Bikes Fixed: 38
Bikes/Day Average: 0.93
Bicimaquinas Built: 0.5 + 0.9
Before I begin writing, I want to apologize in advance, as I have been binging on Sherlock Holmes in my spare time. It’s likely my writing style may be a bit more, er, old-age. Despite the lack of quill and ink, sometimes I just can’t help myself.
My bikes/day average has finally fallen below one, and that means, if anything else, that it’s time to change something.
I have made a decision, and while I’m not entirely partial to it, I believe I’ve made the best decision I was able to, given a number of circumstances and reasons. I want to explain everything about it, as much for the case of my conscious as for the feelings of my supporters and the curiosity of my followers. There are certain conditions I have given myself, and there are other options which I want to expound so that I might name why I haven’t chosen them. At the end of all, I don’t expect there will be 100% accordance, but I hope you can trust I made the best decision I was able to.
I had decided some time ago to leave BiciTec. My mind was made up, perhaps, before I even made that blog post and sent that e-mail to my supporters, though I wanted an appropriate alternative before making the decision final. It is this feeling that led me to research other organizations, and even meet with one, in my search for a new purpose during my time here in Guatemala. Among others, I contacted an organic farm (through WWOOF); another volunteer-run bike shop; and Avivara, which connects volunteer educators to schools in need.
During my research and my last days at BiciTec I found myself, frankly, unenthused. Volunteering isn’t always supposed to be fun, or easy, or any number of adjectives one might use to describe something they enjoy. It is not only that I found experience unenjoyable, however, but I found that it sapped the energy from me.Upon arriving, I have in my possession something along the lines of enthusiasm. Somewhere along the line I lost it. I dreaded going to BiciTec because I felt unwelcome, and after putting so much time and energy into planning, fundraising, and trying desperately to make things work, it will come as no surprise that feeling unwelcome led to feelings of frustration and spiritual exhaustion. More, it felt like no matter my intention, there wasn’t a place for me. I don’t pretend this is solely one-sided. I expect that, given my imperfect Spanish, there have been some communication errors along the way, but these cannot possibly account for all that I have encountered. Whatever the case, I have come out the other side unhappy, unenthused, and unsure about whether I have it in me to continue volunteering.
After meeting with Gary, I had immensely postive feelings about volunteering for Avivara. They were my first choice. The meeting I had with Gary rekindled something inside me, a little voice I’d forgotten about that said being a teacher was awesome, and that I need to make it part of my life sooner rather than later.
I have chosen not to volunteer for Avivara, not because I don’t want to be a teacher, but because I’m worried that I can’t rekindle my passion so soon. It is not that I don’t think Avivara is a great organization, or that under a different set of circumstances I wouldn’t enjoy myself. I just don’t have the energy right now to stay in a country that made me feel so taken advantage of. I believe Avivara is a great organization, and it is for that reason exactly that I don’t want to involve them in any feelings of negativity I retain. I don’t think it would be fair to myself, Gary, or my future students to start volunteering with such fresh wounds. I don’t think it would be fair to the feelings I have about being a teacher to force myself to do something I don’t have the energy to do right now. Furthermore, I don’t think it would be healthy for anyone involved if I were to volunteer for a week or two, then find myself in the same situation and need to spend more of everybody’s time and energy figuring out yet another alternative volunteer situation.
As I weighed my options in Guatemala, I also kept in my mind the next event in this project, which is going to Zambia to volunteer. If I had a choice between arriving in Zambia depleted, unenthused, and wary of being taken advantage of, or arriving with energy and enthusiasm, I would choose the latter.
It seems to me then that the best option, the one involving the least risk, and admittedly perhaps the most selfish solution, is to return home to Minneapolis, recharge, and be ready to volunteer in Zambia with renewed enthusiasm and surety of self.
As I said, it is certainly not the best option, and there are conditions for it which I will lay out shortly. I do not pretend that the choice has been easy; indeed, it involves the emotions of myself, my donors, and a few volunteer organizations. For myself, it is not just feelings of “being tired,” but it also involves the commitments I have made towards myself and my donors. Admittedly, many of my ideals are at stake here too, but I don’t think it appropriate to go in depth there. Suffice it to say it was a difficult decision, that I don’t think there’s a “right” decision, and that I made what I believe is the best decision — even though it’s not perfect by any means.
(1) As I will have only volunteered in Guatemala for 42 of the 90 days I asked my donors for, I will return the other 48/90ths (roughly 1/2) of the donations for Guatemala. I keep a list of donors in the order and amount they have donated, so whoever donated, roughly, the last half of funding for Guatemala will have their donation returned (you’ll get an e-mail from me by the end of this week).
One alternative is that these donations go towards the remaining visas, medical expenses, etc., that have yet to be funded but that I am otherwise paying out of pocket. I don’t expect this.
Another alternative is that these are put towards an organization that could use them such as Bikes For the World or Avivara. I know, for instance, that Avivara recently funded a surgery retaining a little girl’s ability to walk. Cool.
Basically, there’s no right answer, so I’m planning on what seems like the simplest and most just action (returning it), but am open to other opinions and suggestions.
(2) As I have this time set aside for volunteering, I will continue to work in some free capacity during the time between when I arrive home and when I leave for Zambia. As I’ve said many times in many blog posts, “I’m not here to sit on my bum.”
I know it’s easy to say “Oh yea, I’ll volunteer!” and then not do it, so I wanted to list a couple ideas to show that I’m serious. I will commit to at least one of these within a week of arriving home:
– BiciTec does have some projects that need doing that there is no money for; namely, they need a promo video and they’d like a model of one of their bicimaquinas. I’m more than able to do both of these, and have been filming anyways during my time here. It’s not ideal, but it’s not something many other people can do (including those people being paid).
– The Grease Pit, a volunteer-run bicycle shop in Minneapolis, is likely busy this time of year, so I plan to stop by and see if they need any more volunteers (though last I checked they were full to the brim).
– A friend is starting a tutoring business, and needs, well, all those things new businesses need.
(3) I will look into leaving early for Zambia and volunteering for them longer than originally intended. This depends, of course, on whether or not the airline allows ticket changes, the visa requirements/restrictions, the availability of my host, and the cost difference (change in room and board, cost of the ticket change). I will look into this within a week of arriving home.
So, those are the conditions I’ve laid out for myself, and if you find anything missing or have any suggestions, feel free to post a comment below.
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There’s not much more to say that doesn’t involve repeating myself. This was a tough decision for many reasons, I don’t believe there’s a “right” decision, but I do believe I’ve made the best and safest one for myself, Avivara, and Zambikes. If I wasn’t planning on going to Zambia, I would probably stay and volunteer for Avivara even though I fear it might burn me out. As is, I plan to be rested and recharged when it comes time to leave for Zambia. If the middle of this project can’t go perfectly, I’ve at least started with a bang, and I’ll finish with one, too.