I know there is the saying of live and let go. For most of my life I’ve been terrible at adopting this mantra, but I feel like I’ve somehow progressed to this from my frustrations and blog entry of last week. As I reread the blog I was slightly shocked at how negative it read (yes, I know, I wrote it). Also, I most apologize because it was overgeneralized and obviously I couldn’t possibly be talking about the entire country as a whole. However, when one works in rural development, you sometimes get lost in your world and it becomes hard to believe that there is anything different. But I was also very happy, because sometimes I try to be so positive that I lose sight of my true feelings and by writing the blog it helped me figure out what was really happening in my mind. To let go of the negativity and figure out realistic solutions and steps for moving forward. I’m just as high strung as ever, but I’m letting go of what’s done and moving forward with what still exists and is malleable.
I need to do a better job of choosing my battles and more willing to sacrifice certain ideas, concepts, or projects regardless of interest, quality, or necessity. As I reread the blog a few times I think I noticed that the cause of my frustrations were that I felt people weren’t meeting their potential. And that’s hard for me. The government here is stable and has countrywide programs in place. Although the income inequality is ever looming throughout the country, there are a lot of resources and money to do good things. On the surface, it’s set up to succeed. Similarly, with my work I get frustrated because I see people that could be doing so much more than they are, people who aren’t reaching their full potential. I guess that’s why I’m here and just another reason why it helped to write my negative thoughts. So I’m letting go of last week and the frustrations of before, trying to breathe a bit more, and realizing that I can only do what people are willing to let me do and nothing more.
Having said that, I’ve noticed that people don’t really like the physical labor here, which can be a problem in agriculture, but I’ll leave that discussion for another day. So it’s not really that they don’t want to work, it’s just that they don’t enjoy using their bodies. I think I struggle with this because in rural Madagascar it was a completely different dynamic. However, the feeling here are much like that in the U.S., not many people want to be working in a garden or a farm, especially when they’re working in a structure and line of work that doesn’t guarantee anything. As a result, I’ve decided that since I enjoy the work and it needs to be done, that I will do what I can for the physical labor and for the set-up of projects and then ease the workers into it once it’s running and much more manageable. A good example of this would be with the seedling nursery.
Nobody wants to dig the holes for the poles and level the ground. My asking them to do so will upset them, make me the guy who’s forcing everyone to work, and shape a negative attitude for the nursery. However, if I work my ass off and then invite them to partake in the easier activities then they see me as initiating a team dynamic and wanting to share my knowledge – I know it’s complicated, but I really do feel like that’s the way things are going.
During my orientation we talked a little about positive deviance and how it can affect work. If I do everything then it’s not sustainable. It looks good on a resumé, but it doesn’t mean anything when I’m gone and no one else cares. I have to walk a fine line with the positive deviance because not everyone actually appreciates the model worker. Some view it as over zealous, others like I’m trying to show off, or to prove how ‘little’ they’re doing. I work hard and I’m aware of this, and I’m always pushing everyone (including myself) to work harder, so I can understand the feeling, but I’ll never stop, I’ll just slow down. That being said, a day after I spent a day sorting fencing, hurling the bales of fencing, measuring, separating and re-rolling for distribution to home gardens, I had a few of the students tell me that next year they want to volunteer to help the garden. I was quite clear that I can’t pay them and neither can the organization, but that didn’t stop them. Clearly, some people have been watching me work and their not afraid to take advantage of it in a good way. Later that day, more people at the Center expressed interest in learning about the nursery and planting. It’s coming around, even if it’s not as fast as I want it.
And what’s even more interesting, is that after about two days of non-stop physical work more people have said that they want to learn things from me and help out. It just took two days of hard labor (and a killer workout at that) to get things going. My boss here once told me that you couldn’t tell people what to do around here even if it’s good and it will help them. They have to think about it on their own and tell themselves before they become interested. I’m realizing that she was right and that one of the main ways I can get people motivated to work is by working hard and keeping the motivation within myself. Similarly, at the farm the people were much more motivated to work when they saw that I was still working hard and friendly even after I got so upset last week. When some of the women who I work with joined us at the Farm I was surprised at their work ethic compared to others. I might not have been noticing it over time when I see them each day, but it was clear that they were motivated, organized, and disciplined on what needed to be done. I think they’re all starting to realize that I really do care.
So you might be asking yourself at this point, “What does Nick look like when he’s working hard?” One co-worker of mine (and friend) stated quite plainly, “You’re like a zombie. You never get tired.”
I just laughed because I can see it. To say I never get tired would be a lie, I actually get tired quickly, it’s just that I deal with being tired for a long time without becoming exhausted. In some ways I enter into a meditation state where I’m lost in thought and thinking about life, work, and random things. Other times I wonder if I’m thinking at all and I feel like I’m in a trance. However, we decided that a zombie doesn’t think, so my transformation is complete yet. I’m sure it’s also a big reason that I enjoy this work because I’m not thinking about the job or being tired, but thinking about things that interest me while my body does the work. The other day at the farm I was squatting staring off into space as we were waiting for our transport. Someone asked me what I was thinking about and it caught me off guard. I had to search for what I was really thinking about, but I knew I was thinking about something! So I suppose that I’ve transformed from Mzamani to Mzombie.
Although each day has its ups and downs, I do feel more comfortable with my social life as time goes by. I feel like each day I’m breaking down the social barriers. I’m still unsure if it’s race, class, or language that separates me, but I’m slowly getting through. I think that many people, when they see me here, have a lot of tension. Tension from the past times of apartheid. Tension from speaking a different language (some people think I’m speaking Afrikaans). Tension from being the only white guy in the area. Tension from thinking that I’m a boss. Tension from thinking that I’m judging them. Tension from wondering what I really think of them. Aside from those people who work with me directly in agriculture, I’m not a very tense person and they are beginning to realize that I like to have fun and be normal (-ish)! Some volunteers said that I was already integrated because I was spending so much time in my village. In my mind I’m not integrated, but spending time in the village is the reason I’m here.
Going back to my first Peace Corps experience I just wanted to travel all over Madagascar (and I did…over the span of four years). Maybe it’s because I’ve been to South Africa before, but I don’t really feel the urge to travel and see the things that I didn’t have a chance to see before. What I didn’t have a chance to really see and experience was the life of many rural South Africans. I didn’t spend time in a village. The University of Cape Town was fairly posh in and of itself and even a large portion of the student body was white and living a completely different lifestyle from those in the village. Sadly, when I was in South Africa in 2007 I don’t think I cared enough about the culture and integrating myself with locals and I have to remember that that attitude is rather common. The attitude that I have this time around is different and I’m just thankful for the second chance.
Now, as much as I love the village, the power has been going out almost every night from 6pm – 8pm and I don’t enjoy that one bit. Not really sure of the reason, but it’s happening and so one has to deal with it. I’m a slow learner and so it took me a while to figure out that I need to cook really early and then eat later (it’s an electric stove, which means no cooking if there’s no power). It’s just nice to know that the power will come back so that I don’t freak out about electronics and go into crazy energy conservation mode.
On a social note, anyone who knows me knows that I don’t really care for children. Honestly, I don’t know how I’ve made it through 28 years without really liking children. What I continue to be amazed by is that children seem to like me. I’ve struggled with this for a while and it is only now becoming clearer. Kids like me because I pay attention to them. I don’t know what to say or what to do, but I acknowledge their existence, I provide someone to share their experiences with. The other day I was playing with some kids and a guy told me that I really like playing with kids. I responded with a long, “Uuuuuuuuuhhhhhhh.” Truth be told not always, and most likely not usually. However, I just view it as something that needs to be done here because many of the children lack family support. Sometimes it’s frustrating, sometimes awkward, and sometimes I thoroughly enjoy myself. Either way I just do it. I’m happy that I do it here because so many children seem neglected by adults and really enjoy the added attention. Don’t worry though; I’m still terrified of babies.
Because my keyhole garden is coming along and should be finished soon I’ll need a new creative activity. As I was burning my trash I noticed that I have been eating a lot of candy, especially lollypops or suckers. Amidst the flames I noticed all these sucker sticks and I felt like I was wasting. Not sure what I’ll do with them yet, but I plan to start saving them and hopefully I’ll have an epiphany at some point. On another note – the no rip floss that I bought might be fire proof, which is kind of amazing…although I don’t envision buying enough floss to make a flame suit any time soon.
Getting back to suckers I’m starting to understand the South African cost of living and it blows my mind on what people (including myself) blow our money on each week. For starters, I’ll buy my candy for about 1 rand a piece. An egg is only 40 cents more. So basically, I can have a solid source of protein or a piece of sugar for the same price. Similarly, a can of soda is 10 rand. A loaf of sliced bread is 9 rand. A bag of tomatoes might be 5-10 rand and you get 6 bananas for 6 rand, or a box with probably 15 bananas for 10 rand. At first, it didn’t make sense to me how these prices all worked out until I realized that many people don’t eat healthy food and they probably don’t think about the cost differences. During my first service I think I was mentally tougher and probably would have bought the eggs. This time around I don’t feel that guilty eating my sweets, but I’ll try to keep a healthy balance.
I’m not sure how this blog looks because I wrote it on my computer and then posted with my phone!