Today marked my first opportunity to host a meeting of twenty government officials, which I anticipated being quite an adventure. In the days prior to the meeting, I worked diligently with coworkers to prepare handouts, a PowerPoint presentation, and a game plan. The documents were translated the day before the meeting, and we felt very well prepared. This morning, as we congregated at the office, two hours prior to the 10:00 main event, things got interesting. Not only was there no electricity to power the printer or projector, and hence no printouts or presentation, but it also became clear that there was a crew of electricians rewiring our entire conference room. Our conference room serves a variety of purposes, including housing the construction crews who live on-site for months at a time while completing our many renovation projects. As you can imagine, the conference room was a mess.
After a frantic hour of firing up generators, sweeping and scrubbing, moving benches and tables, and rushing the poor electricians to finish up early, we were ready at last. And no one showed up. 10:00 a.m. came and went, as did 10:30 and 11:00 a.m. At 11:30, about half of the scheduled attendees had arrived, and we were informed that the guest of honor, would be arriving in “one hour.” After recommending that everyone go ahead and eat lunch, I returned to my office and tried to get something useful done.
By 12:45, someone came running to summon me to the meeting, as the guest of honor had finally arrived. We began our presentation with formal introductions all around, and I gave a brief overview of the research program that everyone had been called together to discuss. One of my coworkers went over the details of the program, to avoid wasting a ton of time on translation. Everything seemed to be going quite well, with no interruptions, and a smoothly flowing presentation. Then came the question and answer session.
Now, I’ve often wondered why the carrier pigeon went extinct, but today’s experience shed much more light on this quandary. It seems that people, around the world, are eternally eager to shoot the messenger. As I sat there, having questions shouted at me by 5 or so of the men, I had the luxury of smiling and nodding while looking attentive, as I had no idea what they were saying. The language barrier could not conceal the fact that they were not pleased with the proposed project, and translation subsequently confirmed this suspicion. With everything from claims that the entire initiative was irrelevant and a waste of money, to being scolded for not having this or that person sign this or that form, it was a literal circus. No one seemed concerned though—this is apparently just the way things work here. Being that I neither designed this study, nor participated in the implementation process leading up to it, I had my hands full with defending the actions of others. I was thankfully able to maintain a smiling countenance throughout the onslaught of complaints, and kept reminding everyone that the purpose of the meeting was for us to all work as a team to make this initiative beneficial for all.
Just as we were covering the same (shouted) questions for the 8th or 9th time, one of our kitchen staff members saved the day by bursting through the door with a giant tray of chiiya and biscuits (cookies). All were appeased, and we were able to come to agreement that a select committee (coordinated by me) would meet later in the week to streamline the methodology and metrics being addressed in the study. I don’t know what I would do without biscuits. These particular ones even had boldly smiling faces stamped into them.