Thursday, July 14, 2011

The danger of a single story

I just finished watching a TEDtalk with a young, very intelligent, female writer from Nigeria - "if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding." She goes on to describe much more about the way in which many of us only hear one story, and I wholly agree with her statements. It also reminded me of a discussion I had recently with someone about how online media is becoming more and more customized to the viewer's preferences, and how this could be dangerous as it can lead to us becoming more closed minded as we only see things we agree with or that we want to see.

This TEDtalk made me think about the structure of my blog. As I've been thinking about how to share my experiences while I'm in Namibia, I've slowly developed the idea of having a 'profile' component to a blog. By 'profile' I mean I want to share the story of the people I meet, focusing on only one individual per month or so, so I'm able to really delve into who they are, and what should be shared with the world about their story and how. Everyone has stereotypes, everyone can fall into the trap of only seeing one side of a story. My goal will be to add sides of the story, to help connect people beyond news headlines, to try to share a part of the new relationships I create, and selfishly, I'm hoping it will help me get to know people better, more quickly :). Although I fully intend to do general updates about the things I've seen, done, etc as well, I want my blog to be more meaningful than just here's what I did today (although I have no doubt that will be pretty interesting in itself some days).

I'd also like this to be interactive. If you have questions, no matter who you are, weather we know each other or not, please ask. If you have suggestions, blog recommendations or just want to put in your two cents, please do. Since I'd like to think I'm (at least slightly) a political scientist, having a dialogue is extremely important to me, and as I've said above, hearing multiple sides of a story/topic, are critical for truly understanding something... though even after 27 months in Namibia, I doubt I'll come close to truly understanding my surroundings.

Since this is my first post I will also share some of my feelings prior to leaving the states and preparing for my journey.
I'm definitely excited, although I've gotten back into my rhythm at work so the excitement is slightly subdued at the moment as it's become a bit surreal that I won't be living this same life in about a month. The excitement will likely return, as my last day here at Mercy Corps draws nearer (sad!). While I'm on the topic of Mercy Corps, I can't emphasize enough how lucky I've been to work here and to meet everyone I have. My bosses Karen and Laurie have been unbelievably supportive in my professional and personal development, and they are both thrilled I will be taking this next big step in life (especially Karen who is a former PCV herself). Dan, the Founder, has been a real inspiration, and is so grounded, I can't think of a better person to call a role model.. though I'm sure if he reads this he'll think I'm just being silly and again be modest about his accomplishments. The others here in the Seattle office, and those I've worked with in Portland and all the other offices, continually amaze me with their intelligence, dedication and empathy. I find it hard to believe that I'll be able to ever work with another group of people quite like them (so I may just have to come back one day, if they'll have me!).

I would also say I'm anxious.... not necessarily nervous or scared... just anxious. Anxious to start a new journey, experience culture shock again (which I oddly enjoy), meet new people, make new friends, see giant new bugs that will initially terrify me no doubt, travel as much as possible, and teach (but more than likely learn more than I'm able to teach). I'm also extremely anxious about my white complex, and about being a WASP and sticking out like a sore thumb. I think I've always had a white complex... maybe because I grew up in white suburbia, lived in mostly white areas, went to a university that was largely white.. and 'hippy'... not intentionally, it just ended up being the demographic for those areas/schools...and although it's gotten better over the years as I've traveled (Latin America and Africa) and met and become friends with all kinds of different people, I still can get nervous when I'm around others of different ethnicities, hoping I won't say something stupid and offend them unintentionally. I'm still not sure if calling an African or African American 'black' is ok to do.... seems like it's a fairly PC word these days, and since I call myself 'white' I'd doubt anyone would make much of it... but I still over-analyse it when I'm about to say it and generally try to opt for another, even more PC term. If anyone would like to clarify, I'd be more than happy to hear opinions on this. I think one of the biggest things I'm scared of in life is someone thinking I'm mean or racist, or just another stupid white middle class girl who thinks she is better than other people (which I do not.. hell, I have plenty of issues! haha). I know many of you who know me well probably think that that all sounds absurd.. I know I'm not a racist, I always try to live the golden rule, and I generally think I'm a humanitarian across the board, always trying to be nice/help others whenever possible... but that anxiety still builds up inside me occasionally. I'm not sure that it will ever go away.. but maybe that's a good thing.. maybe it's just part of my internal editor, tidying up everything I say.. or maybe I just care to much about others liking me... which is maybe just something you care less about as you get older and mature. So maybe that will someday be a life lesson I learn... one of these days... to just be, and not worry so much about what others think.

And finally, although I'm thrilled we are leaving, I'm also sad to leave what Rudi and I have established here. I love my job and the people I work with, I love the people we hang out with, and I love the Pacific Northwest. Our soccer family is amazing and I love our Friday night indoor games, and post game dinners. They are a really fantastic group of people, always make me laugh until my ribs hurt, and I care about them dearly. I have also really enjoyed getting to know some strong women in the Seattle area in WIIS (Women in International Security). My former professor, now friend and mentor brought me into this circle, and I've found it to be very beneficial and meaningful, both professionally and personally. Speaking of my former professor, she has been an amazing mentor and resource, and for reasons unbeknownst to me, has been more than helpful in guiding my career, helping to give me more professional experiences and providing me with advice. She also trusted me enough to take care of her gorgeous little baby girl for a few months after I graduated when I was in between full time work. I can't thank her enough for all the support she has given me, and appreciate her investing her time in me, and becoming my friend.

Anyway, I think that's enough rambling for the time being. As you can all see... when I really get going, my blogs will clearly not be short one-liners... unless I get lazy.. haha, which could definitely happen, but I hope to hold myself accountable to my goals :)

Thanks for your all your support, I hope my words provide you with... something.. hopefully of substance.

Kristin JP


  1. I LOVE this idea and can't wait to read and interact with your blog! Save travels!!! xo Kristina

  2. Thanks, Kristin, for sharing your wonderful thoughts! Safe travels and happy adventures.