That had not occured to us, Dude

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned to a teacher at my school that I wanted to take a couple kids from our school to ABLE (Azerbaijan Boys Leadership Experience) Camp this summer.  I have known this teacher for quite some time, and while he’s generally a pretty good guy, he can a bit selfish.  Last year, when he told me that he wanted to go to camp, I told him that we already have a local teacher from Ujar who has been a part of ABLE since it’s inception, and that there wasn’t room for him.  I could tell he was offended, but that’s his problem.  He can’t just walk into a project that has been developed over three years and just expect to be accommodated.

So this year rolled around and he asked me about camp and whether or not he could go.  I  gave him the same run-down, and stuck to my guns even though I could tell that he was upset by the whole thing.  It seems like he thinks he should be invited because he’s an important guy at our school, and in our town in general, but I just don’t see what he could offer the camp.

Yesterday, while I was talking to a fellow English teacher at school (they’re all doing end-of-the-year stuff) the assitant director of my school comes up to me and says “I heard you’re taking some of our students to a camp this summer.”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“Why didn’t you tell the director about it?”

“We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to find the money or not.”

“Why aren’t you taking Mr. X (aforementioned teacher)?”

“He’s not coming.”

“Take him.”


He walked away and I continued my conversation with Rasmiyya when I hear a holler from down the hall,  “Jeff.  The director wants to see you.”  The director was already in a bad mood because apparently there’s a ton to do at the end of the year and everyone was nagging him about little things that he didn’t care about.  I went downstairs and as soon as I saw him I could tell he was mad.

“Why didn’t you tell me that you were giong to take some of our students to a camp?”  he asked.

“It wasn’t 100% so I didn’t want to say anything.”

“How is it not 100%? ”

“Well, we were looking for money.  Camp is expensive.  We needed to find money before we would know if there was a camp.”

“Wait.  When would you take them?”


“Oh.  Well you need to tell me before you go.”

“No problem.”

There were a couple of things at play here.

Mr. X that I had introduced earlier had try to pull a fast one on me.  Hurt because he isn’t coming to camp, he tried to put some salt in my game and outrank me in order to put the brakes on the whole thing unless he was a part of it.  He led our director to believe that we were leaving that day, or soon after, and that I had neglected to tell him.  The director was surprised when I told him that camp was to be in August.  The crisis was averted and camp is still a go.

The other part of the story is that I totally lied.  Camp is 100% happening and I definitely forgot to tell the director.  I wasn’t trying to get away with anything, it just didn’t occur to me.  From an American perspective, would you even consider informing your school’s principal if you planned on attending a summer camp?  If you were running a camp, would you make sure and ask permission from the local Education Departments?  No way.

There’s a strong order to society here.  It’s a part of daily life, and it isn’t all that different from the Confucian order of things that I saw in Korea.  Kids do what adults tell them, women do what men tell them, adults do what the elderly tell them, and everyone does whatever the public officials say.  If I were to go back about a month ago, I would have told my director, and probably the head of the local Education Department.

I went to the Education Department once before, to let the head guy know that I was doing a conversation club at the local chess school.  He really didn’t seem to care.  I just got a simple, “alright” and that was that.    I suppose this chian-of-command system here is like any other set of rules in any society.  Rules are rules, but no one cares about them when they’re followed.  Break them, and people will soon let you know.

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