Monday, June 28, 2004

Pushing forward

It's Tuesday morning and the rain is falling in Yerevan. This country gets a lot of precipitation for being as treeless as it is. People tell me that there are few trees because most of them were chopped down and used for firewood during the winters of the early 90s when the city had no electricity. I can't imagine what kind of misery that brought.

There's so much to write about that it's hard to know where to begin. I went to a concert, last evening. One of the things that I really love about former Soviet states is that you can get in to an orchestra concert, ballet, or opera for literally pennies. Last night's event cost about $1.70, and it was a wonderful showcase of music by Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, and a modern Armenian composer whose daughter was the featured pianist. The event was attended by lots of important looking people, but the big celebrity was the Catholicos of the Armenian Orthodox Church (analagous to the Pope for the Roman Catholics). I walked up to the Catholicos' attending priest at the reception after the concert and asked if I could meet his holiness. I was told that his holiness was occupied talking with some important people. I told him that I could wait. Five minutes later, he quickly left the room. I felt a little disppointed, but realize that important people are indeed busy, and that I am not important. I comforted myself with the thought that maybe he saw me and got scared.

I went to a local bazar, yesterday, to hand out my questionnaire. We have formally adopted this method of implementing the questionnaire. I'm a little worried, because we've got to hand out over 400 questionnaires before we'll get a single one of them back. This is kind of setting us up for a little bit of trouble should people decide to stiff us. All I can do is cross that bridge when I come to it. In the mean-time, I'll also try to get as many people as possible to fill out the questionnaire on the spot. I'm frankly a little nervous about the way things are working out in Armenia. I don't want to say that the local staff here is uncooperative, but they are definitely busier and therefore not as easy to work with as they were in Tajikistan. I realize that the program is much larger, out here, and that credit-officers are pretty strapped for time. I also know that the only way we will not get our sample size covered would be because people are not properly motivated. It's interesting how very large problems can be that merely involve effective communication with people. It's very difficult for me to motivate the clients, which is why the project lives and dies by the support of the credit officers, who are the figures of authority for the clients. It seems that I have to enlist the support of the credit officers one by one. I realize why leadership is so important, because if I could enlist the support of the main person in charge, direction would follow from there. I think that I have been ineffective in communicating the needs for this project with the leadership, because they seem somewhat reluctant to engage the support of the credit officers, who are therefore obviously reluctant to engage the clients. They credit officer with whom I went yesterday is now on board, because I was able to talk with him about the project, and he was able to see that it is important and doable. He is now going to pass out the questionnaire himself to his clients, today, while I stay in the city. That's just one credit officer of many, though. I've always felt that I'm not a great leader in that it's hard for me to unite people to get large group tasks done. It's obviously a lot easier to take responsibility oneself, and say 'to heck with other people.' Not a lot would get done if everyone felt that way though. I also realize that leaders are made, not born. Although I've always felt a little bit reluctant to step into the limelight to organize and motivate people, I'm feeling more and more a desire to become better at it. See all the wonderful things I'm learning as an intern?

There are also some things I'd like to get down about recent Armenian history which will clarify experiences both here and in Azerbaijan. According to the CIA worldbook, Armenia currently occupies 16% of Azeri territory. This is a result of ethnic friction that occurred in Armenian dominated parts of Western Azerbaijan at the end the 1980s. While it may seem that Armenia technically won that battle, the problem is still festering, and Armenia is turning out to be the big loser. Azerbaijan's close ally, Turkey, has imposed an economic embargo, and therefore most of Armenia's borders are closed. I don't really know what the differences are that caused bloody territorial disbutes to break out here in the Caucasus and Central Asia, as opposed to the Baltics where the Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians get along remarkably well. It's definitely a great way to shoot your country in the foot, creating problems that could well last for generations. When I travel to Azerbaijan, next month, I'll have to take a train north through Georgia, and then go back down south to Azerbaijan to get around the close border. I look forward to seeing Georgia and its capital, Tbilisi. These three little Caucasus countries are all very ancient and unique, and there's a lot more I'd like to learn about them.

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