Tag Archives: Mike Boon

Flying South for Winter

The temperature dropped to the mid 20′s here in the DC region today, with the wind chill factor registering in the teens. Brrrr. Biting cold. The heater in my house rarely gets over 64 degrees on cold days like this. As I pack for a Summer Christmas in South Africa with daughter Steph, I find the irony amusing.

Giraffes from Mike Boon's South African Game Reserve

Giraffes from Mike Boon's South African Game Reserve.

Note: For those who don’t know, my daughter Steph works with the Bethany House counseling school children who are victims of trauma. The stories the children tell her keep Steph awake at night. Part of our journey to South Africa is to encourage and uplift her, so that she can pour out her heart to the children who are hurting — damaged by unspeakable abuse and heart-breaking life experiences.

Here is a excerpt from Steph’s blog

Steph talks about her journey in her Blog

Now, let’s talk about our airline-imposed travel constraints:

Jet Blue allows one bag for the DC to NYC leg of the trip. South African Airways allows two.

Here’s what I need to take with me:

  • Steph’s summer clothes (she didn’t have room to take down with her in July  which is winter in South Africa),
  • gifts and goodies for the children of Bethany House,
  • Steph’s Birthday gifts (she turns 25 next week),
  • Christmas gifts for both daughters, and …last but not least…
  • my clothes.

Basically, I’m faced with an over-constrained equation. The only way to make this work –remove variables. Meaning, my clothes!

I spent yesterday trying on summer clothes in an EXTREMELY chilly house in my effort to edit down to the bare essentials for three weeks in Africa.

This little packing exercise got me thinking.

  • What about our space pioneers who pack for six month on Space Station — especially if travel means tucking three humans into a Russian Soyuz spacecraft? What do you take? What do you leave behind on Earth?
  • What was it like for early American pioneers leaving behind family treasures to load up a westward-bound covered wagon for the nine-month journey across mountain passes to uncertainty on the other side?
  • What about families who left Europe to start a new future across the ocean in the Americas?
  • What about refugees who flee violence or poverty or drought in countries around the world today?

The shacktowns in and around Johannesburg are filled with families who left everything behind to build a better life in South Africa. Take Portia, for instance….

We met Portia outside Johannesburg.

We met Portia outside Johannesburg.

My buddy Mike Boon introduced us to Portia last time we visited South Africa. Portia lives in a one room tin shack outside Johannesburg. She welcomed us into her home. No electricity. No plumbing. No running water. (The orange containers in the doorway are for transporting water, which she has to do every day.)

Squatter's Village outside Johannesburg

The shack village where Portia lives.

Yes, I’m spoiled. We live in a land of excess. I’m ashamed to admit my struggle over what NOT to take with me for a three-week trip.

Perhaps I should take a cue from the birds who fly south for the winter: Take nothing, find food and necessities along the way.

Matthew 6:26 comes to mind:

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Last word: After hearing my tale of woe today, Adam and Ben of Jess3 called Jet Blue and discovered I can take an extra bag for only $30. I know. I know. I could have checked myself. Somehow that never made it to my to-do list. Now, I get to decide if it’s worth it to repack and add back my “excess” things.

So, do I fly south like a bird, or like an American?

At least I have a choice.

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Filed under Africa, Bethany House Trust, poverty

How to Win Friends/Make Enemies

My buddy Mike Boon encouraged me to write a “real and significant” book, as opposed to fiction. (BTW, I’m ready to break 25K words — halfway point — in this year’s NaNoWriMo. WooHoo!)

As I explained to him, government ethics rules prohibit civil servants from earning a second income stream from the job we’re paid to do by the tax-payer — which takes these topics off the table: space, communications, or public service.

Then it hit me what I could write about — human nature.

That’s broad enough not to sic NASA’s ethics lawyers on me, don’t you think? After all, I started learning these lessons way back in high school when I locked horns with our band director. (Yes, that’s me with the whistle in my mouth out front. I still have those white boots and purple baton! I may even have the whistle….)

San Marcos High School band 1974

1973 Parade march: San Marcos High School Band

My book concept: short and not so sweet.

Here’s the deal. I’m envisioning a tiny board book, the kind you can buy at the counter in Barnes and Noble. I’m serious. Really. Think the itsy-est bitsy-est book you’ll ever imagine – the CliffsNotes version of my life experiences both inside and outside my career in the federal government (back off lawyers.)

Would you pay for my Top Ten Rules on how to stay in constant trouble?

Name your price. $5.00? $10.00…if I throw in Rule #11? Anyone? Ok. Fine. I’ll share them with you here. No purchase necessary.

Let’s be honest: I doubt you would choose to pay for trouble-in-book-form, no matter how small the book or price at the check-out counter.

Feel free, though, to correct my assumptions. I’m happy to take your money. (‘Kidding, ethics lawyers! KIDDing.)

So, what to do about the title? Since my grandmother always told me I’d be the first female President of the United States, I’m thinking about a book title that goes something like this:

Why I’ll NEVER be Elected President of the United States.

Or, if that doesn’t work for you, how ’bout this:

How to Win a few Friends and Make MANY Enemies.

Now that you’re on pins and needles, here ya’ go. My rules for a life worth living:

  1. Make a decision.
  2. Don’t waver from the decision (from principle, not stubborness).
  3. Take a stand.
  4. Stand tall, head high (eyes open and ever ready to duck flying objects).
  5. Pick a side.
  6. Stay on that side (but, not the slippery, slimy side. Please!)
  7. Speak out against injustice.
  8. Keep voice steady and clear (even in deafening silence).
  9. Stick up for the little guy.
  10. Give him hope for tomorrow. (Please don’t rob him of tomorrow. I didn’t say ‘stick up’ the little guy.)

Yep, that about says it all. Unless I come up with Rule #11. I’ll let you know if I do. (Ok, Mike, are you happy now? There. I’ve written my book. I’ll let you judge whether it’s real or significant enough.) ;)

movie poster for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

And, sorry Grandma. I don’t see national-scale politics in my future. I’ve barely survived office politics through the years.

My hat’s off to you, fictional Mr. Smith. They made a movie about you. I don’t think my little book will garner the same attention — except from the few friends I win and many enemies I rile up.

But just in case someone rushes in with a movie deal, do you think I can request Angelina Jolie to play the part of me? (No resemblance, I assure you. But what the heck? I’m the creator. Don’t I have a say?)

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Filed under Africa, culture, federal government, leadership, NASA, writers

Mike Boon’s Vuka! Wake-Up Call

Ancient African proverb: “A man without culture is like a zebra without stripes.”

South Africa: 1996

“Mike Boon, a white, was on the mean streets of Soweto photographing anti-apartheid graffiti when he was caught by the mob. About 1,000 supporters of the Pan African Congress – motto: one settler, one bullet – had beaten him, doused him with petrol and were preparing to burn him alive in a horrific spectacle known as necklacing.

“They had the tyre, although they never put it around my neck, and they were shouting for matches,” he says. Mr Boon only escaped a hideous death because he speaks fluent Zulu, and was able to persuade his captors that he was there to promote their cause.”

Paul Rodgers, The Independent, 20 October 1996

Yikes! Meet my buddy Mike.

Mike on his Game Reserve

Mike teaches us about animal poop on his Game Reserve

Mike, the multi-lingual ex-special forces peace-loving folk music guitar-picking minstrel, who founded a marketing company in the 1980′s in a rags-to-riches story. His vision: creating community-based, culturally-targeted delivery of product messages into the hands of people on the streets and in the townships of South Africa.

In order to understand an issue, Mike seeks to understand the root cause — the people, and how they view the world.

Under his leadership, Group Africa grew into a multinational organization of 7000 employees operating in over 25 countries in just 17 years. As he tells it, Mike grew tired of constant international travel and the burden of corporate leadership, and sold his business to an American public relations giant.

For his second act (or third, really, if you count his time in the military), Mike launched the Vulindlela™ Network to help bring about personal and organizational VUKA! — interventions to foster cultural and social understanding and shared vision. Mike’s work brings about reconciliation. Mike’s bio states:

“His work unashamedly acknowledges and deals with the inherent racism, prejudice, anger, fear and denial…”

Tuff stuff, the challenges Mike takes on. What can I say? He’s Superman. So, by now you’re probably wondering how I know Mike. Let’s take a trip back in time.

Texas: 1974

I met Mike Boon in 1974 at a Southwest Texas Rotary International meet ‘n greet for incoming and outgoing exchange students. Mike was going to high school in Gonzales, Texas for the year. I attended San Marcos High School, and had been selected to spend a year in Denmark. Mike and I hit it off immediately.

What I remember most about Mike? His to-die-for accent, easy laugh, and deep dives into the meaning of life. He taught me a bit of Xhosa, an amazing clicking language; and introduced my family to a more efficient method of left-handed eating — keeping the fork tongs-down and the knife in my right hand. We Americans tend to eat right-handed with the tongs facing upward, switch the fork to the left hand tongs-down to cut, then switch back to the right hand tongs-up to eat.

Mike faced a mandatory 2-year term in the military when he returned home to South Africa. I couldn’t imagine the soft-hearted, deeply thoughtful, easy-going boy carrying a gun. Much less shooting it. Much to my surprise, but not really because Mike always exceeded expectations in everything he undertook, Mike went into the military and earned a spot in the elite special forces. The letters he sent from active duty had sections literally cut from the pages.

Mike always wrote me about fighting injustice, opposing the forces of evil, standing up for what’s right, understanding the core of humanity. Deep stuff. Mike stuff.

Mike and I stayed in touch on and off through the years. Our lives took so many different turns. I knew Mike had written a book, and that he’d done well. I had no idea HOW well. We lost touch about 10 years or so ago when my Christmas letters started bouncing back. I kept sending them, they kept returning. Enter the age of the internet. Mike found me a couple of years ago through NASA. I’d spent a few years as Editor of NASA.gov. I’d left digital fingerprints everywhere.

Our friendship spanned decades and continents, yet we’d not seen each other for 35 years. Until this summer.

Summer: 2009

ZambeziCoverPageI learned so much about Mike, the man, during our visit to South Africa. I had really only ever known the boy. Spending time with Mike and his family helped fill in the gaps. Ok, not gaps. Craters.

Reading both Mike’s books before our visit, helped remind me who Mike is — Mike, the philosopher. No depth is ever deep enough for him. He’ll always dig down and uncover another layer of understanding. We are alike that way. I really need to understand what drives things, what makes pieces fit together. I appreciate the way Mike approaches a problem and finds a way around an impasse.

Mike deals with culture in his ground-breaking 1996 book, The African Way: The Power of Interactive Leadership. Reading this book, I understood, for the first time, some of the cultural issues we face, even today, in the United States.

Mike describes the “Western” view of time as individually-focused — control is internal. For instance: “I missed the bus.” Yet the traditional African view of time is circular, where “the past is more important than the future.”  In Zulu, the expression would be, “The bus left me.” In Xhosa, “The bus died on me.” Both are externally-controlled. (p. 6-7) He notes that the pace of business based on an internal or external focus is fundamentally different. On the question of when it’s time to “move on” — forgive and forget — to order to repair the nation after apartheid was abolished, Mike offers this: “The ‘African’ view would be that a considerable amount still needs to be done to settle the damage done by apartheid.”

In a circular view of time, where the past is more important than the future, how long is long enough?

I absolutely have no answer, but at least I understand the context.

MikeBoonZambeziReconciliation seems the focus of Mike’s second book, Zambezi, The First Solo Journey Along Africa’s Mighty River. 1n 2002, Mike embarked on a solo expedition down the Zambezi River from source to sea in a kayak, which had never been attempted before. Missionary-explorer David Livingstone traveled by boat down the Zambezi in the 1850-60′s, and nearly lost his life. Others attempted the journey though the centuries, but never the entire river. Mike knew he would be traveling through war-torn countries and areas of civil discontent. His trip included: Northwest Zambia, Angola/Zambia border, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. The river itself has unchartered areas with unknown rapids and falls.

Mighty Zambezi @ Victoria Falls

Mighty Zambezi @ Victoria Falls

In his own words, here’s Mike’s assessment of his chances on the river:

“In addition to the political and geographic challenges, I had to prepare myself for any number of medical eventualities. Injury and trauma could be caused by assault or bites from snakes, hippos, crocodiles, and other animals. Possible illnesses included malaria, hepatitis, dysentery and infection. I needed to be able to self-administer any number of treatments, such as suturing wounds, setting fractures and carrying out amputations.”

Mike indeed encountered near-death in a whirlpool, abduction by military guards, close encounters with crocs, hippos, and elephants. His 99-day physical challenge brought emotional healing from Mike’s ‘military and corporate combat’ demons. The Zulus named Mike, Chunge,” which means “he who achieves even though the road be difficult and torturous.” Perhaps he needs to replace the word “road” with “river.”

Mike, Man of Many Years, at last reconciled with Mike, Idealistic Boy of Long Ago.

During our visit in South Africa, I learned more about Mike’s work through the eyes of his former employee, Doug, who accompanied us to the Soweto Township, home of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

Through Doug, I learned that Mike created the Lesedi Cultural Village for business partners to experience tribal life and better understand the people their products would reach. He recreated village life and brought in families to live and share their culture with visitors. He is no longer associated with Lesedi, which has become a successful tourist attraction, but he met his need to teach the “Western world” partners about African culture.

Primary School has new kitchen.

Primary School has new kitchen.

We visited an impoverished Township primary school. The school principal told us that the result of one of Mike’s VUKA! experiences, the bankers returned to volunteer with the kids and build a kitchen for the school. (They still need a regulation soccer field.)

Day Care has paint and furniture.

Day Care has paint and furniture.

We spent time at a pre-school day care in SnakePark, the poorest section of Soweto. Two mothers couldn’t bear seeing children without care and on the streets. They formed the Big Smile Little Faces Day Care. As a result of Mike’s VUKA! experience,  a business group returned to volunteer and provide essentials for the children — desks, chairs, rugs, book cubbies, and more.

VUKA! landmark

VUKA! landmark

When I wanted to take pictures of the painted towers in Soweto, not far from Nelson Mandela’s home, Doug pointed out the towers were painted for the community as a result of a Mike’s VUKA! program.

Mike mixes rich and poor, black and white, male and female, young and old  – drawing them together through a transformation process that strips away preconceived  cultural bias and builds bridges of shared humanity.

I saw evidence of his success whereever we went. Mike’s ground-breaking reconciliation/facilitation work is sought at the very highest levels of business and government, including Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. Mike was flown to the Middle East to resolve settlement disputes between the Jews and Palestinians. Is there anything Mike can’t do? Slow down, maybe. Hardly likely.

Mike’s new challenge: an 8-month river adventure through even more dangerous territory than the Zambezi to draw attention to prejudice in all forms.

But, I’d like to give Mike a different challenge, as if the elimination of prejudice weren’t enough. I’d love to bring Mike to NASA, to challenge our entrenched, bureaucratic culture. I’ve only been introduced to snippets of Mike’s work to bring about reconciliation.

The more I see, the more I want Mike to bring VUKA! to NASA.

Just think, we have our very own whirlpools, rocky embankments, hippos, crocodiles, and infected thinking to offer a tempting challenge to Mike. We’ve had 50 years to develop ruts and dysfunctional business patterns.

Those of you at NASA know what I’m talking about. Folks at NASA field centers and Headquarters often mistrust each other. Organizations build walls to keep out competing other organizations. Power is not often shared well. Threat to power…well, I shudder at the thought. Many individuals and organizations operate under the fear of retribution — for thinking or speaking outside what is deemed culturally acceptable by individual managers. Sad, but true.

Not all of NASA can be described this way, of course, but enough exists to warrant at good look. Good news, though. We have a new leadership team at NASA. What better time to bring Mike in to wake us up, transform our thinking, ignite us for the future? We have much work to do.

Let’s VUKA!

Annie's Treehouse

Mike welcoming us to Annie's Treehouse, an aMAZing retreat he built for his wife!

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Filed under Africa, culture, federal government, leadership, NASA, space

Zambia: Land of Livingstone

Mukuni Village: Home of the Lion King

Mukuni Village: Home of the Lion King

Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”

Do you even know where this quote came from? I knew the quote, but not the context. Traveling to Zambia at the end of July brought the quote to life as we learned more about the country’s history.

David Livingstone statue @ Victoria Falls

Livingstone @ Victoria Falls

Before traveling to Zambia, I’d read about Scottish missionary-explorer Dr. David Livingstone (1813-1873) in Perspectives, a 16-week course about God’s global purpose through a biblical, historical, and cultural perspective. When I learned (though Facebook) that my aunt and uncle live and serve as missionaries in Livingtone, I was amazed. They live in a city named after the missionary I’d studied. I really like David Livingstone’s life story.

Not only was he appalled by the inhumanity of the slave trade, he believed Christianity + self-sufficient commerce could help eradicate the nasty practice at its roots.

Mosi-oa-Tunya

Mosi-oa-Tunya

He explored for viable trade routes to open commerce for the people he came to serve. In his travels, Livingstone “discovered” the massive falls (110m/330 ft down) on the Zambezi River in 1855, named by the locals Mosi-oa-Tunya, or “The Smoke that Thunders.” He renamed it Victoria Falls to honor Queen Victoria. During a later expedition to search for the source of the Nile River, Livingstone was tracked down by a New York Herald reporter, Sir Henry Morton Stanley, near Lake Tanganyika in present-day Tanzania. Stanley is said to have stated, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”

Dr. Livingstone headed several expeditions and published his findings. He blazed a path for other missionaries and explorers to follow. I assumed the present day town, Livingstone, is named after the missionary-explorer. My aunt tells me some of the locals disagree. They believe the town name comes from tribal heritage. Who’s to say?

Bungee Bridge over Batoka Gorge

Bungee Bridge over Batoka Gorge

Livingstone — the destination — is a paradise for extreme-sports fanatics.

Tourists flock here for bungee-jumping, white-water rafting, microlight flying, and more. Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of high places I can fall from. I call it fall-o-phobia.

Microflyer over Victoria Falls

Microflyer over Victoria Falls

It’s not that I’m afraid of heights as much as that long journey down, should I happen to slip over the edge. The fact that human beings WILLINGLY choose to tie-their-legs-together-on-an-elastic-band-and-leap-from-a-towering-bridge-of-their-own-free-will utterly escapes me. My buddy Mike Boon (see previous blog posts) told me he jumped with his son off the Victoria Falls Bridge into Batoka Gorge a few years back. I shudder as I type. I think I’ll stick to the terror of moving a government project forward withOUT the required 95,000 signatures on the concurrence page. ;-)

Giraffe at Zambesi Sun Hotel

Giraffe at Zambesi Sun Hotel

Tourists can stay at the Zambezi Sun Hotel which is part of the Mosi-oa-Tunya World Heritage site. The current Lion King (more about him below) sold off sections of his people’s land, such as the site of the Sun hotel, which sits on a prime location along the Zambezi River next to the Falls. You can see the spray from the falls from the water-side of the hotel. Giraffe, zebra, impala, and monkeys roam freely among the guests.

Romping Zebras

Romping Zebras

We stopped for a pot of tea at the hotel (July/August are winter months in Africa). As we sat by the pool drinking tea, the zebras joined us. They romped and played for hours. What a surprise and delight! The hotel employs a “zebra-handler” to keep the guests safe. I found myself precariously wedged between the hind-quarters of several zebras. (I was innocently trying to take pictures.) The handler rescued me, leading me to safety. Evidently, zebras like to kick unsuspecting humans…like me.

If I could take home a pet zebra, I would.

Can I take him home?

Can I take him home?

Being close enough to touch wild animals and live to tell about it is the most amazing experience!

Melody welcomes the children

Melody welcomes the children

I’m so thankful my aunt Melody invited us to visit. Two days before we arrived, my uncle Phil flew to the States for a medical procedure. Sorry Phil, but we had such a great time while you were gone.  I wasn’t sure what we’d find in Zambia. Melody and Phil have served in Livingstone for three years now. Phil goes out to the bush to reach out to the villagers — many of whom have never seen a “white man” before.

Melody graciously allowed us to walk her walk during our time in Zambia. She introduced us to the people, places, culture, and customs. She teaches the children on Sundays at the “Cowboy Church” which was started by a fellow missionary and his wife. We went with her to help with the kids.

Clean water!

Clean water!

As we drove up, we noticed women washing their clothes in front of the church.

The neighborhood has no running water or plumbing facilities.

Cowboy Church Outhouse

Cowboy Church Outhouse

We learned that the villagers are welcome to use the water at the church to meet their needs. I must admit that I was unprepared to use the church outhouse, though it offers privacy and a nicely painted exterior.

The people live a simple life — which in no way translates into the easy life.

Running water for villagers.

Running water for villagers.

Women can spend up to 60% of their day fetching water from remote sources. Water is carried in buckets. The same water is used for eating, drinking, cleaning. If you’re well-off, your home includes a water tower.

If water were a commodity, it would be blue diamonds!

Water. Plumbing. Electricity. All luxuries we take for granted. Those who have electricity share frustration with reliability from the electrical utility provider. For my aunt and uncle, Thursday is their day to do without…in addition to the other unscheduled outages.

Flatbed trucks

Flatbed trucks

We witnessed a number of funeral processions. Funerals are an accepted part of every day life. The cause? AIDs. Malaria. You name it. Friends and family cram onto flatbed trucks for the ride to the cemetery. Cemeteries are filled with recent grave markers.

My aunt explained that widows, who’ve  lost their livelihood, are expected to feed and care for all the guests at the funeral. In the US, we take food with us to the grieving widow. What is so foreign to me, is a cultural given to the people who live here.

Uncertainty is part of life in the land of have-nots.

On the days we went out to the villages, I refused to drink anything. I feared needing “facilities” that might not be to my liking. How lame is that? I held out until I could get back to my Western amenities. I’m a wimp. I admit it.

I had trouble adjusting my Western habits to the 3rd-World reality we experienced in Zambia.

But, hey, I DID hard things — like drive in an unknown country, in unknown vehicles, on teeth-rattling surfaces, stick-shift on the left-hand side of the road…and IN THE BUSH! White-knuckle driving, I called it. SOMEone had to. Note: My aunt doesn’t drive stick…yet! It’s only a matter of time, now that’s Melody’s seen me take on the streets of Livingstone and beyond. (Right Melody?)

Deep in the Bush...

Deep in the Bush...

Singing and Dancing!

Singing and Dancing!

We drove out to the bush to help out with the Kooma Community School. Pastor Kebby, who leads the Cowboy Church congregation on the outskirts of Livingstone, shared about God with the students of the school. The government requires “religious” education units as part of the curriculum. How different from the US.

I watched with awe as Pastor Kebby talked to the kids with enthusiasm and humor. I couldn’t understand a word he said, but the kids laughed and responded eagerly. I loved getting a glimpse of his unquenchable spirit. Though he was ill while we were there, he refused to slow down. By the end of our day-long journey into the bush and back, he could barely walk. His passion for his people was humbling indeed.

Pastor Kebby in the center.

Pastor Kebby in the center.

We tourists only peek through the window to their world. They live it. We go home to our comfortable routine.

We visited 700-yr-old Mukuni Village, home of Chief Mukuni, the real Lion King. One of the locals walked us through the village and told us about the royal family and their system of justice and administration. They have very little crime among the 8000 villagers. We saw the tiny jail. I wouldn’t want to spend time there either. Ok, I wouldn’t want to spend time in ANY jail!

Livingstone Tree

Livingstone Tree

The Mukuni village is organized around a giant tree where Dr. David Livingstone waited for an audience from the Chief. It’s their “meeting place” to this day…in the land of Livingstone.

Lion King's Throne

Lion King's Throne

Knowing that my aunt is a missionary, our guide described their tribal religious beliefs. She explained that they pray to the God of the Bible, and make certain they bless their food properly in order to keep their ancestors from getting angry. Otherwise, she confided, they could get upset stomachs…or worse. In Perspectives class, I first ran across the concept of syncretism — where several belief systems merge together. Can this be what she described? It’s a subtle distinction.

I merely pose the question, not suppose the answer.

Flower lady

Flower lady

Mukuni village has electrical wires running through it. We walked past huts with radios blaring, wires strung loosely from the master wire overhead. The villagers showed signs of prosperity from the tourism trade (as well as the sale of tribal land for development, such as the Zambezi Sun). Flower gardens. Thatched fences. New huts in various stages of completion. Dirt floors, but bright smiles.

Village Vendors

Village Vendors

We realized, after the fact, that while we walked through the village, the vendors all gathered at the village market — in anticipation of our visit there. Talk about sales pressure. I found it totally overwhelming. Once we walked out of the market, the villagers all filed out and went home. Seriously. Every one of them.

On our way back from Mukuni Village, Melody took us to see the lions and other wild cats at the Mukuni Park Reserve. She told me it was down one of the MANY unmarked paths on the main road. (Road, BTW, is a term I use quite generously. Perhaps I should say crater-impaired clearing between heavy brush.)

Good to know...

Good to know...

Fortunately, Melody picked out the correct unmarked turn-off from the road. It was a one-way crevice filled with deep sand. (Did I mention I have an imagination? Others might call it a generously sandy path.) One of the many dramatic moments of our trip: the mini-bus spun out of control in the sand. I’d never used 4-wheel drive as a separate stick shift. Melody instructed me, from her best memory, how she’d seen Phil engage the 4-wheel drive. Somehow we got “unstuck” but it wasn’t a pretty sight. The lion guys must’ve had a good laugh as we jerked our way to their doorstep.

I never quite got it in gear, so to speak.

Aslan of "The Lion, Witch & Wardrobe"

Aslan of "The Lion, Witch & Wardrobe"

No matter our humiliating arrival, we had an incredible time with the cats. Wow! They’re amazing creatures. The cat handlers will let visitors “walk” with the lions and cheetahs. Fortunately, the cats were all in their cages during our visit. When our guide told us we could play with the cubs, I pictured kittens — the  size that fit in one hand. Uh, no. These were cubs the size of a couch, with paws bigger than my feet.  I would not want to be their dinner. Yikes.

When offered the opportunity to go inside the cage with five of these man-sized cubs, I was less than thrilled. But, go inside I did. Nervously. For one picture. Or two.

Shaka's NOT happy!

Shaka's NOT happy!

The handler got me out quickly. When we looked at the pics later, we saw the reason for my rush exit — a second cub was coming up from behind me. I’m sure he only wanted to play. Or, eat me for dinner.

Now the cheetahs. Fastest animal, right? Well, faster than me! We took pictures OUTside the cage with the cheetahs. Good thing. Here’s Shaka. He was NOT happy to see us. See the fur standing up on his back? Melody told us she was INside the cage with the cheetahs on her last visit. Really? Can that at ALL be safe?

One of the many things I learned in Africa? I’m really, really, really a city girl.

All in all, I’m really thankful Dr. David Livingstone left the comfort of his home and family to minister to the people of Africa. How incredible to walk where he walked, and to have members of my family following his footsteps as missionaries to the very people he came to serve so many years ago. I have so much more to learn about this place so far away from my life in DC. Soon, very soon, I may have a daughter living in southern Africa.

Here’s a cool sunset from the land of Livingstone. Enjoy. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more African stories with you soon.

Sunset in the Land of Livingstone.

Sunset in the Land of Livingstone.

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Filed under Africa, Earth, poverty, water

Culture: Straitjacket or Springboard?

I’m thrilled to be featured as a Gov 2.0 Hero on GovFresh.com. I received Luke Fretwell’s request while I was in the Orlando Airport, returning home from a previous scrubbed STS-127 mission. Made my day. (THANKS Luke!!) How cool that he thought of me — one of the many fish swimming around in the huge, vast ocean we call the federal government. My initial reaction:

Do I get a cape? I mean really. Don’t all hero’s wear capes?

Luke sent me a list of questions for the profile:

  1. What was your path to Gov 2.0?
  2. What area of government offers the biggest opportunity for improvement via Web 2.0 tools?
  3. What’s the killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm instead of the exception.
  4. What part of Gov 2.0 most excites you?

What is Gov 2.0? Easiest explanation: mash-up of Web 2.0/social media tools in government processes. For starters, agencies finding creative ways to “do business” through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, etc.

As I answered the questions, I kept coming back to the same sticking point – culture. An organization’s culture dictates its aptitude for “picking up” new technology to meet daily challenges. Hmm, cultural aptitude tests. Might be incredibly telling.

My buddy, Mike Boon, describes culture in his book, The African Way: The Power of Interactive Leadership,

“Culture is not an independent thing. It is what we are as people. Our culture guides us in how to behave, and it is the expression of our values and beliefs.”

Luke’s Gov 2.o Hero profile questions focus on what technologies exist to transform government. Transparency is the current buzzword with our new President. Transparency is the underpinning of the Gov 2.0 movement — to make what we do inside the government freely and easily available to all those outside the government.

Personally, I love it. But not everyone does.

Transparency can be quite threatening, especially if one’s power base is built on insider knowledge that is closely held and doled out like currency to buy more power.

Will even the most “killer app” technology transform our federal government overnight. Probably not. We are Uncle Sam, after all. Uncle Sam isn’t known for being quick on his feet, now is he? But, what about Aunt Samantha? She just might be a fast-talkin’ two-steppin’ little whipper-snapper who runs circles around ole’ Sam. (Yes, I’m from Texas. Can you tell?)

Do I think new technology will change how we do business in the federal government? Do I think Web 2.0 will transform our decision-making processes from muddy to clear? Actually, I do. But it totally depends on the leadership and culture of the organization.

A risk-averse culture views change with suspicion and animosity.

A risk-averse organization is unlikely to leap into the arms of new technology. More likely, I picture the “concrete boots” reaction. Perhaps we need a VUKA! intervention to shake up our more entrenched organizations. Vuka is a Nguni word that means: ‘to come alive’, ‘resurrect’, ‘bring to life’, ‘wake up’.

Quick note: I’m traveling with family to South Africa and Zambia. In South Africa, we’ll spend some time with Mike Boon and his family. I know Mike from high school. He was a Rotary Exchange student. Amazingly, we’ve kept in touch ALL these years. Mike’s company, Vulindlela, specializes in organizational interventions. We will accompany him to an event in Soweto, outside Johannesburg, to see how this works. Here’s a quote from his website:

VUKA! is dependent on an organisation’s willingness to build in processes that ensure the sustainability of the change that will definitely have occurred in each individual!

Maybe I’ll learn something about VUKA! to bring back to the job to help jump-start Gov 2.0 within our organizations. But even without intervention, we have pockets of open culture within our government already. I work with some amazingly creative, intelligent, secure, energetic, enthusiastic folks at NASA who are chomping at the bit to gallop into the future.

What can I do?  Open doors, supply tools for the journey, and get out of the way as the stampede rushes past!

Does this make me a Gov 2.0 hero? Unlikely. But, hey. I’ll take the title! I wonder what I’ll look like in a cape? ;)

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Filed under federal government, Gov 2.0, leadership, NASA