Apologies for not writing on here for a while but it has been a trying few weeks. The frustrations are related to bureaucracy and red-tape and I’m not going to go into the details of the process here. However, my stress levels have been very high and I have noticed (or re-noticed) a couple things about myself – neither of which will surprise many of you:
1. My mood is like a roller-coaster. I can swing from deep despair to joy and back again in 0.5 seconds.
2. I am not very good at not being in control. I do not like not knowing what is happening – and if I don’t know what is happening, at the very least I need to know when I will know what is happening.
One day last week I was at school (I have started Lao lessons again) and I realised how stressed I was when, as part of the lesson, our teacher asked me a really simple question and I almost burst into tears, not because I didn’t know the Lao but because she asked me who I came to Lao with and I had to say “on my own”. I realised I’ve been feeling lonely and missing the familiarity of the UK. After the class while I was cycling to make a lunchtime meeting I got caught in the sort of rain shower rarely seen in the UK. I couldn’t see the road so I had to stop at a little restaurant to shelter in my sodden clothes and couldn’t make it to the meeting. While I was shivering I got a text saying another meeting that afternoon was cancelled. At that point I decided to go for a massage…
…and it was during the massage that I had the realisation that neither of the above characteristics is currently serving me well.
The fact is that I don’t know what is happening and I don’t know when I’ll know what is happening and there is very little that I can do about that except cut my losses and move back to the UK and get a job where I at least can maintain an illusion of being in control.
Believe me there were times over the last few weeks when that was an option.
But I’ve decided that I won’t do that – at least not quite yet – and the reason that I won’t is that I realised that all this is part (albeit an uncomfortable and largely unpredicted part) of my research process. I am experiencing, rather than just observing, how it feels to try to get something done here.
So, at least for a little while more, I’m going to surrender to that process and just try to take some tiny little baby-steps that move me forward but keep me on the right side of what I’m allowed to do. I am being forced to experience what it means to have higher levels of uncertainty in my life than I find comfortable. I am also experiencing a level of dependence on other people that I’m not used to. I need people to negotiate for me and to make contacts for me and to open doors for me – and again I have to let go and trust that they know better than me how to move through the system.
Despite the frustrations it is actually very interesting.
Uncertainty and flexibility are two sides of the same coin and I experience both many times every day in my life in Vientiane. I suspect that most Lao people are comfortable with a level of uncertainty and flexibility that I frequently find confusing, frustrating and inefficient. I also suspect that people’s lives here are interdependent in a way that many in the UK would feel uncomfortable. I’m aware that some of this experience is because I’m a foreigner – an outsider if you will – but I’ve also observed it in relationships between Lao friends and colleagues. On many occasions I have seen people do whatever is necessary to help each other out without question, whether the problem is big or small. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen or isn’t valued in the UK, just that maybe it isn’t so engrained and so automatic and therefore that the assumption is not always that someone will help. My experience is that in the UK we place more value on being able to do things for ourselves.
And the conclusions that I draw from all of this? Firstly, that I’m going to hang on in here for a while, allow other people to help me out, help other people out with the things that I can do for them, and see what happens. Second, obviously, that I need to get more massages…