The Surprising Work Pace!
The work pace here is surprising. In the Peace Corps we were constantly reminded to be patient, that people would arrive hours late to meetings (if at all) and that getting anything done would take inhuman perseverance. For two years the majority of my work planning was done weeks early while I waited in empty rooms for meetings to start. I tried compulsive reminders, bringing cookies, locking people out of meetings. Timeliness is cultural, we were told, be careful imposing your American-ness on others. I’ll buy that priorities and pace of life are different from place to place, but I don’t think timeliness is necessarily American. In Kuria, for example, I think people have realized that Nuru’s time here is limited and mostly I’ve been surprised by how quickly work is done, by how cooperative people are. The community chiefs are incredibly supportive and we have a cadre of volunteer field officers and representatives for every Nuru program area. Members have responded positively to the strict attendance policy started last month.
Granted, some things are still slow. Badai, bado, pole pole. Later, not yet, slowly. It takes two weeks and three trips to Kehancha to open a bank account. A 9:00 a.m. appointment with the Ministry Director of Education begins at 3:00 p.m. Bureaucracy in any country is slow. Assistance from ministry training officials comes with the expectation of exorbitant stipends for lunch and transport, even though it should be their job to help and they are already paid well by the government. These expectations transfer to anyone working with a foreign non-profit organization.
As I’m formalizing the CED Program Team, most of the field officers have been arriving late and askingfor lunch and stipends. They’re good people; I think they’re mostly testing me because I’m new. But the current work load isn’t heavy, field officers assist at the savings club meeting in their area (which they have to go to anyway, as the representative of their group) and attend a weekly CED Field Officer Meeting for training. More importantly, they were recruited specifically as volunteer leaders interested in working with Nuru to improve their communities. I know it sounds unfair to demand this of hardworking, decent people trying to feed their families in an impoverished area. It’s not their fault that any foreign aid or non-profit is associated with free, easy money. But Nuru can’t afford that reputation. So at our CED training on Monday I remind the team why they were chosen and assure them sincerely that if their home and work responsibilities make it difficult to volunteer, they will be just as important as good group representatives as they are as field officers. I also tell them that later this week on Thursday we will have a meeting for all Nuru field officers. It will be right after our weekly savings club meeting in Taragwiti, so in keeping with the attendance theme I say we will have to finish on time and then walk very quickly from Taragwiti to Nyametaburo to arrive at the meeting on time. Blank stares. I’m certain I have just lost my team of field officers.
The CED Program has its share of delays. It’s a slow start for the Farmer Savings Program.The field officers didn’t promote the first registration meeting we planned. The date of the second registration meeting is declared a public holiday by the president so that people will stay home to be counted for the census. We are two weeks into the program, the foundation for the community development fund that is one day supposed to cover Nuru operations in Kuria, and we have 37 accounts totaling Ksh.22,205, about $300 USD. I should probably be more worried. But I file the paperwork for the accounts almost tenderly (or is it stubbornly?), thinking, you’re going to be a bank one day. Then I stifle the panic in my throat by eating three chapattis.
It’s Thursday, and I’m at the savings club meeting in Taragwiti. Every field officer is on time and helping out with tasks to finish as quickly as possible. Immediately afterward we power walk the hilly road to Nyametaburo for the All Nuru Field Officer Meeting. It’s 3:00 p.m., and the afternoon heat is heavy. But no one is complaining, and I am so grateful that they want to stay on as field officers. At the bottom of a particularly steep hill, two men lounge under a banana tree drinking sodas. Struggling up the steep hill is the soda vendor, two cases of sodas balanced on his bike that he is pushing. Seeing him, three of the field officers immediately jog toward the man and I’m disappointed, preparing to explain why stopping for sodas will not help us get to Nyametaburo on time. They reach the soda vendor and, grabbing the bike, help him push it up the hill. I’m humbled. The field officers want to know why I’m laughing. Badai, I tell them. Well then walk faster muzungu, they joke, you’re going to make us late.