May 29, 2012

Dear Chelsea,

So you are going to Africa.

You have achieved some goals ahead of schedule and perhaps without experiencing the failures that moderate otherwise absolute fool hardy behavior. Boldly bounding off to Africa may seem like a leap to Doctors without Borders, but progress with caution, you will not be "in Kansas anymore".

Humility is learned after being the loudest person in the room, and suffering humiliating consequences of that arrogance. You seem to me on this edge, and you want this experience locally, and certainly not in a foreign place. When in a foreign place, maintain the status quo. Not your place to slash and burn the way to modernity. Blend in, remain modest, allow others to have great ideas, unless safety is an issue then stay quiet, observe and learn....your day will come later. When in doubt, don't do it.

Pay attention to infrastructure. Things like a safe secure roof over your head, enough to eat, and lines of communication available. Just get through the day, no need to set any long term plans or commitments....just get through the day. Use the protection around you (e.g., hospital arranged by school, village that was previously vented by those before you) to appreciate and note the cultural differences in everyday living (take photos, write a travel log). When do people wake up, when to bed? How do they get food (supermarket, open market, government handout), do they barter or pay with cash at labeled price. Have they free public water or need to carry their own? The opportunity lays more in understanding the fine details of what it takes to live every day, then your great idea how to mass replace the sanitation system. Let them suggest those ideas to you, but do NOT give them ideas as that only suffocates their ideas (which you will then never hear). Those big ideas are not for you to have now, but to substantiate (with credibility) over time.

You will be undeservedly overly respected. Return that with dignity and appreciation. You will leave nothing particularly important behind other then a hope you may be invited back. You will be more respected when you allow someone to give something to you, then when you give something (e.g., an idea, gift, advice) to someone else. You potentially give them influence and prestige, which can lead to confidence. Plant and seed quietly, let others do the talking.

Be careful and do not take anything for granted.