It was, after all, a gas!

I want to call this a near-death experience, but of course, it was nothing of the sort, in the end. I called it a kind of rehearsal. It was nothing short of the worst three hours I could ever remember spending, in terms of just pure physical pain, short of childbirth. Still, it was a wild, wild ride, and I did get a chance to imagine, for a moment, that that could be the end.

Monday, coming back from the weekend in snake-infested Rajganj, I came down with a fever that lasted all day. Everyone told me it was the abrupt change in temperature, coming up the mountain. Made sense to me.

Friday, I woke up feeling slightly, I dunno, out of kilter. The feeling built slowly over the course of the day. At 4 o’clock, it was too uncomfortable to sit at my desk. The pain started on the walk back, all 130 stairsteps of the way to the room. I sat for about half an hour in Ben’s room, talking about the day, but my back was stubbornly painful, short little spasms, so I went back to my room, took a pain killer with Codeine and lay down. For a few minutes, I was stabbed by a series of rolling pains that finally subsided. I began to relax. Back pain is an old adversary of mine; I know it well. I thought that I’d found the right pain-free position. But no.

One of my former colleagues, Sulo, came to talk about her new job and I motioned her to take a seat. As she talked the pain seemed to focus on my lower chest area, like a horrendous stitch in my side. It got worse and worse. Soon I could only breathe in small little gulps; taking a full breath caused a spasm of astounding pain. I took a couple more pain pills. These are the pills that can practically erase any of the pain I’ve ever felt—back totally out, neck in a pretzel, finger shut in a car door, anything. But nada.

This went on for over an hour. Sulo, of course, felt helpless, but she kept up a steady stream of patter that let me focus on the words rather than what was going on in my body.

I began to realize that this was not a back out of joint, that I was taking shallower and shallower breaths in an attempt to avoid the stabbing pains that kept coming, that it was breathing itself that was precipitating the spasms. About then I started wishing I’d read those stupid ads detailing the five danger signs of heart attack. As the second hour wore on, the pain seemed to get worse and worse. I couldn’t sit up or turn on my side. I did childbirth breaths—short and shallow—to get enough air into my system.

Finally, we managed to reach a doctor, a Rotarian friend who, when he heard me on the phone, rasping out symptoms between little gasps of breath, said he’d be right over.

The first thought was that I’ve had a very good life and that while I didn’t get everything done, I’d done okay. The second was that I needed to get the passwords to my Password Vault, laptop with the household finances and desktop computer to my husband. We got that task done just as the doctor arrived. (Yes, docs do make house calls! The disappearance of this service in our world probably signaled the end of civilization but we didn’t notice.)

He took my vital signs and said apart from a somewhat elevated blood pressure, everything checked out as fine. My heart behaving normally, pulse okay. About then, the pain killers kicked in and I could turn to my side and breathe. And, blissfully, sleep. By the next evening, it was as if nothing had happened. Absolutely no residual spasms. What the heck?

I finally diagnosed the whole episode as a result of my stomach so distended with gas that it was pressing on my lungs. And decided that yoga for digestive health should be on my workout schedule from here on out.

It turns out that while I thought I might actually be reaching the end of my days on earth, that possibility never crossed my husband’s mind. My insistence on giving him passwords didn’t make the light bulb go on in his head. (Sometimes, one’s culture protects one from disturbing thoughts. The French can’t dictate their passwords, since they are all about 24 letter/number combinations long—impossible to memorize, so they just keep them pasted to their computers.)

Two days later, out walking, I pondered on the lessons I learned from that terrifying two or three hours. First, of all, I’m not particularly afraid of death. I found the prospect of letting it all go not that difficult. I was afraid of more pain, of how I was going to get to the hospital. I kept hearing that the longer it takes to get help, the poorer one’s chances of survival.

Second, in spite of the pain and fears, I maintained a presence of mind—call the doctor, pass over the passwords.

And third, that sweet sweet taste of the preciousness of life that floods back in once the crisis is past. Everything about life coming in sharp, beautiful focus, even the warts.

Find 18-character Record Type IDs

Working on a tricky Salesforce problem today and all my MVP friends told me I needed to get the 18-character Record Type ID if I’m using Record Type as one of the criteria for my Process Builder workflow. Okay…

Ha!

The United States was asleep while I was trying to figure that part out so off I went to Google. I went through several of the articles before I found this from pjcarly on the Salesforce Stack Exchange. Note that the poor guy was dissed badly before someone gave him the answer.

I wasn’t finished though. I went to Setup > DataLoader only to find that I needed to DOWNLOAD the DataLoader. Okay. Can do that.

Nope. Can’t get to Dataloader until I have a new version of Java on my computer.

Can’t open Java because Chrome doesn’t support opening it to make sure it runs.

Move to Safari  and can’t open Java there until I update my AdobeFlash.

I didn’t forget that DataLoader, since it’s coming from my computer, will need my Security Token attached to the end of my password. Lucky for me, I had it stored in my Security Tokens folder in Gmail. Otherwise, I’d have had to regenerate that.

I try to log in, but…Salesforce sends Verification code, check Gmail, find and enter.

To all my Salesforce friends, in case we forget that we’re doing this for love, this is SOLID PROOF!

Salesforce for Global Nonprofits (redux)

Cloud for Good just posted an excellent piece (http://cloud4good.com/announcements/salesforce-global-nonprofits/) on Salesforce for Global Nonprofits, and right at the top of the list of issues you may encounter is “Connectivity and Lack of Technical Infrastructure.” Let’s take a bit of a deep dive into that issue and a couple of solutions I’ve come up with.

I’ve been working with a few NGOs outside the USA that have the connectivity problems. One day the internet works, the next day— nada. Or it is so slow you want to tear out your hair and maybe your fingernails. I can lose full days of productivity because: no internet.

Before my first “retirement” trip abroad, I bought a MacBook Pro with 8GB of Ram and the fastest processor I could buy. “If the internet is slow,” I reasoned, “I want to make sure it’s the INTERNET and not my old, creaky-slow computer.” Because in many of the places I’ve worked, staff limps along with computers that somebody donated five, six years ago. “The internet is slow today,” my local colleagues say to me. And I can say, “Well, let’s check the Mac…what’s this? See how fast the pages load? See how quickly I can post to Facebook? I don’t think it is the internet this time.”

In Darjeeling, I did a bit of behavior modeling on the “internet is down” issue. Every time we lost the internet, I WALKED up to the shop that was providing our internet and asked them, usually very politely, if their network was down or not. If it wasn’t, then would they please reset our internet? I don’t know if it was my example or not, but while I was there, the good Fathers brought in the internet provider to rewire half the building to improve the infrastructure.

Intermittent internet, I’ve found, is also one of the biggest impediment to user adoption in my global NGOs. There is a steady stream of data from the field— from the health workers, from the social workers, from the folks out there on the ground. This data is vital both for the decision-makers on the local team and for the fundraisers back in the States or other First World countries. The locals need to know about the medical crises, the emergencies, the productivity of the field workers. The stateside folks need to have good data to show their supporters, potential volunteers and interested foundations.

With my Darjeeling client, Hayden Hall (http://www.haydenhalldarjeeling.org), we devised a system of Excel templates that can be filled in at any time, since they don’t depend on the internet. The templates are created with a series of reports from my favorite data manipulation tool Apsona for Salesforce. Apsona’s reporting functionality always exports the CaseSafe IDs (18 characters instead of 15), and can do that with all the objects that link together. That means that getting a report, for instance, on a custom object, Health Visits, with lookups to a parent Medical Record and then to a couple of contacts, Mother and Child, is doable.

We export all the contacts in the system using these reports about once a week or so. Then, using the template that we set up previously, with all the fields we need for the Health Visits— filled in for the fields we don’t normally need to change (but want to eyeball for possible changes— like Immunization records) and blank for the few fields that need to be entered for every health visit: Weight of the Child and the Road To Health Scores that tell us how each child is doing every month.

This gives us a template with only the critical fields to enter, not a whole page to redundantly fill up every time we do a health visit: another KEY to the user adoption piece. No need to fill and re-fill fields that just need to move from record to record, like birthdate or mother’s age range.

As soon as the functioning, chugging-along internet comes back, we have trained our local colleagues to use Apsona for Salesforce to quickly import the data.

This method, seemingly a no-brainer…why didn’t we think of it before? Because we wanted our colleagues to see how the whole structure works and also wanted to wean them from their heavy dependence on spreadsheets for their important reports? I think that may be at the root of the problem— OUR problem, as international consultants, who may find it difficult to adapt to the situation on the ground. Hard to admit, but sometimes we have trouble getting our head around the problems our global counterparts have just getting on an internet that flows from screen to screen the way ours does.

Apsona trains us to get our data squeaky clean and consistent; it just plain refuses to enter dupes and invalid picklist values. Once we have the habit of Apsona, our NGO friends and colleagues are much more willing to envision a world where “If it isn’t in Salesforce, it doesn’t exist.”

Work in Ethiopia

Evening comes –and Ethiopia is close enough to the equator so that it falls basically at the same time all year around– and there is a general move to head out the door led by the kids from the family homes where we’ll be eating dinner. Feeding us is evidently part of The Mom’s job description, and all of us foreigners who work here are grateful. It gives us a chance to sample the various every day dishes served at Ethiopian family tables and meet the people served by the Selamta Family Project.

Days are punctuated by the Muslim calls to prayer at 5am or so, then the smell of coffee (coffee and breakfast has been my adopted community contribution.) We’re working on the boiled camp coffee model– no fancy electric coffee makers here. That would be something of an affront– coffee here is made starting with green coffee beans, roasting them (in the family homes, on an open brazier), grinding them, and THEN boiling the grounds in a special coffee pot. Our camp coffee, while humble, is still culturally respectful.

Then Cori O’Brien Paluk and I start on our Salesforce work. She loves Trailhead, the innovative Salesforce training program, and has been working with two members of the staff here, Ethiopian Director Abel Solomon and Assistant Director Dureti Dede, to get them into Trailhead and working on their badges.

We spent the first couple of days listening to everybody involved about what they want Salesforce to do for them, and trying to get a feel for why the database has not been as intimate a part of their lives as the architects of their Salesforce had hoped and expected. Ah, user adoption! The very words strike fear in the hearts of System Administrators over the world. If nobody’s using the database, somebody might start wondering, “Why did we spend time, lots of energy and MONEY to get it done?”

We found lots of enthusiasm on the staff for Salesforce, though some told us they felt a bit intimidated by it, didn’t really know where to go to find what they needed, and have slipped back into tracking their information through spreadsheets.  The requirement to create a chatter post for every field update was daunting them (and we never did find out exactly why they thought they had to do that. Imagine the extra work!)

We did get a clear request for two kinds of systems that would support their mission and their programs. The Nonprofit Starter Pack in Salesforce is mainly focused on fundraising for nonprofits, and the Executive Director, Marisa Stam (here at the same time with us and with her lovely 11-year-old smart-as-a-whip daughter Lily) is keen to use it for that. But first and foremost, they want to be able to better follow their Forever Family kids and their Outreach kids– the idea here is to provide a stable home, prepare them, and then get them into good schools, give them the space to aim high for themselves and their country, and guide them toward realizing their dreams.

We began work on a comprehensive student tracking system. They will log the academic results of each child in a separate object. They already have the young people in the system, as well as getting a collection of “SMART goals”– long-term and short term goals that the kids set themselves and then work toward achieving. Now they will need to upload their student grades each semester.

We have also set up a health care tracking system. This was the most challenging because the Selamta clinic nurse has been keeping all the information about her visits with the children, the referrals to doctors and hospitals in a spiral notebook, on a light card-weight sheet and in notes on paper. We have scheduled a training with the nurse on Thursday, and are hoping that we can begin to ease her journey away from scraps of paper to a formal health care tracking system.

The Ethiopian Director wanted to know much more about reporting…he wanted to learn to better create the reports he wants, and has been thrilled with the Perkins Method (I just made that up!) of dealing with developing country issues — especially in the nonprofit sector– of intermittent internet and electricity blackouts.

The Perkins Method involves working with the staff to fashion templates in Excel that have all the contacts with their Salesforce IDs AND all the fields that are on the Salesforce pages they want to update. Once we get this working, we’ll teach them about an application called Apsona, which works within Salesforce to make importing data incredibly easy.

We’ve simplified and streamlined the data collection and import. This makes the process of getting the information that the staff and administration and donors — just everybody! — needs so much more likely to happen.  Instead of taking away the spreadsheets, we aim to tame them for our Salesforce purposes.

The soft Ethiopian air wafts into my office (shared with the Selamta Ambassador who’s been coaching the kids in taking the SATs for application to American colleges.) Because we’re at 7500 feet here, it’s Africa, but a cooler, fresher version.

I’ve still got a to-do list about a mile long…We have office staff in tomorrow and Friday, and then they go off to their family lives on the weekend. Our team will board a bus and go down to Awasa on the shores of Lake Awasa in the Great Rift Valley.  From this video, it looks like a city with wide streets and a kind of laid-back beauty.

Especially since our visit to the National Museum, we never forget this is the probable birthplace of Homo Sapiens, our people.  There is something awe-inspiring about being here, and also about being here doing this humble little task: building a Salesforce database and providing training for a nonprofit that works to build and support families and kids at risk of ending up on the street.

Rolling through the Streets

Heat

I’ve acquired an entirely different perspective on heat, heating, and getting through the winter.

I have never thought about what winter is like in Nepal. There are places where it’s just warm all winter and everybody goes around as usual. There are others where it’s cold in the winter and they heat maybe even just one room at a time, usually the kitchen.

In Turkey, in the mountains overlooking the Black Sea, they have a hole in the floor that has fire and then coals. They bake bread on the sides of the hole, then put on the tea and cook the food for the day. And then they cover it up with metal and blankets and everyone sits in a circle with their feet pointing to the warm place.

Some way to get warm.

When I stayed in Nepal in the late 70s, I made it through probably December with a thick quilt stuffed with wool and sleeping in the room with the fire pit. I woke up to Maya, my hostess, making me bed tea and Helbadhur, her husband, squatting on the water basin flicking water in all nine mother goddess directions.

Early on this trip– winter 2015– I went out and bought a gas heater, thinking, “Well, that settles it for staying warm.” But I was wrong about that. The heater malfunctioned, the gas shortage became acute and then critical, and everyone else just wore more layers.

I felt like a spoiled Westerner. And indeed was more or less gently reminded that nobody else had heat in their houses, not even the rich. The concept of central heating is a kind of strange fantasy– the people here know we have houses with central heat, but it seems like really such a waste of money to them.

The gas cylinder I paid for cost about 3/4 of a teacher’s salary for a month. Okay, not a full-time teacher, but somebody I know living in a rented apartment with his wife and child.

When Ramesh, my Nepali cohort here, told me that the government shortened the number of hours people work from 10-5 to 10-4, I had a momentary thought – “How the heck do people get anything done around here anyway? If it isn’t a festival or a family obligation, it’s a shortened workweek!” But then when the cold gets truly bone-chilling, who can think straight anyway?

I wonder if the old architecture and the old ways weren’t actually warmer? The animals lived inside the houses, on the ground floor, and the kitchen had an open fire, even if all the fuel they had to burn was shocks of hay.

I’m often surprised at the local festivals, and how they correspond to what people have to live through. During the monsoon, when the water coursed through the back alleys that people used as toilets before the arrival of bathrooms, and flowed into the rivers where they washed their clothes and took their drinking water, people said that the mother goddesses protecting the city had gone away. And then, when the rain stopped and the harvest was in, they celebrate the return of the mother goddesses.

Likewise, in Swasthani Purnima, a monthlong festival through the coldest month, people seem to be deliberately seeking cold, almost challenging it to get to them. They leave their houses, are required to go barefoot, are allowed only very bland rice and vegetables without spices once a day. They take cold baths in the river.

In a procession dedicated the god who oversees this festival, one man dressed only in a loin cloth rolled sideways through the streets, doing penance of some sort, showing his willingness to sacrifice for his need and desire.

So even if you feel you are not quite up to the sacrifice of these devotees, their example is inspirational. If they can brave the cold without shoes and sleeping outside on a concrete floor, surely I can put on another layer, drink a glass of hot water and stop my complaining.

And the days are not really cold. The average daytime temperature during the coldest months is 66. The nights are all above freezing. It’s the nightly lows and the average humidity – above 80% in November, December and January – that make the cold so chilling.

I’ll be happy to get back to my central heating– and hot running water at all hours of the day and night, and pizza, and fast internet that works just about all the time. I need, though, to carry this new awareness with me: that people live through, they accomodate weather, they deal with gas shortages and electricity that stays off 8-10 hours a day. They manage. I stand in awe, really.

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Project: Nepal – Three Week Report

I’ve been here for three weeks. It’s maybe a good time to reflect on what I’ve accomplished so far and what I am still on tap to do.

Volunteer Management:

I’ve got rooms booked for Ellen’s visit, as well as a plan in place for her to visit a clinic for abused and tortured women in a far-western district. Ganga is arranging the flight and accommodations in Dang.

I have spoken to Susan about her visit. Ganga’s husband is working in the field of good governance and the rule of law. I’ve proposed to introduce Susan to him to see if there is anything she can provide in the way of service. Ramesh also said they will be able to provide some introductions for Susan after her arrival.

RCRD:

  • I’ve met with the local company proposing to do the mobile-to-database project a couple of times.
  • I’ve written a preliminary discovery document.
  • Using the quote from Rooster Logic and the price sheet I have from TaroWork, I’ve created a comparison spreadsheet detailing the costs and feature comparison between the two options.

I was disappointed when I arrived to learn that the database project I’ve been dreaming about for years and have felt that it was finally feasible had already, as it were, departed the station without me. The surveys of disability service provision and the registration of disabled people have begun. Rooster Logic had already done a demo and was prepared to offer a quote for the first phase of the project. They did that in our first meeting.

I think there are two factors that are important to Surya: One, that the company is local, that the surveys and database will be already in both Nepali and English. And two, that Rooster Logic will essentially manage the database, including locking the data once it is entered, and producing reports/charts/dashboards on demand.

Surya is asking me to help him write the proposal to the government for the project. Figuring my time and involvement at the same level I have always contributed, TaroWorks’ cost is basically half what Rooster Logic is asking. Add to the Salesforce cost the price of getting the database translated, and I believe we still come in far below the cost quoted by Rooster Logic, even for the first phase.

We don’t have numbers of estimated records for Phase II, which would be an ongoing service provision tracking database.

CBR:

I met for the first time with Ramesh yesterday on the topic of the CBR website. These are his concerns and requests:

  • He is intimidated in front of the prospect of updating the web site. He feels that each time he forgets the password and the updating instructions.
  • He feels inadequate to write updates in English.
  • He would like to have accomplishments and reports on the web site, but is not sure how to go about it.

Would they like me to be more involved in the web site updating? What do they need from me on this? A better training manual?

I’m already thinking that since the number of photos is not exorbitant, they can skip the Flickr option and simply upload photos directly to the website.

 

 

Device Drill

KanBanChargingOne of the challenges of Nepal is the unreliability of the electricity.  If you have, as I do, multiple devices that all need to be charged enough to be of service, you need some kind of routine to make sure everything chugs along for you.

I have one outlet near my desk and another one over near the bathroom. Since I have a multi-slot charger, I only need to use the one outlet. Besides the one near the bathroom is also dangerously close to a water source, so I prefer not to use it.

If my MacBook Pro reaches 50% battery, I plug it in. This is a beauty of a machine. One charge will take me as many as 6 – 8 hours, so if it is ready to go, I can slide through just about any electrical blackout Nepal can throw at me.

I have a battery pack that can charge all my devices if I’m traveling orIMG_1463 if I’ve forgotten to keep the phone or the iPad topped up. I make a point to charge the battery pack on second priority, then the iPhone, the iPad and the Nook march along behind. I also have a Nepali phone that my hosts here had lying around unused, so while it doesn’t have the smart-phone bells and whistles, it calls the people I need to call and rings when they call me. That’s kind of how phones used to work, didn’t they?

I keep a light on in the room during the day, as a signal in case the lights go out. That’s when I need to make sure I’m all charged.

What a difference between this and the first time I came to Nepal. All my reflections took written form in hardcover books bought from dusty office supplies vendors in the market. Phone calls took all day at the post offices where desperate Iranians pushed ahead and jumped the lines. All our mail lived and died in little bundles in what we called Post Restante, piles of mail that were sorted by what the postal workers in far-flung places guessed was your last name.  I had a Nikon camera and 80 boxes of film, both slides and prints, though mostly slides. I never saw a photo I took for 18 months, until I came home and had them all developed.

Worlds Clocks and World Times

Living in Two (or more) Time Zones

[Background sound effects: The group across the that meets for loudspeaker yoga and chanting in the mornings is making tiger screaming noises.]

JF mentioned last night how strange it was for me to be heading off to bed on a day that, for him, was just beginning. And this morning, I’m struck by how Time feels as though it is lagging, lagging when I realize that I’m up and thinking about my new day, and he’s still slowly ending yesterday.

I have written before about it a little, but it is difficult to articulate. When did this strange sensation first occur? Telegraph? Telephone? It’s as though Time is tugging at me from both ends– yesterday lingers and lingers because, even though I was done with it, JF whose being in time I spend a lot of my mental energy with, was just beginning it. Having his coffee. Doing his morning exercise routine.

And today pulls away at me from the other side. It IS my morning, after all. It is MY Thanksgiving Day, all foggy and filled with, now, the sound of OM over the loudspeaker. I’m hearing the nurses-in-training in the hostel splashing water in their bathrooms and talking to one another. Doors opening and feet headed upstairs to the roof terrace and breakfast.

Ah, they’re back to the Tiger Screaming again. And then the all practicing Laughing. This is my morning. The ringing of the temple bells. The Invocation of Peace.

Meanwhile, my friends at home are going over their grocery shopping lists…everything all set? Possibly some pumpkin pies are already cooling on the stove or the back deck. Maybe a last glass of wine, someone asks someone else.

I wonder, thinking about it, whether this could be one of the reasons that people find it so difficult to keep in touch when I’m off on a long trip. This time, with Facebook, it seems easier (damn it for being the tool we need and love and also evil) but could it be that the dim awareness of this Time-disconnect has a kind of unsettling feel to it?

It does to me when I’m not actively LIVING in both places at once. It does when I’m not talking daily on Skype or going back and forth with emails in “your morning, my evening.”

But perhaps that isn’t it exactly. Perhaps we just instinctively and naturally live in the PLACE we’re in, and when somebody leaves that place, they functionally de-materialize. Even when Judy goes down to the beach for a week, I immediately lose track of when she’s supposed to come back. It’s as though she gets all fuzzy, even though she’s in the same time zone.

I think we’ve entered the Time and Space Are The Same Thing discussion. Not truly a philosopher, and hearing the voices upstairs having breakfast and feeling my stomach telling me loudly that I need to be there as well… I will put off THAT rumination. Consider this the beginning of a conversation.

IMG_1501

Bus Trip Back from Pokhara

[Email to Jean-Francois] It was a grueling ordeal from beginning to end, but I kept repeating that the difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude. The road is really bad and you know what the driving is like, passing passing, even when you can’t see around the corner. So my insides were sloshed all around in my body as the bus jolted along the potholes. I couldn’t decide whether that was making me sicker or not.

I finally went to the back of the bus and took up the whole big back seat. That seemed to help the most. I dozed a bit, and sort of meditated on my insides sloshing up and down. I woke up feeling better. I’m still coughing some and I have that diarrhea that feels like pissing out the butt. I am having black tea with sugar, but I was so hungry from having one piece of toast this morning that I poured myself a helping of those hot Indian snacks. It may make me sicker too, but what the hell.

I sat next to this young Israeli guy who totally agreed with me that it’s all about attitude. I said, “It’s harder to have a good attitude when you’re sick.” And he said,”I was on a 17 hour van ride in Mongolia and spent the whole time puking. I look back on that as an adventure.” He said he sat in a window seat, but when he was throwing up, they would stop the van for a few minutes for him. Don’t you just love travelers! You feel like shit, but they puked for 17 hours in Mongolia. Just perfect.

I spent right around $100 altogether for this four-day trip to Pokhara. The plane was going to cost $119, but the bus was about $9 instead. If I could have gotten out of Pokhara before next Thursday, I’d have stayed just to avoid the bus. But nothing to do but just put my head down and get through it. I have apparently survived.

Innovation in Education!

Coming back from dinner last night, I thought maybe the internet would be faster down in the hotel lobby. All I wanted to do was to keep myself awake for a few hours before the jet lag cotton-brain descended. There were two women sitting in the lobby. I asked if the internet was faster down here and they said yes, so I grabbed the computer and came back down.

As I came into the lobby, I saw a few others had joined them and I had a second or two of,  “Aw Darn…I was planning on some nice quiet computering…” But soon I was caught up in listening to them talking about their experiences working in hospitals and doing nursing training here.

At one point, the short-haired one, (turns out her name is Kerry–same name as the woman who invited me to come to Pokhara) was telling a story about shocking a group of urologists somehow, and they caught me frankly eavesdropping. So they began to tell me what Kerry Reid Searl does, what she has pioneered as a teaching technique. She calls it Mask-ED.

She dons a polyurethane costume—they are anatomically correct and full body—and is, like Mrs. Doubtfire, transformed into a totally different person. In fact, the guy in LA who created Mrs. Doubtfire did Kerry’s costumes. Each of her characters has a full history, a whole life, and has found himself or herself in the hospital.

The nursing students or the doctors at conventions come into the room to meet Cyril or Bob or one of the other characters. These are everyday folks, with fears about what’s happening to them, but fiercely protective of their own dignity. Some of them are “retired” people from the field, so when the nurses start to practice, they remind their caregivers about washing their hands or admonish them about speaking to their patients with attention and respect.

The story about the urologists at a convention was hilarious. Cyril wandered in with his pj’s and his “bits,” as Kerry put it, hanging out of his pj bottoms trailing a catheter. “Which one of you wankers did this to me?” he demanded. “Was it you?”—pointing out to one of the surprised surgeons. From there, Cyril proceeded to tell them all the stuff they’d left out of his pre-op briefing, all the problems he was going to face, the impact on his sex life.

The doctors started off essentially dismissing him—How did THIS guy get in here, who is he to stand up there and yammer on??? But after Cyril had their full attention and they were squirming in their chairs, Kerry pulled off the mask and revealed herself as the keynote speaker they THOUGHT they were going to hear.

Everything that involves training students to be present and human in their interactions with their patients and clients can be demonstrated more effectively with MaskEd, says Kerry. She uses the full-body masks to allow students to practice procedures that, before, were practiced with disembodied plastic body parts. Because the buttocks they are tending aren’t attached to a real human, they don’t really learn what it is to nurse full human beings until much later in their training, maybe too late for the folks who need that most—the elderly, the deeply fearful….

…And, I realized, the people with disabilities. What if special education teachers had practice teaching sessions with folks who looked, spoke and moved like the students they would be dealing with for the rest of their careers?

And my mind leaped directly to the other Kerry, Kerry Bissenger, the woman who so generously and spontaneously invited me to hop on the bus with her and a group of 19 students going to teach in the schools in Pokhara, a city 200 miles away from Kathmandu. Kerry B. has been working with thought leaders in the field of disability policy, and educational inclusion for some years.

Kerry B. would have the resources to incorporate Kerry R-S’s amazingly innovative work into the toolbox of special ed teacher training. I went directly upstairs and emailed her Kerry R-S’s Ted Talk video.

Mask-ED is a kind of improvisational theatre. As a professor of prospective nurses, Kerry Reid Searl knows what students often slide past, what procedures they can give short shrift to, what topics they NEED to memorize but are perhaps weak on. With her real-people characters, she can show the young nurses the consequences of losing touch with the very real human side of nursing, of too hasty hand-washing, of poor communication. With the mask on, the professor disappears and the future patient appears—to admonish, to flirt, to show his fears and embarrassment.

Then, Kerry R-S unmasks and uses the experience her students have had with Cyril or one of the other characters to emphasize the lessons, to talk about what just happened and what could be better or different.

This is role-playing taken to the max. It’s like Candid Camera in the classroom, except that the students KNOW that Cyril is being played by their professor. It’s just that Cyril is so real, they can suspend their disbelief. That, finally, is what theater is about—convincing the audience to suspend their disbelief. Traditional actors find it difficult to play Kerry’s characters because they have been trained to project OUT, across the proscenium arch and into the back row of the balcony. Traditional role-play keeps all the baggage that comes with practicing on one’s friends or professors. Cyril replaces the history and emotional environment of one’s teachers or friends or fellow students with Cyril’s own history, his own context, his backstory.

Of course, these masks are not cheap. And getting the proper training in their use would also require an investment. But the implications for disability work are far-reaching. This is one of those—“The World Needs To Know About This” moments.

Ain’t travel just grand?

 

Technology and Art for the World