thoughts in my head: pace

Day 12: A Picture of Your Feet

my extremely well-worn and beloved pair of toms, taken on our veranda

When last the Day 12 prompt, and thus a photo of my feet, gave rise to a blog post, it was  the Day Without Shoes event in the USA. This was a day I spent a day  in contemplation, and a day done without protective wear on my feet. In the spirit of  mediation on cultural collision and its intricate complexities I want to share with  you, dearest reader, some thoughts that have been percolating in my head  pertaining to pace.

It is not easy for me to manifest into words what is already a fleeting concept.  The tangibility and roundness and fullness of language as a living thing, has  served me well in many ways. I’m sure it has for you as well, dear reader. But,  as much as it pains me to declare, words and letters and these sentences strung  together often are not cohesive enough to encompass what I want to share. You  cannot touch a word.

I feel, in many ways, that this is a surprisingly perfect metaphor for the work I’ve been attempting to live into daily here in Kotido. It’s not a measurable, quantifiable job. There’s no well being built, no uniforms being handed out, nothing particularly sexy to paint poverty porn of or even make pretty slideshows set to cheesy Chrisitan music of. I’m not saving lives, giving out medicine, or really doing anything that grants immediate satisfaction or makes progress before my eyes.

Most days we go into the office, greet our coworkers, and sit. I’m learning to be an excellent sitter. We read, we write blogs, we read blogs. Sometimes tasks are assigned, even more rarely incidents occur like the mama asking us to help her feed her children. Once there was a request to print something: it took two days for this to happen. But the reality is this: if we research one way to construct a solar appliance, or even if we get one memo printed and delivered, that is an incredibly productive day.

At first, I confess I was confused as to why we went into the office at all. Some days all we do is sit there, doing less than what we could be doing at home. But I’m learning every minute of every day that nothing seems to be what on the surface it appears to be. By being in the office, by being present, we are living in community. It’s a gesture, an act as if to say that we know the work is important, so we are there even when there is no paper to write, no inventory to take.

So when my mother asked me the other day on the phone what we were doing besides the solar oven, I really could not give a reply. So I described how we sit, how every day I’m getting better with names and faces, how every day I find myself readjusting more deeply. The perception of time here is much hazier, much slower than I realized. I knew, from my various adventures on the Continent before, that American’s affair with punctuality and obsession with productivity was viewed as borderline insane by some, but to slow down my go-getter drive to the meter of Kotido is an ongoing lesson.

As someone who is perpetually punctual to the point of fault, learning that time is hazy and no one truly abides by the clock here was something of an excruciating lesson to learn. If a meeting is scheduled for 9 AM in the states, I’m there with my pen out and my notes headlined by 8:45. Here, however, is people decide the meeting is worth their time it might commence around 10:30.

And, in lieu of talking about my shoes and feet, most obviously there is my penchant for walking with speed.

My father calls himself a New Yorker (my mother says this is up for debate), but whatever feuds there are pertaining to his childhood upbringing, there is one distinctly NYC characteristic my father embodies: Manhattan walking. A trait, undoubtedly, I inherited from him. We McMizzies are built for it; we power-walk to the grocery store, I power-walk to class, I power -walk to brush my teeth,I power-walk to the gym, I power-walk in the mall…you grasp the ida. When I’m going somewhere there is no need to dally- I have purpose and direction and I neither apologize nor stop until I am there. Some may call it a vice. I call it being prompt.

Here, however, my chicken-winged arms and fast-propelled legs do nothing but push me ahead of the people who know where I’m going.  So I’ve had to adapt to the unthinkable: I’m learning to mosey. A part of me might die while it happens (I don’t even slow down while walking with friends. Call me crazy. My legs literally itch when I don’t speed through).

In some way, when I was trying to explain the slowing down of everything in my life to my mother, the only image I could conjure was walking. As torturous as it is for me to slow down the inner clock, the unwinding and reversal of gears, it is a crucial act. My feet themselves, those which are most frequently in contact with the soil of this beautiful continent, have had to slow down far beyond any pace I could have anticipated in my high-speed American life.

And it isn’t merely in the walking; it’s the internet, sure, but it is the pace of life.  The deep appreciation for each small task and its completed-ness, how time is soaked in and unwasted as much as possible.

And so the real work is this: learning that not all NGO work is glamorous, that in fact most of it is decidedly difficult, slow, and not going to give me world-shattering perspective every single day. Half of this job is living- learning the language, buying food in the market, building relationships with our neighbors and shop keepers, cleaning, doing laundry, surviving teeth-chattering showers, and going to the office to sit. And sit. And wait.

So what am I doing in Uganda?

I’m Existing. Intensely, beautifully, slowly, patiently, and growing into the collision space. It isn’t pretty or going to revolutionize the world order. It isn’t a singular project filled with starving kids or doling out medicine. It’s broken, and Lord knows I have made plenty of stupid mistakes and said wrong things and jumbled my words in ways that made sense in my head, but perhaps not in the air.

But I like to think that’s the beauty of it all.

current jam: “hard sun” eddie vedder (…of course)

best thing in my life right now: quesedillas!

fantas consumed: 10

last film: love actually

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3 thoughts on “thoughts in my head: pace

  1. Hannah McManus says:

    this is your best post yet! I get it. I get what you are doing. I also see how much you are learning. Good for you, Lizzie McMizzie. and just for the record, I have been telling you to slow down since you first learned to walk! 🙂 Good for you! this is a hard, hard lesson to learn.

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