Packing for Rwanda

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If you read this blog occasionally you may recall that a while I back I posted about the fact that I’m lucky enough to be going to Rwanda on a volunteering mission this year. Thanks to the program sponsored by IBM, my employer of 20-odd years, I’m now packing my bags for Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, and two weeks from today (July 24) I expect my wife to be bidding me a tearful goodbye at Dublin airport. Obviously I could be over-estimating her grief, but I’m confident she’ll miss me (a bit, at least, I mean who’s going to cut the grass?).

Briefly the idea is simple (in principle). IBM sponsor ‘missions’ in many countries to try to bring the experience of their employees to bear on local problems and hopefully also provide the participants with a steep learning experience in cross cultural teaming, consulting with third parties, stepping outside the comfort zone, etc. And it’s been heartening the number of people I work with who have expressed a real interest in this program since I was lucky enough to be selected from the many wanna-be participants. Rather obviously, more people in IBM want to go than can be chosen, so it is a big deal to ‘get the trip’. Now I want to deliver.

The program is called the ‘Corporate Service Corps’ and the hashtag is #ibmcsc Rwanda so expect to see that appear in any Rwanda-related blog posts over the next six weeks of so. Back to now. I have had all my vaccinations. I debated for a while whether I ‘really needed Rabies’ but just in case I meet a cute dog that turns savage I reckoned it was worth it. I have started my packing list, so once I get that done I am going to throw out half of it because I ALWAYS pack too much stuff. By the way have you noticed that half our luggage now seems to be made up of chargers and leads of one kind or another? The digital age I guess! I guess in the old days I’d have had a steamer trunk and I’d be packing my pith helmet, my trusty rifle and my safari jacket…

I’m trying at this stage to assimilate all I have learned about Rwanda over the last 3 months, which is something of a mush in my head right now. I have also (just possibly) turned into a Rwanda bore, and at cocktail parties people move away as I approach them to share facts (that they never wanted to know) about Rwanda. Such is life.

I have been doing some thinking about the culture of this experience-to-be. I will be working for four weeks with other IBMers from different countries, from Japan, India, Costa Rica, US and beyond. How will we get on? Will language prove to be a barrier? We have different skills – how will they come together? WILL they come together? I just don’t know. Then there is the question about what is the local Culture. Do people we’ll work with work at the same pace we do? Will they take us seriously?

There’s a legacy of colonialism in Rwanda, among many legacies. Will that be a problem? Last but not least, the specific project I have been assigned to is centred on female empowerment, apparently from an economic perspective. What does that really mean and what are the underlying Rwandan perspectives on the female position in society? As you can see from this endless list there are a serious number of questions and angles that I think we’ll need to explore as a team, and I think that promises to be fascinating. And I will also – I hope – develop new and informed perspectives on how one small enough part of Africa really works. More anon. Meanwhile I’m going back to trying to make sure I remember to pack my Kindle charger cable. Talk soon.

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