Monday, July 20, 2009

growing pains

Despite earnest efforts to brush aside expectations before stepping onto the airbus from Calgary to Toronto, eager in anticipation for predep,I believe there were a few key assumptions about the JF placement I had spent months preparing for that could not be so easily dissipated.

Spending the last two months overseas has revealed to me many new ideas - lessons, experiences, frustrations, and reflection have all elucidated to me so many new ways of thinking, living, and being. Many notions and thoughts I brought with me from Canada have been discarded, recycled, or changed with every drop of sand in the hourglass. But amongst the immense abundance of learning there exists one thought - a reinforced reminder that stands above all others - I know nothing. I know nothing - a belief I've clung to for years, however, I think I fell into a trap midway into my placement that with the experiences I have had so far that perhaps I had begun to know something... Something about development, or poverty, or perhaps even about people. Upon further reflection it has become self-perceptible that this is not the case.

To articulate on this point - when I was doing some field work in Mapalo one day early in my placement I saw a young girl, wrapped in a chitenge cloth and wearing some sort of second hand north american sweater, fetching water at a well. Individuals such as this are the ones my partner is to 'help' -yet what do I know to help her? How can I know the challenges she faces ever day? How do I know if she even needs 'help'? I've been told by 'science' that it is risky to use well water. It is risky to use the same container that goes well-diving as a storage container. That it is risky to live at all, really. I see the yellow "SHIP" container given to her by my partner used as a water collector, a big 'no no' - yet I am not compelled to say anything. We can make the conclusion, as westerners, that those who we are trying to 'help' are irrational - clearly this woman is insane for using a nice 'gift' to collect water. OR we could assume that these individuals make conscious decisions based on their understanding of their own lives, the lives of their families, cultural memes, and their dreams to act in such a way, then we'd find that there is a very good reason for using this 'gift' in an unintended way. But we'll never know for sure. There's no one person, one informant, whose behaviour speaks for a community. There's no "one" story that will inform us, as westerners, on how we are to do development..., I think that is the problem we have made for the last forty... two thousand... however many years - we assume we know more about someone else than they know about themselves. I know nothing.

Even after living in these communities - living with and loving peri-urban families - I have found that the more I learn the more I realize the less I know. The constant reminder that understanding and loving people does not conflate to knowing. I am not Mapalo.

Perhaps my perceptions and perspectives are undergoing growing pains? Immediately my mind was nourished by the sensory barrage of sights, scents, stories, somewheres, and sunsets in the townships.., perhaps to this point it has been a sensory overload.

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