Posts Tagged 'Washington D.C.'

Back home for a bit

A whole week has passed since I left Kampala. This means I can temporarily halt the taking of anti-malaria medicine.

My next assignment, hardly leaving me a chance to recover from the week in Uganda, was the facilitation of a worldwide technical summit organized by my pharmacists’ colleagues. We looked at the work that has been done over the last 4 years to improve pharmaceutical systems so that medicines are available in health facilities for those who need it. Colleagues from 17 countries joined headquarter staff to extract lessons learned and find out what they need to focus on in the last project year. I had been part of the organizing committee since the beginning of the year and getting the program designed had not been an easy task, but in the end everything came together nicely, the energy was right, we got the outcomes we had hoped for and we had fun in the process.

Axel had driven down to DC, stopping along the way to visit friends and family. He arrived in DC just when I landed from Kampala via Amsterdam and Boston and picked me up to deliver me to my DC hotel. It was like a brief spousal visit before I dove into the conference and he continued his visits with friends.

On Saturday morning we set out for our long drive north, after a good breakfast at the Red Fox deli on Connecticut. The whole day we drove in the rain; it was rather cold given that we are now officially in summer and it is nearly July. We interrupted our trip at Sita and Jim’s for tea before continuing to Manchester (still in the rain). They had just returned from a vacation on Lake Champlain with friends.

We arrived some 14 hours after we left DC to a wet and wild Lobster Cove, which continued to be wet and wild throughout Sunday – perfect for staying indoors and getting ourselves organized for next week which includes Tessa turning 30, the 4th of July and my return to Africa for another 3 week assignment, partially in Madagascar and partially in Togo.

Death and life

Sita hired Axel for a four day job at Google in Cambridge this week. It’s nice when that happens. Google put them up in a hotel next to their office complex. My office isn’t that far. My commute that evening was easy though not inexpensive: a 15 minute trip and a 40 dollar parking bill. We had dinner together, the three of us, amidst the skyscrapers of biotech and computer sciences. The place has a good energy; the energy of inquisitive minds and youth and the smell of money.  Later Axel and I walked to Central Square which is an entirely different biome in the people’s republic of Cambridge with its frantic rhythm of African drumming and dancing coming out of the windows of the dance school, the cheap stores, the crazy people, and a less glamorous view on life.

On Wednesday morning we had breakfast in one of the countless coffee and small meal places. The whole neighborhood appears to be fueled by coffee. From there I headed up to Medford and then home in the early afternoon for my PT session. I am progressing at the right speed, according to my physical therapist. I can nearly stretch my arms over my head and touch the ground when lying down on the ground – a few more inches and I can start what is called ‘the lawn chair’ progression, working more and more against gravity as I increase the incline from the ground. It’s the other (good) shoulder that is now giving me problems, probably due to over use. It is also the shoulder that never quite recovered from the crash and a slip on the ice, respectively 8 and 6 years ago. That rotator cuff is held in place by only three tendons, not four.

From the PT I rushed to DC for the second time in 2 weeks. No hotels were available, it is Graduation time everywhere in the US, and so I stayed with my Dutch friend O. in the suburbs. We caught up on years of not seeing each other. Part of that was an account of his recent visit to my ex-husband, one of his very good friends, who has been diagnosed with cancer and given a prognosis that is frightful. I plan to see him on my next visit to Holland, a month from now. Will I make it in time, I wonder.

After an energy filled day at our DC office with colleagues from various part of the organizations, doing some deep thinking and strategizing, I returned home to an empty house, full of thoughts about cancer and dying when I heard the news that another Taliban attack had happened at a Kabul guesthouse that I knew so well and where many people I knew lodged when in Kabul. And this time I knew the one American that was killed. Axel found me in a deep funk and edgy – there had been no one all day with whom to talk, other than a post on FB which doesn’t quite do the trick. It wasn’t a great homecoming but luckily I caught myself. We wandered out into the yard to admire the new life that is always there when death distracts us: beans, potatoes, spinach. And there’s more: my brother and his wife welcomed their fifth grandchild into this world.

Behaviors

For two days I immersed myself in the challenges of turning an organization into a learning organization. It’s a concept that Peter Senge introduced in the 1990s and MSH has made it one of its strategic goals. Who would have thought so back in 1990? I facilitated a retreat of the team that has to lead the effort, a daunting task as it requires changes in habits and technology.

We deliberated and reflected in a beautiful place in Arlington, tucked away in a large park, and which is mostly used for weddings. We had an entire house to ourselves, moving our sessions to the terrace, then to the living room and then to one of the upstairs rooms. The days were grandiose summer days, with sprinkles at the end to reward the flowers, especially the azaleas, for their intense blooming.

I discovered Uber, the on-call taxi service provided by ordinary people making some money on the side, or maybe making this their livelihood. The rides are easy to organize, no fares or tips changing hands, all this done via the internet by computers following algorithms whizzing in the background. The rides are also much cheaper, which is good as I get more value for my (or our taxpayers’) money. But there is a downside when you look further up or downstream. The traditional taxi drivers are all from developing countries and their remittances back home are a significant source of income for their countries and extended families. So maybe the short term gains actually create long term problems that are relevant to my organization’s mission: less money streaming in to the families in developing countries, with consequences for nutrition, health and health seeking/maintaining behavior, etc. It’s a dilemma.

It seems to be school or scout trip season in Washington. I am surprised that troops of teens are lodged at the Westin, a pricey hotel, but there they were, right in my hallway, horsing around when they should have been in bed. A restaurant down the street where I ate at yesterday was overtaken by another large group, with a section cordoned off for the 50 or so teens and their tired looking handlers. This morning the breakfast staff was all flustered and behind schedule to serve the youngsters in a way that would not (but did) upset the rest of the customers. Everyone was on edge, including the Maitre d’ who barked at me that the restaurant was not open until 6:30 when it was already 6:35 and nothing was set up in our section of the dining room. It took another 20 minutes for it to look vaguely like it did the other days. When I asked about the cut up fruit I usually start my day with (and a treat in hotels) I was pointed to a bowl with apples, oranges and bananas and told to make my own fruit salad.  I am debating whether to say something about it. I sort of understand them; serving a mass of teens in an upscale hotel restaurant must be nerve wrecking for everyone.

In between trips

I cast my votes for the Massachusetts primaries last week, before the elections as I was in DC on Election Day. I had met several of the candidates for the various high level state positions when they came to Manchester last May. Not everyone made it into the primaries but those who did and visited (and had impressed me) got my vote. When all things are equal (which they rarely are), I cast my vote for a woman to help redress the gender balance which is so often lacking. I was pleased to see that nearly all of the winners were women.  Now they have to take on the Republican men for the general elections in November.

In Washington I participated in an event that presented some of our flagship tools and methods to colleagues and funders.  I don’t come all that often to DC so it was nice to meet people, some I hadn’t seen for years and others who I met for the first time. I had dinner at my friends T&F, a Dutch-American couple who I met decades ago in Niger and who are at times competitors, at times colleagues and always friends.

I arrived back in Boston just in time for the opening reception of the Japanese Women Leadership Institute at the Fish Family Foundation. MSH has longstanding ties with the Japanese and I was pleased that this year we were invited to participate in a month long program for 4 Japanese women who came to the US to learn to be agents for social change back home. The program is in its 8th year and is a wonderful example of people making change where they can – it is about the long view which the Japanese are well known for. Since this was a Japanese affair there was plenty of sushi and everything served in the most elegant way. The Japanese have a way with food presentation, even when using disposable plates and silverware.

I stayed in Manchester on the day of my departure, finally able to focus on the next assignment and responding to emails that required some clarity on what I was going to do in Madagascar without distractions.  The late departure (8:45 PM) made it possible to do this, and pack and have a nice lunch without feeling stressed. I was done with everything in time to enjoy Lobster Cove teeming with birds and, presumably fish or other edible creatures. It was too beautiful to leave, but duty called.

On our way to the airport we received the good news that Steve and Tessa’s endless and stressful housebuying adventure is finally coming to an end. We thought it had, many times before, but each time the bank found something that needed more interventions. They were told that now the closing is for real. They will have moved in before I come back. Halleluja!

Change for a change

For three days I attended a workshop on theories of change. It is nice to be facilitated for once, rather than facilitating. At the end of the first day the facilitator, who had created a series of exercises to encourage divergence, was settled with the task, her design, her choice, to turn all the input into a first draft our a ‘theory of change’ for the big project that has taken me to the four corners of the world – spreading the management, leadership and governance gospel. I was glad that I didn’t have any homework for the evening, the more so because I felt rather lousy.

On Wednesday evening I managed to pull myself out of my lethargy and take the Metro to see my friends Tisna and Fred who live in a lovely old house not far from Dupont Circle. The walk from the Metro station to their house, only 3 blocks, was painless but exhausting. It is good to know that I can walk without pain in my ankle these days; the exhaustion came from being sick or floored by the pollen, I think. Maybe it is also because I have not walked this distance in more than a year.

We caught up on our lives, kids and touched retirement briefly. I wish I could say, like others of my age cohort, that there is an end in sight to fulltime work but so far it is unclear.

The Theory of Change workshop ended on Friday on a high note. I returned home with some clarity about things I can and want to do to carry the results of our reflections forward.

I landed in Boston, picked Axel up at North Station and joined Tessa and Steve at a concert of Zoe Lewis at Club Passim. We met up with friends and other groupies of the virtuoso trip of Zoe, Mark and Ben who delighted us with their music, high energy and great stories. I have heard the stories many times before but I never tire of them.

Warm, pink and 34

CB_DC1

CB-DC2The days in DC raced by. That happens when you have a short vacation in between work trips. Friday was dedicated to art and crafts and an old friend whose art and craft we have seen develop and morph over the last 33 years.

The Smithsonian Craft Fair is spectacular; both in its setting (the Building Museum) and the skills and artistry of its exhibitors. We marveled at the craft(wo)manship that can create such beautiful things. The pieces were for sale of course but one has to have a particular kind of display space in one’s house, plus deep pockets. Our cluttered house would not be approved and our means are not sufficient anyways.

I picked up my passport at the MSH office and then we headed out to the burbs to hang out with Ruth whose house is full of pieces from several of the exhibitors bartered over the years for her exquisite fiber and glass work, plus work from herself and her son who is also working in glass. She does have the display spaces but also, and this is scary, two grandsons. The older one had a friend over which quadrupled the franticness of one three year old. She remained entirely cool amidst the mayhem – an act I do not think I could follow, especially in a place with that much priceless pieces (and most breakable).

Saturday was our 34th wedding anniversary which we celebrated three times: first at breakfast with a very special birthday bagel, each with a candle, then at lunch Japanese style pikou-nikou (sushi and a blue blanket) in the Kenwood section of DC where all the lanes look like pink tunnels produced by some very old gnarled trees in full bloom, and finally at a restaurant in Cleveland Park. Our friends knew the manager which produced all sorts of surprises in addition to a spectacular meal. It will be hard for our 35th next year to trump this.

And now, after a 10 hour drive north, we are back in winter with a snowstorm (really?) predicted for later this week. We are back to coats and sweaters. It is hard to remember the taste of summer we had those last few days.

Tricky business

I made a quick trip to Washington to facilitate a one day event where reproductive health professionals came together to explore some very tricky business. How does one raise awareness about sexual and reproductive health among young people living in urban slums, in poverty, orphaned or near orphaned with none of the kind of support systems that are associated with resilience.

Researchers shared their findings that showed that the catchall term of urban youth is not that helpful as it hides significant differences. Another reported on attempts to quantify girls’ vulnerability so that we can come up with baselines and endlines, evaluating whether this or that project actually reduced this vulnerability; and then we listened to people working with urban youth groups in Baltimore, DC, Nigeria, Mozambique, Kenya, Malawi and a multitude of other places.

We had structured the design so that my facilitation job was rather easy. An associate of Sita provided the scribing that she usually does – she was engaged someplace else – and wowed the participants with his translation into images of what was discussed. I am now so used to having a scribe in the room that I cannot imagine doing such a forum without one.


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