Mvumilivu hula mbivu (20 March 2017)

This Swahili proverb basically translates to: patient eats ripe, implying a patient person eats ripe fruits, or, patience pays. Our all-knowing agriculture guru in Peace Corps (pictured below) introduced me to this saying two weeks ago, during my first day with the new PCTZ Health/Ag class. We were speaking of the pre-service training (PST), and of the current staff turnover at the office.

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Our Ag guru is one of the coolest, funniest, wisest men I have ever had the fortune of knowing. It is inspiring to see him working with Tanzanians, and to see the point when they realize he is an encyclopedia of knowledge. Wanatoa heshima kila mara – they give him the utmost respect every time. Needless to say, I enjoy having conversations with him on any topic because I always come away from it as a more understanding person.

During this particular conversation mentioned above, we were discussing how the differences in culture are evident and obvious in the PST and in the current staff turnover process. Here in TZ, two things are very much ingrained in the culture: 1) the sense of time: things will take as much time as they need, they’ll get done in the end, hamna shida, labda kesho, and 2) respect for those with more experience than you (often elders, shikamoo).

In other words: here in Tanzania it is necessary to have patience for things that take longer than you personally may think is necessary, and patience to allow the knowledge of those with greater experience to be shared. That means patience for the process, and appreciation that while it may be different from what you are used to, that makes it no less valuable.

During this turnover process in the office, many of the higher up staff have left the post for other positions, and new higher ups (Americans) are filling those vacancies. We’ve run into a few misunderstandings and miscommunication as new staff members enter their positions immediately trying to change things. Many Tanzanian staff (and PCVs as well) view it as disrespectful, even if that is not at all the intention. And the changes are seen as unnecessary, hurting more than helping.

In Peace Corps, we are taught as volunteers the value of a slow but sure integration process. We stay for two years in the village to build relationships, to gain cultural understanding, so that we have the amazing and rare ability to see the full picture, even as members of an entirely different nation and culture. Patience pays.

We are respectful, and therefore gain respect. We become a community member, and can therefore understand the community. We work with others, and therefore know what work needs doing – what does or doesn’t need change. Luckily it seems new staff members are starting to understand this process is ingrained in the Peace Corps. They are gaining both patience for the process, and respect for those who have long been working with PC, and who know the difference between necessary and unnecessary change.

At the PST, the story is similar, though in a different context. The PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) this year are an amazing and intelligent bunch, with great enthusiasm and excitement for their work-to-come and their new lives. It is inspirational. However, because they are such intelligent, experienced, enthusiastic, and independent Americans, they are also at times overly critical of PST – of the sessions, of the facilitators, of the training schedule as a whole.

I remember some frustration in my own training class in regards to learning speed, the way sessions are presented, and each and every slight imperfection. The fact is, though, PC staff members are working their butts off to manipulate the training, the sessions, the presenting styles, etc. to fit the audience – custom-made for the PCTs. But each presenter is different, sometimes answering important questions takes time and sessions run long, sometimes break time needs to be cut short to return to the classroom to cover the huge bounty of knowledge that needs to be taught in just two and a half months…

Patience pays. A trainee will get so much more out of training if they can sit back, observe, take it all in, and let the facilitators and the organizers do their jobs. No, it won’t be perfect, sessions won’t run flawlessly, but in this Peace Corps world it is more important to be understanding than overly critical.

I learned during my own PST how valuable it is to be patient when things take longer than the time listed in the schedule, to fully understand that I was being given knowledge from some of the most qualified and experienced people in Tanzania, and that they deserved my attentive appreciation. Even if I had a different opinion about how things were organized or facilitated, I sat back, took it all in, went along for the ride, because you never know what you may learn from the unscripted, or from observing the overall process. Then, later on, I gave my feedback. This lesson is something that followed me through my entire service and cultural integration, and is critical for village life.

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Anyone new to Tanzania, or to any country/culture, should first take a step back, patiently observe, take the time to listen to those with more experience, and try to wrap their head around the complete picture, rather than thinking they understand it all after a few days/a few weeks in country. This is what Peace Corps taught me, is still teaching me, and I know it will apply to every new situation in my life. Mvumilivu hula mbivu. I will always try to choose the slower, more observant path, will always try to wait for the ripest of fruits, and will then hopefully be able to understand how sweet life can be.

 

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