22 December 2017
Category : Interview
“This is the furthest away I've been and my biggest professional challenge to date”Azucena Martínez at her office in Myanmar
For this edition we go to Myanmar to meet Azucena Martínez and learn about how the MYPOL project is going, which is concerned with reforming the country’s police force. The project is financed by the European Commission and managed by FIIAPP. Azucena, project coordinator, takes this opportunity to share her experience of the country with us.
How have you adapted to this country?
When I first arrived in Myanmar nearly a year ago now I thought the adaptation process would be complex given that culturally the country is so different from Spain, Europe and Latin America. However, Burmese people are particularly welcoming, generous and decent. As a foreigner here in Myanmar I have never felt unsafe; people in the street are willing to help you out without expecting anything in return.
The language here is the main barrier. Even though Myanmar is an ex-British colony, English is not that widespread among the local population. This can lead to some pretty amusing situations when trying to deal with taxi drivers or when shopping, etc. Anyhow, I hope that my Burmese classes help to remedy these “little” communication problems.
What was most difficult for you and what was least difficult?
The fact is nothing has been particularly easy, but if I had to mention something, perhaps it would be the relative ease with which I managed to find a place to live. So far, I have lived both in the administrative capital, Naypyidaw, as well as in the former capital and commercial centre of the country, Yangon. Finding a place to live can be quite a problem in both places. Sometimes the cost of renting an apartment here can match that of Manhattan. As unbelievable as it might seem!
What you find most difficult is being away from home, missing your own circle: your family, friends, your reliable, local shopkeeper, etc. But in the end, it all comes down to returning home now and again to recharge and making the most of the opportunities the country offers where you are posted which, in this case, are many.
Is this your first experience outside of Spain?
No, I’ve lived abroad before. But this is the furthest away I’ve been. Moreover, the experience is, for me, the biggest professional challenge to date, both in terms of the scope of the project and the situation the country is undergoing.
Tell us about your job and your daily routine
I’m now working at the MYPOL project office in Yangon. There are 15 of us in all, five of whom are expatriates from different EU countries, while the rest of the staff is made of up locally hired personnel for the project. We also have another six people in Naypyidaw. Consequently, a major part of my work involves coordination tasks. On the one hand, those of my office, and on the other, liaising between both teams.
From the Naypyidaw office, we are in touch with the main beneficiary institution and stakeholder: the Myanmar Police. At the same time, other activities, such as training, seminars and monitoring meetings are carried out in Yangon with the project funder: the EU Delegation in Myanmar. There’s never enough time to get around to everything that is required by a project of these characteristics.
What is your relationship with headquarters in Madrid?
My relationship with the office could not be better. It is a key element for my work: being able to be in touch practically in real time, bearing in mind the five-and-a-half hour time difference, with the team at headquarters is extremely important. Despite the distance and difficulties, there is never any lack of willingness, professional commitment, or working hours for everything to go forward.
What about your colleagues in Myanmar?
I have a very close relationship with both my fellow expats and the Burmese members of the team. We have come from very diverse professional backgrounds (police, journalists, sociologists, interpreters, political scientists, etc.) and from different organisations, countries and work methods, which makes the whole experience that much more enriching.
How would you evaluate your experience of working as an FIIAPP expatriate in Myanmar?
The experience is turning out to be very positive. I won’t deny the fact that it’s always quite complicated at the start: laying the foundations to work with the local authorities, establishing work networks with other organisations that also collaborate in the reform process, setting up a human structure and basic logistics to operate in the country. All of the foregoing constitutes most of the work done this year and reflects a lot of challenges, while at the same time affording you great satisfaction when you think there was nothing before we came and all we have accomplished is due to hard work.
Do you have any experiences or anecdotes about your arrival in the country?
Names in general are a tricky business. My name is Azucena, which of itself is complicated outside Spain. Here it fails to identify you as a male or female. Pronunciation wise it is quite difficult, but I have the same problem with their names. There are no surnames as such in Myanmar, nor is their a homogeneous name to call a person: it can be one, two, three, five, or more names that refer to different things: ranging from their ancestors or the day on which they were born to their ethnic group.
It is a real adventure learning how you ought to call a person here. And that’s not all, there are a lot of names that recur quite often. Indeed, there are a lot of people who, knowing this difficulty foreigners have, opt to use a nickname or simply indicate which of these different words that make up their name you can use as their “main name”.
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