Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Copper coloured dust

From Jackie's Guest House in Ganta, Nimba County

I have been toying with the idea of going back to the development world since last year. The time out I had last year in Pakistan pushed me to take a real perspective on the work I accomplished with my IT company. I allowed myself to acknowledge achieving my objective when I decided to go into the business world back in 2009: to see if I could take over an IT company and run a business. I succeeded in my goal. 

Words cannot explain how content I feel at having made that decision in 2009. It was one of the most lucid moments of my life. 

Of course, the IT company has a long way to go but I don't feel it needs my constant attention anymore. In fact, I am sometimes quite bored. Things are in motion. The tech team is relatively self organised and motivated. Haresh is running the show, getting new business, liaising with clients, managing the daily schedules, following up on payments. Of course, I could help do more marketing and quality control but it doesn't need to take up all my time. 

So, recently I decided to see if I can make a foray back into development and see if I can manage a short stint, learn something new and see if this is a side career I want to kickstart again. 

I applied for a few positions last year while in Pakistan and even considered moving back for a bit to reconnect with my country and to be closer to my parents. Of course it would have been quite tough to be away from my home and Haresh and my other baby, my IT company. 

When I got back to Liberia in November, I delved back into the company and, really enjoyed being back in my space, with my staff and reconnecting with my clients. 

But I started to think about job hunting again and, while scanning the Liberia Expats Google Group one day, saw a job and immediately applied. I skimmed through the job description and it seemed to be quite similar to what I used to do at UNDP years ago. I even got really excited and hit 'Reply All' in my e-mail to the person who posted the vacancy and felt mortified for the next few days. Apparently, 2,000 people on that group know I applied for that job.

Following a few interviews and a speedy recruitment process (two of my former colleagues at UNDP and a former client happily provided references), here I am about two weeks later, already on board and in the field. 

I am writing this post from Jackie's Guest House in Ganta, Nimba County. After 3 days of workshops and visits to implementing partners and communities, we are to return to Monrovia tomorrow. I am too excited at seeing Kavita again, never having been separated from her so long. All I can think of is hugging and kissing my baby. I miss her physically and, long to hold her again. I don't know how I will handle further field trips and having to be away from her again. I wanted to quit the first night itself: "Screw this, I can't be away from Kavita!"

Meanwhile, I wanted to capture my immediate thoughts and feelings at my venture into the development world again. It has only been three days but I am overwhelmed already emotionally and intellectually. It is a bit of a nostalgic rush, taking me back to the days of my field trips with UNDP. My visual memories of those long trips is bumping and speeding along red-earth dirt roads surrounded by thick steamy rainforest. Copper coloured dust settling in and on everything.  

Although I was quite exhausted on my first day with the car ride and briefings, my initial impression was one of impressed amazement: I am around young but highly motivated, organised and methodological people.

Might I add that the road from Monrovia to Ganta is fully rehabilitated and paved now. It was a really good feeling to see that. We were also stopped at every county crossing to register our temperatures and wash our hands.

And the most exciting thing was finding a Bangladeshi-owned shop in Gbarnga where we had chicken curry for lunch!

The second day consisted of a visits into communities around the Liberia-Guinea border. Although a seemingly thoughtful preparation was made, in hindsight it seemed to be done without much real research and reminded me of intrusive, awkward visits into communities by foreigners. I felt completely useless. The post discussion was quite animated too and, not informed by any actual facts or expertise. That day was a bit annoying.

Today was interesting since I got to see a County Health Coordination meeting in Saniquellie which started sharp at 8 AM! It was headed really well and was over in an hour! We got to hear some stats and even something from CDC who briefed everyone about a visit to the border. A WHO representative also made a useful comment. We then visited one of our partner's offices in Saclepea followed by a visit to a community. It was an Ivorian refugee community (in Liberia for more than 10 years!). We met a couple of ebola survivors.

Did you know that Saniquellie was host to some early discussions 
to form the Organisation of African Unity, the predecessor to the AU? 

A lot of stuff has been running through my head. I've told myself to approach this job as an opportunity to learn something new, to keep an open mind, to try not to compare with my previous experiences and views all the time, and to think about all I learned at SOAS. 

I finally understand the criticism about the obsession of the development world with the community as a unit of analysis, action and projection. It seems that everything is by passed and, the community is used as a starting point. In some ways, it seems useful since we go right to the beneficiaries but it also is too small a unit to understand bigger issues and other linkages. 

At the same time, I am learning a lot about the ebola response which I knew almost nothing about. The government seems to be in control and, is trying its best to work with partners in the effort. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the professionalism and competency of the local NGOs, something which I didn't see during my work with UNDP or was not allowed to see. The people I worked with had a very negative view of local NGOs and also had a very 'scary donor' attitude to local partners. 

I am going to have to really switch to NGO thinking to make this work. 

I am really excited in general to doing a job, working with a team, trying to make a boss happy (after being boss for so long), and learning a lot about ebola. I am excited that I can do both at the same time - be involved in the private sector as well as the public one. I feel I can take over the world. 

I can't wait to see my darling Kavita tomorrow and what's that guy's name? Haresh? 

I'll leave with some photos of the guest house and the road. And who would think I would find such a beautiful rose bush at a guesthouse in Nimba County.

I must say I was really really impressed with the guesthouse. For $ 50/night, we had 24 hour electricity, air conditioners, hot water, wifi and DSTV! The food at the restaurant was fantastic and I even got to have hot cups of tea with milk and sugar. There was even a convenience shop where one could buy everything from soap to wine to chocolate! It was apparently owned by "the richest man in Ganta!"

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