Dark and light

Luckily we had one recovery day, which we both needed. I prepared the materials and process slides while my colleague recovered first her health and energy and then her suitcase. For her it was a lost day; for me I was able to do what I should have done the week before – when everyone was depressed because of the lay-offs and not able to do any work.

We were doing what gives development aid a bad name: some left over money in a budget led to something that no one had asked for. We had reluctant participants, even more reluctant because the promised ‘modalities’ (a euphemism for participant payment, sometimes also referred to as ‘motivation’ or ‘primes d’encouragement’) were not to their liking; too low.  A series of miscommunications ended up in our lap. The combination of those two conditions was a recipe for disaster.

Our hands were tied; so-called ‘sitting fees,’ facilitation or simply appearance fees are not allowed. Despite some back and forth with headquarters no exception could be made (which relieved me as it is those exceptions that create 7-headed  dragons – but it does create bad blood in the here and now). The US government classifies payments demanded by people already on full salaries as corruption or bribes. One can go to jail for that, though I doubt Mr. Trump would take action, given the egg he has on his own head. People grumbled, some left and others stayed. Everything seemed to be going the way of the curry and the luggage.

A very late start and too many distractions, plus a few other surprises, found us at the end of day one of our workshop far behind what we had planned. I also made some faux pas breaching certain rules about dealing with those higher in the pecking order. I had asked, or rather imposed, a change of seats in order to enhance the diversity at the various tables. Imposing a change is, of course, never good and telling senior folks to sit someplace else was particularly inappropriate. The feedback I received about this at the end of the day painful and humbling; a good lesson for me. I apologized the next morning for my breaches of etiquette. People listened politely and smiled forgivingly; chalk it up to one more foreigner who doesn’t know.

We ended our two day workshop with less done than planned but at least the expectations were met. A hastily put together evaluation allowed our closing official to finish her speech and get us some sense of whether this had been a total waste of everything or would lead to something good. As it turned out, the opinions were more positive than we had expected and a few champions emerged to scale up this innovation, which was the raison d’etre of our being there: the combining of post-partum family planning training and management, leadership and governance training together, turned out to produce better results than clinical training alone or simply providing commodities.


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January 2017
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