Monthly Archives: August 2009

Capacity building

Lisa and Mike manage to connect via skype for the first time in several days. It’s 9am in LA, and 7pm in Sudan.

Mike: “Hello!”
Lisa: “Hello! I’m just finishing up my Noah’s bagel for breakfast. It’s been either feast or famine over here when it comes to breakfast this week. Almonds and dried mango at my desk, or yummy blueberry bagel with strawberry cream cheese… at my desk.”
Mike: “Have you gone grocery shopping since I left?”
Lisa: “Uh, no. Hence, breakfast at the office.”
Mike: “I’m discerning some systemic gaps in your self-organization when it comes to life admin. That’s all right, I’m a capacity builder. And very patient.”
Lisa: “Here’s another idea. You could just come back here and fill those gaps instead of trying to build up my capacity.”
Mike: “Development theory suggests that approach doesn’t work so well in the long run. It creates handout expectations, breeds dependency, and all that.”
Lisa: “Look, I’m willing to risk it.”

Seven months

Lisa and Mike try a skype date to celebrate their seven month anniversary. Lisa is in LA. Mike is in Sudan. It goes something like this:

Mike: “Happy (static)…”
Lisa: “Hello? Hello?? Can you hear me?”
Mike: “(static) I can (static) said (static) …versary.”
Lisa: “Honey, I only caught half of that. But in case you can hear me. Happy anniversary!”
Mike: “Hello? (static) we back? What (static) say?”
Lisa (taking deep breath and reminding herself that internet in Sudan, no matter how crappy, is a miracle): “I said…”
Mike: “(static) there?”

Best monthly anniversary celebration so far. Except for the other six.

The Swat Valley

Lisa is on skype, updating her parents as to what’s been going on this week. Chiefly, Mike is leaving for a month in Juba (Sudan) this weekend, and it’s now looking likely that she will go to one or all of Khartoum (Sudan), Kabul (Afghanistan), and Lahore (Pakistan) for work in the next couple of months.

Mum: “I don’t think you should go to Pakistan or Afghanistan.”
Lisa (busy, and a little distracted with an email that’s just come in): “Why not?”
Mum: “It’s dangerous. I just don’t like it. And I don’t say that often – only once or twice in the last six years – which means you should pay attention. Do you have to go?”
Lisa: “No one’s forcing me to go anywhere. Look, I don’t have enough information to make sensible decisions on this right now but luckily, that’s not this week’s problem. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Mum: “I don’t like it.”

This is where Lisa should have acknowledged the parental discontent and exited this particular conversation. She didn’t.

Lisa: “How do you know they’re any more dangerous than Sudan? How do you even start stacking Sudan up against Afghanistan and Pakistan?”
Dad: “Well it depends where you go in all three countries. Juba’s not the Swat valley, for example.”
Lisa: “Exactly. What about Khartoum?”
Dad: “What do you mean?”
Lisa: “Is Khartoum in the Swat valley?”
Dad: “The Swat valley is in Pakistan. So, uh, no.”
Lisa: “Oh.”
Mum: “If you say you don’t have enough information to make a sensible decision then I don’t think you should be going.”
Lisa: “Mum, I don’t think you have to worry. I just forgot where the Swat valley was. I think they take away your humanitarian worker passport when you do that. I likely won’t be going anywhere for a decade.”


Lisa wakes up at 8:30 on Saturday, wanders out, and curls up on the couch with her laptop. Mike has been awake since 6:30, walked to the shops to buy ingredients for a picnic lunch, and is now in the kitchen making breakfast.

Mike: “Would you like some coffee?”
Lisa: “Yes please. Hey, there’s this piece on CNN that this guy in Kenya offered 40 goats and 20 cows for Chelsea Clinton.”
Mike: “Awww, honey, if I had 40 goats and 20 cows I’d offer them to your papa for your hand in marriage. Do you think that would get me somewhere?”
Lisa doesn’t answer. She is still reading.
Mike: “Huh?”
Lisa: “What? Oh, maybe. You know, what would really do it is if you threw in a couple of miniature horses – then Mum would totally be on your side and that would get you somewhere.”
Mike pops his head out of the kitchen, and waggles his finger: “No, no, no. We’re not going to start empowering female voices. No, no, no.”
Lisa (still reading): “Oh, sorry my lordship, you’re right. Utterly careless of me to suggest that.”
Mike: So do you think that would get me somewhere?
Lisa: “If it would please your royal self to repeat the details of the plan, since I was paying less than 100% attention.”
Mike (laying out cereal bowls and yogurt): “Even less than you normally pay to me?”
Lisa: “Even less than that. Oh, is breakfast ready?”

Early mornings

Mike: “Do you like it when I pick on you before you’re completely awake?”

Lisa: “It’s a bit cruel – like tormenting a poor defenseless little animal.”

Mike: “Awww, and what kind of defenseless little animal would you like to be?”

Lisa: “A lion cub.”

Mike (laughing): “They are not defenseless!”

Lisa: “Yes they are, when they’re little. They just have a lot of … potential.”

Business as usual

Yesterday, Mike learned that he’s off to Sudan for a month sometime next week. This morning, Lisa wakes up to hear Mike on the phone, saying something every wife longs to hear before breakfast: “I need to schedule an appointment for an HIV test.”

Twenty minutes later Lisa is still half asleep, even after the shower, and putting on makeup.

Lisa: “Do you have to prove HIV negative to get into Sudan?”
Mike: “Sometimes. They’re capricious about it, but better safe than sorry.”
Lisa: “What else do you need?”
Mike sips his coffee and thinks: “Malaria.”
Lisa and Mike (simultaneously): “Typhoid!”
Lisa: “You can get that oral now, did you know?”
Mike (shuffling his briefing documents): “Rabies is on this list.”
Lisa: “I bet you don’t need rabies. They’re probably being conservative. That series only buys you time, anyway. It won’t stop you getting it.”
Mike: “I’ll check the CDC.”
Lisa: “Hepatitis?”
Mike (proudly): “They tested my immunity last year. She said I could swim in a vat of hepatitis B and I wouldn’t get it.”
Lisa: “Lucky you.”

On her way to work thirty minutes later Lisa has second thoughts about cavalierly recommending that Mike not get rabies shots. She calls home from the car.

Lisa: “I just remembered something the travel doctor told me in November. Rabies is on the rise in West and East Africa, and there’s not enough serum in continent. So if you get bitten, go to London straight away, OK?”
Mike: “I did have the series a couple of years ago, but I’ll keep that in mind. Have a good day, sweetheart.”

Honesty equals righteousness

Lisa and Mike are standing in a group, talking to friends after church one morning about cooking.

Mike: “Do you use recipes?”
Jonathan (who designs remodels for a living and practically doubles as a chef): “Nah, I just make it up as I go along.”
Mike (triumphant): “Me too!”
Lisa: “Yes, but Mike, using that approach works best if you have some basic level of skill to use as a springboard for experimentation.”

Ninety seconds later, walking down the stairs with the same group, Lisa sidles over to Mike and strokes his arm lovingly.

Lisa: “I was mean to you, but now I’m going to come over and be nice and make sure everything’s OK.”
Mike: “Oh, so now you’re going to be needy as well.”
Lisa: “And you need to not only take my meanness, but now reach out to me in my uncertainty and give of yourself to affirm and soothe me.”
Jonathan: “Wait a minute, there’s something not quite right with that.”
Mike (with a sigh): “Yeah, but we believe honesty equals righteousness. It’s part of how we function.”