Serious play

I have missed the entire month of November in the US. When I left there were still leaves on the trees and it was decidedly not winter. There had been no serious frost and we were still harvesting. I understand all that is now over.

Saffi has added this month that I missed to her life and is now 4 months old. She can now do things she could not do when I last saw her, such as pushing up on her arms.

I am nearing the end of my third assignment, the longest of them all. When I leave on Friday the team will be on its own. I have no worries or doubts about that. Today they ran the senior alignment meeting with great skill and confidence, with me coaching from the sidelines except for the two sessions that are most difficult to facilitate, especially with debate-happy French speakers (la francophonie). I have learned over the years how to handle this and actually get quite a kick out of it, but, unprepared novices can easily drown in the cacophony of voices and opinions and lose the thread and much time.

I repeated the exercise we did last week, asking what their secret was about keeping Ebola out. This time we had a much more mixed audience, some doctors but also several men in uniform (gendarmerie, the army), veterinarians, the prefect which is the highest representative of the government (somewhat like a governor), members of the regional council, the mayor’s office, animal husbandry people and the regional reference hospital, including the focal point for Ebola. Yet, they came up with exactly the same reasons as the 30 health folks did last week, giving the data some more oomph. I daresay I now know what allowed them to keep Ebola outside their borders: political will, mass education and mobilization, logistical, technical and financial support that allowed them to put all the required equipment in place, training and supervision of the various actors in health and other sectors, including health providers at the community level, coordination mechanisms that actually work and surveillance.

I had the group create a shared vision after a guided imagery followed by drawings. After the initial indignant outcry (‘we can’t do this!’) they all set too work with great vigor and under loud laughter. It was serious play because Ebola is nothing to joke about.

I did notice that everyone shakes hands again – old habits die hard. When I elbowed the prefect he told me bare elbows was still not good enough and we rubbed our covered shoulders.

Everyone thought Ebola had disappeared. The new alert from Liberia (and the ongoing alerts from Guinea) means they have to reconsider such behaviors like shaking hands again. A sick person from Guinea was just returned at the border. The threat is real and nearby; half the population has relatives across the border.

The hunting and eating of bush meat is still being enforced and those who made their living doing the hunting and selling have been given a new trade, charcoal, thanks to the quick action of one of the ministries that had figured out that forbidding a trade and not replacing it so people can continue to feed their families will only lead to cheating. People have been put in jail for ignoring orders from up high. It is a matter of life and death and so they take everything quite serious.

After hours, at 5PM every Monday, the coordination committee meets for exactly one and a half hours. It starts exactly on time when the prefect enters. The actions from last week are read and everyone present is held accountable. Only a very good excuse is acceptable I am told. During the height of the outbreak next door, these meetings took place daily.

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