As the conference approached I realized I wouldn’t be able to make it all the way to Inhambane City or Maxixe to check hotels and make reservations. Matt, the national coordinator, had offered to help and lives far closer to those cities, so I asked him to make the reservations and he accepted. He talked about several possibilities, including hotels outside of Inhambane and Maxixe.
The conference was only two weeks away. I was fielding a constant stream of phone calls from the trainers and participants. Sooner or later we would need to tell them where they would be staying. I called Matt about reservations. He talked about several possibilities, including hotels outside of Inhambane and Maxixe. Wait…had he actually gone to these hotels to inquire? He would be going the next day, he said.
Two days passed. My excuses for not telling the technical trainers where the conference would be held were becoming more and more outlandish. Matt, any progress on those reservations? Nope, bedridden. He thought that he might have caught Malaria despite taking his prophylaxis. He was running a high fever and felt like death. Oh yes, don’t worry, he would be going into the city the very next day to take care of some things. Aj recommended that we postpone the conference, it being too late to make reliable plans.
The conference was now one week away and we had no venue for participants that would be expecting food, a conference room, and beds. I called Matt, he was in Inhambane, and claimed that the hotel already had our reservation, which was hard for me to believe considering that it was impossible. Did they have food? Beds? A conference center? Yes, yes, yes, and hearing that I was satisfied. We had cut it close, but everything was going to be fine.
Just one hang-up, Matt said: JOMA had no money. Like no money? Well, the Public Affairs Office of the US Embassy said that they transferred the money on Monday. Today was Tuesday, so the money would definitely be in on Wednesday. So how did you make the reservation Matt? Well, he didn’t technically “make” the reservation, in exactly those terms. But it’d be fine, he said confidently (albeit weakly, running a high fever), no one would show up with actual money and make a reservation for that weekend and bump us. Apparently God had told him this.
Oh, and one more hang-up, Matt said: he fired the Gender Facilitator that would have run the conference. Why? She hadn’t called him back.
So if we indeed got money before Friday, if we succeeded in making a reservation, if this new hyperstrain of Malaria didn’t kill Matt, who would be leading the conference? In Portuguese? We’ll do fine, Matt said.
Wednesday came and went, and the money never showed. On Thursday I went to Inhambane.
I arrive in Inhambane to hear that Matt had been sent to Maputo. He’s fever was getting out of control and he needed blood tests to see if he might actually be dying. That left me and AJ to run the conference. Not that we aren’t handsome, rough-and-tumble badasses, but we’re also idiots. As luck would have it, a Peace Corps Volunteer named Lauryn lived in Inhambane city. She had extended her contract for an additional year and a half beyond the two years she had already served. She was experienced with facilitating presentations, her Portuguese was immaculate, and in a conference that was supposed to center on gender she filled the very needed role of educated, articulate woman. As bad luck would have it she didn’t like me.
Lauryn had no obligation to help of any kind. I’m sure she had many other important things to do. How to best convince her? I would take her and her boyfriend out to the nicest restaurant in town and grovel.
But that was later, first I had to go to the hotel and somehow make a reservation without payment of any kind. This is about as tricky as it sounds. I explained my situation to the woman behind the counter. She said that it would be impossible to make a reservation without payment. I explained my situation again, and began to plead. She got a superior. I explained my situation, pled. No dice, he said. How could we possibly be allowed to make a reservation without money?
I talked to the guy in charge of the kitchen, then his boss, the guy in charge of hotel facilities. No and no. I spoke to a man in the accounting office who flat out pretended I wasn’t on the other side of his desk, he just stared at his blank computer screen until I left. I was channeling my mother (an emasculating sentence to write), and as she does in these situations, you just keep going up the chain to find someone who has the authority or desire to help you. I went to the Director’s office. Her secretary mentioned she was out to lunch. It was two pm, the office closed at 3:30. I explained my situation to the secretary, and lo and behold, she was obliquely sympathetic.
She said that if I managed to send a fax with a receipt of transfer from the bank then everything would be kosher. Thank god! All I would need was a receipt of transfer showing that the money was being transferred to my account?
She balked. She thought the money was being transferred to their account. I didn’t have money at all? How could I expect to make a reservation without money?
At this point, with reasonable problem solving exhausted, I reached into my bag of tricks and pulled out the emotional plea (again, though I hate to write it, channeling my mom). I explained the the pressure I was under. All these people would be arriving. They were expecting a conference with mattresses and sheets and food to eat and presentations from educated professionals. It was all a sham, I was just a post college bachelor idiot mouth breather. I didn’t even have the wherewithal to shower every day. I was in over my head. Please, couldn’t she find the pity, the decency, the goodwill in her heart to help me?
No, she said. But I could talk to the director when she returned.
I called AJ. He said that if I didn’t get approval by closing time at 3:30 we had no recourse in good conscience but to pull the plug and postpone. People would start their travel days at four am the following morning to get there by dinner. We had to do the right thing. And he was right, even though cancelling at that moment would still make us look like what we were: a group of headless chickens. Our organization didn’t have money.
I called Matt. He had been calling the Public Affairs Office all day (from the hospital I think). The money had been transferred, they said. They had even sent a receipt of transfer. Matt assured me that the money would definitely be in tomorrow, Friday, the day the conference was to begin.
I sat in the lobby and waited nervously for the return of this Director. Ok, groveling couldn’t be square one. Neither could open-minded problem solving, because what incentive did she have to work out a way to provide us with services without payment? That left only one thing: lying.
Well, not exactly lying. Strategic truth expansion. When she returned I was called into her office. With my shirt tucked in, my back as straight as a board and my Portuguese as sharp as I could cut it I explained to her that I was a working for the American government. My task was a nationwide organization called “JOMA”, of which I was the coordinator of all operations in southern Mozambique. Our problem was a silly one, really. The money simply had not arrived. An oversight. Some bungling intern in some office hadn’t put the paper in the right person’s inbox. Obviously as a representative of the American Government and one of the coordinators in a nationwide organization my word alone that the money would appear the following day was more than sufficient. This predicament was good for a chuckle, not a cause for worry.
And…she bought it! The Director shook my hand and said that we could proceed with the conference. My mask of professionalism cracked slightly as I gushed thank you’s all over her.
None of it was a lie, of course. It was a spin. I do represent the American government, JOMA is a nationwide organization, I am the coordinator for Southern Mozambique. She didn’t need to know that I am also the type of guy that routinely leaves his house with his fly down. The type of guy that misses patches of hair every time he shaves.
I called AJ at 3:30: we were on. And so began the most stressful weekend of my peace corps service.
I recieved my Close of Service date...December 9th 2011