On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Every person, at some time or another, lets negative thoughts creep into their consciousness. Usually, the thoughts of negative episodes in life come back again and again over the years. It does not happen too often among happy people, but there is hardly a person who is able to completely flush out the negatives and never allow them back into their thoughts. This somber chronicle is a short compilation of several times when the Footloose Forester was persona non grata.
Perhaps the harshest brush off in his forestry career occurred when he announced to his colleagues in Trinidad that his findings about growth characteristics of their prized teak plantations were contrary to what they always believed. In his Master of Science in Forestry thesis, he included tables of comparisons of growth characteristics that dispelled the notion that the Trinidad teak was of the highest quality and productive growth. Nobody wanted to challenge him on his findings because he had facts on his side and they had only their long-standing opinions. In too many offices and lunchrooms around the world, however, opinions usually trump facts. And a little bit of loud force major never hurts in attempting to win an argument.
It would be most unfair if this chronicle turns into a petulant justification of a personal point-of-view. It would also be unfair if readers judge it as a rant against some perceived injustice against the Footloose Forester. The intention is to relate a clear and accurate description of certain events, with the hope that someone, somewhere, someday sees the situation for what it really was.
The Footloose Forester deduced that he was Persona Non Grata in other circumstances, in other places and at various times in his career. The example transcribed below is but one of those examples. The example should make clear why he thought that he became Persona Non-Grata in some circles.
Making Comments on Official Reports also Makes Enemies
The Footloose Forester often made comments about reports submitted by others. Sometimes he was encouraged to comment, and thus was doing precisely what he was asked to do. The result, however, was usually resentment for spoiling the vision of someone else. At the risk of making somebody’s enemies list, he usually went ahead. Otherwise, the international development community, or someone in the sciences, might go forward with a presumption that needed to be challenged. One or two poignant examples come to mind.
After spending nearly two years on a mission to countries in Asia, South America, and, finally in Kenya, a three-person team asked for local comment on the report they were finishing up, and just prior to sending it to USAID Washington. The team leader invited the Footloose Forester to sit down with them as a group to hear his comments. He obliged them. Sorry, he said, but he could not agree with their basic premise that Personal Services Contractors working in behalf of USAID were treated much the same as mainline USAID career employees, and enjoyed the same benefits that came with the job. Why, they asked, did he think that was not the case? His response was because they were too many examples that clearly pointed to circumstances that were contrary to what they had put into print. A day or two later, the Footloose Forester returned to see the team leader and handed him a typed list of 28 exceptions that indicated that PSCs were not the equivalents of direct-hire USAID employees. From that day forward, the Footloose Forester had new adversaries. Although a few USAID employees who were personal friends tried to dissuade him from his viewpoint, nobody in the local USAID office; or in Washington, D.C., ever challenged his views in writing. In fact, nobody officially acknowledged that there was a long list of exceptions to the main premises that formed the body of the team’s report.
For anyone who is skeptical that the encounter was anything other than a tempest in a teapot, the following attached commentary from 1993 is provided. An additional list of the 28 exceptions was included but is not provided here. The bulletized list was reduced to 24 items after some of the original items were resolved or removed. Some of the important exceptions like PSC access to US Embassy health units and the permitted use of diplomatic mail were corrected shortly after the draft report was released for review and comment. The Footloose Forester thus had a direct say in changing some of the benefits to which PSCs had not previously been entitled. But rather than make new friends among the 600-800 PSCs worldwide, he only made (presumably) new antagonists in Washington, D.C. The longish commentary is not shown here, but is still retained in his personal archives.
USAID AND THE PERSONAL SERVICES CONTRACTOR
Comments by Richard Pellek
Personal Services Contractor
U.S. Agency for International Development
Regional Economic Development Services Office
for East and Southern Africa REDSO/ESA