The first post … where to start?
In a short four days, 140lbs of luggage and I will make the trip across the Atlantic to Rwanda, “Land of a Thousand Hills.” I’ll be working (through the now defunct Canadian International Development Agency and the Canadian Cooperative Association) as a Gender and HIV Program Officer with UGAMA, an agricultural cooperative. This will be my second placement overseas and my third gender-based international development position in my two years as a young professional, and it’s exactly what I want to be doing.
To say the least, I love my line of work. I’ve been lucky enough in my short career to stumble in a general direction and find a treasure trove of opportunities and avenues for expanding my horizons professionally and personally. I’m jumping the gun a bit, but I have a feeling that delving into the world of cooperatives is going to be one of those amazing experiences.
One of the things that I have always loved about heading off on grand adventures is the lead up to lift off. Time stands still while barreling full speed ahead. The moments spent with family and friends, the innocuous activities of every day life, the landscape, everything becomes so crisp and focused. Sometimes it takes a big change to make you take stock of the things around you. I love that feeling and time for reflection.
Bonn Voyages is my second attempt at blogging. I failed miserably on my previous international placement – working with the Coalition of Women Living with HIV and AIDS in Malawi. I really struggled to write about my experiences and work there – I didn’t want to misrepresent Malawian culture in any way and I struggled to communicate what life was like to people whose only knowledge of Malawi or Africa in general was the extreme and pervasive poverty.
This time, I’m taking cues from the fabulous poet Mary Oliver, who writes:
“Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.”
I didn’t talk about my experiences in Malawi because I didn’t want to perpetuate stereotypes or misrepresent the culture through my own naivety or cultural lens. In retrospect, that was pretty silly and counterproductive: by not talking about my experiences, I’m not doing anything to break down the stereotypes that exist or help facilitate cross-cultural learning. The reality is that every culture has both beautiful and less-than-desirable aspects, and both are grounds for learning.
Malawi gave me a great introduction into the fascinating, complex, and sometimes contradictory world of international development and challenged me in ways that I had never even considered before. My eyes were wide open and my astonishment was incredible. I feel especially excited and well-equipped for my upcoming position in Rwanda having worked out many of the kinks of culture shock and having a better understanding of how to be an effective employee in a work culture that is very different from and responds to completely different needs than the North American model. I can’t wait for all of the experiences and challenges that lie ahead, and I’m equally excited to share it with all of you, my fabulous friends and family!
Some housekeeping: feel free to ask questions! In fact, pretty please ask me questions! Sometimes deciding what to write about is a hard task! Prime example: I spent a solid half hour on the first sentence of this post. Questions make writing so much easier!
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