A Storm’s A-Brewin’

24 Mar

Some things have started in motion that could potentially change the way I live and teach down here in Ecuador. I’ve been teaching at the University of Cuenca since I got down here in September and have been on a volunteer stipend the entire time. This has been fine, except for the fact that I, and the other volunteers at the university, haven’t been paid in the last two months. And we’re coming up on the third.

Every time we ask what’s going on we’re told there’s something else we need to do. There’s some other paper that needs to be photocopied and sent to a different director. Or, they’re simply working on it. But that’s not good enough. By our own American standards, working for two months without any pay is an outrage. If it happened in the United States, people would have striked or quit long ago. But we’re in a foreign country and we have to realize that things work differently down here. When trying to understand why teachers here didn’t strike when they weren’t paid, I had to imagine that they could come from a place where strikes bring fear. It could get you fired, beaten, or imprisoned. After all, that used to happen in the United States too with the Pinkertons.

But we’ve been trying to get our money and have been demonstrating patience, but it has finally run out. After talking with my director from my program, we were told that if we aren’t paid by Friday to not show up for work on Monday, essentially striking. It turns out the university is in breach of our contract, because it has been written that if we don’t get paid after 2 months we don’t have to show up for work. And never mind the fact that they were paying us $20 short every month.

I have no problem with not showing up for work if I’m not going to be getting paid for it. I’ve been extremely patient. I even continue to go to meetings every Monday even though they are pointless. We have to sign in, and if you don’t they take away $10 from your pay, but from what pay? They don’t pay me to begin with. But still I go.

And what makes the situation even stickier is how it is playing out with the department. My director in Quito was talking to my director at the university, and instead of trying to be accommodating and understanding, the director at the university was saying that we would be in breach of the contract if we didn’t show up. Even though they are the ones breaking it to begin with. As I’ve said time and again, this is just part of living in a different country and culture. It’s not something that you can control. Yet it’s extremely frustrating. How are people supposed to live if they can’t even be sure of getting their fare pay?

I’ll continue to check the bank account and hopefully we’ll be paid before Friday, because I’m not really sure what the next step would be after Monday if we need to stop going to work. I’d feel badly for the students too, because they are caught in the middle unfairly. The countdown is on, the ultimatum has been given, and now we need to sit and wait it out.

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