Work Week ends

20 May 2006
4:24 PM

This is the sixth and final article in the Work Week series.

As promised on Monday, I did a whirlwind tour this week of some of the different places where I work in Chile. For those of you who blinked, here’s a summary:

  1. The parish soup kitchen
  2. A girls’ group foster home
  3. Teaching English to high school students
  4. A nursing home

For those of you who paid close attention and added up the total number of hours, you’ll notice that my work week totals about 20 hours. This is the recommended amount for our program, but it probably seems meager compared with the traditional 40-hour week so common in the U.S. Why the difference? Here’s some insight.

First, one core idea of the associate program here in Chile is that service is a formative experience. That much probably seems obvious, but a corresponding idea is that you need time to reflect on and absorb the activities. If you zoom from one job to another without any downtime, you may be helping, but you aren’t leaving time to answer important questions. What am I learning from this experience? Why am I doing this? What does the bigger picture look like?

Second, just because the clock runs for only 20 hours a week doesn’t mean that the rest of the time is for personal entertainment. Part of the joy of a limited formal work week is that you leave enough time open for other people’s needs. Think about the number of times people ask you for something and you have to respond, “I’d love to, but I don’t have time.” Here there’s fewer excuses—we do have time and it’s set aside for exactly those moments. Outside work, I routinely meet with students to work on English. A couple weeks ago I helped with a retreat on community that Saint George held next door. Visiting other people in the community and keeping them company is another demand that isn’t captured by a timeclock.

Third, life here takes longer. Busy workers in the U.S. have the option of low prep-time food; that’s an expense we don’t afford ourselves for now, which translates to plenty of time in the kitchen and at the market. My hands do double duty as a dishwasher and laundry machine. With the dreary winter weather, laundry requires careful time and use of our centrifuge because you never know when the rain will come. Taking public transportation everywhere leaves you at the mercy of the micros’ schedules.

And if all that weren’t explanation enough, I blog like it’s my job.