Well dear readers, the time has just about come. I may be sitting calmly behind my laptop, enjoying the afternoon sun and sipping a coffee, but inside I’m a mess. The printer has promised my books will be ready to ship by Tuesday. No more changes. Any misspelling or awkward grammar is permanent. There is no turning back now. The little perfectionist in me has taken to pacing from one shoulder blade, across the back of my neck, to the other. I’m forced to find things to occupy my time while I wait. I’m forced to have patience.
Patience, the Oxford dictionary defines it thus: The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.
Now anyone who knows me will tell you that, normally, I am a model of patience. Borderline OCD, and a control freak, yes, but a patient one. After all, I once had an overnight stop-over in Dakar, Senegal and when I got to the airport for my 11 a.m. flight to Monrovia, the plane hadn’t left New York yet.
It is so easy to give in and get upset. In fact, sometimes it feels really good to just let rip, but in my experience, that doesn’t usually get you where you need to go. It’s best saved as a last resort. I’ve discovered the joy in steeling my 5’4″ frame and calmly, chillingly, looking into someone’s eyes and asking, “Do I look impressed?” Repeating it, while leaning in, is even more effective. “Do I look impressed?” The larger the man, the more likely it is I will get my way. Something that wouldn’t necessarily happen if I was throwing a tantrum.
Patience is something anyone working for a Non-Governmental Organization must have, be it inbred, or acquired. The ability to take a deep breath, and re-assess. To look at a hairy situation and decide the best, and most productive course of action. When the bloodshot-eyed soldier at the security check-stop says, “You are working with Doctors without Borders. That means you are a doctor, and are carrying drugs…you have some good drugs for me?”, you don’t answer as you would like. “Get lost jerk, it’s for the people who need it.” Instead you take a good long look at the AK47 and smile, explaining that you have a box of measles vaccinations, and are more than happy to give him an injection if he would like.
Honing patience is the only way to survive the NGO world. It’s not unusual to rush off to some far-flung country only to be held in the capital because they couldn’t organize transport. You spend what feels like half your life on planes or in airports. Visas take forever to get sorted. Stock is constantly back-ordered. Or, one of my favourites, the staff you’ve travelled two hours down a bumpy dirt road to see are already gone home for the day.
East Africa was the region that tried my patience more than any other. Half of my grey hair is attributed to this area of the world (the other half, to writing Trusting Bamboo Bridges). My team once organized a luncheon to explain the best way to use the new drugs we were bringing in and donating to the hospital, but the local doctors would only come if we paid them to. Getting angry didn’t help either, it just made people obstinate. So I went home, jumped up and down in my room and growled at the stupidity of the situation. It was only when I took the time to ask “why?” did I come to understand. The local doctors not only got paid by the state (when they actually received their wages), they also received a little something from each patient. It was the only way they could feed their families. When we took them away from that, even for an afternoon, there was nothing coming in. It’s a whole other way of working and one I had trouble wrapping my head around.
The people I worked with in Thailand: the Thai, the Karen, the Mon, all had a sense of patience. I try not to romanticize my time there, because, as anywhere, there were jerky people who did stupid things. That’s true no matter where you are. But perhaps that is why I preferred that region of the world. Our local staff used to say, “It’s just like this.” It was the equivalent to hearing “Insha’Alla” in the Middle East and “God willing” in Africa. One could claim that it was resignation, rather than patience I was experiencing, but I don’t think so. The Karen were actively fighting for their homeland. If anything, they should be less patient. Could it be the Buddhist teachings, so ingrained, that rubbed off?
The source may be unclear, but the patience honed working there has served me well. I can usually get my phone plan adjusted the way I want with the people at Telus. When I receive 1 lb of broccoli, instead of 1 kilogram, I no longer get upset. There’s no point, it’s just like this. Take a breath and get on with it.
I wish I could say that I’m practicing patience right now. I’m failing miserably. I want to see my novel. In print. In front of me. I want to get it into envelopes and off to all those wonderful people who have so kindly pre-ordered it.
Let me take this opportunity to thank you for your patience.
I hope it will be worth the wait.