Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The first couple weeks...Setting up office in South Africa

I have lived in Africa for a few years, so coming here I didn’t anticipate too many problems immersing myself into South African life. But I have been living in London for 2 years and Portugal before that so I have been away for a while, and I guess you forget certain things that are not applicable to the country that you are living in at the time.

You’ve heard of the saying, “what came first? The chicken or the egg?” The past couple of weeks have been trying to figure out what needs to be done first – I need a phone, but I can't get one until I have a bank account which I can not get until I have updated the registration documents for Project HOPE. I can't do that until I have a place to live and so it goes on!

I arrived and wanted immediately to start sprinting, getting it all done. By the end of the second night, I realised I was back in Africa, not London and things dont happen that fast. An old mentor of mine years ago when I first arrived gave me a piece of wisdom that has proven so true here, “life here is not a 100m sprint, but an ultra-marathon.” In other words things move slowly here, and we need to adapt to that too. I’m adjusting back to that mentality.

The other thing that I had forgotten about was to do with culture and shame. When someone is struggling with something, they wont admit it and ask for help, but carry on as if nothing is wrong. To ask for help is to admit failure and that is viewed as shameful. This plays itself out in meeting with my staff. I will be explaining something and then ask if they have any questions. The answer most of the time is no. I ask if they understand and they say yes. Yet I have realised very quickly that they did not get what I was saying (this is not because they are dumb, but rather a combination of English as a second/third language for them, plus me talking too fast, plus assuming that what is said in English translates exactly into their own languages!). So now instead of assuming that they understand I ask them questions to make sure. There is a great book called “African Friends and Money Matters” written by David Maranz on cultural differences between westerners and Africans. I read it along time ago, I must re-read it again soon!

Enough for now. I’ll write more later! Stefan

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