A blog about not writing blogs

You may know, dear readers, there are four MCCers here in Rumbek. Two couples. Both have blogs. I, joel, have been least regular (blogwise) lately. Having caved to (largely internalized) pressure, i hereby present: A blog post!


My laxity in blog-related activities is due to feeling i had nothing to write. Honestly, i’m not sure if what follows warrants posting, but i’ll leave that for you to decide. Basically, i’m going to tell you why i felt i had nothing of import to write & see what happens.


First of all, i’ve felt disconnected from the predominantly Dinka culture. It’s very possible, indeed probable, that my feelings stem from one of those downs among the ups that are normally experienced when living in a cultural setting not one’s own. These are to be expected, normal. I felt them in Korea, too. But there we had Korean co-workers &, as frustrated as i got with the culture (&, boy, did i get frustrated!), i had to navigate those relationships, which forced me to get over rough patches. Here, our compound is largely populated by non-Sudanese. The Sudanese who do work here—groundskeepers, guards, cooks, construction workers—don’t generally interact with me much beyond small talk. Meals are provided; we wouldn’t need to leave. Which makes avoiding interactions with the culture easy, especially when it’s ticking me off. The result: no amusing, challenging, learning interactions in recent weeks, the type which often populate the blogs of those living abroad.


The second point struck me this afternoon, while reading another blog. This woman was writing about the importance of learning from people who practice “positive deviance”. This means that in spite of cultural dictums, these people do things differently &, maybe more importantly, successfully. I realized with sadness, that i had lost contact with the one person i knew who practises positive deviance within the Dinka culture. Not for good, i hope. He has worked extensively in his own community, teaching people to settle disputes not through violence, but through mediation & negotiation. He also struggles with alcoholism. He may have descended again into the darkness of addiction, & in the process—whether intentionally or not—the deeper connection we once had has been severed. I hope that i can learn what it means for me to be a friend to him in light of this, but as of right now i’m at a loss, as well as feeling a sense of loss.


I think that about covers it.


I feel a little better.


Thanks for listening (i mean reading).



The day after i wrote this i had a nice, albeit surface, conversation with my estranged, positive-deviance-practising friend. We didn’t get into deeper life issues, but it was  nice to connect more than we have for the past few weeks. I tend to over-think situations like this, but i’ve realized once again the best course of action is simply to speak as friends & let the conversation unfold.



2 comments on “A blog about not writing blogs

  1. Rebecca Bartel says:

    Joel – Heather – Hi. This is not a good place to post a comment that serves also as simply a “hello” as well, but here it is, since I was really quite moved by your entry, Joel. I just have returned from 8 years in LAtin America, and while I can’t say that I ever felt quite the same estrangement from the culture I was living in, since Latin America, Bogotá, is just very different from what you describe, it made me think alot about Haiti, and I think quite a few comparisons could be drawn. But, that’s not the point, the point is that I really appreciate your honesty and transparency, and that many times MCC workers are expected to assume a bit of a heroic position, and pretend like things are always hunky dory, when they really aren’t. Our own idiosyncracies, struggles with racism, stereotypes and prejudices creep up, and we being to realize that we are not perfect people, and we do not work with a perfect organization. I can only tell you that I think you’re in one of the most difficult placements ever, in one of the most difficult countries, and it will get better, and you will make friends and connect outside of the compound. I don’t think that you and Heather would be able to avoid that. And especially if the placement is thought of as something beyond a “service term”, but part of your life, lived and loved with some people that are kind of different from you, and some people who are totally different from you. You’re doing amazing work, in amazing circumstances. Struggle on!
    love you guys.


  2. michaeleona says:

    Thanks, Joel for the honest straightforward post, with which we can all identify in one way or another. You have a way of putting into words the struggles and feelings and thoughts we all deal with. You also have the sensitive nature to which I can relate, and the “overthinking” of everything. That is not a bad thing, but sometimes causes us worry or concern when doing this thinking. Of course, this can be used in many good ways to analyze and act in helpful interactions, relating positively to others because we HAVE done the thinking. We must focus on the good results.

    I’m sure the friend you speak of is very grateful for your struggles on his behalf. This kind of support cannot be measured. Perhaps he also finds it difficult to put into words his thoughts and concerns, and perhaps he feels alone in his decision to practice positive deviance. Perhaps you are his only friend. (Of course I can’t really know much about him, just speculate.)

    There it is, for what it’s worth, thanks again for the expression of raw human emotion.

    Love, Mom

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