Monday, April 12, 2010

Squeezing the lemon

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You know those early days of summer, when the weather is so beautiful you can’t help but want to be outside all the time? When I was in Canada, I’d make sure to take advantage of those days. My favorite thing to do was ride my bike in Edmonton’s river valley – it’s still by far my favoritest place to go for a run, ride, or walk. Down Keillor Road, up to the university, down to Hawrelak, over to the Valley Zoo, then back past Fort Edmonton. I loved those days more than anything, I lived for them.

Almost every day in Zambia is a beautiful day. Big blue skies, warm sunshine. I’m lucky to wake up to this kind of weather every morning, and until yesterday, I didn’t fully realize it. For whatever reason, yesterday felt like one of those days back in Canada. Maybe it was the way the sun lit up the sky, maybe it was the cool breeze marking the beginning of “winter”, maybe it was the perfect puffy clouds. Whatever it was, it felt like a great day to be outside, so that’s where I spent it.

Life in Zambia has become just that – life. I no longer see it as something extraordinary or even noteworthy. The people I live and work with are not all that different from the people I lived and worked with back in Canada. People are people are people, no matter where you are. Though the actual differences are immense, and in many cases unacceptable, I find myself enjoying living in the majority world. The injustices still infuriate me, but at the same time, the struggles that are front and center serve as an important reminder; they compel me to act. “I feel alive in Africa.” That’s what a friend once said to me. I tend to agree with her.

At the end of February, I ended my time with Engineers Without Borders to take advantage of an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. I now work for a start-up company called Mobile Transactions here in Zambia. We primarily do money transfers on cell phones, but the technology holds much more potential. I’ve been brought in to try something pretty cool – I’m piloting a system that pays small-scale cotton farmers on their cell phones instead of with piles and piles of cash. There are lots of interesting (and challenging!) things about this project, but I won’t go into those nerdy details here.

My contract with the project runs until the end of August, though it’s part of a much longer term process for the cotton company that is our client. There will never be a shortage of work to do here, but as I come upon my three year mark, a larger question looms my head: “How long do I stay in Zambia? In Africa?”

I’m not sure I have an answer to this question. There’s a big world out there. I have a home that I could always return to. If I choose to stay, I want to make sure I’m doing it for all the right reasons. It’s easy to fall into the expat trap, and I don’t want to do that. It’s also easy to get lost in the (I’m afraid to say) dismal development sector, and I don’t want to do that either. What I want is to do the right thing, and I’m not sure where that will take me.

But yesterday, I was reminded that living in Africa is a lot like taking a ride out in the river valley on a precious summer day in Edmonton. I won’t always have the opportunity to do what I’m doing now, so I want to take advantage of it while I have the chance. I kinda want to squeeze that lemon.

Though I spend a great deal of my time working, I’ve been doing a lot more playing lately too. Life’s simply too short to let the problems of the world weigh you down, right? I’ve moved into a beautiful home with the most amazing garden ever (and a great roommate to boot!). I take time to enjoy the simple things, like cooking a meal for my friends or going for a run just as the sun rises or sitting on the patio and reading a book or going to a movie with my boyfriend. Yes, it’s all boring, regular life stuff, but if my two+ year foray into workaholism taught me nothing else, it’s that you can either let it all consume you (and it will) or you can eek out a little space for yourself and enjoy the ride. I prefer the latter, and I’m not afraid to stay it! (Step 9 of WA – Workaholics Anonymous).

It’s taken me a long time to find the words to explain how I’m feeling about things, and this seems to be the only way to describe it: After a long and brutally cold winter, the first days of summer are upon me, and I think I’m up for a going on a sweet ride. :)



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