Posts Tagged 'Lesotho'

Excelaration

Another workshop is over and I am turning to the next event, the last of what initially were four and became three. I have sorted out flight changes here and got tickets for flights in the future which might make an outsider believe I am a flight attendant, one that sits rather than attends. I am fussy about seats and it has taken some back and forth to avoid middle-back-of-the-plane seats.  I am mostly in the middle of the plane on aisle seats which feels like a major accomplishments with planes filled to capacity.

I have done three sessions in this workshop, all custom-designed and producing intended outcomes. One was about organizational culture. An inventory of practice led to the identification of four areas they wanted to be more intentional about: how to deal with gossip, with cliques, how to make rewards more equitable and the use of space. I wish them luck. If they fail it won’t be for lack of good intentions.

As a result of that session we now had a vocabulary to talk about the norms in the workshop, which, after having been identified in an age-old workshop ritual, were consistently violated without anyone paying attention. This produced the mother of all norms which was that norms don’t matter.  Everyone nodded, such is life.

Later in the workshop, after consistently seeing about 20% of the participants at the starting hour, I popped the question, what was going on? This revealed how our own team was contributing to the new norms, the competing pressures; all very understandable and all very manageable.

The second session was about story writing. Story telling is of course an art form in all of Africa but story writing is a different story indeed. When asked who loved to write only two hands when up. Writing is associated, as in so many other places with the red pen of the teacher, the critical boss or funder. I used many of the materials Axel used in Afghanistan with his SOLA writing group. I had heard about the effect but not seen it. I was happy to see how the group produced 4 very moving stories, three with a good ending and one with a bad ending (system failure).

We had inserted a session on resiliency – a topic much researched in the child-in-distress literature, and, since 9/11, also in the business literature. It was fascinating to see how this group of people, very much involved in saving children, produced the same overall conditions for resilience as a large international study did (community, identity, family and support systems). They then translated these findings to their own organizational settings, identifying what needed to be in place, established or strengthened in order to become more resilient. Some of these organizations are tiny and living hand-to-mouth; resilience will be what will ‘keep them whole under conditions of adversity.’

After lunch I returned to the office to process the evaluations – good and useable feedback. From it I learned that one participant was convinded that attending this workshop would contribute to the ‘excelaration’ of his (her? organization). What a concept!

Casting off

I had a lovely Skype conversation with the family back home, including one of the other Oma’s and Faro in the center of course. It’s funny seeing him now wear winter clothes – a first, like so many other things for him. He has learned a few tricks since I left, like rolling over, and, I am told, is now working on sitting up without falling over.

I missed Tessa and Steve who have by now cast off on their road trip with a car full of camping gear, clothing, a brand new iPhone and of course the two not so small dogs. We will be following them on their course and hope they learn much about goat farms, farm life, running a business on the go, dog camping, living on a dime, the rest of America and each other in small quarters.

We started a workshop for leaders of local civil service organizations who receive US government grants, through my organization, to provide a variety of services to orphans, vulnerable children and their caregivers.  Most of these organizations are small and have very basic business system needs in order to mobilize resources, maintain or build their reputation for accountability, efficiency, effectiveness and transparency.

One of the participants is a Peace Corps Volunteer, who has just arrived in Lesotho. She is one of the victims of the Enron collapse which forced her to rethink her life after all her retirement monies had evaporated. She and her husband, both retired, hope to be able to settle here, after her stint with the Peace Corps is over.  Her business consulting skills will come in very handy and I hope she will become a great resource to the local organizations.

On coursera

I used Saturday evening and Sunday morning to catch up on my two Coursera courses – took the midterm for Model Thinking and read up on course materials for Organizational Analysis.  The readings are interesting: the Cuban Missile crisis and case studies about school reform, all as backdrops for interpreting what happens in organizations.

After one last interview I drove to the Jo’burg airport, dropped off the rental car and boarded the small turbo prop that took me and 20 other people to Maseru.

A miscommunication left me stranded at the Maseru airport with an Anglican priest who had flown in from Cape Town. His standby phone, all that was left after his pad and computer had been stolen in Cape Town, was out of battery power and so he didn’t have the number of his ride which, may be also a miscommunication, had not shown up either.

After everyone was gone the airport was being locked up – ours was the last flight in. The airport staff told us the entrance gate to the airport would be closing.  They gave us a ride and dropped us off on the public side of the gate where we waited until my taxi arrived.  What would have been a pain in the neck, the long wait, gave rise to an interesting conversation with the gentleman who had worked for Desmond Tutu in the 80s and 90s and was there when Mandela was released.  I offered him a ride to the church’s guesthouse and got to listen to more stories.

At the hotel I was greeted by colleagues and a cold Maluti draft. It is now summer here too – a jump from two weeks ago; there appears to be no spring, from winter straight into summer.

And now I am back in the lesotho Sun’s standard room (all rooms are exactly the same), this time a few floors above the casino. It is Sunday and the place is filled with people hoping to get rich (and probably knowing they won’t).

The first email I read was about a South African colleague who had delivered her baby prematurely after an exhausting trip back from the US, and the sad postscript that the baby had died due to fluid in his lungs. A little boy named Adrian, like my dad. So intensely sad.

Pinky

This last morning, at least for now, at the copious Lesotho Sun breakfast buffet, I indulged in whipped cream – there is a bowl of whipped cream sitting below the croissants and I thought, why not?

I watched my co-breakfasters, curious what they eat. No one else seemed very excited about the whipped cream. There is a cold and warm buffet. I usually ignore the warm buffet (mushrooms, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs, French toast or pancakes, kippers) but most other people don’t and walk around with very full plates.

I noticed a man with two long pinky nails. I used to see this phenomenon a lot but lately I haven’t and thought it was no longer necessary to show that one did not do physical labor (that is what I was told) because nearly everyone, and I would imagine 100% of the hotel clientele, is engaged in the service and/or knowledge industry.

Learning

Faro, Sita and I chatted yesterday on the videophone (skype). It is such a treat to be able to do that. I needed my Farofix; it has been three weeks since I last saw him. Axel makes up for this by providing a day of childcare service to the new parents, lucky him; lucky them.

Faro, like many children born in the US or Europe these days, will grow up finding these video conferences normal, finding computers old fashioned and flipping things around on a screen run-of-the-mill.

I am closing my first two weeks and preparing for my return to Pretoria. Most of the schedule has fallen in place and it looks like my return trip will be postponed by a few days. I have moved into the design phase of one of the events and am reminded that I like design best of all.

I have learned in the meantime that a prime contractor to which MSH is a sub has been awarded a large worldwide health communication project.  I am on the team as a senior capacity advisor for 50% of my time. This means that I will now have a job for over 150% of my time. I often think back to last year when I returned from Afghanistan, quite depressed and with no clarity about my role or work at MSH. It seems ages ago but the turmoil and agony of that time is still fresh in my mind.

Not only do I have plenty of work, both in the US and overseas, but I also have acquired three supervisees, all women, all interested in things I am interested in.

I am using my quiet time in the evening, after the work is done, to read up on the subject of my title (principal technical advisor for organizational learning). I am finding kindred spirits near and far, surfing from one great essay to another. I am like a kid in a candy store, or an adult at an enormous buffet with all my favorite dishes – digestion is something best done after dinner when I am alone in my hotel room – there’s not much else to do. I don’t watch TV because I don’t like action movies and can’t stand the advertising. My world news I pick up from my smart phone in between appointments and in transit. So I read, copiously, voluminously, while thinking, thinking….

More weeks, more work

I learned that today is World Contraception Day. I didn’t even know such a day existed. I am getting a lot of emails about that but here in Lesotho I didn’t notice much of a celebration. There was a celebration at the hotel, a lecture by a South African poet and English language prof who spent much time in Lesotho at a time that Lesotho was surrounding by the old Apartheid South Africa.

The king, the queen, lords of the courts, ambassadors and many other notables attended the lecture. It was warm in the room and the lecture was long. It consisted of 7 parts – connected one way or another with the theme of borders, boundaries, being surrounded or isolated. I didn’t always get the connections. It felt like a big African meal was offered to me and my digestion would take a while. I slipped out during the question period and headed for the Chinese restaurant for my daily supply of dumplings and soup. I dropped the wine. Drinking wine by oneself feels a little naughty.

Scheduling the various parts of my assignments between Pretoria and Maseru remains a bit of a challenge. I will do one round trip in between my first arrival and final departure, a week here, a week there, and then more weeks here. The trip will be longer than planned, inching up to six weeks after all – dates changes that couldn’t be helped.

In the meantime I learned that a large proposal with a subcontractor role for MSH has been awarded. This means I have a new 50% job in addition to the 100% I already have. One year ago I was desperate for work and now it is pouring in from all sides.

With my long evenings alone in my hotel room, and a good internet connection, I decided to sign on to another Coursera course, on organizational analysis, taught by a Stanford Business School prof. Once again I find myself in the company of some 90.000 other students from all corners of the world, a small segment of that engaging busily in discussions. It is quite remarkable.  I am still on track with my other course, with a lecturer who I am growing quite fond of as he is quite enthusiastic. I passed the third quiz on my very first try – answering questions about percolation and tipping points and epidemiological equations. I am quite proud of myself – the neural connections are being repaired!

Back on the grid

I returned back on the grid, making posting on WordPress a little easier, though it was good to find out that I could do it from my smartphone, albeit a little cumbersome. Some two hundred work-related messages awaited me. I set to work right away on Friday night to clear them, one by one, leaving me with a sizeable to do list for the weekend.

A colleague is also staying here so I have company for breakfast and dinner, which is nice. It is the same colleague I bumped into in Kenya, 9 months ago. Her travel schedule matches mine, though for her 5 to 6 week trips are the norm. She is at the end of a long trip, I at the beginning. We are talking a lot about what we do when we don’t travel.

Some wonderful pictures of Faro awaited me from Axel’s babysitting stint last week. After our holiday in Italy it is hard to be so far apart now. Included in the picture attachments was the new refrigerator which we attempted to buy in June and then again in August. It finally arrived and we are now the proud possessors of our very first stainless steel appliance. I have to get used to the new look of our kitchen, though it is nice that the death-rattling old fridge has been carted off, leaving us in peace once more.

Yesterday I spent the entire day sitting in front of my computer, except for meals – an unhealthy affair. Still I was able to read things that had been sitting in my reading folder. Such readings make me feel expansive, full of new ideas, but then the tasks crowd them all out again.

I completed the next set of lectures and the accompanying quiz in my coursera Model Thinking course. I failed utterly in my first attempt, trying to solve all sorts of advanced statistical problems that remained, in spite of the explanations, entirely mysterious. The sensation of trying to solve these problems was akin to trying to use my withered supraspinatus muscle – there is nothing there to execute a move. If ever there were special statistical neural connections in my brain, they have withered too. Luckily one gets 5 attempts at the quiz and my second try took me out of the red.

Today I took a break from sitting at my desk on the uncomfortable hassock by walking down from my hillside hotel to the center of the city, to stock up on snacks and cup-a-soups. It was a beautiful day for a walk, a steep walk down and then up again. It was the first long walk since Italy. I had thought my ankle was in good shape again – which it is as long as I don’t walk on uneven terrain. The walk reminded me of that.


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