A master administrator and organizer
Patra is the second member of our team to be profiled on this blog (see here for the profile of Akufuna). These profiles provide at least a brief glimpse behind the scenes to show readers at least a little bit about the people who guide my understanding of Western Province, maintain connection with community members, translate, and process the research data.
Patra Likonge Kapolesa is one of three team members to have started working with me in 2014 and to have continued ever since. Patra’s profile is a little different from my other two “long-termers” (Lynn Akufuna Nalikena and Malambo Lastford Miyanda): those other guys were undergraduate students at the University of Barotseland and each was studying with a specific profession in-mind. Since Patra was not a full-time student, she was available to be a full-time employee for me in 2014. With this increased availability, Patra and I were able to work more closely together – and she excelled.
Patra began as a translator and we initially experienced some friction since the way that I understand and process language initially seemed strange to Patra. She adapted to my style – and it increasingly looks like I will succeed in convincing Patra that grammar is useful :-). From those humble beginnings, Patra expanded into helping me plan logistics, doing all sorts of different computer work and then eventually managing other research assistants. In 2018, I delegated to Patra the role of recruiting, hiring, training, and supervising a team of entry-level research assistants. Patra’s performance in this role was exceptional.
Besides working for me, Patra has built a career working for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Western Province, initially for the Kaoma District Farmers Association, then Concern Worldwide, and most recently with Save the Children. It can be quite difficult to piece together a steady income when working in projects fueled by short-term grants (true for both me and the NGOs) but Patra has managed to do this by remaining diligent, flexible, and industrious.
Like all of my long-termers, Patra is perceptive and insightful. One challenge we face with those perceptions and insights is the “translation” of these into the format that I need to use to express my work. In referring to translation, I am not talking about the conversion of messages from one language to another (i.e., English to French, Spanish, or Silozi); I am instead referring to the modalities of language. My long-termers are skilled oral communicators and very adept at navigating Facebook and WhatsApp. By contrast, most of my communication is done through what I will call “long-form written text.” This blog post is one example of the modality that I need to use. My publications are other examples.
Through significant poking and prodding on my part, Patra agreed to write a passage as a long-form written text – a blog post which will appear tomorrow. In writing her post, Patra decided to present an issue that has occupied many over our discussions since 2014: the way that we present ourselves to “communities” bearing in mind the ways that we know that communities will respond to us.
I think that it is helpful to remember that Patra felt nervous to write her blog post. I understand this: long-from written text is not (yet) a comfortable communication modality for her. In times like these, I find that I am even more empathetic to her case if I imagine expressing myself through modalities in which I am not skilled, maybe poetry, comic strips or interpretive dance.
I am incredibly proud of Patra for having written this blog post – a piece that she wrote with only minimal editing from me. Simultaneously, I am thinking of ways in which we might also communicate more seriously in ways that are more comfortable to Patra (and people in Western Province more generally). As Patra knows, I am slowly crawling towards speaking Silozi, but I am not yet sufficiently skilled to independently participate in a community meeting. Beyond language proficiency, our team is not yet sufficiently skilled to initiate a community strategy session. We have our sights set on these goals, but these remain a work in progress – for each of us as individuals, and for us collectively as the research team behind Disability kwa Bulozi.