Much of my day I just sit.
In the mornings, I visit my schools and observe classes or hang with the teachers. On my way home, I stop and have tea with a group of men who will point it out to me if I skip a day. After lunch, while waiting the heat to pass, I sit on mats with the women of group women either studying Hausa or just listening to their words pass back and forth in high tones. During my afternoon walk, I visit familiar and unfamiliar faces, stopping for a few minutes to take advantage of the seated offered to me. At night, alone till the morning, I study, read or write.
During my three first months I have two objectives: learn the language and become immersed into my community. These are so important that we are not allowed to do any major projects. So, for now, I sit.
I often sit in silence during these parts of the days because I can’t offer a lot to the conversation. With the teachers and the fada, I can speak a bit of French but even then their words are rapid and at the skill level of highly educated people and I struggled to keep up. So, I just sit.
Still, it’s more than that. I am giving them my presence.
With email and Skype, face-to-face work is becoming irrelevant. One of my last jobs, my entire correspondence with my coworkers was through the Internet, and at times it drove me crazy. I wanted big team meetings. I wanted water cooler chats. That job brought forth a lot of emotions but one of them was loneliness from all of the time with just my computer in an often empty office.
Here, for at least these three months, my job is to be here. My care and devotion to my village is translated through presence. To them, the fact I am here and want to be a part of their culture is giving them something.
Some days, it doesn’t like I do a whole lot. But when I visit a group of women, the smile and thank me profusely for being there, even if for only five minutes. Then it feels like maybe I am doing something powerful in this world.
Presence is what makes this job change lives. People don’t forget volunteers from 15 years ago. And they won’t forget me, even I can’t speak Hausa just yet. Because I am here and I’m giving them my attention, which is the best gift you can give a small community in Africa.
“I believe in presence of presence. Presence is a noun, not a verb. It’s a state of being not doing. State of beings at not highly valued in a culture that places a high priority of doing. Yet, true presence of being with another person carries with it a silent power — to be a witness to a passage to help carry an emotional burden, or to begin a reality process. In it, there is an intimate connection that another that is perhaps too selfish in a society that strives forever-fast ‘connectivity.’”
From “This I Believe”