Ground work

At the breakfast buffet you get a glimpse of the kind of people who stay here. It is not as diverse and fancy as at the Meridien in Dubai (and about one-sixth of the cost) but it does serve a variety of tastes: the Philippinos who like to put a pat of butter on their cold steamed mussels on the half shell, the Dutch who like chocolate sprinkles on their bread, and me, who likes whipped cream any time of the day. There’s stuff for the lean breakfasters (fruit and yogurt and muesli) and the heavy-on-protein breakfasters who scoop their plates full of eggs, sausage, bacon and home fries.

I have filled an entire notebook since I landed a little over two weeks ago, and went through my one and only mechanical pencil – both critical tools of my trade. The driver-cum- receptionist took me to the stationary store that reminded me of such stores in my childhood – only the dusters were missing on the staff behind the glass counters.

I now also have a Lesotho cell phone number so people don’t have to call South Africa every time they want to talk with me. I am told this will also allow me to use the wifi in the hotel on my phone – a move the South Africa phone company has blocked, presumably to avoid any chance of losing income.

I had my first interview with the next level down from the two senior people we already talked with. The lady is herself a team-builder and management and leadership facilitator which made for a wonderful conversation as we spoke the same language. It is nice to hear how a team-building exercise in her former employ in South Africa changed the way people interacted. Not surprising she is excited about the idea and effort to bring people together.

Sometimes team-building gets a bad rap – probably deserved as I have sat myself through some terrible team-building sessions that make me shudder when I think about them. It is an unlicensed profession, team-builder, and not every team-builder heeds the ‘Do Not Harm’ principle. But it can also be the beginning of a turn around a corner. If there will be some sort of a team-building exercise next week (a miracle if it can be pulled off on such a short notice, before the chief departs for two weeks), I hope people will later talk about it as a ‘corner-turning’ event.

My capacity building advisor colleague is busy trying to set up visits to at least one district but this turns out to be a bit more complicated. There is some district activity focused on ‘validating’ a new policy that is taking everyone’s time and attention.

In the meantime I am trying to set up a time with a Peace Corps Volunteer – the son of my friend Martha – who lives far away from the capital. He will get on a van that leaves at some ungodly hour to come and see a friend of his mom – amazing. I better treat him to a really fancy lunch. It’s a kind of Giving Forward, as I remember fondly dinners way beyond my pocket book that were offered to me by my parents’ friends. I have till Saturday to finish the biography of the country’s revered leader, so I can give it to him for the long trip back.

Axel called me at a time that most of the East coast is still asleep – jetlagged and lonely in the house without me and the prospect of another 26 days or so. I kept the conversation short because I am under deadline pressure to produce the rudiments of a very customized executive leadership development program to the PS tomorrow. I have tinkered together a self-assessment from official MSH assessments and my many years working with senior public sector officials. I need some point of departure for the design and content of this very unique program. It is being tested by some of my colleagues at this very moment.

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February 2012
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