Saturday, October 24, 2009

When you can’t live on hope alone or մենք հո հոյսով չենք սննվում

Today is October 24. Today I received Armenian dram in cash from my employer. I met him on the street and he handed me what is considered to be my September “paycheque.”

I had begun working at the local news agency the last week of August. On September 9, everyone at work received their August pay and I received cash for the one week in August that I worked... it was unexpected and surprising, considering that most places around here don’t pay you till you’re “registered” ("գրանցվաց") and always assume for at least a week, if not a month or more, you will work without pay (consider it training or a practice run) till you have officially been hired, and gone through the rest of the process of being contracted as an employee. My official start date was September 1.

I like where I work. I like the people, I like the job, and from what I’ve been told, the pay is good. What I don’t like is having to live on hope alone: for the past two weeks, we were told we would “most likely” get paid tomorrow. But tomorrow never seemed to come. The week prior to last week, I was told we would most likely get paid next week (no specific date was mentioned). Next week came, and still no sign of a pay cheque. Near the end of last week, we were told Monday. Monday became Tuesday, Tuesday became Wednesday, and today, yes, finally the day we’ve all been waiting for, well, today is Saturday. It’s been pretty much two weeks that we’ve been holding our breath, living on air, and waiting for that precious pay. And finally, it has arrived.

Let’s not even mention that typically we’re supposed to get paid the 9th or 10th of each month. All of us at work agree, at this point anyway, we don’t care what date of the month we get our pay cheque: we just want to know when it’s coming and gee, it would be great if it could consistently be the same day each month. That way we can plan our budget, cover our expenses, and know what our monthly balance sheet will look like (not that any of us have an actual balance sheet; I’m talking about the general “money-comes-in-money-goes-out” transactions that are part of organizing one’s personal finances).

When I asked my employer if I’m to get my pay in a secret rendez-vous on the street every month, he laughed and said, of course not, we get paid at our place of employment. This was an exception. But somehow I’m not convinced.

My employer, who I refer to here, is the person who hired me, but not the owner of the company. He is not involved in the finances, and of course, he too has to get paid. He is merely the messenger from The Man Above. The Man Above (he’s a nice guy, I’m told) has said that he can’t guarantee a date each month that we are to get paid, well, at least till the end of this year. But beginning next year, it should all be worked out... Again, I’m not convinced.
My colleagues say they said the same thing last year (by “they,” I mean both my employer and The Man Above). They have been working here longer than I have and apparently, this is a recurring issue. What I love about my colleagues is that they’re not afraid to raise this issue. Except for my employer and one other co-worker, we are all women. And I love that none of us are afraid to speak up; it’s not just the Diasporan Armenian who’s raising a ruckus; I’m not the hero “from outside” who sweeps in to save the day. The women at work have been bringing up this issue of irregular paycheques on an ongoing basis (just goes to show you, how long the issue’s been going on...).

I think the thing that gets to me the most is being told “tomorrow.” For two weeks, we have been getting by on the hope of that ever-elusive tomorrow: we have been avoiding buying dish soap for washing our communal dishes, we haven’t replenished our supply of coffee and tea, and the filtered water in the office has run dry while we have been living on hope. And that is what’s been clawing at me for the last little while: it’s being made to wait, not being given an exact date, it’s going about your day while hanging by a thread, the thread of hope.

A friend of mine today summed it up in one sentence: it’s not just my workplace, living on hope has inflicted the entire country.

And this creates an economy of debt.

Everyone’s either owed or owes something to someone. We talk about constantly being in debt in North America, but this is person-to-person debt, one-on-one debt, not owing to a bank or a faceless credit card company. And for a small city like Yerevan, where every other person you meet on the street is either a relative or knows someone who knows you, navigating these interpersonal relations takes more skill and tact than I’m either used to or care to exhibit at the moment.

Who knows? Maybe next month will be different. Maybe we’ll get paid on time. Maybe the irregular pay will become regular. Maybe, we’ll be told we’ll get paid on such-and-such a date and actually get paid on that date.

Maybe, just maybe... I can hope, can’t I?

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