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Terminaison (Monday, 2011 January 17)

January 17th, 2011

The French word "terminaison" means "termination" or "ending", and you tend to hear it most when discussing grammar — which verbs take which endings in which tenses, et ainsi de suite. But Organization lingo for going home early is "Early Termination", usually just said "ET", and verbed as follows: two of our stagemates ETed recently.

One of them, Elizabeth, I didn’t know very well; whereas I was education, she was business, and whereas I was posted to the West, she was to the East. I heard about her from Julia in the days before Christmas, before anything was really finalized. I can’t speak much to why, but I know she was not very happy with her post. She had a Bible quote tattooed on her foot and her last initial tattooed behind her ear.

The other, Christine, I knew somewhat better, being posted closer and also both being informatique teachers. She was having a rough time of her post too; she was having a lot of problems with discipline, and possibly a tough time with her administration. One time we were scheduled to meet in Bafoussam, but she was late due to a last-minute meeting that her principal (or vice-principal or whatever) called. On the agenda: a student had snuck into the computer lab and used the equipment to surf to a porn site and print out a picture. The principal felt this merited a departmental meeting of the informatique teachers, since after all, it’s the teachers’ fault for not teaching the students responsibility — and not, for example, the fault of the woman who is supposed to be managing the lab. Christine reported that during this meeting, when the principal periodically ran out of steam, he would open the picture, a photograph of two elderly women making out, and show it around the meeting, à la "see what thou hath wrought". Apparently the printer was in a separate room from the lab, so he was unable to retrieve the picture (or maybe printing it was a terror-induced accident). And she constantly had problems with her classes. In her good-bye email, she wrote: "I didn’t think the teaching job was a good fit for me". She smoked and liked to go birdwatching.

It sounds like I wrote eulogies for these two fine people, which is stupid; they’re not gone, it’s not like suicide. But in a way it does feel like losing them a bit, like our stage is weaker for no longer having them. Christine in particular caught us a little bit by surprise. My postmate says that even at Christmas she had been making plans to go "birding" later that week. Christine had a postmate too, and I wonder if she knew, but the decision made so much sense for her that it’s hard to begrudge her some secrecy.

One hears through the grapevine that she is doing well for herself; she had been working at Microsoft, but now is setting up in San Diego. Within three days of her arrival back in the States, she had already scored a car, an apartment, and some kind of work. I tell you second-hand that employers did not care that she had "dropped out" of the Organization, instead being impressed that she had managed to make it as long as she had. Makes for compelling thinking, of the "I wish you hadn’t told me that" sort. At least for informaticiens, there’s no shame in going home.

I cornered Respected Directress in Yaoundé and asked if I could get my hands on some data regarding ETs: which programs were more likely to, if there’s any effect of gender, whether it was more common at certain times of year or certain periods in service. She dodged the question of access by responding to each individual aspect: she hasn’t seen an effect of program, hasn’t looked at gender, but there are definite patterns when you look at time — typically around the third month of service, it drops off noticeably, and stays very low — family emergencies, stuff like that — until towards the end of service, when people are often antsy to move on to the next phase of their life. "But after three months," she said, "you’re here." This seems to match my informal experience that I don’t think I’m likely to ET in the next little while, and that the people I’ve asked aren’t likely to without something serious happening. So I guess we can knock off the discussion of who’s next in our stage — even with Lynne’s acrimonious divorce, Zack’s broken heart, our confusion and apathy about what we’re doing, the perpetually sick and the constantly déranged — we’re here. So let’s see what happens next.

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