Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Drama of Crying Wolf

It's been a dramatic and pretty unproductive week in the office. In short, my colleagues have been under quite a bit of stress as we've been in limbo trying to figure out what's going on with one of our partners. They haven't received a paycheck in two months, and my colleagues are trying to figure out what to do. The nerves have been getting to everyone, and we started working on another project on Monday. One of my colleagues said that maybe it was difficult to write and focus because they were so wrapped up in what was going on with our other project, not getting paid, etc. My boss flipped out. He accused her of "demotivating" others, and we all got into an argument.
For the next three days, my boss decided not to come into the office. We were upset and confused, and we didn't know what to do. Ani was acting as a liason between office staff and her husband. She'd tell him what work we were trying to do on the project, and he'd always have something negative to say about it that would discourage us from diving into it the next day. We got some work done, but we were defeated and didn't know what was going on.
By Friday, the colleague who made the original comment had decided that she should quit. She felt that she was to blame for whatever ambivalence had arisen in the office. She tried to call Yanko to give him the news, but he wasn't picking up the phone. We were all quiet in the office.
It's funny, 'cause I had been thinking, "What a beautiful morning! I feel like my town should burst into song... like everyone I see should be a participant in a musical." Once I got to the office, even though the mood was heavy, I wasn't bothered. And I think I know why. Literally, if I had a dollar for every time one of my colleagues talked about quitting, I'd have quite the racket going. It seems like the subject comes up every other week.
She finally got through to Yanko, and she told him that she was quitting. He said he'd come into the office to talk. So we sat down, and we talked. In the beginning, it was heated. Finally, we were able to calm down and talk like civilized adults. We reached an understanding, or what I like to call a "temporary cease-fire," and my colleague decided not to quit... until next time.
I'm glad my colleague didn't quit. Believe me. I'm relieved. However, after we reached a consensus and understood Yanko's point of view, I was actually upset. I'm tired of these arguments. I've told my colleagues before that yelling at each other is unproductive, and it only creates an uncomfortable atmosphere. Nothing ever changes. The funny thing is, they still want my advice. They seek it out, and they appreciate it. Advice is cheap.
It flatters me. I'll be honest. On a few occasions, I've been listening to my colleagues debate a topic, and I'll just listen. At some point in the conversation, the person who's dealing with the issue will turn to me and say, "Apryl, I want your opinion. What do you think of this?" And usually, I'll give it.
At one point during our conversation yesterday, a dialogue was going on between Yanko and me, and my other colleagues were listening:
Yanko: "Do you know how many times I've thought, 'Wow. Apryl is right.'"
Apryl: (laughs) "Do you say it to me?"
Yanko: "Okay, so maybe I don't say it to you, but I think it."
We continued to discuss what our problems are and how we can't seem to communicate, and I started listening again. Suddenly, Yanko turned to me and said, "Apryl. I want your opinion."
Apryl: (raised eyebrows) "My opinion on what? All of this?"
Yanko: "Yes." (looking intently and listening)
Apryl: (sigh) "Well, I think there's a breakdown of communication in this office, and I think it comes from the fact that we're constantly yelling at each other. We work together in this small office, so we're constantly bumping into each other, and we're like a family. When a family member is displeased with us, it hurts us more than just some stranger on the street. In other workplaces, there's some distance between colleagues that helps maintain professionalism. Our office isn't like that. We're great friends, but we can't work together. When someone is displeased, we're all hurt. And the tone and the yelling.... When someone is yelling at me about a mistake I've made, I'm not focusing on what they're saying. All I know is that they're yelling at me, and I don't like it. Plus, we don't compliment each other. We don't talk about all the things others have accomplished. We only highlight their short-comings. It's natural for that person to think that they're utterly useless, and we don't need to talk about how much that feeling sucks. Also, I don't know how you and Ani work together...."
Throughout my whole discourse, Yanko was nodding. He kept saying, "You're absolutely right." What does it matter... me being "right?" Maybe I'm right. Maybe I'm not, but is anything really going to change? I love my colleagues, but I refuse to work in such an environment. I'm only still there because I've made a commitment and there's light at the end of the tunnel. The day will come when I won't work in that office any longer. My colleagues might be hurt to hear me say it, but that would go for anywhere where there was constant argument and conflict. The only way I would work in such an environment in the states would be if I were living from paycheck to paycheck. Even then, I'd be looking for something else. We're like little children on the playground. You kick dirt in my face, and I push you down. You cry and refuse to talk to me for the next few hours. Later, we grasp hands and run for the swings. You run too fast for me, and I fall. I blame you. Repeat silent treatment. It's a dysfunctional relationship.
This week, I broke out one of the frisbees I got from another generous volunteer. Can you believe that they don't have frisbees in Bulgaria? Well, if they do, most people here have never seen one. I have such great memories of playing frisbee with my uncles (and others) - in my Grandma's backyard, at the ocean, etc. A flying disc seems so basic to me. I don't know. But the kids have loved it. Who would have thought that a flying saucer could be so much fun? A few kids, however, basically say, "What's with this 'frisbee crap?' I wanna play baseball!"
I haven't started baseball yet. The weather has been finicky, and it's been a good excuse to delay the season. The truth is, I think about adding baseball to my schedule, and I get drained just thinking about it. It's not like I really do all that much. It just means 11-12 hour days for me, and I really like my down time. I find I need it - even though I'm really not that productive. Being in the office, even if we're not really doing anything, is draining. You can probably see why from what I wrote above.
Of course, the kids don't see it that way. Why should they? They're kids! Baseball is fun! I miss the blissful ignorance of youth - when someone else was in charge. I round them up to go home, and they start whining. How can you want to go? This is so fun! I tell them that I'm hungry; that they have mommies to cook for them, and I don't. They suggest my mom come and cook for me as well. It's hard to understand adults when you're a kid, and it's hard to understand anyone else's mindset in general. I just wonder when I turned into an "adult?" I guess it's when I decided to be in charge of activities involving kids, and I realize I don't see things from their point of view anymore. I'm tired, and I want to go home. I'm twenty-seven, and there are lines starting to crease my face. It's freaking me out!
I went to the Adventist church today. I haven't been in ages. The only reason I went was because a couple members have been asking me where I've been. Well, that, and probably God was encouraging me to go. I think I've mentioned before the reasons that I don't go often. They're all selfish. I'm glad I went today. One of the members, an acquaintance of mine, had lost her mother and was terribly distraught. I doubt I was able to comfort her, but at least I was there. We also had a visitor - a young boy who studies at the university in Plovdiv.
Have you ever met someone that struck you as just so pure and naïve? You almost didn't want to talk or interact with them because you were afraid that you would somehow corrupt them, or they would see you for the sinful creature that you are? That's how I felt with this boy. He had the most beautiful, innocent face, and you could tell that he was on fire for God. He was asked to address the congregation after the service. The leader knew that I was expecting a guest, and he went overboard making sure I knew I could leave. Finally, they figured out that I wasn't going anywhere, and the boy got up to talk. He spoke about an Adventist conference he had attended in Germany, and it was interesting to hear how he saw God taking care of him along the way. Afterwards, of course, I was introduced to him, and he tried speaking to me a bit in English. We didn't talk much. Honestly, I shied away from him for the reasons I mentioned above.
The congregation is, honestly, amazing. There are elderly women who can barely walk, but are whip-smart. I was talking to one afterwards, and I love her. We disagree on doctrine as she's a staunch Adventist, and I consider myself a non-denominational Christian, but I realized it was pointless getting into a theological debate with her. Not only would neither of us change our point of view, but we'd be arguing for arguments sake, and she'd probably beat me in an argument anyday. She's well-read.
As a personal confession, I wonder why it is that I sometimes get so defensive. It's interesting. There are some things that I feel so passionately about, that my shield automatically goes up at the most pointless times. For example, the church leader was talking to a woman next to me about the 24-hour period, and he said, "Maybe Apryl doesn't know this, but a day is actually from..." "Sunset to sunset," I cut him off, "I know." And it was so pointless to cut him off to prove that I knew that. Who would know that I might know that? I guess, I figure I've told them that I was raised in an Adventist church and attend one back home, and I feel like they should just know that Advenitism is Adventism everywhere (except for the meat issue and patronizing businesses on the Sabbath, apparently - and even that differs in regions in the states as well), and I've been "sub-cultured" into the same doctrine that they talk about every Saturday. Adventism is not foreign to me - just like it's not foreign to anyone else who grew up in the church. It's almost the same as being born into a culture... seriously. I imagine it's a bit the same with other denominations.
I get most defensive when it comes to my work. Ask any layperson on the street what I do here, and they will probably tell you that I teach English. I don't know why it irritates me so. A lot of my time is spent trying to get people to grasp English, but that's still a small part of why I'm here. What do I expect people to say? "She works with an organization that encourages education and integration. This means that she spurs non-conventional learning through educational campaigns, informational sessions, and sports - like baseball, volleyball, football, basketball, etc. She stimulates the development of youth, and she brings an outside perspective to the projects of the organization she works for. And, occasionally, she finds time for English and Spanish lessons." Are they going to say this? No! Puh-leeze. That would be absurd. And am I going to say it? What? No! Am I crazy? Am I so full of myself? Should I tout the lofty goals I barely aspire to? Who am I? Would they even understand? It's easier for everyone to just say that I "teach English." And I simmer and stew in the fact that my town has no idea why I'm here or what I'm doing. "What? You're not teaching English right now? Then what are you doing?" (sigh). I wonder if I would feel better if they said, "She plays with children," or "She works with children." Even that wouldn't cover it. I don't feel like I work with children that much anyway. Heck! Even I can't define what I do. How should I expect them to do it for me?


Johnny Workentine said...

Going to the church was a great idea. Nothing like a little bit of celebration:

Anonymous said...

You're tired and upset, and seem to be losing sight over the big picture. Do your personal best and ignore the rest. As a bulgarian I can tell you that: you're never gonna catch the light at the end of the tunnel if you start thinking in these terms. Do what feels right, and expect no recognition. I'm sending you boatloads of it instead! I do!

Go Cubbies! 7-1 over the Mets tonight!