Showing Up. The Importance of Knowing Yourself Before Trying to Influence Others

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

My friend Jen Todd has been doing important work with women in Africa. She has allowed me to share content from her recent newsletter.


Exhausted and thrown around from days of flying to get to Africa a two day rainy and ragged roller coaster ride out to the remote bush, we arrive. Only to learn that no one has been informed in the area of the training we came to deliver for several hundred Pokot opinion leaders.

This was to be the first time ever in this indigenous area of Pokot Kenya that men and women would be in the same room together dialoguing about the abusive and oppressive cultural practices against girls and women.

I shake my head in disbelief as a man is sent off on a bike to the local villages, wondering how we are going to pull this off by the next morning.

The next morning the clock ticks. 8am. 9am. 10am. 11am and not a soul has appeared for the training. I am reminded about “African time” which is the opposite of American time – usually several hours (or sometimes days) later than planned.

I sigh deeply knowing that this is just the beginning of the surprises, that will cook my biggest trigger under stress, my impatience, to a slow and steady boil.

 My American Ego Paradigm Takes Over

I take a walk through thorny desert paths to get a glimpse of the tiny grass huts the women live in with their large families to silence the nagging impatience and doubts in my head. I couldn’t have been gone for more than 20 minutes and suddenly seas of Pokot people have appeared.

They are singing and clapping and waiting to begin. The African harmonies remind me to keep the faith.

The sessions start and every time I speak to the room, I begin to wonder what cultural faux paus I made or American analogies that are not making sense.

What was my clue you ask? The translator looked highly amused and puzzled often, generating outburst of giggles frequently. Even though I am pretty certain nothing I was saying was funny! Aah! The joys of global translation that required even more of that ever so elusive patience I had such a shortage of.

Chaos ensues as we attempt to organize women’s interviews, pictures and mentoring. No one follows directions, people push to be heard, babies scream, worn down unattended children riddled with disease pee on the floor, chickens run around squawking, flies swarm and stick to the sweat that drips off me in buckets.

None of this was actually new to me. I’ve been to Africa three times and done sessions like this before, so why was my impatient control-loving ego surprised and upset by these norms and realities in a rural third world area?

I love this place and these gracious people, yet I’m still held hostage by timing, agendas, logistics, what to say, what not to say and how will we get our outcomes met.

I forgot about my purpose and the women I came there for, I was stuck in my American ego and fixed paradigm about what seemed important in the moment.

To learn more about Jen and her work, please visit