Like a Bird on the Wire

Like a Bird on the Wire

If my chronological time here can be measured in toothbrushes and Lariam tablets, my actual “living” time can probably be measured in bags of atta (whole wheat flour). I’m almost ready for another big bag – which is none too shabby considering I don’t have an oven. I figured out paratha the other night (similar to chapatti, but with more grease), and even made perogies, pancakes, and Jamaican griddle biscuits. Still not quite as good as I can do in Canada, but I think it’s because using 100% whole wheat just makes things a little TOO dense. Plus, everything I make now is coming out turmeric-coloured because my pots and pans have all been haldi-ed to death.

Ukrainian fusion! I’m quite proud of these, actually. Not that I plan on making them again anytime soon.

Not too much new here. As happy as I was to finish my course, I’m finding myself in a bit of that post-school funk where I have free time and don’t know exactly what to do with myself. My crewel work and books are great, but I’ve considered them procrastination tools for so long that I feel strangely guilty whenever I pick them up. CARE got a new intern, a teacher from the UK who’s been working in Bangkok for the last year. So now I have someone new to do things with again, which is nice. I find I’m at the stage now where I feel a bit like I’m just biding time (7 weeks left!) so having someone else who’s new and more of a go-getter than I am helps get me out of the house and reduces my inclination to hermit myself away with my books. It’s also hot again (or still?). Last week it seemed like it was getting better, but this weekend was back up in the 40s. This is the 5th month of this heat now, and I’m kinda done with it. Enough’s enough, y’know? I find I’m starting to miss home, and I think it has to do with autumn being a nostalgic time and I just KNOW you guys are having nice weather right now and I’ve missed three seasons of Canada.

I’m a little frustrated right now at work, to tell the truth. My projects are not going anywhere fast and I’m concerned about meeting my objectives because they’re all so reliant on organizational stuff and this organization just isn’t particularly motivated to do anything on any kind of timeline. I’m doing all I can, but I really feel like I’m paddling alone. The meetings won’t happen unless I schedule them and even then not everyone replies to the invite or shows up/dials in. I set the agenda and share in advance, but no one adds any agenda items, and my follow-up emails and minutes go unanswered. People contribute in the meetings, but not in any decisive way; it’s more about identifying barriers and hurdles to every little thing rather than moving forward to solutions and actual planning. I didn’t make this project up on my own, I’ve been told it’s very important for the organization, but people seem too content to just float along so long as I’m, well, “nagging” is a strong word… They’re happy with me, they seem to go along with me pushing things, but won’t really contribute that much. There was an interesting post-meeting discussion on Thursday after a teleconference about the Livelihoods Learning Circle I’m trying to get off the ground. One of the managers was commenting that people are busy and they aren’t going to want to participate in this Learning Circle because they’re just going to see it as taking up time, and “what’s in it for them?” I can’t vocalize the answer I really want to: you tell them it’s a part of their job and they have to do it. We’re a Knowledge Organization? Everyone is a Knowledge Worker? Guess what – it’s not a title, it’s a role. You make them participate. This NGO culture is just so foreign compared to Pfizer, where we’re all clamoring over each other to be a part of anything new and interesting, and I’m very unused to this style of leadership, if we can call it that, which seems so consensus-based. I understand the need for compromise and agreement and respect for peoples’ time, but at a certain point you need clear direction from the leadership; if Learning Circles have been determined to be something that CARE needs, then we have to do it. Everyone has to do it. Lead by example, make it reward-based, show how it adds value to the organization… something… anything… rather than letting passive resistance and inertia guide our organization.

In the last couple weeks, we’ve had a couple internal newsletters from our HR group and Disaster Management Unit which have contained tips on avoiding illness during the monsoon (See? It’s not just me). The first one from DMU contained such gems as “dancing in the rain” leading to the common cold;  if you do get wet, avoid the AC and ice cream so you don’t catch a chill. The treatment for a cold is a glass of hot turmeric milk. Also, flies are the most common cause of Hepatitis A. HR warns us that digestion during monsoon is slow, so don’t eat much. A collection of common spices aids digestion and improves immunity. Keep your feet dry so you don’t get foot infections. Bathe your child in an antiseptic solution when s/he returns home from school after playing in the puddles. Now, some of this comes from Ayurvedic medicine principles (any talk about turmeric, for example) and I don’t want to culture-shame so I’ll leave that alone. And maybe kids should be doused in antiseptic because human waste disposal is an issue here and puddles are cesspools. But the rest of it is just urban myths and old wives’ tales. I can’t believe this is an organization that purports to work in the health care sector, is considered a valid partner for a Global Health Fellowship, is trying to position itself as a Knowledge Organization… and this is the kind of knowledge being officially disseminated to its own employees. How are we supposed to have any credibility in our field like this? We keep talking about how important evidence-based knowledge is to our partners and impact populations, but internally we can’t even hold ourselves to that standard. Colds are caused by viruses, everyone knows that – at least, they should, people in this office are educated. You can blame flies all you want for Hep A but proper sanitation and hand-washing is a lot more helpful than a flyswatter for that whole oral-fecal route thing. A lot of these tips are widely shared in various newspapers and magazine articles, so it’s not like CARE thought them up, but spreading misinformation from headquarters is still pretty bad, and makes me wonder what is going on in the field. On the other hand, this is probably giving me some excellent insight that will be beneficial for my Epidemiology of Communicable Diseases course next year. Gotta look at the positives, I guess.

Hmm, this is looking a little negative and critical, so I’ll close by highlighting some things here that CARE does well:

  1. I have a soft voice. In meetings or teleconference calls with a lot of people I have a hard time being heard. This happens at Pfizer and here at CARE – I just have a really hard time finding a way to get into a conversation with a lot of people. At the Rubaru workshop in August, when I could get a word in it was often just to the person beside me. This person would then use his/her louder voice and presence to share my thoughts, and would publicly give me credit. Sometimes during telecons, my manager, seeing that I’m being drowned out on the phone line, will push the phone close to me and say “Melinda has something to say.” I really appreciate their efforts to let me have a voice; I have to say, it actually doesn’t happen as much at Pfizer and I often leave meetings or calls frustrated.
  2. This is the first time in my life where I’ve seen so many men talking about women’s issues. Back in high school, my Grade 10 history class was mostly boys and I think I was one of only 2 girls in the class. The guys tried to shout down the unit on the history of women and feminism in Canada and our (male) teacher had to really work hard to keep the class on track – and I think he made that unit test particularly challenging on purpose to force them to study the material (thanks, Mr. B). I think it’s interesting here to hear so many men passionate about these issues whereas in North America, we don’t hear men defending women or women’s rights very much at all; most men seem to be of the opinion that legislated equality = equality in practice and anyone still arguing for women is branded a “misandrist”. Personally, I like to live under a rock the assumption that most men with whom I associate are, in fact, feminists and just aren’t comfortable using the word for whatever reason. But I know there is still a lot of misogyny in the West and we can’t be complacent about that. The contrast between the male colleagues at CARE and what I’m reading in the news about all the “personhood” and right-to-life stuff in the US run-up to the elections is really pretty ironic if we’re actually considering the US a developed country in a position to assist the developing world. Or maybe “terrifying” would be a better term than “ironic.”
  3. People here have an opinion. It may not be original or particularly useful or insightful, but if you ask someone what they think they’ll come up with something rather than leave you hanging. I may complain about the amount of talking for no reason, but when it comes down to the meetings, most of the managers are willing to engage. I don’t see apathy at the higher levels, more inefficiency and unwillingness to make a decision. I think it comes from fear of failure and a lack of confidence – and an reluctance to own up to this. There’s a lot of fronting, I sense, and people use superfluous words to hide their uncertainty or lack of actual content. I’m optimistic that this could change – if people are already talking that’s a huge step; we just need to do it better. Opinions need to be more based on fact or experience and meetings need to be managed a lot better, but the fact that people can communicate with each other and that everyone is given a voice (at least, in the meetings I’ve attended) is certainly important.

So I’ll sign off now and here’s a picture of some green birds on a wire I saw this morning. I have no idea what they are but they’re kinda pretty 🙂


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