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Published: July 22nd 2015
I want to take a moment to reflect on a few things that have happened over the last few weeks, particularly since a few people have commented on the grumpy and somewhat negative tone of a few of my last couple of posts. Unrelated to travel, Africa, and my personality quirks, but very much related to life in general and social media, is the idea of the personal, private, and uncurated thoughts and emotions that a person goes through on a daily basis versus the public, often perpetually positive, highly-curated projection that is expected of us. This is nothing new – when immigrants to the US went for pictures to send back home to Europe they put on their finest clothes and projected levels of affluence and wealth that many did not possess in the slightest.
Many an article and blog post by people far better equipped to talk about these issues has been written, but I’d like to give my own nod to the idea that we are people and experience a full range of emotions when living our lives. It does a disservice to everyone to project yourself as leading the perfect life or having everything one could ask for and ignoring all the frustration, loss, disappointment, and hard work that it takes to accomplish those things. There are many words to describe the quality that people who achieve despite difficulties exhibit, (grit, resilience, perseverance, stick-to-it-ness) but it comes at a price.
In a context outside of this trip and this blog that conversation (about a curated self-presentation or resilience) is still very necessary and ongoing, but sticking strictly to my immediate situation, it does no good to paint this trip as nothing but sunshine and rainbows. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to have the whole conversation that should be had, but so be it. The reality of trying to do a community project in a culture and a language that are unfamiliar is that there is a lot of room for learning, self-discovery, and growth, but also a lot of room for failure, frustration, and self-doubt. This blog was always supposed to capture a bit of both of those sides and shouldn’t be seen as supporting an overwhelming positive experience or wholly negative one.
I’ve learned a lot in the few weeks that I’ve been here – in all realms public and private – and still haven’t completely thrown up my hands and said “Enough!”. That’s not asking for a pat on the back at all - more like an announcement that “I’m ok, really”, and that I mean it. If that wasn’t the case, you can believe me that I wouldn’t be blogging about it and that I would have been back in the US a long time ago using the summer more productively.
Now, aside from that point, there are a few other things I was pondering.
Remember how in the last post I talked about the Texan Methodists with too much money and not enough sense? Well, a friend posted this to their facebook profile
and I happened to click on it. I get it – social media is the new soapbox. This person is completely entitled to this opinion, and in many ways I agree with it. HOWEVER, I frequently talk about the idea of unintended consequences to people who regularly hear me rant about one thing or another. In this case, the unintended consequence is self-doubt in people interested in this kind of work. For example: “Why am I here? Do I belong? Why am I not in Philly doing this? Am I just in the way? What change am I actually effecting? Does this mean anything?” The line of questioning goes toward doubting the purpose of one’s work from the very beginning. Whyyyyyy do what you do? Maybe you should give up now, while you are ahead.
Maybe I’m so hard on the Texans because they represent that part of me that knows I’m in the same boat and that I’m not really doing anything effective. It’s pretty obvious that everyone has in their mind that white=money and that they are willing to do all kinds of horribly uncomfortable things to make some of that money. I’ve spent the last two months trying to establish how wrong it is to put yourself in the position of supplicant over and over and over again, but when I was in Mukambe feha I didn’t stop them from doing essentially the same thing that the activists in Nhamaxaxa did to the Texan ladies when they got up and introduced themselves. Just last night we had dinner at the CoH director’s house and he and his wife basically did the same thing for the whole Texan group again… it’s irritating, frustrating, disappointing, and uncomfortable, but I also know I’m not going to change that in 12 weeks, and probably not even in 12 years.
Back to my original point about social media - this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Now, please don’t be a slacktivist and say “Ha! Good, that thing that I liked/favorited/reposted/tweeted made you think and therefore served its purpose! You were such an unenlightened asshole before you read that piece and now you’ve been schooled!” -_- That’s the attitude though, and it precludes any other thoughts, emotions, experiences, reflections, or other processing of the information that anyone has done beforehand. Basically, I’m supposed to consume the (whatever) and either accept or reject that I fit into the description of whatever it is talking about. No room for anything else, black and white, in a nutshell. What about the unintended (are they really?) consequences though? The self-doubt induced in well intentioned, often qualified, people by someone thinking they are being super-clever and writing a piece like this. Even if people are “unqualified” does that completely discount their intentions? What are the other benefits/costs aside from cash provided by the volunteer and the hassle of dealing with them? I just want to find the value in it, that’s all. Well, mostly all. I want to know if I’m just another asshole in Africa right now getting in the way of things as well.
Maybe I’m just thinking too much about it since – hey – it’s social media, and it’s made by and for the masses. Maybe I should just get over it and get on with things in the here and now.
Another thing I pondered after that last post was the approach to patient privacy and basic respect given to people in medical settings. I understand that space is at a premium and that there is no such thing as personal space – which leads to all sorts of weirdness for me in distinguishing between the personal and public – but I’ve definitely seen it taken to the extreme. Recounting my adventures at the hospital with Elfie when we just skipped the queue and went into the consultation room ALONG WITH A PATIENT, this trip to Morrumbene hospital was much like that. I don’t know if it was the administrative or foreign privilege at work, but these women just walked right into every part of the hospital without any regard for who was where or doing what. The only exception was the director’s office, but even that turned out to be more like a list of ransom demands rather than a conversation. I mean, we walked right into the maternity ward, straight into the treatment room in the “ICU”, and straight into the admin office, then when we went to Cambine they did the same thing until someone showed up to talk to them (and then they continued). The overarching question being, what happens to patient confidentiality? Even at the Mukambe feha health fair, the HIV testing table is set up maybe 50-75 feet from everyone else, but no privacy of any sort. The patients have said as much and report that providers routinely share their personal information with others in the community. Why then, would I be interested in divulging any personal information to these people if I were a patient? No wonder there is such a problem with people seeking care. If I had the flu and didn’t know/thought it might be HIV or cancer or and STD, then no wonder I wouldn’t seek treatment for it. I wish there was a way to develop something more between the community and the medical providers (a council or working group), but even that is predicated on there being some sort of repercussions for not doing your job properly – which there are none. This especially applies to nurses and doctors since there is an acute shortage here. Why are they going to fire a nurse or doctor if there’s only one provider for every so many thousands of people? Ugh.
Ok, with that I’m off to bed. I have to get up and try and find a printing station in Maxixe tomorrow since the ink is out here are CoH and it will be the middle of next week before they get a new one because it will be a 12 step process to get the thing requested and the order filled. *eye roll*
Up next: Booklets and Posters! Finished products coming your way!
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