Customer service

What started as a rather stiff meeting, following all the usual protocol, a near tangible fear to move off the beaten path, made place for a room full of energetic people wanting to show how much they want things to change. This is the predicament here. As one of the participants told me over lunch, we are so used to certain ways, and it is so difficult to break out of it, even if we want to. Indeed, I see this over and over. There is a lot of fear to challenge prevailing norms in the here and now but when we talk about a then or there, everyone is brave.

The intent of our ‘alignment’ meeting today was to create a buzz and get the support of the superiors of what will happen in the two regions where we are launching our leadership program. In a way it was also a test run for the newly formed ministry facilitators. I believe we accomplished everything and may be even more. The facilitators did a dynamite job, pretty much running the show with me doing only the shared vision as I knew that one was a bit too far out of the ordinary.

And then we set of for the interior, a 100 or so kilometers north east of the capital, to the town of Adzope which I can only remember because it sounds like a sleep medicine or an antidepressant.
We are lodged in a small country hotel which, to my surprise, claimed to have wifi (pronounced wee-fee in French), but of course not now. Luckily my dangle works well.

Everyone in the hotel is watching either a Brazilian or a Lebanese soap opera; the Lebanese with many tears coming out of very well made up eyes (no smudges) and the Brazilian seems to be about triangle relationships – all dubbed in French.

The waitress in the hotel made no move towards us when we sat down in the restaurant and kept watching the TV. We asked if we could eat there. She shook her head in the affirmative but didn’t get up. I asked if she was one in charge of the restaurant and she nodded yes again, without letting her eyes wander from the TV. I asked what was for dinner and she listed a few things. My colleague asked for a menu; reluctantly she got up and fetched a one page menu. I asked what was actually available: fish and chicken, peas and potatoes. She sat down again.

My colleague had brought two very large and ripe mangoes. We asked the listless restaurant (manager? Waitress? Cook?) to bring us a plate and a knife. Maybe she was relieved that we simply ate our own mango meal and didn’t ask her to do anything that would take her away from the TV. We decided to stick with our mangoes and consider that our meal. I asked her whether we could have mangoes for breakfast (we are in full mango season and they are everywhere) and she said no, we couldn’t have mangoes for breakfast, resuming her watch. The concept of customer service has not arrived here.

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May 2014
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