Cultural integration is a funny thing. Sometimes it’s obvious; partaking in a ritual or ceremony, trying new foods, picking up local colloquialisms. Other times it’s not so obvious; behavioral changes, for example. I think it’s safe to say that just about every volunteer wants to make these not-so-obvious, behavior-change-kind-of-differences. That’s why we’re here, after all. This is where real development work comes in, where people begin to realize that habits they have grown up with or formed over the years that they never thought twice about can maybe be done differently, and maybe this will make life a little easier, healthier, and/or happier. This is why we have all committed two years of our lives, because such chronic habits don’t get changed overnight. However, it’s so easy to get caught up in the mindset of showing others another way that sometimes I forget to be open to other ways of doing things, myself. Much like I would in the States, each day I have an agenda in my head, more or less, of things I want to accomplish. Some days I get everything accomplished and feel like I’m really making a difference. Other days I do not. Today I had an “other day.” A not-so-obvious-cultural-integration-moment, a behavior change moment. It’s actually been kind of a long time coming, so I’ll start from the beginning:
Aside from my teaching duties, I have started a few side projects including helping my school plan a communication campaign, as well as starting to write a grant to get new cooking equipment and other supplies in the cafeteria. The communication campaign we had planned was a series of activities about aspects of communication planned over the course of four weeks. The final event was a festival, or party of sorts. One of the events we had planned for the festival was a lottery with tickets we would sell to the kids to win a prize. The money was going to be contributed to help fund the cafeteria project, because to receive funds from the US government, a village has to contribute a certain percentage of the overall funds to the project to demonstrate their devotion to the sustainability aspect of the project.
I’ve been anxious about this project ever since we started writing it because there are a limited amount of funds available, and a deadline for project submissions each month. I tried to communicate my concern when we first began holding meetings, however, I am finding lately that more and more, I am starting to feel like a toddler, or at least have a new appreciation for the reason why toddlers behave the way that they do and have temper tantrums. They are old enough to know what they want, and have a general sense of right from wrong (or they are in the process of learning it, anyway), and yet they can’t fully express themselves or completely understand what is going on around them so they have to resort to screaming, kicking, crying, biting, etc to get anyone to really pay attention to them. This pretty much captures how I feel at least one time during each of these meetings.
I was initially really impressed by the way our project committee rallied. We were meeting every day after school for a few hours. I thought that if we keep this up, we would have a chance of finishing the project before the next months submission deadline. But then the last few days happened.
The first thing that happened was that our festival, and the lottery along with it, was postponed. Moldovans have a holiday, similar to Valentines Day, that they celebrate on the 22nd of February. This just happened to coincide with our last week of the campaign, when we would have had the festival. I was told that we needed to postpone the festival in light of this holiday, which I was ok with, but then we didn’t even end up having a celebration for this other holiday! So the festival was postponed for no good reason.
The other setback is that we keep having these mini meals after classes have ended and before our meetings start so people can replenish and not be starving at the end of the day. Ordinarily this would be fine, but they are starting to be longer than our actual meeting times. I keep trying to hurry everyone along, but to no avail. Yesterday we sat around for close to an hour and a half, and then ended up working on the project for just short of an hour. So needless to say, today I was really anxious to get going and get stuff done, however no one else even seemed interested in meeting. I finally gave up and decided to head home a little early. As I was walking home, feeling defeated, it occurred to me that I should just let it go and chalk it up to behavioral integration. The world will not end if we don’t get this project written on time. So I decided to let it go, to give in, and let things happen as they will.