This blog has been in the making for the past couple weeks and it’s taken so long to sit down and actually write it because I didn’t know what I wanted to say; I still don’t. In Madagascar, I felt more open in my writing because a limited few had Internet access and even if they did visit my blog, they weren’t going to take the time to try and read all the English. My writing about work and the people was, in many ways, uncensored. This time around, the information is much more accessible and easily understood and I need to figure out how much I really want to share. So the struggle from the past few weeks has been exactly that – how much do I want to share? How much can I share? And how much is just me being the angry white guy who complains? I constantly shifted from focusing on the positive or non-work related events, telling everything flat out as I see it, or trying to meet somewhere in between. I think the word to note is “trying,” as I can’t help but feel that this blog is very negative. So if you’re feeling good don’t read this one, at least not now. Wait until someone cut you off on the free way, someone flaked on your plans, a person lied to you, you had a bad day at work, you went through a break up, someone harassed you, or when you woke up and just knew that today was going to suck. That’s when I want you to read this and I want you to join my negativity. We can hate the world together.

I’ve been running around like mad the past month trying to figure out everything that’s going on and all the things that I can do to help. That might seem admirable, but to many people here it’s not. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized that none of my knowledge, expertise, or advice is really wanted, or if it is, they are reluctant to accept it for reasons either personal or cultural. The situation I find myself in is one in which it seems that nobody is happy that I actually want to work, that I want them to work, that I suggest new ideas, that I want people to think, and that we all need to be held accountable for our actions. Maybe it’s too much to ask and it’s just my high expectations being unrealistic for everyone, including myself. Regardless I feel like I fall on deaf ears on a daily basis and in many cases people purposefully try to make my work difficult. People don’t want to work or to learn. It’s almost like they are afraid of actually enjoying what they do. I’m not their boss and I’m reminded of it every day. They lack motivation, interest, and thought.

I’ve found many of the people to be lazy, selfish, superficial, greedy, and deceptive. They don’t want to work for a multitude of reasons. They don’t want to help others. They care more about how something looks or appears rather than how it functions. They try to save money to the point that it becomes a problem or the allocation of funds becomes unclear. I hear everything second hand and so I wonder whom I can trust, if anyone. It’s times like these that I realize why people think that I’m making a sacrifice to do this work. Why we make the mistake that development is saving the world, that we’re fighting the good fight. My job is watching stagnation and dysfunction, Monday through Friday. It’s watching people that obviously don’t care and might never care. What’s worse is that I arrived under the impression that they might care, that they might want to improve, that they might want to learn something. They might care now and I’ve misinterpreted it, they might in the future. But today I just don’t see it.

At least the Malagasy people had a solid work ethic that I could respect and help in a rice field. People that did back breaking work because it needed to be done and it’s what they did. Regardless of weather or health, they suppressed their pain and kept pushing. Here, people search for ways to get out of work. They get paid a salary and so they don’t care if they fail on a daily basis. In Madagascar, if their crop failed they didn’t eat for 6 months. That’s the difference. The stakes were higher and the people knew it. Farming was a means of survival not just a paycheck for a new hairstyle or a round at the bar. The farmers here are the guys sitting behind the counter of an office, who stare at their blank computer screen, doing nothing, while you and 20 other people wait in line; just to reduce their work load and to make it to clock out. For this reason I’ll try to get some sort of monetary incentive going for the farmers that will be affected by how much they sell from the gardens or farms. Then they might actually care what happens because they will see a direct benefit.

So I’ve found a solution, right?!? That would seem great; except that the manager doesn’t really have the time or doesn’t want to listen to me, and neither do the workers. Or maybe the manager does find it helpful, but doesn’t take the time to follow through with anything, to make a plan, and chooses the life of constant chaos and indecision. Not to mention that if I even bring up the slightest suggestion or considering deviating from the original plan that the farm workers go crazy and say that it’s not the plan and that I’m not their manager. All I can do is talk with the manager and ask – what does he want from me?

I had a somewhat major meltdown with the two women that I work with at the garden in the center and finally told them to do it on their own – at least what they should already know. I was trying to do too much with them and so they just reacted negatively because they thought that I was telling them what to do or thought they were incompetent. After I took a step back, it became clear that they don’t mind working if they know what needs to be done (hopefully, by August they will be finding things to do, but maybe I’m dreaming). Granted, the day of the week and weather can affect this mentality, but I just hope for the best. We’ll see how things play out and what they are capable of but they are thinking more, gaining more confidence, and showing signs of improvement, which keeps me positive and hopeful for the future.

I’d be more hopeful, except that I have to deal with all of these office procedures and rules that make everything harder than it should and more than anything make work near impossible. This rule and that rule that doesn’t benefit anyone and has no purpose other than to make our lives miserable. All topped with the fact that they don’t even want to take the time to meet with me (because I ask that they do their job) so that things can move along. The hierarchy is complicated, problematic and self-limiting. They don’t want me to do things and then they forget to do them. They change plans routinely, and refuse to allocate the work to someone else even though they are unable to complete the work on their own. No solutions for this at the moment other than I just need to keep pressing. Thankfully, for the two women working with me, I’m not easily discouraged or afraid of people and so I just keep coming back!

The home garden women are showing progress, but it’s hard to say what motivation they have. We’re just trying to finish up everything now and then next year we’ll assess how much they are really willing to do and how much they are just relying on the organization to help. If they just rely on our assistance then we’ll say goodbye and find someone else.

Maybe we’ll build a nursery, I don’t think we’ll ever get the material so I seem skeptical. We can’t even get a tractor to plow, so we’ll see if anything ever happens. No wonder people are discouraged.

Of all the things, the after school kids seem pretty cool and interested in farming and so that might actually be fun next year, but we’ll see what happens. I never think they enjoy the sessions, but after every class people always tell me that the kids loved it! I guess I’ll take their word for it, as I have no idea.

I’m helping with the Fit For Life Fit For Work students and those sessions are just kamikaze style, hoping that I get through to someone. It’s definitely good practice for their English and so that will benefit them, but I don’t know how many of them really hear and understand my lessons or advice. As long as they take something useful from the lessons I’ll know it was worth my time.

I walked around Tzaneen a few weeks ago and I think some guy wanted to mug me. He was bumping into me from behind and saying something about me beating him or him beating me. This interaction continued as I walked through a tunnel and at one point he even grabbed my pants as he continued his nonsensical speaking. But I just kept walking and removed his hands and he noticed people were watching him and so he stopped. I also never carry my wallet in my back pocket so maybe his accomplice said it wasn’t worth it.

I’m trying to be social on the weekends and each outing provides a new learning experience. It’s interesting to see their expected alcohol consumption, how they talk to girls, where they go on the weekends, how they expect to hook up, dancing, and everything else that happens in their free time. It’s actually quite interesting and I enjoy the small amount of social time that I have on the weekends to just go out, watch, and absorb everything that I see. I haven’t felt unsafe and I’m quite aware of how protective and helpful my friends are who invite me places. It’s nice to know that they’re watching out for me and in many ways I trust them, as they’re my main connection to their world, as it really exists. I feel like there is hesitation to inviting me places within the community and I haven’t discovered if this hesitation is race or language based.

Although I’m not including the drunk people that are around me when I might have a drink with friends over the weekend, I’ve noticed that the drunk people at the tavern near my house are the nicest, most respectful people in my village! Mostly the problems I have come from sober women. Women here don’t have any kind of status or say when compared to men and so when they see the white guy they quickly jump on these power trips because they think they can control me in a disrespectful manner, which is similar to how they are treated (and NO! it’s not all of the women! It’s only that the few problems I’ve had have been with women). Little do they know that although I try to be nice as much as possible, I will meet them punch for punch (figuratively) and I’m not trying to be their friends. I’ll speak my mind to anyone and I think South Africans are slowly learning this. But the drunk guys, they love to joke, talk, say hello, and occasionally do some gymnastics. I never drink with them or buy anything for them so I think that helps the relationship, but I never would have guessed our interactions would have played out like this.

Maybe it’s because I have electricity, but this time around I’m listening to a lot more music and in many ways I think it helps keep me slightly sane…although this mental state might fade. Maybe I just need more Xitsonga music to get me back in stride! It seems I’d rather stare off into space and listen to music to pass the time. Sometimes, just lost in thought or a lack there of. I would like to think of it as meditation, but somehow me half clothed, sitting in my oven box house, staring at a wall, with a slack jawed and slightly dazed expression doesn’t really fit the image in my mind of meditation. Regardless, my mind goes somewhere and the nights seem to pass rather quickly.

My language skills are improving very slowly, but I’m noticing small improvements. I understand more and more how the French people felt in Madagascar with the Malagasy people’s knowledge of French. It’s so strange to struggle to speak your native tongue to someone speaking the same language just because they don’t fully understand the language or the accent. The problem lies in falsely thinking that you can communicate in the language. I speak English and I’m not sure I’ll be understood. I speak Xitsonga and chances are I’m not going to be understood either. So I choose to fail in both and then walk away smiling if we don’t understand each other.

As all this negativity builds up and eats me from within, filling my insides with defeat and despair, there are some things that seem to be going in the right direction and keep me from losing all hope. I started building a keyhole garden at my house and it helps to fill the time and give me a physical activity around my house. The local tavern donated their old small bottles to me and so I started building. Some of the local boys decided what I was doing was interesting and so they started to help. The next day I saw one kid lingering around my house and so we started working again and then a bunch showed up to help collect bottles, collect manure and build up the garden walls. We still need to raise it a few more layers, but it’s moving in the right direction and it’s nice to give the kids in the area something to do as there really aren’t any activities and they usually just watch people drink for three nights straight before starting the week again. Mostly, I’m just thinking that maybe this is the age where they need motivation and reassurance for farming. Maybe the afterschool kids are still interested as well and they just need to know what’s possible so that when they get older they might show an interest and try something related to farming. Because waiting until they are twenty something’s is difficult, and in my opinion too late for many because they already feel defeated.

The other day someone asked me how my day went and I responded somewhat hesitantly, “It was ok. Not great. Not bad.” When they laughed I continued, “I just have to live one day at a time and what happened today is a thing of the past and I’ll start it all over tomorrow.” I’ve found that each day has its small successes living in the shadows of my towering failures. I often wonder if it’s all worth it and whether a different line of work would be free of these thoughts and feelings. I’m not so sure that it would. Most evenings I’m exhausted and continue to question why I’m here, but every morning I wake up and do it all over again, trying to leave the negativity behind me. I’ll let you know in eight months or less if it was worth it.

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