Sunday, March 22, 2015

Five Things that Have Surprised Me About Life In “The Field”

Bean field, feeling misunderstood
1) Every work place has “a field” – whether a country office, district office, or literally, a field of beans. Headquarters is, likewise, relative. They all equally feel misunderstood by the others. 

2) The importance of having a back-up for the back-up. To get a simple phone call through to headquarters, I keep two internet connections, one dongle, a cell phone and a landline on hand. For a local call, most folks use two phone numbers on two different networks, text, or even WhatsApp to get through. Constant problem-solving, creative thinking, bobbing-and-weaving is a must.

3) Streamlining does not always equal most efficient/effective (see #2). Why don't we just....? All that diversifying makes it tempting to cut through the red tape with simple solutions. Sure, it might make sense in one context to buy goats from all one vendor. One set of paperwork, one contract. But spreading the risk amongst three or four vendors ensures that if one overstates their capability there’s enough of a back up to keep the distribution on track. I call it the Not All in One Basket approach. It's exhausting, but not as exhausting as explaining why there are no goats.

Proudly displaying mango #11
4) I wouldn’t have interpreted it that way, but…it works. In an attempt to keep track of our office inventory, our gardener numbered each one of the ripening mangoes in the yard with a magic marker. I once also worked with an office manager who knew the project was underspending, so she stock piled over 100 bottles of toilet bowl cleaner, toilet paper and other cleaning supplies in an effort to increase the burn rate. I am constantly reminded that procedures need context, people need guidance, and it's ok to not take ourselves too seriously.

5) Waiting is the New Doing. When our car ran out of gas (because we didn't follow #2 and get gas when we were still at half tank and trying to streamline our stops) and the only station within 100 km hadn’t had electricity to pump in 14 hours, there was literally nothing we could do. So, we sat in the station with a coke and a samosa. Several solutions eventually revealed themselves (ending with the electricity magically turning on.) When in doubt, wait it out.

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