“So what do you do?”

In a group of people who don’t know each other, the most common default question after names is usually, “What do you do?” I had no problem with this question when I was in Papua New Guinea.  Most people I came in contact with knew what literacy was or at least could acknowledged the general need for it in their world.  Unless someone was specifically interested in a certain project or training program I was working on, the conversation just continued and no further explanation or discussion was needed.  But now that I am in the US, the question “What do you do?” has become more difficult to answer in a straightforward manner.

Big surprise but ‘Literacy Consultant’ isn’t the most common job title out there and I have no desire to use the ‘m’ word.  But questioning looks have lead me to this description, which honestly isn’t much more telling outside of my little language, foreign bubble but it’s a start.  “For the past three years I have been training Papua New Guinean men and women to start and maintain literacy programs for their own language group.  This includes book making, curriculum development, finances, leadership, scripture use, teacher training, etc.  And now I want to continue with this same work but in another part of the world.”  This inevitably leads to questions about Papua New Guinea.  I am constantly amazed at how different people ask different types of questions.  Some are more interested in the type of work.  What is literacy? Why training and not teaching people how to read directly?  Some are more interested in the country of PNG.  So where is PNG?  What are the people like?  And some are more interested in what life was like there.  What did you normally eat?  How did you bathe?  Etc.

I really don’t mind answering questions, it actually is a helpful part of my processing.  But it is sometimes a bit tedious because either the answers are really long or they just lead into more questions.  My favorite questions are those that I rarely get asked or have never been asked before.  I can’t think of a good examples right now but every once in awhile someone will throw something new out and that is very exciting.  These questions usually cause me to think deeper and come up with a new way to convey the information.  Common questions like, “How many languages are in PNG?” elicit a more automatic response but since it is new information for the asker, it doesn’t sound as humdrum as it does in my head.  (Just fyi there are over 800.)

After all the PNG topics are either exhausted or they loose interest, many people ask me what I am currently doing in California.  This is yet another can of worms.  Depending on the audience they may not understand the need for rest and rejuvenation.  The idea that I am still supported by others and living with either my parents or people from church is also a bit crazy in some ways.  And the idea that I can spend a whole day doing all or none of the following: having conversations with people or researching plane tickets or listening to Bible courses online or reading or praying or swimming or looking up information on various counties, just baffles the normal person.  It is easy to emphasize different aspects of my day here but no explanation I have comes even close to what a typical working or in-school 20somethings week looks like.  But for me, this time is a gift and in this season I am doing exactly what I need to be doing.

So for those of you who know me, any ideas on how I should better convey or present my life and work?

And for those of you who only ‘know’ the blog version of me, any ideas on what would help you to know my work and life better?

One thought on ““So what do you do?”

  1. hey joy, enjoying reading your blog posts, and knowing how you feel a bit at the moment. hope you can enjoy some of the conversations and ‘limbo’ time. lilah xo

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