Thursday, January 05, 2006

Who Are You and What Did You Do To My Supervisor?

January 4, 2006, Tuesday, 12:18am.

Something is different these days. Is it the New Year? Is it the realization
that my malaria pills were making me a little crazy? Is there a rare cosmic
alignment? Curiously, my supervisor was at the VCT yesterday, and even more
curiously, he was not avoiding me like a madman. I wandered into his office
on a whim, not sure what I was planning to say to him, feeling irritated at
his elusiveness for the last four months. I sat down and didn�t say
anything. He seemed to think it was strange, since on the rare occasions
that he and I cross paths, I usually burst into his office and start
quizzing him about his latest sketchy exploit at the organization.

Today I wasn�t sure how to begin. Confrontation never worked. Innocent
questions never worked. I didn�t have to figure it out, because he started
talking about how the new year would bring lots of �revisions� � revised
relationships with the community, the village hospital, the Ministry of
Health, the district public health and other government offices, a revised
commitment to the organization and to all his responsibilities as a civil
servant and community organizer.

It was weird. I was thinking of what Lynette, the English volunteer who was
here before me, likes to say about Kenya: All Speech and No Action. Kenyans
love to make speeches, but even more so they love to never follow up on
their plans. I started to feel suspicious. This man never lifted a finger
for the VCT since I arrived, and here he was vowing to be a changed man. On
top of that, all these ideas he was proposing were ideas that the other
members have been pushing for all along, but without his involvement and
signoff on funds no one bothered to show up for meetings and get organized
(Red Flag #1: he is the only person in the organization that has access to
the piddling sum of money we have.)

I decided to take a risk and be direct. �I need your support as my
supervisor in the next year. When I arrived you were supposed to take me to
meet public health stakeholders and community groups so I could get to know
them. You were supposed to meet with me and develop a workplan. But you were
never around. I feel like I�m starting from scratch in the community. I need
you to help me if I�m going to do productive and successful work here.�

I thought he was going to raise his voice into the usual defensive whine:
Why doesn�t anyone appreciate all the work I�ve done in the past? Don�t you
care about benefiting the community?

Instead he said, �I know I�ve been focused on other responsibilities and
have been neglecting my responsibilities to you and to the VCT. But things
will change. I will have more time to dedicate to the VCT this year. We�ll
do lots of good work together.�

I looked over at Hillary, who had a slack-jawed look of disbelief on his
face. Who was this man sitting in front of us? We left his office shaking
our heads. My supervisor was definitely acting differently. Before when he
promised to do something he said it in that J.R. Ewing voice that said, �I�m
telling you what you want to hear because I want you to leave me alone.�
Today he sounded like he had a clear grasp on his past mistakes and future
aspirations. Visions, ideas, commitment.

It remains to be seen if he really is All Speech or more than that. I am a
cynic at heart, and he is a Kenyan, but stay tuned to this space.


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