You want to now pack me up and send me to Timbuktu?” yells Dennis Palmer, sitting at the head of the table in the meeting room. No, he is not the VP, nor any big boss, he is the technician, while the Director is sitting on top of the side cabinet as he joined the meeting late. This is the US and seats are taken on a first-come-first-served basis without any invisible assignments in accordance with rank. And Dennis, who, in a similar situation in Bangladesh, would probably have been standing with his hands clasped over his lower abdomen, his head stooped low while uttering only a barrage of “sir, sir, …, sir”, yells at Jim Campbell, the Director of the whole engineering department. But Jim calms him (Dennis) down: “It’s OK, you don’t have to go. Naveed, Ken and Tim will go.”
I notice the grimace on the faces of Ken Klemczek and Tim Hughes. For me, I pinch myself. Yes, baby! Phoren trip!! Woo hoo!! Going all the way to Ulm, Germany to deal with Opel. That means flying from Detroit to Frankfurt and then two hours on the amazing Autobahn in a Mercedes to Ulm on the Danube. Not to mention flying business class, staying in five-star hotels, eating first class food, seeing a new country, experiencing a new culture and of course, driving without any speed limits! All on OPM (Other People’s Money).
But this is America. A job description comes with a silent, squeamish apology if it says “travel required”, more so if it says “overseas travel required”. I have lost count of how many interviews I faced feeling like a lord when the interviewers sheepishly slipped into the conversation: “Uhm, there is likely to be some travel to South America, I hope that’s OK with you, but we will try to minimise it of course.” Minimise? Dude, MAXIMISE! In fact, I will give you a lap dance every time you send me below the equator. For I come from a land where foreign travel is a perk.
In Bangladesh, admiration/envy is: “You’re so lucky you travel overseas every month.” For some reason, we take work travel as an all-expenses-paid pleasure travel too. Hence we lobby for a trip, even for a training course despite retiring a month later.
We even lobby to go on a UN mission. I watch in awe as the young officer smiles as he boards the white jet. Yes, it is a foreign trip and earning foreign remittance, but it is nonetheless going on a combat mission into the danger zone, with loneliness, depression, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), injury and even death, as a “perk” of a foreign trip. The plaque bearing the name of the late Lt Cdr Ashraf at the Bangladesh Naval Academy is a stark reminder of that.
Yet, we go. No problem if you have none (in terms of intentions of spending your own money), will (still) travel. Even if it is to pick up a brand-new Dreamliner from Seattle, we need to go, and not only that, but make sure the team is as big as we can make it. After all, the plane will otherwise come home empty…
Naveed Mahbub is a former engineer at Ford & Qualcomm USA, the former CEO of IBM & Nokia Networks Bangladesh turned comedian (by choice), the host of ATN Bangla’s The Naveed Mahbub Show and the founder of Naveed’s Comedy Club.