Friday, August 7, 2009

Finishing work

Yesterday was my official last day at my internship. I turned in my final documents, said goodbye to my co-workers and closed that chapter of my experience. This has been a very insightful summer for me, I have learned about where I can foresee my future leading me, and what I need at an organization to feel fulfilled. I had a very interesting experience with ACIJ (the legal organization) when I was asked by the villas (slums) team to work with them on personal narrative, core values and how to work in a collective model. This request stemmed from a presentation I did for the whole organization about 2 weeks ago.

I spoke with the project coordinator briefly about their goals and we planned to meet the following day at her house with the team and on of the directors of ACIJ. Since starting school again, I hadn’t really done much work in communities (a few surveys in the villas in Argentina, a little work with Kellogg). Because this academic year was so quantitatively focused (from my non-quant perspective), I had many doubts about my skill set and where I can work in the world. I was not called upon often to work in communities and help organizations with visioning, strategic planning and using collective leadership. I had not been using these skills and was nervous to call upon them again.

Luciana had invited us to her house to meet and when we had all arrived, we agreed on a time commitment and went over our goals for our time together. In addition to those mentioned above, the team wanted to hear about community organizing because they are doing a lot more organizing in the communities. I had asked them ahead of time to prepare a 2-minute personal narrative, thinking about why they were called to do this work, when they could be working as lawyers in a private firm. They each told there story (going way over 2 minutes, as any Argentine would) and we worked on identifying which aspects of the narrative stuck with people or caused us to feel a connection with them. It was interesting with the Director because it was very easy for him to talk about the organization and choosing to found it because he had been given so many opportunities, but he resisted actually finding a personal grounding to his work. I pushed him to identify a person, or an experience that gave him this drive and eventually, a story came out that clearly demonstrated where his interest in social justice derived. The themes of all the personal narratives were movement, freedom and a search that occurred in all their different backgrounds. These themes caused us to begin a conversation about the interconnection between freedom and responsibility and fate vs. destiny. To sit and have these conversations, while drinking mate, was very meaningful for me because I felt like my ability to facilitate this space crossed cultural and geographic boundaries. As someone who is planning on working and living outside my own community (however I might define that), it was an important realization to have.

Next, we worked on identifying group values and interestingly enough, everyone on the team (except the director) chose happiness as a value they wanted to embody and promote in their work. To have 4 people choose the same value from a list of over 20 demonstrated how in line they all are with the goals of the group. On the other hand, we spoke with the director about the pressure this puts on the organization to provide said “happiness” to its employees. It was very interesting and inspiring to see how much they all care about their work and that their happiness is interconnected to the work they do. Additionally, it was inspirational to see how much they want to increase the happiness of others---now to figure out how to do that!

Leaving Luciana’s house that night, I was really grateful to the team for letting me be part of the process and also to feel like I had something to offer to the group. It has been a long time (or feels that way) since I felt like I had some concrete ways in which to help. I was also very grateful for having taken Marshall Ganz’ Organizing class in the spring, because it gave me the language to speak about the work. I used many of his terms and was able to articulate some “best practices” and how to connect your personal story to the work you choose to do. That day was a highlight of my time in Argentina and gave me the opportunity to connect my past work experience, my academic work at Kennedy and my present reality.

And then I went north!

I am returning from spending the last 6 days traveling up to the north of Argentina (the Salta and Jujuy provinces), where we rented a car and drove through many dramatic landscapes. Because this area of the country is closer to Bolivia, you notice a clear influence and it felt much more “Latin American” than Buenos Aires. There is an energy in the street, people eat at the outdoor vendors, and stores and restaurants are always closed for the siesta hours. The landscape is mainly dry, filled with cacti and very dusty, but the colors of the mountains are stunning—there is a Hill of Seven Colors and it truly lives up to its name. The houses are built out of adobe and it appears that the people continue to sustain themselves using artisan crafts and through tourism. In the southern part of the north (confusing, I know), the main industry is wine and there are vineyeards, both large and small throughout the region. They specialize in a type of wine called “patero” which is made once a year when they bring in many people to stomp the grapes.

We drove on dirt roads most of the time and went through a part known as the “camino de los artesanos” (road of the artisans). The people here weave using enormous looms and they specialize in bright red ponchos with black trim. A claim to fame is that the last Pope wore one of the ponchos at an event. You stop along the road and people invite you into their workshops, where you can see their wares and watch them do the actual weaving. The first people we saw were a sweet old, couple who were very happy to chat and share about their work. On one hand, it felt contrived to me for us to be enter their space when we all know the real point is to sell a shawl or blanket, but on the other hand, it is probably very nice for them to have people come through and they get to actually keep the profits of their labor without using middlemen. Those situations are always hard for me to read.

We drove the salt flats and took many pictures, playing with the lack of depth perception. As a salt lover, I enjoyed tasting the salt and being surrounded by it. The roads in the north took us up mountains, twisting and turning, oftentimes around blind corners and close to the rocks. One road in particular was amusing because it was a one lane highway (I mean one lane in total!) and it took us around mountains and because it was dark, we couldn’t see anything, but we could sense that we were surrounded by a jungle. Every once in awhile, we would have to stop because the lane was blocked by loose cows and horses. It is unclear whether these animals had owners and were wild or if they were simply let loose to graze. It was incredible to come across these beautiful horses in pitch-black night and just wait to let them cross. On this road, there would occasionally appear a line painted in the middle, indicating that it was two lanes, however the road did not widen in any way. We deduced that there must have been some policy around certain kilometers being two lanes, so they simply added the line, took some clever pictures and voila! Two lane highways! However, since the space itself did not increase, it was simply amusing and not very useful.

Coming back to the city, I now have one week before I leave Buenos Aires. I find myself sad to leave the city. It has been an incredible experience filled with huge life lessons.

Thursday, August 6, 2009