Sunday, July 20, 2014

Four Countries in Four Months

I have been trying to think of one word that encapsulates my last four months. The word jet set doesn’t quite suit at all as I am far from being in the wealthy category. A number of words come to mind for me: overwhelming, exciting, eye-opening, difficult, easy, joyful, etc. Three of the countries I visited were apart of my work for Grounds for Health. I witnessed a community health promoter training, a clinical training, a refresher clinical training, and two cervical cancer screening campaigns in which 500+ women were screened. In addition to this, I was apart of our trip team for initiating our new program in Ethiopia. All the while I learned so much about coffee at its origin, the industry, fair-trade and the impact of cervical cancer in low resource settings. Overwhelming may be an understatement. I still feel very green in all these areas but I have and do enjoy being a sponge.
I often feel as though the time and space continuum is a barrier that I can’t overcome. I did not update my blog at all while I was having these experiences for a few reasons. Obviously time and connectivity plays a factor but I felt it was best to wait until I was able to process the experiences and all the emotions that went along with them rather than constantly having to find the emotions I was feeling or thoughts I was thinking at the time. 
In coffee country of Peru

Drying coffee in the streets in Peru

Somewhere between Jaen and Chiclayo at 2,137m (7,011ft) in Northern Peru.
In Peru, I reached La Coipa, a town tucked in the coffee producing areas of northern Peru.  Interesting facts: coffee is not customarily consumed here and coffee is dried on the streets.  This was my first time back in Peru since I lived there in 2006 and my first time to the Cajamarca region. In Nicaragua, I learned that local non-export quality coffee is served practically 24 hours a day, at least it felt that way.  
Community Health Promoters at the closing ceremony.
 This was my return to Nicaragua for the first time since 2005. It was interesting to return to the country that I first visited outside of the US and Canada and one that had a special place in my heart. I found that Nicaragua was very different than what I remembered with society feeling more closed under Ortega’s presidency. The coffee producing areas were new to me and I made it through every inch of la ruta del cafe. I really love that the fair-trade coffee cooperatives care so much about their farmers and meeting an inspirational woman that runs one. I saw the strength that the empowered community health promoters to educating their communities on cervical cancer. 
Coffee and cupcake celebration

The road more traveled in SNNPR

Water with healing properties!
In Ethiopia I saw and felt so much. Being in Africa again and in a new place unlike any other I had ever lived in. A proud culture and the birthplace of coffee. My first coffee ceremony. Meeting a fair-trade coffee buyer and listening to the importance of fair-trade for farmers. I also saw the aid culture present and alive in Ethiopia and how that presence fails to reach rural areas. I tried tej, dorowat, and learned to love ambo (sparkling water) as the only relief from feeling ill. In Kenya, I took a breather from the last three months, spent valuable time with my partner, and then started to take the pieces apart from the life my partner and I had started in East Africa. I found Kenya still brimming with complexities and fear over the issues with Somalia and a vigilant society to what are considered “others.”  
As I made my way back to Vermont I began to reflect and think about the importance and opportunity I have with my work to be apart of making change that's bigger than me. I also thought about the next chapter of my life, as I prepare to make a life-long commitment to a loving/caring partner and how to learn from my past mistakes and success. The next four  months is going to be similar than the last but I know I will come out better for it afterwards I just hope I can hang along for the ride and keep up!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Managing Change: 2014 and Beyond

Happy New Year! A week into 2014 and add polar vortex into the mix, this year is certainly off to an interesting start. Meanwhile I have been in the picturesque Nairobi climate the last few weeks. As I ended my 2013 I was surrounded by a peace I can’t really explain. After months of being burned out I felt the most relaxed in literally a few years somehow the dark circles under my eyes are even disappearing.  I came to a few realizations as always but the most important was that life didn’t have to be the way I was living it. Sure 2013 brought many good things to me but it also made me realize that I need to take better care of myself. In doing so I had to make some difficult decisions about my career and personal life. I tend to internalize my stress and it presents itself by insomnia, poor eating habits, and negative mindset. I was an unhealthy person last year and while I am not a resolutions person per say (more goal-oriented), I am facing transition in 2014.

Change is hard. A friend posted a study saying that it takes 66 days to effectively form a new habit. Personally, I like the fact that the New Year is a clean slate and an opportunity. As I work in development I follow a number of related blogs. One of my favorite posts on Development Crossroads is a 3 part series entitled, “3 Keys to Navigating Change and Landing on Your Feet.” The post is not dated but I find myself going back to it time and time again. For me the 3 keys are like stages but they may not manifest the same for everyone. The following is the condensed version.

Stage 1: Letting Go
This is positively the hardest stage because it entails releasing the past in order to begin anew. Most believe that one should have no regrets. I often regret the ending of situations but this stage focuses on closure. Yesterday is gone and today is a new day. I have been listening to the audiobook for the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and the practice of being in the present is very effective if maintained. Endings often are associated with a loss of some sort. The advice in the article is to try and ‘end’ well when starting the transition period.

Stage 2: Letting Be, aka the Neutral Zone
I call this the buffer zone and it is currently where I feel I am. This stage marks the time in between endings and new beginnings. At times I feel this is the most relaxing stage as there is ample time for self-rejuvenation. If the next phase has not presented itself some get very stressed. As I get older this stage is akin to hitting the reset button. So far I have rested, been reading, eaten well (maybe too well) and tried to be as relaxed as possible without worrying about tomorrow. Acknowledging that I can’t go back in time affected me when I entered this stage. I said to myself, you did what you could and now its time to just be here now.  As typical with me I wanted to skip this stage and just move ahead but this is the core stage of transition- personal growth and ridding the old shell much like a snake sheds its skin. The article provides ten tips to make it through this stage.

  • Shift your attitude by recognizing that this is a time of reorienting and redefining yourself.
  • Readjust expectations and accept that this will be a less productive time.
  • Limit additional changes in your life/work/environment. (HARD ONE!)
  • Expect uncomfortable emotions: fear, confusion, even despair.
  • Take time to be alone on a regular basis for reflection.
  • Get creative: question, experiment, brainstorm, and try things out.
  • Set short-term achievable goals to establish a sense of accomplishment and forward movement.
  • Tracking Progress (journaling, going on retreat, and checking in with a friend/coach regularly)
  • Resist the urge to skip this stage.
  • Survive it: you will live through this and come out on the other side.

Stage 3: Begin Anew
The blog author quoted William Bridges saying, “beginnings take place when people are ready to make the emotional commitment to do things the new way and see themselves as new people.” I couldn’t agree more with this. This process doesn’t have a timetable. As typical in this stage and a symptom I am already feeling, nervousness takes hold. Beginning anew is scary requiring a new commitment while the reminders of the ending are there still. The ‘ending’ or past is very final by this stage and the issue of taking a risk with the new journey/identity is even more daunting.

2014 means for me landing on my feet even though my knees may be shaky still. I make 3 goals a month and 3 major ones in a year. This month I aim to stand tall and learn as much as I can about my new endeavor.