Postcards from the Edge

of Bangladesh

Work… or something like it

I am now fully back at work. Yesterday was my first actual day, but as one does upon return from holiday, I took it easy.

Except I did hold a ‘meeting’ to see what progress had been made since I’d been away. I call it a meeting, but really it’s more like trying to herd cats. It’s meeting I’m trying to hold every 2 weeks. Initially, when I arrived here and all bright eyed and bushy tailed,  I thought we could have a weekly meeting, until I realised just how utterly ludicrous that idea was, and that having my patience so severely tested on weekly basis would come of no good.

It’s just a simple planning meeting. Everyone always agrees to EVERYTHING. And when asked for a ETC, it’s always ‘tomorrow’. Everything can be completed in one day. Obviously. So in an attempt to help the penny drop on realistic time scales and to introduce the concept of planning, I’ve put together a diary. No one here uses such things. So my diary is just printed A4 sheets, with 1 week per page. I even put it in a nice little folder, with a pencil (with little eraser) attached by a piece of string. This is how high tech it is. Amazing, right? Concept it: Let’s agree on deadlines, write them down on the corresponding deadline date in the diary (that took a while to explain/demonstrate) and then maybe by looking at ‘tomorrow’ we can see our planning is not, how do you say… realistic.

Anyway, so I went through this exercise with everyone before I left. All things neatly written in the diary, with instructions for it to be checked regularly and people chased up for their promised work etc. We even moved things from ‘tomorrow’ to hopefully more realistic dates.

Needless to say our little catch up was a harsh reminder of the challenges here. Just the meeting itself was a challenge. I start by asking ‘So was X completed on date Y as agreed?’ The conversation kicks off in English, then switches into Chakma (makes sense obviously, being their language and all), continues for about 10 minutes, heads back into English only for me to discover that a) they’ve gone off on a tangent and are now longer discussing action X and b) they’ve talked themselves into coming up with even more actions to be done and c) action X was not completed. Obviously.

Bringing some semblance of order and focus to a meeting is pretty much impossible. Or at least it feels that way. Largely my failing in the whole language thing, but even in English to keep them to one topic/point is not easy. I say things like ‘we can’t solve all the problems in one meeting’ and ‘yes, we can plan to that new action another time, but let’s try stay focused on what we’ve already agreed’. So many things are discussed and agreed, but so little gets done. Some stuff gets done, but it’s not the stuff that was agreed. There isn’t any strategic decision making with regards to what is ACTUALLY important, and what is just stuff that takes up time but helps nothing or no one in the long run.

How can I help them turn into an efficient organisation that makes plans, and (broadly) follows through? Sometimes I just feel like a nanny here. Checking up on the kids, but not really helping them understand WHY some ways are better than others.

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4 Comments»

  Amanda wrote @

Dude … remember us Brits ( ahem … ok Saffer/ Brits ) have been practising planning and getting into the diarising mood since the Industrial Revolution. You’ve been in Bhangladesh for 6 months ish. You are changing things, just slowly. x

  estellevisagie wrote @

I know, I know, I know, I know…you’re right, as usual. Just needed a little perspective, thanks doll.

  Pam wrote @

Think of it as good practice for you ‘ZA homecoming’ sounds very familiar re the way most things are done (or not done) here! Xx

  estellevisagie wrote @

Now that’s a good idea. After Bangladesh SA is going seem like an incredibly efficient and well run country. Well, I hope so anyway…


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