There's a rhythm, a cadence to language here. In Mali, I was told I could speak Bambara not when I had mastered (ha) the vocab, the technicalities, but when my stories flowed in that rhythm. Similarly, when I was teaching, that same flow was necessary for real communication. My Bambara has a rhythm. It's a simple, toubab rhythm, but it's something. My English, in comparison, is erratic and rushed. I speak English like an American, fitting as many words as possible into a breath, smudging the consonants, mumbling and dropping sentence ends (a strong argument could be made that I mumble more than others...). When speaking to Zambians -- or to anyone with a different first language -- my words become more defined, stuccato. I've noticed this habit in many mzungus. Standing up to present at a training a couple of months ago, I reminded myself to speak as I would in Bambara, slow my words, turn a sentence into a conversation. My words, however, tumbled out as they always do. Not an easy habit to break. Speaking to a well-educated group, we continued with few hiccups. The idea of then training anyone who might have a more difficult time understanding me, however, made me hesitate.
What I'm getting around to, in a rather long-winded fashion, is the advantage of training locals to be the trainers. That educated group I was presenting to in February were district medical office staff being trained in the malaria elimination program as well as adult teaching methods. A few weeks later, I saw them in action. They spoke in both local languages and English, but in speaking they kept the audience engaged, followed some notes with examples, others with stories. All of their words flowed with the rhythm I lack. In a session I was leading, I invited one of the trainers to translate into Tonga for me. Short sentences turned into paragraphs, slight admonishments morphed into stories. I was humbled. Since that, the group of new trainers has been kept busy, cycling through trainings for Steps 2 & 3 of the program. With every training, they become more confident in their own knowledge of the material, take on more roles.
In training future trainers, the local workforce is empowered to take on responsibility for the malaria elimination program. It becomes a part of the expected workload, not something pushed on them by an outside force. They have a comprehensive understand the nuances of the steps, can answer a broad range of questions. Coming from within the community, they recognize issues that will develope, sections that need to be repeated, more easily than someone else. This knowledge can be exercised when they are leading trainings, of course, but also when they are back in their districts, informing others at the office or providing support to clinic and rural staff within their districts. Within the trainings themselves, participants are being educated by people that they know and relate to, they can make more sense out of what is taught, and they benefit from a stronger grasp on the material.
In Peace Corps, there's a saying that anyone can feed a man fish when he's hungry; what we're doing is teaching him how to fish. This can be turned into a full-blown story, but as we've already noted, I lean towards simplification. This is an aspect that has made me proud to be a member of Peace Corps for almost 3 years. In the last 10 months, I've found the same drive for generating knowledge rather than just raw materials, for passing on a program that will be sustained once the program creators have withdrawn, in people I'm working with in MACEPA. In short, things are going well.
Early last week, a couple of friends stayed at my house. One had been there months before and commented on how much more of a home my place had become. My father, visiting later in the week, made a similar comment, noting that I had amassed things to keep me living comfortably. Over the weekend, someone else mentioned that she'd be leaving a month before me and that before she leaves, I should come get the things she was leaving behind. These three moments got me thinking about one of the assumptions of Peace Corps volunteers. There's this idea that we live very sparsly, pack light, and have less interest in material things. Not true. Given the chance, any volunteer wants all of the things. A friend, for example, told me about a PCV who, after meeting with volunteers on their way out, ended up with a few bottles of soy sauce. She kept them all, not because maybe there's some recipe that will require a cup of soy sauce, but because we collect all of the things.
Considering my house last week, my blinders were lifted and I realized how much stuff I've collected over the last 10 months, often through hand-me-downs from leaving friends. I know that I don't need most of it, and there's much that I rarely use. The craziest part is that it's all so temporary. Little of it is going back to the states with me at the end of my service, something that I've known since day 1. Knowing this, I'd like to stop, to suppress the itch to collect and hoard. But if I'm honest with myself, I will stop by my friend's place and take the things she leaves behind next month (what if I need 3 bags of rice at short notice???). I console myself with the thought that these things won't go to waste, will soon be passed on to someone else, continuing the cycle.
I want to write something about my dad's visit while it's still fresh in my mind. I did not take hundreds of photos as I meant to, focused instead on staying in the moment, appreciating the time we had (maybe I forgot to take my camera everywhere...). If I pushed myself, I'm sure I could come up with a couple of paragraphs on how truly fantastic it is to have someone visit you during your Peace Corps service, go on about feelings, seeing the world, opening your mind. But sitting here, all that comes to mind is how wonderful it was to hug my dad. The rest will have to wait.
Couple of interesting things...
Taking steps to actually eliminating malaria in Zambia
Yet another reason I'm proud to be part of Peace Corps
Peace & Love