Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Best Group Ever!

Sometimes, out of nowhere, comes a wallop, even a good wallop. Yesterday came such a startling change. The itinerary looked ordinary, do-able, nothing inspirational, but all get-the-job-done.

My group had a great weekend. They got to sleep, they got to walk on the beach, they got to eat a great meal or two. They had fabulous weather, a chance to chill and to integrate all the information we are piling on them, and a chance to walk away for a little while. They love Pensacola. Who wouldn’t, when the weather hits around 70° and the beach is white and the sky is blue?

First, we hit our volunteer experience, working at Manna to sort donations, making sure all the items were within acceptable expiration dates. At first, I wasn’t sure this group was going to “get” volunteering, but in a very short time, they were all focused and working hard, and working efficiently. As they sorted, other volunteers drove up in SUV’s, in big cars, in vans and we all helped unload. By the end of their experience, the warehouse manager said “You have processed enough food for over 1,000 people!” and complimented them. They glowed. None of them are from countries with a tradition of volunteerism, and this was a new – and thrilling – experience for them. It always gives me a thrill to see that light go on, to see oneself as part of something larger, organic, to see how connected we all are and to love being a part of something good, sharing. It thrilled my heart.

We ate lunch together downtown, and talked about events going on in each country, about the weekend, about their experiences. We bought coffee – oh! the universal need for caffein! – and headed on to our next appointment, which featured environmental issues and complex ways governments interact to combat the problems and enforce the regulations. It was a tough slog. These relationships are so complex that most of us don’t even think about it. These delegates have work to do; they are here to solve problems in their own countries, and they are persistent and dogged about getting solutions that they can apply in their own bureaucracies. It is a delight to see people so committed to solving problems that seem . . . almost unsolvable.

It is also inspiring, to me, to learn so much about Pensacola, in this job. When I was working on my Masters, I studied heroism, among other things. What I am loving about these office and field visits is that my education continues, and I see heroes at every level of bureaucracy, holding back the evil forces of laziness, corruption, and cronyism. And, sustaining my initial findings about heroes, heroines and heroism, they don’t even see themselves as heroes. They say, as all heroes do, “I am/was just doing my job.” They think anybody would do it. (They are wrong.)

At our very last appointment, I was thinking I would probably cut the day short. The speaker had given out information, the delegates had bags to pack, and all of a sudden, a spark, and an explosion! The good kind!

One delegate could not believe the head of this agency could maintain an important list with integrity. He kept drilling down on the structure, the details of how things worked (all the delegates were keen on the details of how the structures of organizations and bureaucracies worked to accomplish their missions) and where there were openings for corruption.

She was explaining how her employees were constantly trained, and how the agency was monitored to ensure fairness and an adherence to procedure. The delegates, all from countries where bureaucracies function differently, kept pressing her. Is there never anyone taken out of turn? Never?

“If I did that, I would lose my job,” she replied.

What followed was one of the most exciting hours of discussion I have ever experienced, as delegates from five different countries frankly compared their own challenges and experiences, and with great intensity tried to figure out how bureaucracies could function without corruption.

We tried to explain that we, also, are not immune from corruption, and cronyism, but that the combination of training and monitoring helps keep agencies within the boundaries, as best it can. Transparency doesn’t come overnight; we are still trying to achieve it.

As I listened, I could not stop grinning. These are young leaders, and the leaders of tomorrow. They admire what they see in our country. They want to bring trust into their own governments, but how do you create trust? How do you build trust? How do you maintain trust?

I don’t know those answers. And yet the process is working; the discussion was so inspiring, so heartfelt, and they had built enough trust in one another to share their challenges, without having to maintain that artificial facade that lack-of-trust builds.

Their liaison said “You will each have to find your own path; it won’t look exactly like the US path because it has to be a fit with your own culture.”

When I left the group, I told them “You are the best group I have worked with, ever.” There is a part of me that wanted to be a part of that discussion, because they were still deep in that discussion as we parted. My role had ended; I had done what I do.

And today, I am still grinning. I love this job, I love the people it brings me into contact with, international and local. I feel so blessed.

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February 10, 2015 - Posted by | Africa, Character, Civility, Community, Counter-terrorism, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Nigeria, Pensacola, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Social Issues, Tanzania, Values | , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. :3 this is nice.

    Comment by kavvzzz | February 10, 2015 | Reply

  2. Intlxpat, you are PERFECT for this job you do, and they are most fortunate to have you. Great narrative…I feel as if I’d been there and I can definitely see you grinning!

    Comment by Grammy | February 12, 2015 | Reply

  3. You’ve seen my grin more than most, Grammy 🙂 The birthday continued through last night, as we had dinner with our son and his family, me and the birthday-5-year-old 🙂

    Comment by Intlxpatr | February 12, 2015 | Reply


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