I was preparing the next issue of the Health Board’s staff newsletter and wanted to have an interview with the Head of Budgets. I wasn’t looking forward to this interview. Not only was I rather in despair at the thought of having to try to make accountancy interesting, but having conducted several of these staff interview, I knew I was in for an hour of polite and dreary answers, shutters down.
I knew the Head of Budgets’ English wasn’t good, so I asked Laila, my translator, if she would go and do the interview for me. Maybe she would have more luck. I thought this would be a good developmental opportunity for her, as she is eager to develop her skills. Laila was delighted to be asked, but insisted she could not go alone and I would have to go too, as her chaperone. Then, normally so garrulous, she was adamant that she would only speak if there was an issue with the translation and could not ask any of the questions we had prepared. This wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, but as a first step it would do.
We reached Mr Abdulla’s office. He was charming and handsome, but Laila and I realised at precisely the same moment, with sinking hearts, that yet again we were getting stock answers to our newsletter questions. Each month we feature a member of staff and ask them about themselves, standard stuff: what their greatest achievement has been, what they like to do outside of work, and their favourite place, things like this. Back home, when I wrote similar newsletters, I used to get all sorts of intriguing answers; the best being from the most seemingly vanilla-flavoured civil servant, who told me at weekends he had a neon-blue Mohican and was a punk rocker.
But, in the desert, each month we get exactly the same answers. Greatest achievement: my children; hobby: being at home with the children; favourite place: at home with the children. I could write these interviews myself now without any reference to the individual. It reflects the pressures and fears of a society, where only certain answers are acceptable and individuality is frowned upon.
Laila was having none of it this time and told Mr Abdulla that everyone says these answers, and she didn’t believe it. She wanted different answers from him. I was so proud of her! I could not have said that to him. This month we actually have Mr Abdulla saying he likes to go fishing. It might not sound daring, but it’s a revolution for the staff newsletter.
And, for some forty minutes I don’t think I got more than three words in edgeways. Laila, for all her insistence that she was not going to speak a word, could not possibly do so in the presence of a man, just took full command and fired away with the questioning, and much more. I sat back and watched, as it was revealed that Mr Abdulla lives in the villa two doors down from Laila. His smile was dazzling.
In moments, the conversation veered away from our carefully prepared questions. Mr Abdulla, slowly and sadly, rubbed his movie-star beard, and his deep, dark eyes welled as he recounted his troubles with his mainly female team of accountants and administrators. Without taking a breath, Laila, eyes twinkling, started to give him all sorts of advice on how to manage his troublesome staff. There was plenty of advice on the need to give the worse offenders a very public ‘slapping’. Not that Laila meant a real physical slap, more a verbal one. Mr Abdulla started to smile again. His eyes glittered now.
And in a stroke, the dashing Mr Abdulla had offered Laila a job, managing his department for him, dishing out the requisite ‘slaps’. We’ll see what more gets caught after that sparkly, little interview!