23 July 2012

Working with Cora Abansi

Work in whatever circumstance is always more productive if you are with agreeable people who share the same ideals that you have. That was why, working with Cora Abansi in top management made my job so much easier; and I would like to think that I made her job easier as well.

For five years, I was in charge of our school’s administrative operations; while Cora was head of the academic side. She pretty much left administrative matters to me; as I left academic matters to her. We enjoyed a working relationship characterized by trust and mutual respect.

Cora is amiable, blessed with a pleasing personality, intelligent and enjoys a much more extroverted personality than I ever will have. She is also a thorough professional who understands document-based management and operations.

Although we were professional colleagues, we are also excellent friends even to this day; two years after all of us in our management team went our separate ways.

Cora and I were both born in the Year of the Pig; had similar family upbringings; shared the same values; and loved food and having a good laugh. Having a lazy conversation one lunch break, we were surprised to discover how our life stories seemed to have similar plots.

We were both known to turn anti-social when hungry; and how quickly our sense of rumour could be restored by a meal. Although to many people, we showed our professional ‘management face,’ in fact in our suite of offices we could without warning burst into life with our spontaneous and outrageous laughter.

Take this time when we both sat in a meeting that commenced at nine in the morning and ended around six. Towards the end of the meeting, one item on the agenda was Cora’s to report on and she had already primed herself to speak. But I was almost comatose, mistook the item as mine and beat Cora to the punch. The Brother President’s expression as I reported on something that he did not want to hear was priceless!

After the meeting, tired though we were, Cora and I collapsed into chairs in her office laughing so hard about the incident that tears came to our eyes. All the stress accumulated from such a lengthy meeting were flushed away instantaneously by such insane laughter.

The staff working outside our offices had gotten so used to these spontaneous bursts of humour and laughter that they no longer took notice. The laughter became part and parcel of the work environment; and I would like to think that it made working just as enjoyable for them, too.

The laughter did not make us any less professional. On the contrary; when there were piles of documents to read and sign taller than ourselves sitting on our desks, we perused these with thoroughness and ensured no backlog ever built up. But instead of letting work make us miserable so that we in turn became miserable to others, we turned to laughter to keep everything in perspective.

During our weekly meetings with the Chancellor, it was typical for both of us to peck away at the Boy Bawang that Molie – the Chancellor’s secretary – had thoughtfully laid out on the table. When I come to think about it, chewing on the Boy Bawang was almost something therapeutic and facilitated thinking. Go figure!

When these meetings went well into lunchtime, our brows would be similarly knotted which always told me that our stomachs were making us both grumpy. We would look at each other and wordlessly acknowledge how the other was feeling, two ‘pigs’ in dire need of nourishment.

It became ritualistic for me to start my day by making myself comfortable on one of the chairs in front of Cora’s desk in her office. If we were speaking in hushed tones, it was probably of the ‘ears only’ type that we were careful for others not to hear.

We might have looked like we were gossiping; but we solved so many problems by holding those light informal discussions. Of course, on days when my voice was louder and I laughed harder, I was probably there really gossiping; but I only did that on light working days.

We had our own disagreements, naturally. However, this we never allowed to boil over. Not only were we temperamentally similar; I think we were both conscious of the fact that harmony between us also flowed down the organizational chart, allowing the people under us to work with each other more or less in the same way.

When accreditation season turned her into Valentina – ang kaaway ni Darna – there was always Eugene Runas to save the day. “Gene! Talk to the woman! Magfoo-football ako!”

While I gave up teaching years before to go full-time into management, Cora actually continued to juggle the two. I used to wonder how such a small woman could have so much energy.

Make no mistake about it; Cora is a gifted and natural teacher. This is even more remarkable because she did not even train to become one.

Yet, when she stands in front of a class, the gift becomes immediately evident. I ought to know. She was the professor in several of my Masters courses.

Where other teachers take some sort of perverse pleasure in making a subject intimidating, Cora on the contrary began each course by taking out the intimidation factor from whatever subject that she was teaching.

The ultimate gift, however, was in her ability to simplify the complicated. I used to have such a chronic allergy to numbers. Cora not only made Statistics understandable; she made it shockingly likable.

It was in administration, however, that I spent so much time with Cora. Before I even realized it, four years had already passed. That invariably happens –time flying, I mean – when you enjoy what you are doing and the people you are doing it with.

I still meet up with Cora once in a while. It was inevitably sad when we had to go our separate ways; but I have always preferred to let my mind dwell more on the honour and privilege of having worked so closely with her.

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