Points of disconnection

This week I’ve felt very disconnected from my Edinburgh home. The Scottish election on Thursday affected me more than I anticipated. It was the first time that I’ve not voted in an election that I was eligible to vote in – but I didn’t get a postal or proxy vote sorted out before I left and I felt incredibly guilty. Especially as friends in Edinburgh were campaigning hard on issues that I really care about in areas where 1 vote could potentially have made a difference.

And the experience of spending a day in a Lao cafe glued to the BBC website watching the results as they came in brought home the differences between the two cultures that I currently inhabit.

One of the big differences relates to getting things done. Generally I like to know what I’m doing, I like to know why I’m doing it and I like to follow through on my plans. My experience in Laos is that plans are much more flexible…arrangements often change at the last minute…and then suddenly in a flurry of activity (often seemingly out of no-where) things will happen.

I am not claiming that either way is better – as I noted in my previous post one of the luxuries that I currently have is that I am here to observe and discuss and learn and try to understand. But the first way is what I am used to and it is so deeply ingrained that sometimes I can’t help feeling that it is better and then I feel guilty! I’m not sure how (whether?) to just  ‘let go’ of the way that I work, especially as, whether I like it or not, I can’t ignore the fact that at some point pretty soon I have to write a PhD.

My methodology requires me to bring together a group of young people as co-learners, investigators, researchers, reflectors. The drawn out process of sorting out my visa has bought me some time in working out how to do this because I cannot  form the group until I get the visa sorted. But I know where the group will be based and I’m informally spending time with them, building relationships and getting to know how they work. I want the process to be genuinely collaborative and for the group to get something meaningful for them out of being involved. That something might well be new ways of working, but I’m mindful of the balance between respecting existing  ways of working and introducing new ideas from my experience (my experience in very different contexts) that will help me get the data that I need.

I’m personally also playing with what the change of pace means for me. How do I hold on to the learning from Plum Village and adjust to the naturally slower pace of life in Laos without compromising the things that I need to achieve. This last week I feel like I’ve been running around like the proverbial blue-arsed fly and I don’t feel like I’ve achieved that much. Running around doesn’t work here. It doesn’t achieve anything except make me sweat.  So how do I find a new way to get things done?

And as I’m writing, I wonder if I need to change the way I see these points of disconnection so that they become opportunities for reflection and learning rather than difficulties to be overcome. That feels positive –  but exhausting!

I’m rambling, but that feels appropriate for a post on disconnect…

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One response to “Points of disconnection

  1. Oh, Christina, I can SO relate to what you’re going through! I’m sure that anyone who has ever worked in a “developing” country can, as well. (I hate that term “developing country,” but I don’t have a better one.) The conversations you’re having were exactly the same ones swimming around in my head for at least the first year that I was in Mongolia. By the beginning or middle of the second year, I had stopped expecting anything to change, but it made me only slightly less anxious about accomplishing things. What I think is most interesting, is that when I went to Ireland in 1997, I remember saying to myself, “I’m glad I don’t have to try to work in a country like this, where things never happen when they’re supposed to.” I thought it was a “strange” place. It wasn’t until I went to Mongolia, then visited Cambodia and Malaysia, that I started realizing that Ireland (nor Mongolia, nor Cambodia) was not unusual, MY culture (or at least the part of it that I inhabited) was! Talking to people who travelled in other countries, even other parts of the U.S., made me realize that my beliefs about deadlines, productivity, etc are quite out of sync with most of the rest of the world. Realizing and accepting that made it easier to not get so frustrated working with my wonderful co-teachers and students in Mongolia. But I was never quite able to eliminate that nagging voice that reminded me “they SHOULD be doing what they agreed to; they SHOULD understand why it’s necessary, etc.”
    I think that if I ever live and work in a similar situation in another country again, that little voice will continue to nag at me. We were brought up to believe that “you are your word;” that that is a universal truth, a universal “good.” I will need to follow up that thought with “I believe that this (insert nationality here) person’s ‘universal truth’ is just as valid as mine, and just as ‘right’.” More easily said than done, for me.
    The good news is, of course, that you are a woman of strong spirit, great integrity, and tremendous empathy, Christina. Those three traits are going to continue to completely support you as you wrestle with these thoughts and feelings and discrepancies between the culture in which you are immersed and the one in which you were born.
    You know all this already, of course. Thank you for wrestling “publicly” with these ideas, thereby inviting me and everyone else to do the same, growing and opening our hearts in the process. Love, Julie

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