iSTEP Tanzania

Memorable Interactions

Posted on: July 6, 2009

So, during my time here, I’ve met with many different people and interviewed a variety of folks in the community with Timi. Meetings are necessary to get things moving, but they’re also pretty draining and sometimes amusing. Since it’s past 2 a.m., I thought I’d just highlight some of my more memorable interactions in this blog entry.

  • During a meeting with one city official, she let out a loud and long burp and then continued talking without even flinching. It was hilarious. Business as usual…
  • Another government employee proceeded to pick his nose while I spoke to him – gross! Needless to say, I had a hard time focusing on what I was saying.
  • One of our interviewees went off on a tangent to talk about how he “saw the light” and now has healing powers. Must be nice.
  • Another interviewee just stopped talking mid-sentence and proceeded to fiddle with his cell phone. I guess we really bored him.
  • During one of our translator assisted interviews, the interviewee talked for about 2 minutes when asked a relatively simple question. Our translator relayed what she said to us in 5 seconds. Talk about information “lost in translation”!

On a more serious note, the process of meeting with people and talking with them has really taught me a lot as far as how best to communicate with people when faced with cultural and language differences. Some useful insights I’ve picked up along the way include:

  • Speaking slowly and clearly is more important and difficult than you think. I have to consciously slow down.
  • Maintaining eye contact really helps you to keep your listener’s attention and appear sincere. Also, you will be able to quickly notice when the person you’re talking to has no idea what you’re saying or has stopped paying attention to you.
  • Some people love to talk about themselves. While it’s important to listen to what they have to say, it’s also necessary to make the most of your time with them. Redirecting interviewees back to the point (in a polite way, of course) is a must.
  • Never forget to thank people for their time.
  • When dealing with bureaucrats it’s usually best to humor their requests. You need to pick your battles carefully, because arguing with them can lead to even further delays.
  • Don’t overestimate your communication skills. Even if you are a great orator, when talking to people who aren’t native speakers of your language, your prior skills don’t really mean that much because they’re probably not going to appreciate your extensive vocabulary or eloquence. Keep it simple.
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July 2009
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