Comfort in the Trenches

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Every job description, in its list of tasks and responsibilities, normally ends with a very subtle phrase like “other related duties” or “other various tasks”. In some cases, these “duties” can consist of unpleasant tasks like getting the coffee for the office or photocopying until your brain is fully X-rayed. In my case, these duties have covered the spectrum, from fabricating 4 Danish flags in less than 24 hours, to making small brush fires as part of a massive cleaning job. Of course, One Sky prepared me for any such situations…

My most enriching experiences during this internship have been when I have had to think creatively to find a solution. Let me explain. A few weeks ago, Mali-Folkecenter Nyetaa greeted a delegation of 5 Danish Parliamentarians in the Foreign Affairs Committee by showing them various solar electrification installations (school and health centre) in the village of Tabacoro as well as the progress of the Yèré Yiriwa project (funded by the Danish Cooperation). Coincidentally, this is the native village of the MFC Nyetaa Director, which will play an important part in this anecdote.

Younger brothers in Mali can never say no to an older brother’s request. In this case, the older brother was the director’s and happens to be a highly-ranked military official. Without turning this into a rant, I realize in hindsight that it was an inevitable clash between a young toubabou (white man) in charge of protocol - for a short and jam-packed visit - and a General in his native village looking to make the delegation experience life in a rural Malian village. In all fairness, we both wanted the same thing: for the delegation to enjoy their visit to Tabacoro; we simply had very different ideas on which path to take.

After kindly and ever so gently being told by the General that he never wanted to see my face again and that this was “all about what Benoit wants”, I realized that diplomacy is a tough game to play. Luckily, the collateral damage was minimal and I still have a place to live (the General also happens to be my landlord).

Creativity in conflict resolution is really not something I ever dreamed of putting on my CV. In fact, I have always been one to use my creativity in order to avoid conflict. Because there were essentially 2 informal parties to organize the visit, it could have easily gotten out of hand. The end result was one of great success. The delegation was able to see all the planned sites (school, health centre, solar water pumping system, Yèré Yiriwa presentation, traditional reception) in the budgeted amount of time.

Ciao, Cheers, Farewell, Goodbye

I have about 10 days until my departure. The goodbyes have begun but my work has definitely not ended. I am convinced that it will only end when I get dropped off at the airport, because that’s how it works here. There is always something to do and when you think there isn’t, it’s because the director hasn’t yet found you.

Also, I could write about how much I will miss Mali and all the friends I’ve made. Or about how much time just flew by when, on my 2nd night here I wondered how I would survive for 5 months. I could write about how I am both saddened to leave and excited for new horizons. But I won’t…


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