I have this little calendar with a new proverb for each day, hailing from different countries and regions of Africa. Some days they make me laugh, some days they seem kinda cheesy, and some days they make me think.
“If you dream of moving mountains tomorrow, you must start by lifting small stones today.”
- Mauritanian proverb
This one made me think as it seems quite appropriate for my time and place in life.
As I get to know my new family, community, and language, everything seems to progress very slowly. And yes, they do warn you of this during training. However actually living it is a different matter.
Days seem very much the same and my understanding of Wolof improves at a snail’s pace. One day I’m asking questions, understanding the answers, and having a relatively straightforward conversation. And then the next I have to ask them to repeat the same sentence three times.
There are days when this is great. Sometimes I really do just want to sit and read and learn and chat and cook. And that slower speed of life is all around and I feel part of it.
And then tomorrow comes and I really want to be working on a ‘real’ project. Laboring in a garden and harvesting vegetables with my work partners. Writing a grant to fix a water retention basin. Anything really that feels like what I know of progress and success.
But the patient part of my brain says wait, the time for being busy will come. And I know it will. But every once and a while you need a reminder.
For me this proverb was my reminder. A reminder to take time now to lift the small stones. Lift the small stones to start new friendships. Lift the small stones in my continued quest to speak and understand Wolof. And lift the small stones out of my container gardens to make way for basil and lettuce.
While these beginning baby steps may be tiring and repetitive, they are vital. They will become the foundation for the rest of my service and in all likelihood be small steps I take, and stones I lift, throughout my service.
And their importance should not be frowned upon. So often our lives as Americans, and as volunteers, are dictated by pressures to be productive, to be successful. I am learning, both from my own experiences and conversations with other volunteers, that there are so many important definitions of success and productivity.
Knowing my neighbors, sitting and chatting, drinking attaya – all are valid and important ways of being a successful volunteer.
So for me, my fellow volunteers, and those of you who haven’t started yet – give this some thought. As we dream of our mountains, do remember to lift the small stones along the way.