March 12, 2007

A genuine smile

I have been kind of out of action for a little while now as I have been volunteered to help out for a conference. This conference gathers about 30 Africans and 20 American staff to talk about how the company can be more competitive in the African business market.

Though this is a relatively small conference as far as conferences go, it is incredibly logisitically challenging. Joseph Lukaya wants to stop in Kenya from Tanzania before going to the US. Mrs. Bolemba lost her dad and needs to be flown back home today. Mamadou Wane needs a translator to go to the doctor’s because he caught a nasty cold when walking in 30 degrees weather dressed like a Senegalese…

With a masters background and years on the field, I am instantly asked to…print, photocopy, staple and hole punch 60 presentations in record time. Let me illustrate with a timeline of a typical day:

3am Sunday: powerpoint presentation is sent to my email for the Monday 8:30am session
7am Monday: I come in to print, copy, staple and hole-punch 60 presentations
8:12am: I send an unwilling colleague over to the hotel to bring the stack of presentations
8:30am: workshop begins and participants receive their presentation
9:30am: another powerpoint presentation is sent to my mail for the 10:00am session
....Repeat until 5:30 pm

Of course, every email is followed by two or three frenzied phone calls from my supervisor during his smoking break (and he’s also currently wearing The Patch ®) to make sure that (1) I’ve gotten the email, (2) I’ve printed the presentation, (3) I intend to photocopy, staple and print the presentation, (4) I’ve identified a person to bring it over.

Then he gets his assistant to call me and ask me the very same questions. Of course, I manage to print the d*&^ presentations every time and they slide in the conference room just before the presentation is due.

My supervisor calls me on the phone again and says “It’s another miracle! You’ve saved us again!”.

To which, if I had the guts, I should really respond “Well, you know, it isn’t really a miracle if I manage it every time. I would call it a pain in the ass instead”.

In addition to making these frenzied trips to and from the photocopy machine, I also have to translate documents, help staff figure out how to use powerpoint (really, you shouldn’t be upper management if you don’t know how to use powerpoint) and order huge amounts of supplies.

I get to buy the Africa and Local phone cards downstairs from a nice Chinese couple in a knick-knack store. I literally buy hundreds of phone cards every week. The benefit margin on those cards alone far exceeds what is purchased in the store in a week. And so, when I come down to the store, I get the biggest, widest smiles I’ve seen since…well since Congo. And I like it because I know, it’s a genuine smile.

So what if I can almost see dollars bills in the white of their teeth?


strudel said...

Now listen, 007. Can't you get a decent hubby? can't you start a trade? selling Chicks from Congo to divorced Americans, say, and get paid with diamonds. You giving me nightmares. You make me remember the poor critter (me) travelling all night by train from the warm Rome(Italy) to the ugly Milan. The horrible smoky and foggy road to the Pirelli Tyres headquarters in Milan. The Pirelli warden at the main gate: blond-blue eyes- black Nazi uniform -hand gun. Upstairs.Quiz form to fill. 1) What's the time in San Francisco? 2) do you like sniffing cabbage? - And two months later a letter from Pirelli Personnel Division: We regret to inform you...

Kingston Girl said...

Hush, I know the feeling. Now whenever my boss asks me to do some crap like that, I have taken to saying, OK< but surely that is a waste of resources using someone like me to do something an illiterate 16 year old can do??

Victoria said...

What poor management. I would get so frustrated. You should make yourself cards: "007 in africa-- public health specialist, miracle worker extraordinaire"
When I come back home, I promise that there will be far more genuine smiles for you :)

Beaver said...

A huge hug and a real friendly smile to you.

I know your feeling.

Never forget how brilliant you are !

Chin up !


JRE said...

This is a cool blog. I was living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2000 and 2003. Now in San Francisco. I love Kinshasa and thinking of moving back there full time.

007 in Africa said...

JRE, I am not sure if I would recommend going back to live there. Oy! :)