When A Humanitarian Loses His Magic Cape… Of All The Decisions I’ve Made,This One Pleases Me Most.

Today was a tough day for The Invisible Humanitarian. The Invisible Humanitarian’s magic cape lost its Mojo or something.

I made some tough decisions today. I was happy about making them, but there is a side of me that makes me feel like a little turd too.

For we knew only too well:
Even hatred of squalor
Makes the brow grow stern.
Even anger against injustice
Makes the voice grow harsh. Alas, we
Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness
Could not ourselves be kind.
But you, when at last it comes to pass
That man can help his fellow man,
Do no judge us Too harshly.
(Bertolt Brecht)

Today is one of those days that it might have been better to not have gotten out of bed.

“Hoping to get a head start on the next day, I eat breakfast the night before. That way I can sleep in until two in the afternoon. 
” (Jarod Kintz, Seriously delirious, but not at all serious)

Most NGO’s and humanitarian organizations (any institution) will not talk about their failures. It’s not good for PR,  because in the end, it is about advancing an image, because they need the image to advance their goal…. The image does not always fit the reality; I’d venture to say it never does. But trust me when I say the maintaining an “image” is sometimes more important than the end goal, and being “negative” does not serve the purpose of “image”. Image is more money, more people, and growing programs. So a lot people are willing to project a false reality to maintain it.

However, I don’t play that game. So, I will tell this story.

I always hope that people are able to accept a basic human reality: that  some things we do will not succeed, at no fault of my own. But I know better, some people can’t be that gracious. If you did nothing, they would still criticize you.

“Sometimes I do smart things. Sometimes I do dumb things. Most of the time I don’t do anything.”(Gorilla Rising Hintz)

Some people simply don’t get it.

Some people don’t care
Some people are lazy.
Some people do not want to change.
Some people want change but only if it is easy.
Some want rising out of poverty to be little or no effort.
Some people want making more money to be easy; better yet, just hand it to me.
Some people don’t want to do what it takes.

There are always a segment of people who don’t buy what we are selling. We are all “marketing” a concept; we should not get pissed off when many people will not buy into it. It’s life. So when you hear stories of a project not working, remember who they have to work with.  Every agency has failures. We should be mature enough to realize it is not a reflection of the NGO or the agency. But again, some people are not that gracious.

Since 2006, I was testing gravity feed drip irrigation in several West African countries. I even use drip irrigation in my own garden in Canada, with great success. So I contacted four or five other families in Canada, asking them if they would be willing to give a free irrigation kit a try if I set it up, promising them better yield, water conservation, less fertilizer, weeds etc.

“I’ve heard that hard work never killed anyone, but I say why take the chance?” (Ronald Reagan)

I gave up after the fifth call; not one accepted. Most of them said something like,  “I have plenty of water so I don’t need irrigation”.  Saving water is not even in the ethos of most people in rural Prince Edward Island where farms abound. Why preserve what we have plenty of, right? They have never been to the Sahel, obviously.

I was very discouraged…. I said to my wife,

“If I can’t get educated people in Canada to understand and accept the benefits of irrigation, how on earth will we ever convince an illiterate people, south of the the Sahara Desert , in West Africa to give it a try?”

Irrigation works…. period. It saves time, labor, and makes you more money.

“Efficiency is intelligent laziness.” (David Dunham) “We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work” (Thomas A. Edison)

The premise of the whole program I manage for Man Of Peace Development is that this is not for ongoing charity. We are not here to give out free irrigation kits all over the country. We hope to seed the first 500 families, enough so that the people of the region can see how helpful it is, and they run with it on their own and  buy their own kits in the local market.

“Progress isn’t made by early risers. It’s made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.” (Robert A. Heinlein)

With every group we begin working with, we tell them up front, that this stuff is yours to keep, if you use it. However, if we see you’re not making use of the technology, we will take up the irrigation kit and take it to people who will.

Last year, I began working with one group of a dozen women. I don’t talk about them to anyone because they were such a draining experience. We trained, talked, did follow up, and talked some more. I did weekly follow up visits to encourage them.  In fact, I had to visit this group three times a week, because if I did not, I was afraid the vegetables were going to die. Their demand on my time was killing me, with over 50 other sites to inspect and followup.  Every time I arrived, they were simply not doing much. It takes ten minutes each morning… so what is up, ladies? Thankfully, they smartened up in the end , a little, so we kept working with them.

This year I met with same bunch  in November about setting up the garden. To make a long story short, they dragged their butts forever. Finally, about four week ago, they did some work. I inspected their site, and told them it was poorly prepared, and how to fix it before I would approve irrigation set up.

“Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all easy; and he that riseth late must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night; while laziness travels so slowly, that poverty soon overtakes him.” (Benjamin Franklin)

I returned a week later and the site was still a mess- they did very little work to get the site ready. I gave more input and encouragement. But I would never set up irrigation on a site like this. However, this group already had the kits from last year’s work with them.

So, on the third week I arrived to find all the drip irrigation kits set up, yet, the site had not been fixed in any fashion from the previous two weeks talks. The plot was a disorganized mess.  

“Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.” (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky)

The irrigation setup was abysmal. The land was not fit for laying down the drip irrigation lines, but they did it anyway.  The buckets were suspended much too low to  give proper pressure; they need to be 40% higher. The lines were placed all cockeyed, going in every direction. What’s a straight line, right?   I don’t know how they did it, but they they had lines doing  “S” shaped  loops, swoops and bends. Maybe as an art project it was creative and “outside the box” enough to merit high marks. Like much fine art, I could not appreciate it. However, as a drip irrigated gardening, it was an extreme fail. The end result was they took twice the space needed, for no reason at all.

So two weeks ago I told them to level the plot, straighten the lines, and raise the buckets. Last week I went back and the buckets were not raised…. lines were not straightened.

Today, after four weeks of this, I arrived with with my occasional helper Emmanuel, and told me a few days ago that the women went ahead and just planted on the drip irrigated garden, as it was. I arrived to see they had fixed absolutely nothing, but planted seed. 

No one was in the garden, half the buckets were still full of water because the filters were plugged (a 3-second job to clean). Why bother to fill the buckets? They would not water the garden like that anyway.

It was already 36C in the shade, it was almost noon now, and about 48C in the direct sun… So I was hot, bothered, and almost in heat stroke anyway. And I made a decision.

“It’s finished. I have had it with this group,” I said out loud.

I unplugged the filter from the first bucket, pulled out the lines up for the first irrigation kit, and made a pile. Then I grabbed the second kit and began to do the same thing.

“Andy, I think you should wait. I will ask the other women’s group to come and chat with these women,” said Emmanuel.

“No, we have talked and talked for over a month now, no, for over a year Emmanuel,  and they are not listening to a thing we say. They don’t want to do the work. Let them hand water. If they will not listen to us, they will not listen to the other women. So, I’m done,” I replied.

“I think you should wait,”said Emmanuel. 

“I’m pulling them up, Emmanuel. You can watch or help, but I’m done. No more talking to them about it.” 

So we went to work. I had a stack of tubes as round as I could get my arms around and dragged  the whole bundle of drip tubes up the hill with the fifteen meter lines dragging behind me like a snake.  I kicked over the organic compost tea barrel (that I provided) and hauled it up the hill too.

When finished, I plunked under the shade of an orange tree and called my village partner and asked him to come to the garden right away. He did not show up after fifteen minutes. So I called again.  Again, He did not show up. So we hauled it away ourselves and dropped all the stuff off at his house; He was not there either.

Over that half hour of waiting for my village partner, who never actually came, I was so dehydrated I was cramping up by the time we were finished,  so I started drinking oral re-hydration solution under the shade of that orange tree. I felt like JOB.  I was mumbling a lot, but I was not angry. Just feeling sarcastic.

“If they want to water with a watering can, and haul eight times the water… they should do that. That would be more interesting for them. They would understand that. I think they should do that,” Emmanuel chuckled, but said nothing.

A bit later I say something like,

I’m convinced, they should water using a watering can, since it interests them so much. I might even go buy them a nice big one. Instead of those puny little 10-15 liter cans, I will buy them a 30 liter watering can so they can wear themselves out good lugging it, since they seem to prefer the hard work. Emmanuel, are there 50 liter watering cans at the market?” He smiles and says nothing, because he knows I just need to vent.

“You know, I have made many decisions over the last year. Many big decisions, and many small decisions. But of all the decisions I have made over the last year, I think this one pleases me the most”.  Emmanuel was laughing and shaking his head about 30 feet away as he was tying up lines. 

“This is great. Now I don’t have to be wasting my time with them any more. My last two months in Africa will be a picnic without them. I’ll be able to put my feet up and do nothing, take a vacation even.” I’ll call my office and tell them I’m going on vacation, Emmanuel… How does that sound?”

“I’m not a very good sleeper. But you know what? I’m willing to put in a few extra hours every day to get better. That’s just the kind of hard worker I am.” (Jarod Kintz, Whenever You’re Gone, I’m Here For You) “Extolling the virtues of conservation of energy, Churchill advised, “Never stand when you can sit, and never sit when you can lie down.” (Winston Churchill)

“Emmanuel, you know what makes this decision so wonderful? I’m free now. I might just go to the Mamalon (Hotel restaurant in Sikasso) and sit there all day in the shade and eat chicken, and fish, big huge carp. Eat all I want all day long. That would be a great idea, instead of wasting my time working with women like this. What do you think Emmanuel? They will be talking about the mean nasty Canadian tonight, won’t they Emmanual?”

He just smiled and said. “They have to understand this i snot a game.”

We hauled all the stuff to my Village rep’s place, Still no sign of him. So I left for my next village work… which is going rather fine, I should add; we set up there on Friday. But I threatened them too. If the garden is not seeded with ground cover in place on my Monday site visit, I will take all your irrigation kits too. They assured me I would not have to…. after Emmanuel told them about what just happened in the other vilage.

Emmanuel wanted to take another way home, but I said we better go tell the village partner what is up. Sure enough, he was sitting beside the mountain of stuff we dropped at his house. He knew something was up.

I told him the whole story, and said we are finished with that crew. Emmanuel will be by to haul the stuff to Sikasso on Friday. If you are not OK with it here until Friday, I’ll take him to Sikasso and I will be back myself for it tonight.

“From the ages of 8-18, me and my family moved around a lot. Mostly we would just stretch, but occasionally one of us would actually get up to go to the fridge.” ― Jarod Kintz, Who Moved My Choose?: An Amazing Way to Deal With Change by Deciding to Let Indecision Into Your Life

He asked if any of the women were there when we took the stuff up. I said not a soul was around, but they will know tonight when they go to the garden to water. My village partner said he will talk to them, as they will certainly be down to see him for sure. And maybe we can get it worked out on Friday. I told him that this is not a meeting to get it worked out. This is a meeting with you to tell you that this group is finished.. Period! I had meeting after meeting with them already- now it’s over. I told them when we started I would take it back if they did not use it. And I added… “Don’t blame Emmanuel; he said not to do this… But I told him to take it up.”

So there you have it…. The kind of story no one wants you to hear for PR reasons. But it was no fault of mine, or the project. We had one batch of under motivated women. Does it really surprise you that we encounter people like this? Really?

Well, here is the good news. Man Of Peace Development did not lose 10 cents on this deal. The irrigation kits have been recuperated, and will soon be in any one of the almost thirty villages that are begging us to come.  They will be feeding families who want to work, who want the help.

I can’t even begin to understand what was up with these dozen ladies….

“Both positive and negative thinking are contagious.” (Stephen Richards, Overcoming Procrastination)

Of all the decisions I’ve made this year, this one pleases me the most.

“The worst mistake a writer can make is to assume everyone has an imagination.” (Andrew McEwan)

If there was one thing I could say to these ladies, it might be the following…. good luck getting this accurately translated into French (me), then to Bambara (my friend repeating it)  and then into Samogo Duungooma (The ladies’ mother tongue where they would finally understand it).

“You got the most in you, and you use the least. You hear me, you? Got a million in you and spend pennies. Got a genius in you and think crazies. (Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination)

The Invisible Humanitarian is probably going to become the big mean Canadian around these parts. I know the word will be spreading around the bush like wild fire about what I’ve done. This will go for miles and miles. I will know the fallout by Monday.
But I’m not losing any sleep over it.

It is true: I earn my living
But, believe me, it is only an accident.
Nothing that I do entitles me to eat my fill.
By chance I was spared. (If my luck leaves me
I am lost.)

They tell me: eat and drink. Be glad you have it!
But how can I eat and drink
When my food is snatched from the hungry
And my glass of water belongs to the thirsty?
And yet I eat and drink. (Bertolt Brecht- translated by H. R. Hays)

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