Saturday, May 26, 2012

Managing Meetings in Mozambique

Good day, America! How is it going? As you all get ready to embrace the wonderful summer months, our school year is pretty much smack-dab half way done, and the time continues to feel like it’s moving faster and faster! As May comes to a close, I am getting ready to enter my final 6 months as a PCV in Mozambique. Although some days I feel I could be ready to go tomorrow, most days I feel like I have a good 180ish days left (but who’s counting??). Unfortunately, after 20 or so months in one place, the things I have to update about are getting less and less. I’m still loving teaching, my secondary projects are still an incredible inspiration or an incredible frustration, depending on the day, and my life continues to be, for the most part, very enjoyable.

That being said, one activity that I am totally ready to throw out the window is the dreaded school meeting. After a year and a half in Kaunda, I’ve had my fill. Just to give you a taste of the infuriating aspects of a school meeting, and to prepare you in case you ever chance upon working in a Mozambican school in the future, I have compiled here a “survival guide.”

Rule 1: Your schedule or outside commitments do not matter. The only time-table that is of concern is that of the “chefe,” or whoever is in charge of the meeting. So what if the meeting was supposed to start at 8? So what if every other person left their house on time and is ready to go? If he is not there, the meeting will not start. When he walks in 2 hours late (and I am not exaggerating, 2 hours is completely normal), do not expect an apology. You are not giving him your time, he is giving you his time. The underlying thing to remember is that you are not important. Your attendance, however, is.

Rule 2: If you so happen to walk in late, it is perfectly acceptable to interrupt whoever is speaking to make sure you greet all your colleagues. No matter if the school director is talking or not, you will walk in and say “Bom dia, colegas.” You will draw attention to the fact that you are late, but no one will be offended.

Rule 3: The agenda will be read aloud, and it will be read as it is written, no matter how inaccurate the delay has deemed it. For example, if the meeting was supposed to start at 8 am, the chefe will begin with “At 8 am, we will have our welcome. At 8:30…” etc. All good, right? Well, not so good if it is now 10:30. But don’t worry, no one will ever remark on the fact that it is completely wrong.

Rule 4: If you have something you would like to discuss, the appropriate time is after the agenda reading. You can basically say everything you have to say then, but just know that you are just alerting everyone of your issue to be discussed later. The chefes will write down details of your speech, and then later you will repeat everything again to actually be discussed.  No need to paraphrase on either occasion. Do not worry about not being efficient with the time; not wasting time is the least of everyone’s concerns.

Rule 5: It is totally appropriate to completely speak poorly of someone else, present or not, at the meeting. They will show no emotions. You could call them lazy, dirty, slutty… whatever you want. The person will keep looking straight ahead, and most importantly, will not hold it against you afterward.

Rule 6: (Related to rule 5) It is totally appropriate for someone to speak poorly of you. If this happens, make sure to keep looking straight ahead, and most importantly, not hold it against the person afterward.

Rule 7: There is no such thing as inappropriate laughter. If someone is being loudly, angrily yelled at by the director, it is definitely acceptable to laugh at them. The director will not laugh, he will continue yelling and looking very angry, but the anger has nothing to do with the laugher. In fact, even if it is you being yelled at, if you laugh while they yell at you, no one will think any less of you, either. It is not seen as disrespectful. It is almost expected, in fact.

Rule 8: It is completely acceptable to be blatantly doing other work during the meeting, so go ahead and bring that crossword. Most teachers use meetings as lesson planning time, and  make no effort to hide that they are not paying attention. Integrate! Do the same!

Rule 9: The meeting will go on until the chefes want it to end, so be fully prepared to be sitting in a dark classroom (if your school has no electricity) thinking longingly about the dinner you have yet to start cooking. You will start to add up the times of all the things you’ll have to do before you can actually eat. Bleach vegetables? 15 minutes. Peel and chop garlic? 5 minutes. Cook the main dish? 30 minutes. Cook the rice after? Another 20 minutes. Don’t allow yourself to add it all up… it will just get depressing.

Rule 10: This is the most important rule, and where I will end. Remember that this meeting style is only temporary. When you get back to America, it will not be okay to show up over an hour late, to interrupt the leader as he is speaking, to waste time with long-winded complaints, to openly insult your collagues, or to laugh at them when they are being insulted. While Mozambique may change you in many ways, please allow these habits to stay in Mozambique. Except for maybe the idea that you should not let what others say linger with you. That is one habit that should not only be carried with you when you go, but also shared with your friends and family back home.

So, I hope that helps you in the case that you ever enlist for Peace Corps and end up in my village someday. Good luck! The song for this post is The Beatles’ “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da.” No reason, just a good song! Hope you enjoy a wonderful June and have some time to rest!