Whoa… Didn’t See That Coming!
The more things change, the more they stay they same…
Most of us have heard that saying, or some version of it in whatever global language you speak.
I always thought that was true. At least I used to; but these days, I’m not so sure.
When I first came to Baku, it was somewhat remote- by that I mean not many people recognized it by name. Heck, even American Express Travel tried to tell me it was in Africa (I assured them it most definitely was not in Africa.)
In Montreal, I was greeted by the security agent, checking my bag tag, saying, “Have a nice time in Bangkok!” Whoa- my bags better not be going to Bangkok! I’m going to Baku!!
In those days, expats showed up and were quickly identified as the new guy at BP, or the new teacher at TISA. The only reason people came there from outside was for work, and about the only work was connected to oil/energy in some way. Things were booming then, but it was still remote.
Nobody had reliably working landline phones, so you physically went to friends’ flats to talk and socialize and share expat pleasures not available in town (if you were lucky enough to have company shipments coming in regularly). Sometimes you might get invited to the Embassy- which sounds exotic to friends and family back home, but was really a little slice of survival there.
An expat was someone who had a hard life, working in places where there weren’t enough local workers skilled in your trade to do what you do without having to pay the extra money on imported labor. There is a reason companies “incentivized” (ok, bribed) staff to go on assignments like this.
It was hard work, being without family. Not having internet yet meant waiting at the office until a middle time could be arranged for a call home to tuck the kids into bed via satellite phone.
When I went to Baku to live on my own, I didn’t have any company shipments- I had been the one sending the shipments from Houston for our Baku staff, so I knew what they were missing. But they were all men so I also knew there were certain products they would have no idea how to get when I got there.
In one suitcase, I had an odd assortment of 36 pairs of underwear (white cotton- no washers/dryers- who wants to see bikinis and thongs hanging out on a line in the courtyard after they have been boiled on the stove?), 18 pairs of pantyhose (for which I got unending grief for wearing in the hot sticky Baku summer), two dozen sticks of deodorant (I might sweat but at least I was going to smell good doing it!) and a ton of feminine things.
I knew I could get some euro shampoo that would be fine, but haircolor? Geez, I looked at the babushkas with their henna over black or a combination of whatever was in the Soviet-era market and thought this adventure could go south in a hurry!
A couple years after I arrived, so did cellphones- everybody got one… or two. Cars also arrived, as did the internet and new computers. Gone were the floppies I carried my language course on. Gone was the text of my computer class that began with C colon, backslash, backslash, D-I-R.
Change had always been incremental. In Baku because of the collapse of the Soviet Union, change came pouring in like water flooding over a dam. There was something new each day it seemed. Kids in my classes didn’t have computers at home- why would they? There was no software, no internet. Then suddenly they all had laptops and dataplans. I kept telling my students, “Please don’t say you know Windows on your resume. That marks you as a newbie and no one will take you seriously.”
With all the skills we were teaching and the number of expats acting as bridges, young students began getting good jobs at western companies, making more in a month than their parents did in a year. We were witnessing a huge middle class developing before our own eyes. Young people travelling to Turkey and the UK, going to school in France and Germany. Increasingly mobile and ready to see the world.
I don’t want to say the expat model is over, but I will say it has definitely changed in many places. Satellite technology allows surgery over cyberspace; teaching and training can be done online; accounting records can be scanned and processed thousands of miles away. So I knew things were changing- and quickly- but I’m not sure I was ready for this much change in a decade. It used to take a generation, now it’s the blink of an eye, and if you blink too slowly you may miss the change all together!
Take a look and see what I mean.
Whoa… I didn’t see that coming!
(Thank you to Sophia Besitka at sophiabesitka.wordpress.com for curating these two videos about change and inspiring this blog post.)
Sophia writes from the future as I reminisce over the past. Sophia is building tomorrow while I consider who will remember yesterday. It’s an interesting place to be right now. I wonder, if you had asked me 10 years ago to predict the future of work, what my answer would have been. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been close at all.
Take a look at this clip from ODesk (now Upwork) and then tell me if you work in a job that didn’t exist 10 years ago or are working in a job that may not exist 10 years from now? Does this fascinate you as it does me?
To go to Baku, at that critical point of history and to see where we are today is breathtaking in the scope of all that has changed. I wonder where we will be in 10, or 20 years from now. What do you think will be around that we can’t imagine today?
I feel like a human contradiction, writing this minutes after having just been on a Persicope with friends from all over the world, instantly teaching each other about the latest technology, then writing about one of the oldest societies’ race to catch up with today.
Do you ever have days where you feel like this? Why don’t you share it with me? Tell me how change is affecting your life… or what you didn’t see coming! 😉
Thanks for being here with me today-