Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Free labor, no takers: Where are the big environmental projects in AZ? Here's looking at you BP

Approximately a year and a half ago I became a member of the Azerbaijan PC Environmental Committee. Due to budget constraints, etc. this is only a committee of 4: 2 members from my group and then 2 members from the younger/newer group. As PC volunteers we are, to state the obvious, precisely that: volunteers. We want to work towards causes that people can generally agree upon as being beneficial and we want to do it for free. Also, in many ways, PCVs are the best laborers to work with: we live in remote communities, we speak a language most paid ex-pats outside of the regions do not know, and we have community contacts. In this sense, logically, you'd think that organizations would want to work with us. After all, we are the biggest bang for your buck...we'll work diligently in difficult areas for no pay.
But, alas, life just doesn't work this way.
Yes, maybe some organizations don't want to work with us (PC) because we are an American government program. We represent the potential to be political. I can safely say that the US government has never asked me to proselytize or push for an American...well, anything. However, it is a PC goal to inform nations about who were are and what the US is, but then the next goal is to inform US citizens about the country in which we served. It is a cultural exchange program in many ways. But still, the nervousness about our political affiliations exist.
But what about BP? You know BP right? That oil company we love lambasting right now because of that horrific oil spill in the Gulf? Yep, that BP. BP does a ton of work in Azerbaijan and like our spill off the Gulf, a lot BP's work isn't really entirely BP...a lot of work is contracted work...work contracted out to whomever. Well, I met a BP contractor who claims to manage environmental projects in Azerbaijan. I got excited at the prospect of ANY kind of environmental contact inside Azerbaijan. I guess my desperation came off as aggression, however, and the BP contractor was very turned off at the idea of working with Peace Corps. I told this man, let us call him Mr. Hat, I told Mr. Hat that Peace Corps workers were all over Azerbaijan and willing to work for no money and probably almost any project. We don't have to receive grants (though, gosh, any money would be nice....) or get paid, we just want support, or a plan, or the WILL to do anything environmental anywhere in the whole nation. Mr. Hat straight out said "No". And he said he didn't like my pushy approach (I have witnesses who say I was passionate, but not rude. But, I don't know). Mr. Hat said that BP generally does not like working with PCVS and so therefore Mr. Hat would not look into the possibility. This however, is only partly true...BP workers/contractors have indeed offered to help other PCVs...I can think of two off the top of my head. So why the dismissal? He just didn't like me? I don't know. I told Mr. Hat that maybe he could as whomever in BP why there is an anti-PC policy...after all, we are economically awesome from a purely businesses perspective. But, Mr. Hat didn't seem too interested.
It became clear that our mission just wasn't the same. All I wanted to do was establish some sort of possibility for environmental work in Azerbaijan. For whatever reason, with me, Mr. Hat wasn't having it. Therefore, I told him if the conversation was about personal differences then we ought to stop discussing the issue altogether. After all, I just wanted to get to work, not offend. As soon as a person is sold of the idea that you are merely attacking them, then the actual issue at hand gets ignored. He wasn't going to hear me.
This whole situation bothered me on a number of levels. I'm frustrated at myself...Mr. Hat and I were in a very informal setting and I approached him informally. In doing so, I offended Mr. Hat and because I offended Mr. Hat, maybe I burned a bridge. This isn't supposed to be about me...I leave in November! But, I wasn't suave enough to build the bridge. I burnt it...and that helps absolutely nothing.
On the other hand, I do not think I was rude. I think I was very honest and to the point and....well...I hate to say it, but if you are right about a point and you say it right out, other people don't really like it. I think I pointed to the inherent difference in our missions. We were not on the same page and that called into question his intentionality and ethics as a BP contractor working on environmental projects.
Lastly, I'm an American. Mr. Hat is British. Does BP want to fix it's image? If so, then this just didn't help.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

loved this! it reminded me of a similar situation i had with a few "Mr.Hats" i've known back in az. i too was used to be frustrated with myself for pushing hard, but not anymore. like you pointed out "They" have a Different mission.

i admire you for standing for what you believe in.
Go Alexis!
hugs from nyc
jah t