Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Good Times with the Military.

Working at ISSFA (Instituto de Seguridad Social de las Fuerzas Armadas - Institute of Social Security for the Armed Forces) has allowed me a glimpse into the corporate/military world in Ecuador. The work environment is much different at Proteus, where it's such a small group of us joking around and such (and getting work done!). 

Here's how it goes at ISSFA. I catch the bus for about 10 minutes and it drops me right off at the door. I've taken to liking the bus, perhaps more as a cultural insight than anything else, because there's always some form of entertainment. The other day there was a rapper (I think the same guy as before), an opera singer, and a guy playing guitar and panflute who performed on the various legs of the commute. So, once at ISSFA, I have to get a special pass to go the the 2nd floor where my boss, Armando, is. Then I get in my cubicle and start plugging away at the database, while listening to music or an audiobook. It brings me back to that "traditional" engineering job, the one where you sit at a computer from 9 to 5 every day. I'm excited about setting up the database and what it means for military amputees, so that keeps me chugging along through the day. But I am certainly reminded that I'm not the cubicle type, or not all the time at least. 

There are some fun norms and quirks at ISSFA. For example, everyone wears the same uniform every day. I noticed that Armando and another worker were both wearing salmon and grey suits and then he pointed out that everyone was wearing them - it goes beyond a dress code even... the clothes are bought by ISSFA and supplied in the correct sizes to the workers, kind of like a school uniform. Hm, what else? Well, in Ecuador in general saying hello and goodbye to people is very important and polite. At Proteus it's easy because we just say hey to the few people who work there. But at ISSFA the norm is to announce "Buenos Dias" to a whole room of people when you walk in, and they all respond back. 

The different floors play different music. My floor is salsa, which I like. But the 3rd floor, which is the tech people, plays heavy metal (hilarious). The guy who was trying to set up wifi for me had a screensaver of a band called "SouldBurn". Not my style, so I'm thankful to be with the salsa crew. For lunch, we go up to the 7th floor to eat an in-house almuerzo, and afterward everyone walks around outside to digest. I have to say, I really love the food culture here. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, and everyone, without fail, takes about and hour to eat with coworkers and take a break from the day. I'm very convinced that this contributes to a better work environment here and would greatly improve the work experience in America. 

So I work with Armando, a cheery guy who's quick to laugh and talk really slowly for me when I'm having trouble understanding something. There's also Gustavo, who asked me if I was single 2 minutes after meeting me. He's a nice guy though - a 25 year old marine with a kind of boyish look and voice... I think that's enhanced by the marine uniform he wears which looks like a little boy's sailor halloween costume (in an adorable way). He's actually really good at English, so it's nice to be able to communicate a little less haltingly. 

Even in the corporate environment, people are very jovial here. It's rare to go a moment without someone cracking a joke or teasing a friend. People love to tell me that their coworkers are "loco" (crazy) and things like that; they think it's pretty hilarious to embarrass their buds in front of a gringo. 

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