My work is going really well here. The job is challenging, I’m using my brain, and I feel like what I’m doing is sustainable, which, in development, is very important.
I have two offices, one at which I spend most of my time, and one at which I spend maybe an hour at the end of every day. As a result, there’s not much to say about my second office, except that the bathroom is swarmed by kamikaze mosquitoes, and the sink is not connected to a pipe, so the water just falls through into a bucket, splashing water all over your legs. That is, when there’s water.
The real fun happens at my first office, where I’m blessed with great, responsive Burundian colleagues. They all stop by my office in the morning to say hello, and my supervisor checks on me three times a day to make sure I’m surviving. She’s a sweet woman who laughs easily, and is always very concerned about how I’m doing and if my office is too dusty. When I first arrived, she was anxious because she wanted to have an air conditioning unit installed in my office, but it hadn’t happened. Later, when she walked me around the office, introducing me to everyone, and brought me into what she called the “Experts Room.” “Oh!” she exclaimed. “You’re an expert! You should sit in here! If you want, of course. They have air conditioning!” I laughed at the thought of being considered an “expert,” and told her that I really, really didn’t need air conditioning. An open window was good enough for me. Last year, I was temporarily working out of a U.S. Embassy, and literally freaked out because I couldn’t open the windows to let in some fresh air.
The building has wireless internet, which works most of the time (this is pretty miraculous). Everyone has fairly nice computers with stickers on them proclaiming that they were a gift of this-or-that NGO, but I’m not totally convinced that computer skills are advanced, on the whole. One of my colleagues became flustered when I asked her if she could send me a document by email (to avoid viruses that could be transmitted through key drives). She told me that she didn’t know how, so I sat down with her and we went through it together. She was happy that she had a new skill, and I was happy that I didn’t get a virus.
Anyone walking by my office tends to pop their head in—it’s a very friendly place—and one fellow who had heard that I was American came to introduce himself. He was teaching English classes to some of my colleagues, as he had just been certified (I’m not really sure what this means, but his English is admittedly better than most Burundians I’ve met). I was happy to chat in English for a couple of minutes, but I was quite busy, with papers strewn about, and was trying to drop hints that I had some things that I needed to do. Subtlety was unfortunately lost on him, and he instead sat down and talked for 20 minutes. I supposed that he was just overjoyed to talk to a native speaker, but I tried to take longer glances at my computer screen.
Finally, he got up, and as he walked out, he said, “By the way, are you single, or married? I mean, are you a bachelor?” I couldn’t help laughing at being called a bachelor, so I corrected him. Then he insisted that I hadn’t answered his question. Sigh. I hate this question. Sometimes, it’s just to make pleasant conversation, but more often than not, people just want to know if you’re available—but just because I’m not married doesn’t mean I’m available! He still comes by every day, despite the fact that he works in the next building.
Later that day, sitting at my desk, I heard strange sounds from the window. It sounded like a radio—below my office window is the parking lot where all the drivers sit in the shade and listen to the radio until someone emerges asking for a ride. I ignored it for a while, because it was soft, but it became louder, until I could ignore it no longer. It was a woman moaning. I thought that while it sounded…ahem…strange
, it might be a public service announcement about an illness, and she was actually moaning in pain. That is, until the men started laughing, stopping it, and playing it again, and I realized that it was, in fact, some kind of taped pornography.
I thought of closing my windows, but it was too hot.
Eventually, the moaning subsided, and the quiet of the office was replaced by what I’m fairly sure was a Celine Dion Greatest Hits CD, complete with that song from Titanic. What is it about people around here and Celine Dion? As I sit in the coffeeshop and type, the music is alternating between Celine Dion and Kenny G. (Sigh.)
After another round of Celine’s CD today, everyone filed out of the office at noon, planning to reconvene in the afternoon for sports. Yes, sports. Every week, the staff of the entire building plays soccer together, or goes for a walk, or does some sort of physical activity. Some people even come to work in their tracksuits!