September 3rd, 2010
Have you ever seen the movie ‘Office Space’? If you haven’t please take the time to borrow/rent it and watch it before reading this blog…don’t worry I’ll wait…I’ve got plenty of time.
So, I was talking with a friend the other day, telling him about my most recent blow to the gut – my counterpart asked to take my office –he laughed and said I was like that guy from ‘Office Space’, Milton. Obviously this is not a kind reference but after getting off the phone, I re-watched the movie and found an un-canny similarity between me and this character.
First let’s assume that Ethiopia is INITECH and the movie’s boss, Lumbergh, is my community, Arjo Guddettu. Now for those of who have seen the movie you may be saying “whoa, hold on, you’re a Peace Corps Volunteer how are you not that laid back guy, that just does what ever he wants and wins in the end”? Oh, how I wish I was. I’m not saying this is the case for all PCVs ; there are many PCVs that are total Peters. I’m just not one of them. With that being said, the reason I am Milton is because no matter what Arjo does to me I just take it, complain about it, but then ultimately just go about my work.
OH, you decided to remove the fencing around my garden for HIV+ people and the cows ate our vegetables…I guess you had a good reason, I will replant.
OH, you sold the chickens for the poultry IGA that I spent 1 ½ years creating so now all I have is a very expensive four room house…right, I will figure out how to salvage what we can from the project.
OH, there aren’t enough testing kits for the market VCT center that I built with my Christmas money…no worries I will find some more…oh, you don’t care that I found more you have ANOTHER excuse not to do it…no worries, I’ll get you per-diem so you will be paid extra….oh, you still would rather sit on your ass, FINE!
OH, you aren’t following my trash burn protocol and kids are STILL taking used syringes out of the health center trash pit…no worries, I will spend my own money and labor to build a lock box for the trash pit, no please, it’s my pleasure.
No matter what Arjo has thrown at me I’ve simply taken it in, digested it and figured out a way to make it work. But this week they have dealt their final blow. They asked for my office. Now, if you are a RPCV or a current PCV your probably thinking what’s the big deal, ‘the community is you office’ or ‘now you don’t have to be responsible to show up anywhere…sweet’ but as I explained earlier I am not a normal PCV. The only thing that has provided me with solace and kept me going the last 21 months is this office…it’s my space…it’s my thank you… it’s my recognition…it’s my validation. And at this point it’s all I got.
I was approached by the VCT (voluntary counseling and testing) guy, Gamichis, yesterday and after a few minutes of friendly chat this is the conversation that ensued:
Gamichis: Jaaili, they want to move my office to the old storage unit. I think this is not good. It is old and dark and it will not provide me comfort.
Jaaili (me): Oh Gamichis, I am sorry, but I am trying working on a grant to re-mud and re-paint that house so it will be very comfort. But, if you would like I will be leaving in December and perhaps you can use my office after that.
Gamichis: Yes, Mekonen (the head of the health center) was afraid to ask you but I would like to take your office.
Jaaili: In December….?
Gamichis: No, now, I think it is best.
Gamichis: you will move to the old storage unit if you still would like an office.
Jaaili: Uhhhh… but I share the office with two other people what will they do?
Gamichis: Okay, we will tell him when he returns from his training in Nekemte.
Now maybe I seem selfish is this conversation. I’m a volunteer, I should be doing everything I can to help. But Gamichis spends 90% of his time outside his office going for walks, and has refused to participate in any of my VCT campaigns in the last 5 months PLUS still owes me 300 birr from the training he did not attend in which I spotted him travel money, (being stood up at a training where a ton of per-diem is offered is more than embarrassing). I however use my office to write grants, hold meeting with the PLWHA association I created, organize on-going projects, and write letters to America (very important cross-cultural work). I couldn’t explain to him what this little space in the health center meant to me…I probably can’t explain it to anyone, but having it taken away is like the final “Fuck You” from Arjo.
And you know what they DID take my stapler… 2 to be exact! I guess there’s only one solution…burn the place down!
SIDE NOTE: Since writing this I found out that Gamachis is a big fat fibber and the head of the health center never had any intention of taking my office, if fact he was very embarrassed when I brought it up to him and said it was only Gamachis trying to make me feel bad. So I am in fact, not Milton! Arjo, I guess I owe you an apology...sorry!