“Stop Watching Novelas and Do Something”

I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. 

– Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years


None other than my younger brother Jordan gave to me the above little piece of advice: “Stop watching novelas and do something.” He told me this out of his possible alarm at finding out that while I was talking to him I was currently eating popcorn and watching English dubbed Spanish soap operas…in Ghana. In my defense it was mainly those few days I was not home…and the days we come home for lunch or early…or Sunday…Apparently in Ghana, Spanish soap operas are a huge hit, and they are, quite frankly, a bit addictive. As I talked to Jordan and told him what I had been up to though, he seemed to think it was lazy. What’s interesting about what he said, though, is that it reflects sometimes how I feel when thrown into the workplace of a developing country, and especially a nonprofit in a developing country.

In the classroom of life, one of the most important lessons is Resizing Lofty Dreams 101. I like to start big—like REAL BIG when I have an idea. There’s nothing beyond my reach in my mind, though in reality there are many things that are beyond my reach (for the moment) for various reasons. So then I resize. I won’t say downgrade, because I do not change the essence of what it is that I want to do, but rather, I take a new look at it and fit it into a capacity that is more suitable for the environment and resources at hand. But that’s not the real resizing that you have to do when dealing with nonprofits in the developing world. That resizing has to do with your project or idea in general. There are so many hoops to jump through, to put it one way.

There’s no beating around the bush that getting things done in Ghana—and I will generalize out into the majority of developing African countries—takes patience, and lots of it. Things take a long time to get done. In fact, they take a long time to even be addressed. There are a variety of reasons for this. I could talk about how oftentimes you have to “know someone” to get anything done. I could talk about how party politics are at an all time stalemate in these countries in which the constant changing of all jobs government related every time someone new takes over leads to games of chicken that only have one loser: the citizens. (I know this sounds similar to America, but it’s worse here. At least our politicians would sign a deal to get roads fixed, whereas, that’s not so true here.) Or I can even talk about a culture here that is laid back to the point that sometimes at work everyone lounges about doing their personal stuff during work hours. That’s just not how I operate. But again—patience. I won’t get much done by yelling at anyone to make the most of our work hours.

There’s another important quality other than patience that one must find within themselves, and that is endurance. I remember during the service on Sunday the pastor talked about how the bigger your dream is, the more you are sometimes tested to find out your dedication and worth to complete the dream. Delay does not mean denial. Just because I have not gotten a rapid start to building my project the way I would have liked (but ultimately always knew would not happen because of the system) does not mean that it will not happen. It will happen. The one great thing about George, and something I learned from him last time, is that he would always tell me that if there is something I want to do, I need to do two things. One, I need to make it a feasible goal for the time I have. And two, I need to just do it. Sounds a lot like my advice to stop watching novelas and do something. Because doing something is always better than nothing.

I had an acquaintance, however, who told me that he thought what I was doing in Ghana just wasn’t enough. And there’s always a debate about what is not enough versus what is too much in development work. But what I could not shake from that conversation is the fact that he told me that he believed that the impact was too low. The impact was too low. I’m not sure what to make of that type of viewpoint, besides disagreeing with it. What type of impact is too low? Perhaps you can have an impact that is not the right type of impact, but the word “impact” still indicates that someone or some thing has been changed by what you have done or will do. At the risk of sounding too optimistic and too idealistic (both things that I’m always at risk of sounding or feeling), I must say that change has to begin somewhere. I’m thinking of calling my program APEG (The AMPCAN Program for Empowering Girls) and having the sort of tagline of the program be, “Place a peg in the right place, and watch as minds grow and change.” Nothing is too small, especially when placed in the right area, to grow and cover a wide area.

So I will smile and recall my tranquil lessons from Psalms and my simple living book for patience, and I will diligently work on writing the lesson plan manual to my program for endurance. And because of the two, I know that this will happen. I will make it happen. Then again, TIA—this is Africa. I won’t be in the midst of an easy story, and I’m going to have to keep paddling, too far from the shore and not yet at my destination. Even when I can’t see the destination, though, I can always envision it. Because even though TIA, I know as well, that TID—this is Delia.

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