Friday, February 01, 2008

A Honeybee Among Flowers

As you might remember from my past posts, ADRA in Vietnam suffers from an extreme imbalance in the male:female ratio. We are so tipped to the female end of the spectrum that members of the ADRA team can't even seem to give birth to sons anymore. And despite tremendous efforts, recruitment of suitable male candidates to fill vacant positions only wound up hitting repeated walls. Until last month. Finally we found a crack in the dike and pulled in our first new male hire in the Cao Bang office since my arrival a year ago.

We currently have two projects working out of our Cao Bang project office staffed with eleven full-time workers (including me) and one volunteer - all women. It was the peer education training project that was in desperate need of new field coordinators to join the team of five women. Then three weeks ago, our self-described honeybee arrived. Phong, a young graduate from Hanoi's public health university bravely agreed to leave the city behind and venture into the wilds of the northern provinces and into the equally daunting wilderness of an all-woman office. I left for Hanoi the day he arrived, leaving him to dive in and sink or swim as he would.

I returned to Cao Bang with a bit of apprehension about how our newest member would be doing. I was much relieved to find to all appearances, and extremely well-adjusted young man joking along and generally holding his own amidst the almost extreme girl-yness that can take our office by storm. Having a guy around has proven useful to the girls in all of the stereotypical ways - someone to reach things on high shelves, carry boxes, fix motorbike helmets and do other minor repairs. They've also recruited him to chauffeur some of the girls to the more difficult communes in the bad weather. His natural good humor seems to keep him floating along quite well as the ladies go on about their boyfriends and husbands and general gossipy bits of their lives. He puts up with and even seems to appreciate their obsession with clothes and makeup and other things that most estrogen-soaked beings can't seem to get enough of. And our office is absolutely drowning in estrogen. And, at least for a start, he seems to be quite capable and competent technically for what we hired him for.

I often worry about the staff we hire from Hanoi who can feel even more the foreigner in a place like Cao Bang than myself. Fortunately our last two Hanoi hires have begun to adapt themselves to the life here - and Phong, at least for a start, is taking to it very well. His estrogen-full days haven't left him seeing pink in the evenings, and last night we found him at the shop outside our offices where his apartment is, happily playing pool at the tables outside. He invited Rachael and I over for a quick round. Phong now has the honor of being my first employee to teach me to play pool - and he's not a half bad teacher (because I'm really bad at pool!).

Tonight our three Hanoi-hired staff departed for a long Tet holiday at home with their families, and they left me with renewed hope for the continued genial working atmosphere in our office. Changes to the office make-up always chance tipping the balance, but I have strong hopes for the continued productivity and camaraderie that keeps our team here strong. Now, if we can only find a few a bit more testosterone for the mix and still maintain the balance and amicable energy - I didn't realize social organizer was in my job description.

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