25 March 2008

"Um…no." It was my lame but best honest answer to the innocent question of a volunteer at the local orphanage: "So can you describe what a typical day is like for you?" The truth is, despite some of the comforting routines emphasized in earlier entries, there is really no "typical day" for me here. The word "typical", in many ways, seems almost entirely irrelevant to my current life.

Part of this is due to the nature of my assignment. I have been told by the Peace Corps organization that I am here to "serve as a link" within a network of HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and support services. In response to direct questioning about my anticipated job duties, my work supervisor has told me that I will be expected to "build capacity". Neither of these descriptions translates readily into a tangible laundry list of tasks to be completed, or even a clear mental image. And so, I spend my days doing what I figure a good link and capacity builder might do: visiting, meeting, observing, questioning, listening, and suggesting. This slate of activities has taken me to trainings, meetings, hospitals, schools, track meets, gynecologists' offices, cultural dance displays, chicken farms, construction sites, and even a reception for a visiting U.S. Congressman. It has put me in contact with government administrators, clinicians, small business experts, journalists, tourism officials, former commercial sex workers, people living with HIV/AIDS, Orthodox priests, Rastafarians, German architects, Swedish agricultural researchers, and philanthropic American fashion designers. If it has not catered to the neat categories of a program evaluation sheet, it has at least taught me tremendously much about the community, culture, and intricate system in which I will live and work for two years.

Then too, some of the unpredictable nature of my daily life can be attributed to unfamiliar cultural elements. Business is simply done a little differently here. I brought with me to Ethiopia a small blue planner covering the years 2008 and 2009, which I had planned to use in writing down all my scheduled meetings and appointments. So far, it has proven more a retrospective record of events that arose unexpectedly in the flow of my volunteer service. My work tends to be accomplished through spontaneous drop-ins, informal gatherings, and unplanned encounters. There was, for example, the afternoon I was picked up in a white Land Rover on my way home for lunch and carried off to the technical school to meet a microfinance trainer. There was the wrong number dialed to my phone that, thanks to my highly recognizable American-accented Amharic, resulted in a meeting with the woreda capacity building office. There was the business discussion that spontaneously arose when two local NGO directors and I found ourselves one evening at the same café. And that's not to mention the innumerable connections made and ideas generated in watching football games, going out to lunch, taking a coffee break, or just encountering a familiar face while walking down the road.

And so it is that my days here are anything but typical. In living them, I am becoming more flexible, resourceful, inventive, and patient. Of course, I am also becoming more confirmed in the fear that I will never be able to take on a "normal" job.

1 comment:

Bonnie said...

You... 'normal'... I wouldn't dream of it!