I’ll do a quick catch up to get where I am now and then pick up this weekend in a more detailed story. I stopped writing when my mom was here and after that it was crazy busy until about a week ago. Since then, I’ve been enjoying the little bit of extra time to study Lao again. Yeah yeah, I know excuses, shut up!
After mom left, things got really busy at work from the catch up I needed to do after I was out for the week with my mom. After I caught up I took on what seemed like an innocent project to help Karin, our M&E manager, with the recruitment of her new Deputy manager, to help and eventually take her position over and a technician position to add to her team of 4 others. To be fair she warned me that it would be a lot of work, but I underestimated that. For the next few weeks after that I was taking my computer home and going to the café every day to work. Other than my Lao classes, I wasn’t really practicing.
A few days after that some of our New York managers came to visit. First, Leslie our Impact director came. She is the boss of my boss of her boss. She manages the “impact” of all three of our countries. It was really great to get to know her and we had some time in the morning to talk about PoP and my future. She really gave me some nice compliments on my success so far here with PoP in Laos. She was saying about how everyone was raving about extending my time to a year and how much help I’ve been so far. Leslie, her husband, Ryan, Caroline, and I even went out to get a drink.
After we went to get the drink Caroline and I went to a hotel to meet with a PoP donor who regularly donates $25,000 to our organization. He’s from China or Singapore, I never really got that straight. We were a bit nervous about the logistics and how to work out the spending situations and any possible awkwardness. Other than that I was excited. Big people in business or very rich people don’t intimidate me at all, I really love to get to know about their story. I met his wife first and she was very nice. We took a car from their hotel and walked them through the night market. I could tell immediately that Simon and I got a long very well. He was far past the reserved politeness that impedes conversation and I picked up on that quickly. I was still very respectful, but was quick to joke with him and skip passed all the fluffy talk to discuss our organization and issues with PoP and developing countries in general. I think he liked me because I just gave him quick answers from the hip and didn’t sugar coat anything. I liked him too because he did the same back to me. The rest of the night was fine and their two old parents were very cute, especially how the dad insisted getting pictures on his iPad, except he knew well that he was the only one who could set up a proper picture. He would walk over and set up a picture and then carefully let people take it and snap the photo with only the movement of their finger to take the picture and nothing else to alter the photo. When they came back into the office I greeted them and on their way out Simon asked if I was going to dinner with them that night and I told him I didn’t know because I hadn’t heard about anything. Leslie quickly invited me and I just as quickly accepted. That night we all went out to Tamarind, which was mom’s and my favorite place. We had a great dinner and good conversations. At one point the waiter came over to bring our desert and as he put down one of the dishes he said “here’s your rat shit”. All the PoP staff’s eyes got really big because if they were thinking anything like me it was that we’re having a very nice dinner with one of our donors and you can’t say something like that. Simon was laughing, so I did also and we explained that is what it’s called. I learned some new Lao words there. After dinner Caroline and I walked them through town to get some ice cream. Simon said he wanted to avoid the night market again, so we walked just up to it before getting a car. They asked me about my plans next and I told them about my interest in staying in a monastery and after that Simon told me to email him and keep him up-to-date on my plans.
The donors left and soon after three more managers from New York came. There was Emmanuel, Andrea’s (my boss) direct boss, Meagan, and Janice. Meagan another boss at the level of Leslie, but on the marketing side of the operations. Janice is the new M&E manager at the level of Emmanuel to take some work from him so he can focus more on programs. Janice was really great because she was so interested in the culture and learning Lao. You could see how everyone in the office accepted her so much. Emmanuel and I got along really well also. Similar to the donor we figured out that neither of us wanted to do the formal thing, so we skipped to joking and teasing each other. I think the culmination of that was this one hilarious moment where Janice told me about going to the Chinese market and he said to me “Matt why have you not offered to take her around yet, YOU BASTARD” as he was walking up to a manager meeting upstairs. If anyone from Pop is reading this, don’t take it the wrong way, we both understood we were joking and it was completely appropriate. At first though I only kind of giggled because one side of me was still screaming that I should be shocked. After he walked up stairs it hit me and I really started laughing that my boss’s boss just yelled across the office and called me a bastard. No one actually understood it except for us though because it’s mostly lao staff, except for Andrea and I down stairs and Andrea was gone already. I think what I took from all these visits is that I have some really amazing bosses here in Laos and it makes sense because my bosses in New York are also really fun, great people.
After those managers left there was a lot more work which brings me to when another person from New York, or actually from nowhere, came. Martin, our language innovation specialist came to visit Laos. This trip was the most special because I knew him before in some strange ways. When I was still in Ghana, before I even knew what PoP was, Amber told me about her new job with PoP and how they had this really innovative way to teach students with sign language and rhythm. He also lived with her so I got to hear about some of his personality as well. Then, a big part of my job has been to work with the TT team, so I was emailing Martin a little bit and reviewing his English videos where he provided the clear English pronunciation and sometimes the signs. He also trained a lot of the teacher training staff, so they often tell me stories about him. I felt like I really knew him already even before he came. We set to have dinner together with Pavath right after he came. I met him downstairs and we immediately got to talking quickly. We went to dinner across the street. Pavath wasn’t talking much, which I soon found out when he left early, that he wasn’t feeling well. Martin and I ended up moving to the lobby of Sakura after dinner and talking until midnight. I was exhausted and inspired to be able to share so much with him and really dig deep with some issues in teaching, development, and how we can improve our current initiatives and staff. Especially since he had such an intimate connection with the staff I really love talking about this part and how they’ve changed since I’ve been here. The whole week with Martin involved fun activities with the staff that got them to laugh, think hard, practice their English, and debate in Martin’s many roleplaying games. Every night, Martin and I would end up talking from after dinner until midnight. He left and I had a slightly different outlook for the team and a revitalized way to help them develop. We really went deep into everyone’s strengths and how to find ways to use those to help PoP now and in the long run. He also reminded me of his different management style of greeting everyone and really investing time into everyone in the office. I told him about this and how my dad would tell me stories of when he was a big manager and would go and visit the factories and talk to his employees there. That has always stuck in my head and Martin nearly screamed when he heard me tell him this. He was so fascinated about the things my dad taught me at such a young age. I’m really grateful that he decided to start his own company and take a lot of time with me while I was in such a crucial development stage in High school. It would have been fun to have him in on the discussion with Martin. Then we probably just wouldn’t have slept at all.
This whole past time since my mom was here has really helped me so much with developing my leadership style and I know exactly how I want to lead when I have my own organization. I think that, much more important than output numbers, is the strong relationships built at work with employees at every level. Ever since my experiences with baseball and other sports I have always stressed building the foundation of a skill or system before building more on top of that. I think that’s something that is often overlooked and taken for granted. We’re in an age that puts such an emphasis on numbers and output and not on the system and relationships first. I think this summary is probably too general and be confusing, but I think a rule of thumb for me is that when I, as a leader, don’t have time to talk to and understand all my employees, then I’m failing at my job. It sounds impossible if a manager has to be doing so much, but I think that’s exactly the manager’s job. Delegate everything and leave time to understand and create innovations for the people and the systems. Especially, using the skills and passions already present in the organization to improve current and create new systems.
After Martin left, I really concentrated more on getting to know everyone on a deeper level. I revitalized my Lao studying back to where it was before. Then, as life will do I got a bit distracted. I met a very attractive young woman at an organization. My side project for PoP has been to connect us with other NGO’s in the area (thanks to my mom’s idea actually). At one of them I met this woman at the front and immediately connected with her. Then when talking with Pavath I told him that I was jealous of him and his girlfriend. Partially that he is getting that cross cultural relationship experience, but really more because he is getting way more Lao language practice. I kept going back to visit her, but wasn’t catching her there. Finally, I saw her at work and she told me I should sit down and look at some books I was talking about at their tables there. She sat down and taught me Lao for something like three hours. Then a deaf man walked in and greeted us. I know some sign language from my teacher training lessons, so I was able to contribute a bit. She was clearly good friends with him and from what it looked like she took time with him to learn his sign language and help him with reading. She also works at this organization, which promotes reading throughout Laos. Wow, I need to be careful how I pursue this one. I asked for her number and told her I would call her to practice Lao more and teach her some English in return for her help. I got totally swept up by this and it reminded me a feeling of dating I had almost forgotten. I haven’t been crazy about a girl for a few years now, I think mostly because the women in Ghana all just wanted to get married right away and I haven’t had enough time here to settle into the culture. After spending time with her last Sunday for about another 5 hours of learning English and then she invited me to go up to a big temple on a hill, tourist attraction, with her and her friends. I was already accepting the landslide of how I felt and that it would probably end up with spending a lot more time with her or maybe even a relationship. At the very end of our time on Sunday I got a ride home with her friend and he told me as we were leaving how she was in love with the other friend there. Yup, I found out she already has a boy friend and reality came and uppercutted me. First, I couldn’t believe that I didn’t know. Dating here is much different and much less obvious that look just like any friendship back in the US. I spent the rest of the night thinking about the whole thing. The emotion was taken out of it and I really got to look at things logically. I was ashamed at my motivations after looking back. I could see the selfishness in what I was doing. I really was triggered to look for this when I wanted to study Lao in a much more intense way, like Pavath was getting with his girlfriend. I wanted to be immersed and take the study to the next level. Yeah sure there were some good things about her, but also things that were blatant signs that I overlooked that would have really bothered me latter in some more serious relationship. I couldn’t believe at how easily I was taken off the ground and lost my sense. I felt a moment of loneness of decided to solve it in a selfish way. I’m in no way against getting involved with someone and having strong emotions about them, but I think if that is the only system of thinking used to evaluate the person and the relationship, then it is headed for trouble from the start. Then, I started to evaluate my self in other ways and I got to see how I was blind to a selfishness in me that has been here a little bit. I left the US and have been traveling to get to know myself and improve myself in a way where I would get rid of these kinds of things woven deep into me. I’m glad this happened to me with this woman. It really pointed out to me that I’m not emotionally ready enough for something like the deep love I’ve had only once before. I think until I can really look at myself and understand that, then even less involved relationships are a waste of time as well. I also found out that with my other work and friend relationships need some work in the way of me becoming more selfless. I’m here in Laos and SE Asia for a reason and I will stick to that until I see it through. I want to build a strong foundation in myself that is build on pure intentions and love for everyone in my life. I’m already much further along then I was at any other point in my life, but I’m not where I want to be yet. This is also why I want to spend some time living in a monastery to be able to build an awareness and concentration level that will help me to continue to develop myself in the direction I want to go.
Wow that was quite a catch up. That takes me to this weekend, to my visa renewal trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I chose to do the second biggest city in Thailand because first, Bangkok scares me with all of the stories and Chiang Mai is closer and cheaper.