Saturday, March 24, 2012


As I referenced in my first post about work nearly a year ago, for my first months here I really didn't feel like I was doing anything.

My counterpart never took the initiative to direct me or ask me what we should be doing, and rarely invited me to do things. Mam was spoken in our work environment between my counterparts, so only 5% of daily conversation was shared with me. Compounding my sense of disorientation, there was no weekly or monthly planning. We were directionless about my work. I didn't know what I was doing aside from observing, because that was the Peace Corps philosophy (although with good reason). It took me months to realize that if I wasn't going to build a zip-line, my counterpart did not have much vision of what I should be doing either.

I would go and sit in the office all day and try to figure out what was going on. I wanted to prove to my counterpart I was interested in working. I took advantage of any chance to get out in the schools, forests, and communities and went to meetings like a starved little bird eating bread crumbs. I helped my office-mate write and deliver environmental lesson plans with area schools. I learned to grant licenses for tree and leaf litter extraction. I had thousands of subtle conversations about the tourism project with community members, most of which ended with blank stares and a change of topic. I started thinking about what to do for a Master's project and reading papers but hit constant self-motivational dead ends as well as the stark reality that geologists are not welcome in these parts. I wrote elaborate blog posts and journal entries. I chatted on g-mail with my boyfriend.

I had no idea what I was doing, and no one told me. But I figured it out. Looking back, I feel like I didn't take as much personal initiative in those first months as I probably could have, but with reason.

I felt I did not know the community well enough, nor their feelings on our environmental office, let alone tourism. I was hesitant about walking around alone or going to communities on my own, and I think with good reason. I felt my counterpart didn't really respond when I spoke about issues I was having. I didn't feel confident contradicting him directly and he seemed to bristle whenever I asked him for a moment of time when he was busy. The "go get 'em" part of me is kind of ashamed I let him intimidate me, but now I'm glad I took the indirect way in with him. Our interaction was more on his cultural terms and therefore more respectful and productive ultimately.

I was battling my own uncertainty, my own loneliness, my own laziness. My social situation seemed intricately entwined with my work situation: on both fronts I was encountering indifference from the community and from my counterpart and supervisor. I was desperately missing my best friend and the best I could find to fill to that social void was my three-year-old host brother.

In retrospect, I wish I had taken more initiative then to study Mam and perfect my Spanish grammar during some of those long boring days in the office, but my brain often felt at its limits. Before I really learned the pronunciation it was difficult to study without a teacher, and I had felt pressured to be taught by my office-mate, who only had an hour free a day. Only now after so many months of passive absorption of Mam am I really ready to move beyond grammar and basic phrases, and learn at a truly conversational level. But that is now a thought for the future.

The less I "did", the greater my sense of inertia began to grow. Eventually I began to realize that my own attitude and actions were what I could control, and that if I was going to keep going, I needed to train my brain's positive circuitry. I'll admit that some days I still could have brought a better or more proactive attitude, but I showed up. Every day. Even if it was just to talk.

That ultimately made a huge difference, although getting going took a long time. August was probably my lowest month, feeling like I was at a dead stop. My first three months of "observation" and any valid excuse for passivity were up. I had almost no one to work with and was missing my boyfriend terribly because he had visited in July. But from then on, I realized that my own attitude was all I had. I started moving upward, slowly but sure. Accompanying reforestation days, teaching English in a local school, carrying out a local tourism diagnostic, then a class for teachers. And along the way I began to make real friends - on my community's timetable, not mine.

Many things have happened since -the trail project, a class for guides, a young people's group, and many many many meetings. Now I've got inertia but in pure motion. I feel like I am finally, finally, finally in a place to do the work I wanted to do all along, but that I realized only 5% of that potential, and maybe 50% of what I concretely hoped to do. But going home to be with my grandma is the right decision, compared to what I would have accomplished in one extra month.

In 10 days I'll step on the plane and be slammed into a different state of motion. The rest of it I have to let go of.

I'm still in the letting go stage - trying to focus not on what we didn't do, but keep in mind how far I've come, how many subtle dreams we've made reality, how many paths I've helped lay for other dreams -- even if some of the larger ones have fallen by the wayside, or will be put off for others to put into action in the future. It would be but pure ego-ism to not relinquish those dreams into other capable hands.

For the moment, I'm off to continue cleaning and packing! Take care.

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