This morning I received yet another “invitation to connect” on LinkedIn, this time from a nice guy I met once a couple of years ago and who lives in Italy. I hesitated to add him because I wondered how germane our relationship is to my professional life. But since little seems to separate Facebook from LinkedIn these days I went ahead and added him. And the reality is, one really never knows where work will come from. This has been proven to me over and over again in the last few years.
That accomplished, I couldn’t help but notice the constant nagging to update my profile while on the LinkedIn site. Usually I just ignore this nagging, but then I read my latest job description, which was first updated when I moved to New York almost 5 years ago, and it made me cringe a little. Plus, when looking over the list of past work experience, there was this annoying 2.5 year gap that, although explained briefly in my most current work entry, would probably leave people a little confused at a quick glance. So I broke out my mid-life crisis as a separate work experience for that time period and rewrote my current one to be a little more work-only focused. That accomplished, the nagging blue box prompts on LinkedIn kept coming, egging me on to “complete” my profile with ever greater and detailed information from my distant past. Most of these I ignored (who needs to know what specific courses I took in college over 20 years ago, really), but there was one staring me in the face a bit:
“How would you summarize yourself and your objectives?”
Ugh. Now this was starting to feel like a dating site. I made a couple of stabs at it, but none I was too happy with, and ultimately decided to leave it for another time. I suppose this section is important, but rather like the objective line that they tell kids to always put on their first resume and which almost no one reads before skipping to the experience, it vexed me. On the one hand, I don’t want to reduce myself to some technical, dry description of what I am capable of, but neither do I want to put in a flowery paean to myself as a lonely soul in search of world peace and harmony. So I decided to mull it over a bit and return there one day in the not too distant future. I am lucky that I have lots of work currently and have not needed to look for any in about 2 years. I think of LinkedIn as the place for people to go when they are in need of new jobs or project work, so we will leave this bit of self-promotion for another time or perhaps I will ask someone else to write it for me. Any takers?
…to the bathroom, that is. To the tune of about 40 trips since my return. Was it the questionable free snacks they brought us at Cafe de la Poste? The uncertain meat in the Royal Air Maroc in-flight meal? Who knows, but this has been pretty awful. I don’t feel particularly bad physically, but I can’t be more than an hour max away from the bathroom, seriously. And I don’t even want to tell you what happened last night while I was sleeping (and in bed). Ah, the joys of travel. My doctor prescribed Cipro for me and I already took one dose and hopefully will be more, shall we say, mobile by tomorrow.
There is something about seeing the Manhattan skyline from a plane (or a car for that matter) that has always made me smile with a sense of possibility and more recently that is mixed with a strong sense of home. I am thrilled to be back. Now to attack all the new projects that are awaiting me: two proposals, a report, ongoing client work and two new website projects. I feel very blessed to have as much work as I do with the great clients I have. At the same time, I have finally arrived at a point in my professional life where I no longer get overly stressed about it. If someone would have told me this was possible several years ago, I would have nodded that it was probably doable in theory, but never in practice. I really believed that lots of work meant lots of stress, and there was nothing really to be done about it but take a vacation from time to time to recharge. Now as a freelancer, I feel a lot more in control of my work and schedule, and I would not trade it for anything. I mix work with vacation and travel and feel more even keeled about it across the board. This large trip I just got back from is a good example. It was mostly vacation, but also a little work, especially in Hamburg and Marrakech. And I also managed to keep up to date with a few other clients that needed minor information or changes.
I really didn’t do much that was touristy this time in Marrakech, it was really all work. That said, it was interesting work and it was nice spending time in a few of the places I had been before and seeing some of the nice people I had met here before (and meeting some new ones). It maybe too early to tell, but it looks like I will be coming back here a few more times in relation to this project. I am now having breakfast in my hotel, and awaiting my 2 hour ride to Casablanca (the alternative was to take the 40 min flight at 5am), where I will catch my flight back home to New York. I left the US over a month ago, and this trip has taken me to so many fantastic places, and allowed me to reconnect with a group of wonderful friends. See you on the other side of the Atlantic.
The project I have to do here in Marrakech is related (as so many things in Marrakech are) to French expatriates who came here many years ago. Many of them were (or are) in the fashion industry, and this place has a rich history that interweaves their stories with the stories of Morocco and the stories of the fashion world, its inspirations, history, and gossip. So several of the people around me are quite familiar with that world where I alas am not. And in conversation, they often drop names of people who are central to this history, and whom I suppose are quite famous, but whom I have never heard of. I try not to stare so blankly and make a mental note to look them up later, hoping I can figure out the spelling or last names when only the first are used. Still, I have to admit that one of the reasons I enjoy working with diverse clients is to learn something about their interests, their work, and their worlds. Today is my last day in Marrakech, for tomorrow I fly to Casablanca at 4am(!) and after a few hours layover, back to New York. This trip has been fantastic, but I am ready to be home.
I have long been fascinated and often frustrated by the seeming inability to make what seem like standard technical processes in the US or Europe work as expected in places like Morocco (or India, or other “developing” countries). To take one example from yesterday, WiFi connectivity. It was constantly dropping even though I was close and had a strong signal. It would ask for passwords that had already been entered. It would slow to a crawl very often. It would disappear from the network and then reappear sometime later. This is a technology that has been in use for many years, and it has a set of technical standards attached to its use. It is used millions of times over in countless places. In theory, this is not something that should be so unreliable here. But then you realize that technologies like WiFi (and many others) rely not just on the standardized equipment, but are based on a huge array of invisible items that go into making it so plug-and-play in places like the US:
1. WiFi internet connectivity is only as good and fast as the phone company or cable company or satellite company that supplies it on the other end. In the US, there are many fallbacks and safeguards that improve reliability, and these have been developed over many years.
2. Following on from the above, investment in the underlying telephone network. Capital improvements for things like this seem to happen rarely here and when it does rollout is beset by all kinds of corruption and delay. Often countries like Morocco are sold aging equipment and techniques that are no longer in use by their former colonial overlords (France) and sold to them by the same.
3. Technical expertise setting up networks. There are very few people here who have formal training in these things and they often are flying by the seat of their pants. They are reluctant to ever admit not knowing something for fear of losing a valued contract, and they often patch together these networks in ways they should not.
4. Places like Morocco and India do not have strict building codes, or they are not enforced. This results in the built environment often interfering with the signals through shoddy electrical wiring. They also tend to be places where, because of environmental conditions, they built quite thick concrete or stone walls which make it challenging to get a WiFi signal through.
I have to admit I didn’t expect to be back in Morocco this soon after my first trip 6 months ago. But this time I am here for work, so it is a bit more formal. The hotel they have put me up in is a western style boutique hotel, and it is nicely designed with a lot of nice touches, even as I am reminded of the chaos of certain places (there was a dog barking loudly just outside my not very soundproofed window much of the night). I am staying til Sunday, at which point I will finally head back to New York. After more than a month on the road, I am ready (even though I am excited to be back in Morocco).
Today was another gorgeous fall day out, and so we took the bikes and rode downtown to walk around and do a little window shopping. In particular, riding past the Alster on the way was so beautiful, the trees are all changing, the fall colors fully out but the leaves still mostly on the trees. It was warmer out than it has been too, and it was perfect for a ride. Today was my last full day in Hamburg. Tomorrow I fly to Marrakech for work, and then back to New York on Saturday, finally. I will miss Olaf and our time together here, but I know we will see each other again soon and that I will be back to Hamburg at some point.
A couple of days ago, Olaf told me he had to go to a “reunion of his old classmates” (basically a high school reunion, they were all together in school from the age of 13 to 18), and asked me if I would be interested in going. I said sure, as it seemed like it could be a strange, fun event — especially if I could show up as his flamboyant gay partner dressed in something tasteful like chaps and a neck scarf. But alas, Olaf had already been out of the closet at that time, so my enthusiasm for giving a shock to his old classmates completely deflated and I wore jeans and a sweater. I really should have thought the whole thing through before going, though, as when we got there it was a little awkward to make all his friends speak English. Despite what you may have heard, it does not come all that naturally to most Germans, despite their English being far superior to almost any American’s German skills. Not wanting to get in the way of their reminiscing, I stayed a bit off to the side and checked email for a bit at first, then was lucky enough to hang out with the other odd man out in attendance, a guy named Fred who was the partner of one of the other gays in the village, and who (like me) knew no one there. The reunion was held in a pub in a mini mall in kind of suburb of Hamburg, not far from where they all grew up and attended school. Through my conversations with Fred and the surroundings, I learned quite a few interesting things:
1. The pub we were in was called Humboldt, after one Alexander von Humbolt (and/or his brother Wilhelm, it wasn’t clear). He is apparently quite famous here, although I had never heard of him. His work apparently laid the foundation for the field of biogeography (something I had also never heard of specifically, so there you are). To be fair, most people in attendance couldn’t exactly explain what he was known for off the top of their head. Fred thought he had invented the compass or something (although that I knew had in fact been invented by the Chinese.)
2. Octoberfest is more celebrated in the south (and was already over), but for some reason this pub was decorated to celebrate it, and we had Octoberfest beer and food (Brätwurst and Sauerkraut)
3. After using my translator app a few times and discussing various things with Fred (whose English was quite good), we realized that the Germans have no word for wander. We were attempting to translate the word for hiking, which in German is Wandern, obviously from the same root as our word for wander. But when I explained to Fred that it was different from hiking in that there was particularly no destination implied with the word wander, he explained to me that the Germans had no single word for this. They would have to say something like “to walk or hike with no destination”, which I found hilarious. Of course Germans assume there is a point or destination to everything. Why would you just “wander” with no idea where you were going? I also realized that the word quite neatly describes much of my life outlook. I love not knowing where I am going exactly, that is where I discover the most amazing things.
It was a beautiful day out yesterday, so after a small amount of work in the morning, we decided to take advantage of it. Olaf suggested we go mushroom picking and I of course said “Sure…Wait, come again? Mushroom picking?” Yes, he wanted to drive 30 Km or so to a public forest and go looking for mushrooms. I guess I lump this in with other forms of German “Naturism” where they get “back to nature” by removing their clothes in open fields or grassy areas near lakes at any opportunity. Looking for mushrooms in a dank, smelly forest filled with bugs and boars and shit must likewise feel more “natural” to them than surfing the internet or having a beer at a pub. And since my own, personal aesthetics compel me to try anything I have not yet done before at least once, I agreed and off we went. I imagined it would be difficult to find mushrooms, but in fact they were everywhere. Except for the fact that the most common orange ones I saw all over the place were apparently not the ones we were looking for. I learned to identify at least a couple of types and found a few of the edible ones, as Olaf pointed out to me that the other ones might be edible, or they might be poisonous, or they might just have little to no flavor. Of course the ones we were looking for were hiding a lot of the time, covered up by grass and a color of brown at the top that tended to aid in their camouflage. It actually turned out to be kind of meditative and nice, one really needed to slow down and pay attention to the surrounding area to find them, and it really made you notice all types of thing in detail in the forest. Things like the beetles, the ticks, the broken branches, the grasses and mosses, the texture of the ground, the slimy coating on so many things, the smell of decaying trees and boar dung, and every so often, a prized mushroom. We collected a bunch of them (well, Olaf did; I collected about 5 or 6, but was happy to have found any since I was off to a slow start) and last night had a delicious mushroom pasta. Having woken up this morning not poisoned and still very much alive, I count yesterday’s adventure as a success.