My Working World: J is for…
It’s the first Monday of December, so it’s time for another in the series of My Working World and today we have reached J. If you want to read any of the earlier ones just click on the appropriate letter below. But in the meantime, let’s move on.
There are three countries in the world beginning with J: Japan, Jamaica, and Jordan. I’ve been to just one of them, Jordan. According to Wikipedia, there are over 100 major cities, many of them in China; but I have visited just two of them: Jerusalem and Johannesburg. I can talk about Jo’bug when I get to S for South Africa, or even R for RSA. But today, I thought we would spend some time in the Middle East.
When I first visited this tiny country back in the late 1990s, the population was only around five million, although it has doubled in the past two decades. However, its pharmaceutical industry was disproportionately large. There were around twenty human medicine companies, almost as many veterinary firms, and the country’s Schools of Pharmacy were keeping most of the Middle East supplied with pharmacists. But with such a tiny domestic market, there was a great thirst for opportunities to export; which meant achieving international regulatory standards. There was a lot of EU support at the time, and I carried out factory audits and presented training courses in Amman over the next ten years.
The courses in particular were challenging to begin with. This was a highly educated audience and there was always someone who had read the latest treatise or had spotted that one of the regulations had been updated since I prepared my slides. But once they, and I, realised that theoretical knowledge was only useful if accompanied by practical experience, we got along just fine and I had some great times over there. I even managed to play an April Fool joke on one production manager by faking a new regulation for water preparation, much to the delight of the rest of the staff.
On a number of occasions, I took other consultants in with me, including my husband, whose expertise is education. We spent several weeks in Amman talking to industry leaders and government ministers about setting up a training centre. The companies we worked with were always wonderful hosts and made us feel very welcome. And there was usually plenty of time for sightseeing; creating some lasting memories.
One of my favourite places to visit was Petra: not just the view made famous for many by Indianna Jones, but the incredible rock formations (pictures of which ended up as a cover for my business books at one point); and the donkeys or ‘open air’ taxis offered to weary travellers making the tough uphill walk out of the site. I tried unsuccessfully to mount one of these poor animals, but its back was so wide I just could not get on. And we also visited the Red Sea, swam in the Dead Sea (which I hated), and gazed at a pile of modern breeze blocks in the desert at Wadi Rum, which our guide assured us was the remains of Lawrence’s house.
Around the same time that I was working in Jordan, I won a place on a project in the Palestinian territories. Politically, it was a bit of a minefield, as the only way in and out was via Tel Aviv, and I was never completely comfortable there. But I have one lasting memory of that trip. I was working with another consultant, a Bangladeshi. Our only day off was Friday and he wanted to visit the Mosque in Jerusalem. With a couple of hours to spare, I decided to walk the Via Dolorosa and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. All went well to begin with, but as I reached the second Station of the Cross, I was approached by a nice young shopkeeper who begged me to come and look at his carpets. He was accompanied by his toddler son, and I figured that made me safe. Which is why I spent my morning not in prayerful contemplation, but sitting cross-legged on the floor, drinking mint tea while a cascade of colourful carpets was displayed before me. I didn’t buy one at the time; but I returned later that day with my colleague – and my resulting purchase still sits in my hall today and reminds me every time I walk on it of a memorable Friday morning in Jerusalem.