Thursday, June 21, 2012

Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me

In Conakry things tend to run on West Africa International Time, otherwise known as WAIT. Meetings start when most of the key people have shown up, and the more important those people are (or think they are) the greater the distance between the announced and actual start times. People like to take their time with decisions, to look at every angle of a question before making a choice. There's always lots of consultation and consensus-building before acting. People here are big on process, and will get to results when they get there.

For those of us from time-sensitive societies it can be absolutely maddening, particularly when your local partners don't really understand that the deadlines you're working with are actual deadlines and not optimistic suggestions of when it would be nice to maybe think about getting something done. When WAIT and Washington collide you tend to get long periods of nothing much happening and then a sudden frantic scramble at the end. When you're on your way out to an African post you hear about this ahead of time, and mentally check it off your "adapting to new cultural expectations" checklist, but it doesn't really sink in until you experience it for yourself. I'm a planner, and I do my best to build in buffer time and get everyone to stick to the schedule, but somehow I always find myself WAITing anyway and then killing myself to make sure everything comes together at the last possible minute. At such times of exasperation another 4-letter acronym comes in very handy: WAWA, West Africa Wins Again.

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