The strange joys of the anti-vacation
“Information overload!”, wails my colleague Anders Østergaard on Twitter, “I want vacation, now!” Well, if you need a vacation, and there’s none available, surely there’s always the option of an anti-vacation?
Let me explain – from my current first-hand experience.
At present I’m in Guatemala City, and in theory I’m on vacation. (The ‘in theory’ part is important.) I can’t go out and play tourist, because I’ve been warned that it’s almost a certainty that I would be robbed, or shot, or both. I can’t walk with my laptop to the nearest Starbucks, partly because there isn’t one, and partly because, again, I probably wouldn’t even get there in one piece and/or still with the laptop. According to a poster down the road, there were 6338 homicides here last year; I’m not surprised, because I’ve already twice seen a body-bag lying in the road after some unspecified ‘incident’. There are men with shotguns or pistols pretty much everywhere, most in some kind of uniform, but not always. There were seven or eight armed guards in the small shopping-mall I went to yesterday, and even lower-middle-class suburbs like this one have gates with 24-hour armed guard, and razor-wire on every garden wall. On one main thoroughfare I counted at least four companies who provide bullet-proof armour for ordinary cars. So ‘security’ is big business here: no doubt that those who purport to provide it are very happy at the amount of money they’re raking in…
Pretty much no-one else is raking it in, though. Sure, prices are low in relative terms – a Big Mac is about half the price compared to the US, to give one crude but useful metric – and a typical middle-class rent would be the equivalent of about US$250-350 a month. But an IT-tech, for example, earns around 1000-1200 Quetzales a week, or about the same as I would expect to earn in a single morning as a tech in Australia. For the ordinary everyday folk who are the backbone of any economy, life is pretty tough at present – a fact which is all too evident all round me here.
And my ‘hotel accommodation’ ain’t exactly salubrious either. I’m working with a bunch of guys doing key development on what I would consider whole-of-enterprise architecture, with an emphasis on organisational health and whole-enterprise integration. Given the ‘security situation’ and the short time I’m booked to be here, I need to be close to them, not hidden away in a hotel; so my ‘bedroom’ consists of a bed in the corner of the office, which in the daytime is shared by at least three other guys. The toilet and shower are half-concealed by a thin curtain: there is no door, and no real privacy. I have no idea of how to get around in this city, and my Spanish is barely past the level of “Buenas dias, ¿que tal?”, so in practice I can’t go out anywhere unless someone drives me there – and only one of the guys has a working car. There’s no heating, and no sound-insulation, so with the main ‘periferico’ freeway roaring away all day and night at the end of the street, and the apparent national passion for letting off firecrackers anywhere at any time, earplugs are an absolute must if I’m to get any sleep at all. To be blunt, I’m exhausted, every night, every day; and at times it can feel more like a prison-cell than anything else.
Yet in reality I probably feel more alive and engaged here than I have at any time in the past three years. After struggling so much and so long against the myopically arrogant apathy of the business scene in so much of Britain and elsewhere, being here is invigorating. In just eight days here I’ve already run or participated in three workshops for top-level bank executives – one of those workshops a marathon of more than twelve hours – and another large workshop-event for almost five hundred mid-level employees. All of it has worked well: if ever there was need for proof of the need and value of whole-of-enterprise architecture, it’s right here. At least three more such events, and probably several exec-level meetings too, before we go back to Mexico this time next week. I don’t have time to play tourist; I have so much to do right now that I barely have time even to write in this weblog.
So yeah, it’s crazy – probably unutterably crazy – but does feel good, too.
Watch this space?