“If you want something done right, you should probably do it yourself.” – Andrea Burke, said on numerous occasions
I wouldn’t say I’m a control freak, but I also wouldn’t say I’m not a control freak. I’m a task-oriented, perfectionistic Westerner that likes to check things off of her to-do list and evaluate all that she’s accomplished at the end of the day. I realize that all of my posts for the past while have been me rambling about this exact thing. Here’s another.
I was in the middle of writing a depressing post about how I’m feeling drained and tired and like I’m not getting anywhere. I can’t seem to focus, I can’t seem to get anything done, and this week has been the week of “ethical quandaries,” as my best friend so helpfully articulated. Right when I was going on about street kids and how I feel helpless to help them but they all seem to think that my purpose in life is to give them anything they ask, I remembered that I had yet to read a lengthy email sent to me from someone who has spent the last 15 years on the continent. I reached out to her about a month ago, asking her mountains of questions and assuring her that none of them were pressing, I just wanted to know her thoughts on some things. I turned my light on so I wasn’t brooding in the dark any longer, let Nuri into my room so she could use my internet hotspot, connected my own laptop to my phone’s hotspot, and opened the email.
I’m not even through reading it. I have one of the articles that she sent open in another tab, and have resolved to read it between now and when I go to bed. The email is filled with assurances that I’m not crazy for struggling with the different values. It’s filled with weathered wisdom and phrases that will become personal mantras for this evening, this weekend, and possibly for much longer. I really needed to hear many of the words that I just read.
It’s wild how these things happen. It’s wild how, at the end of a week where things keep going wrong and I can’t seem to get an ounce of work done, I can sit on my bed in Mwanza, listening to Nuri type away at the desk close by, realizing that it’s not about me. It’s not about how much I can get done. And it’s not about the tasks (that are piling up, by the way).
I might be out an interviewer, which is frustrating. My interviewer from SAUT asked me to loan her money and I refused, and I’m not sure if she’ll be finishing the interviews or not. Maimuna managed to line up another interviewer, but I’m not sure how her English is so we may have to get the notes translated. Which adds another step to the process, and I’ll have to discuss with Maimuna how to proceed in terms of payments and budgeting and whatnot. I’m also probably behind on getting things ready for the event, but that’s nothing new and I’ll save anyone who’s kind/crazy enough to read these rambles the headache and not go into detail there.
I’m making leaps and then regressing. I’m realizing things about myself and my surroundings, and then realizing that those realizations apparently don’t mean much when I’m stressed and mildly homesick. Old habits die hard, to add yet another cliché to the mix. It’s beyond frustrating to make one step forward only to end up two steps behind again.
Nonetheless, the phrase that stood out to me most from that lovely email that I’m still not finished reading is this: “the value lies more in relationship than task” (thanks, Cheri). If I’m meant to be two steps back in order to establish certain relationships, strengthen other relationships, or be somewhere when I should be, then so be it. This summer internship is shaping me more than I ever thought possible and in ways that I never expected, and I still feel selfish listing that as a positive point but I’m realizing that it’s okay. Collaborations are relational, and community development takes time, as Nuri just shared with me. I feel like I know this, everyone knows this, but I also sit here thinking about that and realize how poorly equipped I was for this reality.
Real community development and lasting change is this: Nuri and I went to interview groups from two secondary schools that have implemented EBLI-run behaviour change programs centred around sexual health and reproductive rights this week. Nuri, with the help of translator-extraordinaire Rose (who happens to be one of the nicest women on the planet, I’m convinced), asked groups what their expectations were going into the program, if they’ve seen results, and what they think is needed to improve the program. The responses we got were incredible. Young teens were saying that the program informed them so they understood the negative effects of drugs, bad peer influences, unprotected sex, teacher-beatings (which apparently is a thing), and female genital mutilation. Students explained how they brought knowledge of human rights and equal opportunities home and into their communities. They’ve challenged their parents to treat their daughters and sons as equals, and some have brought violence to a screeching halt. Others lamented that adults don’t always listen to them when they try to explain what they’ve learned, and most students recommended that the EBLI program run more often than a mere twice a month. Nuri’s evaluating the program this summer, and my general and preliminary impression is that her main recommendation for EBLI should be to continue doing what they’re doing for as long as possible.
I don’t know how things happen in Mwanza, if they don’t happen in a task-oriented, efficient way. I probably won’t find out, if I’m honest with myself. Things happen slowly, organically, and keeping culture and relationships in mind. I won’t be privy to this process in my short three months here. I’m really sad about that, not because I won’t see any impact of my work, but because I want to see communities actively being invested in and changed for the better. I want to see the amazing people I’ve met and the amazing programs I’ve encountered in action.
However, if I choose to focus on things like the feedback we heard from the students participating in EBLI’s program as opposed to my inadequate work, I can actually appreciate the work that has been done for years before I decided to show up for three months and whine about how I feel ineffective. If I choose to think of the interview notes that I just read a couple of days ago based on the interviews completed last Sunday for MikonoYetu instead of how I still haven’t finished the FKT concept note for Bernard, I can truly see value in the initiatives that I am blessed to be a small part of this summer. We’re only getting a taste of it all in these three months, but I’m so happy that we’re fortunate enough to get that taste. Reading notes from the five interviews that we held with women who were economically empowered through the Kivulini and MikonoYetu programs moved me more than I can put into words.
I do have many things to do in this next month (side note: one month exactly before I hop on a plane and leave Mwanza). I will probably journal similar thoughts, rant about similar thoughts in countless emails to my parents and close friends back home, and will definitely write more posts about how I feel like I’m not doing enough and my expectations aren’t being met. Bear with me. But these initiatives were put into motion long before I could even locate Tanzania on a map, and will continue and thrive long after I have to leave this beautiful, vibrant space. None of this is about me. And I’m very happy about that.