Planning

The planning horizon in South Sudan lasts for about five minutes. After that everything might have changed. “Inshallah”, if god wishes, is one of the most frequently used sentences here. It’s the answer to anything that is more than five minutes away from now. So it also is the reaction to wishes like “have a nice  weekend”. Which is not that strange as it might sound at first, considering how many times I’ve come to the office on Mondays only to learn that a relative of one of my colleagues has died or is at the hospital.

I planned a quiet day at the office, finish some work, make sure we’re able to send the important report to the donor in time. That plan lasts just long enough to start my computer. Then a colleague enters and tells me we will go for a field visit today. Ok, and you didn’t know that yesterday, you couldn’t have told me before? Quite often, no. It depends on whether there are  people working in the field, whether there is money to buy fuel, whether the roads are passable of not because of rain. There even is a possibility the car will break down on our way to the field. Then we spend the day by the roadside, waiting for help.

Since a few months I put a planning on the wall in my office. It’s a simple paper but it looks ahead a whole month. The purpose of it is that people write it down when they are away, or put future meetings on it. Well, it doesn’t always work like that. A colleague went to Juba for a training, planning to return on Monday. Tuesday she phones to tell there was another interesting workshop, so she will stay till the end of the week. After that there’s another meeting, so she will be away another week. That wouldn’t be such a problem if we wouldn’t have been working on a proposal for a big project. And because she would only be away for the weekend, she didn’t take her computer with her and is not able to read my emails. That means improvising with other colleagues.

This way of planning and organising has its advantages as well. When something has to be arranged tomorrow (or this afternoon), it’s possible most of the times. A partner organisation wanted to have a meeting at our office. No problem, we have space for that. Planned one and a half weeks beforehand, that can’t go wrong. The afternoon before the meeting the constructor starts to finish the renovation of the meeting hall. Dust everywhere, hamering, builders in the room. Impossible to have a meeting there. In Europe I would have panicked, here I think “it will be solved somehow”. What is what happened. We send some staff away from their desks, put a few plastic chairs more in the office and the meeting can start. Nobody thinks it’s strange.

When you want to meet someone, you don’t try to arrange a meeting at a certain time. No, you just go there and see if the person is available. If not, most of the times a colleague will be able to help you or you will come back another time. It’s not just South Sudanese who do it like this. International organisations work the same way. The only way to do business here. At the same time I have never before planned my holiday so long in advance. That’s because we want to go to Iceland during peak season and there people do plan.

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