Posts Tagged 'Charleston'


Dorm sleeping at our age is only bearable for a few days, even in the fancy dorm. After a week on a plastic mattress we were happy to sleep in our own bed again. The conference ended on a high note as I picked up two more very useful exercises from the Saturday morning sessions. We said our goodbyes, to Charleston and to our friends and promised to show up next June, in Albuquerque, for the 37th OBTC.

We arrived back home while it was light. In between throwing the Frisbee to an attention starved grand dog (Tessa and Steve are creating their own Woodstock memories in a drenched Tennessee at the Bonnaroo Music festival) we surveyed the garden where everything is growing well because of the incessant rain. This includes intended crops as well as weeds and bugs.

We had a light meal because Axel’s stomach begged for something that wasn’t soaked in bacon fat. The southern food is tasty but we’re not used to that much fat. Luckily there was a CVS, well stocked with Tums, right around the corner from our dorm; the one that also sold wine and beer and ice-cream.

We lucked out in our return flight home, zigzagging around massive cumulus clouds, and landing in Boston less than 2 hours after departure while colleagues heading for the Midwest and southern Midwest found themselves stranded in Charleston or Atlanta because of the weather, waiting in airports for hours.

I woke up early this morning to more rain and wetness and started to clean out my mailbox. I look at the contents now through the Afghanistan lens and so there is much that can be deleted without any further thought. But it feels that with every email deleted, a totally unrelated item is added to my to do list for our move east: what to bring, what to complete, what to cancel, what to find out.

I notice that today is the 14th. I used to pay attention to dates with this number because the 14th was the day of our accident now nearly 2 years ago. After July 14, 2008 I stopped doing that. But the accident is now more prominent in our minds again as we discover lesser ailments that went undetected two years ago and become more prominent as time goes by and body parts remain painful and make the full recovery we hoped for somewhat incomplete.

A bike ride to Quaker meeting today seems like just the right thing to do to still my mind and be in the presence of the divine so I can face the (daunting) immediate future with some tranquillity in my heart.

In good hands

We are slowly moving through the phases of the change process I teach. I am a little ahead of Axel and in the exploratory phase. There is much to think about and sometimes it is a little overwhelming. There is so much that has to be done and so few calendar days to squeeze it in.

The trip to Kabul on Monday or Tuesday has been postponed. This is both good and bad. The good thing is that we will have some quiet time together at home to think through what needs to be done and for Axel to make connections. The bad thing is that my entire summer is a series of carefully dovetailed events that now need to be disrupted. There is a combination of immutable appointments (the trip to Addis, the shoulder surgery with all its pre-op and post-op tests and follow up) and commitments (teaching at BU, a family reunion and the trip to Ghana late August). Sometimes my head spins. Right now I have no idea how all this is going to work.

Axel and I did our mind-mapping sessions and got some twenty people to overcome their fears. A few reported later that they bravely mind-mapped all sessions they attended after us; even business school professors can learn something new!

I attended a session on the Argentinean Tango and organizational behavior. Dancing the tango requires as much leadership as followership and my struggles with leading and following as we learned only one basic step illuminated possible pitfalls for someone who is switching from follower to leader. That would be me in a few months. I experienced the kind of gut learning that this conference was designed to bring about.

A matching dream last night produced another insight all by itself and I woke up realizing that one of the key skills that senior leadership requires is negotiation as I dreamed a complex scenario that required working across boundaries. We have an author of many textbooks about negotiation right here in our midst.

Friday night at OBTC is always the traditional talent show. There are many regulars: a few poets, a yodeler, an opera singer, a balad singer and then a few brave souls who stand up on the podium for the first time, including two dancers demonstrating the tango.

Over the last 7 years I have become the conference chronicler poet and the pressure is on as soon as people arrive on day 1 – asking me, ‘will you be doing the poem again?’ How can I say no? I carry a little notebook with me at all times and jot down things I notice; funny things, contradictions and stuff that’s weird.

I used to be nervous about making a commitment and then finding myself in front of a microphone with a mediocre or incomplete poem. But now I know it will come and I need simply be prepared with a piece of paper and pencil to catch the verses as they appear in my mind. It was my 8th such poem and chronicled the southern experience (food, Tums, dress and climate), the keynote speakers, the theme and the turbulence that Axel and I are experiencing as a couple over the imminent move.

We have lined up some eminent B-school thinkers as coaches and guides for our adventure and feel supported by a ring of admirers and caring colleagues. We are in good hands!

Not knowing

In this warm city, garbage left out starts to get ripe real quickly and so, every morning, between 3 and 5 AM a large dump truck installs itself in the ally below our window and empties containers with much noise. It wakes me up but not Axel.

Yesterday started with a reflection from one of our society’s sages, Andre Delbecq, about theme of the conference (from good teaching to good learning) as applied to his life’s journey. Illustrated with great quotes from Henri Nouwen and Parker Palmer he distinguished between what one thinks one should do, wants to do and is called to do. I understand the latter while Axel is trying to quiet his mind to hear it.

We are currently, as a couple, in the turbulent headwater of two currents coming together with, for now, no land in sight as we are left in a state of not knowing. Not knowing whether we are travelling to Kabul or not next week. Not knowing what Axel will do there. Not knowing what will change in my work relationships when I am in Kabul and not knowing what comes after Kabul. And, more practically for me, not knowing what will change after the presidential elections over there.

Where I was buoyed by Andre’s talk, seeing an affirmation of my decision to move to Kabul for a year, Axel was not because he missed it. He had not slept much the night before, a combination of the effect of the southern fried food and the news about Kabul and so he slept in.

We skipped the paid for dinner at the college cafeteria and instead had a dinner à deux in a lovely Flemish restaurant (mussels and sweet potato fries) to sort out how to handle the turbulence, the strong feelings that are created and the support we need from each. There is a heightened need for communication under these circumstances – and making time for each other. I should know this.

The sessions in the conference are of great use to me. I am looking at all through the Afghanistan prism and pick topics that I think I will need to learn more about. Some are concurrent and I have to make choices. I am collecting names from people to become my support network when in Kabul and everyone happily agrees to serve this purpose. Both of us feel tremendously supported, encouraged and loved by this community of professional colleagues – some of whom have become dear friends as well.

Today is our session – a skill building workshop about mind mapping, which we also planned over dinner, in between talking about Afghanistan and our imminent move. We feel like one eyed teachers in the land of the blind – not pros at it, as people think, but just a little ahead in the practice. We have only skimmed the surface of all the writings about mind mapping and I am a little intimidated when I Google the word. Not knowing but knowing enough for now.


The news came through yesterday that the job in Kabul is mine for the taking. It feels good to be out of limbo and no longer having to say, ‘if I am offered the job.’ A little bit of limbo remains because I have not received approval for the trip next week, yet the travel agent sent me an itinerary and a question whether to confirm. Axel should be on that ticket but was not. A few wrinkles still need to be ironed out.

Yesterday was a quiet day, wedged in between the board’s work and the beginning of the conference. A bunch of us turned into tourists and signed up for a guided tour around the city of Charleston in the morning and an afternoon tour to the Magnolia Plantation on the banks of the Ashley River, some 10 miles upstream from the city.

Our group included a group a giggly group of (female) school teachers from California in their forties who could, collectively, answer all the questions from the tour guide and wrote down the answers they had missed in little notebooks. A quiet young woman turned out to be a newly minted captain in the US navy, docked in Charleston for the night; a young couple with a toddler and a newborn who fitted in her dad’s palm and never gave a peep during the entire day. By the end of the tour we were no longer a bunch of unrelated individuals but had bonded and talked between and across rows of seats.

As we entered the bus the guide asked each of us where we came from (Philly, Boston) and I could see him mentally adjust his teaching plan. He was going to be gentle with us and show how good the South had been (with their slaves), how scared and vulnerable ordinary people had been and what a shame that 32 of the plantations along the river had been burned and sacked, depriving us of this part of America’s heritage.

The guide talked fast and southern making it more like a foreign language to me. I was exhausted by the time we left the city and wiped out by the time we were delivered back at our dorms. But it had been a great day and, in contrast to my short visit last October, I had a much better feel for the place. Charleston’s main source of income is from people like us. The tourist business runs like a well-oiled machine with thousands of people playing their well rehearsed roles. It was a flawless performance.

It gets hot here and humid. Just like in the kinds of places I visit in Africa and Asia. It’s a little taxing for people not used to it or who are carrying excess bodyweight around. I can see them thinking about weight loss programs. We haven’t seen too many locals with extra weight. Mostly skinny boys and girls dressed to the nines. This is particularly amazing given the fried food they eat here.

Our conference kicked off with an extraordinary session run by Jim Clawson from UVA’s Darden School of Business. Part theatre, part teaching, he affirmed all the principles that we use in our leadership program and kicked at problem-driven leadership work and achievement-focused goal setting with some wonderful and compelling examples while creating a space for all of us in the audience to make connections with others. It was a flawless kick-off for a conference about good teaching and good learning.

This morning I woke up very early – it was still dark outside. My mind was full of thoughts about the impending move to Afghanistan and everything that needs to be handed over before September. I went out for a walk in the cool and empty city, looking for coffee and anxious to clear my mind. I got both tasks accomplished and am now studying the program through an Afghan lens. What sessions and which teachers will help me when I am over there?

Off duty

We finished our last day of Board meetings yesterday at exactly 5:30 PM after another full day of meetings in our plush board room. We ended with a high energy exercise about everything that we knew needed attention and repair. That is now for others to fix and attend to, as we outgoing board members hand over our batons to the newly elected ones.

Part of the reward for doing board work is that you get to eat out in interesting restaurants a lot and have long and leisurely dinners for three nights in a row. We celebrated our accomplishments and the transitions in Virginia’s Kitchen, a lovely restaurant in an old house; we had the upstairs room which looked like a museum, all to ourselves; this time there was no music to compete with.

Over dinner people took turns to speak about what Magid and I had brought to the board. It was incredibly affirming and at times surprising to hear people talk about what I, as an outsider to this academic society, an interloper in my view, had brought to the table. I am, they say here, from the real world, with the emphasis on ‘real.’

I spoke about my introduction to this society now nearly 20 years ago and what a journey it had been and how incredible to have been elected to the Board. Still, despite the fact that I know many people well, it remains an alien culture and I will never speak its language like a native.

The menus in restaurants here are so very different from those in the north. Yesterday’s dishes were variations on fried food encircled by grits and collard greens or sausage and seasfood in a rich soup or sauce. For Axel the combination required an emergency visit to CVS to buy antacids. Lucky for me CVS also sells wine, beer and ice cream – attractive items to put in our oversized and entirely empty refrigerator as we are getting ready for the conference to begin later today.

Axel has learned much about the southern perspective on the civil war. People are still upset and the view is quite different from the one we get up north. Today I am partially off duty: we have to refine out design for the session we are doing on Friday about mind mapping. But most of today we can play untill about 5 PM when the conference starts with much shrieking and hugging and kissing as we see dear friends we have missed for an entire year.

The limbo continues about Afghanistan and I check my mail several times a day in the hope of finally knowing, one way or the other, so I can make plans about the future. But the Afghanistan team has not made its decision yet. And because of that no one is travelling to Kabul on Monday, not Axel, not me. The bad news is that this was about the only window for such a trip; the good news is that I now have a chance to use up some more vacation days that will go ‘poof’ in 2 weeks, weed the garden and eat our first harvest of lettuce.


Today is my last day on the Board of OBTS. At the end of the day, Magid and I will be let go and leave the work and the many tasks to those who were elected after us or who were appointed and took on another term. It is a dedicated group of people; strong personalities with opinions and a tremendous amount of experience as teachers and faculty members.

To this day, despite my long exposure to this group (I have been coming to these annual conferences for 17 years) the world of academe remains an alien culture. There are expressions and abbreviations that people use all the time that I cannot seem to keep straight. I have asked but forgot; they are meaningless for me. Issues of tenure, research versus teaching and grading are irrelevant to me but stand center stage in this culture.

I brought everyone their party bags, a tradition I inherited from my predecessor and embellished a little bit by not only putting in things that increase the trade deficit with China but also food for thought, candy and things to doodle with. The brightly colored party bags -primary colors only – stand out against the muted tones of the very corporate board room. Outside in the hall is a huge portrait of the center’s namesake, a local entrepreneur. He is painted running up stairs through a phalanx of clapping people, with a twinkle in his eyes. He looks very young for having made enough money to finance this building. Maybe that was part of the dream. Through this portrait he has secured eternal youth for himself and a place to meet and study for the generations to follow.

Axel in the meantime is on a historical tour and visits Fort Sumter while we do board business. He is tourist among many others in the muggy hot air while I freeze to death in the overcooled board room. We meet up for cocktails with the Doctoral Institute students and faculty who are just getting started with their pre-conference event.

Dinner is in a fancy restaurant, up carpeted stairs with a Steve Wonder look-alike playing the piano for the downstairs guests. We get the piped music. I am shocked at the prices on the menu but relax when I see a steak tartar appetizer that can function as a main course. It’s more than a main course and Axel finishes it off. And I have once again confirmed that I am weird: she wants to live in Afghanistan and eats raw meat. Everyone else around me had the more civilized variety of meat that is cooked, filet mignon that, most claim, is the best they ever had.

Axel and I don’t sit at the same table and so we haven’t had a chance to catch up on what he has done. Instead he talks with other guys his age about the feelings triggered by our possible move east – at least I think that’s what he was doing. Imagine that, men talking about feelings! It could have been a group of women together. This is what’s so nice about this bunch of people who have been so welcoming to both of us over the years.

Southern clutter

A straight flight down from Boston brought us to the South. This is a very different place. All the street names are reminders of the love/hate relationship with Britain. Liberty Street and George (or King) Street are side by side. It’s a very different place from New England: the architecture, the palm trees and the way women are dressed. There is no grunge look here. The southern belles we pass in the evening wear elegant dresses, long and short, with strapless tops if they can. And then there is the drawl; lovely.

We converged from all sides of the US to this place for our 1st board meeting of the year that precedes the annual conference. There are about 20 of us, always some new to the board and some going off, like me. With this last meeting I will have completed my three-year term.

A few others have brought spouses who joined us for this first informal event of our agenda – good food, catching up with news and ‘checking in.’ During the brief pauses of the phenomenal guitar players who augmented the restaurant’s ambiance we took turn talking about what was new, good or bad, since we last saw each other in October. I got to break the news about my wish to move to Afghanistan, which few people understand. For some it is like saying, I have decided to go to the moon. But others get it; that this is a huge and interesting professional challenge.

After dinner we returned to our dormitory. The conference organizers have put us in the nice dorms. I suspect we are in the graduate student dormitory: suites with three rooms, a kitchen, bathroom and small sitting area. We managed to fill up the few horizontal surfaces and the tiny space with our stuff in no time – even though we brought very little stuff with us. It never ceases to amaze me quick we can clutter up a place, any place.misc 014

All the suites are located around an open air courtyard that has a picnic table and a sofa and armchairs in it. They are made to look like the real things, but out of colorful plastic – like you would expect in a modern art museum. It rains here a lot and the dark puddles of standing water on the sofa and chair where the cushions would have been attest to this fact. It’s a small design flaw that makes them useless after weeks of rain.misc 015

Our dorm looks out over the backside of buildings; a parking place with a bunch of containers which, we discovered, are emptied at about 3 AM by large trucks that make much noise for a long time.

May 2018
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