my third first day

This is one of the times when having promised to write “my truth” in this blog causes me a lot of heartburn.  I have to somehow protect the innocent, protect the reputation of organizations involved, yet remain authentic to myself and my experiences.  I don’t want to lie.  I have to tell it like it is.

Which is this:  my third volunteer placement in Cameroon started on April Fool’s.

Enough said.

Having patiently waited for 4 months for placement objectives (well…not always patiently), my very first day included waiting an hour and a half for the person who set the start time to show up at the office.  Then a couple hours presentation on a project I had already been familiarized with a few weeks before.  The responsible person subsequently was away for 3 hours on “errands”.  And the day ended with being told I should now be able to write a grant proposal for projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I’d like to say that this first day was typical, but that would certainly make me cry.  And that would be sad.

The second day was somewhat the same.

The third day was actually the official first day – and it had a nice twist to it.  I received an official welcome from the staff and the large assortment of interns.  We introduced each other, we shared a couple croissants and manioc chips.  I was given a stack of documents to read.

Now onto day four, and a nice 3-hour work session has lead to the development of a loosely defined 3-week action plan.  I will be reading documents, developing a project selection criteria worksheet and selecting, out of 80 or so project ideas, the three or four that have that special “something-something”.  When that’s done, I guess we’ll work on the plan for the next 3 weeks or so.  Then repeat.  Repeat every 3 weeks for the remaining 6-months of my contract.

So to be honest, my third first day has lasted a good 4 days.  And besides knowing where the bathrooms are, when the communal lunch is served, and just how flexible I will really really have to be…. The rest is a complete mystery!

April Fool’s lasts a freakishly long time in Cameroon apparently.  And I’ve missed the punch line!

After dinner last night with volunteers who arrived last January, I realised that I am basically in the same boat new volunteers are.  The first 3-months are the hardest – you have to get to know your partner organization, figure out what you role can play and what value you might bring to the organization.  You have to battle the resulting homesickness and get a little angry at “what would never happen back home” and “that’s not an effective way to do things”.  And feel a little discomfited with the fact that nothing looks or feels like what you had expected.

Oh well.  This being my third time around in 18 months, I should know better.  But I’m getting old and wrinkly  under this African sun…

~ by Caroline Spira on April 6, 2011.

3 Responses to “my third first day”

  1. Hold up there Caroline! here’s an idea, why don’t you do what needs to be done and forget about waiting for direction. By the time they have figured things out you may have accomplished something you really want to do. Take the bull by the horns. Get horny! (that was for Greg) Warm wishes, Wendy

  2. Yup, when it comes to bureaucracy, I’ve always been a big fan of “ask forgiveness later.” Easier said than done, sometimes.

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