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     Volume 7 Issue 44 | November 7, 2008 |


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Food for Thought

People, Passions and
Personality Disorders

Farah Ghuznavi

It must be admitted that in any job, there are certain challenges that come with the territory e.g. if you spend your time working primarily with other people, you're likely to come across some strange characters. And just when you think you have a handle on it, typical situations that you have learned (by trial and error) to deal with, suddenly morph into the unexpected challenges that can occur as a result of a peculiar set of circumstances coming into alignment, or Mars entering the seventh circle of Saturn, or old-fashioned bad luck!

To give a more concrete example, a few years ago when I was working in an international organisation, it had been carefully dinned into us that we were always to be polite to members of the public, no matter how ridiculous their requests, because we had to maintain standards of proper conduct. A particularly annoying aspect of this job was that many people tended to treat the organisation as some kind of gigantic library. As a result, they would call requesting free copies of documents and reports. Some of these I simply had no copies of, though people were often reluctant to accept no for an answer. Others we did have copies of, but callers were even more reluctant to cough up a hundred takas to have a photocopy made.

Hence, although dealing with these requests was very much an everyday challenge, I frequently got fed up with the unreasonableness of some of the callers. On one particularly bad day, I had had enough when someone called requesting a report that was dated several years previously. I was pretty sure that we didn't have a copy of this rather obscure-sounding document, and told the caller so with some degree of firmness.

"But you must have a copy," she insisted, to my considerable irritation. Just as I was about to tell her that I had never even heard of this report, she continued, "As the co-author of the report, surely you at least have a personal copy, even if your office doesn't have one!" To my horror, I realised that she was referring to a report that I had indeed co-authored (and successfully forgotten about!) a few years before… Even worse, I didn't have a copy of the report, so I had to come up with an elaborate story about how I had recently moved house, and not finished unpacking boxes yet, finally suggesting that she contact my (highly responsible) co-author instead, since she was bound to have a copy of the report!

Despite the low statistical probability of somebody calling up to request a report that I had been involved in preparing, this particular situation still fell well within the realms of possibility. A more unusual set of experiences awaited a British friend of mine when it came to dealing with a Bangladeshi sector specialist hired to produce an urgent report on health issues. To my friend's amazement, the long-awaited report, once submitted contained repeated references to "foot fingers".

My friend, who was responsible for supervising the assignment, was at a loss to understand what was going on, since the expert concerned was known to be fluent in English. The mystery was resolved by a Bangladeshi colleague of his, who regretfully informed him that since Bangla has no commonly used terms for toes, other than payer angul (foot fingers), it was likely that the preparation of the report had been subcontracted out to some minion and then translated literally into English. Needless to say, my friend was not amused--not least because this left him with the sticky task of explaining to the official report writer why he was reluctant to pay top dollar for such shoddy work…

I couldn't help feeling that I would have enjoyed that challenge even less than the rapid back-pedalling I'd had to do with the caller requesting the report that I'd co-authored. On the other hand, I would have happily traded my friend this task for the time I had to explain to a high-maintenance - if not high profile - foreign visitor, who was “bored” by road travel, why we couldn't hire a helicopter to fly him around Bangladesh!

Despite coming into contact with such seriously deviant individuals every now and then (whether local or foreign) I would still maintain that managing encounters with "standard oddball" types usually constitutes a far bigger part of most people's work experience. As I found out when my work responsibilities consisted of looking after foreign visitors who were attending the training programme at my workplace...

With a turnover of about 30 visitors a month that I was supposed to look after during their stay, I had a fairly "interesting" range of issues to troubleshoot. These included a man from the Kenyan highlands who somehow developed a form of reverse altitude sickness, a Filipina who had forgotten to bring along her contact lens solution (and believe me, this stuff was NOT easy to get hold of in Dhaka over a decade ago), and a visitor from El Salvador whom I only narrowly managed to prevent from drinking highly polluted river water as a "tribute to the Ganges" during a ferry ride on the Padma!

Though I have to admit that all of the aforementioned pales in comparison to the experience of my friend, Elizabeth. She recently discovered just how hard it can be to deal with some people. Working as a nurse in a large hospital, she and her colleagues have seen a few things in their time, but they were horrified to discover, while making rounds one day, that one of the patients had disappeared. A frantic search was initiated, but over an hour passed without any sign of the "lost" young man - which was particularly strange given that he had a broken leg, and was basically bedridden. But this perhaps explained why it was not only the patient, but also his bed, that had disappeared!

While the hospital staff rushed around looking for him, Elizabeth and her fellow nurses pondered their imminent status as unemployed medical workers. Finally the patient (still in his bed!) was located in a corner of the hospital parking lot, where his alcoholically charged visitors had decided to take him so that they could all share a drink. As Elizabeth said, if she had not already been a non-drinker herself, this experience would probably have ensured that she gave up alcohol for good…!

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