. =P It is a skill that will take a much longer time for me to learn, I’m afraid.

In any case, I had to think twice to respond to the actual question. What skills had I learned? Not just any skill, but something that will benefit me in my future field? I’ve learned a heck of a lot about international development – which I didn’t even know existed prior to arriving in Nova Scotia for training – but to be honest, I’m not so sure I’ll be involved in this field in the future. It had to be something more abstract.

Then, it came to me. “Flexibility and patience,” I answered. It is a skill to be able to get along with people from other cultures, whether it’s the Dutch (there is the couple who started the NGO and the other two volunteers from the Netherlands) or the wide variety of Peruvians here (of different ages, ethnic backgrounds, and lifestyles). It’s about learning to accept differences, personal boundaries, and idiosyncrasies, taking everything in with an open attitude instead of succumbing to the natural temptation to judge. For me personally, it was also what I needed in order to learn the language – flexibility in the choice of words (because not every phrase can be translated literally) and patience with myself as I made a million mistakes.

As I thought of that, I realized that another skill I had developed (that I had wanted to develop) was the ability to laugh at myself. Recently, we (the interns in all the different corners of the world) were sent the letters we had written to ourselves at the beginning of everything, in July when we were still in Nova Scotia. I had written, “I hope you learn to laugh at yourself.” I think I had to lose the fear of embarrassing myself especially when you’re learning to speak a foreign language because it’s bound to happen that you’ll be telling someone, “Can I feel myself here?” (sentirme) instead of “Can I sit here?” (sentarme).

It seems to me that a fundamental issue many have once they start working full-time is that they stress out, take things personally, take things too seriously, and start thinking only about themselves and their dissatisfaction. This is when these skills will come into play in my future work: flexibility (letting things be as they are instead of always fitting things into a certain schedule or plan), patience (with myself as I know that I will inevitably make mistakes and I will be the most conscious of this if I ever find myself in a more senior position, with higher expectations of myself and more susceptible to being intolerant of my blunders), and the ability to laugh at myself (to keep relaxed in this way, living life light-heartedly so that I have a balanced relationship with myself, my co-workers, my family, and my friends).

I finally have a key to my room (as of yesterday) and I’m starting to feel like I’m really here, in a new province, away from home. I’ve been exploring the town and meeting the locals on my runs, walks with friends, at the gym, and around campus. The 50 Coady Diploma participants from all over the world are trickling in and I’ve already met:

  • the pastor from India, Father Paulson
  • the Argentinian with the Russian accent who has worked in Macau for the last 10 years
  • the Sudanese who swims naked in rivers (because that’s what they do in South Sudan), and
  • the dude from Malawi who was all decked out in a tourist-y shirt and baseball cap with “Malawi” splashed across the front (“Hi, I’m Alex from Malawi,” he says as I shake his hand)

When else would I ever get the chance to chat with, eat lunch with, and take three weeks of workshops and classes with fifty international/community development specialists from all over the world? They’re here for six months for Coady’s development leadership diploma program, but we as interns still get to sponge up as much as we can from them before we head out to our NGOs. When else would I ever get to do this? I am continually challenged to engage in serious, intellectual, political, philosophical conversations on topics that I’ve never even thought about most of the time – other interns are always recommending books to read (notably, Race Against Time by Stephen Lewis) or watching and discussing movies on developing countries in the common room just across from my bedroom. I feel like I can’t keep up! =P

Today is my first day off and I have a lot of catching up to do in terms of both internship-related errands and in this blog. I have so many things I want to post about that I could write a novel on the past week, but I should probably be time-efficient and just get them out in a list of random rambling notes. I figure it’s most important to just get them down so I don’t forget. Then I can come back to reflect upon these ramblings later and talk about them more in depth when I get back home next year and get the chance to meet with you guys in person! =)

Ramblings…

  • I had no idea that when people travel, they have a higher risk of engaging in risky sexual behaviour.
  • We met the president of StFX who shared some insights and advice on his travels during a lunch with Coady staff. Later, we hear through the gossip mill about what he can be like outside of his presidential role. Only in a small town…! And speaking of small towns – my fantasy of living in a place like Antigonish has been tainted a little as I inadvertently hear more gossip and begin to see how complicated relationships can be here. Imagine having a limited crop of potential suitors, knowing who everyone has slept with, and having everyone know about your nasty break-ups!
  • I am so lucky that I have the ability to run. Two of the interns are beautiful and lean ladies, but can’t run anymore because of physical injuries. One was injured just before the triathlon she had signed up for after having been training for many months!
  • Advice from a former intern: as a female, if you feel unsafe (e.g. at night in a dangerous part of Africa), approach a sex worker. What a powerful bond there is that connects women from all walks of life.
  • Kim’s (the internship program coordinator) philosophy is to squeeze learning opportunities out of every situation. For example, the fact that we don’t have our visas yet? Patience and trust in the system.
  • Turn judgment into curiosity. For example, if my NGO has a very roundabout system that seems inefficient, turn the frustrated “Why the heck would they do it this way?” attitude into a pondering “I wonder why they do it this way?” outlook. Look into their iceberg and see the “invisible”/below the surface reasons for their thoughts, actions, and behaviours. Now that I think about it, I guess this goes for any interaction, not just cross-culturally.
  • From the sounds of it, development work seems to consist of a lot of planning and reporting, especially when it comes to funding. On a completely separate note, there are also a million acronyms used in this field. Do you know what NGO, CBO, ASRHR, OVC, and PLWA stand for?
  • We received our work plans, which were developed last year (because that’s when the funding applications were due). It will be a true test of flexibility and my confidence/trust in my own abilities when we get to our host countries because things will most likely not follow these plans, if at all. I guess that’s what life is like.
  • Coady’s philosophy is centred around Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), capacity building (thanks for explaining this to me, Crystal!), with the view that these communities already work. Our role is to assist these communities in identifying their assets instead of their needs or “what’s missing” (a very paternalistic attitude).
  • It will be difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the experience we will have and/or the difference we’re going to make. Change is ongoing, can be internal, and will hopefully continue beyond the time period of out internships, particularly because sustainability is a fundamental theme of all of these projects.
  • The more I learn, the more questions I have instead of answers. Development work seems to be an ongoing discussion, as is research, as is morals and ethics, as is determining what it means to live a good life.
  • I feel that I’m really good at making eye contact with people, but I start looking away when I’m speaking to people as I try to formulate my words.
  • If you find yourself riding in the back of the truck, choose the spot closest to the driver.
  • I love how in many parts of the world, fat is beautiful.
  • Has anyone ever heard of “sex bracelets”? I think a certain number or colour of bracelets signifies how much sex you’ve had!
  • I’ve been writing down all the things I want to blog about so that I don’t forget, but there are already three to four notes that I’ve made that seem completely foreign to me now. Bah!

People that I want to remember

  • Cassie’s boyfriend came to visit and we met his friends Mory from the Ivory Coast (in West Africa) and Thesfaye from Ethiopia. It’s weird to think that French is the national language of the Ivory Coast.
  • Joseph from Tanzania.

Joseph’s living at our dorm right now and was in Halifax to present at a conference on the radio station that he and his colleagues have started up in the rural Kagawe region. People in Kagawe are in so much poverty that many still don’t have toilets, need to carry water from so far away, and need to grow their own crops despite not being educated as farmers. It is through radio that he’s been able to reach out to the rural communities, broadcasting on issues such as agro-forestry, health, and sanitation. I had a chat with him this morning about how this first trip to Canada has been an eye-opening experience for him. He thought he was making a difference when he planted 500,000 trees in his home country, until he saw all the trees that we have here in Canada. It just goes to show that we often think we know, we understand, we’ve tried our hardest, we’ve made a difference, until we open our eyes a little wider and take in the rest of the world.

I asked Joseph if he ever felt like giving up. Wouldn’t he? After seeing how much more he needs to do, how many more trees he has to plant, how much more work he has to do to educate the people of his country – wouldn’t it be so easy to get lost in the sheer magnitude of the task? He told me three things:

  1. Use only what you need. He had visited CBC in Ottawa, was given a tour, saw the rows and rows of cubicles and equipment, but instead of feeling overwhelmed with all that he still needed to do with his tiny radio station in Tanzania, he thought about how he had everything he needed. There were some pieces of equipment that he would like to have, but he was striving for one cubicle’s worth of equipment, not to become like the entire CBC station.
  2. Patience. It took him 15 years to get his radio station up and running and it started with a little collection of resources that turned into a library that turned into a newsletter that turned into information boards that turned into a radio station.
  3. Be a catalyst. We could drown in thinking about all the little things that could still be done/changed, but if we take the broader perspective and view ourselves instead as a catalyst for change, it almost feels as if we can make a substantial difference in the world.

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