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Entries "June 2006":

Saturday, 24 June 2006

How's life?

Time seems to be clicking away so quickly now.  At the beginning I counted days, then weeks, now it's months and I've just reached number 10!  Soon it will have been a year.  There is no longer a feeling of visiting here but rather living here.  The things that I found difficult at the beginning are commonplace now, except the language of course which I had great intentions of learning but have made very little progress. 

I find myself with an abundance of work to do.  In addition to teaching my classes I'm organizing a talent night at school for this coming Friday.  My English club has been working hard and we have made one visit to another school and are planning for another school to come visit us soon.  With Annemiek and Antonia, we have been planning training sessions for primary school teachers in language teaching.... temporarily postponed.  I've also been made supervisor of the Human Rights club and FAWE/Tuseme club (Forum for African Women's Education).  It's a lot of work and sometimes I feel like no one is satisfied with the work I do or the resources I provide.  You do one thing, then the next minute someone is asking you for something else.  It's a lesson in setting limits, saying no, and making time for oneself. 

My down time is often very relaxing.  When there's nothing to do there really is NOTHING to do.  This morning was Umuganda (communal work day) so everyone was out digging, cleaning or planting trees and everything in town was closed... so nothing to do but sleep in, eat slowly, and chat away the morning. 

Inspite of some of the stresses and the occasional boredom though, life is good.  We've moved into the dry season now so the weather is sunny (if a bit dusty).  My job is interesting and I have made a lot of good friends who keep me happy (one in particular but this is maybe not the place to talk about that).  My garden is growing beautifully.  I have had some cute new clothes made by the tailer in town.  The children next door are growing and thriving and they are a constant source of laughter.  I will be going to see the gorillas in August (woohoo!) and the holidays are coming up - although I will probably be teaching the final year students anyways who won't go home for the holiday.

I'm also looking ahead, quite far ahead in fact, to December when I should be making a visit back to the land of maple syrup and pancakes.  It will be nice to see things which are familiar and I'm sure things will be much the same although many things will be altered I'm sure (Stephen Harper --- grrrrr).  Family and friends please stock up on the red wine and cheese!

When I come home for my visit I'm sure you'll find that I'm largely the same but perhaps somewhat altered as well - not because of Stephen Harper though.  I may be a slightly more cynical Cathie but don't worry I haven't lost all hope in the world... at least not in individuals.  I once read that disillusionment is a gift and I'm trying to receive it as such.  These comments might intrigue you but I'm not sure I have the words to elaborate just yet.  All I can say is that the world we live in is so... (again I find myself without the right words to articulate it).  I guess I need to let my thoughts marinate a little bit longer... maybe next time. 

take care all!

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Written by: cathie78    in: My travelblog
Friday, 02 June 2006

What am I doing here?

I think every VSO volunteer asks this question at least 50 times in their 2 year placement.  "What am I doing here?"  As in "I can't seem to get anything done" or sometimes "my job doesn't match my placement description at all" or "isn't there a local person who could be doing this job?"  or "Am I having any impact at all" or perhaps more frightening... "Am I having a positive impact or a negative one?"  These questions start to seep into one's consciousness after month 3 and as time goes on they get more and more serious.  You find yourself being drawn into the world of DEVELOPMENT... and I have to tell you it's a scary place.  It's a place filled with bureaucracy and buzz-words like 'sustainability', 'advocacy', 'participatory approaches' and 'gender' where people spend a lot of time talking about things that sound really great and progressive and hopeful.  But on the ground the reality is different.  People at every level of society know how to regurgitate these buzz words, they know what it takes to get grants, donations, jobs.  But does any of it seep in past that surface layer?  And should it?  Maybe it's time to stop talking and start working... but I have a problem there too. 

Who does the work?  What work gets done?  and most importantly who decides?  Simply our presence (by we I mean we of the Northern world) creates an expectations that we have answers, we will fix things, give money and we know better!  I've begun to believe that no matter how 'participatory' the approach, development projects smack of colonialism, whites will always be seen (wrongly) as the experts, people will continue to say 'yes' 'yes' all the while thinking "ha! that'll never work!"  I don't know what the answer is and I admit that I probably will never know.  In the mean time I'm trying to find out everything I can, learn from people, from books, from watching the way the world works.

If you're interested in Africa, the world of development, or in travel narrative in general, I highly recommend Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroulx.  His book sent me into a bit of a depression but it asked some really important questions.  Aid and Development have become the biggest industries in Africa bringing Land Rover driving foreigners and self-righteous do-gooders.  Somehow it doesn't seem to be the solution for the problems of this continent.

I, in the mean time, try to keep working, getting to know the people and the community where I live and hope that I'm not doing more harm than good.

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Written by: cathie78    in: My travelblog