To my great surprise the large conference room at one of the Emergency Hospitals where we are holding this week’s workshop was set up with a circle of 30 chairs in the middle and around the outer edges doubled-up desks to accommodate group work. I had sketched it out but because it is not your ordinary room set up but this usual makes no difference. And so I was prepared for a set up that was more formal and traditional; hence my surprise to find something even better than what I had proposed.

Around the perimeter the superfluous small desks were piled on top of each other, blocking the row of windows on one side of the room. When the power went off and I needed the drawn curtains to be opened to get some light into the room, my room helper quickly jumped on top of them and walked from one desk to another as there was no other way to get to the window.

Although I dress for winter (my winter experiences from 2002, and even 2010 included frigid rooms full of people clad in heavy winter coats, hats and even gloves), this time I am perpetually overdressed – the meeting halls now have central heating. Today the radiators (whether open or closed) maintain a tropical temperature of 32 degrees (Celsius). Unfortunately I cannot take off my cardigan as my short sleeved dress underneath would expose a good part of my arms.

Several of the basic assumptions for my design, despite having been assured they were correct months ago, turned out to be incorrect requiring a series of on-the-fly adjustments. For one, half the people have had no experience facilitating the leadership program design we have upgraded, so rather than building on existing experience, for some I am building on nothing.

In addition, English was a prerequisite for passing the initial selection and I was told it would be no problem for me to run the workshop in English. I have heard this before – there is embarassment, or even shame, to admit one cannot follow English and so you think you are teaching but you are only talking in a language that is poorly udnerstood. I had been prepared for this and have a team of Afghans around me who are able and willing to run the show in a mix of Pashtu and Dari. With the Pashtu I am lost but the Dari I can more or less follow.

Only one woman is among the 22 men. I knew other qualified women from her organization and asked her why they were not with us. Apparently they didn’t make it through the selection process which is showing more and more of its flaws as I get more involved. That process was supposed to be transparent. My questioning led to a blame game to help explain the poor execution of this process. Men with no relevant experience passed or were invited to the workshop while experienced women did not. If there is a rationale for this I could not extract it from anyone today.

I took the liberty of inviting the missing woman to tomorrow’s session as nearly a quarter of the selected individuals did not show up. I proposed an After Action Review of the selection process. The Division chief under whose responsibility this activity falls also didn’t show up – no one seemed to question that but it is possible the reason is so obvious the others forgot to tell me.

Despite having heavily padded the morning session with its opening protocol, baseline setting, expectations and the like, we found ourselves significantly behind on the schedule by lunch time, so I am dropping bits and pieces here and there. I am sure when I read the evaluations a week from now they will say ‘we needed more time.’ We will do our best is all I can promise, as we swim, sometimes, upstream.

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February 2014
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