By Ian Lockwood on Monday 20 February 2012
Mikindani Matters No. 20
Well, we are back. Back in the UK – the one jumper we each had with us on landing was not quite sufficient. Coats, hats, gloves, scarves, were all at home in Bingham.
Ah - Back in Bingham - where a tractor, yes a tractor, recently ram-raided the NatWest hole-in-the-wall.
Yes, we are back from Dangerous Africa.
Our successors, John and Penelope, arrived at the end of January. We had 2 weeks handover and got on really well. It was almost a straight replacement; John being also a Chartered Management Accountant and Penelope a Primary School Teacher. Personality wise as well, we also hit it off and had a really good two weeks.
The boss lady from the UK, Jane, was also there for a week having a look see. I think she must have reported back favourably – at least we then had a very nice email from Brian, the founder and main funder of Trade Aid, thanking us for our efforts and what we have done and achieved during the year.
One sour note was how our relationship with Babu ended. You may recall Babu is a personal friend of Brian’s. Babu was born in Mikindani and after living in the UK for several years, retired to live back in Mikindani in his retirement. He is an engineer (helped build the Channel Tunnel) and Brian persuaded him to come on-board to supervise the major renovation programme which stemmed from me sending a long list of maintenance issues that required attention. In addition, because of his local background and his knowledge of the culture and language, it was agreed that Babu would take over the supervision of the front desk managers leaving me to concentrate on the job I had been sent out there to do. I had indeed said I was not prepared to go back after our July leave and carry on at the intensity of the first few months – in effect doing two jobs.
Babu and I worked well together for the best part of six months. I was not his boss and he was not my boss. But ultimately you cannot have two bosses. The staff were confused about our roles – they had previously come to me for everything and now were being told to speak to Babu for some things. We also found increasingly that Babu did not know the culture. He was basically a throwback to the colonial days. The staff will do as they are told; period. He also informed us he had agreed with Brian that if he was to do the job he would do it his way. His way was to say I am not interested in training, I am interested in trading. We repeatedly pointed out to him this is a “Vocational Training Hotel” run by a charity - there is a plaque on the wall above reception saying so.
But to no avail. Making unilateral decisions he steadily chipped away at many things we and Suzanne earlier in the year had done.
He seemed to find it physically impossible to say “good job”: constant criticism – so demoralising. Several of the staff are vulnerable – I fear for their future. Awadh, (bar/pool) a lovely guy, he refers to as the box (empty box – nothing inside); Abdallah in stores knows that whatever he does it will be wrong. Uwesu – “he has got to go”. Why?
It came to a head 4 days before we were due to depart when he announced he was going to sack Riziki – yes, Riziki, who makes the best prawn curry in the world. Riziki had gone sick with a medical certificate for 3 days ED (Excused Duties).
I told him not to be ridiculous. I’m afraid we had a full scale blow-up in front of several of the staff.
And very childishly (combined ages me and Babu, 129) we did not speak to each other for the final 4 days.
I have reported my thoughts in a “Final Thoughts” email to Trade Aid UK. “If this is not a training establishment then Sue and I have basically wasted the last year.”
But of course we have not wasted the last year. We have actually had a great year. It’s a cliché I know but the staff have made it all worthwhile. They really are great. Some great characters who work hard, are eager to learn and very friendly and welcoming. That is why I am so disappointed at Babu’s approach.
We have sorted out a lot of messes and hopefully left the charity in better shape for moving on – both the hotel and other community projects that, for various reasons, have been on hold.
Of course we couldn't leave without a final little crisis. On the last Sunday the Front Desk Managers managed to lose the whole bunch of Front Desk keys – keys to the office, the key cupboard, the gun rack and the strong room. Fortunately we had a spare set but it meant changing all the locks. Also fortunately, they do not have keys to the safe – only I, now John, have these.
We moved up to the hotel for our final week – a bit of luxury after the best part of a year in Base House. Stayed in the Nyerere Room – balcony; sea view.
And a final visit to Mr. Tall – so a test to see who has been paying attention during the last year – why would I go to see Mr Tall one more time?
When I am away enjoying these “experiences” I subscribe to Guardian Weekly – I think I’ve mentioned this before. I know these days I could go online but I still like a paper in my hand. And it's not really for the news – more for features – a change from a book – plus just keeping up to date on things.
A couple of weeks ago there were various snippets that made me chuckle.
“More British men worry about their body shape and appearance – beer bellies, man boobs or going bald – than women do about how they look, researchers found.” Indeed, “38% of men would sacrifice at least a year of their life in exchange for a perfect body.” (In fairness, further on it quoted 12%.)
That came from the Centre of Appearance Research at the University of the West of England.
Yes, exactly – the Centre of Appearance Research at the University of the West of England. Perhaps the funding of higher education really does need cutting back.
Then there was a report from the journal Industrial Health entitled “The Effect of Wok Size and Handle Angle on the Maximum Acceptable Weights of Wok Flipping by Male Cooks.”
Apparently many professional wok users use a big one. “Professional cooks are prone to shoulder, neck, lower back/waist and finger/wrist aches and injuries. Wok-flipping brings some glaring risk.”
I’m sorry but I have to continue. “The repeated action of swinging the wok up and down involves extensive arm and wrist movement, especially dorsi flexion, palmar flexion and wrist radial and ulnar deviation. This non-neutral posture, accompanied by high torque and a high rate of repetition, is very apt to cause cumulative trauma disorder injuries in the user’s upper extremity.”
Naturally this was a follow-up to a previous study called “Effects of the Handle Diameter and Tip Angle of Chopsticks on the Food-Serving Performance of Male Subjects.”
Which, in turn, followed an earlier treatise investigating the optimum length of a chopstick.
And yes, this was all carried out at a Chinese university.
And no, it was not the edition of the paper for April 1st.
Sorry but I’m in full swing now. Apparently “The Lord of the Rings might have spawned a thousand pallid imitations, been crowned the UK’s best-loved book and sold millions of copies around the world, but according to recently declassified documents, it was damned by the Nobel Prize jury on the grounds of JRR Tolkien’s second-rate prose.”
The prose of Tolkien “...has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality.”
Apparently EM Forster, Graham Greene, Robert Frost and Lawrence Durrell were all also passed over in favour of a Yugoslavian writer named Ivo Andric. Not sure what Mr Andric’s book was called or about but maybe it could be Peter Jackson’s next film project.
And finally, something to do with Anthony Worrall Thompson (which I had obviously missed) - it appears that cheese is the most pilfered food in the world according to US statistics on shoplifting. According to the researchers, cheese is a “Craved” item - Concealable, Removable, Available, Valuable, Enjoyable and Disposable.
And that ends the news for this week.
The day before we left, after replacing all the locks, the missing keys turned up.
So – we are back. Graham had got some supplies in for us – a pint of milk and a tea bag.
On landing at Heathrow with our one jumper each, we were pleased to find the temperature was at least a positive number, albeit a small one. We had been a bit concerned last week when reading about some rather large negative numbers. The hole in the wall is not yet back in action, though the bank itself has reopened.
We discovered this when we went up to Bingham for breakfast the morning after getting back. (The tea bag had got used the night before.)
So – The Picture Cafe – a full English – sausage (x2); bacon, fried egg, tomato, baked beans, mushrooms, toast and coffee.
So – we are back. What to do next? I also subscribe to “Guardian Jobs” – a daily email listing various job opportunities. You set your criteria for the search. I think I will pass on today’s Head of Finance £50-60K in London – “suited to a highly experienced international NGO Finance Professional” and maybe go for RSPB Pin Badge Box Minder – “unpaid voluntary work in Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire.”
But before that I need to write a new list of maintenance issues that require attention.
In the meantime, we are back and I am sure will see many of you sooner or later.
Thank you for reading – I hope you have enjoyed reading that, indeed, Mikindani Matters.