Sunday, October 01, 2006

Returning thoughts

September 3rd, 2006

So I’m sitting here, kind of alone although not really lonely, missing the ever present number of people coming and going and doing their daily thing. There are those same people here yet because we live in apartments with walls and solid doors and windows that look outside instead of inside you have to make a concerted effort to feel included in the mix. An effort I might add that I am horrible at actually making, call it laziness, I procrastinate on people. I’m trying to take stock of my summer, what did it mean, what didn’t it mean? Why didn’t it mean what I thought it should have meant? Did I mention I tend to over analyze things…. All I know is that when someone ask me the question of “how was your summer” I numbly and dumbly answer “Great!” and then stare at them blankly while thousands of images come into my head of people smiling, Binta the sweetest little girl in the world who would always come and hold my hand, Zenabou a friend with whom I shared many nights, and a guy named Pope, my would be husband, who could make anybody laugh. After a few seconds of reverie I silently berate myself for not having a more intelligent answer, a more EWB analytical, promotional, or clarificative answer or an answer that would make my experience mean something to those people who dare ask the question….”How was Ghana?” Reality is, I’m not even sure what spending 3 months in the upper most reaches of North Eastern Ghana really meant to me, and how I see development. Frustrating, since I’ve spent the last year and a half studying the damn subject, not to be able to come up with something that makes sense to people and most importantly to me.

The thing is…I’m sure all my professors and EWB national office staff will start to cringe….I’m not sure what development really is in the practical daily grind of it all. Is it providing services, improving communities, enhancing livelihoods, empowering women…they all sound good on paper but show up in a rural community saying “I’ve come to enhance your livelihood, improve your community, provide you with services and empower your women” and they would perk up and ask “What am I going to get out of it?” Not exactly the kind of attitude you want to promote to lead to the creation of an empowered, independent, self directed, and free society. So how do you create freedom within a society….not freedom of the individual but freedom of the society, and all those who reside within it, to self-determine their collective identity and values? A culture of ownership

I was talking to Ian Green, the master of McLaughlin College where I am currently a Don, on a boat cruise around downtown Toronto. He studies democracy and ethics in the Political Science Department at York. His ideas of democracy are the creation of a society where each individual is free to articulate themselves and an atmosphere that facilitates all members contributing to the creation of their society. So then development should be about helping create that type of society where everyone has the power, economic, political and social power to contribute and change things to their collective will. A lot easier said than done unfortunately and ever more so, I don’t think it can come from an outside influence. The energy, direction, focus, all must be organic…of course organic movements are open to influence….Circle….maybe I’m missing something.

My internet works faster, I can actually see pictures, and I don’t have to hand wash anymore but I kind of miss all that. I miss fetching water from the well and getting excited by rain because it meant free water from the sky…like a gift. There was something rhythmic and kind of soothing once you got in the rhythm of washing your clothes…not that I would actually leap to do it unless I was on my very last pair of underpants. There is also something quite nice about being disconnected, or at least not as easily connected to the rest of the world. Reality becomes simpler as you only have to deal with what is in your immediate scope. The barrage of advertisements, news, information, stereotypes is all muted, making it easier to tune out when necessary or desired and focus on the task at hand. I perpetually feel lazy here, like I’m not doing enough either because of the modern conveniences that make our lives easy or because my work here is entirely self motivated. Even though it may not seem that way, in the end it is since I’m not connected to a community or the improvement of an immediate community.

All I can say, in response to the “raised eyebrows” or “Awesomes” of me saying “I spent my summer in northern Ghana” is that I was just doing what I could to help people. It wasn’t about development or integration or even learning something, it was seeing a place where I could be of service and then doing what I could do in the space and time I had. You can get the same feeling of satisfaction by volunteering, helping out people in your own communities or others nearby. I feel no different than anyone who volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, the United Way etc. although I went all the way the Ghana to do it. This begs the question, if volunteering in Ghana is the same as volunteering at home and true change or development in society needs to be organic, then what was I doing there in the first place? I still hold on to the three things (thank you Louis) that I learned at the mid-term retreat. “Western” volunteers bring 1) Western skills i.e. Computers, organization, presentations, creativity 2) A non-partisan attitude to the work 3) Energy and enthusiasm for what they do. I just hope those things that I was able to bring to the table with my NGO, my community, and my host family were worth the 6000$ it cost to send and sustain me for 3 & ½ months and I really desperately hope that I can make it worth EWB’s time and resources at my chapter and at the national office who have invested so much in me and expect me to bring so much back in return.


At 7:58 p.m., Anonymous Mom said...

Hi Samina: What wonderful thoughts you have. You are so articulate and can self analyze, even if it doesn't make total sense to you. We are here to help and give what we can, when we can and how we can. You are right in that it is the same whether here to there, it is that we have to do it. Love you lots and so very, very proud of you.

At 7:34 a.m., Blogger Elodie said...

Brilliant Samina!

I'd like to get in touch with you by email and share thoughts, possibly ask questions.

At 9:48 p.m., Blogger SubComandante Larry said...

Samnia: your Vocabulary astounds me! Being a British intellectual, I could come up with numerous words to describe your deep existential angst like blog. I find your blog to be really, really, good.

Look towards the East,
S. Larry
P.S. Visit me at http://

At 4:11 a.m., Blogger Myriam said...

Ah - I get it now... sums up a lot! Wish I could learn how to put my feelings into words.


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