Friday, December 22, 2006

Musing: eCenter Limon

Ecenterlimon1There’s a nice little internet joint in Limon called “eCenter.” It is run by a couple of bright, helpful young people who speak pretty good English and it has a stable, hi-speed wi-fi connection. It is also nicely air conditioned! About the only thing “wrong” with it is that it is populated by PCs... But my Mac and I are used to that, so we just smile and go about our business. During my time in Limon I have made frequent visits, generally once in the morning then -- after my daily exploration or what have you -- again in the evening. I made one such visit this morning, then packed up my gear and headed out to find some lunch and something to explore.

As I was walking around town, I saw an older American couple -- who were obviously off the ship-of-the-day -- standing on a corner, looking around and seeming to be quite lost. Having sympathy for the sense of overwhelm that Limon can induce, I asked if they were looking for something. The woman noticeably perked up at hearing my question in English and said, “Yes! We need the internet!” I was happy to say I could help them and gave them exact directions to the eCenter only a few blocks away. Then, as I continued on my walkabout, it occurred to me that many people on the ships would likely be “hungry” for the internet upon arrival in Limon and that it would make sense for someone to stand at the pier when the ships come in and hand out little cards with information and a map to the eCenter. That little thought brought me face to face with a dilemma that has vexed me many, many times over the past few months I have been in Central America.

On one hand, I am moved by my love of commerce and my desire to help others succeed to offer ideas when they occur to me. On the other hand, the language barrier -- combined with what I can only describe in brief as a lack of imagination and initiative that is prevalent in these little latitudes -- makes it very hard for me to convey my ideas and the contextual understanding they often require. Most of the time, I have simply made a “note to self” and gone about my business. This time, my affinity for the nice young couple running the eCenter -- combined with their excellent English -- held sway and I decided to stop by after lunch and offer them my idea. When I got there, I first told them what had happened with the people on the street. The young man quickly said, “Yes, we know. The man said one of the locals told him where to find us.” (You can imagine my delight at being viewed as “one of the locals”!) I then shared my idea about handing out cards at the pier and he instantly replied, “That’s a great idea! Thanks!” We then exchanged farewells and I left, feeling good about how I had resolved the dilemma this time and not putting any stock in whether or not anything would come of it.

Ecenterlimon2Later on, at about six o’clock when I was heading out to find some dinner, I decided to stop by and go on-line for a few minutes. Just after I sat down and fired up my Mac, the young man came over to me and said, “Excuse me. Would you please look at this.” I have to admit that I was amazed -- shocked, actually -- when he handed me a printed sample of the card he had designed. Not only had he taken what I told him and actually done something with it, he had added some thought to it and made a really good card. I told him I thought it was very good, then he asked something which I have not encountered in a long time: “Do you have any suggestions?” I was so surprised that I was almost speechless, but I gathered my wits enough to offer a couple of minor additions which he accepted with enthusiasm then went back to his desk to work on the card.

So, what’s my point? Well, it goes something like this: First, for many years I consulted to commerce and, frankly, I got pretty burned out. I got worn down by business people who paid me for advice then responded with “We can’t do that” - “We’ve never done it that way before” - “We’re too busy” - “You don’t really know how our industry works” then did nothing except continue to whine about their business problems. To have an opportunity to make a contribution -- even a small one like my idea about the cards -- and have it enthusiastically embraced and actually acted upon was very refreshing. Second, by putting aside my preconceptions about language, communication and culture, I was rewarded by making a connection with someone who obviously shares my enthusiasm for commerce -- irrespective of our vastly different backgrounds and experiences.

So, what’s the bottom line? Well, I am reminded to keep my eye out for individuals -- whoever and wherever they may be -- who exhibit enthusiasm and openness for things I value, then take the risk to engage them gently and not have expectations about what happens. I might get back more than I could have imagined.

No comments: