Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Why does everything take so long????

Some days I want to throw an all-out-no-holding-back temper tantrum. I want to stamp my feet, scream at the top of my lungs, grab people by the shoulders and shake them, and yell “WHY IS THIS TAKING SO LONG??? DON’T YOU SEE?! THIS IS WHY YOU NEVER GET ANYTHING DONE!!”

(The sick irony is that I’m having this reaction today after having just written yesterday about never asking “When?”).

I know that if I ever did throw a fit it would do me absolutely no good. In fact people’s reactions would probably just anger me further. (The typical reaction to anger is uncomfortable laughter and teasing). But for my own sanity I think an occasional tantrum thrown in the privacy of my douche might actually be beneficial for my mental health.

It’s just so hard to put culture aside and get over that feeling of “This is the most ludicrous waste of time EVER!” Because more often than not, it IS. It’s not like I’m being unreasonable in these instances. I am worlds more patient and flexible (a PC motto) than I was six, or even four months ago. But sometimes even when I come fully prepared, the waiting and the idle time are insufferable.

Today I opted not to attend the weekly vaccination day at the health post for 2 reasons:

Because it’s Ramadan and when I’ve been at the health post on other days almost nobody has been there. So I didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t miss this one.
Because my counterpart is the President of my quartier’s association (quartier = neighborhood, my town has 8 or so) and today the members of the association were having their first meeting in over a year.

I figured, what a great opportunity! I’d get to meet some more motivated people from my neighborhood and we can discuss problems our area is having. I thought maybe I’d even be able to bring up the issue of the ridiculous amounts of standing water, garbage and therefore mosquitoes we have around. Maybe we would talk about organizing a World AIDS Day event for December 1st, or a fundraiser to get a landfill started (one of my “big idea” projects for my two years).

I didn’t even come close to discussing any of that.

The meeting was supposed to start at 11am. Yeah right. Even I knew better than that. My sister is the “secretary” of the association so when I came home from the market that morning she said “Binta, wait for me, we’ll go together.” Knowing this would mean at least an hour, I grabbed a book and sat outside with the fam while they napped in the shade and kept the babies entertained. We finally sauntered over to the meeting at around 12:45. And guess what? No one was there. Of course.

A few women trickled in about 10 minutes after us. (I think there is some unspoken rule that you can never arrive earlier than two hours late.) And then a couple of men showed up. We rolled out the mats in a shady spot in the compound and chatted. Then we passed around the babies and chatted some more. Then people started laying down, retreating to shadier spots in other parts of the compound, or left to watch TV inside. Then my counterpart finally went inside for her notebook and a pen. Her pen didn’t work so she asked me for one, which, I did not have. Twenty minutes later she got back up to go look for another one that worked.

Now I got kind of excited because I figured, “Okay! Great! Notebook and pen. Let’s make this official, this meeting is going to get started.”

Yep. You guessed it. No such luck.

It’s now about 2:30pm. I did not bring any water with me because it’s Ramadan and out of respect for everyone fasting I try not to drink or carry around water in front of them. I also hadn’t eaten since breakfast because I figured the meeting would only take an hour or so. Both were bad ideas, and both unquestionably added to my level of crankiness and inability to tolerate "time wasting."

I did have the foresight to bring a book with me, so that held my attention for most of the waiting. I also got to play with a couple of the babies which of course is always fun. But I felt myself getting really antsy so I asked my counterpart if the meeting just wasn’t happening? She said that they were still waiting for the “men” to arrive and that we would start in 10 minutes.

Fingers crossed.

Thirty minutes later, the men she was referring to got up from napping on the stickbeds across the compound after much nagging from the women and we finally began the meeting.

I felt better that at least some of the women were getting annoyed at the wait. And it turns out that they were waiting for so long in hopes that some of the other 20 missing members of the association would show.

The meeting itself lasted about 45 minutes and though I was lost for most of it (it was in Pulaar) I got the jist of it.

Nothing was accomplished.

They decided to hold another meeting next Thursday so that everyone could be there.

So for 45 minutes in the sweltering heat, famished, thirsty beyond comprehension, with everyone fasting (which includes not drinking water by the way….and yeah, we still live in the desert last time I checked) all they talked about was
When to have the next meeting
What to do with the 100,000 CFA they had raised during the previous year.

At least the money part was intriguing. When that came up I waited for the perfect moment to snap my hand up and say “hey…what about an AIDS event? Or a landfill? Or more trees? Or a community garden?” or anything useful for that matter.

At 4pm, roughly 4 hours after I thought I would be finished, my neighborhood association decided that with their YEAR’S worth of savings they would buy….

Drumroll please…

Plastic chairs.


They didn’t decide when, or from where, or who would pick them up, or where they would keep them or even any of the logistics. Nope. It took 5 hours just to decide to buy plastic lawn chairs.

If this is pace of development work, I don’t know if I have the patience for it…and it’s only been 6 months.

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