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24/8/13: my BlackBerry and learning Swahili

I was speaking to a colleague (using the word very loosely) recently, who was saying that her cardiologist insisted that she put her BlackBerry in a drawer not to reappear if she intended to last out the next five years.  Now, her job is somewhat different to mine, and also she was covering for a vacant post for an extended period of time.  So the constant expectation of being available 24/7, and the use of her BlackBerry to facilitate this, was causing her stress that was in serious danger of jeopardising her health.

I've been thinking about this, and can honestly say that my BlackBerry reduces my stress levels.  Particularly, it enables me to work in situations where I would otherwise just be hanging around waiting for things to happen, sometimes unexpectedly for long periods of time.  I suppose the key underlying point here is to ensure that devices like the BlackBerry, iPhone, iPads, tablets and many others are working for us and doing what we want them to do to make our personal and professional lives smoother.  The danger is that they make us feel that we need to be constantly available, with some of the people around us - sometimes very senior people - more than happy to reinforce this message.  I would say that my own boss is excellent in this, and many other, respects, no expectation necessarily that emails should be answered outside of office hours or at weekends. Although another related irritation is that it is sometimes convenient for me to do some desk clearing on Saturday mornings, which can involve sending routine emails to administrators in Karachi, that being AKU headquarters.  So I was somewhat taken aback on one occasion when I did this to get a reply within a few minutes, 'Can't talk now, out shopping with my wife.'  Well, if you're out shopping with your wife, why on earth are you replying to routine emails from DSM?  Answer: because his use of his BlackBerry makes him feel, quite wrongly in my view, that he has to.  The problem here for me is that I end up feeling that I'm intruding into people's privacy by sending routine emails to their work accounts at the weekend, just as I would be if I was calling them on their personal cells.  But surely this is their problem, not mine?

I don't know how obvious it is from these ramblings that I'm just off on leave for two weeks, first to Zanzibar for a week then flexible, I'll let you know in due course!  So my auto-reply will say, among other things, that I'm not going to be reading any emails at all sent to my work account until September 9th.  There is part of me that would love to leave an autoreply saying that all messages that arrive in my absence will be deleted, if you need my attention then please resend on or after that date.  Alas, I'm neither senior enough nor near enough to retirement to feel happy to do this, but give me a few more years....

Now, one thing I'm very keen to do whilst away is make some progress on my Swahili.  I put a fair bit of effort into this initially, but as work - all in English - got busier, this has rather gone on the back burner.  Meanwhile, I've been picking up a somewhat random collection of words.  So, it's not really possible to live and work where I do and not come to realise that 'ubalozi' means 'embassy', nearly every working day I walk past the Italian and Burundi embassies with many more also on my beaten tracks.  The inaugural president is referred to as Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Baba wa Taifa, which I think is brilliant - 'mwalimu' means 'teacher', in fact he was a teacher initially, and I love the use of the word here as a term of respect.  'Baba wa Taifa' means 'father of the country', and then another phrase I've picked up is, 'Habari za nyumbani?' 'How is your family?'  Put all of this together, and I was looking out of my office window (which reminds me of a terrible joke given at the end of this blog ***) towards a block of what appeared to be council housing, I see the phrase, 'Shirika la Nyumba la Taifa', leaving me only 'Shirika' to look up, meaning organisation.

So some progress, increasingly able to make sense of street signs in Swahili, but not much at stringing words together in sentences.  I've promised colleagues I'll be returning in two weeks time fluent, this may be a little optimistic, but let's see!  Confidently expecting the staff of the hotel at which I'll be staying to be happy to let me practise on them, I'll let you know!

So, some nice photos coming in the next few posts, meanwhile, the dreadful joke I referred to above (***).  Why don't associate professors look out of the window in the morning?  Because then they'll have nothing to do in the afternoon. 

Thank you for reading, I'll be back soon!

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