Thursday, March 19, 2009

A day in the life

So I am asked variations of this question a lot, “So, what do you do?” blah blah project manager, oversee the development and implementation of a variety of empowerment projects with refugees, blah blah “No, like, everyday, what do you actually DO?”

There is no typical day, that is for sure. In fact, you could say each day is typical in how not typical it is.

Here are two examples of what a day could be like during rainy season.

Scenario A

7:30am: Wake up to some insane thunder. Like cracking, rumbling, booming sounds that make you think your roof is going to fall on you and lighting is going to blind you and then fry your brain.

8:00: Manage to light those darn coals, wait for water to boil.

8:40: Eat some toast and tea and read (right now, Invisible Man and The Stuff of Thought, both are awesome).

9:00: Examine the sky, it is still raining. Too wet to ride our bikes anywhere, and wherever we get to we probably won’t find anyone at our projects. Or our bikes will break from the bad road and weather conditions (this has happened to me twice!) and then you are stuck walking in the rain, grr.

9:30: It is still raining.

10:00: File some old monthly reports. Tape receipts from this month’s purchases into the accounting binder.

11:00: The power is still on orange (almost empty), impossible to do work on my uncharged computer (used the battery yesterday, when there was also no power).

12:00: No employees come to work at the sites that are on our compound because it is raining.

12:30: Make a tuna sandwich (yeah, I horde the contents of my care packages) because the coals have gone out and I am too lazy to re-light them and Alice (our sweet house lady) didn’t show up because of, you guessed it, the rain.

The remainder of the day we twiddle our thumbs and make plans, but really can’t get anything done.

5:30: Eat dinner early due to boredom, probably some sort of Ramen, lament my devolution to my collegiate ways. Exchange stories with Sherie, reminiscing all the crazy things that happen while on the job. You have no idea how much mileage we get out of one or two phrases that were funny when we first heard them, months ago. Re-telling the same sagas over and over is kinda a thing we do.

And they aren’t even funny to anyone else, examples: “We ran into a bit of trouble, somehow.” Or “Just build us a roof!” or “Dogs are bad.” Or “I can come after I finish typing Prince Ben’s police report.” Or “We are not refusing the bicycle.” I am chuckling to myself as I type this, and you all have no idea what I am talking about. Not to fear, I will regale you with these tales over and over (and over) when I return. Call it cabin fever, but leave us alone, we are starved for entertainment out here.

6:30: Play Scrabble with Sherie by candle light.

8:00: Take malaria medicine. Read.

9:00: Bedtime

Scenario B

7:00: Wake up, brush teeth, look outside, it’s going to be dry today!

7:30: Bike to Block D (7km) to meet with police and the Head Teacher at FORGE’s Kunachi Preschool about a burglary of our school.

8:00: Arrive at the police station, wait while some other case is being heard.

9:00: Describe our side of the story, we have recovered the stolen property (some jump ropes, soap, books, chalk, and random classroom materials) and don’t want to press charges against the 16 year old who broke into the school. Give the kid (who has been handcuffed to a pole in the backyard for a day or two) a lecture about going back to school, and tell him we will hammer him in court if he’s caught stealing again.

While at the station, discover that one of your employee’s bikes was stolen three weeks ago and never reported it.

10:30: Check in on our computer training staff, deliver some supplies to them (paper and scissors, very high-tech). Remind them to gather demographic information for their students to incorporate into monitoring and evaluation data collection. Commiserate about the bad power these days.

11:00: Bike to Block G (5km)

11:30: Catch the end of Dufatanye Preschoolers (our school in G) doing PE. Teach them “Simon Says,” they don’t really get it, hilarious but great.

12:00: A teacher asks for a salary advance, I tell him to fill out the appropriate form. The Project Coordinator and I discuss goats for the IGA (income generating activity, the parents of our preschoolers raise goats and then we sell them once a year in Congo for a profit that goes back into the project). A woman who takes care of an orphan doesn’t want to be responsible for having to take care of a goat since the Dufatanye student isn’t actually her child. Fine by me, taking in an orphan and sending them to school is good Samaritan enough. I also tell the coordinator I need to meet with our employee the “Goat Master,” because I want to reduce his work to half time and make a consequent pay reduction. The coordinator is surprisingly on board with this and agrees that the goat master’s work can be done in fewer hours per week, he says he will let him know to come see me.

He also tells me about an idea the PTA at Kunachi (the school in D) came up with, to all pitch in money themselves to create their own community lead IGA. Good stuff, I tell him we don’t have the budget to contribute to their initiative, but that we can definitely offer logistical support and maybe offer them a small business training workshop.

12:45: Meet with building contractor to check on progress of the construction of our new health service center in G. There is additional unforeseen structural damage to the building that needs to be repaired, the contractor wants to charge extra to fix it. Finally negotiate a price that is only slightly under the budget and keep fingers crossed that the exchange rate won’t fall.

1:15: Get hounded by a different carpenter who wants me to pay him for an old project he took seven months to complete, though the contract he signed seven months ago (and definitely understood) said he would be paid the balance only if he completed his work in 14 days (he has been paid for materials, and some, but not all labor). Internally debate whether or not to just pay him (his wife left him and he has many mouths to feed), tell him no, and decide to wait and see if it will blow over in a few more days.

1:30: Paint one wall of the new health service center (cut the construction cost by a couple hundred thousand kwacha by agreeing to do the painting myself). Tell the kid that keeps asking me to give him food that I will make him a math test, if he passes, I will buy him a biscuit, go study now. I am my mother’s daughter.

2:30: Meet with two applicants for the health advocate position at the new center. Neither speaks a word of English, I encourage them to take free English classes offered by FORGE and apply for a position with us in the future.

3:00: Bike back to D (5km)

3:30: Grab a cold pineapple juice at Sam’s (the only place in Meheba with a generator, i.e. power for a fridge and tv) and sit in the back row of the side room off his cafe to remain out of sight from any potential staff members who will tell me to buy them bike parts and rain coats and give them advances and sponsor them to university, etc., etc. Some movie that is reminiscent of Blade, but worse, is playing on VHS. Look around me at the kids who paid money to watch this and are glued to the television and wonder why they love it so much. Pay a “small boy,” 100 kwacha, which translates into exactly two cents, to fetch me some popcorn. Small boys are awesome, basically you can employ any kid under the age of 13 to do random errands for you (cut your grass, pump water, go find people you can’t locate while you do something else, etc.) Scarf down the popcorn and return half the pineapple juice to Sam, ask him to keep it cold for me and tell him I’ll come back later in the week to drink it.

4:00: Buy cabbage, bananas, and bread in the market.

4:15: Run into the FORGE English class teacher in the market. Remember that I gave him an extra set of Scrabble from our compound at the last staff meeting to use with his advance English class. We make a date to play the next day so he can learn to use it.

4:40: Get back to the compound (7km)

5:00: The health service center coordinator that works on our compound returns his key to me at the end of the day. 20 cases of malaria today and we are out of Fanzidar (anti-malarial meds), yikes! The sunny days in rainy season bring a lot of patients…

5:30: Bath

6:00: Dinner and story exchange with Sherie. Why do my preschools keep having to deal with the police? OH yeah, tell the story of how I fell off my bike this day, coming around a hair pin turn on a shortcut, in front of me, this guy has 5 huge bags of coal attached to his bike so he takes up the whole path and I have nowhere to go but straight and crash right into him. Grr.

6:30: TV. Between both of our fully charged computers, Sherie and I watch a few episodes of Friends (courtesy of Father Kim’s, a Korean missionary who lives in the camp, external hard drive). I knew this show was very popular in its day, and now I know why, laugh out loud funny. Then again, that might be due to the “bush goggles,” I am wearing (referring to our bad taste in everything due to our blurred perspective from living in the bush for too long). Then Heroes, if I hear the phrase, “Save the cheerleader, save the world,” one more time, I might give up on this show.

8:00: Take malaria medicine. Write a letter by candle light, more annoying than romantic, to many moths to dodge.

9:00: Read some pieces from 2008’s Best American Poems anthology. Modern poetry is kinda weird.

10:00: Bed

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