Monday, October 24, 2011

When you work, what is your job?

It’s funny how some things from childhood remain such vivid memories as an adult.  Being born a Capricorn or maybe due to a loose strand of DNA, I am prone to streaks of stubbornness, which used to easily morph into a tantrum rage when things didn’t go my way.  This led to extreme pouting, so much so my grandmother would tell me “If you stick out that lip any further, I will be able to sit on it.”  When you are 5, that image alone is enough to create behavior change.  

I’ve learned that things are not always intended to go ‘my way’.  I’ve no count of the times I’ve asked myself, “Why has this happened?  Just give me patience!”  So naturally, it would turn out I would end up in the Peace Corps where “it all takes time, just be patient, it can take a year to really integrate, build trust and don’t push or be pushy” are staples of the Tongan training diet.  Last December we completed training, were sworn in and sent out into the Tongan world.  My world would be working with a Tongan church and their money transfer business.

My invitation to service was as a business teacher and I was looking forward to it - a lot.  My whole business career has been pretty much working in offices and taking a turn in the classroom was different, challenging.  So, when I got to Nuku’alofa, I came to my post as a business consultant, i.e. an office worker.  Gotcha!  Well, I’ve never worked for a church before, I told myself.  That will be different.  I’ve worked in a lot of money transfer environments before, so that isn’t so different.

I had met my counterpart-to-be prior and he had asked if I had a computer with me.  Hearing I did, he said to bring it to the office as they have a wireless network and I could access email, etc.  Well, good on me, because when I got there, I realized there were only three computers and not one of them intended for my use.  It was downhill from there.  My counterpart just sort of disappeared most days, and my supervisor tells me that she is going to New Zealand for 3 months and I’m thinking, “Dudes, what’s up?  If you hadn’t picked me up at the airport, I might think you didn’t even know I was coming.”  Oh, I did get an assignment to write a foreign exchange policy.  That was it.  So on my own, I started to do some basic workflows to learn how the work and money moves (always important) and you would have thought I was trying to take everyone's job away.  I didn’t blame the staff, I’m betting they were never told much about why I was coming to work there – so, at least, all of us were in the dark on the secret. Then it was decided to have an audit of the business and they would wait for that before knowing what I would work on.

I knew in my soul that I had gone through all this for a purpose and there was a reason to be here.  It wasn’t time for all of that business stuff yet, I had to integrate, build relationships with my co-workers, the church compound workers and my neighbors.  Each day I’d get ready, greet everyone with a smile and a hearty malo e lelei – thinking maybe this is the day it will all make sense.  People would ask, “What are you doing?  How’s work?”  #Just fine, doing good, don’t ask for details because I don’t know.  My program officer at Peace Corps was getting quite persistent and I reassured her that there was an audit ongoing, the staff was most welcoming and friendly and the results will help them decide my action plan.  Meanwhile, I was integrating, everything was going to work out, I wasn’t complaining, don't vote me off the island and patience is a virtue!

I had been doing some data entry work, and although I was glad they were taking the time to get their transactions into some kind of database, my program manager was adamant it was a job they could hire a temp to do and I should be doing seminars and training of staff.  I had previously tried to organize an activity, my supervisor said the staff thought it was a good idea but the church conference was coming up, people would have to take time off to cook for all the guests, so we would have to wait until that was over.  The training never happened.  And so, I continued on, smiles, determination, resolve and facing each day as it would be the dawning of Aquarius.

One day a trio of ministers came in, gathered everyone near and an announcement was made.  The conversation was in Tongan, I knew it was serious and after it was over, I found out that we were to have a new General Manager and Aquarius had indeed dawned.  Since then, he has reorganized, re-aligned, fired and promoted.  My program manager was thrilled and sent a letter off to the Board telling them of my background, what Peace Corps expected my role to be and ways I could help.  The GM gave me the new org chart and asked if I could write job descriptions.  With a quick “no problem” I went to work and gave him the first one to him to review.  After a lot of smiles and no corrections to my draft, I then proceeded to finish the 15 or so others, then moved on to edit the staff policy manual and create a staff confidentiality agreement.  He presented everything at a Board meeting and came back to tell me they affirmed my role as a Business Consultant and Advisor.  'Aho fiefia!  A happy day, indeed.  We’re now in the midst of some financial reconciliation (can’t seem to get away from that even in Tonga!) and general ledger development.  Just before I left on vacation, I submitted a grant application for a new computer installation in the office  Still awaiting word and hopeful it will happen soon.  There will be a lot to do when we can implement that.  It’s just a matter of being patient. 

And as the GM told me the other day, ‘‘ 'Oua fakavavevave.” / Don’t rush.  “We will take things slowly.”

So, Kris, thanks for asking the question.  It was very timely, and oh, when I work, it’s Monday through Thursday, 8:30 – 5:00.


  1. Really enjoyed reading this... I always laugh that often "'oua fakavavevave" often just means "don't get me to do this work..." Sorry for the frustration, I feel you...

  2. Happy Day Indeed! :) You have the patience of a saint and are making us all very proud