Thursday, January 24, 2008

Safe Jobs and an Incredible Mind

For now, at least, it seems that the warehouse boys' jobs are safe. True, Hugh Marlboro has decided to suspend the import of potatoes and onions indefinitely. There were some serious management issues in the fresh produce operation, mostly the result of jumping at an opportunity too quickly with no structure or procedures whatsoever, and in light of the consequences of said leap, I actually agree that this is the appropriate step to take. As Hugh Marlboro said to me yesterday, not only does a ship need a good captain before she goes out into the open seas, she needs a captain who is armed with a nautical chart, a radio and a clear idea of where he is going.

Ahmed, Paulo and Raimundo are still working during the day (this is where I let out a very selfish "Yay!!"), but have also been put on the night shift for the next few weeks. They will be supervising the loading of the banana trucks before they head out to the sales depots. Apparently there have been some serious problems as of late regarding theft and side sale of bananas. Hugh Marlboro suspects they were being siphoned off by the banana truck loading crew (different from the crew of boys who sing dirty songs and unload the potatoes and onions), so he put my warehouse friends to work with the banana operation becuase, I am happy to see, my boss recognizes that these boys are hard, serious workers.

This information didn't come easily, mind you. Hugh Marlboro avoided (or just plain forgot about) our meeting in which he was supposed to bring me up to speed about the warehouse operations for 2 entire days. We were on site visits with clients, and in meetings, so I couldn't exactly pin him down in that time. Yesterday, while we were in his truck on the way to the Ministry of Agriculture, I hammered him with questions and gave him my straight opinion about several issues related to the fresh produce operation.

Not only am I satisfied with the answers he gave me (as are the boys, let me tell you!), I think the fact that I insisted on the subject actually gained me some respect in his eyes. The core reason behind the decision to shut the warehouse operations temporarily is not a pleasant one; in fact, it is one that I would prefer to avoid altogether if it were possible, but so it goes in business, you have to face situations that you'd rather pretend never existed in the name of what is good for the company. Bringing up this subject, and then pressing for details was a bit hard for me, but I'm glad I did it. Not only was my own curiosity satisfied, I need to be informed of what is going on in the Banana Empire - the good, the bad and the scandalous - if I am to perform my strategic planning and advising function with success.

In other news, two days ago I went on a day-long site visit with Hugh Marlboro, a Zimbabwean man who is the head of agricultural lending at one of the main banks here, and a group of 5 South African investors who want to start a tropical fruit processing project here in Mozambique. The investors would like to partner with Hugh Marlboro in the venture, so we all went together to look at potential plots of land. We spent the entire day in the bush, with the Zimbabwean and I a bit left out of the loop because all business discussions as well as smalltalk were done in Afrikaans.

I had a strange thing happen to me, though. I was in the backseat of Hugh Marlboro's truck at one point, and he was yammering away to one of the potential investors in Afrikaans in the front seat. It was a long car ride out to the land we were visiting, and the heat plus the motion of the vehicle made me dreadfully sleepy. I was in that dreamtime state, just before actual sleep, and a very strange thing occured. Instead of composing flowing, perfect paragraphs in English (the dreamtime writing I talked about a few weeks ago), my mind randomly decided to start understanding Afrikaans. I swear, I listened to Hugh M. and his potential farming partner talk and talk, and I not only could follow the jist of the conversation (pretty normal for me at this point), I was understanding all of the words they were saying!! I even caught exact phrases, and managed to remember them when I woke up.

Yesterday, I told Hugh Marlboro about the experience and quoted back to him some of the things I remembered from the conversation. I'm talking about specific things, like the man in the car saying that he saw the world through rose-colored glasses, while his business partner saw things through black-lensed glasses in the midst of a discussion about management styles. Hugh M. confirmed these and other details, and was just as impressed as I was that I somehow managed to develop a complete understanding of Afrikaans.

Mind you, I still can't speak a word of the language, and my comprehension is back to normal levels in my awake-state, but nonetheless...what a cool experience! The human mind is a fascinating thing.


Francesca said...

I am amazed as well. Mostly because Afrikaans seems such a different language from those you handle right now!

I guess it is out of necessity, though. Your mind is probably language-flexible enough now. Do you think you are learning in the same way you would if left with no books nor translator in a community that speaks an indigenous language?

It would be really amazing. Just consider that a friend anthropologist of mine stayed 2 years in the Amazon with an indigenous group. He did not manage to learn their language at all. Just a few words.

So you see??? I wish it happened between English and me as well ;)

Anonymous said...

I wish I had an aptitude for another language - or maybe I do - I'm just too lazy to practice is probably more like it! Thanks for the update on the guys. I'm happy to hear as well that their hard work and work ethic are being recognized, and good job playing inquisitor.

Ali la Loca said...

~Francesca - Well, to be fair it's not quite like I spontaneously started understanding Navajo or something. Afrikaans is based on Dutch, which is the closest Germanic language to English, my mother tongue. That's why I can understand some Afrikaans in "real life", but the switch to total comprehension still blew me away. I've certainly not looked at books or grammar; all of what I understand of Afrikaans is from listening to others speak.

~Southern Goddess - Yes, language takes a lot of practice. I am good at languages, and even so if I don't keep them up my ability to speak withers away. I grew up being able to speak Italian, and now I am terrible at it because I never practice.

Linda said...

The mind is a fabulous thing, isn't it? I'm amazed at some of the things that I hear or read about. Now, if my brain would just help me speak French fluently. It seems sort of stuck.

judy in ky said...

I am so glad to hear about safe jobs. I've been concerned for those guys. They sounded so sweet,
getting you those gifts.
By the way, I love reading about your life... it's fascinating!

Mike Hu said...

I've often found myself speaking to individuals whose command of the language (English) was suspect -- but they reacted in a way indicating total comprehension of everything I said -- because I think that the desire and authenticity to communicate, is what is actually communicated -- beyond the words and explanations.

I think such communications go beyond the language and what is meant by communing -- which is the simple expression and confidence in another to understand what one means. In a lot of false communications, what is indicated is that one does not have that confidence in the other to understand, and so all manner of deceptions and manipulations can be perpetuated -- which despite the comprehension of the words, communicates no understanding.

So learning words, is no indication of anything, especially and particularly, if they are used not to communicate -- which is unfortunately, the language many sophisticated (educated) people now learn. But the genuineness of wanting to communicate with another, says it all.

stacie said...

I tried to understand Chinese...never took to it. I even took lessons, but the speaking and understanding are so totally different!
I am glad the boys are safe for now....they have really meant a lot to all of us, I think...

Anonymous said...

Hi Ali,

Verstaan jy wat ek hier skryf? Dis baie cool dat jy Afrikaans leer. Dis rerig nie moeilik nie!


Ali la Loca said...

~Linda - Keep at it, immerse yourself in the language. Listen to TV and music in French as much as possible. Put up post-it notes around your house with names of objects. Conjugate the most difficult verbs on a sheet of paper and put it on the wall next to your bed. These are all the ways I helped myself learn Portuguese. Good luck!!!

~Judy in KY - Thanks, I am glad their jobs are safe as well, though there have been some new developments this week that have left me a bit sad. Nothing serious, though...

~Mike Hu - Absolutely! This reminds me of one summer when I was 17, I went to stay with a friend's family in Athens. His parents spoke no English (or any other language I speak), only Greek and German (they'd lived in Germany for 10 years). I'd spend each day with my friend's mom while he was away at work. She and I would walk around the city, run errands, go to church, cook meals - and talk nonstop the entire time. She would speak a mix of Greek and German, and somehow, miraculously, I could understand enough to follow all of the conversations. I'd reply in a mix of Portuguese, Italian and English and somehow she was also able to get it all! We wanted to communicate, so we managed to make it happen.

~Stacie - OMG, Chinese?!? You're in another league, girl!! I'm glad the boys have their jobs still, too; they are a very special part of my life here, no doubt.

Ali la Loca said...

~Anel - Okay, here is my attempt without consulting a translator, dictionary or any of my colleagues:


"Understand you what is here written? It's very cool that you Afrikaans read. It is ?? no ?? no!"

Okay, the last bit of what you wrote I didn't quite get...but I think I'm pretty close on the rest.

So to answer, yes, I do understand what you've written, more or less!!

Now, could you please translate??


Anonymous said...

Hi Ali,

Verstaan jy wat ek hier skryf?
Do you understand what I am writting here?
Dis baie cool dat jy Afrikaans leer.
It is very cool that you are learning Afrikaans.
Dis rerig nie moeilik nie!
Its really not difficult!


Ali la Loca said...

~Anel - Well, I definitely understood the jist of it!! Thanks for the translation.

poppy fields said...

A great example of the power of the mind that we can't quite control.