Insight Into Humanitarians: The Difficult Things Are Not Here, They Are Back There

“Everyone you meet is Afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something.” (Unknown)

One of the most misplaced things people do to international people is treat us like we are “special” people because we “live over there”.

Are you kidding me? We are here precisely because we love what we do. We love the local people. We love trying to make a difference. We love being in these countries, immersed in these cultures in the rawness of life..  This idea that we wake up in the morning with a dour expression, because we feel we suffer so, is a fancy illusion. We are lucky people to get this opportunity, his living experience. It is down right awesome some days. Billions of people wake up to this same life we have in Africa, every day, the majority of people on earth do, actually. Did you know that? They do it, so why is it outside the mind of people we can do it too? A friend put it well.

“People often say to me: “Rob, it’s such a sacrifice, what you do,” and in many ways it is. But that’s not to say that missions work isn’t also fascinating, enriching and – on many occasions – just great fun! What you give up back home before coming on the field, God gives back to you in so many different ways – and more.”

(Rob Baker. Adventures in Music and Culture : Travels of an Ethnomusicologist in West Africa)

Life is life, anywhere. There are days we get annoyed at the slow pace, angry at the corruption, weary of the dirt and dust, depressed about the food selection, sick of being the outsider, or numb from the language confusion. Missing friends, children, or parents back home.

However, we are generally very thankful to be here because there are many wonderful positives about being here. We are away from TV, more fresh air, we are outside more, no snow, slower pace of life, fresh veggies and fruit every day, and community have not broken down as badly as in the west. People have time to chat here.  We love Mali and her people, a gift to experience. It is our best African experience yet. There are moments we wish we could transport home, but they are few. If these desires persist, those are the ones  who go home, quickly. Usually because they never really got to see, or taste the place. They were hidden away too much the the first few months.

However, I had a bad day yesterday.  Well, a bad “half day”.

The first half of the day was pretty amazing, with some great things happening in the villages I was in yesterday. I got to drive the motorcycle through several valleys out to several villages with amazing scenery, amazing encounters, witnessing some amazing progress on our drought season food security project.

I got home later in the day, scrubbed the dust off, threw on a “BouBou” and then for some reason began to sink into a funk. It does not happen often, but it did yesterday.

Later that night, my wife and I went out for Carp with Aloco, doused with spoonfuls of hot pepper (Scotch Bonnets). During the hour it took to get our order, we had the opportunity to talk, a lot. I don’t like talking when I’m in a funk, it generally makes it worse. But this time it was good to say a little. I was feeling pretty alone yesterday. But these feelings and moods never make sense, do they?

Our mutual conclusion; The hard stuff is not here, it’s back home.

There are things (people, too) back in Canada that could use more of our time and attention, but we are, well,  in Mali, West Africa. Same goes for the project work too. We have funding and budgeting issues that make the work happen here, but that is a back home issue, not a living here issue, and it’s hard to do much about it from Mali, or on a boat at sea in the summer.

I’m only here part of the year…. imagine those gone full time for  decades. But, I suppose most of them are not trying to manage businesses, boats, and houses back home, because their “home”  and “business”  is here, overseas, all the time. This is their home, this is their life, this is their business. 

It sounds ideal to be here half the year, but the reality is that it dumps two lives on our plate, two radically different lives, and we have to try and manage them both. It’s a mental, emotional, and logistical challenge. We are never fully one place or the other. 

Yes, we are afraid of something, love something, and have lost something, because of the choices we have made.  Welcome to the grittiness of life.

Thankfully, I woke up this morning with the “funk” gone, as usual. 

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  (Plato)

Yesterday, was a hard half-day battle, until I went to sleep.

Some of you might be asking, “Why do this then?” Oh yes, baby, at times we ask ourselves that too.

However, every time we get back to Canada, within two months we look around at the life and routines of Canada and ask, “Is this it?  Really, is this what life is about? Are these routines meaningful to us, are the institutions we are part of really that amazingly helpful?  Get angry at me for saying it, I don’t care anymore. The answer ends up being, ” no”.  Life in Africa begins to look real good again.

The most dangerous risk of all – The risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” (Unknown)

For half of our lives, we played the western game of managing things that were suppose to be fruitful, meaningful, life changing, helpful.  A little over five years ago, we confessed many of them were nothing of the sort. Good things, but in our estimation not worth a whole lifetime.

“Do you want to continue doing this for the second half of life?”, I asked Lynn one day.  

Our mutual answer was, “No!”. 

We had played someone else’s game, and followed their path long enough.

But here we are, probably as outside the box as one can get, and loving the changes that have come. We certainly do feel freer, lighter, and more focused, these days, most days.Yet, IN WAY OVER OUR HEAD. They truth is, we both love living on this gritty edge.

But when that cloudy funk sets in, it is usually because of our concerns and issues about life back there, not life here.

Isn’t that strange?

So, please, don’t feel sorry for us having to live and work here. Many days we feel sorry for you, because of the routines and institutions you are locked into back there, some of which are exhausting to the soul. I know we are not alone in this stage, phase, or whatever it is, of life. You are there too, and just don’t know what to do about it yet.

Maybe you need more edge?

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