Back up North

I spent a couple more days this week up north. We flew up Monday morning and went out west of where we were before. The terrain got hillier and the mountains jutted into the sky. It was beautiful and a town that felt a bit like Mpika to me – though probably a bit sleepier. After two days there we went back to the intervention villages where we did the survey earlier.

This time I was doing two things.

First, I was trying to continue the work on gender that I did earlier – trying to get a better sense in all of these areas about what the “gender baseline” is for the qualitative survey. What are the gender dynamics? What roles do men and women play? What might change as employment for formal companies moves into these areas? It’s always hard for me to quite figure out what this means when I have so little time. I mean trying to get a sense of what women think their role is and their space in the village is when you kind of flit in and out doesn’t make much sense to me. It all made me appreciate my Peace Corps experience a bit more (which I’ll add some thoughts on at the end) because you were there long enough to just OBSERVE.

Second, I was working with two other TNS women (a full time employee and another VolCon) to do some initial work on a project that is looking to develop a model for women owned maize mills. We met with a couple women mill owners (and some men) and then also had conversations with villagers about their mill use – how often they go, how far they walk, what they pay, how much they carry with them. It was interesting to realize really how simple these mills really are. They basically only mill, they don’t sell anything else, they all charge moreorless the same price, people don’t have preferences of one mill over another except if it’s close and/or functioning… a pretty simple preference!

Anyway, it was interesting to be back out in the villages as always. Though, I really wish I could communicate better. I was finding it hard to concentrate and focus on the questions on the last day because there was really no one who spoke Portuguese even so there was a lot of dependence on our translator and a lot of him explaining things in length. By that point he had a pretty good sense what we were looking for and we didn’t need the back and forths as much. Though it also just made it hard to really CONNECT with people and really delve into the nuances.

A professor in college once said to me that he thought Peace Corps helped development workers gain empathy for the people they work with. This seemed true to me as the two other people I worked with just had a more limited view of the villages and the interactions between people and how relationships get set up. They, at the same time, have a much more practical experience in business and finance so I think we need each other! Anyway, it just struck me how much you just need to sit in one of these towns for a while if you’re going to come up with a successful model. You need to understand who is an entrepreneur and why they have or have not been successful. You need to understand community dynamics, and language, and the market.

Peace Corps is so well suited to a lot of that because you have time and space to process all of that and to understand the people’s challenges and motivations who you are working with because you’ve taken the time to really listen and watch them. I wish there was more of that kind of work in development – though there aren’t that many people who have the patience to sit and watch and not have running water and electricity!

To add to feeling excited about Peace Corps again I met my first Mozambican PCVs yesterday. They were flying down from the north for a conference here in the south! Definitely a luxury that didn’t exist in Zambia! Though also one that is pretty needed here. It’d probably take three days on a miserable (and unsafe) bus to get down to Maputo from the north.

All of those positives said about Peace Corps, as I watched these PCVs here I kind of was reminded about how ridiculous the whole endeavor is – that it would probably be a bit better if Peace Corps DID link volunteers up with organizations so that there was some end goal, and some continuity to their projects. It’s nice to have the independence to process your work and define your work, but you really get so little DONE. It’s a constant tension in my mind of which should win out – process or accomplishments.

This was kind of a scattered little entry – hope it makes some sense! I leave Maputo, crazily, on Sunday. Then I have a night in SA, a week back in Zambia, and then it’s home a week from Sunday! I can’t believe the summer is almost over and I will try to get a couple more concluding thoughts up here before I head back to school.  I may or may not continue this blog into the school year.  I’d kind of like the chance to write some more and process.  But I also feel like I should maybe be realistic in my head – I probably won’t have much time to force myself to write for fun!

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