Pretending To Be Asleep

7 Nov

From left to right in the picture below are my Deputy Director, our district’s farmer of the year candidate (whom I described in my previous post entitled ‘Kpandai’s Farmer of the Year Candidate’), and my Director.


My Director’s favorite African proverb is “It is difficult to wake a man who is pretending to be asleep.”  I’d heard this quote even before coming to Africa, but it is only recently that I feel like I have truly begun to understand it.  

A major light bulb went off for me this week as a result of a conversation with my Deputy Director after our big monthly staff meeting.  I have had a lot of trouble connecting with him, but this week I finally changed my communication style and it was like opening a magic closet door and discovering Narnia. 

As a result of our previous poor communication, I had assumed that he was unmotivated, but it turns out that he is full of ideas.  A little over an hour into our conversation, he pulled out his notes from one of the many management courses he has attended and shared the wonderful insight below.  He’s not sure if the professor from the course he was taking made this up himself or if he took it from somewhere else.  Either way, I think it’s incredibly insightful and serves well as a longer and more explicit version of my Director’s favorite proverb.  

Since rural people cannot read, field educators consider them blind. They therefore assume that a blind population should be grateful for being guided along the path to progress. Failing to see that these “handicapped” people eagerly grabbing for their outstretched hands, these educators deduce that their failure was attributed to a mistaken diagnosis. Either through force of habit or ignorance, they go on with their defective campaigns.

High powered and costly surveys are not necessary to discover the basic character traits of the average farmer. The rural farmer is deeply attached to his patrimony: land, family, clan, village, goods, protective gods. From childhood, everything he sees, touches or hears each day is literally part of the self, body and soul. Whatever exists outside his patrimony is seen as a threat to his survival. His protective instinct warns him to be extremely wary of anything new.

Contrary to what educators assume, rural people are not blind. They are very observant, aware that their ‘benefactors’ are superimposing a prefabricated so called modern model of society on their traditional one – a heavily, rigid yoke that upsets their environment and breaks the family unit, which is the nucleus of their patrimony.

To avoid confrontation with these benefactors who for them represent the state, the voice of authority for the people adopt an attitude which has been their strength for centuries, a method which uses the energy of the advisory as they turn a deaf ear. The technique is practically the same everywhere – never a formal refusal. Always a courteous welcome, but invincible inertia. Believing they are opening the eyes of the blind, the educators have made deaf those who hear well.

What is the difference between the average farmer in the district and the farmer of the year candidate?  Why has he awoken to a different way of running his farm while others continue to pretend to slumber?  And what does this all mean for my work over here supporting our Agriculture As A Business curriculum and helping to strengthen Management and Leadership in my MoFA office ?


On the left above is a picture of one of the Extension Agents from my office explaining the old Visiting Schedule that they used to use and comparing it to the new Calendar of Activities that I have been helping the office to develop.

After reading my Deputy Director’s management notes, I asked him what he thought about my work in the office.  Are the initiatives like the Calendar of Activities that I am working on ‘defective campaigns’ that I am pushing through ‘force of habit or ignorance?’   Am I too pretending to be asleep, blind to the complicated realities of the change processes that we are attempting?

His paused briefly before responding: “No.  We need these things and you have done a pretty good job of listening by getting to know the staff, getting out into the field, and even getting your hands dirty farming as opposed to just coming in and telling us what we should do (I found this ironic considering I felt like this was the first time we’d had a meaningful conversation!).  However, you might want to consider starting to sit in the general office room instead of with the Director in his office, as it makes it harder for the Extension Agents to talk to you.”  

Later in the conversation, he made a comment about how it would be great if I could stay for just a few more months to help get these initiatives in place.  When he said this, I realized that I have not yet accomplished anything truly sustainable, as my goal must be to help my teammates to awaken to the fact that they really don’t need me to create new tools and procedures.  I believe that the goal is to help them to see that they have the power themselves to change things.  Once they do, I believe the specific challenges such as implementing a Calendar of Activities will become trivial.


Sticking with the theme of empowerment, I screened the movie Pray The Devil Back To Hell for Madam Marta’s women’s group yesterday (picture above).  It is the same movie I screened previously at the catholic church (see my Projecting Change Kpandai post) about how a women’s movement in Liberia helped to end the civil war there.

I’m also working with some people from my MoFA office, the District Assembly and some of the other ministries to do a big public outdoor screening of Emmanuel’s Gift next Tuesday evening.  The movie is about a Ghanaian man who is born with a deformed leg who overcomes enormous adversity to have great success in raising awareness regarding people with disabilities. 

In the picture above and on the right, I am working with my sound crew who are providing the speakers and microphone for the screening.  Their main business is running ‘jams’ were they charge admission for kids to come to dances in the evenings.  I was a bit skeptical when  they stuck two bare wires into a power bar to test the speakers, but they did get them to work the first time.   Here’s hoping that their Ghanaian resourcefulness doesn’t fail on Tuesday night when there are hundreds of people waiting! 🙂

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