It was just after 4 p.m. when I exited through the gap in the barbed-wire fence. A quick drop off of my bag and change of clothes and I would be on a blissful run. Because of the crappy spring weather, my runs have been cancelled and I was itching to get on the road. As I thought about music for the run, I passed two bo-ntate. Not him, I thought.
It was my host father’s brother, a man who always stops me on the road and asks me what I plan to do for the village. In these two-second meetings, I usually have to rehash the roles of a volunteer: help with projects, not give money. As soon as he spotted me, he said, “What kind of projects are you going to do?”
I love meetings. As a reporter, my favorite part of the day was the news budget meeting to discuss what stories needed to be done that day. At my non-profit marketing job, I secretly looked forward to the Monday morning meeting while my co-workers groaned about the necessity of them. I love sitting down with colleagues to exchange ideas and plans. I love making to-do lists based off the discussion and feeling motivated when I walk out. They make me feel important, a part of a team.
In Lesotho, unless Peace Corps-organized, meetings are short drop-ins or run-ins on the street. Someone may bring up an idea or check in with me about an on-going project. These encounters seem so casual that I never take much from them or squeeze out the information that I need to proceed. Usually I conclude with let’s plan an official meeting as I have something to get to, something personal like a run or chores set in my arbitrary timeline. But as I have found, these on-the-go meetings are much more productive than a scheduled meeting when people rarely show.
The morning that I met this man on the road I was having an internal argument. At nearly a year in, I have serious questions and doubts about my work here and what I am actually doing. Is it enough? I don’t know. Unlike an office job, there are no annual reports with your supervisor to analyze your work. There is often little to point at and say, “Yup, I did that.” And there are few people who will pat you on the back and say “Great work today” as I head for home.
So, before I left my house, I made it my resolve to embrace each opportunity and to focus on it when it comes up, not put it off until I feel like I can get a running start. Start now. When the man asked me about projects, I knew that my run for the day was shot. I needed to see this opportunity out and make something of it.
We walked slowly from the school to my house, stopping to elaborate points. We brought up different ideas and solutions. I still had to explain my role in the village, but I made it clear to him that I wanted to do something to help the community.
Then he brought up an idea that he’s asked me about before. In previous conversations, he wanted me to write a check and so I blew it off. This time, though, I gave him several ideas on how to raise the money. He said he wanted to ask my host ‘m’e about it and followed me home.
The three of us discussed the idea, but I could see no real solution coming out. I took a notebook out of my school bag and started to write down resources and steps needed to complete this project. We indentified how we would get the materials and a funding source. We then made a list of actions and assigned a person to complete them. We had a working plan.
When we all agreed things were “sharp,” or good, it was too late for my run. But I was OK with it. This was so much more important. I can’t guarantee that it will all come together and there will be a few challenges, but this project (which I will explain more about as it develops but keep in vague terms for now) is doable. And it will help the community.
But, what I realized afterwards, is that it wouldn’t be a complete loss if it didn’t come to fruition. My role, although small, was meaningful. I made them, and myself, sit down and walk through the steps until a plan was created. I needed that list of checks and balances to feel accomplished and they needed a detailed outline to make sure everything comes together as it should.
And sometimes that is all that my work here entails. Guiding people to make their own decisions, showing them that they already know how to do these great things. It’s not always rewarding, but I like to think that once I leave they’ll remember what I did for this one small project and will be able to do so much more.