Archive for February, 2008

Football and Work

February 1, 2008

Friends & Family,

I haven’t posted in a while. We had a huge deadline yesterday and I have been working long hours lately. Well, not always. Sometimes I would have trouble focusing due to the indistinguishable separation between my work, social, and private lives; meaning that I would sometimes not work when I needed to and sometimes work when I shouldn’t have, which lead to me either feeling guilty or burnt out. Despite all of the work and all of the confusion I have been able to take some real time off and have some fun.

Fun = Football
Last week one of my lifelong dreams came true: I saw Michael Essien play live. At a last minute’s notice, the MEST team got tickets to the Ghana vs. Namibia game in downtown Accra. The tickets were center line and first row, which didn’t actually translate into a great view of the field since they have a 12 foot high plastic wall around the entire field. Apparently the average football fan in Africa is crazier than his American counterpart. Indeed, the glass looked bullet proof and there were police officers standing around the entire field trying to look intimidating, but actually spent most of the game clustered together watching the match like everyone else in the stadium. The game was terrible, and I was disappointed in the Black Stars, but Essien lived up to the hype. He is amazing and even in a holding midfield position still generated most of the offense for Ghana. Besides the matches themselves, however, the energy in the stands, around the stadium, and throughout the entire country is amazing. I LOVE being in a football nation and my coworkers do a pretty good job of allowing me to get my fix, taking me to games and permitting me to head over to the pub at 5pm to see kick off. Ghana advanced from group play and is now in the quarterfinals against Nigeria. It is a HUGE game for West Africa and I cannot wait to see the match on Sunday. The entire country will literally shut down.

I also had one of the coolest experiences of my life when I went to the Volta River Estuary last weekend with the MEST crew. We slept in palm thatch huts with sand floors, had no running water, no internet, and only enough electricity to keep the food and drink coming out of the kitchen and a football match on the tv. It was a great way to relax, but I still felt like I needed something else to fully recharge and I experienced it on the last day. I was able to play soccer on the beach with a bunch of little Ghanaian kids who were better than me. I loved it. There was this one little boy in particular, Ibrahim, who was no older than 6, but was amazing. He had great touch, a few tricks, and most impressively, an understanding of when and where to pass. I LOVED it.

Curriculum planning like it’s my job…cuz it is
Before you get the wrong idea about my life in Accra, let me assure you that my life is not all about football and fun. I have been working a lot too, but not as hard as I would like to, which is unfortunately beyond my capacity at the moment. Lately, I have been feeling insecure about my skills. Currently, the MEST staff is comprised of two senior trainers, a junior trainer, and three teaching fellows (including myself). We also have a few other people working here to support use with administrative and logistical stuff. But was are essentially a group 6 people from 3 different countries with very different communication and work styles trying to develop a curriculum from scratch in 4 weeks for a school that has not predecessors – no one has ever done something like MEST before. To make things even more interesting is the fact that none of us have worked with each other or even known each other before 3 weeks ago and we all live, eat, sleep, work, rest, and play in the same house. It is like a really boring version of The Real World, but frustrating nonetheless. That all said, I think we are doing an amazing job. We are really taking on a lot and there is a lot at stake. In 10 days we have 18 students coming into something they have been told is professional, effective, and “for real.” MEST is met with a lot of skepticism in Ghana, but once people understand what we are trying to do they fall in love with the idea. What we are trying to do, in fact, is establish a new paradigm for how aid should be done in Africa. We are transferring knowledge to Africa and nurturing our students as they become global players in the software industry. We are not giving them charity and if things go right in a few years they won’t even need us anymore. I am very passionate about this school and our mission so I get upset when I cannot help us achieve our goals as much as I would like to. I became upset with myself because I see Eyram and Sebastian (the other teaching fellows) providing the essential aspects of the curriculum because they are computer science guys and they know what they are doing. It is frustrating for me because I simple cannot provide the same kind of input as them, regardless of how much I do now. They have experience that I cannot synthesize. So a lesson learned for me: I have to do MY best, not their best. I was brought here for a reason and I need to stop being so insecure about my lack of comp sci skills. It has even lead me to doubt our work. I started thinking that because I was disappointed in my work that the entire team’s work wasn’t good. I am learning a lot about myself here from work and the cultural differences I experience on a daily basis. More to come….

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