Good old days

Leaving an organization after 30+ years automatically makes you old, and departures lead to reminiscing. The former was evident when, back at the DC airport, I found an empty seat across from two men engaged in a conversation that, although in English, might as well have been in Sanskrit. I knew they were tech people but that’s all – they strung together words into sentences that made no sense, sometimes I didn’t even know which words constituted the verbs and which the nouns. The one already young looking man complained about young people he was mentoring. So if he was now old, what did that make me?

As for the reminiscences, I have been thinking a lot about the world of work I entered in, my first overseas jobs in Lebanon (1977) and then Senegal (1979) and the pace of life at that time.  I would not be saying on Thursday that I didn’t know whether I would be travelling on Saturday. Now, the only reason I still don’t know for sure, late this Thursday, is that I haven’t seen my Entry Authorization letter because it couldn’t be scanned all these thousands of miles east of us because the scanner broke down and the IT guy had gone home, otherwise I would have known and finalized my ticket. A glitch.

In the olden days I would have to have my handwritten ticket in hand – the one with the multiple red carbon copies. If it wasn’t given to me some days before a trip I couldn’t leave. No internet, no faxes, no nothing instant. I made about 3 trips a year – more would have been a stretch on what was humanly and technologically possible.

That was also the time when business class tickets were just a few hundred dollars more than regular economy seats, and the difference was not as stark as it is now. No flatbeds. There was a time when a trip of more than 14 hours door to door entitled us to travel in business class.

Sometimes it really feels like the ‘olden days’ were better. At least they were slower. I try to remember whether we were all more patient then. Now I see impatience everywhere. “Why didn’t you reply to the email, the text, the call I made a few minutes ago?” I remember setting up a phone call with a Peace Corps volunteer who lived 100 kilometers away from the closest phone that could be used for intercontinental calls, about 6 weeks ahead of time, using a cable to communicate via the nearest post office, most likely in the local capital and then dispatched on a motor cycle or a bush taxi.

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