Monday, August 27, 2007

Bar Exam Bathroom Monitor

In all my dreams of living overseas doing international development work, I never once imagined myself as a bathroom monitor. The second annual monitored and transparant bar exam in Armenia changed all of that.

To give some background, a Texas bar exam lasts for 2.5 days, covers about 20 subjects, requires about 2 months of intense turoring and studying, and is incredibly stressful on not just the applicant, but on anyone who knows that person. The exam is multiple choice and essay and timed. The exam is closely monitored and even a hint of improper glancing about or communicating with someone is enough to get you in serious trouble - if not expelled and forever barred from practicing law.

In Armenia, law graduates who have 2 years of work experience are qualified to sit for the bar and can chose to take the civil or criminal law exam. Once registered, the applicant obtains a book of 1000 questions and answers and has 2 months to study. The exam itself is 100 questions randomly selected from the book. Supposedly, the questions tend to be fairly easy - especially if the person studies. The applicant has 6 hours to answer 100 questions.

On August 25, the test was supposed to start at 9:00, but because the head of the Qualification Commission (like the name?) arrived 1.5 hours late, the test did not start until 10.

Here's a description of the testing facilities at Yerevan State University gymnasium: Large enough for the 200+ registered applicants and the 60+ international montitors. Soviet built in 1980; I would have guessed it was from the 1940's. The floors were wood originally painted a lovely blue, but that had worn off many years ago. Plywood covered worn or rotted planks so the floor was mostly uneven. There was no airconditioning nor fans; the only circulation was from the one door into the gym and one door to the smoking area.

After checking purses, bags, and cell phones, a security guard wanded applicants for cell phones. At the front of the room were the some exam monitors, members of the Qualification Commission and the place to turn in the exam. The applicants sat in wooden desks with attached bench seats. Since most Armenians seem to smoke, we provided a smoking area right outside the exam room. While the smoking area was shady and received a nice breeze, the bathrooms were not so well situated. And that is where I was for the first three hours.

Susie, an embassy employee manager type with law enforcement background, had monitored the bathrooms during the last bar exam and was in no mood to have similar situations of large numbers of women talking together. So, she designed quite a detailed plan to prevent chaos and attempts at cheating. First, every person who came to the bathroom had to be escorted to the bathroom checkpoint by a monitor. Once there, the person who needed to pee handed her identification card to Susie. Susie would turn over the identification card and note the time the woman approached and keep the card. When the woman was finished, Susie would write the time she came out, return the card, and make sure the applicant's monitor was there to escort her back to her desk. Too many trips to the bathroom, inordinate amounts of time in the bathrooms would target you as a potential cheater.

Now for my glamorous job: actual checker of bathroom stalls. The bathrooms visually appeared clean, but smelled bad - most likely because one of the three squat toilets didn't flush. You walk in to a room with 2 sinks only one of which works. There is soap, paper towels, and a small trash can. Turn a corner and there are three places of potential cheating. The tanks were up high and each stall was separated by a white tiled wall that ran to the ground. As I am not a sewage system expert, I do not know why it is, but apparently you don't flush toilet paper down a squat toilet; instead you put the used TP in the trashcans. Trash cans that were obviously too small for the 100+ women who had to use them. It was most unpleasant.

That is where my life of international intrigue starts. After an initial sweep of the bathroom located a pen and answers to at least 2 tests (turns out it was some English exam), I began to check each stall after each woman left. That meant using a paper towel as a physical barrier while I lifted and inspected the filthy trash can, swept above the tank and tiled walls. Once I hollered "all clear" Susie would let the woman who had just done her busines return to the test. I also would sometimes follow any particularly suspicious woman (those who had to go to the bathroom more often than was normal was one tip off or the woman who tried to cheat last year was another) into the bathroom. If there were mulitiple women at the same time, I would stand outside the stalls to make sure there was no talking. I felt like a KGB spy --- not a very good one, mind you, as I could not possibly have known whether they were discussing the exam or asking about the weather.

Almost giddy with excitement, I escaped the bathroom and monitored the gym. The attempts at cheating were amazing. Smokers would go outside and talk to commission members (the ones who administered the test!) and other applicants. Applicants would look around the room at each other and give eye signals; the qualification commission board members would whisper to applicants. One did it with me 6 feet away and before I could walk over to hear their conversation (not that I would understand it). Several people would attempt to look at material in their pockets and one woman tried to leave the gym with the test. Another man left, returned, and then tried to demand his right to continue! And even respect for people taking the test was not to be found. Several QC members would answer and talk on their phones while sitting next to an applicant and then give me dirty looks when I said "che" (no).

On the upside: it was by far the fairest exam given. The pass rate was slightly higher than expected: about 50%. The ones that were suspected of cheating did not pass; a couple were expelled outright.

Next year I told my boss Sonya that the bathroom monitors needed surgical masks, disposable gloves and aromatic candles.


Amy said...

Hi Lori,
Bar Monitor sounds nothing like Texas! We're in year four in Senegal and wanted to let you know we're checking in -- your adventures sound so different from ours, but similar in that third world way. We've got two more years in Africa. Michael loves his job and is responsible for the health of volunteers in 9 countries (he just returned from Cape Verde and is in Benin now). I'm teaching university courses at an American university -- business law and this year a freshman writing/research seminar. Rachel is in sixth grade in the international school, taking advanced French and eighth grade math. She's having a go at a soccer team this year. We're still having adventures; got certified in scuba diving. Where is Madisen going to school? Oh, I've got a blog, too, if you want to check in (don't know where those carets are on my keyboard!).
Take care and hello to everyone!

Amy Johnson

eric said...

more pictures from around Goris