Noodling our way forward

Our main counterpart is a bit like a butterfly. He is also a bit like a New Yorker. The butterfly part refers to his tendency to never sit down anyplace for long and the New Yorker part is about walking very fast. We always seem to chase him. In his building, where the current workshop and the first one next week take place, this means we are walking up and down the stairs a lot. This may well be a good thing because the hotel is connected to a mall with a supermarket where they sell a lot of chocolate and other sweet things. They also sell hard liquor, especially Vodka, which comes in a great variety of brands and qualities. You can tell the Russians were here.

On Tuesday morning we arrived early at the workshop with the two facilitators who are working very hard these days. We didn’t see our counterpart until late in the morning and, without internet connection, there as little else to do than watching the training and the videos. I don’t mind seeing the videos again and again. They are very inspirational and instructive. The majority of the participants are wheelchair users themselves. Many bussed in from the country side and are neither health nor wheelchair professionals. They are sitting in ill-fitting and inappropriate wheelchairs and many have accepted the presence of pressure sores as unavoidable. The concepts of fitting wheelchairs to the users’ needs and the strategies to avoid pressure sores are entirely new for them. Although these concepts were also new to the providers we worked with in the Philippine, it feels like so much more advanced in comparison to what we have here. At least there is a large cadre of health professionals who can be mobilized for the cause – here, the few abled hospital staff had to shut down their services for the duration of the course as there are no others to fill in.

Maggie and my job this week consists of checking on arrangements for next week’s stakeholder meeting. Maggie’s focus is on the administrative and logistical aspects, something she does extremely well and with grace, given that she has been doing this checking for months now, and mine is on content and process. This week our major goal is to get the invitations out of the door and to the right people.

The invitations require an agenda of course. We gave one that was modeled after the Philippines event. At least we know that this design works ; it is the best we can do in the absence of any meaningful talk with key stakeholders which should, ordinarily, shape the agenda. We are making some educated guesses. Tomorrow we will meet with the Secretary of the one of the two key ministries involved in serving people with disabilities here in Mongolia.

We also checked the venue for the stakeholder meeting which will be in a hotel rather than the hospital where the other events are taking place. It is an oversized square of a building that reeks of old Soviet glory and self-importance. To us it felt stiff and unwelcoming. The friendly staff at the reception were given the difficult job to undo that first impression. They did well but the banquet lady was someone you don’t want to tangle with, brusque and no nonsense, uttering short sentences, mostly limited to yes and no. We saw the room, tried for a larger size and round tables, were told no and resigned ourselves to make do, assuming (and secretly hoping) that some of the invitations will come too late and not everyone invited will show up.

The lowest hotel floors are occupied by stores selling winter clothes, nice, and probably expensive, clearly aimed at a clientele that has to put up with poorly heated buildings during the long harsh winter. We did one feeble attempt to locate flipchart paper (the hotel has easels but no paper if we understood the banquet lady correctly) and were pointed to a building across a busy artery. No one spoke English. we pointed at printing paper and indicated large or roll with our hands but the staff looked at us with pity and shook their heads. We poked around in corners hoping to find what we needed to no avail.

Maggie and I parted company in taxis, me to return to the hotel to try an internet (webex) experiment (a workshop on coaching) with my colleagues in Abidjan, Maggie to dispense the per diem to the current workshop participants.

Back at the Ramada I visited the Maxall Mall’s foodcourt which is adjacent to the hotel’s restaurant in the hope to get a sushi take out dinner. Alas, the rice wasn’t cooked and I couldn’t wait. I descended to the basement supermarket to buy a noodle-in-a-cup meal. The selection was very difficult. There were countless variants, occupying nearly an entire aisle. None of the labels were in script I could read (Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Mongolian). I had to base my selection on the pictures on the wrappers – which had little to do with the dried contents. I went for Kimchi flavor but I suspect that they are basically all the same, no matter what the picture promised.

While on my 5 hour conference call I washed away the spicy Kimchi noodles with local beer. It only comes in large sizes and is best drunk very cold, reminding me of Budweiser which is sold here in (also large) bottles and apparently quite popular.

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