tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Steamrolled by the Great Freight Train of Irony

Last week my very bubbly and energetic colleague KD invited me to accompany him on a field visit to the village of Chandragiri, where PREM was conducting a communications workshop with a few dozen of its fieldworkers.

I happily and excitedly agreed.

As we continued our mutually happy and excited discussion about my coming along, I slowly worked out that not only was I going to attend this workshop, but I was going to co-lead the workshop, and would I be so good as to formulate the official agenda and give a one-hour powerpoint presentation on best practices for effective communication in the field?

Oh? Um. Of... course. I'd be very happy to do this (on one day's notice, still knowing very little about the organization I'm working with, and not having created a powerpoint presentation since my final year of undergrad, twelve long years ago!).

KD's happiness index went from effervescent to Eyjafjallajökullian.

So the next day, off we went.

(I shall describe the beautiful village of Chandragiri--two and a half hours' drive from Berhampur up in the hills of the Gajapati district--in another post.)

The workshop was quite successful. Of thirty-five fieldworkers invited, about half were able to attend, despite the distance they must travel from their villages and the time they must take away from their families and work. (Though all fieldworkers are salaried by PREM, they also have other seasonal work, mainly agricultural in their villages.)

KD led the early morning session with some contextual information about the workshop and PREM's ongoing work. I led an energizer. After a couple of participatory exercises, it was my turn to plug in and talk about best practices for effective communication.

Then the power went out.

KD to the rescue; he ad-libbed a discussion on the critical importance of fieldworkers communicating effectively, since they represent the grassroots knowledge base of the entire organization.

When we got power, I was back in the spotlight. I'd budgeted only thirty minutes for my presentation, hoping to save the other half hour for group discussion (assuming, of course, that anyone found my presentation enlightening).

However, I'd neglected to take into account the need for KD to translate (and elaborate thence) every slide I presented in English into Oriya. Most of our fieldworkers read and write in English well enough, but understand very little, especially my accent. To stave off an hour of my speaking to blank, though politely nodding, faces, KD rescued me at each turn.

Occupying that unenviable time slot in the late morning just before the lunch break, and not speaking the local language, and being (by my presence as a foreigner, for some the first they've ever met) a general oddity in the room, by the end of my talk I was resigned to and content with the fact that my presentation on best practices for effective communication had been steamrolled by the great freight train of irony.

But somehow it seems my determined bullet-pointedness got through to a few of the group, who told me afterwards that they feel stronger about their ability to do their work well.

KD was beaming all through lunch. "Mr Richard," he said, glowing. "That was a great presentation. So great. Really great."

"Thank you," I replied humbly and somewhat disbelieving. But KD's wide eyes put me at ease. He is a very self-conscious young man; having worked his way up through PREM to become a field manager, he is ever cognizant of ways he can improve his work and be a more effective leader. He genuinely views me as someone from whom he can learn a lot, me and my rusty powerpoint skills. As we ate lunch, he looked like he wanted something more from me.

"Really, it was a great presentation. Um, do you have another?"

Photos in this post:
1-A ploughed field in Chandragiri village.
2-A sandalwood tree just outside the conference centre.
3-KD presenting to the workshop.
4-A mango tree on PREM's campus in Chandragiri.
(Click all photos to enlarge.)

1 comment:

Ashley said...

Ya did well!