It is early afternoon and I am sitting on the log outside my hut, leaning against its cool brick wall. It has become a favorite spot of sorts. It is close enough to the kitchen to hear the crackle of the fire and bubbling of food, but not so close as to get face-fulls of smoke. It is usually the sideline to kids playing with a broken cart, a rusty machete, or some other sharp garden tool that would cause any Canadian mother to go into cardiac arrest. As I am writing this the two year old is holding a dull axe. It’s weight makes him sway side to side to keep balance. He just stares at me blankly, wondering why I am looking slightly alarmed at the situation. It is this spot where I have witnessed and realized so much about living in Zambia.
This morning Austen and I went to meet Emerson. Austen explained that he told Emerson to arrange a meeting between the four CLAs for this morning, but when we arrived at his home, he was not there. His madam told us he was away on police business again. We said it is alright and that we will wait for Lemick and Enoke.
While waiting Emerson’s father walked over to great us.
We explained the reason for our visit, how we were waiting for Emerson to discuss the meeting with the cooperative. The cooperative – this topic didn’t sit well with Emerson’s father. He told me that he was one of the founders of the cooperative, and that he knows how things are run, he knows what the management is like. He’s skeptical that there can be a working relationship, and is worried that the cooperative will try and cheat the CLAs out of money. He is no longer involved with the cooperative; there is some kind of weird tension that I couldn’t figure out from the conversation; but I feel like the reason he is no longer involved in the cooperative isn’t a positive one. I still had the mindset that if a contract can be worked out, and an agreement can be made, working with the coop could be very beneficial.
The other CLAs didn’t show up, and after the conversation with Emerson’s father we left. Austen became upset.
On the way home, while stopped to talk to some village neighbors, Austen uncovered that Emerson was in the Village center.
“Have you seen? Should we go talk to him?”
“What would you do if I wasn’t here Austen?”
“I think I would go.”
We turned and headed for the village center.
When we arrived, Emerson was sitting under a gazebo with some friends. He got up quickly and walked over when he noticed us. He explained how he had just gotten back from town where he was helping to track down a thief. His phone had died, and he had not had a chance to re-charge it for the last two days, therefore could not warn Austen that he would not be able to make the meeting.
As I’m writing this it hits me. I’ve been sympathizing with Austen. I live with his family, and I’m constantly shown the situation from his perspective. I haven’t made any big decisions, or taken any drastic actions based on this bias, but, it has affected my mindset.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get frustrated every time Austen and I went to a meeting and people did not show up, or someone tells you, “Tionona milo, see you tomorrow” and you don’t. But, looking back there have been times where Austen has done the same to others. Tionona milo’s are thrown around quite loosely. I have to catch myself, and take a step back. It is easy for me to see things through Austen’s lens. Would I be just as frustrated with Austen if I lived with Emerson? I can’t rule it out.
After Emerson explained to Austen his reason for missing the meeting I asked him if he was ready for the meeting with the cooperative. He explained to me his concern. How he feels they only want to use them to get drugs for the cooperative, and how the cooperative is financially unstable. He told me how farmers are leaving the cooperative to sell their milk privately because the coop is not paying their farmers, and he is worried that they will do the same to them. His words echo the conversation we just had with his father.
What do you do when you think personal motives, biases, and relationships are causing a group to miss out on a great opportunity to grow their business? Do you push for it to happen? Try to force them to resolve their differences? Explain over and over how ‘large the potential market is’, reassuring them that both sides will benefit if they can come to an agreement? You are just an outsider plopped into a rural village for two weeks. Sure, you might have a surface understanding of the relationships, complexities, and biases that exist in the community – but do you honestly think forcing this link against those factors is best? At the end of the day the sky will still spin in the same direction, and forces that naturally repel will.
Happy belated Victoria Day.