I gotta be cool, relax

It has been a temples-pounding, head-aching, jaw-clenching kind of month and I didn’t really see it coming. Oh for sure I  knew that March and April would be busy, with 10 regional poetry recitation contests to deliver, and more than 700 students and their occasionally ditzy teachers to marshall. But busy doesn’t bother me. I like busy. It is enforced stillness I can’t bear. I am also keen on control. And action. And deadlines. It is an unpleasant and slightly  militaristic part of an otherwise right-brained approach to life that emerges in times of stress. I blame my father, and all those years working at the BBC.

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My rigid insistence on thinking ahead has served me well until now. Living in Western Europe and then in North America, my natural preferences for check-lists and schedules and nailing things down fits with the cultural psyche. ENTJ personalities like mine do well in a society that rewards results. Personalities like mine do not do so well in Armenia, where planners are pariahs, and the last minute is still at least a minute too soon.

It is easy to understand why Armenians don’t over-concern themselves with concepts like control. Let’s face it, every time they think something is settled–a border, a landscape, a population– something comes along and wrecks it all. When you’ve lived through a genocide, an earthquake or two, and the arrival and departure of the Soviets, you can be forgiven for throwing your hands in the air and shrugging Voch Inch (an all purpose Armenian expression equivalent to “no matter”, among other things). Still, for a people who drink so much coffee, they are surprisingly laid-back.

In America we get things organized early, so we have time and energy to respond to an emergency or something unforeseen, should it occur. In Armenia, my friends take exactly the opposite view. Something WILL go wrong they reason, and so you might as well wait to see what it is before wasting your effort on activities that might turn out to be totally unnecessary in a new reality. Come. Sit. Eat. Have a coffee and some chocolate. It will be alright.

liz lemon

In between the blood pressure surges, near-panic attacks and sleepless nights, I have learned a couple of useful things about how the world works. It seems people still turn up at the right place, at broadly the right time even when you haven’t quite got round to updating the website, emailing the details, or placing a reminder call. It is not the end of the world if  the pens weren’t packed, or the taxi doesn’t come. The problem can be solved. There is always time for coffee and chocolate. Warmth and good-humor and care are more appreciated by participants than neat rows and orderly lines. The two systems couldn’t be more different, but the evidence of the last 9 contests suggests the Armenian approach to event management is every bit as successful as the American one.  I know. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. But it works, it really works.

I would be lying if I said that I am now completely comfortable with trusting the universe and leaving the details to Friday night, but I am at least learning to cope. I practice NOT saying ” have you called the bus driver?” and “how many trash bags do we have in inventory”. So what if the man who may or may not have the certificates won’t be here until Thursday? There’s always Friday (blessed Friday) after all. Does it matter if an event billed to start at 10am isn’t quite up to speed until closer to 11:30am? Look! See! Everyone’s enjoying themselves–now they have  time to network. If it doesn’t kill me, it will make me more flexible, content in the here-and-now (not a place I usually live), and able to focus on what matters most. This, I suppose, is what people join Peace Corps for.

I’m at a loose end because it is only Monday. No point moving towards the printer for days yet. Why bother the janitor at Saturday’s school?–he won’t be thinking about us just now. This morning I couldn’t find the prize bags. What of it? I expect they’ll turn up… Best if I  make some coffee, and have another mini Twix. Breathe. Just breathe.

BTW, in everyday life I usually test ENTP on the Myers Briggs Type Inventory-it is only national events with tight turnarounds that bring out the Commander in me. 


About Liz Barron

Returned US Peace Corps Volunteer (Armenia 17-19). Permanent address in Washington DC. Deep roots in Northern Ireland and persistent Belfast accent. Blogger, cook, painter, mother, grandma, Scrabble-player and enthusiastic world traveller.
This entry was posted in Armenia, Chillin', Cross-cultural understanding, Diplomacy, Education, errors of judgement, fear, Myers Briggs, Peace Corps, personal failings, Stress management, Wellness. Bookmark the permalink.

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