Monday, February 28, 2011

A Moral Dilemma & the Word for Integrity

One of my husband's interns has just left for another job, (& a 40% pay rise) having been with him for nearly 2 years. She was exceptionally bright, talented & hard working. She was fun, friendly & reliable. Sadly she left under a cloud. Here's why:
3 months ago my husband sent her (willingly) on a course in Romania. A s is standard practice, he drew up an agreement which said that if she left before she had completed another year with his organisation, she would be liable to pay back pro rata for each month under the year that she hadn't worked. he asked her if it was ok & she said yes she was fine with it. However, being completely snowed under & working too many hours, meant my husband forgot to get her to sign it. the week before she left, somehow it cropped up with the finance manager so he talked to the intern about it & said "You only went on the course 3 months ago so you are leaving 9/12 of a year early for our agreement".
Her response was that she had hoped he had 'forgotten about it.' And as was apparent, she certainly wasn't going to remind him. Anyway, after lengthy discussion, it became clear that this 22 year old girl was adamant that she was not going to repay it. My husband admits he has no legal leg to stand on;
"A gentleman's word is as good his bond" according to Charles Dickens in "The Old Curiosity Shop" but that doesn't wash in Albania, or in England I imagine anymore; if it ever did. Hard to prove a verbal agreement, which of course she claims she 'doesn't remember' anyway.

My husband tried to meet her half way & offered her a retrospective pay rise, so effectively she would only owe half the amount, but no she wasn't budging on that either. Furthermore, she said she had consulted with her uncle who was a lawyer, who told her to stand her ground & that her CEO (my husband) couldn't 'make her pay'.
At this point my husband explained that he & she were working for an NGO, a not-for-profit organisation, so they weren't awash with money & more importantly trust, integrity & honesty were very important as it was a Christian humanitarian organisation working to help the poor.
We were talking hundreds, not thousands of dollars too, but in a small organisation like this one, it all counts.

Nada. Nothing doing. Immoveable.

Now tell me reader, what is your response to this? I confess I was utterly gob-smacked that this 20-something student had the confidence, verve & sang froid to eyeball my husband, admittedly a not very intimidating boss, but still 20 odd yrs her senior, & say effectively:

"Shan't. You can't make me."
All true, but the gall!

This girl won a sponsorship to that Boarding school in Wales (I forget its name) which is in a castle & did all her high school education there. Then she went to Dartmouth College in the States, very prestigious again, I'm told, because where Harvard & Yale have 20,000 stuents each, Dartmouth is Ivy League but with only 5000 students, so it's much harder to get into.
Smart cookie. But, as the saying goes "A person is not given integrity. It results from the relentless pursuit of honesty at all times." You can't learn that in college.

Confucius says "The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home." What hope has this girl got when her elders are advising her, not what is right or just, but what she can get away with?

I know this is politically incorrect, but this is the single, biggest problem with Albania. Everything here seems to be about what you can get away with & who you can bribe to get out of trouble. No one has to take responsibility for their actions.

It is endemically corrupt. Communism left a moral vacuum. And it is something I have come across time & again. Lack of integrity , or outright corruption. An Albanian friend told me they didn't even have a word for integrity in Albanian, they have Albanianised the English word. So it's Integritetin.

John Gardener 1912-2002 who wa s a US secretary for Eudcation, Health & Welfare sums it up very well
"Men of integrity, by their very existence, rekindle the belief that a s a people, we can live above the level of moral squlaor. We need that belief, a cynical community, is a corrupt community".

By contrast this week, several of my husband's Albanian colleagues have heard he will be leaving, & I have been quite bowled over by the kind words & observartions they have made. They have seen that my husband is someone who 'does the right thing even if no one is watching.' (these are verbatim)
"You strike me as someone who practises what they preach.
"You have been a good example to me"
"You are highly appreciated for your good example."
"We have seen enough people preaching one thing & living another."
"Thank you for your honorable leadership".
"In my long working experience with NGOs I have worked with many internationals, however, you will be one of the best, who has left an indelible imprint in my memory"
"Albania needs international leaders like you who role model the profile of true leaders, who inspire their staff by 'what they say' & lead 'through their example.' "

Ralph Waldo Emerson said "A little integrity is better than any career."
I am so proud of him. I wonder, in his heart of hearts whether this girl's uncle can say the same of her?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mission Accomplished

Reader, my son has been accepted into the school we chose. My parents were sent the letter in the UK & they opened it 'on air' via skype. They got as far as "We are delighted to inform you......." and I didn't hear the rest.


And even more amazingly, last Wednesday my husband was, out of the blue, offered a job working from home (ie UK), with the same organisation, with travel to Africa about one week a month. He had had a rather depressing round of meetings whilst in the UK & everyone had said
"What you're trying to do is really difficult" that is, stay in development but work in the UK.

We knew that, my husband has made a career out of unorthodox moves. But obviously word had got round despite that. The job is only a 2 year contract but I have got (slightly more) used now to living with uncertainty & in the current job climate this isn't anything new. We are just very grateful & very excited.

And having felt we were doing things in such a cock-eyed order, applying to schools before anything else concrete had happened, I feel much the same as Iota, who said
"Gosh it has all come together so quickly. Can't keep up with you! Cart before horse, then horse bolted, then cart went careering off down the road!"
Then added "Am so thrilled for you. Just what you need".

Yes, it was just what I needed actually. It takes a bit of getting used to, everything coming together so quickly. My husband was unemployed for 7 months before we secured our 1st overseas posting, then he got a promotion in Sri Lanka 6 weeks before his 1st job in Sri Lanka finished with nothing else in the pipeline. And we got the Albania job 4 wks before his job in Sri Lanka ended. So not going right up to the wire this time around is a rather pleasant experience!

I don't wish to cause the horse & cart to crash, but I think I could almost say Mission Accomplished. Who could have foreseen that only 10 days ago?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Operation Return Home (Stage 3)

Today was our son's interview at the school we've applied to for him. On this occasion I was very glad that I am naturally punctual & so had left plenty of time to get there. The reason being the police, who were stopping cars at a roundabout, decided in their random way, to stop my car en route to the school. This is my £450 eBay car which sits off road all year at my parents until I come back from Albania, like this week, & tax & insure it for a week.

The police told me they couldn't find my car on their system. Arghhhhhhh. Serendipitously (& bizarrely) I had my insurance certificate, car registration document, MOT certificate, driving licence & even passport with me. Eventually, after a 12 minute delay, they confirmed what I could have told them, that all was in order, & they let me go. My son told me to 'chill' as we still had 30 minutes to get there & it was only another 15 minutes drive away. Just not good for my nerves.

I felt like a fish out of water, parking my little fiesta alongside all the smart cars at the school. All the other interview candidates were in school uniforms or very smart outfits. Our son doesn't have uniform or smart clothes. No call for them in Albania. However, the registrar remembered 10 y-o from the open day & greeted him warmly by name. The headmaster was doing the rounds, sipping orange out of a carton, chatting to parents & then mopping distractedly at the spilt juice on his trousers. In fact everyone seemed very low key & normal, except the parents.

After his interview the teacher who had conducted the interview, lingered chatting about Albania. He taught 20th century European history so was fascinated by Albania.

Whilst my son went off to the loo, he said to me:

"You know I've talked to lots of great boys this last 2 days, but they all brought in a rowing medal or a cricket bat, but your son was so different and produced this fantastic 100 square quilt". H emadde it for his school's 100th day celebration (I knew his effort would be worth it one day!) He said it really had been delightful talking to him & getting to meet him.

I could have kissed him. It's such a relief when you've been living in a tiny little Balkan backwater, your son attending a little missionary school with few facilities & small classes. You think: is he really bright or is it just in the context of his small multi cultural class? What sort of competition is he up against? Will it matter he hasn't had so many extra curricular opportunities or a grade 5 in piano? Would it seem really odd amongst mini rowers, budding Beckhams, & 'rare wood' cricket bats that my son had sewed & brought in a home made quilt as his 'significant object'?

Clearly I needn't have worried. And in fact living in Albania, amongst blood feuds, money laundering, uncharted mountains, abandoned military vehicles & tunnels, not to mention power cuts, chaotic traffic & unmechanised farming only seemed to add to his appeal. What my husband had said all along in fact. I thought it would just make him seem odd & a little too different & too 'out of the UK educational loop'.

They have a very specific ethos & a certain type of boy that they're looking for. I hope our son fits the bill. I htink he would be very happy there. After all, he won't be at school with the parents......

We find out on Monday.