There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
This is Water, David Foster Wallace, Kenyon Commencement Address, 2005.[*1]
– “Have some water”, I heard coming from a silhouette in green overalls.
– “Thank you nurse… Sorry, I meant Doctor… Sorry, I meant…” promptly cutting my reply mid-sentence, to prevent me from further embarrassing myself by assuming that simply because she was a woman wearing green scrubs implied that she was a nurse.
A least, my company found the whole situation hilarious as they could not hold themselves back.
“Shame on you!”, I said to myself. “If anyone has walked in these shoes, it would be you!”. As sad as it sounds, this statement was quite accurate, even three quinquennia into the twenty-first century: Women still face prejudice at work and at home, and must constantly prove themselves, due to different expectations from each gender. As a illustration, allow me to go down memory lane and provide you with a snippet my reality:
– “Attends, je te passe Tonton”
– “Mais, Ma’a, tu m’as demandé de t’appeller urgemment.”
– “Oui, c’est lui qui a quelque chose à te dire.”
– “Alors, la petite ! Je serai chez toi à la fin du mois, pour une semaine.”
– “Superbe ! Habilles-toi chaudement. On anticipate une chute jusqu’à moins dix-sept ce mois.”
– “C’est noté!”
Mixed emotions overcame me: Although I was excited to find out that I will see one of my [then] favourite uncles after over decade away from home, I could not help but picture Dad in the background, fighting the urge to share a piece of his mind. The conversation was short and sweet, since we all knew that we could easily catch-up later, via VoIP calls, text, e-mail, and social networking sites, instead of snail mail as in the past. One more reason to appreciate technological advances!
I almost rescinded that praise to technology a few days later when receiving an unexpected phone call:
– “Quoi ?! Il est en chemin ? Mais nous ne sommes qu’au début du mois ! Quel est son numéro de vol Ma’a ?”
– “Je ne sais pas.”
– “Le nom de la compagnie aérienne au moins ?”
– “Tata et moi ne le savons pas non plus, mais son vol atterira à JFK dans l’après-midi.”
After several online searches and a few phone calls, my older brother helped me narrow it down the next day to three possible flights. I hurriedly took the afternoon off and rushed to JFK, a risky move as my current task was scheduled in production a few weeks later. The next day, I found myself having to work from home so that we could go Winter gear shopping during my “lunch break”, as someone did not heed my warning regarding the extreme temperatures. Any free time I had was spent cooking meals, baking some “Galettes Bretonnes” (recipe coming soon), cleaning, doing the laundry, grocery shopping, and taking [less and less] violin lessons with Sam. I even managed to teach my uncle valuable lesson: Despite having walked this Earth for over half a century, it was not too late to learn how to do the dishes! My workdays were cut short to give us a chance to visit touristic attractions, or to meet with friends from the Young Adults community in which I am an active member, as a matter of fact, one of the leaders, at least for a couple of years. I have learned so much from the team!
A few days later, I found myself devouring a few chapters of “Mercy“[*2] while riding the 4:40 AM train to Washington D.C., thus giving myself a mental break from the Compliance-driven meta-writer hook design on which I was working. No Java, Spring, XSDs, XPath, MQs, Sybase, DB2, etc. for a few hours. Upon my arrival, my errand at the consulate was half-impeded by a snowstorm which paralyzed the city. A blizzard welcomed me in 2011, and a heat wave in 2013. Now this during my third visit to the nation’s capital?!
I was glad to have booked my return trip for the same evening, although this is was not the original plan: Someone had to cook dinner, prep the next day’s meal, and work items. I was wilting after two weeks of only averaging four to five hours of sleep – which would have been worse had I owned a television – I finally confronted my preacher uncle so that he would communicate the details of the next leg of his journey across the U.S. I was shocked to find out that not only was he expecting me to select a date for him, but also to purchase a ticket at the airport. This was one of those rare moments during which I wished I could curse, but why stoop to vulgarities with such a rich polyglot vocabulary?
“Let me book your flight and ground transportation online right now. How does overmorrow sound?” I asked impatiently, while selecting a one-way flight to Atlanta and sending a “half-day off” notification to my team for that day.
Fully aware that I would miss him, I could sure do without his daily sermons and conspiracy theories. Besides, I was over-committed, having signed up for the Winter Kickoff social, the quarterly Banquet for the Hungry and Homeless, and Retreat. Not to mention having to juggle between managing the UAT in the Americas for our upcoming global software release, while being the production issue escalation point person. I must admit that I enjoy what I do immensely and am quite good at it. In fact, from a coding stand-point, I nicknamed myself “The Magician” (I make magic happen through code), and from a support perspective, I liked to joke that I am “a serial bug profiler“, pun on Criminal Minds.
I cannot wait for the retreat, I murmured to no one in particular, while the cab driver took us to LaGuardia. Once we managed to consolidate his carry-on under the watchful eye of a fairly strict TSA agent, we exchanged half-sincere farewells, knowing full well that he would most likely be back for a few days before his return trip home. Walking towards to the M60 SBS stop, I recalled that my cousin in Toronto had been attempting to reach me by phone for the past couple of days.
– “Ça va ?”
– “Ouais. Je m’inquiétais déjà !”
“I was starting to worry!”
– “Qu’il y a-t-il ?”
“What is going on?”
– J’ai besoin que tu confirmes ton adresse, pour Maman, avant que son vol ne décolle ce soir. Elle compte passer quelques jours chez toi. Allô ! T’es encore là ?”
“I need to confirm your address, for Mum, before her flight takes off tonight. She plans to stay at your place for a few days. Allo! Are you still there?“