My Working World: N is for…
It’s time for another in the occasional series looking at places I’ve worked around the world. We’ve covered the first half of the alphabet in the past couple of years and if you want to read any of the former posts, you will find them behind the appropriate letter below.
But today we are moving on to N. There are ten countries in the world beginning with N, of which I have visited and worked in four: Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria and Norway.
In terms of large cities (defined as having a population greater than 100,000) there are 183 listed in Wikipedia. I always find the exercise of reading these lists fascinating, as names appear that I’d totally forgotten about and I find I’ve been to more places than I remember. This time, I ended up with a list of eight, although I’m going to discount New York, as my main visit there was for pleasure, and I don’t think I ever worked there. That leaves me with: Nablus, Nairobi, Nalchik, Ndola, Nice, Nizhny Novgorod and Novosibirsk, plus one extra, of which more later.
Nairobi and Ndola
Nairobi, well-known as the capital of Kenya, was the location for one of the smallest factories owned by the pharmaceutical multinational for whom I worked. I visited the tiny site on several occasions in the 1990s; it was set around a luscious lawn, that I seem to remember was being cropped by a couple of local cattle at one point. I also remember the humidity being so high that sweat rolled down my back within seconds of moving outside. It was no co-incidence that I spent far longer than was strictly necessary inspecting the inside of the refrigeration room on each visit.
Nairobi is a city of huge contrasts: home to Kibera, the largest slum settlement in Africa, but with many luxury hotels and apartments. And nature is never far away. The Game Park reaches right up to the edge of the city. One of the best photos I ever took shows no sign of man in one direction, but immediately behind me were the skyscrapers of a modern city. And I have always thought it ironic that the definitively named Carnivore Restaurant is situated right next to the fence of the park.
By contrast, Ndola is a much less familiar name. It is the capital of the copper belt in north eastern Zambia. I visited it only once, during the Commonwealth Secretariat project in the 2000s. It is situated 275 miles as the crow flies from the capital Lusaka, or over 300 miles by road. We chose to fly, leaving Lusaka in the early dawn light, taking a little puddle-hopper plane, and returning the same day. To my shame, I have no memory of the factory we visited that day, but the journey and the countryside remained with me.
So why connect these two cities together, apart from the fact they are both in southern Africa? Well, they both place a major role in the investigations of Suzanne and Charlie Jones in Counterfeit! And although the book is fiction, several of the incidents related in there really happened to me during my travels in that part of the world.
Nice, if you will excuse the pun, is a very nice part of the world. I visited it just the once for a conference dinner at the end of global production conference during my corporate days. Hosting the conference was one of the Board Directors, and no expense had been spared. We were to spend the evening in one of the best-known establishments on the sea front. Most of the conference delegates had finished their day around 5pm and had spent the intervening hours relaxing and preparing for what was to be the highlight of the week. I was working in the department with responsibility for organising the conference, and our boss was a workaholic, to say the least, and expected no less dedication from his team. The coaches were due to leave the hotel at 8pm. He allowed us to knock off at 7.50pm! That was the evening I learned the importance of being a quick-change artist – a skill I have never lost, I am glad to say. Oh, and the meal completely lived up to expectations!
I’m going to break my own rule here, and include a city of fewer than 100,000 inhabitants. On the list above, I included Nizhny Novgorod and Novosibirsk, both large cities in Russia. But I want to mention another slighter smaller one, as I reckon one of its inhabitants saved my life.
Actually, the story starts in a different country altogether, It was back in 2005 when my health took a nosedive. I’d run up a short flight of stairs in a hotel in Armenia, following the porter who was carrying my huge suitcase but still managed to leave me way behind. As we stood waiting for the elevator, I struggled to breathe. Glancing in a mirror, I was shocked to see a distinct blue tinge to my lips. At the time, I put it down to the altitude (Yerevan being 1000 metres above sea-level) but within a few days I was back home and still struggling to breathe after even mild exercise.
The following week, I was due to visit Novouralsk, one of the closed cities still existing in post-Soviet Russia. The trip had been organised months before. Permission had been granted for me to enter the city, on specific days, accompanied by a named person. My husband begged me to cancel but I refused. I phoned my aunt, a nurse and surrogate mother since mine died, hoping she would support me. She was calm, sympathetic and went through the arguments with me, to no avail. She told me later she wanted to scream down the phone: ‘cancel the trip — go to the doctor’ but she didn’t feel she had the right.
Three days before I was due to fly, I walked upstairs and had to sit on the bed for five minutes to recover. I began to suspect I wasn’t going to make it to Heathrow, let alone halfway around the world. I lay awake throughout that night, panicking. I was the consummate professional; I didn’t let my clients down — until now. At dawn I made a phone call, tentatively explaining the problem. Olga, the wonderful lady at the other end, let out what I thought was a gasp of irritation. ‘Oh-oh, here goes my contract’ I thought — but I was wrong.
‘Elizabeth, of course you can’t come to Russia,’ she said, ‘go and get your health sorted. We’ll be waiting when you’re better’. And six months later, after recovering from the pulmonary embolism I’d been walking around with for weeks, they were still waiting for me. And it was a wonderful visit.