February 07, 2006

two 'ordinary' days compared...

Today was an extraordinary day – but in a strange way: it was extraordinary in that it was a completely ordinary day, but it was quite manic and exhausting for me. There are some things about this job that I just can’t get used to and still fight against or stress about which only succeeds in tiring me out.

One thing that I just can’t deal with, without getting cranky or stressed, is the way that some people I work with will just interrupt me when I’m already talking to somebody/ doing something and ask me something or ask me to do something else. Sometimes it’s just ludicrous! The short-tempered voice inside my head just wants to say ‘Can’t you see I’m already talking to someone!!’

The other thing I’m still struggling with is that coming from my worldview it sometimes looks like the mob I work with spend most of the day doing not very much and don’t seem to want to do very much. It conflicts so badly with the endless list of jobs I have running through my head and my determination to get through them. My analogy (courtesy of Namij) is that it’s like running through water: I know how to run (the ‘running’ is me working hard and getting through tasks) but the way that this mob work is like putting me in waist-deep water but I’m still running and trying to get somewhere.

But where is this ‘somewhere’ that usmob Munanga are always trying to get to?

People talk about the fact that for thismob, all interactions are about maintaining relationships or based on kin relationships (as opposed to Munanga who can base relationships purely on work). This seems to make intellectual sense to me, but that doesn’t mean that it suddenly gives me that understanding in my heart and allows me to move through my day in that way.

I don’t know what the answer is. But something that one old lady (main mami C) said one time is something that I need to remember. She said ‘I can’t be a Munanga, and a Munanga can’t be me’.

It seems to be just a constant struggle, where I swing between me 'wanting-to-work-in-a-blekbela-wei' and me 'wanting-the-mob-I-work-with-to-work-in-a-Munanga-way'. And then again, when I’m comfortable working in a Munanga way and I’m comfortable with the mob I work with working in a blekbala wei, then there’s still going to be a whole lot of tensions. Seems like a lose-lose situation and I’m caught right in the middle of it – stressing out, but dealing with it best I can.

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Today was another ordinary day. But unlike the day I just described (yesterday), I got through it without ever stressing out or bordering on having a panic attack. And what a difference it makes! I actually had a good day, and I feel good. Not like yesterday, you should have seen me! (The tone of what I wrote above probably gives you a good indication.)

And the main thing I take from comparing the last two days is that it all comes down to me… it’s not the people I work with, they seem to be pretty much the same all the time – it’s me. If I’m stressed, I see things through stressed eyes and all I see is the things not being done and the things that are being done ‘wrong’. If I’m not stressed, then I happily carry on with my work, and happily help others with their work. I have patience and reasonable expectations, and I get to see that things are getting done or that progress is being made.

So today, I sat with A and R for an hour and a half, trying to teach them how to spell and write their language better. Their literacy skills are really quite low, but they’re trying and they’re learning. They seemed to actually enjoy the work, even though it was a struggle all the way and literacy still holds many mysteries for them.

N filled out her application form for her Diploma of Interpreting and sent it off. Her and JBJ sat down and sorted all the school students into their language groups. Later on, I worked quietly on the computer, while N and E sorted out the community meeting they’re planning.

I walked to shop to get myself some lunch and to my surprise, L - who is the school groundsman and has never said a word to me even though I see him every second day and he knows exactly who I am – he stopped and gave me a lift to the shop (it was stinking hot as per usual). I said thanks and said something friendly and stupid sounding to break the awkwardness and he asked me ‘Do you know who I am?’. I said ‘Ai sabi hu yu, bat ai nomo sabi yu skin’ (I know who you are, but I don’t know your skin i.e. my relationship to you). He said ‘Wamut. I’m your brother.’. Shortly after, he dropped me at the shop and I said ‘Thank you braja.’

There was something about that exchange that made me unexpectedly happy. It felt I was being accepted by someone who in the year or so I’ve been here hasn’t seemed interested in me being around.

Actually, since I’ve been back, I’ve noticed quite a few people talking to me / approaching me / saying hello that never really did before. It’s given me a good feeling about being back, like that I’m quite welcome here. I think in some ways, the status of a munanga working in a community is governed fundamentally by the amount of time spent in the community. Things like work ethic, methodology, benefits brought to the community - these are all important too, but if you’re a decent person, and you hang around long enough, your acceptance will be greater and greater. Essentially, it comes down to time.

2 comments:

bulanjdjan said...

Ah! The 'coming-back' phenomenon! If only someone had told me about that a long time ago! Doesn't it feel great?! 'nother good post. Keep'em coming...

Sophie said...

Yes the coming back. Somehow seems ot validate you as a person who really is committed to working, somehow more trustworthy and less suspicious. it is really wonderfult o read your blogs we are all here listening and thinking of you all.