My Working World: A is for…
For the past year, I’ve filled this travel spot with Snapshots of Russia. Now I think it’s time to widen our horizons a little and take you to some of the other places I’ve worked in over the years. And, as you can see from the map, there’s a lot of My Working World to visit. So much in fact that I needed a way of organising this series; and I thought the alphabet was as good a system as any. It’s been around for near on four thousand years, and if it was good enough for the Egyptians and the Phoenicians, it’s good enough for me. So here we go: A is for…
One of the countries I visited in Latin America on my first trip as a project manager. My ‘team’ was made up of highly experienced guys from Quality Assurance and Product Development, who were very good at humouring me when I tried to show them I was in charge, and my boss, who was there to show me the ropes. I remember being presented with a huge bundle of documents at the airport when we arrived after a long transatlantic flight and sitting up late into the night trying to absorb all the information so I could ask intelligent questions when we reached the factory. And for some reason that I never understood, our hosts thought that my name was Keith! That one took a long time to live down.
One of the former Soviet countries desperately trying to get its factories to a stage where they could compete with some of their larger neighbours on the international pharmaceutical stage. Tiny factories, but with well-educated and knowledgeable staff; their aims didn’t seem over-ambitious.
I was privileged to visit the private collections at Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the centre of the Armenian Apostolic Church; the equivalent of receiving an invitation to the private rooms at the Vatican.
I attributed the breathlessness I experienced throughout the trip to altitude, as we were a thousand metres above sea level. Only on returning to UK did I realise I had been walking around with a pulmonary embolism for ten days!
The first long business trip I ever took on my own included ten days in this wonderful country, so much like home and yet so different in many ways. Sydney Opera House was even better in real life than in the pictures; the five hours of Wagner was enthralling – if a little tiring; I had a car and drove comfortably around on the correct side of the road; visited the Blue Mountains in the mistaken belief that I was heading for the outback, rather than a short trip outside the city; I watched pelicans in the wild for the first time; and managed to ignore the ribbing I got when England lost the Ashes! And I guess I must have done some work while I was out there too.
I made a very brief trip to Vienna for a conference one year; a fun trip, hardly qualifying as work at all. I was alone there for my birthday weekend and celebrated with a champagne-soaked jazz brunch before curling up with a book and a CD of opera classics.
And finally, Almaty
Not a country, but a city. Not even the capital of Kazakhstan, but the main route into the country and the place from which all my journeys to Pavlodar or Semipalatinsk began. I remember being entranced by a tiny city surrounded by snow-capped mountains even in summer.
This was the place where I learned not to be taken in by appearances. I needed to change some dollars into tenge and went to the booth in my hotel. It was run by a very old lady, tiny and wrinkled. We didn’t speak the same language; we communicated with sign language, but we smiled at each other as we did so – she was always smiling. And therefore I was totally unprepared when she palmed my one hundred dollars, giving me change for just eighty. Her innocent smile as she showed me the four twenties in her hand was worthy of an Oscar. I walked away, knowing I’d been suckered, but unable to do anything about it. Later, my host visited the hotel and spoke to her. Without being prompted, she handed over the extra twenty. But ever since, I have wondered whether I should have kept quiet. I could afford to lose $20, whereas I doubt she could afford to lose her job. I do hope she didn’t.