Avocado, a banana and coffee make up breakfast this morning fortifying us before a days of meetings with the Boyebi team. I have the task of reviewing how to properly fill out reports so that we can obtain the quantitative and qualitative data we need in order to determine if their projects are viable and truly helping the vulnerable and poor. Their projects are a tailoring shop, a haircutting place and a community garden. Each of the projects has the focus of providing training and work to people infected and/or affected by AIDS and to those who are raising AIDS orphans. A goal for each of our partners is that they reach a place where they no longer need our help, which means each project must become self-sufficient. Well, that is easier said than done!
These meetings are never easy – three languages are used throughout (French, English and Lingala), as well as the language of the unspoken words: the language of gestures and body posture – the slightly raised eyebrow or the palm facing down. The laugh that isn’t from humor, but rather, discomfort. The shrug, the head tilt, the double blink of confusion. And then, there is the language of silence, of pauses, of what is not said at specific times during a conversation, the double meanings that occur when I can’t read the unsaid because I am focused on the spoken word.
There are cultural differences in how we communicate with each other. I, being American, am much more direct than my Congolese counterparts. I start the meeting by underscoring some of the cultural differences so that we don’t run into issues of misunderstanding and, possibly, mistrust, as we try our best to work together for a common and agreed-upon good outcome. I say I will be direct, but that I mean my message to be kind and just. They nod. I say I will speak “like this”, as I place my right hand perpendicular into the palm of my left hand and they all understand exactly what I am saying. We all visibly relax….we are just starting a long day of talks and I hope my opening communication has set us up for good meetings and outcomes.
Listening, truly listening, especially to the silences and pauses in this country, is exhausting.
But we make it through the day and still manage true, honest smiles at each other by the time we are done. I have been as clear as one hand into the palm of the other and we all have lots of work to do, but I believe we will move forward, one step at a time, in this business of helping others help themselves.
A good day. Not a fun one, but a good one indeed.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress”, as the Good Book says. It doesn’t matter where we are placed and no matter how exhausting it may be…we really aren’t given excuses, are we?