The content of this webpage, and everything associated with this webpage, is independent of the Peace Corps and the United States Government, though I think they should read it too. This blog solely reflects the experiences and observations of Jake DeBerry.

Monday, October 15, 2007

First month in...the job

After a month living here, life has still to present any type of routine or normalcy that I’ve known in my past lives. That lack of normalcy produces some anxiety, part of it is probably because every time I interact, I am bound to be confused somehow, though my Spanish isn’t bad now. Usually, three people are talking to me at once, one in Spanish, one in Quechua, and one mixing the two languages. I try to give the best “I’m confused and can only listen to one person at a time” look, but that look must be in English because they keep on until eventually I just say yes to everyone and have now promised to marry someone’s daughter, baby-sit some sheep, and to go drink the local liquor whose closest relative is rubbing alcohol and flames aren’t allowed within 10 feet. When I’m one on one, the conversations are usually good and don’t end up with me saying yes to some odd request.

So the job is pretty interesting and the pictures scattered throughout this post are products. The first three months, you don’t really do much – and the first month of those three, a sloth is probably more productive. I have though, been learning quite a bit about the problems of my association, and in general, the problems of any association where there is no boss (probably why you don’t see this type of group in the States or Europe).

The primary group I’m working with are potters/ceramists. They seem to be very talented in their art and the town I’m living in is known for the ceramics. It seems that if you are born here, when you are 3 or 4 years old, instead of play-dough you get clay and are told to start making vases.

Throw everything you know about business, teamwork, ambition, efficiency, and many other factors of working life out the window. Take this example, another volunteer who lives close to me, his host-mother didn’t know the world was round. My friend used two bowls on top of each other to explain to her that the world is round (and not 6,000 years old like the bible says…I’ll tackle religion in another post soon). Take that example and extrapolate that type of education into business. From the records my association has kept over the past year, I’ve uncovered they have made about 20 sols per month per person – which is about $6 dollars a month. But then I haven’t factored in errors, miscalculations, or lies about profits/costs in those numbers.

The way an association is supposed to work is that you bring together the collective skills of the group. Two minds are better than one, 4 hands better than two, etc. The idea is that they can produce more, combine artistic ability, and overall create a pipeline of products sharing the process steps, creating a brand, then attracting and retaining customers. Then the group splits the profits evenly – and that’s where one of the problems arises – how do you know everyone is working evenly? Currently, that seems to be one of the biggest speedbumps and instead of solving this, most just shrug their shoulders and go do something else, like drink.

I am still observing and learning how things work here and the cultural differences about sensitive topics and how to approach it, like work and money and trust. For instance, confrontation here doesn’t work. You can’t just have a 10 minute conversation about something that needs to happen or change, you need to have tea first (if they can afford tea). I get looked at weirdly sometimes because I’m straight to the point and then I’m out.

Primarily, with exception of a few, most don’t think much about the before or after of making their products. That’s what I’m here for.
(The pictures are all products that my group makes. I'm currently working on putting together a catalog so I have a bunch.)


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