Posts Tagged 'Abidjan'

Hazards

My second week here in Cote d’Ivoire is with our team – some of the people I worked with last week and others who joined us.  The task before us is a creative one – with one large project over, and new solicitations before us, what should we be doing different? It is not easy to rethink a program that has, by and large, been very successful.  If it wasn’t for our office chief people would probably stay right where they are. We talk a lot about staying in one’s comfort zone, and how nice it is to dwell there.

The design of the week is emergent, I have a rough idea what the outcome should be and use for the overall design a methodology I recently learned, DRIVE, that takes people from Discovery, Re-alignment, through Innovation, Validation and Evolution. I am making some adaptations, aside from the translations, but by and large is provides a good structure.

I am inserting many elements of my neuroscience coaching program – mostly because I want to equip my colleagues with the tools to create a climate of trust, wherever they work. I have trained them over the years to shift from teaching to facilitating. They are already quite good at that; although from time I can see they wished things were less ambiguous and they could slide back in their teaching role, at which they are equally good, as long as they feel mastery of the material.

We meet in the basement of the office, a room that looks out over a narrow terrace and a small strip of dirt and grass where cars are parked. One of the cars parked there is a wreck. The front is destroyed, including the driver’s seat. The driver didn’t survive the accident. Each time I step out onto the terrace and look at that wreck I think of him. I asked why they don’t get rid of this horrible reminder of a departed colleague. It has something to do with transparency and accountability I gather; the same reasons why broken furniture cannot be discarded; why the hospital in Zinder had a pile of broken hospital beds sitting on its grounds – if they disappear it could look as if someone had stolen the beds, or the furniture, or the car. There must be other ways to account for broken things I wonder, especially this painful reminder of the occupational hazards of being a driver (and by extension, a passenger) on the roads in developing countries.

Extremes

I had requested another hotel in the capital upon my return from the provincial capital. I had a great need to swim, after a whole week on dry land. The Novotel in Abidjan had a fairly large pool I remembered from when I last stayed there, even though that was not a good experience: the hotel staff was unresponsive and even entered into arguments with clients, the rooms were old and dirty.  I had vowed to never go back there. But this time my need to swim won out.

To my great surprise I found a transformed Novotel – friendly and accommodating staff, brand new rooms, a great fitness center and a room with a view over the Lagon.

I went from one extreme to another: instead of the little Nescafe sticks at breakfast, I now had not only access to various machines producing all sorts of real coffees in the restaurant (ristrettos, cappuccinos, espressos, machiatos), I even had a little Nespresso machine all to myself in my room, including a daily refill of the little capsules. I also went from a very limited menu (fish or fowl), to be ordered hours in advance, which was then delivered to my room to eat alone, to an abundance of choices, both a la carte and as buffet. I must add that the cost of this buffet probably exceeded the food budget of a poor family for an entire week.  This creates some discomfort at first – the contrast of rich and poor in the countries I work in hard to accept. But then again, I do like my creature comforts.

However the best was being able to swim and exercise daily – something I am now craving after a long day at work.

Small change

We left Man at 7:20 exact. I had calculated that we would arrive in Abidjan around 3:30 PM (which we did). It’s a long and at times scary journey but I was in good hands with a competent driver.

Mid way, after four hours of driving we stopped at a little maquis, a simple local restaurant with a limited menu of local dishes. The driver checked a few to make sure they had a toilet, and we ended up at one that had a toilet where one didn’t have to roll up one’s pantlegs.

The local food is quite good and the least likely to provoke intestinal troubles, contrary to what most people think. I have not consumed any processed food for more than two weeks now and I feel great.

Too my great surprise we ran into the regional director who was one of my students a year and a half ago. I don’t know many people in Cote d’Ivoire and those I know are mostly in Abidjan (and a few in Man now). To run into a familiar face in the middle of the country seems a coincidence. But my colleague Rose doesn’t believe in coincidences. She gave me a book ‘Le hasard n’existe pas’ (chance doesn’t exist). I haven’t read it yet, but in this case I would agree. Not only did the regional director explain more about the death of his secretary, he also told me that all the districts in his region now use the challenge model and things are more systematic and organized, with better results. I knew that his district director who was part of our facilitation team in Man has transformed (not only herself but also how her team works) but now it seems all of his district directors operate this way.

After reading Congo I realize that ‘changing health systems’ may be a pipe dream as long as corrupt leaders set the tone. But at least at a local level, some things I have done have made a difference. It may not be sufficient on a global level, but it is good for them.

Next leg

The dream last night was all about knowing I have to go on a trip, and having a ticket, and having a hair appointment, but never quite being able to get the actual dates and times of my flight and appointment. There were always interruptions from this one and that one, and I was always in a very chaotic environment; so chaotic that I couldn’t think clearly.

I woke up with the feeling of running after myself, being exhausted and chaos. It occurred to me that I may have absorbed some of the anxiety and feelings of refugees that gets channeled to me via the news and mixes with my long trip and countless assignments that require action from me during the day and after hours. I have never been a refugee so I don’t know, but I can imagine it would be something like this – except that for them there are no plane tickets or hair appointments.

Axel and I were finally able to catch up on Skype while he was cooking an Indian dinner. Our friend W happened to be there and chimed into the conversations from time to time as we talked about the hysteria that is creeping into everyday life. This I see as a victory for ISIS. Fear does bad things to otherwise rational human beings.

The husband of our friend M, already very frail when I saw him last time, has passed away. I won’t be able to be at the funeral. Axel will have to represent me. I am sorry that i am so far away.

I packed my suitcase for the fifth time. Today we will drive to Man in the western part of the country. It looks, on the tiny internet map, as if it is about 75 km from the Guinean and Liberian border. It is far from Abidjan, some 600 km which will take about 8 hours, I am told. It is rainy season and if the roads over there are anywhere like the ones I have seen pictures of in Liberia, then 8 hours would be fast. I will be in good company with two women, dear colleagues I have worked with for years, one my age and one much younger. They are both very interested in the psychology of leadership. I think we will have some fabulous conversations.

Brainpower

Some of my Medford and Arlington colleagues were wrapping up a coordination meeting at the same hotel. I saw little of them as I was in a planning and kick off meeting at the office and preparing for our work in the western part of the country.

I saw them off around dinner time returning home on the Air France overnight flight to Paris. The participants in their meeting were colleagues from Africa and Asia. They had flown in to discuss how to improve leadership of national malaria programs. I had already met some of them when they just started out and received their orientation in Medford. At the time I could tell they were wondering how to produce the results expected of them. In the meantime their programs have taken off, some with great results. They were here to learn from each other. I had dinner with a few that didn’t have flights on Friday and we were able to pick up the thread of where we left off. I got to know some of them a bit better. It was a nice bonus. We talked a lot about influence without authority as none have staff or budgets so they have to entice people to follow them in other ways.

I spread out my breakfast over two hours, not wanting to go back to my tiny room and work on a long list of things. But finally that time had come as eventually those colleagues I sat with had flights to catch.

We all watched in horror the events in Mali. I had noticed that the Ibis hotel no longer allowed cars to pull up to the front entrance. Heavy gates have been installed and guards are everywhere. Thought no one said so, everyone realized that what happened at the Radisson Blue could happen here. It has a chilling effect. The one American woman killed in Bamako was one of our people, on an assignment like each one of us, to improve public health.

It’s funny that I feel happy about going deep into the interior, far away from obvious targets. But really, how do we know what is an obvious target? Deep in Mali’s and Nigeria’s territory bombs have exploded and killed or maimed people. Most of the time we don’t even hear about this as the reporting bias is so blatant – European and American death count more – Facebook has exposed its own bias and made many people angry. When one is not exposed to the rest of the world through personal contacts, it is to forget that one is not the center of the universe.

Yet our chances of being blown up by an ISIS squad or being in a plane going down are very small, statistically speaking. Our biggest occupational hazard is on the road. Yet road trips feel a lot less scary. Ah, the brain is an amazing organ.

Talking about the brain, when I use the stairs rather than the elevator, a space in the hotel that doesn’t usually expect guests, the smell of mildew, wet carpets and cleaning chemicals instantly brings me back to my earliest memories of working in Africa: leaving the plane in Dakar of April 1979, my first trip to Nigeria, the hotel in Abeokuta, in 1987. Those smells are stored deep in my brain with vivid memories attached that are activated each time I take the stairs. It is hard to imagine that all this is possible because of a bunch of chemical and electrical processes.

Next assignment

For the fourth time I packed my suitcase to move out of one and into another hotel.  Yesterday morning, after the morning reflection, I handed my facilitator baton (a marker) to my colleague from DC to wrap things up and said my goodbyes to our team in South Africa and wished them well as they head into the last leg of their project.

Driver Aaron who I have known for some 5 years – we hug when he drops me off, that kind of friendship – told me about the Cradle of Mankind when we drove past the big mount that houses the skeletons and bones of our earliest ancestors. We talked for a while about that ancient history and how some of these people made their way as far as Australia and started settlements along the way. It is endlessly fascinating and I was sorry not to have visited there. Aaron is a tour guide (and a minister) in his spare time and I told him one day I would have him take me there.

It took 14 hours from door. I left under beautiful skies and arrived in a very wet Abidjan, which was completely gridlocked (traffic wise). It took the driver 2 hours to get from the office to the airport. This is ordinarily a 20 to 30 minute drive. I have been in these jams before on these very same roads. Some of the side roads were rivers. A gaggle of policemen were trying to straighten things out but one was hit by a car. They were completely powerless against the drive of ‘me-me-me,’ which in traffic situations is that everyone forces his or her way across traffic streams (wet or dry). I was too tired and still a little benadryled from the cough syrup, so I didn’t care.

South Africa, or at least Gauteng Province finally got the rain it so badly needed, though not enough and too much at the same time. Abidjan, according to my driver, is getting rain when it should be done with rain. I am so glad that I have a profession that doesn’t depend on rain, but we should all be worried if the people who grow our food, don’t get enough or too much of it.

I am once again in an Ibis hotel but this one isn’t as nice as the one in Tana. Not only is it poorly maintained with a yucky carpet on the floor, the room is about one fifth of the size of my previous hotel room in Magaliesberg in South Africa (and one sixth of the one in Jo’burg). Here, when I pivot from a central position in both bathroom and bedroom I can get to almost every part of the room without moving, just stretching out my arms. In those other two hotel rooms, I could have put up my whole family, including grandchildren .


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