I feel lucky, but it’s no excuse to be jealous.

Lately at work I’ve been feeling a kind of poorly hidden reluctance towards me. Not from my own team, but from some people from other teams. It’s best described by the kind of comments they’re making about my travels: “Wow, it’s so cool, you get to travel and do nothing”. And that, my friends, is the clou here: the presumption that I’m lucky because I get to do nothing while traveling on my firm’s dime.

And yes, the truth is: I am lucky. Incredibly lucky, but not because of what they think. I’m generally a lucky person: I was born and raised in a nice country (it has its problems, but which country doesn’t?), in a loving family (we have our issues as well, but nothing really disqualifying). I was lucky to be brought up in a rather intellectual environment, where books abounded and discussions were about more than just what we had for dinner lat night. I was lucky to get into a good high school and a great University. I was lucky to have found a major I liked and got a chance to write and defend my thesis on a subject that fascinates me. I am extremely lucky to have found a good job that pays decently and gives some opportunities for development. I am blessed with amazing friends. There are issues – there are always issues. But overall, I feel really lucky that my life is going as it is. I have financial security not many people my age have, I have a family and a group of friends that support me and on whom I can count. Even though I’ve had no successes on that field, I can still pursue my dream and my passion, which is literature. I’m happy in my life.

And while I can’t claim any merits on the subject of my family or friends (I have God to thank for that), the other part is a combination of luck (or divine intervention, whatever you prefer) and my own work. Perhaps it’s not fair, I haven’t worked as hard as others at school or at Uni, and yet I had decent to very good grades. But is it okay to blame me for the fact that I’m a fast learner? I don’t think so. So what am I supposed to do, pretend? Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of people smarter than me in my circle of friends. In fact, I strive to surround myself with people smarter than me. There’s no point to life otherwise, for me.I’m like a zombie: I love brains. (It’s also the thing I find the sexiest in people.)

And when it comes to my job… yes, I was lucky to find it. They were hiring a lot of people at that moment to accommodate the new process that had been transferred to Kraków from Budapest. But I was chosen not because I have a pretty face (I don’t have a pretty face). I was hired because I speak both English and French well, and partly also because I had some previous experience at work. Not that it had anything to do with what we do at IBM BTO: I was an au pair twice, I worked as a proofreader at a translation bureau, I had an internship at the Polish Embassy in Brussels, and for a while I was vice-president of a charity foundation, doing volunteering work for lgbt issues. But it’s much more than a lot of my classmates at Uni did professionally, which would be nothing. And I understand that they wanted to cherish the awesome years at Uni. But then they shouldn’t complain now that I’ve got a job and they don’t. (None of my immediate classmates complained about it to me, but it’s been a theme of many a letter to newspapers lately. But that’s a topic for another day.)

So I’ve started working at IBM with a lot of other people, most of them around my age. We’ve just had a first anniversary at the firm at the beginning of March. And, again, it’s true that I was lucky with how the things proceeded. It just happened that our client was expanding our scope in their locations in Morocco and Tunisia, which are French-speaking. Had it been any other country, none of the opportunities I’ve had would present themselves to me. Besides, initially it was my colleague (who works much longer at IBM) who was picked, but she didn’t really want it and resigned over some health issues. So I was only a second choice for this.

So yeah, the opportunity itself was a lucky strike.

But there was nothing lucky in why it was me who got picked on the end. There were like twelve people in my team at the time, some of them with longer seniority, some of them much more qualified because they work the AP part, and I’m in Procurement. Here it is: I got picked because I worked hard. And because I’m good at this. I learn fast, I have some analytical skills, I am more “technical” than most of my colleagues. About a month and a half into working at IBM, when most of my colleagues who joined at the same time were still figuring the systems out, I was already training a new joiner (newer than us, that is). I can’t help it – I get things easily. Soon I was getting more and more work and responsibilities, and with that, yes, came rewards and opportunities. I got a very good grade in our annual review and a promise of further possibilities for development and all. I was also chosen to be a part of a program called Top Talent which gives me, among other things, additional funding for training and personal development. And, of course, I got this opportunity to travel to client’s locations in Morocco and Tunisia, as well as IBM in Braga, Portugal. And now I went to Dubai, on the wave of this same project, even though originally I was to deal with only French-speaking client. (That was another lucky strike: the person who was originally going to go to Dubai was from India and their visa expired. And from 22nd March Poland, as other EU countries, doesn’t need a pre-arranged visa anymore, just a visa-on-entry.)

The point is, I worked for this. I am good at what I do. And anybody that says that I get to travel while doing nothing doesn’t know what they’re saying. I had three days of training on this project – three. Then I got some written materials and access to a test environment and I was left alone to fetch for myself. I had to learn everything myself. And I *did* a good job with that because now I’m sort of an expert in that tool we’re implementing.  I worked hard, for hours, doing both my usual work for Procurement and teaching myself new stuff, at the same time. I took calls and meetings that were way above my pay-grade. I prepared all formal stuff myself as well – arranging approvals (and our travels need to be approved by guys in the US + security approval from people over in Africa or Middle East), flights, hotels, and then expense claims. It sounds light, but it’s actually a complicated process, especially if you travel like I did – I was out of the country for a month, but I spent it going from place to place, from Poland to Morocco to Tunisia to Portugal to Tunisia to Morocco to Poland. I was told by the girl who processed my expense claim that it was the biggest one and most complicated one she ever seen.

So yeah, I’m a little bit annoyed at people who claim I’m lucky because I get to do nothing and travel. I don’t regret any of it, and I’d do everything over again in a heartbeat, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t worked for this. I have, and hard. None of my colleagues had to ever stay for overtime. I cannot even count how much overtime I did – especially on the travels themselves, where I wasn’t recording my hours, so I can’t claim this overtime. I work hard, I’m a fast learner, so I get more opportunities – and more responsibilities as well. It’s that simple. And some of my colleagues are just annoying.

I am glad to be back in Europe.

At work, I’ve gotten an incredible opportunity to become a trainer of one of our accounting tools, and this allowed me to travel. First I went to Braga, Portugal, to train an IBM team there. I spent a week in Portugal and then went back to Poland for another week. And then I went for a week to North Africa.

And don’t get me wrong – Morocco and Tunisia were great (Tunisia was better, not tainted by the whole they-fucking-lost-my-luggage thing that happened in Morocco), and I really wish I had more time to visit them (I most probably will have). But it’s good to be back in Europe, even if it’s still not my little corner of the universe, not Poland yet.

Now, I didn’t have much time for myself in Morocco. I arrived late in the evening, and exasperated because the airline lost my luggage. I had not one, but two layovers – in Berlin and Rome – and when I came to Casablanca it turned out that my registered bag didn’t come with me. It stayed in Rome. Perhaps it wanted to visit. I’d like that too. But I definitely prefer my luggage being in the same place as I am… or at least the same continent, if you catch my drift.

If it was Baggage, it would walk over to me through the Mediterranean Sea quicker than my luggage came to me on a plane.

It didn’t come with me; I made a claim at the Royal Air Maroc desk, and went to the hotel with what I had with me, or on me, which was a laptop, a Kindle, a notebook, a pair of jeans and a T-Shirt with “HOLMES” written over it. Not exactly the most professional of outfits, but I didn’t have much choice in the matter: in the morning, I had to be at the client’s office. Fortunately, they were very understanding. And nice.

My luggage was supposed to come that night, on the very same flight from Rome I came on the day before. Only, it didn’t. By that time, I was really frustrated. Day two of being at the client’s office in the same clothes and without even the possibility to brush my teeth was not the greatest of experiences… but I made it. I am (or I was anyway) a sailor after all, I am (was) used to getting by with not much to spare. That same afternoon I went to a shopping centre and bought a change of clothes, a toothpaste and a toothbrush. Then I felt like a human again.

My luggage finally came on the third day, late at night. I decided to not go and collect it right away; I was to be on the airport anyway the next morning, as I was going to Tunisia. And I did just that.

So how was Morocco? I was in Casablanca, the economic capital of the country, and it looked like it. Very industrial, not really touristic place. Lots of cars and lots and lots of people. Like I said, I didn’t get to visit anything except my client’s office, so that was a bummer. But all the people I met were very nice and polite.

I was in Egypt three years ago, so I expected something similar in Morocco. It wasn’t. People don’t harass you in Morocco (or Tunisia) the way they do in Egypt; nobody asked me for a tip in Maghreb, but baksheesh was probably the most frequently used word in Egypt. I didn’t attract as much attention either; my European clothes didn’t stand out, and even though I was probably the only naturally blonde woman I saw in these two countries, nobody commented on it or was in any way improper. In Egypt me being a blonde attracted A LOT of attention, and not necessarily the good kind. I was uneasy about going anywhere by myself in Egypt. I didn’t feel absolutely secure in Maghreb either, but it wasn’t because of the color of my skin, hair or eyes, at least. And I did wander off by myself both in Morocco and Tunisia, although always in an area used to seeing tourists.

I didn’t get any kind of disrespectful  or discriminatory remarks or behaviour from men on the grounds of being a female either, at least not outright. Everybody was very polite, even too much so, sometimes. But there was a lingering, subconscious feeling of dismissiveness, not very pronounced, but present nonetheless. An afterthought of a culture that isn’t very nice to women. It’s changing, of course, but the traces are still there, even within the part of society that is well-educated and rather Europeanized.

If I said that those two countries are civilised, I’d be making them an offense. Of course they are civilised; it’s just a different civilisation from our own. Although, Europe seeps through in many ways, some more obvious than others. Like not everybody speaks perfect French; before I went there, I thought that was the case. But no. They learn French at school, but it’s not really their language. They speak Arabic at home and at work and everywhere. French is for foreigners. However, if you listen to them speaking in Arabic, you will hear that it’s not proper Arabic. It’s not only got French influences; more often than not, a big parts of sentences are in French, let alone separate words. Like, they will say five words in Arabic, then use a French expression, then continue with Arabic, say “donc” (French for “so” or “hence”), speak another sentence in Arabic and finish with a French word.

And the shopping centre in Casablanca: a big mall (they even call it that, a mall) with all European and American brands and only a few that I didn’t recognize – but maybe because they are just not present in Poland, but still are international? Who knows? And I mean – McDonald’s, KFC, Terranova, H&M, Carrefour, even Starbucks for God’s sake. Or the way they dress – most in European clothes (more people dress traditionally in Tunis than in Casablanca), most young women without hijabs (and again: more hijabs in Tunis).

But there are other things, subtler things. Things that are hard to define, but yet undeniably there. In the way they speak, the way they greet you and say goodbye, the way they look at you. And especially in Morocco – the way their keep their distance. This is very European, keeping people at a safe distance, at an arm’s length. In Tunisia they’re more open in the way that they’re more likely to talk to you about themselves and ask equally personal questions, more likely to hug or kiss you on the cheek instead of shaking your hand, more likely to touch you incidentally or in order to put an emphasis on something they’re saying.

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The following was written three weeks later:

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It’s the last day of February, and I’ve been traveling for the last month. Yes, month. I left on 2nd February. It’s 28th now, and I’m going back to Poland tomorrow. And I can’t wait to be back.

Don’t get me wrong, this trip has been wonderful in many ways. I got to visit places, meet people, discover other cultures. I’ve had adventures and I gained so much experience and I learned so much new stuff that I can use in the future… but still, I’m glad to be coming back. Traveling is great.. coming home after a long time is even better.

Not that I had a chance to really feel dépaysée. Casablanca is really *very* European compared to Tunis or any town in Egypt I’ve been to. Even the architecture doesn’t fit in the standard, traditional Arab way of construction, especially in the city center. The buildings there are either high office buildings, often covered in glass, or smaller tenement houses that would fit in perfectly on the streets of Paris, Firenze or Krakow. There is the old Medina with swerving, narrow streets full of little shops and stands, and there you feel like you really don’t belong. It’s crowded, most of the stuff they’re selling is counterfeit, it stinks horribly. I didn’t like that place at all. I could compare it to the souk in Tunis – streets even narrower, more crowded, also selling mostly counterfeit, but somehow it was much nicer there. For starters, it was cleaner and didn’t stink as much as the Medina in Casablanca. The people were nicer, obviously used to tourists (my most bizarre encounter – I was walking behind Besma, my host, I wasn’t saying anything in any language, and suddenly a guy starts speaking to me in Polish, trying to get me to buy his stuff. I was dumbfounded. I asked him how did he know I was Polish – he said “It’s the face”. I don’t get it, really. Plenty of bright-eyed blondes walk this Earth, and most of them is not from Poland. I am still dumbfounded, I guess. Besides, his limited Polish was quite goo!). In Casablanca I constantly got the feeling of being ogled by men and glared at by women. In Tunis it happened, too, but in Casa it’s more of a regular thing, not an exception like in Tunis. I just feel very white, very blonde and very female in Morocco. In Tunis I simply felt like a tourist. In that way, even though Casablanca seems much more European and Tunis is more Arab and traditional, I felt more welcome and at home in Tunis.

The thing I already noticed before – that people are much more touchy-feely – is still valid, both for Tunisians and Moroccans. Moroccans seem to have more of a distance towards us, Europeans, but between themselves they keep pretty close. Holding hands, casually touching each other on the arms, hugging (women as well as men), kissing on both cheeks (that is French influence methinks). In Europe, if two guys are holding hands, you immediately think they’re a couple. Here you cannot make any assumptions. (When you think of it, in Eurhttps://amythewicked.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=389&action=editope women – especially girls – are allowed to hold hands or hug each other without being subject to assumptions, but that’s a topic for another time.)

All in all, I’ve been in Morocco for four full days and twelve in Tunisia (not counting half-days when I was traveling). And I am honestly glad it was this way. I loved Tunisia – I loved the archeological sites of Carthage, I loved the beautiful views in Sidi Bou Said, I loved the souk full of life and colours and people, I loved the air and the weather and the sun, I loved the people who were very nice and helpful, both at work and on the streets, I loved the sea and the general feeling of it all, like I was on vacation. (Despite that I was leaving for work every day at 8 am and coming back later and later as we went on – on Monday we came back around 6 pm, but next Monday we left work only after 8 pm.) Morocco may pretend to be a little more European, but it’s less clean (and neither of those countries could win a cleanliness award), it stinks (Tunis does too, Megrine – where the factory at which we worked is – was terrible, sometimes it was almost unbearable, but that was an industrial zone. The medina in Tunis smelled much better than the medina in Casablanca) and it’s all just… industrial. There’s not much to see. I was at Rick’s Cafe, I didn’t go in. I haven’t seen the movie anyway. I was at the Hassan II mosque – that was impressive – but it was probably the only thing that I really liked.

To be completely honest, the prettiest, most impressive city I’ve visited during this month-long multi-destination trip was Porto. I was there for just one day, one Saturday between a stay in Braga (which is only like 50 km from Porto) and going away to Tunisia. I walked as much of the city as I could. And I fell in love with the city.

Really, usually when people are listing the most beautiful cities in Europe, it’s always Paris, Berlin, Firenze, Rome, Vienna, even Krakow. But never Porto. I don’t know why, though. After just half a day there, it became one of my favorite places in Europe. Just after Paris and Krakow, perhaps a tie with London.It’s really, truly, beautiful. All of it  – buildings, little streets, the coast, the river, the bridge, the greenery, the climate, everything. I need to get back there someday and visit some more. Maybe for an extended weekend sometime in June? That is, if I can afford it. And if I have someone to take with me – visiting by yourself is fun, but visiting with someone else is much more fun.

And you know what? Portugal is very different from Poland. I didn’t speak the language there at all, and Portuguese people rarely speak English. In Morocco and Tunisia everybody speaks (better or worse) French, and I speak French. But still when I was in Portugal, I felt almost like at home. I felt absolutely secure and safe on the streets; in Maghreb there was always the slightest doubt at the back of my mind. In Portugal, I didn’t fit in with my bright eyes and blond hair any more than in Tunisia or Morocco. But still I felt like I belonged there, which I didn’t in Maghreb. It wasn’t yet home, but it was close. It was much more mine than anything in Maghreb. It was just… common. European. Familiar. Mine.

This was an awesome travel. But… boy, I’m glad to be coming back to Europe.

In which I compare Amanda Palmer to Tim Burton and overuse the expression “to kick ass”.

I’ve promised on Twitter (more like exclaimed) that I would blog about Amanda Palmer’s concert in Kraków. I intend to, but before I do, I feel like I need to share my love for Amanda first. You will not understand how much that concert kicked ass if you do not know how much and why I admire Amanda.

The cover of Amanda's last album, "Theatre Is Evil".

The cover of Amanda’s last album, “Theatre Is Evil”. (Click to buy – pay what you want!)

First of all, I realize some of you, despite my heavy obsession, may have not yet been acquainted with Amanda. For most of you, the thing that will, I believe, capture your attention the most is that she’s the wife of one Neil Gaiman. I know most of my readers are my friends and acquaintances, and that particular group of people lives heavily in the literary world, especially about and around fantasy, so invoking Neil’s name is most telling. And although I do believe Neil has had a tremendous impact and influence on Amanda (it’s visible, I swear), he’s not the reason why I am so interested in her. On the contrary: I’ve been Amanda’s fan and Neil’s fan separately some time before they got together, at least officially. (It was kind of a shock, I remember, because they really did seem like two different worlds. I changed my mind about that since.)

They may be the cutest and most ass-kicking couple ever.

They may be the cutest and most ass-kicking couple ever.

Amanda Palmer is a performer. A musician. An artist. She’s very versatile and is bursting with creative energy, so you can find her fingerprints on works of art in various departments, not only music. You might have heard about her when she did the kickstarter to fund her album “Theatre is Evil” and all the controversies around it. That is a kick-ass thing, but it doesn’t matter all that much. There are many facets to Amanda and most of them are awesome, but they don’t matter all that much to me. I love how connected she is to her fans through her blog and Twitter and other social media and I love her TED talk and many other things about her. But what I wanted to talk about is her music.

I am absolutely and irrevocably in love with Amanda Palmer’s music.

Hers is not an easy music. It’s not the kind of simple and melodic tune you can hear on the radio. Her voice is not as clear as the top 40 performers’. Her lyrics are often opaque and quirky. A lot of the time her compositions are discordant and inharmonious and devoid of that tuneful kind of easy melody that bores into your head as an earworm. Her art is often ironic, grotesque and dark, or purposefully over-the-top colorful. In a sense, her style  is a lot like Tim Burton’s.

I love Tim Burton.

I have a very diverse taste in music. And I have an obsessive nature, so when I like someone, I really like them. I can listen to the same record ten times and learn all the lyrics by heart and sing along every time. But eventually it all becomes background music. I listen to music the most on my way to places – earphones in, and I can walk to the horizon. But it always is just a background music to my own thoughts, my own musings. It’s not the case with Amanda Palmer. Even though I know pretty much every lyric to most of her songs, she never becomes the background music. She grabs all my attention and keeps it throughout the entire time I’m listening. And she hits me hard every time.

One part of it is her voice. Amanda Palmer’s voice is often cracked or even out of tune. And sometimes it soars sky high or goes down to the bottom registers in a way that makes me shiver with almost sensual pleasure. Whatever she does, she does it with 120% of herself, and that includes the notes she can get out of her throat. But most importantly, her voice is raw emotion. All the cracks, all that she does just makes me trust her and believe her. I can hear the conviction in her voice. All the imperfections make it real, make it true, make it perfect. This may sound cheesy, but in this very sense, she’s perfect in her imperfection. And this, that raw emotions that she serves me with every new song, is what takes my heart out of my chest, twists it and crushes it, only to return it to me bleeding in the best way. (The word “eargasm” comes to mind.)

Secondly, the music. The melody. The harmony. The distorted, sometimes dissonant, nonrhythmic sounds that captivate all my attention and complete and compliment the voice. Amanda takes risks and they always pay off. You can have a song that goes extremely slowly and quietly and peacefully only to explode with the force of a thousand burning suns. You can have something that sounds like a discord only to realize in a few seconds that it’s actual a very rhythmical and harmonious melody, just not in the sense you’re used to. It’s positively mind-boggling.

And thirdly, the lyrics. Amanda’s songs are rarely shorter than three minutes. Often much, much longer. It’s because her songs have lyrics that could serve as poetry. Sometimes they’re sad. Sometimes they’re happy. Sometimes they’re rebellious. Sometimes they’re bitter. And it doesn’t just change with every song – the very same lyric that seemed happy to me yesterday, may induce tears of sadness today. Those lyrics are most often blissfully open to interpretation, like any good art should. (Remember, kids, by the very fact that you are experiencing art, you become co-creators of it. Nothing exists in the void, your own personality and perspective colors your reception. As much as the author puts of themselves into the work of art, you contribute in the same measure. Don’t let nobody ever tell you that your interpretation of a work of art is wrong. There is no such thing.) I don’t like being told straight-forward what I should get from a song or what should I feel, which is a problem of many a song these days. Amanda never does it. Amanda creates something and then she gives it to you and leaves you to do whatever you want with it. If you want, you can go on and think she sings of a coin-operated sex toy. Or you can see it in hundreds different perspectives. I’ve always felt extreme loneliness coming from that particular song. But every interpretation is valid. Amanda will just suggest you things, it’s up to you to pick them up.

Most importantly, Amanda puts her heart and soul in every song. She can tear you down with a song like “Delilah” and then go on and make you laugh out loud like an idiot (remember, I usually listen to music on my commutes, and I walk everywhere or go by public transport), like when you hear “Vegemite”. And then she will lit a fire under your ass and you suddenly feel like you could take the whole world head-on, like with “Map of Tasmania” or “Ukulele Anthem”.

Irony, grotesque, cabaret, burlesque, poetry, orchestra, theatre, philosophy, good old rock and a heart the size of a sun.

And those are only a few reasons off the top of my head why Amanda Palmer kicks ass.

Her music is… it just is. And thank God for that.

amythewicked 2.0

Hi.

Long time no see.

My last post on here is from October 2012. Wow. Time flies, really.

In that time, a lot has changed in my life. A lot has stayed the same. But however you look at it, I decided my blog needs revamping before I can start blogging again. (And let’s hope I’ll stick to the plan this time – which is to actually blog, and not let the blog gather dust and cobwebs for months, then write one post, and leave it alone again for months.) So here it is – a shiny new blog.

And is anybody surprised I set it to a Doctor Who theme?

I swear, I’ll change it as soon as my love and obsession for the show subsides. (Which may not be that soon.)

(I regret nothing.)

Basically this post is just to let you know (if anybody is even willing to still read me) that I am back and I intend to stay. Hopefully. Let’s pray.

If any of you old folks come back you’ll notice I have hidden all my old posts. They’re not deleted, just made private. I figured if I really want to start afresh, I need to get the old stuff out of the open. Although there are certain things… certain words I really want to keep. Hence making them all private, so that only I can see them.

As usual, all comments are welcome (unless they’re not civilized, but that’s pretty obvious I think).

And… I hope it goes well. This time.