A friend emailed me today with some very interesting questions....that no one else has asked me about my experience here, so I thought I'd share the questions and my answers! Thanks Karlina!
You must be anxiously looking forward to coming home soon. What are you looking forward to the most? Hugging Jessica and eating salads!
I am curious - what are your feelings and observations from this past year's experience? I feel very blessed in my own life. Poverty and poor health are pervasive here, and people die from diseases that are preventable/curable because they can't afford treatment. It is hard to have so much and be surrounded by people who have so little. We are so far removed from the world's realities in Canada.Development aid has not been working and has actually caused a dependence on aid. Programs that train people and "teach them how to fish" are so much better than just food aid or money or things. Women here have very few opportunities and there are very few women in non-traditional roles here (I am a very noticeable minority). It is disconcerting to be stared at and treated differently because you are a different colour.
Were your expectations that you had going into this experience fulfilled or have you been disappointed? I expected to have a well defined role, but found that I had to define it and take the lead to get things done. The work ethic we know does not exist here. My work has had an impact on people. That's what I wanted. The only disappointment is that I won't finish everything I wanted to because of stupid bureaucratic b.s. I have felt useless and useful, helpless and helpful.
Do you feel you were properly prepared and trained by the organization for the cultural changes and people you have been working with? Definitey not as well prepared as I would have liked to have been. I don't think that any kind of training can really prepare you for the reality of life here.
What have you learned that you will bring back with you to Canada? One person can make a small difference in the world. The smiles of the people (and songs and dances) in the communities that I have worked with are better payment than money for the work that I've done. Don't take what I have for granted. Living simply is not a bad thing. I have survived malaria, and typhoid, and food shortages, and have lived without running water and electricity. But that being said, even at it's worst my life here was much better than most because I have money. The technical skills I have are useful, but my people skills are more valuable, and my management abilities may make the biggest difference in the jobs I do.
How do you feel your initial decision to take on this mission has impacted you - positively and negatively? It was a good decision for me, fulfilling a life long desire to do this. It pushed me to my limits physically and emotionally, so I have grown as a result. The relationships I have built are priceless. It was harder than I thought to be away for a year, and I felt like I abandoned Jess when she still needed me, but she too has grown as a result.I missed a year's worth of events/time with friends and family, and there really is no way to make up for them.
I assume you will be looking forward to getting back in to your home in Calgary and having all your things back in order again? Definitely. Have decided to move back into the house for a while to have familiar surroundings and people. Will figure out what comes next later.
What are your plans once you get back to Canada? Home until January, when I'll come back here for 3 months as a management consultant (paid contract). They practically begged me to return, and there is much more that I can do. I wasn't looking for another job but I expect it may lead to contracts elsewhere in the world as well. I will however limit contracts to 3 months maximum and one or 2 per year. I need to spend some time at home to stay grounded.
Is the organization providing de-briefing sessions for you to re-integrate back to Canada? There will be a package in the mail and then some sort of session either in Vancouver or Ottawa but I'm not sure when that will happen.
I'm sure you will experience many emotions coming home. It is happy-sad right now. some days I can't wait to leave and some days I'm in tears because it means saying goodbye. It will be good to be home, though. There are lots of things to sort out, and I expect to be a little overwhelmed by the city, the choices, the busyness of life at home compared to life here. It will be challenging.