I bolt upright.
Shit, what time is it? 7:36. Damn!
I slept through the sun rising, the roosters with megaphones outside my window, kids playing in the yard, and every natural alarm that normally gets me up around 6:30 hours.
The CLAs want to meet at 8:30 to organize themselves before the meeting officially starts at 9 hours. Only, it takes at least an hour to get there. I organize my notes, half-ass a bucket shower, and half walk half jog over to Austen’s compound thinking about how hypocritical I’ll look if I am late.
“Austen, sorry I am running late, I missed my alarm.”
“Ahhh, sorry sorry. You were too tired after the field yesterday.”
I laugh at how feeble I must seem and Austen laughs because I am laughing.
“We should leave soon eh? So we are not late?”
“EEhhya. Not before breakfast.”
“Do we have time? Should we just grab some bananas and buns on the way?”
“Ahh, no. I’ve made porridge. It is a big day Spainca. We eat like soldiers.”
Eat like soldiers. This has a duel meaning. Eat as fast as a soldier in battle needing to finish his bowl of porridge in order to pick up his rifle and guard his post; and withstand the pain as a soldier would in order to swallow the scalding hot porridge. When I finish my stomach feels like a brazier.
On the way to the cooperative, just outside the town center, a group of kids on the side of the road are in a circle beating the ground with sticks. As we get closer they stop and back up. The dust settles and the oldest takes his stick and starts poking the ground as if he is trying to pick something up.
What on earth? Oh my…
On the end of his stick is a large, limp, dead, at least I hope it is dead, snake. One squared kilometer isn't very big after all. Kids in Canada are so sheltered.
They ask me to take a picture of them with their trophy. I take the snap, thank them for saving my life, and we continue on to the cooperative.
We have started late. Emerson did not show up until 9:15 and the coop vet didn’t arrive until 9:30 hours. Enoke and Lemick haven’t shown up at all. The grand meeting I envisioned with 50 plus farmers started at 9:56, one hour late, half the CLAs missing, and with only 3 farmers in attendance; all of which are there only because they just so happened to be passing by and were called over by the cooperative chair.
The coop secretary was supposed to give letters to the school so the kids could bring them home to their parents informing them about the meeting at the coop. He didn’t. That, on top of it being harvest season, made for a measly turnout.
My vision and expectations for the meeting started to slip.
A week ago I pictured the CLAs getting up in front of a crowd of eager farmers and presenting on the veterinary services they could provide, the drugs they could order from AZCC, and how they hope to better serve the livestock community in Chinjala. I envisioned collaboration between the farmers, CLAs , coop vet officer and management to determine how they will all work together to meet the needs of everyone involved. Connecting the CLAs and the coop was going to be a small successful side project outside the main focus of my summer.
In reality this isn’t being made real. The coop vet, chair, and manager are instead presenting on what drugs they need, whether these were available through AZCC, and are proposing the agents get them for the coop at a wholesale price. There was also talk of the CLAs working under the coop vet, even though their responsibility is to report to the government vet officer for the Chinjala area. The whole thing could be summed up in one word: Frustrating.
I just sat in silence, torn between the decision to get further involved or just let the meeting take a natural course. I’m leaving Chinjala in a few hours and am not going to be there to nurture any ideas I contribute.
At 10:45 the meeting is interrupted by the arrival of three SUVs. A half dozen Zambian Bwanas walk over and take the seats the farmers have given up for them. Along with their 1980’s gold rimmed sun glasses and tiny pocket notebooks, they brought an aura which changed the entire mood of the meeting.
The conversations switches from English to Chinyanja, and the only way I know they are still on topic is by a few words like transport-ees, CLA and drug names. The CLAs hardly speak, and when they do it sounds almost defensive. If ever there was a time I wish I knew the local language, this is it. Then, I am introduced.
“This is Spainca.”
I shift in my chair.
“He is a consultant from Canada who has come to help the cooperative get drugs at a wholesale price.”
“He is going to Lusaka to talk with AZCC about his topic.”
The Bwanas scribble in their note books, each pen stroke making my checks turn more and more red. This is NOT how I remember EVER explaining my job. I sit there in disbelief, is this actually happening? Do they actually expect this from me?
I try to clear up the confusion by explaining my role with PROFIT and why I am in Chinjala – to learn about agent challenges and not to get wholesale drugs for the coop. Nothing is written down, and they continue to talk in Chinyanja.
I am being picked up at noon by my counterpart at PROFIT, and I still need to pack. I leave the meeting before it is finished and start the hour long walk back to my hut.
I reflect on the last two weeks. How on the surface my goal of connecting the coop and the CLAs seemed simple. In theory things should have worked. But, theory doesn’t encompass personal relationships and biases, power dynamics and hierarchies, ulterior motives, and most importantly – miscommunication.
The road ahead is dusty. It gives me a blurry outline of what lies ahead, but the bumps and turns are masked. What I have learned in Chinjala, and the moments of clarity I had in the village, will hopefully give me an even footing to make it over these bumps.
It is interesting isn’t it? How easy it is to get your heart set on achieving a goal. How easy it is to visualize what it will be like to achieve it; the ideal circumstance. How easy it is to imagine how you will feel when you reach it. But at the height, at the climax of it all, there is something missing. It’s not what you expected, someone was there first, or you didn’t get the clarity you thought would come and you are not able to see as far as you hoped. Funny how it is the climb that often gives the clearest picture. It is the climb where things are challenging but worth it, and it is the climb that fulfilling.
I’m just glad I kept my eyes open this time.