So What Exactly Does An NGO Worker DO?

Basically, I help sell second hand bikes at a loss in a futile attempt to put a bandaid on a 300 year old puncture wound. Along the way I get to travel and explore a whole world I never even dreamed existed and meet wonderful people.  And I love it.

What does this entail? Well, these days it means I’m riding motorbikes through the rain to get to the next town and my next assignment cuz sometimes the tro is full of bags of yams and you just can’t fit both passengers and yams. Mostly it means that I’m working out what it means to work in the development field and what I want to do with that, if anything. I spend a lot of time trying to mentally answer all those questions they asked me in my economics and development classes that I got to shrug off as I said “HISTORY MAJOR IN THE HOUSE–let’s look at the historical context here…” rather than step into the messiness of life on the ground.

Disclaimer: I love that I studied history, no regrets there, no matter how much certain anthropologists accuse me of taking the easy road *lookin at you Tobar.* I firmly believe that in order to understand the world around us we need to understand how people have interacted historically and how they understand themselves in relation to the past. That being said, it never ceases to amaze me just how much work goes into actually fixing problems when there is no infrastructure for support. There is no magic wand. There aren’t even answers most of the time to basic problems.

Working here is super humbling. We were at a workshop in Suhum with 38 school kids last week and I got to watch my co-worker Morro dress down and repair 38 of the most dilapidated junker bush bikes I’d ever seen. For those of you back home who think you’ve seen a bad bottom bracket, I can only say that you’ve probably never had one fall into your hands in more than 20 pieces, only one of which was a ball bearing. That’s right. They were down to one bearing.  The rest disappeared into the oblivion of the bush somewhere along the way. My reaction to this was shock and horror. Luckily Morro was there to laugh at my dismay and show me where we kept the replacements. He swapped it all out in about 3 minutes. I’ve never met a better mechanic.

Despite all my grandiose and economic thinking, my biggest lesson here has been that no matter my own opinions, ideas, or concerns with global and structural inequalities, my job comes down to helping teach a very basic skill set to people who may or may not value it. At the the end of the day we teach puncture repair and chain maintenance and hope that it sinks in. Expecting more is ludicrous. I’ve learned to watch the people around me and practice a little humility. I may know how to fix a bike back home, but there’s a whole different skill set that goes into Bush Bicycle maintenance, triage, and repair. Reconciling the two is more a process of unlearning and relearning than anything else.

I often ask my friends here how they reconcile their Ghana work and their Ghana lives with their lives outside Ghana. Like most good Phd Students and NGO workers they talk around it. Freya woke up the other morning saying she had had the most incredible dream and was “in love with the wrong world” for the day.  And some days that’s kind of how it feels–life outside Ghana becomes a dream world where things happen “on time” (whatever that means) seasons change, snow falls, mountains exceed 885 meters in height, and no liquids ever come served in a plastic bag. The danger of that is that we don’t live there now. As tempting as it may be sometimes to watch an entire season of 30Rock and reminisce about fog, doing that makes it harder and harder to focus on life here.

Luckily, I’ve run out of 30Rock Seasons, though we left off right when Liz has met Mat Damon. Funnily enough, Ghana feels like home these days. I’ll leave you guys without a requisite photo dump, look for pics in the next post. Unlike some bloggers, I still haven’t figured out the trick to writing stories with photos imbedded in a logical manner.

All My Love,






One comment

  1. I actually, and I never do this when reading online, laughed out loud when i saw my name. Happy to see you still remember all our deep dialectics over double rainbow creame of ice and the essential, albeit inadvertent, grease stains. So proud of you, I want to visit.



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