The Present Place (or, questioning my career path part II)

Many people talk about living in the moment. Life goes fast, and there’s always the future to think about – but take some time to enjoy the present moment. This focuses on time, on being present at the when.

But rarely do people apply this same concept so explicitly to the where. Just as with the moment, it’s possible to live in a place but not really be engaged in it – not be connected to people or aware of what’s going on. My generation especially is so mobile, and at the same time so connected to so many places, that the present place easily gets lost. It’s easy to withdraw mentally, physically or digitally to somewhere more comfortable. But always withdrawing can mean missing the good things a place has to offer, not to mention the simple pleasure of feeling grounded.

A phrase in the Hausa language illustrates this. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger, I’d walk up to people who’d say “kana nan” “you’re here.” It seemed a silly, obvious statement. But eventually, I realized people said it with surprise – as if they expected me to not be there. Most foreigners only come to Kornaka when I needed to be there, and lived in big cities. So they were surprised – and happy – that I’d stay in town and that I worked to become a part of it. (Of course, that was my job, but I did enjoy it.)

I am very engaged in this particular place

Point is, kana nan meant more than simply, “you’re at this spot in this moment.” It also meant that I had committed something of myself to that place. That I wasn’t counting the days until I could go somewhere else – I wanted to feel a part of the town.

It brought home the importance of being present where you are. I have tried to apply this living at home in Kenosha, WI after Peace Corps, and now in Somerville, MA during graduate school. When I’ve succeeded, I’ve found much more satisfaction in both places. But it’s hard when you know you’re in a place temporarily, and when you’re busy with graduate school. I admire my colleagues who are more engaged in Somerville than I.

And when I take this concept a level up, I run into a bigger dilemma. I’m proud to be American. But I struggle watching my country struggle – with politics, with inequality, with acceptance. I’m launching a career to help people in poor countries claim their dignity, while my own country denies so many of its own citizens dignity. How can I be a proud American – and be present in this place – while directing all my efforts to other nations’ problems?

I’ll leave this open for now. Comments welcome, and more to come on this topic I’m sure.


About developingnathan
I am a reflective person. I am an introvert, a friend, a brother and a son. I appreciate a well-crafted glass of beer, piece of music and turn of phrase. I am a professional of international development, a good pianist and a Green Bay Packers fan.

2 Responses to The Present Place (or, questioning my career path part II)

  1. Pingback: Niger’s rank & file get a raise, to 3,000 cfa per day « developingnathan

  2. Pingback: Cynicism and Graduation | developingnathan

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