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Redefining the F word

July 30th, 2010

Fail n 1 : a fall short of performing a duty or expected action 2: a state of inability to perform a normal function 3: lack of success 4: Omission; nonperformance
Failure n 1 the act of failing 2 one that fails

These definitions may work for Mr. Webster but after a year and a half in Ethiopia I’ve found they don’t work for me. As a self proclaimed ‘goal 1er’*, I don’t take project failure well. I take it personally; I put all the blame on myself and let all others off the hook. I understand this is a very destructive habit to have when working in a country with so many unpredictable happenings, but I guess that’s just how I’m built.
These last couple of weeks however, have really put me to the test. After being away from site for an extended period of time on Peace Corps work I got back to find not just one, but three of my projects in a state of ‘failure’. Resisting the urge crawl into my bed and ignore the world I went to every office in my town and the Woreda capital to find out what had happened. And what did I find? A whole lot of ‘sorry’s and shoulder shrugs.
I felt like a complete failure. The whole aim of my projects was that they would be sustainable; that they would be able to carry on after I left. But when put to the test, they failed. Failed, failed, failed. I wasn’t mad…well I guess I was a little mad, but mostly I was hurt. Everything I have done in Arjo has been for the benefits of others. Every day I fight and work for others. I never ask for anything in return and have learned not to even expect anything. Then when left to their own devices those ‘others’, those people that I have been thinking of every second of every day, don’t even give a thought to the undoing all of my work.
Now, I know what your probably thinking. Obviously I am not doing projects people want. If only it was that simple. I’ve never started a project without buy in from the community. Before every project I hold countless meetings, draw picture diagrams and sometimes even physically act out what is about it happen. And at every turn I get encouragement, “great idea, Jaaili!”… “Yes, we will do Jaaili!”… “of course Jaaili, we will support you.” On paper the projects seem flawless. But written descriptions and project proposals can not forecast the inevitable ‘topsy turvy’ way in which life works here in Ethiopia.
That is why I’ve decided to redefine the F word. To me failure means forgetting what you are trying to accomplish; it means loosing faith in yourself and those around you; it means giving in when things get tough. I have not failed, nor do I intended to.


  • Peace Corps Mission (the three goals) = 1) to help the people of the interested countries in meeting their needs for trained men and women 2) to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served 3) to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans.

Posted by Gail B 01:29 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged living_abroad

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