2008 - Terry & Laura
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Canadian Culture Sweeps the Globe
Hello, good friends
Surprise, surprise: here in the South Pacific, March came in like a lamb—a hot lamb. And we expect it to go out without any leonine blizzards.
On the work front, we seem to have a balance of advance and setback. With our very-active new Program and Training Coordinator in place, we gave a two-week re-training session to about half of our field coordinators (who oversee groups of local village literacy schools). They are headed home to make arrangements for teacher training in their areas over the next few months. It’s great that LASI is at last doing something beyond getting itself organized, something that will have practical results for reading and writing and numeracy in the villages.
The setback could be called ‘The case of the disappearing candidate’. Last month we advertised our other big vacant position, Finance & Administration Officer. We, along with several other NGOs, got little or no response. Our short-listing of five applicants left over from an earlier recruitment had these results:
- Applicant # 1 - screened out: a) no academic credentials; b) glowing letter of reference - written by his father (an ex-member of parliament)
- Applicant #2 works for the NGO that owns our building; we know they demoted him because of total non-performance of duties
- Applicant #3—dates looked fishy—e.g. graduated from college at 14 ... we realize all his certificates have been faked.
We arrange interviews for the two remaining ...
- Candidate #1 can’t handle the practical test and is pathetic in the interview. They ask why he does not list in his work-record his time at a certain office; after all, the owner was named as a reference and provided testimony that, for example, ‘He always comes to work on time.’ It emerges that the guy never worked there, and the owner is his uncle.
- Candidate #2 (the last hope) calls in sick and we reschedule for the next day. He arrives 15 minutes early; Mar chats him up a bit, then asks him to wait a few minutes while the panel gets ready. 10 minutes later they go to get him—he’s gone! A full search (even including nearby betel-nut stands!) fails to find him. Was Mar that scary?!
I should mention the other big setback: this month LASI‘s board of directors ignored all the evidence and our warnings about the need for performance appraisal, and renewed the Director’s contract. We are not confident (to say the least) about LASI‘s sustainability beyond our departure in mid-August.
Our organization, mind you, is better off than many. The director is completely trustworthy (though naive) with regard to money. A previous finance officer was either incompetent or a bit of a thief, but the disappearing money was on a small scale. Down the hall from us is a non-profit company which has the laudable role of marketing timber which has been harvested by villages in an ecologically friendly manner. Today we have learned that it has been crippled by malfeasance—tens of thousands of dollars have evaporated ... and this is the 3rd time this has happened in a year and a half! It seems endemic in the SI society, from top to bottom, in NGOs and government departments and corporations: people will steal for themselves or to play the helpful big-man with their wantok (kinfolk) ... and they are almost never held to account. There’s a toleration or resignation about it being natural, no matter how much people mouth anti-corruption platitudes. People have often told us: ‘Only you white-men can control money.’
On the brighter side ... Originally this CUSO posting was supposed to be about drama training for literacy teachers. That didn’t happen. But I have done several drama training sessions outside of LASI, and we’re into another one now: our HAMS community theatre group is putting on a schools drama competition, and several of us are acting as mentors, to help teachers and kids create and perform a short play about the environment.
Health ... we bragged about how healthy we’ve been. This month, though, I’ve been humbled.
First I wounded my tummy with a machete; then I had a day of flu; just now I have suffered several days of rather challenging pain from an ear infection. Mar, on the other hand, has continued healthy ... maybe it’s because cross-stitching is preventive or therapeutic.
Socially ... Our HAMS community theatre group put on a successful coffee + music-and-more evening and is planning a regular film night. Several visits by neighbourhood girls to chat. Supper here for two good friends; suppers hosted by two other sets of friends, one including videos of British and Canuck TV comedies (the Brits didn’t laugh at the Saskatchewan humour of ‘Corner Gas’.) Lucky we have books and cross-stitching and friends ... because our computer screen has been acting up so badly that we can’t watch TV episodes or movies.
Two ‘cultural’ things:
- A village wedding—wow, can Solomon Islanders ever put on a meal: our friend who was organizing this said it was going to be just a simple village party ... it was a magnificent seaside feast for about 500 people!
- An international soccer match: Fiji against a SI team (of which a friend of ours is goal-keeper)—‘we’ lost, but it was a good game and a good experience.
Politically ... Parliament closed without a promised vote of non-confidence taking place, and so tension didn’t bubble up too badly. However, the PM continues to insult and throw innuendo against Australia and the Aus-led police and aid mission ... and Australia refuses to apologize for writing an open letter urging Solomon Islanders to hold their Government accountable for its failures.
Nice: we got a grand Care parcel from Crystal (the PEI woman who came with us for a 6-month CUSO stint—which seems years ago)—things like oregano, pot scrubbers, anti-dog-howl-and-nightclub earplugs!
- Two traffic fatalities (pedestrians) last week—that’s virtually unheard of: mostly Honiara’s roads don’t allow anyone to develop enough speed to do any real harm
- One person doing another’s hair—whether making fancy braid patterns ... or else picking lice
- Easy snacking: people just use a stick to knock a star-fruit (‘5-corner’ in Pijin) out of the tree
- Tuna season seems to have restarted: only a few fishing ships are left in Honiara harbour to light up our night-time view
- Australian soldiers walking about, on patrol, but looking more like a pack of teenage boys with nothing better to do ... Trouble is, they’re toting monster guns, at a time when there’s been this big controversy about giving guns to SI police units—it strikes us as offensive
- Regrettably common: men drinking beer at 7 o’clock in the morning
- Men (and children) saying ‘Hello Rob’ even though it’s both Rob and Mar they are greeting ... when Mar is alone, they do say hello to her
- The friendly good cheer of the folks at the QQQ shop which we drop into almost every afternoon on our way to the Chinatown bus-stop—Matthew the Chinese Australian, Andy and Luz the delightful Philippinos, and the smiling Solomon Islander staff ... We get the same pick-me-up atmosphere at our next usual stop, Jennie and Chin’s shop, as we get set to climb the hill to home
- Garlands of clustered white flowers hanging down in profusion from ‘cut-nut’ trees, bees humming all around them
Oh ... why does the title say that Canadian culture is sweeping the globe? 1) The SI broadcasting corporation has played songs by Gordon Lightfoot and Ann Murray 2) For the re-training workshop, I taught our field coordinators a new literacy-teaching song—‘Alouette’ ... rendered in English and Pijin [‘Pretty birdie, bae mi kukim iu ... Bae mi outim hed blong iu ...’] A hit: the coordinators chose to present this as their entertainment for the wrap-up ‘graduation’ ceremony.
Good wishes to you. Hope your March goes out like a lamb.
Rob & Mar