Saturday, April 30, 2011

The view from above

A common expression for those of us who do strategic planning-a world of meetings and mind wrenching deliberation on philosophy and process- is to take "the 30,000-foot view" when setting a course. This is standard in the industry: even though we may get to more basic action planning that moves us from present to a future state, we are taught to start with the big picture. What's implied by this term is that at 30,000 feet we can  see further, better: we can project what's coming. That at 30,000 above ground level we have a more comprehensive, interconnected vista. We're somewhere between heaven
and earth and of course that's where vision lives.

All good stuff.

Today, flying home from Nicaragua, I can't wait to get to just 10,000 feet so that i can pull out my IPAD and play (you see at 10,000 Delta offers wireless internet). At 7000 feet its beautiful looking down. At 9000 the ground's getting hazy. And by the time we reach 10K, I can't see a thing but clouds. It makes me realize that the flaw in this analogy is that we can be as sightless in the big picture as we can be on the ground. The key is actually the balance- between theory and practice; thought and work.

This is a great challenge in the world of formal philanthropy (grantmaking foundations) because with some exceptions, we aren't the ones who ever practice the work. So we have to deliberately put ourselves into situations that expose us to real world, on the ground work- and in settings other than when we are invited to a presentation/site visit or for the ¨privileged few¨we invite in.

While this takes effort, it's necessary. At 30,000 feet, we miss the dynamic realities of the people and places we exist to help. We become satiated with our comfortable seats (its no coincidence they call it "cruising altitude"). We relax. We forget. We fall asleep. Our communities can't afford philanthropic institutions to develop solutions and hypotheses for scenarios we can't see, hear, or experience. It's unrealistic and can lead to elitism at best and at
it's worst, sloth. And it can damage.

So while thinking big picture, let's stay grounded. If we want to make a difference, it's the best seat in the house.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Living LIFE Stress

There is a kind of stress we experience when life is good and full and it is the demands that people allow and impose upon themsevles that keep them anxious with little time to breathe or think. For these people, it is thier living that is stressful and not LIFE per se. And then there is another kind of stress that exists for those who are in spaces and places where they must fight and hope for even the chance to achieve a good and full life...their lack of busy days manifesting their lack of opportunity. 

For the poorest in Nicaragua, LIFE is stressful, yet ironically thier constraints make thier living slower, more relaxed, even laisse faire.  Children and adults in the towns and villages move slowly, with seemingly little anxitey and long, hot days. There is nothing to rush to.

While the stress of LIFE feels overwhelmingly, almost morbidly unfortunate, the stress many of us take on from our living is more foolsh. After all it is, to varying degrees, self created and based uon our ability, despite external presssure, to define what will make our LIFE ¨good¨.

Irregardless, I doubt if and how our psyches care to distinguish or mitigate...allowing all stress to wreak its inevitable damage.

Click below to view Nicaraguan children in a fenced yard on a hot, slow Wednesday.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Life's Labors

> Life's Labors
> During this time of my sabbatical I am thinking constantly about work and it's meaning. I believe that all of us have work for which we are uniquely suited and called-our "life work"-and how focused and well we perform our life work defines who we are and what we mean.
> Here in bluefileds, everyone works so hard! They attack thier work -from taking care of the field to cooking to education to driving the bus-with a fury. As they build this community they are building their lives: THIS is their life work. Despite weariness from their jobs, the energy and drive they demonstrate is inspiring as they do what they love.
> I am asking myself what my life work is. Some people are blessed to find alignment between thier life work ad their job and these are the enviable ones whose drive and energy are sustained by this congruity. Yet while the quest for should be constant, the answer will change for one's life work must change with one's life.

And each time we receive an answer, it's time to go to work.

  • Yesterday I visited a local  marketñ colorful, LOUD, pungent
  • I also wound my way, with a guide, through a maze of sidewalks and homes=homes, behind homes behind homes behind homes. there are no addresses in this peculiar space beyond descriptions of the environs. I have amazing photos.
  • Managua today, the capital city. Yesterday I visited neighborhood after neighborhood connected through twisted sidewalks-middle class residences besides shacks. It was overwhelming. 

> Lesley

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Agua, and other reflections

…purificada, to revive and replensish
…de pozo, to clean my body
…de la manguara, to rinse my clothes
…estancada, for waste and the grounds
…del crelo, fast, furious, acidic
…de mi botella, for the woman whose child was parched
…dulce, a precious commodity
…contaminada, conveying disease
…sin fluor, rotting teeth
…bajo el barco, for connections and commerce
…fria, for 20 cordoba
…caliente, under the blistening sun
…hirvienda, for my coffee

  • I traveled to Kukra, a remote village today, which is very progressive There is a stadium, better roads than Bluefields and many public works projects going on. We visited the church school which has 160 children. The scary part was taking the panga-see dock below-with more than 40 people on board; we were very very low in the water and held on for dear life.
  •  The water and electricity continue to play hide and seek and of course I am the one searching!
  • Despite language, my office skills came in handy yesterday. I designed the funeral program, based on knowledge of MS Word. It was a honor. I was also in charge of chairs-who got them, where they sat, etc. The loss of the Pastor was a blow to everyone.
  • I gotta figure out how to share the cacophony of sounds i awake to daily! Birds, dogs, Roosters, horses..and eventually people. At 5 AM
  • Out to a restaurant last night and had some of the best pizza in my life. Who would figure?
  • The smell of fire is constant and overwhelming. Everyones burns everything because there is no waste system. Yet still there is trash everywhere.
  • The Sandistinos are back in power and everyone is pleased. They believe the government is fair. Nicaraguans have a proud history of egalitarianism.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Nicaragua April 22

OK Oprah, I get it.

I have always wondered why so many folks, particulalry celebrities, have rooted thier philanthropy internationally. No question about the need, but there are so many needy folks in the states, it seemed odd to travel across the world to do good.

My time here has revealed to me more about international aid. The Pierre's have done an amazing job here. They began by buying land from the government; first building a pool, a basketball court; a multi pupose center, then a gazebo -which they use and also rent out-planting plantains and other vegetables, then establishing a restarant/store. Note that three of these provide income. Thier primary requirements to accomplish all of this were resources and will .  They did not have to wait for tax status, three licenses-business, recreation, food-, multiple development/construction permits, and all the other procudural reqs we have in the US that frustrate us so. This week three doctors and seven nurses saw 162 kids and adults. on top of this, many kids came by themselves and brought younger kids. and while some ailments were too complex for visiting professionals, the vast majority of them could be addressed by over the counter meds and good advice.  Ideally parents might take kids to the doctor, but these were working. So the kids brought themselves and were seen by a doctor. Straight forward.

As an American; I understand the value of process and quality control, but when you want to make a difference these can stand in the way and dampen the will and desire. the ability to move fast and efficiently in international philanthropy is compelling. even more, the ability to directly impact those in need - to interact on a human level is powerful. it makes for HOLISTIC giving that starts from a charitable place and moves through and with those whom it touches and encircles. its refreshing and profound.

Other updates
  • my BB broke today -yup, says get replacement- so i take it a another sign to BE where i am
  • after school care here is all day long! school is in shifts; 7-12 and 12-5. so after school begins at 12 and runs until 6!
  • the people are here are physically beautiful-and very shy until you get them alone. then the stories they share are amazing because of thier resiliency and graciousness.
  • there was a wedding yesterday that was beautiful. i am going to try to upload some of it on The EDGE FB page!/edgeofopportunity
  • i am teaching today and tomorrow and building monday through wednesday on another island. i will be leaving for managua one day earlier than planned
  • no water for bathing today. i am learning how folks survive without a shower daily.
Other thoughts roaming in my head: my responsibility to conserve our natural resources; learning when enough is enough; the importance of quality, non structured time; the value of back-breaking work; the many forms of stress.

I feel stuff happening.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Nicaragua April 21

9:26 PM
Lord, is this me putting up a mosquito net?????
Wonderful women here from LA who have adopted me. they will be here until Saturday then its me and three others. they have shown me the ropes and left off the bad stuff. i have also offered to buy up all thier extra bug spray.
Wedding tomorrow! Since my IPAD isn't synching yet, i'll shoot it via phone. I'm really cut off. Verizon lied to me.
Dinner prepared by local women. Rice, slaw, plantains and fried/baked pork and banana bread. i skipped the pork but muched the rest. i think its a vegetarian week. taking it easy.
took a walk and passed 10+ dogs today. They weren't thinking about me. i was still thinking about them but the whole place is overwhelming, they were only part of my focus. they are starving. one lady who takes a run in the mornings got bit!! she is still running.
this is the most depressed-not depressing but depressed-place i have ever been.
i can do this.

11:42 PM
So mosquito nets are hot. go figure. it a net, right? somehow the fact that it encases  you make it...a lot, also they flop down and touch you. at first they had no more for me but one girl brought 2. thank goodness-Vital said that the fan would "blow" them away. Really? Polite mosquitos in Blufields.
Yanna was so smart about the pepper spray-now that i'm not staying with Ketley i am a woman "alone". (she's 10 minutes away and i am on the church campus). 4get the dogs i planned (uh, was prepared to) spray. its by my pillow. i don't feel threatened but i am still a philly girl.
so since water is a premium, i learned don't get your washcloth too soapy-takes too long to rinse it before you can rinse your body.
 i know i'll get to the social/political/economic/cultural stuff soon. right now trying to adapt.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Losing, Down and Out

We are being governed with a philosophy of extremes. 
Watching the political theater being performed across the county, this is sad. Age and reason tell us that governing from the far edge results in flawed and short sighted action. Yet even more distressing is that the majority of “regular folk” (as I consider myself) feel impotent to weigh in and, even better, have an impact in any substantive way.
I'm not really the kind of girl who embraces extremes.  Extremes are rigid and unrealistic. In my experience, life rarely exists in extremes:  almost always there’s a healthy dose of good in bad; a blend of pain in joy; invariably some wrong in right and right in wrong.  Maybe it’s the Gemini in me…but I believe that the primary purpose of polar opposites is the space between them.   
Here are a few of the extremes stressing me right now:
"Winners and "Losers" - Political races are decided by votes: whoever gets the most votes wins. However, after the victory celebration, the concept of winning and losing should end.  Yet observing the actions and attitudes of way too many politicians-of all stripes – confirm that they took this win/loss concept to work with them, focusing their time and energy (and if we’re lucky, some intellect) on making sure that they and the people who voted for them continue to “win”.   The strategy is working for them and its working for their supporters. But in the end, we all lose.
"Top" and "Bottom" – It’s easy to see the folks who are on “top” right now: their voices (sometimes screeching, sometimes deafening) are vociferous, resounding from podiums and across the airwaves; their perspectives elevated and affirmed.  And then there are those on the “bottom” – whose voices have been muted or relegated to angry outbursts. Forced to the underside, their avenues to conceive or share their truth are restricted and their energy depleted.
"In" and "Out"  The “inner circle”, the select whose perspectives are valued and promoted; inside players with the privileged access and protection that we all seek and deserve.   Everybody else is an “outsiders”--with spotty or no admission to the same security and advantage; these are the people who find out too little too late to shape the dialogue and outcome.  
There are too many on the wrong side of these extremes with no consistent opportunities to address this dynamic through discussion and mutual problem solving. And Social media, while effective in provoking dialogue, and mobilizing for immediate action (Sign a petition! Call your legislator! Meet at the Square!), is some but not all of the answer.  Though social media we might occasionally peek into others’ worlds, but most of our play occurs with folks who believe and act and live like us. More significantly, at least in my experience to date, social media doesn’t incubate collective, cumulative learning, interaction and growth.
As a part of my sabbatical, I have intentionally sought to interact with people that I wouldn’t normally connect with-live and virtually-so that I can expose myself to different perspectives.  I’m feeling my impotence being transformed into power in places and spaces where I find myself with different folks who have different perspectives and are leading different lives. Of course, I recognize that the distinctions aren’t as extremes as I might have believed. Best, it is helping me to reconcile, rebut, confirm, and/or affirm what I think and feel and want for my life.
Try it!  Go someplace different and talk to the unusual suspect. Seek out someone who might be losing even if you think you’re winning; someone who looks like they’re on top when you’re feeling you or your friends are down and out. Put yourself in a position to hear and learn something you didn’t expect… and see if you might start to move from your extremes to the middle.  
Cause in the middle is the heart of the matter.  And that’s a good place to start.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Crossed Wires

I planned to start off strong, reflective, and progressive...soaring on technology's ultra cool, ubiquitous wings.  

Instead, I started off tripping - metaphorically and physically- on the wires of my wireless journey into the blogosphere.

On Monday, the first day of my sabbatical, I took off for the Gulf coast of Florida, convinced that the blue waves and alabaster sand would both ease my transition and provide quality time to prepare for my leap into the future. I had gotten my wonderful I Pad ten days ago and, luckily for me, after only a few hours of impatient groaning and shaking (no kicking), I calmed down and let the device "guide" me to a successful setup. I was on my way!

My first dilemma arose when I tried to figure out how to carry this beautiful yet fragile techno-child. This is when I learned that while the I Pad is the heart of the matter, the case is the statement! There are scores of websites, dozens of colors, hundreds of options.

I chose carefully, and although pleased with my attractive tan leather case, I had no room to store my new broadband card and its two cords - one is 4 inches and connects to a USB port and the other, 4 feet, fits a standard wall outlet. Choosing this option over a cellular data plan, I have since learned that the broadband card must feed on both of these cords at an alarming rate. So, I found an old Blackberry case (retired now that PDA pockets are standard in purses), and went on.

My next challenge, after finding a willing, younger helper, was to upload, then download,  my Outlook essentials first to my ITunes and then to my I Pad. I did remember to bring my two-part, 8-foot laptop cord, but I forgot the 24-inch white cord (with the IPod rectangular end on one side and the USB on the other) that connects my I Pad to my laptop. By the way, this cord, used for downloading data, does not charge the I Pad even if the laptop is charging. To do that, you need the 4-foot wall cord with with the rectangular end--now my fourth since I have had three IPods.

Soon after my camera jumped into the fray. Now I don't expect to have to use this so much as my Blackberry and I Pad both have reasonably decent picture quality but since it's been almost a year since I downloaded photos, I need to get them onto my computer for uploading to my I Pad. One end of the camera cord is a standard USB however the other end, while bigger than a thimble, is smaller than the one on the broadband card.  I know that adding this cord to my collection is only good for me so that all these snarling snakes will be in one place.

And who knows, one day I may just want to take a picture without sharing it, texting it or fielding a few phone calls in between shots? (By the way, on the virtual side, I can’t seem to tweet or get internet on my provider says I may need a new Blog site persists in bouncing me off; and every ten minutes my I Pad  reminds me that I don’t have a cellular data plan (tell me something I don’t know).   

In the technology world, to be compact, faster and leaner is to rule. What no one ever tells you about is all the stuff that makes the technology work.  By Thursday, the cords crisscrossing my beach condo resemble an intensive care unit for critically-ill devices. I have a gallon-sized (recyclable) bag to hold my 5 absolutely necessary cords and my 3 potentially necessary/extra cords; a full-sized briefcase for my laptop, I Pad, headphones and Kindle (yup, got one of those too, and, to ensure I remain nimble, it’s umbilical cord has a headphone jack on one end and USB on the other); and my phone, broadband and IPOD along with the rest of my life in my purse.  

It's time to write my inaugural blog and launch my immersion. My technology’s nerves are frazzled...and my back aches. I'm on the ledge (oops, I mean EDGE!).

Yet like Beyonce, I am a survivor. I grab a book and go to the beach.

And live to fight another day.