Monday, September 24, 2012

Earning my stripes; or, The Importance of Not Being Earnest

“What these communities need is not more people. It’s fewer people. They don’t need another enthusiastic young white woman who arrives for a year or so then leaves again.”

The experienced GP isn't talking about me. He’s talking about the lack of consistent allied health and child development services. But I am standing next to him as he throws this out, and it cuts as it flies past.

I’m learning a new system, new places, new cultures. As for any other new cultural immersion, having read the right books and knowing the right words are important. It seems a necessary step to read, and that I am doing. I am reading government reports, internal audits, historical narrative about Jandamarra and watching The Circuit.  In Cambodia, it was pronouncing Khmer “kmai” not “kmair”; here I speak of “Bidgy” and am going there for the first time this week.

Learning a new lingo is fun, and we throw ourselves in enthusiastically. The novice scuba diver buys a full gear set before learning how to equalise her ears. The gardener starts discussing the merits of heirloom tomatoes before he ever hears the words, “dynamic lifter.”  We pontificate and debate, demonstrating that we’re in the club, to anyone willing to listen.

The experienced craftsmen just get on with it.

This adoption of new words and places is a developmental stage – one that enables new perspective, hopefully enlarges the world-view in the process. For some, the debate and the cause becomes the issue – and lord knows we need strong advocates.

But for me, I’m not sure where I stand. I know I barely qualify as adolescent in the world of Aboriginal healthcare. I’m perpetually tempted to blurt out, “When I was in…” or “In North Queensland we…” and I need to consciously tie down my tongue to avoid it. I remind myself that spouting my credentials lessens their value, if they ever had relevance anyway, and that getting defensive when people assume I know nothing is a guaranteed way to stay there.

So how to avoid being that enthusiastic young white woman, who brings her PC notions and her bleeding heart to the desert – for a few months only? I’m white. The GPs seem to think I’m young. I’m a woman. I’m here (partly) because of health inequity. And I only have a three month contract, and am not ready to commit to twenty years just yet.

I’m not sure that it means signing up for the rest of my career, though. I think it means to learn whenever I can, to listen and absorb and be curious, not to take my brief experience working elsewhere in Australia and interpreting my current situation to fit. To shut up in order to learn the local situation. To mature in my understanding, and just get on with it.

I hope that, as I do so, I can move beyond the Cause. To see individuals and negotiate solutions. To be energetic, not blindly enthusiastic. To advocate for the people I meet.

And in the meantime, forgive me if I pontificate every now and then.

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