I had a meeting about a week ago that had every Peace Corps quote I have ever heard running through my mind. The meeting was supposed to start at 9am, but of course there were people late, and the hall we booked was occupied by some other folks. But, shoot I’ve been here 10 months…no biggie. Didn’t even break a sweat. We started calling other places to figure out where we could have the meeting instead. Finally found a place to have the meeting, and off we went.
Just to refresh your memories, I am working with an organization called Finding Sunshine, composed of people living with HIV/AIDS in the rural area (about 120). We are trying to establish income generating activities/ a business and I have been working with the leaders of the org to work out some of the details. Well, we had decided to split up the members into two groups: urban and rural. The urban group (50 members) has some business knowledge but little land whereas the rural area has a lot of land but little business knowledge. Plus, the urban group lives up to 20km away from town (not sure how many miles that is but it’s a lot). So it is very difficult to start a business with all of them and may be easier to do individual businesses with them. Every month the org meets to discuss what is going on, so I assumed (mistake) that they had discussed this already. According to the Health Office (who helps run the meetings) they were getting ready to vote for the leaders in the rural area so that way I could meet with them to figure out how to help them with a business as well.
I want you to keep in mind a few things, because the members are from the rural area they do not speak Amharic (which is what my town speaks) but instead they speak Sudamigna. I know exactly 4 words in Sudaminga and they are all greetings. So during the meeting I understand nothing, my counterpart tries to sum up what is happening but I miss a lot of what is going on, and I am pretty much silent during the whole meeting.
I called this meeting to meet with all of the members from the urban areas and begin to write our constitution for the business.
FIRST QUOTE: This will be the toughest job you’ll ever love
Six people from the rural area had showed up for the meeting and they were NOT happy. They spent the first 2 hours arguing, my counterpart slid me a note that that they were arguing about why we split up the groups. What was frustrating for me was we had about 40 people there but 6 people were unhappy about something and so we had to spend that time talking about it. In the states, I would’ve said ‘I would be happy to discuss this with you after the meeting but as the other members are here to write the constitution we need to put this matter aside.’ I suggested this to my counterpart. But culturally, you can’t do that. You have to let everyone speak and even if they are saying the same thing over and over, you have to let them keep talking it out. At one point my counterpart turns to me and says ‘they are behaving like children’ which makes me laugh. To me, they were. To top it off I really don’t know what they are saying so it sort of looks like putting Bad Girls Clubs or Real Housewives of (any city) on mute and watching the drama unfold.
Eventually, some of the people from the rural area left (they weren’t really the people arguing about it but just wanted to know why we split the groups up). Next, they had us read the names of the people who were in the urban group that was written by their elected leaders. That’s when all hell broke loose. Bunch of talking, standing up, and craziness started happening. I wasn’t sure what was going on, I knew that whatever it was they weren’t happy about the list. One member came up to where me and my counterpart were sitting, took his wallet out, and threw out a bunch of papers. Apparently, he couldn’t find whatever he was looking for because he had to keep pulling out stuff until he found the right one. Then, he walked out of the meeting. I actually started talking in English in hopes to calm people down, but that did nothing. My counterpart was like ‘no problem.’ Not sure what situation he was looking at but there was definitely a problem to me. I think he just wanted me to stay out of it because at the point he had stopped talking and just sat back. The angry man returned and we continued on with the arguing. Eventually, some agreement was achieved and we started writing the constitution. Later, my counterpart was telling me that the guy was upset that he wasn’t on the list and that he was trying to pull out his license to show that he lives in the urban area. My counterpart thinks that there is infighting amongst the co-op which is common.
SECOND QUOTE:: Plan for nothing to go as planned
Before every meeting me and counterpart, plan the meeting and go through the details of how it will be run. But for some reason, at the meeting he always seems to forget whatever it is we talked about. At this meeting, they included a government official that helps coops write constitutions (I was not informed that he would be there). He brought sample constitutions to use as a guideline, which was awesome. I had prepared questions that were to help us write the constitution. For example, I had a question about what different positions the org would have and what were their responsibilities. Every question I asked the guy would get up flip some pages of the constitution and say it’s in the guideline. I kept getting frustrated because yes, while it is in the constitution its only a guideline. We sill need to answer the question of how we want it to be for our organization. Every question I asked he would do this and every time I would say the same thing.
THIRD QUOTE: Be prepared for things to move slower than you are used to
This was my first meeting where I really saw how much work it really takes to get things done. We walked away with little actual accomplished but this is common.
The difficult part is not having a voice in something you are trying to facilitate and things that seem so simple in the States are not necessarily simple to do somewhere else. My friend had a good point though, I am lucky people actually show up to my meetings and I get a pretty good turn out each time.
Solution: We called for another meeting with all of the members and suggested writing the constitution with the leaders as a draft and then having the members edit it. Many of them are illiterate so we will be reading the constitution to them.
Another thing I found interesting was that when we were writing what qualities we wanted the Chair, Vice Chair etc to have they mentioned things like “honest, trustworthy.”
I was elected by my peers to be apart of the peer support network, part of my job is to act as an advocate for my fellow volunteers, provide an ear, and help introduce newcomers to Ethiopia. Whelp! We’ve got newcomers!!
Seventy Education Volunteers came to Ethiopia in the beginning of July. Before they came, we exchanged a few emails and I answered their questions. Once they got here I felt like I graduated my freshmen year and was helping with freshmen orientation. They asked innocent questions like “Will there be an iron where we are going.” We all had to smile at that. I enjoyed spending time with them, showing them how to use a shint bet, answering all of the random questions (Can I use a tazor), and receiving phone calls that just put a huge smile on my face.
It helped me to realize how far I’ve come and how much I’ve adjusted. We took the volunteers to different sites so they could get a feel for a day in the life of a volunteer. This is a new program that we were trying out (other Peace Corps countries do it). It went really well! It gave them an idea of what they will be doing and a realistic view of how volunteers live.
Another responsbilitity of Peer Support Network is to give trainings. Previously, I had been speaking on panels, but recently I had to give my first facilitation training. Panels are easy to me because I did them in college, but actually facilitating a training had me nervous. Especially because it had to be catered to 70 volunteers, they are in training from 9a-5p, and they will not hesitate to fall asleep at the first hint of boredom.
This training was about diversity, harassment, and ways to handle it. Previously, a volunteer who had served in Ethiopia for 3 ½ years and was a fantastic person to go to to shoot the breeze or for serious conversations (and is dearly missed, he just left for the foreign services)…sorry got off track…previously he had given this training and it was one of the trainings that stood out the most to me and the rest of the volunteers who came to Ethiopia with me. Out of 10 weeks of training this was the one that we mention/remember in details. So they wanted me and another volunteer from my group to give the training (since we are the only ones to have seen it). I was WORRIED, I wanted to do it justice. It meant so much to me and I didn’t want to mess it up for them.
We printed out different speeches and played the audio of it at the same time. We started off with a Malcolm X speech were he tells people to stop asking for justice in the court system but to make their own justice in the streets and calls for an eye for an eye. After playing this speech, I gave the story of when the women threw a rock and I threw it back. How angry I was and how I didn’t have any words to express how I felt to her. So I did what she did to me. The purpose of that was to show that there are times when you want to lash out at people around you for the injustice, wrongful treatment, and harassment. Sometimes volunteers experience rocks thrown, clearly raised prices because they are foreigners, sexual harassment, verbal harassment….and so you want to give it back.
After, we gave a speech were Malcolm X is calmer, its right after his house was bombed and he separated from the teachings of Elijah Muhammad (speech is called American Court System). In this one he looks at the situation differently, although they just bombed his house he is not asking for an eye for an eye. His demeanor has changed, he has visited different countries and seen that everyone who has white skin does not behave the same. This relates to us because it can become easy to focus on the negative people and forget the lady that offers you food, the kid that screams forenji at you but only wants to shake your hand.
Next was MLK’s speech, right before he was assassinated. He spoke of the little girl that wrote the letter that said she was so glad he didn’t sneezed (because he would have died). He refereed to the lady that tried to stab him as demented. He mentions if he had sneezed he would have missed so many monumental occasions. Out of all the people that wrote MLK the little girl is the one the stood out to him the most. Just like we will live here for 2 years, but there are some moments that will stand out the most to us. Moments that make us glad that we are here. We also appreciated how he called the lady demented. Although, she tried to kill him he phrased it as if something evil took a hold of her instead of saying she was evil. And just like MLK mentions the things he would have missed had he sneezed, there are many moments that we would miss if we early terminated/went home. You never know what it around the corner, so its important to stick it through.
Lastly, we finished with Viktor Frankl a holocaust survivor and psychiatrist. We took an excerpt from his book that mentions that even when you strip a man of everything, they will always have that last piece of who they are and what they choose to do. He mentions people who were starving at the concentration camps but would offer their bread to someone in even more dire need. Although they had been stripped of everything. No matter what a person does or says we have the ability to choose what we do and how we behave.
I really enjoyed giving this training, the feedback, conversations after, and surveys were SO positive. They really enjoyed the training and I think they got something out of it.
I like and I don’t like my kitten. I like when he’s a sleep, but when he’s awake that thing can cry like nobody’s business. It’s like having a newborn baby and there is a reason I don’t have kids right now. Its nice having the company though.