A Travellerspoint blog

June 2009

Trying to do development right

Thursday 21st May – 6 months, 5 days

We had a planning workshop that started today. It was good, but I had some difficulty with the pace and flow of events (basically, slower and louder than Australia). It illustrated to me again the difference between my style as a foreign worker, and the style of other foreigners I work with.

A big part of the difficulty I had with the workshop stemmed from my belief that I should hang back a bit in work situations, and not make a lot of suggestions , but instead try to find out what my colleagues think and want and then help them with that (thus leaving it difficult for me to concentrate because I wasn’t contributing much). I believe it’s one of the hardest things to do when you’re a foreigner working in another country in development – giving other people space to do the work themselves. It’s easy in a developing country, especially a newly independent one like Timor, to jump in and start doing the work for them, without thinking. It’s *very* easy if you come from an individual-focused, take-the-initiative, put-yourself-forward work culture like Australia’s, and you’re working in a country which has a group-consensus-focused, deferential work culture like Timor’s.

It’s also harder for me because I have found that I am unusual in having this philosophy. I’ve developed this belief – that work should be driven by the developing country and its people, that it’s better to let them come to ideas rather than push them too hard, and so on – mainly from the Masters of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development I’m doing at the Australian National University. I mistakenly thought that this would be a reasonably universal view, but I’ve found that the majority of international development organisations, non-government organisations and even individual consultants and advisers are pretty much interested in their own agenda first and just getting the work done themselves. I admit, it would be a lot easier to do some things myself, instead of trying to help other people learn. But how will they do the work once I leave, if I don’t give them space to do it now?

Anyway, this workshop confirmed my belief that my slower method is worth it. At one point, I was part of a group of ten, who had to answer a set of (rather difficult conceptual) questions to come up with a presentation. Two different people outside the group indicated they wanted me to lead, and I could have done a fine job, but I politely declined. I really wanted a Timorese person within my group to take over, and I really wanted these guys to practice working as a team together. I was hoping that if I sat back long enough, they would come to their own arrangement. I was right. A senior staff member eventually started looking through the questions and explaining them to others; our team leader for the Training team decided to be the scribe; once they had got going, they asked me, and everyone else, did we have suggestions for this part, and that part. At that point I felt good contributing some points they hadn’t noted yet. It is worth the wait to see them creating something together.

Posted by timortimes 18:19 Comments (0)

Homesickness: I do not have the soul of a wanderer

I’ve just never caught the travel bug. Not really. I’m a homebody. I lived in the same house from birth to age 18; I just didn’t know that much about other countries growing up; I didn’t even go outside the state that much. I adore going out and having heaps of activities, so in Canberra, I wasn’t at home a lot at all. But I loved having Canberra as my home base, my place where I felt very secure.

Despite this strong desire for a long-term home base, I feel rather like my life conspires against me to put me in these positions and places where I am forced, and going to be forced, to be overseas, at least sometimes, if I want a particular career.

People who end up in Timor don’t tend to be like me. They tend to be nomads, happy travellers, people who have adventured in other countries with similar bad-news reputations and most of the tamer European countries. People who are quite keen to be away from Australia and who say they definitely aren’t ready to go back. When I admit that I count the days I’ve been away and that I’m counting the days until I’m back in Australia, people often shake their heads at me. ‘Oh no’, they say, ‘it’s too early; that’s really bad, if you’re counting THIS early’.
But, I need to go back to Australia. I’ve been very sick; I’m still mildly sick; I’m not going to stop being sick over here. I need to get healthy. I miss my friends, my family, and there is no such thing as cheap phone calls or easy-access internet over here. I miss seemingly little things, like decent food, which actually have a huge effect on my mood. And, most of all, I just actually miss Australia. Being overseas, even for four days, has always made me dreadfully homesick for and patriotic about Australia. Like every other country, it is not perfect. But Australians do tend to be rather attached to their country, and I am one of those. I think it’s best summed up by an exchange I had with my friend Julia:

‘Everyone thinks their country is the best in the world. Right? But...’
‘Australians *know* their country really *is* the best!’

It sooo is.

Posted by timortimes 18:10 Comments (0)

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