I went to Guinea for work recently, it was the first time I had been to West Africa and the first time I have been to a country which is as poor.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, I’ve been fortunate to have travelled a fair bit, but nothing quite like this. To start with there are the medical concerns, the yellow fever vaccination, the anti-malaria medication, the warnings about food hygiene, water safety and everything else you have to think of. Guinea is one of the countries where the mosquitoes carry cerebral malaria, the kind that kills you within a couple of days of contracting it, the kind you really really don’t want to get. Then there’s the cholera epidemic they are just coming out of the other side of. When you start to read about all the things which you can contract and which can cause you trouble it is easy to worry (or for me it is at least). Thankfully work and my client were excellent in preparing me and ensuring we had the necessary.
We arrived in the afternoon, it was hot and humid, a stark change from the cold and grey I had left behind in London. The airport was easy to navigate and we swept through quickly. The hotel we were staying at was a short drive away and we got our first chance to begin to get a feel for a Conakry. Unsurprisingly it is a low-rise city, with houses along the road and as we drove along we saw children playing football on make-shifts pitches, family gatherings and the ebb and flow of people’s daily lives taking place. Conakry has no sewerage system, so you also see piles of rubbish on the side of the road and the odd burning pile of rubbish where someone has decided that there is a more than enough and it needs to be got rid of. I also saw goats, cats and dogs wandering along and vendors walking along with their dead chickens or fish ready to sell.
Most of the week was taken up with work so we didn’t get out and about very much, in fact we spent all day working and then had dinner and a beer before crashing out under the mosquito net. However on the final day there my colleague wanted to buy a couple of things for his kids so we were taken to a local market to try and buy a football t-shirt and a dress. As soon as the vendors saw us we were surrounded, everyone wanting to sell us their goods, everyone knowing as soon as they saw us that we had money and could afford not to drive such a hard bargain. As we drove away we had kids knocking on the window asking for money, for a drink. It made me acutely aware of all that I had and how very lucky and privileged a life I lead.
I came away from the week away thinking about what could be done, about how when a country is somewhere down at the bottom of the GDP per capita table there is so much scope for change and how hard it really is to do that. It was a reality check seeing the poverty and the life that goes on and meeting people who were warm, friendly and full of optimism. I’m pretty sure I won’t be going back anytime soon unless work takes me there again but I am glad that I got the opportunity to visit a corner of the world I might never have been able to get to and to be able to reflect on what it is I have and how lucky and blessed I am.
I got an invite at work to an event earlier, it was a ‘Pearls of Polish’ event, all about work etiquette specifically for women. What I didn’t realize was why I had got this. Until I was chatting with a colleague who mentioned that it was an opportunity to talk about dress at work and what was/was not appropriate.
This surprised me, I tend to think the women in our office dress well, not everyone wears a suit all the time but overall everyone looks smart and presentable (to me at least). Little did I know that some of the men in our office had been commenting about the amount of cleavage which seemed to be on display!
At first I chuckled, what was wrong with a little cleavage? Then I got to thinking, was I one of the offenders? Was it me who was causing the office to all have to be told how to dress in a more conservative fashion? Which then led me to think who the hell really cares? Most guys I know don’t seem to mind when there is a little hint of something rather then buttoned up to the top with no femininity.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot from a few perspectives:
- why should men get to say what women wear?
- do they therefore treat you differently (worse?) if they think you don’t dress conservatively enough?
- why don’t they just have a bloody dress code and make everyone’s life easier?
I think the whole thing is slightly absurd to be honest, if it really is something of that much importance then they should write a dress code and be done with it. If there is a code then they should feel comfortable enough to pick a female colleague up on flouting that code. Instead what has happened is that they discussed it with the most senior women in the office and are taking a very round about route to trying to talk about it.
Still for now I shall continue with a quick cleavage check every morning before I leave the house…
Last week I was in South Africa with work.
Before I moved to America I used to travel a fair bit with work and got fairly comfortable with the whole shindig, able to pack relatively well, move through the airport efficiently and be at one with my own company, as well as getting the job done overseas. Then we moved and I didn’t do it for about 2 years, until last week when I was off again.
Of course I was excited, having not been to South Africa before, but there was also a good level of trepidation, could I still do it? Had I forgotten it all? I’ve spoken before about my tendency to worry, probably on the higher side compared to others, but I was still slightly surprised by how much doing something, about which I used to be so confident, was causing me to really doubt myself and my abilities.
I felt like last week I was re-learning, about my work, what I need to do, and more importantly about my self. Recognising my need for control over certain things, my enjoyment at meeting new people and the value I derive from doing a job well. Hopefully I can remember some of this for the next trip.
As much as going home made me realise what I missed even more it also made me think about changing the way I think about and approach being here. I loved my time back in England but I also realised that right now that’s not where life is. My life is here in Washington, DC and I can either try and make the most of being here or I can let it pass me by wishing for something else.
Things are good, mostly, but things are generally only mostly good, that’s just balance right? Plus there are opportunities, my job is good, it’s interesting and challenging. Learning about America is still intriguing me and I think growing me as a person. The opportunities we have here (like going to California for 2 nights) are ones we wouldn’t have in the UK.
I was sad to leave, so sad sat on the plane, but glad to be back, glad to really know what I have at home, how much I treasure it and more aware of being in the moment here and making the most of it so I don’t regret it when we come back.
A while back I wrote about what I felt like being a wife. I got amazing responses and support from everyone and it made it easier for me to stand proud and tell people that at that stage in my life my role was a wife. Nothing more, nothing less and most importantly absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Things have changed since then. I am now gainfully employed again. So I’ve been thinking about how I feel now. I am delighted to be working again, I like the feeling of going out and earning my keep, of being in an office of lovely people and being able to talk to people all day and of course being able to answer the question of “so what do you do?”
But I also feel more confident and more valuable. Funny because I really had grown to be very happy just being a wife. I understood the value in what I was doing and was proud of all I was doing. So I almost feel a little bad about feeling better to be working again.
I think what this has all made me realise is that regardless of what I do I should be proud of myself and regardless of what others do I should not judge them for that but instead understand it and be proud of them for the choices they have made. Because if that is what I want from others that is what I should do myself.
This working malarky is good, don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying being productive, using my brain, earning money again and all that. *But* early mornings, one hour commuting each way and adjusting back to working does not allow for blogging, reading blogs or twitter. Which is to say I miss you guys, I truly do.