I’ve been thinking about interviewing for jobs lately back in the states. This process led me to brainstorm skills that I’ve acquired or honed here in the Peace Corps. As I sat at my little desk by the heater (still), I kept coming back to the word ‘patience’. In fact, as I returned from my work at the orphanage today I looked down to see it circled and emboldened numerous times with tens of passes of the pen.
I didn’t have much experience or patience with children prior to my time here in Armenia, but I sure have been thrown to the wolves here. I work with possibly the most overly energetic and wholly inattentive group of youngsters to ever grace God’s green earth. These kids are absolutely crazy.
We’re currently working with the teenage boys in the home to prepare them for an inter-orphanage soccer tournament to take place in the national football stadium in the capital city. One would assume an easy sell, but unfortunately this is not the case. This ‘carrot’ has not proved adequate to squeeze even a modicum of civil behavior out of the group. At times during practice it’s like an out of body experience for me. I sometimes just float outside myself and survey the chaos swirling about me. Ignoring any sort of direction, the boys just run around aimlessly, yelling at each other, hitting each other, gathering various sharp and/or dangerous jabbing implements, smoking cigarettes, screaming in my ear just to see if I react and other such nonsense. I truly don’t have the words or ability to fully describe the chaos.
If I or the other volunteer (a Polish guy from a European organization) are able to finally wrangle the group into some semblance of a line it is bound to digress into some sort of pandemonium. Our practices, for the most part consist of an unfailing but never successful attempt to start some sort of organized activity. Our one success has been our post practice meetings where we review the activities that we attempted to begin that day. We, the coaches, are usually able to bring together most of the participants in a semi-recognizable group and bestow upon them a nugget or two of wisdom or observation. But even this has lately run into problems as some of the boys have taken to standing 15 feet outside the group and kicking the balls as hard as possible directly at the gathered group… and unfortunately they’re pretty good at it, often times hitting the younger kids in the head, inducing fits of crying. It’s really quite inexplicable (the kicking not the crying). It seems as soon as we take the balls away from one group, another bunch of boys is willing to grab rocks and start throwing them at the group. Our initial reaction was to ask them why in the world they are kicking balls and/or throwing rocks at the group. The answer inevitably is ‘vorovhetev’ (because). So we tell them that they can’t do it, that it’s ‘not allowed’. The answer, again inevitably comes back ‘Karili e’ (it is allowed). How is one to deal with this lack of rationality?! It’s as if we’re speaking different languages (which according to the score on my last Armenian language exam, I may well be). We’ve tried to ignore it all and not give them the attention we assume they’re seeking, but when balls and rocks are glancing of your head… at some point you have to put a stop to it.
Though their behavior necessitates the muttering of the serenity prayer under my breath nearly every practice, these young men are at their core wonderful kids who have merely caught innumerable tough breaks throughout their lives. They betray their tough facades with their need for contact and attention. They are trying so hard to do something for which we can praise them or merely acknowledge their existence that it clouds their ability to think or surely pay attention to my poorly formulated and slow Armenian. My patience has been pushed to the limit, but just as I want to physically accost these kids I’m always thankfully reminded that this is probably the reaction they’ve received their whole lives and are probably accustomed to. If I, a carefree American with nothing to worry about can’t come here and show them patience, then who can.
So I guess I have gained a little something here in the Peace Corps. Now If I ever have really crazy subordinates or a boss who won’t listen and prefers to kick soccer balls at my head… I’ll know what to do.