Monday, October 22, 2007

The sitting monkey act

I’m at my new site and have started at my organization. I guess I have really been here almost a month now. We are all placed with organizations but are expected to only help there and then work on an equal number of independent projects. My organization is an agro marketing center. There is only one man who works here, and one girl who volunteers as a secretary of sorts, I imagine to gain skills and just have something to do because life in the village is pretty uneventful. – My org. basically works to supply information to both farmers and build relationships between them and supplies because there is no trust. My organization is under ACTIVTA’s “control” at least for a couple more years, and still further under the OXFAM umbrella, which is working with agriculture in the region through my center, and an organization called ARAN and another called FinDEV – each with its own area of work. – Actually OXFAM puts a lot of money into a wide range of programs in Azerbaijan and all over the world. Basically, I was told I am here to work with women farmers. Women do something like 70% of the work in agriculture, but because they are women it is very hard for them to get loans(which they are actually more prone to paying back and using for the purposes they say), participate in trainings or even express their needs and problems to those who might be able to help. Most of this is simply due to the fact they cant socialize with “strange” men, and sense men typically work and women stay at home they cant go into the city and talk to a man about a loan, or go to a training given by a man, or even openly talk to a man about their issues.
So here I am, at a “drop center” in the regions, brought in by AKTIVTA to satisfy the people at OXFAM.- the funding- Which is what makes it twice as difficult and slow. Not only am I a young woman, but I am pretty sure my “counterpart” is not so happy about me. And in his defense, I can see why. They brought a foreigner in and said here, she is going to help work with marketing, international projects and women, if not explained right it is quite a slap in the face and I am beginning to think I was not really explained well at all. It seems like an insult or implication that he cannot do his job. I have no idea how well he does his job, all I know is I am basically here for the monkey dance, to help with communication, and to bring a different way of looking at things. Of course, even if I was explained with all the eloquence of the world there would probably still be confusion and distrust me. Most people just cant fathom why you would leave the US to come here an do work for no money, so they usually don’t believe you. They often think you are rich, lying about not getting paid or just a spy. In addition, they chunked me in at a time when they are trying to do an overhaul on this center. In a year they expect this office to be self-sustainable. That means they have to expand their activities and start finding ways to bring in income. That means dues, new projects, anything to get their own funding. Actually, most NGO’s seem to start in one are and then just branch out to all. I think they are just all scrambling to make money any way they can. The unfortunate thing is that working in an NGO here is nothing like you expect. That is because people are working in them not because they have this overwhelming urge to help but because they are the best paying jobs you can find in the regions. So they just don’t care as much and often sink into the same corruption that is killing the economy as a whole.
Right now my counterpart still views me as an outsider intruding on him. And it does not help that the head guy is pushing so much, and evidently did not explain me very well. The other day he was here and they were arguing back and forth – The head guy was translating every once in a while. Then they got to me. He said he was trying to explain what I was doing here, what my purpose was and what I could bring. It just seems like he should have been very clear on that before I gut here, but then that is just how Azeris work. Back to the idea of perceptions – when I first got here he wanted to know if I had a degree. International business I said, why did they not send someone with a agro degree he wanted to know – I did not have an answer. Then when he was talking with the head guy, the head guy was trying to explain how I could help with this and that, including marketing, just new ideas, outside observations – well I did not have a marketing degree he said. They funniest thing is if you give me enough money and a little time I’m sure I could buy myself a lovely marketing degree right her in good ol Azerbaijan, that’s how most people get theirs anyway. Just joking, I’m not sure how many do but I know that it is done frequently. You can buy your way into school, buy your grades, and sometimes even if your grades are good you may still have to pay for them. There is a reason why Azerbaijan is one of the top 10 most corrupt countries in the world. Number 3 I think – Any how, it is just going to take time for him to get used to me – The head office is pushing him to take me when he goes out and works so I have been told once the agro fair we are hosting this month is over and he is not so busy he will take me but we will see. AKTIVTA is just pushing, “start projects, you can do what ever you like, give us new ideas”, Whoa there sir, one step at a time. I have only been a month and my counterpart still thinks I’m a gorilla in a tutu(as peace corps so wonderfully explained it to us) One of the very good side is my only request during site placement was an organization that did not need me much so I could do a lot of community work. Looks like I got it.


Khalipha said...

Good words.

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