Sunday, May 15, 2011

Out of the Fire, Into the Frying Pan

My project is broke.

That's the latest word from headquarters. It's possible, even probable, that we will have to end our activities early, since the funds aren't available to pay the staff, and all of the associated support costs, through the end of August.

I have protested, of course, on the grounds that abandoning our banana wilt committees prematurely will negatively affect both the long-term impact of our project and our reputation as an organization, at least within the communities in which we currently work.

This budget crisis was a long time coming, I suppose. This is a two-year project, and many budget lines had already been overspent before my arrival. The entire mission is in a bit of a crisis, with many projects coming to term and very little new funding emerging. This means more financial pressure on the few remaining projects, which must cover the numerous and significant support costs, like office rental, vehicle maintenance, and paying the cook and the numerous other logistical and administrative staff. On top of that, my project activities take place in two bases, so we have twice the support costs of your average project. I deal directly only with the portion of the budget that covers program-related expenses, such as seeds for distributions and the payment for the carpenters who construct the banana macro propagators. I was only informed that we had a major problem about a month ago.

I had been hoping to relax into my last few months here, now that a lot of the major stressors up to this point are gone: my problematic boss, the planning and logistics-heavy parts of the project, the initial few months of adaptation. I'm finally finding the time to invest in Swahili lessons, evening conversation with the night watchmen (instead of working 'til I drop) and trips to various far-removed field sites.

This throws me for a bit of a loop.

But I suppose, like any unexpected change, it will simply take some getting used to. The worst part will be having to dismiss my staff sooner than expected, if it comes to that. And of course I need to consider what my next move will be. Am I hooked enough on this lifestyle to want to continue? Am I ready to return to the familiar mountain ranges of the US and start to build a life for myself there? And how to ensure financial autonomy while I make these decisions, with a crushing student loan dept?

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