(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

At the Wheel

The Hot Seat
As April comes to an end, so did my little respite in travel. The past week I spent traveling to all field sites. It was a tough trip. Not only is it a challenge to knock out a clockwise trip of the country in a week, the purpose of the visits were to have “town hall” style discussions with all staff. They’re usually set up with a head table decorated with plastic flowers. One office had choir music blaring as staff filed into the large meeting hall. After all the pleasantries and greetings, it would then be time to unload on me. With the increasing cost of living and a number of other challenges that staff have been going though, it was voluntarily throwing myself into the gauntlet. Staff have a lot of legitimate complaints so the trick now is to figure out how to sort out the issues within the constraints – most of them being budgetary.

In addition to the general complaints that are common to most, I’ve had a few staff come into my office with specific issues that they are dealing with. They are not pleasant. One guy just lost his wife during childbirth. His child survived and he’s requesting to be moved to Bujumbura from his field location so that he can be with his child (being cared for by family). An hour later another guy came in and to request time off to take his wife to India quickly for surgery or she will likely die (if approved he will move to the stage of figuring out how to pay for it).

I often feel that this is a heavy load. There is a cultural expectation that the director will take care of the staff. It goes beyond the Western employee-employer relationship and it’s a burden that many non-African leaders working here struggle with, including myself. It’s not that I resist the principle of playing the role but it’s becoming a hard one to play with hundreds of staff. Needs and expectations can quickly overwhelm the capacity to respond to them. Even when I provide discreet assistance from my own pocket when it’s inappropriate for the organization to assist (a delicate thing to do), the sheer number of people who encounter daunting personal issues pushes my capacity to support them beyond what is responsible either for the organization or myself. The other thing that is always a concern is that the more you do, the greater a chance you have that fraudulent personal dramas enter into the mix. It’s not always easy to know.

Back in Buj
On the home front, we had a sad situation a few days ago. I was in the living room doing some emails and watching Al Jazeera when all of the sudden I heard the sick sound of the screech and thud/crunch of a car accident on the road in front of our house. I’m not a gawker and didn’t want to go look but we were a bit concerned if someone was hurt. We heard the wailing that women do here when there is some sort of tragedy in addition to men yelling as well. I went out of the compound with one of our guards to check out the situation. In fact it was not a car to car accident but rather a car that plowed into a group of a dozen or so joggers. It was ugly. At least one person was dead and another eight or so others were injured and taken to hospital. 

There are plenty of ways to die in this country. This should not be one of them. Even though it was dusk and there are no street lights here, it still shouldn’t have happened. We found out later that the driver had been drinking. It is interesting that she was not beaten and killed on the spot. Apparently something similar happened not long ago here and the driver was subsequently pulled from the car and throttled to death. No convictions; case closed. Perhaps the hesitation in this case was that it was a woman.

The Kid
on a hike last weekend
So as to not finish on a sad note, our beloved little daughter continues to grow. Every day is a new adventure. Sounds a bit cliche but it's true. We moved into crawling but I think we'll be into walking soon.
mom and daughter

dad and daughter enjoying the view of Burundi

1 comment:

Julie Minemoto said...

Hi Richard,greetings from Monterey. I just love reading your updates. Kiran is absolutely gorgeous and growing in leaps and bounds! I love the third photo of the two of you ... you can barely make out her little form ... too cute! What an amazing life you have -- your job sounds so challenging, I can't imagine the "town hall" meetings you have to endure. I supervise just 8 people and my biggest challenge is one of them works 3,000 miles away in Virginia! Hearing the issues you deal with certainly puts things in perspective for me! Keep posting ... truly enjoy it! Take care -- best, Julie Minemoto