Deployment, Part 2: Oh, the Humanity

[note: I’m back in the US now, but in keeping with the need to respect radio silence until The Carter Center STO mission is over, I’m putting these posts up in sequence, with a one week delay from realtime.]

Trying to write, but my brain is too fuzzy from trying to coordinate the incompatible planning and communication styles of five different nationalities. There were nine of us, including drivers, with the simple task of getting in cars in one place (the Hillpark Hotel) and getting out of them, at approximately the same time, at our cozy new base (the Daisy Guest Home) about a 30 minute drive away. We almost passed that test, but the added complication of feeding ourselves once we’d arrived was more than we could handle.

It’s hard to say whether it was language or culture, but – for example – I interpreted our driver David’s increasingly insistent question “Where should I eat?” as “Can you direct me to a nearby restaurant?” I was apparently not being clear that I had no idea – hey, you’re the local, I’m from the other side of the planet. Ten minutes later, David would ask again, and we’d both crank up our frustration a notch.

It took three times around this particular merry-go-round before I realized that what he was really asking was “I hate to be pushy, but will you please give me that per diem payment I’m owed so I can go buy myself some food?” There were smiles and apologies on both sides once we figured that out, but in the meantime, we’d started two more that’s-not-what-I-mean snowballs.

Fortunately, I think we’ve now managed to establish an atmosphere of presumed mutual goodwill. But I’m sure we’re each going to keep feeling like we’ve stumbled into a Kenyan version of the Swamp Castle skit.

And that was just the American-Kenyan connection. In our little convoy, there were also Gambian, Portuguese, French and Ivorian cultures to reconcile, making the question “How ‘bout if we stop and eat here?” an almost comically unresolvable question. We almost starved in the time it took to settle on an answer. As Carol Burnett observed, comedy is tragedy plus time. It’s funny now, but trust me – we weren’t laughing then.

Once fed and situated, we spent the rest of the afternoon at our new Westland digs. We sat out back, at a table on the lawn sheltered by yellow-flowering trees and a tattered cloth umbrella. We pored over maps, tied to get in touch with local officials and planned our routes for the next two days. We watched the sun go down and listened to the rising tide of bird calls bringing the night on.

Finally, we’d run out of things to say, and Tiago broached the question we’d all been dreading: “So – where should we all go for dinner tonight?” Me? I’m sitting this one out.

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