October 4th, 2010
For the first year I was working in Ethiopia I got nothing but positive feedback from friends and family back home. “That is such an amazing thing your doing, I could never do that…” “We are so proud of you, keep up the good work”. “We miss you but know you are doing something great out there”. Every time I heard this I felt a little guilty, because I didn’t think I was doing something so great and I didn’t feel like I was helping. For the first year I felt like I was working hard just to keep a float in a world I did not, and most of the time didn’t care to understand.
Then something changed, but not only for me. Projects I had going hit rough spots, but I adapted and trudged on. Harassment that I thought would subside after time didn’t, but I learned to deal with it. I developed a deep level of patience and love for a culture that I never thought I could understand.
What was odd is the more I became comfortable with my life and work here the more people back at home did not. I started getting letters that said “Why don’t you just come home”? “How can you keep helping them when they don’t want to work themselves”? “How can they treat you like that”! It seemed like the more accepting I got of life here the more unacceptable it became to others.
I realize this is mostly my fault. In my letters, blogs and phone conversations I often blow off steam about failing projects or difficult people. It’s a coping mechanism for me, a way to get through it and move on but I know the effect is not the same for my audience.
The truth is that there are good people and bad people all over the world. There are helpful people and people who are jumping at the chance to take advantage of any situation. In rich countries and poor countries there are these people so despite the challenges I’ve faced here, despite the projects that have failed and the people who have wronged me I don’t regret any of my actions. Because every action has a re-action and it is the sum of those re-actions that are going to make a difference in the future, long after I am gone. That is what keeps me going, the thought that everything I do here, even if it’s not wildly (or even mildly) successful, creates a ripple effect; a difference in my life and the lives around me.
And when it seems crazy to stay, when I feel like I can’t take one more “FERENGIE”, when I hit yet another wall in a project, I remember that ripple effect and I push through to the next day.