I did it the wrong way round. For five months I have been trying to accompany my colleagues as they go out to work on their different projects. My job is to write up the entire project from beginning to end. I have to break it down into a manual so they have it in written form to replicate in another village. To do this I need to have a very deep understanding of the project and how it is implemented.
I decided that the best way to do this was to shadow each of my colleagues and then interview them about their particular project. I thought it would be best this way as they would know me better, and I would understand how their project works before interviewing them.
But it just never worked properly. At first I kept being given documents to edit, then my colleagues would go out, forgetting I was to accompany them. Other times I was told I would be bored, and that I should stay in the office. Sometimes I felt in the way, and sometimes someone would completely forget to pick me up. I was getting fed up, and not a little bit depressed. I had come here to work, to learn, to help in whatever way I can. I was feeling completely useless.
An outside party has shown some interest in a particular project of ours, and I was asked to prioritise this project and write a small manual on it. So I travelled to the village, and spent an afternoon visiting houses with C (see previous post). The next afternoon I sat down with C and another colleage, S*, and interviewed them about the project for three hours. It was unbelievably productive. About ten minutes in, S looked at me in a way that said ‘oh, so this is why you’re here!’
I’d done it all the wrong way around. I had thought that by watching and spending time with my colleagues I would learn about the project in a practical way before examining it in an academic way. But while I built good friendships with my colleagues, I think I left them completely confused as to my role here. They couldn’t understand why I was doing that. To me it was the natural way to approach my work, but it was completely foreign to my Khmer colleagues.
Let’s hope that from now on it all works much better.
*Not his real name
Note: I have spent the last week trying to decide if it should be ‘The Wrong Way Round’ or ‘The Wrong Way Around’. Does it matter? Have I wasted all my mental energy on a trivial matter, or was this anguish warranted?