The long bus

It passes between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. most mornings, except when it comes earlier or when we haven’t seen it at all before someone else gives us a ride to school; in those cases, we don’t clearly know what time it passed.

Waiting in the mornings by the road side

Dorcas, an Ashesi student who I travel with in the mornings, calls the mass transit the “long bus.” (That’s actually a useful re-framing for me because for the first few weeks I referred to it as “my bus.”) I learn an enormous amount from Dorcas, about Ghana, paradigms and faith.  She is another among the young Ghanain woman wise beyond their years.

One morning, I puzzled aloud about the erratic-ness of the long bus’s time table. “In Switzerland,” I explain, “the long bus would pass by at precisely the same time every morning.” “And what if no one is on it?” she asks.  “That wouldn’t matter. People would know when to expect it. Here, I never know when the bus will come.” She took that in and then patiently explained to me, “it will come when it can – it will leave the station when it is full, and then it will come.”

Now that is a paradigm shift for me.

After a reflective pause she asked, “Why do the Swiss waste so much fuel to send their buses if the bus is not full?”

Metro Mass Transit’s “long bus”

I am stumped by her question.


Note: A group of students in my Leadership course are doing a project exploring paradigms — I look forward to learning what they learn. Their insights and questions speed up my own “ah-ha’s” compared to if I had to experience them all myself!

Reflections on home country – 1969

Doug Griggs is the brother of a friend. I share here his reflections on his time in Ghana here, and I invite you to send me your stories about living and learning across boundaries in our increasingly complex global world. Let’s keep learning together.

Doug writes —

I was there as a tourist in 1969; I wanted to see the “home country” (many generations removed!) of the African-American students I had been teaching in Connecticut for five years.

Soon after I arrived at the airport after dark, the power went out (a relatively frequent occurrence, as I recall).  The clerk reached into his desk, produced a candle, and continued with his work as if nothing had happened.  Out on the runway, I could just make out men hurrying down each side of the runway with torches, lighting the pots of oil that were there waiting.

I happened to arrive as the first contest for a president was underway.  Nkruma had died some time before (I don’t really know how long), and the campaigns were in full swing.  They were FAR more interesting than those in the US! There were banners all over the place, Kente cloth printed with each candidate’s name, and local groups of drummers and dancers rallying the potential voters under lots of the big trees.  It was fun to watch — and the participants all seemed to be having a fine time.  I was only in Ghana some 10 days, so I didn’t pay much attention at the time to the winner a few weeks later.

I visited an amazing relic of Nkruma:  the huge parade ground, right on the coast, that had been built for him to receive the accolades of the people and deliver stirring addresses.  But now it was completely empty, with the lanyards on the empty flagpoles banging hauntingly in the wind.  It was the only sign of him that I observed.

Accra was bustling, but I certainly do not remember that much traffic caused that many difficulties getting around.  I must have shared a taxi with several other Americans to visit the old slave “castle” at Cape Coast.  It too was haunting — in a very different way.  There were a few American black tourists who responded to it in very different ways.  Some seemed to feel that in some way, they were “home.”  Some were so put off by the “differentness” of Ghana that they always seemed uncomfortable, and we all had the same difficulties with food and water and illness.

Later I took a rather comfortable bus to Kumasi, a large city more in the center of the country, and eventually another bus up to Bolgatanga, which of course was very different.  Since my visa was about to expire, I tried to take a bus on a very small road over to the Ivory Coast, but it only went three days a week and I had to wait.  So I rented a bicycle (as I recall, for the equivalent of a quarter — no deposit!) and rode out into the countryside.  I saw some folks working a field and called to them (in English, of course) to ask if I could visit their village.  They all pointed to a handsome young man who had been to an English (religious?) school who came over and agreed to show me around.  We had to meet the chief first; I asked how I should greet him and was told I should give him cola nuts, of which I had none.  He agreed that a $1 bill would be a reasonable substitute!  I don’t remember much about him.

At the end of the “tour” we got to the center of the village where several male village elders were sitting on logs or stumps, smoking their pipes.  With the boy interpreting, they asked if they could ask me some questions.  Of course!  They had just heard that the US had sent a man to the moon.  Was that true?  Yes, I replied, swelling with pride. Another then noted that they had been having trouble with the crops that year and did I think that this moon thing had caused their troubles.  I said no.  Then the senior member of the group took a long draw on his pipe, leaned back and said, “I believe that you went to the moon.  I guess I believe that it didn’t affect our corn crop. But tell me this, why did you go.”  For one of the few times in my life, I was speechless.

Enjoy a fine country!
Doug Griggs

Figure 1.6 – Adjusting to Foreign Cultures

This week marks the semester’s approximate half way point. Students feel enormous pressure about their grades, students “sit” for their “mid-semester papers” (what Americans call exams or “mid-terms”), and “lecturers” put in extra long hours “marking scripts” (grading papers), coaching nervous students, and holding the line on the inevitable push students will make for multiple forms of exceptions to any and all rules. I’ll name that condition “stress.”

And so it was with both delight and determination that I set off yesterday morning for another tro-tro trip to the American Embassy. In the midst of everything, I had received word that my long term visa paperwork needed to be retrieved to prove I can remain in-country beyond my 3 month tourist visa. (If I were a counting woman, I’d say that I was somewhere between 52 and 77 days on a 60 day stamp in my passport). In other words, I simultaneously celebrated the call and rued the timing. I was determined that I could get into Accra and back out again before a lunchtime meeting if only I set out before dawn.

So I was on the road by 5:40 a.m. and at the embassy in a new personal best, 2 hours 40 minutes. I had high hopes. In fact, the ride in had been so relatively uneventful that I began to feel just a tinge of guilt about sketching notes for this particular blog entry in which I was going to respectfully complain about various infrastructure challenges of late (small things, like disproportionate power load shedding, a water pump confused by power surges, and public transit without schedules or routes). With time, I would have reached nature’s challenges like the packed-earth road-dust, the gecko in the cutlery drawer, afflictions that fortunately I’ve been vaccinated for, and the slowly increasing temperatures. I might never even have mentioned the 7 inch scorpion on the road, because really, life is good here. Everyone is kind and welcoming and helpful. (One man at the tro-tro stop even asked me to marry him last week! Ironically, the guidebook warns such proposals happens quite frequently to women, so I did not know whether to feel insulted or relieved that this man was my first in three months). It was just that I have been feeling a generalized fatigue.

I guess I could have seen my own fatigue before seeing Figure 1.6 had I realized that I now go into shops scanning for what I recognize rather than awed by all that is different, and that I actually now own right-sized buckets for “bucket baths” when the power is out (which prevents the water pump from working…). But, it took attempting the impossible for me to notice. I decided to quickly get cash from the automatic teller machine at the embassy before reversing my trip and being back on campus at Ahsesi for an early lunch. Oh the trappings of luxury.

The kiosk has an electronic touch screen, which as it turns out was not well calibrated yesterday. I kept pressing “yes” and “continue;” the machine kept replying “please press ‘continue’ or press ‘no’ to exit.” And then, the machine changed screens: “Your session has timed out. Your card has been seized because you did not respond. Contact your local branch for service.” In the long silence which followed, there was no indication of a card. It really had been seized.

Before panicking, I asked a woman who was setting up her station behind thick glass if she could please advise me who to see to retrieve my card. Very politely, she explained that I needed to wait for the service man, “he’s the only one who can retrieve it.” I asked when he comes. “At different times each day – sometimes soon after lunch, sometimes before…” NO! (panic began setting in). See, I can’t wait; I live in Berekuso in the Eastern Region; I have a 3 hour trip to make; I cannot just wait until after lunch; I need to return to Berekuso. (I was beginning to feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, “I have to get home to Auntie Em”.)  She gave me the name of someone in the building, their extension, pointed me to a common phone, and suggested perhaps he could help. There was no answer, all morning.

I verged on becoming an “ugly American,” demanding someone fix the problem. But realistically, there simply was no possibility of that happening.

West Africa had won again.

I took up post on a comfortable sofa, faced the machine and the door so I could watch for my card or the man – which ever emerged first – and settled in. That’s about when I began to see the humor in all of this.

Figure 1.6 - Adjusting to Foreign Cultures

Greenberg, J. (2010) Managing Behavior in Organizations. NJ: Pearson. p. 19.

During the weekend, I had been preparing exam questions for my Organizational Behavior class. I had been scanning through chapter 1 on basics of individuals and behavior within groups and organizations. I had seen the formula explaining behavior as a function of the individual and the situation. The explanation is supported by Figure 1.6 – Adjusting to Foreign Cultures. I had chuckled at it Saturday as I thought about my own recent fatigue and frustrations; yesterday, I nearly laughed aloud about the irony. The graph’s Y axis is the degree of one’s acceptance of a new culture; along the X axis is time. There it was, the lowest point on the rapid slope down, neatly bottoming out around 2-3 months with a box and black arrow labeling “Frustration and confusion about new culture – culture shock.”  The funny part was that I had found myself sitting unexpectedly and indefinitely in this lobby watching a still machine because my 60-90 day visa was expiring. Figure 1.6 now held new “experiential” meaning for me.

I literally felt a new calm sweep into me as I laughed. Figure 1.6 suddenly served as a framework for me to make sense of my last several weeks (or perhaps it merely provided a sensory analgesic or a route to dissociation as a cognitive balm, but it made me smile whatever it was). After Figure 1.6’s plateau (labeled as “tend to be confused and reject”) was a steadily upward trending line towards “optimism” and even “understand and accept.” I was in a very nicely air conditioned, clean room; there were military guards everywhere so my perceived threat level was green; and I had a comfortable sofa on which to rest and reflect for an indefinite number of hours.  I even had plenty of school work to do if I decided to concentrate. Of course, I would not be back up towards optimism for months, and Figure 1.6 shows me reaching utopia around new years or Easter, but it was a trend. And as finance teaches, a trend is your friend.

Figure 1.6 did not appear on today’s mid-semester exam. However, it may be one of the pages I most clearly remember in the textbook for many years to come.

Kurt Lewin, a guru in my field, is noted for saying, “there is nothing so practical as good theory.” In this case, he’s right. He started me up the back side of this particular curve.

Note: The servicemen did arrive before 11 a.m. I retrieved my card, insisted they wait while I got cash and my card back, and made it back to campus shortly before 2 p.m. It was a very long day.