Tetris, Meds and Orchards

Blogs and Meds
I'm trying to remember to blog when I take my weekly meds*... I typically remember at least one of them. This week almost forgot both!

* Meds keep me from getting Malaria and Blogging hopefully keeps me from loosing friends. :O) 

Revisiting the Orchard

For those who have been following my writing this trip may recall my first post regarding the apparent failure of the orchard project and in time it would be re-visited. While that time has come. Here is my epilog in a series of points. 

Clearing things-up…
Over the past few weeks a young man was hired to do some work clearing the grass at En Gessa (the field). In doing so, many trees thought to be lost have now been found. Now I must say grass in the Gambia in a little higher than what we would typically find in Canada, in most of the field the grass is more than 5-6 feet tall. Naturally, I was expecting the trees to have grown to this height by this time however as the locusts and goats had severely impeded growth. I’d estimate about 50 trees have been found to date and I am currently working to take an inventory.

Not dead yet…
Almost like Monty Phython’s black knight, many trees are refusing to die. Remaining sticks thought to be dead are now throwing up new branches. This might add another 15 to the total.  

Dealing with the issues…
One of the hardest things to find in the Gambia is reliable workers. People will work hard for a month or so and then begin to slack off once they believe they have your confidence. I have seen this time and time again. This is not only an issue between foreigners and locals but even between the locals themselves. The few who are committed to success of a project are normally held by other responsibilities – as these people are in demand.

To date we have now used 4 different workers and the plan is for one of the leaders to move on the compound so he can naturally supervise the work.

The pests…
To give an idea to the scale to which these pests were disturbing the orchard,
part of the report I got regarding the problems at the orchard was a visit from Nari (National Agriculture Research Association) emergency locusts response team. This institute was established by the UN during the 90’s when major swarms wiped out crops in Mali, Senegal and Eastern Gambia. The situation at the orchard was deemed worthy of this team (who when I originally approached them refused to aid).

While I was away the orchard was visited twice by this special task force. I’m praying they don’t need to come again. 

Looking forward…
Despite all the challenges I am hopeful and optimistic about the future out come of the project and see the benefits extending well beyond the local community.


I can remember the day I received my Nintendo Gameboy ™. Yes, this primitive devise destroyed many hours, days and weeks of my life. My favourite video game of all time is Tetris – particularly the original Gameboy version – I even was class champion during informal tournaments in both grade 4 and 5.

So, where am I going with all this?

Well, of late I’ve been seeing my childhood devotion to the Tetris was perhaps a divine appointment to learning to scheduling effectively with-in the Africa culture.

Effectively managing time in an African community is a constant juggling act trying fit the pieces together never knowing what is coming next. Just like Tetris you may expect to and leave a space for a particular piece but it will not appear or perhaps you expected one of them and them get three.

For example, today I was supposed to be in the North Bank a “very important” trip planned over a week ago confirmed Tuesday morning and never officially cancelled. I had pushed all plans and activities from today. However, I began I realize on late last night (without being told) we would not be going – the motor bike we were supposed to take when out for repair, the man sent to go ahead to make preparation was sitting drinking Ataya and one of the others coming along made a comment about fixing a fence today.

However, just like Tetris, one can only plan for a piece and then one must manage the pieces that come. Obviously there is a change in plans for today, worst yet the trip is still expected to happen but now I just don’t know when and no matter what I will be expected to attend. Naturally, I’ve been scheduling meetings and plans for all days around today.

This is the norm, unexpected holidays, power outages, family events and the like can drive the pragmatic scheduler to insanity. During my earlier experiences all these would have been a mini crisis. However, through my past experiences, I’ve learned to schedule in almost in the African/Western hybrid system which I can best equate to playing Tetris effectively.

Let me explain…
Much like in Tetris, my strategy is to build a scheduling frame work with as little firm commitment as possible. Big items are planned in periods of big holes but are always backed up by other activities that are less time dependent (administrative, short visits, simple errands and the like) As much as possible like activities are grouped together even if they are of lesser importance (ex. always stop to visit people while passing by this will help mitigate time consuming responsibilities later). Similarly, nothing that can be done now waits to tomorrow (including resting) unless it is trumped by a ‘family’ obligation no matter how trivial. Other than this there are a few other guiding principles dealing with gauging certainties but they are hard to explain.      

Thought it is not perfect model it seems to handle things well – sure works better than total chaos or beating your self trying to keep a day timer.

To conclude, someone called the people in village we were trying to meet today. To which they replied, “It is a good thing you didn’t come. The president is holding a campaign rally in the area and so we wouldn’t have been able to meet”.

As you see the system works quite well.   :O)      

1 comment:

Sean McConnell said...

Hi Mike, Sean here, I think this is a very insightful (brilliant) parallel to tetris re: the scheduling issues you live with! Keep up the good work and stay healthy (hookworm sucks).......we miss you but, you know you are where He wants you to be and you know you are doing what He has called you to!

Love from Sean and Marlene