My work situation in Jakarta started off a little weird.
There was a top dog here when I arrived. Thankfully, our time only overlapped by a few days or things would have gone down a very different road for me here. There were also 2 other volunteers living here when I arrived at the end of March.
This top dog – let’s call her H – was the boss of the centre. She was another volunteer but she clearly ran things. She has a very strong personality, which is fine, but you can have a strong personality and still treat people with respect and dignity. Not so H. She is no respecter of persons.
I had worked with her online for about a month before coming to Jakarta so I knew of her but her personality was not a consideration before I got here. However, someone’s character becomes a big consideration when you live with them. By my third day here, I had come to realise that this chick is bossy, contemptuous and disdainful of us normal, everyday mortals. Except for 1 small incident, I was never in the cross-hairs of her boorishness, plus she was leaving soon so she didn’t bother me that much, except on a basic level where I feel that human beings’ default treatment of each other should be with respect and courtesy.
Lo and behold, on my fourth day here, her last day, she asked to have a private meeting with me and she just absolutely blew me away with her particular brand of crazy. She sat down and spent a good 10 minutes telling me exactly how incompetent 1 of the other volunteers is and how inexperienced the other is, having never had a “real job” before. Therefore, she had chosen me as her top dog successor, presumably because she didn’t want all the hard work of her year here to go down the drain; apparently, she had decided that I looked like the least bad option to take over from her. She had discounted A as a possible successor for her reign of terror because A had only 5 weeks to serve before her time would be over.
I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I spent 10 minutes in the Twilight Zone.
Please don’t get me wrong; I am far from naive. Having worked in corporate Jamaica for 16 years, I have experienced many things, including people attempting to plant knives in my back. But there is usually a subtlety about it, they’re usually underhanded; it’s the civilised way of destroying someone’s credibility and confidence. So it was a bit of a shock for me to witness this blatant attack on these 2 other women. And the audacity of it was astounding; she couldn’t know if I was friends with these people or not – I’ve worked with them both online since I first started working with this organisation and she knew that. In truth, I have no loyalty to either woman; they’re not my friends. But she couldn’t know that, so her assumption that it was OK for her to tear them down to me almost stole my breath.
In any case, I listened to what she had to say while my mind ran at high speed, trying to process this woman’s crazy. I stared blankly at her for the entire time she was talking, trying not to show my disgust on my face, and biting my tongue because a battle with her was so not worth it for the few more hours she would be in residence. I guess she decided to make sure I understood my marching orders because she finally asked me, “Do you understand how you need to approach this?” or something like that.
I responded very simply and, I think, diplomatically. “I’ll make my own observations and take your feedback into consideration, then I’ll approach things in my own way.” What could she say? I had defeated the dragon with simplicity and calm and by refusing to engage it.
Now, I’m not saying that she was wrong in her evaluation of the other 2 volunteers; she may very well be right. But the way she threw them under the bus, and to a random person off the street no less, was simply appalling.
I’m not going to lie – there are some things I don’t like to do as a team, like study groups (because I like to go at my own pace, and the slowest person in the group always ends up leaving me feeling frustrated) and group projects (because there is always some lazy person in the group whose work I have to make up for). But generally speaking, I’m a team player and I believe in working as a team whenever possible. Yes, every group has a leader and yes, having been a boss for 10 of my 16 corporate years, 8 of those spent as an executive, I am used to being the boss in my work environment. But I am not so presumptuous and arrogant as to just assume that role here, particularly because I am the most recent volunteer at this centre. What do I know about running this place, which is so different from the one in Aceh in so many ways? And on top of that, who told this chick that I’m interested in being the boss of anyone or anything here?
As I walked away from her after our “meeting” in which I am sure she found me sadly lacking because I refused to get on her crazy train, all I could do was thank God that He had decided to spare me the inevitable tension and conflict that a relationship with this woman most definitely would be fraught. I also pray that I never have to work with someone like H ever again in life, not her directly audacious type or her sneakier counterparts. God’s willing, nothing like that is in my work future.