A cat licking first his balls and then my feet isn’t very logical from a hygienic perspective, but it does make me laugh (giggle to be even more precise) from a human perspective. The bathroom in my temporary Mozambican office also has a shower installed above the toilet, which doesn’t make much sense from a practical perspective, but then again, they are not using the shower, so it doesn’t really matter. Finding a building with a front door, and flip flops next to it, while there’s no front wall, also makes little sense, but it does give you a funny picture (see below).
None of these things are related, but the common thread is ‘logic’, and what I find logical from my perspective. At this training with staff from the Mozambican Oxfam office some of my ‘logical reasoning’ was challenged again. I have to admit, I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to putting things in neatly organized boxes, whether it’s the stuff at my own house that needs organizing, or the way you write your project, I like it when there’s an ‘order’ and ‘structure’ to it. For this reason I’m probably good at what I do, teaching a logic system to organize data collection on projects and programmes. The other thing that I try to teach as well, my logic isn’t necessarily yours, so make adjustments to what you need. The problem is, this is easier said than done.
Working in a session on storytelling, and asking for the most significant change in somebody’s life, someone remarked, we can ask this question in Portuguese, but not in our local languages. We do not have the word ‘significant’. A similar remark was made when we talked about ‘results’ of our work. Results are the visible or measurable changes we see happening because of our work. The programme logic calls this an ‘outcome’ and the activity to realize the change is called an ‘output’. If you’re not familiar with this terminology, not to worry, most people are not, it is typical jargon of the development field.
The problem is, how to ask a small scale farmer about the changes in his life when you are unable to ask this question that you find logical in your language, when it cannot be translated according to your logic in their language?
One of the suggestions to tackle this problem, is to really start looking for alternative words in the local language, but another one that might be more useful, which is to ‘simplify’ our own language. Besides a nerd for ‘systems’ I’m also someone who loves language, and it sometimes makes me sound way too academic. Language can be a very powerful tool to exclude others on acquiring knowledge and information. What I take away from working in Mozambique is to really look at what kind of language I’m using and presenting as ‘logical’ and take more time to ‘translate’ my own jargon. Hopefully I can then find the questions together with the country office staff or partner organisations that we can all use to find changes that are happening in people’s lives.