Monday, November 20, 2006

Trials and Tribulations Continue

The rant that I posted up on the blog last week really only tells a part of the story leading up to our Final Learning Event here in Maputo. Now that the dust has settled from a very hectic week, I can begin to digest and recall the events that culminated with our successful two-day workshop. Since this was going to be the final event of our HIV/AIDS and Microfinance project, as well as the final public event for MMF, we wanted to bolster our recognition by holding the event at the prestigious Hotel Avenida.

Our team of consultants and facilitators from Joburg, Waterloo and Washington D.C. began to file into Maputo on the Sunday evening and we had reserved the full day on Monday for reviewing the workshop agenda, coordinating last minute details and finalizing our presentations for Tuesday and Wednesday. Of course, procrastination caught up with us (especially me!!) resulting in late night scrambling to put all the final pieces into place. No matter how many times I promise to myself to be better prepared in advance for these types of things I always seem to flying by the seat of my pants at the last minute, resulting in high blood pressure and more than a few colourful phrases muttered repeatedly alongside frantic actions. Honestly, when will I learn?!?!

The first day was designed as a round table discussion with our consultant team and representatives from our four MFI partners. This gave us an opportunity to see each MFI present on their institution’s experiences throughout this project as well opening the floor to questions and comments from all participants regarding the successes, failures and, most importantly, the lessons learned from the various activities conducted over the past nine months. One of the greatest challenges in facilitating this project has been overcoming the language barrier between Mozambican practitioners that speak only Portuguese and foreign consultants that speak only English. Translators have thus become essential partners in this project and for the final event we elected to invest in a simultaneous translation system. Although coming with a hefty price tag, it allowed everyone around the table to communicate effectively and fluently about the issues at hand.

All except one however. After my presentation on our End of Project Survey I was grilled with a question from one of the consultants about what I thought were the three most important things a microfinance institution needed to have in place before they could successfully implement an HIV/AIDS strategy. I began my response in Portuguese but quickly began to stumble over my words and decided to switch to English. This proved no less helpful as I suddenly drew a complete blank, unable to string together a single coherent sentence. With my face turning a deeper shade of red, and the heat building under my collar, I frantically tried to reach into the furthest corners of my brain but could not produce anything other then sputtering, directionless phrases. Finally, my colleague Pauline Achola jumped in to save me from my pathetic display. Everyone had a nice hardy laugh at my struggle during the coffee break but I was thoroughly embarrassed. For a guy that has always prided himself on having good public speaking skills, this sudden brain freeze came as a real shock to me.

This embarrassing event was only the beginning of my VERY long evening. After our final planning session for the next days events I received notice that the hotel in which all of our out of town guests were staying had messed up our reservation, leaving us one room short. They had also neglected to pick up one of our guest speakers flying in from Zimbabwe. After some tense negotiations we were able to get all of the participants safely into their rooms that night with smiles still on their faces (barely).

Then came the task of preparing all of the final versions of the handouts for the following day. We began this job only at 8 PM since our speakers were still working on their final versions of their presentations up to 7:30 that night!! Pauline Achola graciously volunteered to help my with the photocopying and we worked out a pretty efficient assembly line system…that is until the photocopier at MMF broke down at about 10:15 with still half the job incomplete. After we had finished nearly pulling all of our hair out we convinced the front office staff at Pauline’s hotel to allow us to use their photocopier to complete the job. As we ran off the final documents, and finished the final bites of our cold take away pizza, the clock on the wall read 12:30 AM. Pauline told me that we had set a new MEDA record for late night conference preparation…yikes!!

I was utterly exhausted as I made my way back to my apartment that night. I am now living with my Irish friend Brendan in an amazing 11th floor flat on 24 de Julho. While the view is certainly breathtaking from that height, I found out that evening why living in an old highrise apartment in Maputo is not always what it is cracked up to be. Somewhere between the 7th and the 8th floors the electricity in the elevator went out and I was left stuck in the complete darkness. Panic began to set in as my initial button pushing and calling for help yielded no results. Finally one of the guards answered my calls and tried to restart the lift. After this proved futile, he told me he was going to “find a serviceman” but since it was already nearing 1:30 AM I was doubtful and began to prepare myself mentally for a night’s sleep in a stuck elevator. Another 30 minutes passed until I heard a series of banging and clanging above and below me until finally I was pulled up to the 8th floor where the “serviceman” proceeded to pry at the door until I was set free. In total, I was stuck in the lift for 50 minutes, although at the end of my long day this seemed like an eternity!!

I really wish this was the end of the story but unfortunately there is more. As I finally arrived at my flat I found out that Brenden had accidentally locked me out and that no amount of yelling and banging at the door was going to wake him up to let me in. Like an angry zombie I plodded back down the 11 flights of stairs and took refuge at my nearest friend’s house, wanting nothing more than to turn off the lights on this wretched day. The three hours of sleep was hardly sufficient for the following day but with all of my bad luck having been spent the night before I had a quiet confidence that day two would run smoothly. I will put up more pictures and stories from day two tomorrow.


Blogger Friar Tuck said...

If I were in Maputo I would buy you a beer after a day like that.

11:21 a.m.  
Anonymous Tyler said...

Jared, you weren't jumping up and down in the elevator were you? At least you weren't in your swim trunks this time.

1:04 p.m.  
Blogger jpmozambique said...

Geez Friar Tuck I needed a case of beer after that night!! And Tyler, wow buddy that was certainly one stag party for the ages. But no, this time I can blame the whole event on shotty Mozambican electrical systems. It's not as bad as my friend John's flat where they had a sign in the lift that read "Danger: Use at own risk. Only three of the six support cables are working." Wow, gotta love Mozambique!!

1:06 a.m.  

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