Friday, December 31, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Every day during the month of December different authors, photographers, and inspiring entities will come up with one question, and we are invited to reflect and respond. I only found out about it yesterday so am half a month behind, but I think it's totally worth the effort. Since I am trying to catch up I'll be putting up a few at a time, I hope you find this exercise as fun as I do, and please, do share
Dec. 1. ONE WORD
Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you? (Gwen Bell)
My word for 2010 would be “Busy”
I took on too much. Too many things and projects that I love, but I’ve come to realize that loving what you do is not enough. Apparently you can’t have everything, so next year I want my word to be “balance”. I hope next year I get it right.
Dec. 2. WRITING
What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it? (LEO BABAUTA, zen_habits)
I see life as a source of inspiration for writing, so there are a lot of things that I do that are completely unrelated, but somehow feed it. Having said this, I could definitely cut down (significantly) on the amount of TV I watch when I should be writing.
Dec. 3. MOMENT
Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors). (ALI EDWARDS)
This is going to be a whole post titled “moonwalk", or "walking on sand is like walking on snow”. Let me just share a picture in the meantime….
5. LET GO
What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why? (ALICE BRADLEY)
I let go of some of my goals. I had too many. I let go of one job at the end of the year because I was too sick and stressed to keep working. I was meant to finish my book by December 2010, and it is not going to happen. It pains me, it worries me that once I miss this deadline I might not finish it at all. I might not find (make?) the time again, but I could not do it, so I surrendered to the fact that my body and my mind where saying “basta!”
I am trying to learn from this experience. I am trying to be more present, to ensure I don’t take on more than I can chew. But at heart I am still like a little puppy: head sticking out the window, tongue hanging to one side feeling the wind in my face.
Too many things get me excited. I can barely keep up with my current list and there are already things I want to add to it (like learning to play the guitar and to speak Arabic…..)
"Patience", says my inner voice, "patience, there is still time. There is tomorrow, and the day after. Life is long, and maybe there is another one after. Enjoy every day, every moment, every breath."
unfortunately, I don’t always listen.
Monday, December 13, 2010
A good friend knows when to speak and when to listen.
A good friend knows when to challenge you and when to pamper you.
A good friend knows and understands most of you, but loves and accepts all of you.
A good friend feeds the mind and waters the soul.
A good friend makes you laugh, at yourself, at the world.
A good friend holds your history and your memories dear.
A good friend says please, thank you and I’m sorry.
A good friend is like air: always present, essential, but not always seen or felt.
A good friend is a like a kind mirror, if you care to look.
A good friend is a mother that scolds you.
A good friend looks after the child in you.
A good friend makes mistakes, and forgives yours.
A good friendship knows not of time nor distance.
A good friend is like a breath of fresh air, a gift worth more than gold.
PS post dedicated to my beautiful friends scattered around the world, which I sadly see a lot less than I'd like to
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
It was nice for a change. It was nice not to be the one at the VIP guest table. Not to be the one everyone’s eyes are on. Not to be the one making the questions and everyone nervous. For once, instead, I was the one serving.
After many years of wanting to do it, but not getting around to it for one reason or another, I finally dragged my but to a soup kitchen.
There were some other new volunteers. Some asked to be kept away from the front room and in the kitchen. They were worried they could not take it. They later confessed they thought it would get rowdy. We were serving dinner for sixty people. Sixty adults that live and sleep on the streets.
It’s funny. The thought never crossed my mind.
For me it was quite liberating. It was nice to think that for once I could actually stick around, come on a regular basis and maybe make a difference on a personal level. I know with my job there is an impact, but it’s at a ‘corporate’ level, all the beneficiaries see is this foreigner that waltzes through. Their instinct tells them to smile at me, to keep me happy, to tell me their sad stories about need and loss. But no doubt frustration lingers on after I leave and they see nothing happen…
It was a nice change that for once the tables had cloth covers and candles. The food was home made, and honestly smelled delicious. The dinner (which followed an obligatory mass service), included a starter salad, a main course stew, crumble pie for dessert, coffee, fruit, cheese and a chocolate. It was top standard food, in the best we could muster atmosphere. We were careful to place everything nicely.
In Cambodia I visited a school run by nuns which blew me away. It looked wonderful. It was nicely painted, with games in the yard. She said sometimes people gave them a hard time claiming that they were ‘rich’ and should not get any funding. Her argument was:
‘here, you can see where the money goes.”
And frankly, it was a hell of an argument as far as I am concerned. Why is it that usually there are hundreds if not thousands of dollars invested, and often at the end you only see half hearted, basic quality outcomes?We served to their requests promptly and diligently. For two nights a month they get served. And it was somewhat surprising for me to see how many of them fell right into the role, ordering us around, sending back parts of the meal barely looking over their shoulder.
You can tell in their eyes many are unimpressed. Grateful yet resentful. Their dignity is all they have left. So while sticking to the rules of the kitchen, some of them sought to bend them, as if to prove they could not be submitted. That was a surprise. That was different from what I am used to seeing. I am used to seeing mostly broken souls that will take whatever they are offered, even under the most undignified situations. As a by stander, on the ‘side’ of the aid workers, I am often embarrassed by how we treat people.
It was a nice change.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Some amazing award winning photographers have donated to this cause. I'm humbled to be among them. A beautiful signed print would make a wonderful holiday present, and the fact that it helped to pay for the last leg of this documentary, a great story to go with it. So why not check it out?
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Monday, November 22, 2010
I'm generally feeling better, but I'm trying to take this warning seriously, so I have not started working again, I have not been writing my book, I have even cut down on the number of posts I write a week.
I am using this time to reconnect with "empty time". I am letting the days drift away, spending afternoons with the kids doing not much at all. Yesterday I spent the whole afternoon cycling around town trying to locate a large Lightning McQueen image because I decided that this year I was going to make my son's piñata, (as opposed to pay 50 euros for something you buy and then proceed to destroy…), and it’s silly, and there is a small part inside of me that is screaming “work on your book! You’ll never get this time back!”, but….it’s doctor’s orders.
I now realize I needed to slow down, and in doing so, it has become evident to me how much I had been running. How little time I had to spend with the kids doing “not much at all”: to sit down and paint, or make cookies, or read a story. I was always in a hurry to get somewhere, to get something done.
I’ve met up for coffee dates that had been pending for months, and then had to fight my almost innate tendency to keep watching the time… having to remind myself I didn’t need to be anywhere, I didn’t need to do anything.
As much as I fear I might regret that I am not writing now, It’s a different kind of gift I suppose.
I have also started going back to yoga again, but instead of dragging myself to the old place, I found a new one that really inspires me. It’s more alternative, spiritual, and awkward if you like. But it fits better, so instead of dreading it I look forward to going. I try to look at cycling around town in search of the perfect candles or round candies for the cake decoration (yes, I am doing the cake as well, with the help of Kukis) I try to look at it as time for myself, as exercise, as fresh air for the mind, the heart and the brain.
I know that all too soon this empty time will end, and I will be running and running again.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
So this is not some marketing tactic to get more comments (although that would be nice… you shy shy people), but I’m actually concerned and lost.
It appears my 4 year old is being bullied by a six year old. And I don’t know how or what I can do about it. And since it’s STOP BULLYING week, I thought I’d reach out to other moms.
- she has been talking about “the bad boy” on and off since week one of her new school for big kids.
- I did not think much of it. Kids sometimes push, shove, take a shoe... it’s part of life
- Until last week when I saw him screaming at her to stop her from climbing on one of the playground toys until she backed down and broke into tears
(coincidentally you should know that my daughter is pretty fierce less and does not even back down when me or her father get pissed at her)
- When I politely told the boy –in absence of his mom- that was not nice and if he did it again I would have to talk to his mom, his response was “you don’t know who my mom is. You don’t even know who my teacher is!”~ nice
- Soon after his mom approached and I thought it was fair to tell her what had just happened: if someone talked/ disciplined my kid I would want to know. Her response was “I tell my youngest not to play where the boys are. They play rough.” i.e. tell you kid to play wherever my kid is not.
- Next day I was informed –by two other moms- that this kid is trouble, has been causing trouble, and has been known to bite, punch and hit with sticks in the past (sleepless night #1)
- Next day my daughter told me that “bad boy” had pushed her and she scratched her knee. So I spoke with the teacher and said I was concerned. They told me they had had problems before and would pass it along to the playground caretakers.
That was last week. Yesterday during pick up, as my child played on the school grounds I noticed the kid would stop whatever he was doing if mine tried to get on the slide, and stare at her menacingly until she backed down. This happened a couple of times. Standing right next to them I told my daughter to go up, that I would defend her. In the end the fear of the 6 year old won, she walked away, so I went up to him to tell him it was not nice, and then his mother intervened and we had a very public and loud fight –to the entertainment of other moms- where she said that he was “just looking at her”, that he had explained that what had happened last week was that her kid had tried to protect mine from getting hurt, that is why he did not let her climb on the games… and that it was both of them and I should also look at what my child is doing. (denial?)
I told her I would not let her kid bully mine.
(sleepless night #2)
I get she wants to defend her kid. But if it is hard getting testimony out of an adult, try getting a straight story out of a 4 year old. I don’t know what has happened during lunch hour (the only time they coincide) for her to be so afraid of him. I don’t know if he is or isn’t responsible for her scratches. I don’t know if he is or isn’t responsible for the fact that she no longer wants to go to school. That she is coming to sleep in my room every night, something she never did before.
I spoke to the teachers again, I don’t want her to feel it’s a big deal, yet I want her to feel backed up.
Am I over reacting? Can I afford not to? I want to be there for her. I want to make sure this does not get out of control, but am not sure how.
Friday, November 12, 2010
Monday, November 8, 2010
Years ago, when I was working in Colombia and in charge of monitoring feeding programs for people who had been internally displaced by the conflict, I realized that every time I went from Bogota to the small field offices, the staff took it as an opportunity to unload emotionally.
We did feeding programs: feeding in schools, especially so that girls would attend; feeding in health centers for malnourished children; food for work programs, so that schools and other community buildings would get built… so really, it was food delivery, not human rights violations or anything of the sort….
Yet, these people, our beneficiaries, for the most part would never get to see the human rights activists, let alone tell their stories. Stories of how they had lost everything over night, being made to choose between everything they owned or their lives, they had walked out one day with whatever they could carry.
Contrary to what most people think, internally displaced in Colombia are not poor, at least they weren’t before the displacement. On the contrary, they are usually land owners in fertile areas of the country were the famous coffee or bananas grow. The guerrillas and paramilitaries know what they are doing….
So, in lack of a better audience, they told their stories to those who were there to bear witness: our staff, the ones delivering the rice and corn. Our staff, in turn, were unprepared to handle this emotionally, and often lived far from their own support system, so they unloaded on me.
I noticed most of them were over worked and stressed. The emotional responsibility of doing something for these people, all hundreds of them, fell on their shoulders, so they were never too tired or too sick to stop working. HQ would proudly announce to donors how overhead was the smallest in any UN agency, but that translated into poor resources, no support, and sometimes our staff had to hitchhike their way back after a delivery (I kid you not).
Someone needs to explain to donors and the public that overheads have a purpose, and lack-of a human cost….. but that will be another day.
Back then I decided to use my training as a clinical psychologist to prepare a presentation for the field staff on burn out. I wanted them to understand what they were feeling, to recognize the symptoms, and also to be able to take some preventative measures. I could not do much for them, but knowing what you have is already one big step. Understanding that feeling emotionally drained, unsocial, unable to sleep or focus are your body’s signals that you need to stop. Understanding that getting sick all the time is an alarm, like smoke coming out from under the hood of a car. And although I could not provide all of them with sufficient support in the form of one on one counselling, I could give them some tools to help themselves. Some simple strategies like:
- eat well (yes, when you are tired and can’t be bothered to cook. When all you want is comfort food, fatty warm stuff after a long hard day, that is when you need to remember that what you body wants and what your body needs are different things. And like a loving mother to a child, you must say “no, no chocolate, you have to eat your vegetables first”.
- That you must sleep 6-8 hours, especially if you are having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep. That is already a warning sign.
- That you must exercise. Even if you are tired, because even though you are exhausted, your body has been accumulating stress, and because of it glucose is hanging around in your system, and if you don't burn it it will keep you tossing and turning all night, and might even give you heart problems down the line.
- You must find a support system. Especially when you are at your most unsocial, when you can’t be bothered cause you are too tired, or just don’t care to go out. You must find people that you can talk to.
So why was it so hard to see the signs when it happened to me?
Why did I keep postponing going back to yoga? Why did I never have time to stop for a lazy coffee?
Because being a mom is NOT dealing with human tragedy. Because all the parents in the world do it, everyday, in much worse circumstances than I do. Because I love my job, and my kids, and on top of everything I am doing what I love, and making time to write, for my blog, for my book, for the occasional article…..
Because I thought I did not deserve to burn out, and even though my body was screaming at me, I did not listen. Not until the pain was too much to bear. Not until it put me in bed for nearly three weeks, with doctors doing all sorts of tests, fearing the worse.
So the upside is that I’ve learned I have a chronic condition that I will have to manage. But the only explanation they can give me for how bad it got is “stress”, and really, I should have know better. I should have listened to myself. Had any of my friends been in my position, I would have known what to say: “slow down, listen to your body, take yourself seriously, take your health seriously.”
So I learned two lessons:
1) your body is your friend, and if it's getting in the way, it might be trying to tell you something
2) if you don’t have time for exercise and the other things you know you should be doing now, make sure to make time for being sick later.
And now to the hard job of making these lessons stick once I manage to get the pain under control…..
Monday, November 1, 2010
I know I haven’t talked about my health before, but there have been some mentions here and there. References to my getting amoebas “again” and things like this. Bottom line is, if some people have the constitution of an Ox, I have the constitution of a disorganized antique china ware store ran by an old lady; move something and you are likely to end up paying for it.
Most people that have known me for some time are bewildered by the fact that I do development work because, lets face it, the image we have in our head is of a person roughing it in some far flung disease ridden place. And yeah, that would be me, with my huge black back pack which always includes antihistamines (I’m allergic to most things), my inhaler, (yeah, also asthmatic and have a chronic rhinitis), pain relievers (I get regular stomach pains which until recently I put down to period pains), and some foodstuff because I have a tendency to get hypoglycemic and faint.
I also get car sick, which is not a disease, but pretty uncool when you are on the road.
I’m the sort of person that wont wash her hair if it’s too cold because I know it might lead to my being bed bound.
You probably think I’m exaggerating. In the last twenty four months I’ve had whooping cough (yes, that still exists), parasites and currently an ulcer. January I was in Egypt vomiting; March in Uganda doing hundreds of kilometers a day on no food because of parasites; in May I had a UTI; June I had both ears leaking puss in Colombia; September I developed an ulcer in Brazil. Apparently even diseases take August off, but there are still two months to go, and I’m leaving out the small stuff, like colds and tooth ache (at one point I thought I would need a root canal, but alas, it was not so).
On top of that I have no energy, and there is such a thing as inherent energy level, I can see it in my children, both toddlers, both manic, but still, one takes after her father, the other one is normal. Seriously, even my mom can usually out do me. I wake up tired and pretty much stay like that for the rest of the day.
I claim that I’m an old soul.
So yeah, I’m not the most obvious person to be stuck in the bush hours away from the nearest hospital. I’ve had to be medically evacuated at least once, and have visited many a dodgy clinics. Ironically though, the closest I’ve been to death was in NY, where the hospital lab made an error and left me bleeding internally overnight.
I’ve seen just about every specialist there is. Had pneumonia, and been biopsied twice. In my frustration and despair I’ve learned to do Reiki and am currently seeing a world renown homeopath. It can’t hurt.
Why am I telling you all this? I suppose for a couple of reasons: one is that this damn ulcer has ruined the first of the six weeks I had set aside for finishing my book, and I’m mighty pissed off. Incidentally, it flared up when I was on holidays in Spain, which meant I could not eat any of my favorite things. (I am currently in fear of food and only consume white, bland things).
Secondly, because a dear friend who has recently left the development sector to start a business on holistic healing in Bali (and yes, I want to be her too), was taking the piss and making me wonder if it’s just me, or if there is something that I am doing wrong. If maybe I am no cut out for this job, if only for biological reasons, or if in the long run it’s just going to be too high a price to pay.
And lastly, because as I laid in absolute agony last night tossing and turning in my bed, unable to take some milk (which helps) or pain killers given that I was scheduled to have an endoscopy this morning, I thought again what always comes to mind when I am sick: what would this feel like if I didn’t have the means to see a doctor? If I didn’t know that I was getting all these tests, that I can buy pain killers and antibiotics and kill this. What would it mean to bear this pain knowing there is no cure, not because there isn’t one, but because I can’t afford it. Or even worse, what would it mean if I had to watch a loved one go through that. God forbid, to watch my own child.
And that is probably why I wont stop doing what I do. Because even if I got unlucky on the constitution roulette, I know that I’ve been blessed on every other front.
PS on my next post I promise to tone down the alleluia and tune up the humour...
Friday, October 29, 2010
If you are a mom, or if you have or have ever had a mom, you'll get a good laugh out of this one.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
It came as a total shock.
It’s the end of the day. I’m in sitting with the finance manager and the head of human resources calls me into the director’s office. Budget cuts in our small international organization had been looming…
I float above myself as I sit down in the chair, surveying it all. I see myself sitting across from these people who I’ve known for years. I’ve seen them every day. I know their families and their coffee preferences. I’ve shared frustrations and achievements with them, triumphs and conflicts. They are opening their mouths, handing me papers, though I do not now remember the words.
The ax fell.
So much effort, so much passion, so many hours, so much heart, so much of me—seemingly disregarded in an instant.
Vacillating between resistance and acceptance, I’ve been wading through the accompanying flood of sometimes difficult, sometimes euphoric emotions since that fated day.
I never thought it would be me. Like many people working in international relief and development, it was never just a job. It was a calling. Not just a profession, but also my craft.
And so I’ve had to define—who am I now?
I’ve been working on viewing the job loss and the pursuant free time as an opportunity to discover that ever-elusive work-life balance, to explore passions and possibilities within my career and my life.
But some days, I just want an income again. I want to be engaged with people daily in a larger, shared endeavor.
If only I were Buddhist.
However, I have to say that I’m now far enough away from the lay-off to appreciate that finding and retaining “the right people” in an organization has to do more with attracting folks with particular inherent character traits rather than those with specific skills, education, or status. I believe now more than ever that being an effective development practitioner is a conscious, intentional process that takes persistence to develop one’s skills and requires a willingness to question and examine one’s own thoughts, motives and emotions. In my career, I’ve found that those who genuinely engage in this process are the most innovative, the most effective, and the most fulfilled people in our sector.
God or Buddha or Allah or Yahweh knows that being an effective development practitioner is also about finding faithfulness in the midst of the unknown. When the time is right, I know the opportunity to join (or start!?) an organization that is intentional about the culture they’re trying to create and about including about types of people can best advance the work will come.
Until then, I await the gifts from this period of my life, some days more patiently than others.
Jennifer Lentfer has worked with over 300 grassroots organizations in east and southern Africa over the past decade, focusing on organizational development and learning. Currently, she is the creator/editor of How Matters a blog site aimed at raising the level of human dignity within development assistance and putting real resources behind local means of overcoming obstacles.