Updated: Oct 14, 2020
A great portion of our life is dedicated to work. Imagine we wouldn't be allowed to humorously reflect on our experiences!?
In this collection of little blog posts, I share some of my personal reflections on the workplace, titled: "Workplace Shenanigans."
HR wants to curate info!
„Give us one interesting fact about you.”
About a few weeks ago, I spotted an interesting statement while aimlessly scrolling down my timeline on one of my socials. "When you have a hundred cousins, Facebook is a cool thing..." its author wrote. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been as astonished as I was had it not come from a European person from the Balkans. For one associates large clan family structures more with the peoples’ of Africa and Asia than those of Europe. Maybe that is also why it awoke a great deal of curiosity in me. Moments later, in that state of deep thought, all subsumed in recollections, I wondered how many cousins I actually have.
Funnily enough, mere days prior to seeing that statement, a young admin lady at my workplace asked me to supply her with a picture of me and a fun fact concerning my person. It was intended for a company-wide round email aimed at breaking the ice between me and my colleagues; but uninventive 9-to-5 me gave the most boring of answers they’ve probably ever circulated. Had I only shared the fact that I’m about to share with all of you guys, it would've surely been an unforgettable experience for a bunch of white Europeans!
How would they react, I wondered, if they knew that my grandfathers on both mother's and father's side were camel herding, semi-literate and polygamous Somali nomads. Men whom many orientalist scholars would call remnants of an era that has already vanished. You know, those henna-beard flaunting, turban donning Somali elders that prance around in boss mode with their colourful sarongs around the waist and traditional walking sticks. If I didn’t get things wrong, my maternal grandfather Musa Ahmed, who was said to have been a righteous man (may Allah have mercy on him), had two wives and about a dozen kids, of which roughly ten were fortunate enough to survive their childhood illnesses.
Then there’s my paternal grandfather Warsame Abtidoon, an ageing 90 year old still among the living somewhere in Somalia who apparently fathered 20+ children with three or four wives. The thing is, what's shocking to the average European is perfectly normal in our ancestral land. In the central plains and savannah landscapes of Somalia, also known as the ‘red land’ (Galgaduud), polygamous is almost the default family type. I literally have so many cousins that I never bothered enquiring about any of them, let alone keeping a register of their numbers. They sure as hell more than a hundred. I've also never been too keen on getting in touch with them via social media either, although I always knew full well that such a move would give my cause an artificial boost in “fans/supporters”. But my culturally estranged individuality always forbade me from playing that clan card. Though I should qualify that by adding “thus far”.
Truthfully, except for one of my maternal cousins who once visited us in Germany over a decade ago, not a single one of them is to be found in my friend list. I've particularly avoided the Warsame clan ever since I joined social media, though I’m not entirely sure whether it has just been gut-feeling or the foresight of wisdom, but something inside of me sensed that if I add one of them, they'll all do so with their many accounts. My whole timeline would then turn into a mockery splattered with fantastic comments of family members brown-nosing and flattering each other up with hollow words.
It already is a wonder that my identity crisis affected diasporan self contributes to the blood money and charity pool they occasionally request me to transfer money to!
Freedom From Hierarchy
Part of the magic of personal growth is that we’re often pushed into situations that set it off against our will, in stark contrast to what those self-help gurus always say in their books. For if you lend an ear to the echo of wisdom that surrounds all of us in our daily interactions, you’ll realise that true change is not invoked by hypnosis inducing empty slogans; it’s rather brought about by authentic happenings which first lure and then force one out of the comfort zone. I’ve seen it unfold many times over.
The other day, I was introduced to a software developer of German origin. We’re part of the same business unit and bonded over the fact that we share some commonalities in where we grew up and how we sought a more cosmopolitan environment in the UK. To a degree, one could say that it was an encounter in which two globetrotters engaged in a two-way ‘diaspora blues’ exchange. And though I had no special access to his state of mind, I somehow sensed from his body language that he seemed to feel compelled to be friendly and talkative towards me, the new colleague in the team, the new kid on the block.
I thoroughly enjoyed the chat regardless, as is always the case when I’m presented with an opportunity to brush up on my language affinity. “This kind of occasion doesn’t come by everyday” I thought to myself, though I knew deep down that my eagerness wasn’t reciprocated. Rusty in his German, my colleague appeared quite surprised to meet a young black fellow who speaks his native tongue accent free like a blondie. And by the end of the whole thing it was clear that we had a “too deep for work” kind of conversation: about Germany and its myriad of problems, including the sensitive immigration issue. I ended up speaking perhaps a little too freely. For In the heat of the moment, I had absolutely no idea that this encounter would have repercussions.
So shortly after we were about to turn our gaze back to the computer screens, his face suddenly turned red in embarrassment, because he had noticed that a lady higher up the hierarchy, who’s also of German origin, overheard our venting and ranting. Glancing towards her direction in a timid manner, he pointed at her with the forehead, saying: “oh, this is so-and-so, she’s also originally from Germany. It turned out that the lady is the boss of my line manager’s boss, in charge of literally everything relating to our business unit.
I couldn’t have been unluckier and more foolish in my open expressing of my personal views on highly controversial topics. No one would butt heads over the fact that it was a bad move. And surprisingly enough, it didn’t take long for me to visually see the outcome of this blunder: utter silence instead of good morning greetings some days later, followed by a meticulous stare on the watch to check the exact time I got in. Just like you’d expect from a boss lady whose disfavour you’ve earned. But hey, I guess it is all part of this freeing oneself from the shackles of ‘the system’ storyline. You can never be truly independent of mind and at the same time fear hierarchical chart designs of organisations that were outlined by capitalist masterminds.
Today, around noon, I had an early lunch on the third floor of the building that is my workplace. I coincidentally found this cozy spot right by the window, overlooking a rather small public park. The view has a charming flair, as some of the skyscrapers of central London frame the background, preponderantly towering over this serene patch of greenery. Without a doubt, the magical appeal of this little retreat can be likened to an oasis in the desert, except that it’s surrounded by concrete instead of sand dunes. I enjoy having my lunch here. It adds quality of life to my day and eases the burden of workloads and tight deadlines. The more I admire the picturesque view, the less I register whatever is going on around me. Magical is the only word I can find to describe the contrasting vibes and lively atmosphere.
It’s packed in the summer months and many of the office workers nearby gather there to find sanctuary, momentarily escaping from the mundane reality of cubicles. Their happy-go-lucky manner of sitting on the gras whilst eating lunch reminds me of my childhood and youth. As a hyperactive kid, I was more of an outdoor person and found being inside buildings for too long suffocating. I’m slowly realising that self-employment is perhaps the only route to tranquility in this confining era, where people spend more time chained to office desks than they actually live.
Maybe, I just need a holiday somewhere sunny and green to dispel these ‘woke’ thoughts about freeing myself from the yoke of capitalism.
The other day, shortly after I started my 9 to 5 grind, I went outside for a short break from work earlier than as is normally the case. I noticed that my supplies of refreshments ran low, and thus wanted to replenish my chest of drawers with little snacks. As I stepped out of the office building, I heard female voices conversing in German nearby. I looked around and then saw two ladies sitting on a bench in the designated smoking area, right next to bicycle stands. Eavesdropping is honestly not my thing, especially when potential conversation topics include relationship talks and the likes of what I’m used to from ladies’ chatter - which I’m somewhat allergic to (lol). But in their naive thinking that no one able to understand them was around, they were so loud that I just couldn't ignore it, “where are your earphones when you really need them”, I thought to myself.
One of the ladies poured out her heart to the other and complained about financial problems, reiterating that she did not want to tap into her emergency savings. The other, visibly frustrated lady responded harshly, and after rolling her eyes, she said: “Your savings account this, your savings account that, at the end of the day it’s your money!”. That was the last thing my ears overheard as I walked past them — their voices piping down with the distance. Contrary to my initial assumptions, I found this 10am chit chat quite interesting, since it got me musing in contemplation.
It also summoned up memories I thought I had long forgotten: flashbacks of parsimonious Germans teaching their kids how to save up money with a sealed piggy bank, and of Somali fathers coercing theirs to eat together as one unit, for the purpose of internalising the spirit of sharing. Those were poignant retellings of the usual tales of earthly living, revolving around the ever-present question: “should I tighten the belt to live tomorrow, or should I be more outgoing with my spending of money in order to live comfortably today?”. My mind got flooded with insinuations of the realm of lateral thinking - from economic perspectives to prophetic narrations - every corner of my brain wanted to voice its opinion and sway the final verdict for the day. Time and time again, I’m out of words in amazement, marveling at how the little things in life gift us with so much meaning.