All posts by trish

A Youth Hostel Tale

Just got back from a trip in South America where I had the pleasure of staying in a couple of youth hostels for the first time since last fall’s Dreamforce in San Francisco. Tonight I was looking for my famous packing list, and went to the online trip journal I did in 2002. Came across this funny tale of the youth hostel in Vilnius, Lithuania. Can resist sharing it. Part of why this is funny to me is that I met the same annoying American sleaze guy…okay, not the SAME guy, but his clone, in Buenos Aires three weeks ago.

Vilnius, Lithuania–
This is the quintessential youth hostel, here in Vilnius, with all the advantages and disadvantages thereof. So today’s log is devoted to a description of the scene here.

You walk into a decrepit courtyard through an archway from the main road. Five droopy trees, cobblestones, tufts of pathetic grass. Maybe a kitten romping after leaves. In the corner is the classic International Youth Hostel sign, a hut with a leaning pine tree. Through the door and the first thing you see is a sign that you should take off your shoes. Places to sit. Bricks and stones incorporated into a plaster wall, with a mural of old Vilnius. Down some slick varnished stairs and you’re in the kitchen/commons room. There’s a small table and some chairs, a couch and some padded benches, a space designed for conversation. Several backpacks are leaning against one wall, there’s a shelf of books to exchange (I picked up Tom Jones and left San Francisco, deep trash romance.) And the free internet-ready computer sits on a shelf on the back wall. The walls are blue and yellow, with stones and brick. The air smells right now of the fried potatoes the hotel kids have cooked up. There are plenty of pots, pans, utensils, plates, bowls and cups–in contrast to the hostel in Gdansk, where there were two plates, three forks and two big spoons and two coffee spoons for seven or eight backpackers who wanted to cook.

In the other direction are showers. “Uh, not much privacy,” said one master of understatement.

Our dorm room has nine beds–four sets of bunks and one low bed (mine). Trying to get down from the top bunk for a pee in the middle of the night is off my list of Things I’m Happy To Do. We are paying 34 Lts each, about $10 or so, a night for our beds. The dorm is mixed, boys, girls and drunks.

Vilnius is one of those places that attracts an interesting mix of backpacker travelers. There are a few kids who’ve done a semester abroad somewhere and are now traveling. There are still some Major City tourists, people doing Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Paris, etc. But we left them mostly behind in Berlin. They were all headed to Prague or coming from there.

Here’s a panache of the interesting folks here:

The New Zealanders I wrote about yesterday, old travelers like ourselves, taking on adventure because they have just never stopped.

Italian guy, 43, living in Finland for the past 11 years, working on a PhD in Jewish studies, tracing his father’s roots in synagogue records. “For curiosity, notting more.”

American girl, Peace Corps teaching English in Moscow, on a two-week holiday. She knew Spanish and it was either learn Russian or go to Equador as a bee-keeper.

Irish guy who flew to Singapore and came overland through Vietnam, China and Mongolia and then came across on the TransSiberian.

In fact, this is the place to get all the lowdown on the TransSiberian Railway trip. Two Aussie girls just came in who came from Vladivostok on the train, stopping six times along the way. No reservations. No organization. Just getting off and finding hotels and then getting back on. Four weeks across Russia.

British guy, a database computer guy whose company is transferring him back to the London office from several years in New Zealand. He negotiated a three-month break between jobs and he took the overland route, also on the train,but for him, nonstop since he could get only a transit visa. He spent ten days roughing it in Mongolia–I heard all about it at six this morning, hiring a jeep van with a driver for $40 (split six ways with people he met in the hostel in the major city). Few roads, mostly dirt tracks. Stopping to buy carrots and potatoes and mutton from nomads in yurts. It was terrible food, he said.

Spanish beauty, spent a semester abroad in Sopot, Poland, west of Gdansk, studying economics and Polish. She has dark hair and dark eyes and wears form-fitting spaghetti-strap tops that don’t cover her belly button.

American guy from Nebraska, majored in Norwegian (though he isn’t Norwegian), now in medical school, flew to Slovakia to visit his sister who’s teaching English with the Lutherans.

Assorted others–a Brazilian girl, two Japanese guys, one of them starting dreadlocks, a pair of Finnish girls.

Sleazy American guy who boasted about spending all of his five days in Poland drunk.

South African girl who came up overland and hitched here through Poland. She drank too much vodka too quickly and passed out cold on her way out to go clubbing, about 100 yards from the hostel. The two boys with her hauled her back…and I do mean hauled…under the watchful eye of a local policeman. They woke JF up to help get her into bed. Her room is next to ours, so when she started puking an hour later–and continued for the next two hours, I knew I wasn’t going to get my eight hours of required shuteye. One of the college boys from the states stayed up holding her head and checking regularly to make sure she was still breathing.

I fessed up to the time I pulled a similar stunt in a youth hostel in Florence, Italy. The last thing I remember was the staircase leading upstairs. I woke in a different bed than my own, in different clothes, my glasses nowhere to be seen.

“Uh, did you see me come in last night?” I asked one of the girls in the room.

“No, we didn’t notice you until you fell out of bed, pissed and then rolled in it,” a very kindly British girl informed me. Apparently, they, too, had sat up checking my breathing, worried that I would leave this world that very night. I didn’t throw up, though I’m sure that was small consolation to the girls who washed out my clothes and got me into different ones.

I told that story to the group sitting vigil, and added, “At least now I know when to say, ‘I need to get horizontal.'”

To which the sleazy American replied, “I wish I knew more girls who want to get horizontal.”

Ethiopian Updates

This is a fine pickle, I must say. I’m spending the weekend at the Addis Regency Hotel, which is a kind of mid-level hotel somewhere in the city, because the power has been off altogether at Selamta all day, from about 10 am onwards. Faced with the prospect of spending the weekend alone, in an empty building in a partly build suburban neighborhood without internet and possibly without power, I moved to the Regency. Nobody could even access their computers today. We will see what Monday brings.

It isn’t even that the internet is scarce. It’s that it’s impossible to access things like Facebook, Twitter…and most importantly, Salesforce. I haven’t been able to get into the database that powers my livelihood, my travels and my career since I arrived.

Jet lag is also a fairly significant issue this time. By the time I arrived on Wednesday morning, I’d had a total of five hours’ sleep over 48 hours. I spent Wednesday sleeping all day–I never do that! I remember the teachable moment some years back when JF lead a group of Southern Methodist University students to France and it took me a full week to recover from the jet lag because I kept having these little “naps” every afternoon. From then on, I’ve just powered through that first day, no matter where it is.
This time, my resolve just collapsed. All I wanted to do was sleep. Nothing else on God’s green earth mattered. So sleep I did. And now, of course, I’m reaping what I sowed.
I’ve been drinking this wonderful coffee several times a day, but it just flat doesn’t work. So I’m awake starting at about midnight, off and on, for the rest of the night, and start getting woozy sleepy off and on all day.
Of course, if I could actually do any work, I’m pretty sure that would keep me mostly awake, and occupy my time when I couldn’t sleep. As it is, I’m plowing through the books I brought. I never expected three books to last me for two months, but The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America is simply melting beneath my fingers.
So what else is new? My friend Susan Cunningham–who is now in Myanmar (which I still think of as Burma)– informs me that the King of Thailand just died, the oldest monarch still sitting on the throne. That leaves Elizabeth in England, I understand.
My health seems to be lurching along without major issues, unless you count sleeping at all hours of the day. I haven’t had dinner at any of the family homes yet. Abel, the local director here, suggested that I spend more time with the families as a way to deal with the lack of work that can get done. Most of the volunteers who come to Selamta, he said, find the time they spend with the families the most rewarding. That makes sense, of course, because most volunteers come here to work WITH the kids and the families in one way or another.
For me, it’s the staff of the organization that I want to get to know, both for work and also for pleasure. This isn’t usual, I suspect.  Today, I told Staff Manager Dureti straight out that I have been feeling lonely here. I guess that’s an accurate description of my state. The last time I came, there were the Canadians, Cori and Christine, and Melissa, the soap maker, and Marisa with her daughter Lily, and many others who passed through.
And I also just got here from my own version of the Cast of Thousands– Dreamforce.
I’m suddenly without a sidekick, a snuggly bear, or a traveling accomplice. And I’m suddenly without anything but Gmail over the internet. No wonder I’m feeling as though the rug were just yanked out from under me.
On the other hand, this state of mind is not unknown to the Intrepid Traveler…or even the Trepidatious Traveler, for that matter. Nobody who travels alone can escape this loneliness from time to time. Sunday, local director Abel will pick me up at 8:15 to go to church with his family. I brought my long black dress and spectacular silk scarf that goes with it– thank goodness I have a dress-up-dress!
I did have a wild fantasy just now…Susan in Myanmar sent me a piece about the new Chinese railroad between Addis and Djibouti and lamenting the old, neglected French one. Gawd, to hop on a train and GO somewhere! Not just sit here watching “That site cannot be reached” come up every time I try to access Salesforce. I doubt I’ll be that foolish, what with the State of Emergency here and the Unrest in the Countryside. Abel did say that if I took a PLANE to Lalibela, that would probably work fine. Just fly over the revolution, hey!
Here’s a news article about the unrest. It doesn’t go in depth about the heavy-handed way the government here is proceeding with industrial development at any price.

Ethiopia Declares State of Emergency, Internet Blocked

That Sinking Feeling

It was the eve of my first post-Work-For-Da-Man trip. I’d spent two years in a kind of purgatory, required to bill 30 hours a week, haunted with ever-changing business processes and a persistent feeling that I wasn’t good enough, would never be good enough, was too old to be good enough.

As soon as I handed in my resignation, JF and I took off to start a pilgrimage through France, ten days of walking El Camino. We frolicked in freedom the whole summer. But I knew I wanted to leverage what I’d learned at The For-Profit for my overseas clients, particularly RCRD/CBR, the folks I’ve been working with since 2004.

What follows is the journal entry I wrote just before that trip was supposed to begin. It chronicles the panic and self-doubt that plagued me– that possibly plagues all of us when we are not comfortably at home where everything makes sense.

Sometime in October or early November, 2014

By Friday, I was getting frantic about my trip to Nepal. I’ve been trying to connect with the folks there for about a month– and have heard nary a word. Oh, Hari Shyam has sent friendly greetings, left his cell phone number and proposed a rousing game of badminton as soon as I arrive. He even offered to book a hotel for me. That right there sent my danger-warning-red-flag antennae up to Red Alert.

Have they not replied because they are embarrassed because they really don’t want me to come, I’ve offended them in some way, I’ve made some cultural faux pas that will screw up the whole deal? They used to like me but now they don’t? I asked if somebody could pick me up at the airport because I arrive at nearly 8pm, normally too late to get into the hostel, if there is even anybody staying there at all these days. No word.

We discussed the situation in depth with our Nepali friends. They thought it was not normal– that it would be rude in Nepal, as it would be here, to have agreed to receive a guest and then not to respond to emails or Facebook messages or Skype. Maybe they expect you to be raising money for them, and since you are not coming with funding, they are ignoring you, my friend speculated. Then, most kindly, he offered to call his brother and to arrange somebody to pick me up and put me up at their house for a couple of days until I could get the picture of reality more in focus.

Finally, I sent an “a little bit nervous,” “a little bit worried” email off to my principal contact there, Surya. And JF and I started brainstorming for a Plan B. He pointed out, and of course he was right, that we don’t actually KNOW that any of those fears are indeed reality. That even if they ARE, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t patch things up once I am face to face with them. That what I actually do, while seeming to be all about technology, is to create and maintain intercultural relationships– to bridge those gulfs that appear because we are actually not totally all alike.

Even so, the black cloud that passed over me was formidable. I took deep breaths to relieve a constriction in my chest and that horrible sinking feeling that all our plans– not just mine but the plans of the two friends I have encouraged to come with me– could very well be nothing but air, a puff of smoke that could dissipate into the void.

JF and I got takeout from our favorite restaurant, the Turkish place on Main St. We took it over to our next-door neighbor’s house and ate and chattered about the whole situation. By that time, I had– like one of those dolls with a weighted bottom that you smack and it bobs over and then bobs right back up– righted myself. I’d seen that there were at least two possible directions to go, even if my client there has completely abandoned the project of working with me. I’d seen that flying into the unknown is an integral part of what I do, what all of us who work internationally and on the ground, do. That I’d get my phone set up, and start finding lodging and start working on my Nepali and even if the worst came to the worst, I could handle it.

That night, while I slept fitfully, I got two emails from Surya. Short but clear: Yes, we are expecting you. Yes, we will pick you up at the airport. Yes, we have a place for you to stay that first night. Yes, we are looking forward to your visit.

I stopped sinking. I also realized, to my chagrin, that at least part of my panic had to do with the fact that I had PUBLICIZED this project. This is the first international project for WorldsTouch in 4 years. I’ve told EVERYBODY about it. I was, at least part of me, totally afraid of WHAT PEOPLE WOULD THINK. Gosh, me. Who thinks she is immune to the approvals or disapprovals of the crowd. Is not immune at all. I was, as much as chagrined at my possible cultural clumsiness, embarrassed to have presented myself as somebody with a client in Nepal, where I was going on a plane to realize a collaboration. To have presented myself as a professional at this, and then…what? turned into a tourist like everybody else. Destined to sink like a fraudulent nobody…in front of my professional tribe.

So all of that was, for the most part, just pre-trip nerves. Even so, I want to document the whole range of emotions and thought processes that accompanied it. They need to be part of the record– possibly transformed into a paragraph warning my future self and my colleagues that flying low to the ground and within the spirit of the Unknown that these moments of doubt are normal.

Into the Real Place, Slowly

It’s always good to experience the real life of a place, even if you are not good at it.

I was looking at the load-shedding schedule for today: 6am – 11am, 4pm -8pm. Nine hours without electricity. My laptop is charged; my phone has enough juice to get to 11am. My thinking is here, in the rhythm of here. My clients provide me with a room and meals (when there is a cook who comes in.) This keeps me from being utterly out of touch with what it is to be FROM here, to be of this place, with its own reality and hardships. People find ways to avoid the hardships. The capital city of this country can’t supply its citizens with clean water, or any water? Here, they circumvent that, if they can afford it, with the water trucks. If you can’t afford it, ah…what to do? Here in Bhaktapur, there are water taps, known as hitis, where people bring buckets, wash their hair, take a bath, wash dishes, and get water for the house.

Some years back, I remember, they tried to get everybody to harvest rainwater. I’ve seen in Bermuda, where there REALLY isn’t any water, the sparkling white stepped roofs leading to the pipes, leading to the barrels. Here, the “they” were probably some international NGO or the UN. It didn’t take on the widespread— the rain is perhaps too unpredictable except during the monsoon, and water requirements are on a more demanding schedule. So people buy water like we all buy electricity. Only here the electricity forces us into a schedule, published in the newspaper, the Load-Shedding Schedule. I watched at night from the roof terrace as the lights of the valley marched across, coming on in swaths, going out in swaths. The roof terrace is part of the normal architecture of this real life. It’s where you hang clothes to dry, to grow plants in pots, to escape for a cigarette so everyone can pretend they don’t know you smoke.

This “here” has no air-conditioning or heat— not that both are unavailable; of course, the major hotels have both. I can deal with the lack of air-conditioning. It’s not that hot here at 3,500 feet in the biosphere; and there’s always a bucket I can fill with water. If the water trucks have come. The lack of heat drove me out of the room and into a hotel the winter of 2015. I continued to sleep here, dressed in every piece of clothing I owned. But I worked at Shiva Guest House, where they provided propane heaters around the dining room. The hotel’s job is to protect people like me from this specific real life. The hotel provides a bubble that feels more like the life we usually live, an expensive undertaking, except of course we can afford it because we have powerful money.

That’s just a fact, our powerful money— one that brings its own inconveniences that annoy and often baffle us. Why do I attract more touts, would-be guides, beggars, rapacious “holy” men, purveyors of rugs, paintings, bells, gadgets, bangles and do-dads? Simple: my powerful money is visible and apparent to everybody, including me. So, sometimes, I just hide. In the warmth of Shiva’s dining room. In a hotel. In my own room. David Whyte, in this morning’s reading, talks about the usefulness of hiding. “Hiding,” he says, “is a way of staying alive…a way of holding ourselves until we are ready to come into the light.” In fact, it may be the only way we can gradually slip into the real life of a place, with hardships we aren’t any good at. The real life of here:

  • The sun is out this monsoon season morning, so I should throw my clothes in a bucket with laundry powder I bought the second day, cover the clothes with water and get them washed, rinsed, wrung out and up on the line while the sun shines.
  • I escape the persistent annoying people because I can speak enough of this language to tell them that I don’t want a taxi, I’m staying here in town. I don’t want a guide because I spent six months here before they were even born.
  • I know the price of a taxi to Kathmandu is $8, but I pay $10 because I have powerful money. I try to think in Rupees, though. That’s more of being here.
  • Breakfast is a dish of some kind of peas, a boiled egg (but the salt shaker is empty), a slice of square, American-style white bread, a tiny banana. The white bread has an ultra-thin layer of some kind of apple jelly.
  • Lunch will be dal-bhat-tarkari, always lentils in a soup, rice and vegetables, heavily coated with various spices that I would not recognize except for having tasted them so often here. There might be meat, but then I’ve walked through the market and…meat…ehhhh. Even chicken looks unhappy dead in the stalls. Real life definitely has limits.
  • I can call America with my Nepali SIM card in my iPhone, which costs about $10 an hour, but it’s better than Skype’s dropped calls and garbled crackling sounds. But everybody here is on Viber.
  • Everything takes three times longer to get done, from figuring out what the client really needs to simply signing up for a free trial of the Nonprofit Starter Pack in Salesforce.
  • People do not schedule or plan the way I’m used to.
  • People are not on top of their email every day.
  • In short: Communication is a puzzle that must be solved, but is surprisingly elusive.
  • I can ride without a helmet on the back of a motorcycle, but the driver always has to have one on. Go figure that one.

I walk and drive past the temporary shelters that have housed the earthquake-made-homeless people for over a year. It seems that, as usual, the hardship was not evenly distributed. Not everyone lost their home. Not everyone can afford to rebuild. Over 73,000 people have lodged complaints that they were excluded from the re-building grants that were supposed to be for everyone who found themselves looking at a pile of rubble that used to be where they lived. Mainly it was poor people with older houses, people already in greater deprivation. The very real question for me everywhere I travel, about them, about the middle class, about the rich here: “How do they manage?” Because we all manage, even with our great wealth, even without our great wealth. I’ll tell you: Here, we sit in the dark, faces illuminated by two or three cell phones where fingers are messaging someone not here, and sing. We make jokes that my poor Nepali can’t begin to understand and we laugh. Even I laugh, because laughter is universal, and contagious.

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.

International Work: Success story

OH! YES! I had a HUGE HUGE milestone yesterday! I’m at Hayden Hall, where I’ve built a medical records system for a group of paramedics working with pregnant women and mothers with kids under 5 years old to improve health outcomes. I built the system last year as a pilot project involving just the paramedics around the office here.  I’ve trained two staffers in the Poor-Internet system I devised, and supported them through a year of trial and error.
They are now able to log all the health visits the paramedics made, enter new mothers and children with medical records on time for monthly reports. And together we’ve created a Monthly Report dashboard the hits the key data points for paramedic supervisors.
But yesterday, I got the payback for this year’s work:
Binita, one of the staffers I’ve trained, came to me to tell me that they REALLY need to extend the Salesforce coverage outside of Darjeeling itself into the remote villages too far from the office to bring their health visit reports to a weekly meeting. And then Binita went on to describe exactly how this would get done: the paramedics would fill up paper sheets, the way the Darjeeling paramedics do, and then they would submit them to the area supervisors (“Centres in Charge”)  in the towns that serve as hubs for the village workers. The CICs would enter that data to Excel templates that Hayden Hall would have created for them, and submit them to the data import guy here who uses Apsona to zip them into Hayden Hall’s Salesforce!!!
Can you believe it!? She sees what we’re doing, and has moved to the next step, “How can we make this work beyond what we’re doing now?” Her argument to the ruling priests of Hayden Hall? “We’re working blind right now. We don’t know what’s going on in the remote villages. If we can’t cover ALL the work we’re doing, then it doesn’t make sense to just Salesforce at all!”
Wow. Just wow. This was the vision, and I’m seeing it happen.

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…


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 ( 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 (, 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.

Navigating the Cultural Waters

Today was my first day of non-jet-lagged brain waves here in Ethiopia. Though much of the country adheres to a very ancient form of Christianity, from our building we can hear the Muslim call to prayer starting at about 5:30 am.
I’ve spent enough time in Muslim countries to have come to love the sound of “Allahu Akbar!” — strung out, over a loud speaker. I have understood that we Christians used to have that sort of spiritual presence in our lives when the church bells rang out the various prayer times of the day. It would not have had the same effect as hearing the human voice, perhaps, but it did mark the specific moments where prayer was invited and space made for it, when everyone, all at once, could turn their thoughts away from the day-to-day drudge to something higher.
Today was the first day I didn’t feel utterly gobsmacked with jet lag. I managed to function yesterday and I managed not to have a nap. I’m opposed to naps after long trans-Atlantic flights. I think they just prolong the agony.
I had my misgivings about doing this trip and getting involved in this project. I don’t usually accept gigs in developing countries under a month-long stay. Especially where I’m going into a culture that I am totally unfamiliar with. I believe you need time to catch the rhythms of the people, the kind of energy they have. I need time to learn my 100 words in their language, to figure out how they do dinner, to decide if what I brought to wear is appropriate or not.
I was worried that our four-woman team might be too task- and milestone-oriented. I thought they had expectations that might not be reflected in the reality on the ground, and that we needed time, time, time to make the connections with folks that would tell us what they really wanted to accomplish.
The soap-making team doesn’t stand to fail the way we Salesforce gurus can: Women will come to their workshop, if only to have some fun on a weekday when the kids are at school. They may or may not grab the initiative and start soap fair trade businesses and make money hand over fist. If we fail, though, to engage with our Ethiopian friends, to fully understand where they really are with their shiny, elegant database created for them by an American who is now a Salesforce employee– if we fail to get this puppy up and running… the consequences don’t even bear considering.
That may be a bit overblown. I mean, Salesforce is just a database, after all. And it’s online and we all seem to blithely feel that the Internet just works everywhere the way it just works for us. So we could fail here because the infrastructure forming the background grid just ain’t here.
From the vantage point of the States, there were just a whole lot of ways this might not work out. We are only two days into the experience now, so while the vibe is great and the feeling of connection with these folks strong, we could still fall on our faces. We are asking a lot: “Hey folks, here’s everything we could come up with to make your Salesforce work for you. Now we want you to embrace it the way we do. Learn to make rollup summaries. Figure cross-object formulas. And last but not least, create a nine-point dashboard that covers the most important data you’re tracking. Oh, and please don’t fall behind on the data entry, okay? And keep the data clean as a whistle, too, while you’re at it. Thanks.”
Somehow, while I can see the road ahead with some bumps and detours, I believe we can make this work. It comes down to a combination of a fundraising and marketing dynamo of an executive director with a deep love and passionate commitment to the project…AND…a local staff that takes a much more laid-back approach, using the multi-tasking central leader style, the guy who gets much of what he gets done through gentle persuasion, and appreciation and encouragement of his staff. I’ve seen this local type of NGO leadership in several organizations I’ve worked in outside the States. I had to learn it.
While we Westerners are more into scheduling, project management, agendas, daily check-in meetings, the local staff are just not in the business every day of filling the bucket of the current hour with as much as is humanly possible. They don’t sell what they do, they go about meeting the needs of children that would once have been “throw-aways,” orphans,  with a level of compassion that I’ve only seen among my friends the Nepalese.
And I code switch between the two of them all day long. Both work. And both respect the other’s style, at least that’s what it looks like on Day Two.
Add to this mix, a couple of Canadians who are willing (or at least too polite to express unwillingess) to take some cross-border ribbing and other visitors from the West who bring their own flavor of getting along while we all heal the world– the melange feels as though THIS, this, is a tiny nudge, a feather caress of a movement, a slight shift in the wind. It’s all we can do. It’s all we can ever actually do.