I’m sitting here in the jungles of West Java, Indonesia, reflecting. The past six months seem to have lasted a lifetime. My mind is flooded with glimpses of joy, of meaning, of angst and anxiety, my body reacting viscerally to each memory. With many questions riddling the pages of my notebook regarding best practice, ethics, impact, sustainability, brokenness, and hope whirling around my mind.
Each time I speak about my experience I find there is a new flavor, a new facet of my experience that surfaces; or one that was known that seems to resonate more deeply than before. As a verbal processor having a week to reflect, to talk, exploring these experiences have exhausted me in the best of ways. Reforming the narrative that I recited for the past few months, molding my angst with the change and the improvement that I’ve seen. I feel at peace.
I wish I could synthesize and articulate my experience in a cohesive way, one that wraps a nice bow around the whole experience; that provides answers to questions, and conclusions to beginnings. However the more I try, the harder it becomes.
Instead, you can join me in the series of questions I’ve encountered here, and perhaps those might give you a better glimpse into my experience.
Do the dogs ever sleep?
Is the mop long enough to kill the spider on the ceiling?
Whose cow is this?
Is it dangerous to try to pet a yak?
Why is everyone alwaystalking about ‘china’?
What are people doing? How are they doing it?
How am I viewed? How will my behavior either challenge or reinforce these perceptions?
Where am I placed within the hierarchies of this culture?
What is the organizational history that underpins the current structures, methods, and tools used?
What does it mean if I were to challenge, or introduce new practices?
What does it look like for me to work alongside this organization?
Where is the line between paternalism and empowerment?
How does staff communicate disapproval to each other, and how do they communicate when they do not agree with something, or someone?
What is the workplace culture around conflict resolution?
What does support and accountability look like in this organization?
How can I communicate critical feedback in a way that honors, loves, and cares for the individual and/or organization?
How can I support staff resiliency, capacity and hope for change?
Is it worth investing large amounts of funds in imperfect change?
When systems seem corrupted, how do you ethically engage and participate?
When developing a program, and when writing a proposal, how do you protect your heart from feeling the weight of the issues your program is tackling?
How do writers or researchers care for themselves when they experience compassion fatigue?
When various social issues are deeply interwoven and widespread, what can we really do to create change?
What small changes can create larger change?
What can I leave behind to serve as a resource to my co-workers?
Am I leaving this organization in a better/stronger place than when I entered it?
Some answers to these questions have come quicker than others, while others lead to more questions or a complicated web of answers. And even though the answers have not come easy, I’ve somehow stumbled upon the bow that wraps up my experience.
Gratitude now permeates each and every challenge and success. I am a different woman, a different practitioner, a different global citizen because of the people and circumstances I’ve been able to learn from. I’m thankful for the patience extended to me by my co-workers as I struggled to communicate, broke typical social norms, and probably asked more questions than they were comfortable with. I am grateful for how Nepal has taught me about the power and perversion of systems and culture, of the good that can work at times in the midst of corruption, and of the functional and/or dysfunctional relationships between donors and grassroots organizations.
Gratitude is my bow.