Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Type A in a Type B Land

The view from my desk
This period in Honduras is a first in so many ways. First extended period outside of Canada. First time as an international volunteer. First time I've stayed put in my travels for more than a few days.
It's also the first time I've worked in another culture, let alone another language. Barely into my second week in my new job with the Comision de Accion Social Menonita, I can see quite clearly that this aspect of life in Honduras might just be my biggest adjustment.
People back home have asked me to write more on what kind of work I'll be doing on behalf of Cuso International here in Honduras. I wish I could tell them more. But the truth is, the job description was vague - deliberately so, I suspect, as Cuso warned us all along that everything was likely to change once we actually started our placements. And the reality is in many ways even vaguer, and immensely complicated by a different language and culture.
The rough goal of my time here is to create some written history of CASM, and document the work the agency does in ways that will be useful for funding, Web site upgrades, or just general promotions the non-profit might need to do in other countries. Unlike Canada, non-profits are completely on their own in Honduras, without a scrap of government funding or the deep pockets of some benevolent foundation. Churches do most of the social work in Honduras, and rely on out-of-country funds from specific denominations or international aid organizations.
To achieve that goal, however, I can tell I'm going to have to be pushy. No problem normally, but tough when you don't yet speak the language competently. People in my workplace have no doubt concluded that I'm a quiet type who keeps to herself - far from the truth, but who can blame them when I spend so much of my time sitting mute, desperately trying to comprehend what's being said?
Pushy also isn't easy in a hierarchical work culture where perky suggestions from the floor aren't necessarily  welcomed. I'm a strategic type, and that part of me is going to be tested as never before if I hope to convince my bosses to clear a path for me to talk to the people I'll need to talk to in order to gather the stories of the organization. I know that's what they want me to do, but that doesn't mean it will be easy to make it happen.
Then there's the challenges of a very different work ethic. Hot countries are laid back. I'm no Torontonian, but I'm used to a fast-paced workplace and the pressure of endless deadlines. This land just doesn't do its work like that. This afternoon, my co-workers spent a good deal of time in the parking lot trying on jeans that somebody brought over, while I sat alone in the office looking like the workplace nerd.
I can't bear to take a two-hour lunch break and lose valuable work time, so I've had to make up an excuse that eating lunch makes me sleepy (it's true, mind you). I had to force myself into the coffee room today with everybody else for a long, chatty break over cake, just so I wouldn't come across as aloof.
But aside from looking like I'm not a team player, the other problem  is that I end up completing my work too fast.
Two days into the work week, I've already  finished a 5,000-word document for an upcoming workshop on women's and children's rights, despite all the Internet searches, translating back and forth and protracted periods of flipping through my Spanish-English dictionary required to make that happen.
 I reviewed the CASM Web site and sent a document to my boss suggesting changes I could work on. I took information on an upcoming Honduras-Canada student exchange and  rewrote it in English and Spanish. (Although there now appears to be no easy way of distributing the damn thing. Most of the people in my workplace don't even have email. How do they function??)
What I should have done was stretched that work out for at least a week, because tomorrow will be here soon and I don't have a clue what I'll do with my time.
Maybe I'll have to take a nice, long lunch break. Or maybe the jeans truck will be back.

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