Thursday, March 19, 2009

Small Victories?

After my run-in with the lamido, I really had to take some time to process it all and cool down. I was feeling a big weight off my shoulders by the time I was actually ready to bike over to the internet café and post my last blog. But first I had to pass by the mayor’s office.

I’d agreed to help a representative of this nearby village I’ve written about before. He wanted me to go with him to ask the mayor if the teachers’ overdue salaries were forthcoming, and if the village would receive any assistance from the commune, (city level government) in expanding their pitiful one-room school. I’ve seen the school and know the situation, so I agreed to go with him before the mayor.

As we sat to speak to the mayor, my collaborator started to get nervous and began stuttering. So I picked up the dialogue to try to explain the situation to the mayor. Without even looking up from what he was writing, the mayor muttered that the school wasn't even accredited by the state, it was the parents who were running it. I felt he was trying to blow us off without even looking at the problem, so I asked, “But isn’t it under your jurisdiction to ensure the education of the children in this commune?” At this the mayor looked up.

“Are you telling me what my job is?”

“No, I’m asking. Who is responsible for the education of the children in this commune?”

At this point he’s standing up behind his desk, yelling at full volume, “Are you telling me what my job is?!!”

Before I have a chance to say anything more, the mayor has stormed out of his office. I’m left standing in the middle of the room blinking dumbly, my village collaborator at my side looking at me in disbelief. It all happened in less than two minutes.

I go outside to try to smooth things over with the mayor’s adjoint, and express my dismay that I’ve so infuriated the mayor. Before I left the commune to go to the internet café, I took a minute to myself, standing hidden behind the commune where I’d left my bike, leaning against the wall. Riding a bike bleary-eyed is not a recipe for safe vehicular operation.

I had to leave for Maroua that afternoon for meetings, and the event weighed on me for the rest of the weekend. Had I come across sounding more aggressive than I meant? Why hadn’t I just let my friend do the talking? If the mayor really did think that I, some young white girl who just got here, was trying to tell him how to do his job, no wonder he didn’t appreciate it. Still, the thoughts that ran through my head as I’d stood behind the commune earlier, “This just wouldn’t happen in America. This shit would just never fly.” With this plus the lamido, it was some of the most hopeless I’ve felt since I arrived. Just when I’d thought I was learning a few soft skills, and how to work with difficult people, this crashes my confidence. As the foreigner, I’m second-guessing myself way more than I ever would have in the States.

My plan was to get back to Makala, return to the mayor’s office with my pride swallowed, and apologize for having angered him. There’s no way I could skulk around this town for another year and a half with my tail between my legs. The mayor is just too powerful not to have him on my side.

But the week was busy, and it wasn’t til yesterday that I finally had time to visit the mayor. I was dreading it and had even picked up a few sachets for afterwards, had I needed them. Instead of waiting the typical hour +, the mayor saw me immediately. In my most composed voice, I fed him my practiced line. I’d barely finished when he said “And I want to apologize to you. That wasn’t normal how I reacted, and I was embarrassed afterwards.” Apparently, he’d just received some bad new from home, and had too many people vying for his attention when he just blew.

He then went on to clearly delineate the steps I needed to take in working with the village before the commune would make its contribution to the construction of the school. The mayor’s offering is small, and I recognize that it’s these little pittances that appease people and keep them quiet… for a while. The real battle is not whether the mayor walks out on me or not, but whether the schools that need to be built are built. It had been a frustrating couple of weeks, but my energy is renewed and I have a direction forward, and that's all I need for now.

Guess what: I'm taking a vacation! Not because the officials are driving me to drinking, but because my friend Shawn decided that of all the places he wants to use his frequent flyer miles, it's Cameroon--lucky me!! I'm going next door to CHAD tomorrow to pick him up. He's got way more info on what we've got planned for the coming weeks, at his blog here: I can't wait!

So to all those other future visitors, you know where to sign up. :) And if you don't hear from me for a while, I probably hit a goat on my bike or something on the Nigerian border... It's all fun and games until you get the goats involved...! My love to you all!

No comments: