Solutions to Common Office Problems: New York City vs. Rural Mozambique

Micaela Browning | KF 17 | Mozambique

A few weeks ago, Kiva Fellow Jamie Greenthal wrote a great blog post about his new life in the Philippines versus life back in New York City. This week, I’d like to expand upon this most excellent topic and draw your attention to a few slight differences between the way things function in my office here in Mozambique and how things worked in my office back in New York City.

Few events can highlight differences between two places better than the occurrence of problems. I have definitely had my share of problems here in Mozambique, just as I did in New York. However, it turns out that problem-solving at Hluvuku is quite different than problem-solving in NYC, and I have had to adjust my strategies accordingly.

Here, I present to you a list of some of the problems I have experienced here at Hluvuku, and for each, I provide a highly nuanced, step-by-step guide to their swift resolution. In order to underscore some of the differences in problem-solving attitudes and methodologies, I have also included a corresponding guide to how I would have addressed these exact same issues in New York.


Problem: Internet is down.
How I would have solved this in NYC:

  1. Panic.
  2. Wait 2 seconds, refreshing page as many times as 2 seconds allows, to confirm that an outage has in fact occurred.
  3. After 2 seconds, leap from seat and shout across office, IS EVERYONE’S INTERNET DOWN OR JUST MINE?
  4. On confirming the problem is not confined to desk, get on phone to Internet Service Provider.
  5. If wait time more than 1 minute, leave office to take a bubble bath and read trashy gossip magazines work from home. Wait time requirement reduced to 30 seconds if hold line music is Kenny G.

How I would solve this in Mozambique:

  1. We have internet in this office?
  2. Wait, is this our internet, or are we picking up someone else’s wifi?
  3. No, this is our internet, I’m pretty sure. Yeah, I know, even that place on the corner doesn’t have internet. Great chicken though.
  4. Is it raining out? If not raining, is it windy? Is it sunny? Cloudy? Is the local mosque’s call to prayer sounding? Train coming through? Too many clients in office? Not enough clients? All these events potential reasons for internet outage.
  5. Did a giant ship anchor sever your country’s underwater interwebz cables? (Shout-out to my partner in Slow Internet Solidarity, Ryan Cummings, for sending me this)
  6. If not due to weather conditions/audible religious observances/trains/ill-placed ship anchors, take coffee break for one (1) hour.
  7. Check internet again. If still down, repeat steps 2-4.
  8. If, and only if you find yourself in the most dire of circumstances, contemplate doing work without The Internet. Those 1000-page binders of client waivers have your name on them, connectivity-challenged Kiva Fellow!

Problem: Cannot locate person you are supposed to meet with (video provided below for your viewing pleasure)*


*Author’s apology: Recognized random, floating “Edit Text” caption in video post-production. Did not have time to wait until 2015 to re-upload revised version.

How I would have solved this in NYC:

  1. Panic.
  2. Are they on Skype?
  3. Are they on Gchat?
  4. Are they on Facebook?
  5. Call. Send email. Wait 30 seconds. Send text to see if they got your email. Send email to see if they saw your call.
  6. If no response, repeat Steps 1-5.
  7. If still unable to locate missing individual, stand up, exclaim loudly to everyone within earshot, I DID NOT SPEND LESS THAN 5 SECONDS THREE HOURS OF MY VALUABLE TIME SCHEDULING THIS MEETING IN OUTLOOK TO GET STOOD UP.
  8. Leave office, get coffee, tell everyone at Starbucks, I mean…that super-underground espresso bar that serves cold-pressed lattes from beans handpicked by Tanzanian monkeys that you are definitely quitting your job tomorrow (for the 38th time this year).

How I would solve this is Mozambique:                                   

  1. Wait 15 minutes. This is not late in Moz time.
  2. Wait 30 minutes. This is not late in Moz time.
  3. Wait 1 hour. This is on time in Moz time.
  4. Wait 2 hours.
  5. Okay, now they are late.
  6. Did they take a chapa somewhere? Automatic 3-hour late allowance.
  7. Actually, did they have to use any form of public transportation at all? Automatic 3-hour late allowance.
  8. Did said form of public transportation perhaps involve a road? Automatic 3-hour allowance.
  9. Wait until tomorrow.
  10. It’s tomorrow, they’re not here.
  11. Repeat Steps 1-10.

When in Mozambique, be sure to allow ample time for travel. Unless, of course, your destination is a dirt road flanked by herds of cattle, in which're already there!

Problem: After-hours emergency. You have to call your supervisor.
How I would have solved this in NYC:

  1. Panic.
  2. Remove state-or-the-art, web-enabled touchscreen phone from purse.
  3. Make call.

How I would solve this in Mozambique:

  1. Remove artifact that belongs in the Museum of Natural History 15-year-old Nokia held together with hair tie from purse.
  2. Consult extensive list of supervisor’s different phone numbers and providers.
  3. Estimate approximate latitude and longitude of supervisor and corresponding probability of coverage for each provider.
  4. Compute all possible provider-coverage permutations and weigh against respective per-minute call charges.
  5. Add into equation likelihood of supervisor understanding your phone-garbled Brazilian Portuguese. (approximately 16%, as it turns out).

    After this fellowship, I will be using my knowledge of cutting-edge electronics to vie for a job at Apple.

  6. Make call accordingly.
  7. Call is dropped, repeat step 6 as necessary.
  8. Upon establishing a connection, yell as loudly as possible into phone, ensuring everyone within a 20-block radius can hear every word of your conversation. If any of your neighbors aren’t deaf by the time you hang up, you have failed at Mozambican cell phone etiquette.
  9. Call is dropped.
  10. Repeat Steps 6 and 8 until conversation is completed. Alternately, send text message, avoiding letters D,E,F, and P,Q R,S, as the 3 and 7 keys on your phone conveniently do not function.

Problem: Office is too loud, and you cannot concentrate
How I would have solved this in NYC:

  1. Get up from desk.
  2. Shoot everyone in range of vision best cold-blooded stare, not unlike that of creepy blue bronco statue at the Denver airport. 
  3. Continue with Step 2, adding on audible, Williams sisters-esque grunts as huffs as you make your way to staff lounge to leave passive-aggressive note on refrigerator, microwave, and anywhere else with a remotely adhesive surface.
  4. Return to desk, dramatically insert noise-cancelling headphones, crank up Ultimate Dance Party 1997 mastermix that slows everyone else’s internet to the speed of sloth Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and reluctantly get back to work.
  5. If no improvement within 2 hours, supplement passive-aggressive notes with passive-aggressive email with attached peer-reviewed study of negative correlation between volume of one’s voice and IQ level.

How I would solve this in Mozambique:

  1. Adjust your definition of “loud.”

Problem: Subway too crowded, can’t get on, going to be late to work
How I would have solved this is in NYC:

  1. Panic.
  2. Attempt to board subway. If no available seats, get off and wait for next train. You may live in Brooklyn, but you’re certainly not paying $900 a month to stand during your commute to Manhattan.
  3. Well, I guess I could take the J or the M today.
  4. Or, maybe the N, I think the N goes to 14th Street.
  5. Nah, I’ll take the Q. It’s faster anyway. Ooo, ooo, and then I’ll pass that Ecuadoran food truck on the way to work. Bonus!

How I would solve this in Mozambique:

  1. HA! Subway? What do you think this is, New York City?
  2. Get in pretty, orderly line for next available chapa. Confirm that this is line for correct chapa, unlike that one time you got on the wrong van and wound up in Swaziland without your passport cause you’re too stubborn to ask directions, you fool were innocently led astray by a grossly misinformed passenger.
  3. When chapa arrives approximately 2 hours later, stand back and watch in awe as pretty, orderly line rapidly disintegrates into amorphous blob of 75+ Mozambicans trying to cram into a van the size (and temperature) of an EZ-Bake oven.
  4. Access long-term memory, use meager vault of retained knowledge from high school science class to calculate approximate volume of vehicle versus approximate volume of people entering. Determine this is physically impossible.
  5. Call Stephen Hawking, tell him you’ve discovered proof of lapse in space-time continuum.
  6. Board chapa, consider moonlighting as a contortionist at that sketchy nightclub on your street. Enjoy scenic view of knee foot armpit unidentified body part of woman next to you and bag of thirty (30) river trout

Pristine views of armpits - and the occasional bag of fish - abound on the chapa.

All in all, I find that – even after one month – I have become considerably more relaxed and patient when it comes to how I go about my work. I’d been gradually chipping away at my overbearing,Type A personality since I started traveling around Latin America a few years ago, but coming to Mozambique finished the job early and imploded whatever remained of my inner control freak.

All jokes aside, I’m happier here than I was in New York. I don’t have a fancy phone, blazing internet, and awesome public transportation. I realize now that I completely took these amenities for granted, and was quick to complain when something went awry. Now that I’m in an unfamiliar and unpredictable environment where things go wrong all the time, I feel – oddly – much calmer. I worry less. I stress less. I don’t rush. As it turns out, it’s actually quite liberating to realize that worrying, stressing, and rushing here in Mozambique are exercises in futility. Problems happen, and there’s just not always that much that you – or anyone else – can do to solve them. And it feels great!

Here’s to another 3 months of AWOL colleagues, Swiss-cheese roads, and speed-of-sloth internet!

Micaela is a Kiva Fellow in KF17, the 17th Kiva Fellows Class, with Hluvuku-ADSEMA in Mozambique. She has traveled extensively throughout Latin America, but this is her first time in Africa! And just so you know, she usually likes river trout, just not hanging out in a bag next to her on the bus. 

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