Posts Tagged 'Namibia'

Uber-meat and biltong

I have left the land of the über-meat-eaters and am now back in the land of the biltong. I ate too much of it and am now lessening my thirst with port wine; a small carafe was happily waiting next to my bed in the Bohemian guesthouse.

About noontime we completed our workshop with a management simulation during which the top directors played lowly workers and the regional folks playing top team. At the end they said they had a new appreciation for the pressures their bosses are under. It was quite an engaging exercise during which much real stuff was acted out.

We ended the workshop on a high note with a slide show of action pictures, professionally taken by my colleague A. with his fancy camera. After lunch everyone went his or her way, all with many good intentions.

We had our final team meeting in the MSH office and met our druggie colleagues as we call them affectionately. There are nine nationalities working in that office, a jolly group of managers, pharmacists and logisticians.

On the short flight back to Jo’burg I read the New York Times and learned to my relief that the slow downgrading of the Y-chromosome appears to have halted or at least slowed down. This is good news now that we have a new Y-chromosome arriving soon in the family.


Oryx steak was for dinner, juicy and red, with a sprig of thyme on top of it like a mast on a sailboat. We sat around the table with another USAID-funded project that has overlapping aims but has been local for five years. So they know a thing or two about the group we are working in, all embeds.

They are doing a workshop with exactly the same group we were with but without the regional folks. And after that it is our turn again, possibly with more of the same. It is all very mysterious.

The restaurant where we had gathered is perched on the top of a hill and overlooks the Windhoek plain, providing a spectacular view of the sun setting in between rainstorms left and right (but not over us), enormous electrical jolts and a red/orange/purple sun sinking through white and grey clouds. Like a calendar picture.

We had one vegan in our party. It is tough to be a vegan here. The waitress, being a true Namibian, explained to us that only red meat counts as meat. Consequently, chicken and fish are considered vegetables. And vegetables are nobodies. Our vegan colleague ordered nobodies.

We are half a day away from the end of the workshop. There has been much talk about behavior change and the behavioral and attitudinal shifts everyone thinks are needed. The talk is sincere but the constraints they are up against are enormous. We tried to turn them from despair and cynicism into hope and possibility but I know it is not a switch. Yet this country gets things done and has money (Namibia is an upper middle income country I learned today). The entire week we have been eaten lunch with the compliments of the Namibian government. I can’t think of any country (except for Japan) where the government took care of us.

People and money

When the rains come pouring down we cannot hear ourselves think – we have to use the mic to get ourselves heard about the noise on the tin roof. Outside the rains come down in sheets that wash all the cars in a minute or two. And then, usually, the rain moves on and everything dries up in no time, as if nothing happened.

People here like the rains as much as we dislike them in Holland or London – rain is a life force in many parts of Africa. One of my colleagues told me, “when I arrive from the air I look down on the green mountains around the city I am so proud and happy.” I can’t imagine saying that when landing at Schiphol airport.

Today we entered into more delicate reflections about behavior of self and behavior of the bosses. Some people’s bosses are in the room and there is a slight nervousness about this dynamic and unease, understandable, to even acknowledge this dynamic – but it is the elephant in the room. And so we are treading lightly.

We did an exercise about team roles in group discussions. On purpose we had given the people who we have seen initiating a lot (initiate is one of the four roles in Kantor’s Four Player System) the role of observer. Not surprisingly they got so caught up in the conversations that it took a lot of coaxing by us to get them to actually observe. They admitted that keeping their mouths zipped up was very difficult.

I am adding some of the exercises I used to do with participants before we had a standard leadership curriculum. I had forgotten about them an am rediscovering my overflowing electronics materials library which I carry around the world in my dropbox. These exercises and think pieces are about things that are very relevant to this group: managing one’s boss, dealing with team dynamics, political thinking, public sector managers who want transformational change – what are they up against? There are many private sector gurus who are copied and whose words are put on powerpoints for audiences that can’t possibly do much with them because public sectors are different – missing control over two key resources: people and money.
We are getting good feedback from the group – their heads buzzing with ideas that explain things they took for granted. Just what we wanted.

Warp and weft

Day two has come and gone and the ‘free and open’ dialogue that participants wanted is starting haltingly – a move of a few inches. The progress was recognized by the same person who mentioned it missing yesterday – “I was a little holding back myself,” she admitted today. An amazing remark from one of the more senior people in the room.

If they acknowledged yesterday that inspiring was their weak point, today they started to see how one can inspire – how energy gets produced when people create together a picture of the future they would like to create. Together they had dreamed and talked about that until we had five sheets of drawings with tons of information. I took it all back to the hotel. I got up early this morning to pull out major themes from the mass of data. Last night I was too pooped to do that and unable to see any patterns. This morning they danced off the page. We verified the words against the pictures they drew and it was right on, no energy lost in the process. Pfffh!

We compared this vision (albeit it with a slightly different focus) with the one that was in the formal strategic plan, probably produced by a consultant – and everyone could see and feel the difference. It was a demo of what a shared vision does, not what it is. QED.

The rest of the day went fast as the participants tackled a variety of tasks, all aimed at helping them be more systematic and intentional in their behaviors and actions toward their vision. We had to do with one facilitator less who was pulled away to deal with a very serious family crisis. If ever one needed a team it was today, and we pulled together, weaving in and out of each others’ sessions as if we were twins, thinking nearly alike. It was a great experience.

We are also working closely with another USAID project and trying to produce a strong piece of fabric, they the warp and we the weft.

Up and running

Day one of our workshop came and went. We are no longer planning in a vacuum as we have experienced a day of interactions. At the end of the day in a reflection the words ‘passion’ and ‘fun’ surfaced. I was happy – those are good words when you talk about things that matter.

A workshop such as this one is as much developmental as it is diagnostic. We learned that everyone recognizes the imbalance between planning (perceived as a strength) and inspiration (lacking), the latter explaining much about implementation falling behind. All this is not unusual in the public sector in my experience.

In the meantime I am trying to sort out the rest of my stay in South Africa – something that is creating some sleepless nights for me as I try to balance expectations and commitments. I wonder if this has something to do with my internal temperature controls being totally out of whack – it does make one tired, these nights full of flashes.

My scrabble interactions with family and friends back in Europe and the US are hindered by not understanding how my smart phone opens up or not to the internet. It seems totally random, no matter what I do. I think it has something to do with T-Mobile being in control even though I have a South Africa simcard. I miss these daily exercises in word cleverness and the chats that accompany them.

At the end of the day the rains came down in sheets again, just when we headed back to the hotel with our fragile flipchart papers that contained the faint outline of a vision. Oh how I missed Sita during the visioning session. She would have done such a superior job scribing and helping participants see their dreams and thoughts on paper.


A and I spent the morning going over the program of this week’s workshop in order to divide the work. Most of the exercises he is familiar with so we can lighten each other’s’ load. Some are new to him. Everything remains guesswork until we meet the 40 people who are taking a full week out of their schedule to learn new things. It is humbling.

Axel and I had hoped to hook up on Skype but all we ended up doing is the exchange of some emails. Internet access works through coupons with long strings of numbers that you have to put in every two hours, so I am not always ‘on’ the way I am in most other places. So I missed the chance to talk with Abuja.

While A was managing relationships I headed into the mountains with S and her baby on her back. At about 4 PM the rains and thunderclaps came – there were cells everywhere around us, you could see them but most of the time we were able to dodge them, sticking a wet finger in the air to guess their direction – although their movements seemed pretty random.

The rain and thunder cells are extremely local: 25 or 50 meters to one side of us everything got drenched while we stayed dry. Eventually, when we were near the top of a hill, a lookout post over the city, the rains reached us. When we saw some gigantic electrical charges in the dark grey sky we thought it better to return to the car.

We found a small restaurant where we could sit outside under a cover until the rains became so heavy that they found small holes in the awning pushing us inside. Although I went through great pains to request sauces on the side, the meal was once again heavy and mediocre. I have yet to eat a great meal here.

I watched baby A dribble this way, then that, never sitting still for a second, requiring mom to be on high alert all the time. A couple of years from now this will become a familiar experience for us, I thought. We can relieve Sita and Jim once in a while, or give the baby back to them. Either way seems like fun now.

I went to bed early and discovered the electricity gone in the morning, probably due to the long and heavy rains.


I woke up from a very vivid dream. I was visiting someplace, sitting at a dinner table, a dinner that preceded something else that required a speech. First one of my teeth came out, then more and more, they were like brittle barnacles – after a while I only had my front teeth left…and I was worried about what would happen next. I am trying to drag up the Freudian symbols from deep in my memory, from school days 35 years ago – teeth, speechlessness….hmmm.

I am reading ‘Games People Play’ from 40 or so years ago and have arrived at the heavy psychoanalytic part – games people play, having to do with power and sex – but so far teeth haven’t appeared yet.

I slept in this morning, a rare luxury. I put in the yoga DVD that I used to stay sane in Afghanistan, every other day and had, in spite of the best intentions, not used since I left Kabul. It was a bit of an effort to complete the 45 minute program. I didn’t like it anymore as much as I had in Kabul.

I rewarded myself with a full body massage that was so expertly done that it left me stunned and with serious massage brain for some time. Not able to do any work in that condition I took the hotel shuttle to Windhoek’s city center, hoping to visit the tourist information (closed), the museum (closed), a stationary shop to buy a roll of paper (closed), another store I was referred to for that sort of paper (closed). I gave up and found a nice café with internet so I could do my next scrabble moves with my three scrabble partners, have a nice (sauce-less) salad for lunch, a glass of cool white wine, some good coffee and a sinful dessert.

The stores that were open were like beehives and places best avoided. I returned to the hotel to finish facilitator notes for the simulation next week and am now ready to meet with one of the future facilitators to talk about how I can help him transform a lecture-driven approach to adult education into an experiential approach in his institution. This is extracurricular but it will be fun. My co-facilitator is also scheduled to land any minute now, so I will have an extra pair of experienced hands.

April 2019
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