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I spent all of Human Rights Day, a holiday here, preparing for my last assignment, a teambuilding with the senior staff of one of our regional projects that is based here in South Africa. It is the crowning moment of 6 weeks of learning about the team, and doing a few other things on the side.

In the evening I was invited to a couple that likes to cook – and has a kitchen a whole lot more equipped than the one in my apartment. We were four of us, four different cultures: South African Indian, expat Indian, American and me Dutch American. I made for a wonderful meal and conversations that richoted from Romney, American politics, to the Seventh Day Adventists, and life in Durban. The dinner was a reward for a long day of hard work.

Today we had the first of our two days retreat. It was actually a treat rather than a retreat as we were pampered in a palace, hidden away on a small street, between trees and houses. It must at one point have been a large estate with the owners selling of pieces of land until the surrounding land and the building were no longer in the right proportion to each other.

The place is run by a woman of Dutch descent, her father came to South Africa during the second world war – an escape of sorts I imagine. And so we speak Dutch with each other. The staff is busy pampering us with everything we could possibly wish for – dainties for our tea and coffee breaks and for lunch a wonderful spread, including an enormous cold salmon, shrimp, pate, French cheeses, small chunks of lamb on rosemary sprigs and more.

There is a family of ducks that has the run of the place. Loud quacking they traverse the mahogany parquet in the central hall to get to their bath in the courtyard. After their bath they traipse back to the garden to resume their search for grubs. Their presence emphasize the lining up of ducks that the team has to do.

Today we were in the Louis XV (or XIV) part of the palace and dreamed about the project’s legacy after which we descended down to earth to look the team’s current situation straight into the eye – sobering at first. We looked at the gap between espoused theories and theories in use to see it is often wider than we think. We talked about Chris Argyris Model I and Model II – how bad we all want to subscribe to Model II but it is so difficult! Exercises that brought out the competitive element surprised some parts of self that were expected to be more altruistic.

All in all it was a heavy meal, the real meal but also the mental one, new concepts and frames to hold the current reality so that it can be made discussable – the learning of a new language with all the discomforts that come along with learning important things.

Tomorrow we move to the Chinese Imperial suite, a little further down the estate, between the first and the second swimming pool, hidden behind much shrubbery, as if it isn’t there. The walk down to the room feels like a walk into the Secret Garden.

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March 2012
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