Thursday, November 22, 2007

The New Job

So I just flew in from Moncton, and boy are my arms tired.

Nah, I drove in from Moncton, last night at that, but boy am I tired. The new job (about which more later), the learning all the ropes of the position, the swimming in French, the fitful nights in a hotel, the running around looking for a place to stay, the drive down in the early hours of Monday morning and back in the early hours of last evening, plus just the stress that goes along with all of the above, has me feeling pretty exhausted today. I know that'll improve once I settle into a routine.

Before I go any further I want to share this photo with you... I took it awhile back but forgot to post it on the blog. It's a sign you see when you hit the highway heading east, about 30 minutes outside Fredericton.

The sign is there to tell you to STAY IN YOUR CAR because you are passing through a MILITARY TRAINING AREA and if you go wandering off the main road you could get BLOWED UP. I just find that perversely amusing. After I'd lived her awhile, I met a woman who grew up in this area - actually she'd lived in a town that was cleared out when the land was expropriated to create Base Gagetown. She and her friend had horses and she told me they used to ride for hours in these woods as kids, including the abandoned town, and "sometimes we used to wonder why there were red x's or targets on some of the houses." I guess she was just lucky the way dumb kids are (the military used the marked houses for artillery target practice).

Where was I? Ah yes, Moncton, where yesterday I passed three men in full Nativity-play shepherd costumes. I didn't get a photo, regrettably, but I did wave at them and they waved back. The city is quite a lot larger than Fredericton and has a strong cultural vibe going. There are posters for cultural events everywhere downtown. (I could have seen Bedouin Soundclash at the Oxygen club on Monday night but didn't see the poster until I got a chance to walk the downtown on Wednesday.) There's City Hall, all ready for Christmas, although that sculpture of a deer is going to have some pretty thin grazing on those bricks.

The job is just about exactly as I imagined working for the great grey ship of the Federal Civil Service would be. There's a kindly old Commissionaire who says "bonjour" to everyone in the morning and "bonsoir" to everyone as they leave in the evening. My office is in a very large, very old building that is part of an even larger complex of buildings full of Federal employees. The building I am in used to be a Post Office; not sure of the date when it was built but there is a fine row of impressive brass-grilled wickets in what is now the lobby, and a wall full of brass mailboxes too, unused now. There's a keycard that works the electronic locks on the elevators and the locked doors (it is a thrill all out of proportion to the event the first few times you wave your card at the lock, and the little red light turns green and a beep sounds and you're 'in', you're on the team, you're an insider with access), and a little cafeteria that serves sandwiches and salads and diner-style hot meals at lunchtime ("MARDI HOT HAM SANDWICH; MERCREDI MAC AND CHEESE"). The cafeteria is run by an organization that hires and trains people with disabilities.

If you're not in the mood for HOT HAM SANDWICH or MAC AND CHEESE, there is a pedway to a shopping mall across the street with a food court and about everything else you could want - a grocery store, pharmacy and big department store, and a bunch of little boutiques, including one where I found this year's #1 entry on my Christmas wish list - a 2-metre tall wooden cat. The light is reflecting off the price tag so you can't see that he's just $995, marked down from $1095. A bargain, and already wearing a Christmas bow!

Let's see, there's a woman who does the IT support and a woman who does "logistics", which covers everything from getting you pens and a stapler to getting your security keycard and setting up your voicemail. There is, naturally, an Administrative Assistant who is the brain of the entire operation, who actually knows everything that happens and how to make it happen; who greases the rails for all the other employees in the building; and who is probably paid 2/3 of what they are.

There is an office, with two cubicles, one for me and one for my office-mate, who has Buddhist flags hung over his desk and a poster saying "HUMAN RIGHTS - NOT HUMAN WRONGS!" next to his computer monitor so I knew we'd get on. The cubicles are roomy and the desk and ergonomic chair are embarrassingly handsome and expensive and nice compared to anything I've ever had before.

There are passwords for everything. For logging in to your computer, for logging in to your email, for logging in to the software used for the work I do. The system automatically kicks you out if you're idle for a few minutes and you need to log in again. Security.

The only English words I heard all week were spoken directly to me... the lingua franca of the office is entirely French. All emails are in French, which isn't a problem because I read it. I attended a meeting in French on Tuesday which felt like a bit of a car wreck. People don't speak proper; they slur and mumble and cross-talk and use slang and jargon. My success is going to depend entirely on whether I can adapt to understanding rapid-fire French.

My worst problem right now is that my co-workers always speak to me in English, because they know I don't speak much French. It's a combination of wanting to be polite to me, and a need for expediency - they need to convey information and this is easier than baby-talking me. Unfortunately I have to try to make them use French with me - it's the only way I will learn, and so far when I explain it that way they're agreeable.

I've written a lot about the job, but almost nothing about The Job. I love The Job. It is so interesting and exciting to work on these projects using new tools and learning about how one works with community organizations to ensure that those upstream in Gatineau are going to fund them. These Program Officers are, much more than I realized, advocates for these projects; if for no other reason than, once you recommend a project for funding, you're staking your judgement and hence your reputation on it. Whew!

I have a good, good mentor - the person who originally recommended me for the job. I've worked with him for years and he was very skilled at ramping up the responsibilty during the week, from just reviewing projects on the first day, to entering information into the software project management and tracking system on the second, to contacting clients and ironing out problems with submitted projects on the third. On Monday we will call and negotiate with a provincial funding officer - another step up in complexity.

Evenings were spent looking at rooms, and I've found a great place about 15 minutes from my office; it's a huge bedroom with a private bath (including a shower) and sitting area. It has cable and there's a wireless internet network which tenants are allowed to use; the owner of the place is a divorced dad who's renting rooms to me and another tenant to help pay the mortgage. He's a really nice engaging guy. So finding that was a big relief.

Did I mention I was tired? Husband is at Spanish Class. I guess I'd best head upstairs to catch Virginie . I mean, we have to find out what happens with Barbara's appearance in Juvenile Court, and have you heard about the new Sexologist at Ecole Secondaire Sainte-Jeanne-d'Arc?????



Sunday, November 18, 2007

Life comes at you fast.

I was at a pretty remarkable party last night... a co-worker (old job) had moved his family into a bigger apartment, and he had a party to celebrate. They are from Africa and so were about 2/3 the other party-goers, the rest being people from the far-flung corners of the world they've met since emigrating to Canada. The African women had taken it upon themselves to prepare a feast; and there must have been 15 or more different dishes, from salads to stews to rice to various meats to samosas to exotic desserts. What a banquet! What a joyous gathering, people speaking a half dozen languages, people who didn't speak a word of English dancing through crowds of people who spoke nothing but.

That is the kind of experience that made the job I held for the past ten years so enjoyable, and which made up for the days when I hated the politics and poverty of NGOs. I'm lucky - I am leaving on good terms and everyone at my old job wants to keep in contact, in fact I am having coffee with my former co-workers next Friday; so I am not leaving that world behind entirely. And I'll always have the network of friends I made in the immigrant community over that time.

Meanwhile, I am feeling a lot like the woman in the Nationwide insurance commercial these days - the one who discovers that life comes at you fast. I've been involved for a while now in a testing program to create a pool of future employees of another government department, also related to my field; they're doing it in preparation for the fact that about half their employees will be retiring in the next 5 years. I wrote a "Language Comprehension" test and a "Situational Judgement" test, just silly beaurocratic hoop-jumping, really. Last week I got a notice to take a knowledge test - knowledge of two government Acts that govern the department's work, and knowledge of the whole range of the department's programs and services.

Could this come at a better time? The handbook they refer candidates to is 96 pages long; and I don't know how long the two Acts are because my printer is out of ink after printing it. Sheesh! I wrote to ask if there'd be a second round of testing; I am starting a new job, I am intensively studying French every night, and I am commuting between two cities 1.2 hours apart. No dice, they said; there is no other testing in the foreseeable future and if I want to stay in the pool of candidates, I need to take - and pass - the test week after next. They would, they said, arrange to have me take the test over an extended lunch hour in Moncton, which was kind of them, because they didn't have to do that; an employee in Moncton is volunteering to oversee testing for me alone.

What could I do? I said yes. I considered dropping out - I'd almost rather not take it and exclude myself than fail it and have them boot me; but my attitude has always been that when life offers you an opportunity, you take it. So now on top of everything else - I am going to be studying for a 2-hour exam! Part of the rationale is that this is a department which I have a history of working with (in my NGO capacity) and which I have a strong chance with when positions begin opening.

If I don't fail the bloody test.

Nothing happens for years, and then tout d'un coup...!



Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tuffer wif no 'pozable thums, tho'

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

We will remember them.

Today is Rembrance Day in Canada and most, if not all, of the Commonwealth. Unlike the US, which honours living veterans and those killed in battle on two days (Veteran's Day and Memorial Day, respectively), Commonwealth countries have kept the tradition of observing the the 11th day of the 11th month as the moment for honouring all in the country's military service, be they killed in service, veterans, or active duty members.

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, at cenotaphs throughout the country, the Act of Remembrance is read. It is an excerpt from a Laurence Binyon poem, For the Fallen, and has been adopted as Canada's Official Act of Remembrance.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

RESPONSE: We will remember them

It is really quite moving to be in the midst of a very large crowd of people and to declare softly, in response to the act, a personal promise to remember. Alas, I was not in the midst of such a crowd today; for the first time in several years I didn't go to the local cenotaph for the ceremony, and I feel badly about it. Just too many things going on right now, just too exhausted; we spent all day yesterday running around buying things for an in-car emergency kit (you'd think, being Canadian, we'd have done it years ago; and we did have a little commercial kit, but it needed to be updated and expanded pretty radically for the kind of winter driving I am going to be doing). I spent the morning doing French exercises instead.

But enough about that, the bottom line is that I didn't go to the cenotaph, but I wish I had, and I am sure C. did, she does every year; but I did remember; I watched the ceremonies on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on television, Michaelle Jean speaking warmly to the Silver Cross mother as Jean's young daughter clung to her arm. I was struck again at how magnificent The National War Memorial is, and remembered how incredibly overwhelming it is when viewed in person, the staggering energy the sculptor contained in the static forms of those 23 warriors bursting through the center of the arch, representing their emergence from war into peace; the remarkable poignancy of the winged figures, Peace and Liberty, ascendant at the crown of the arch.

That made me think about another Canadian war memorial, this one in France; the Vimy Memorial, which fate willing I intend to visit someday; it, too, is a triumph of design. It is meant from a distance, I have read, to invoke the letter V, for Victory and for Vimy; the battle which Canada entered a colony and from which it emerged a country. Close up, as I have seen it on television, the memorial is a complex and compelling series of figures, all carefully chosen and all representative of some aspect of what the battle meant to our fledgling country.

A much more modest war memorial came to mind, but a personal favourite; the Beaumont-Hamel Memorial, a great bronze caribou erected to the memory of those who died in one of the blackest days in Newfoundland's military history. Newfoundland was not yet part of Canada when her sons signed up for the First World War (certainly, it wasn't when they signed up for the Second World War!), but an independent colony fighting under its own ensign. The details of the battle are at the link to the memorial; I haven't the heart to recount them. What is important for our purposes is to know that this memorial at the battle site in France has a sister memorial, an identical statue, in Bowering Park in St. John's; and it was one of my favourite places to go and sit and read or think when I lived there.

Don't we choose beautiful war memorials, I thought; and isn't it a damned shame we've gotten so good at it.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Quelle semaine!

Whew. What a week! I've been inundated with phone calls and emails... I didn't know I'd gotten to know so many darned people in the biz. I had lunch with a friend lunchtime and am now going for drinks with some current and past co-workers... there's an official farewell riot at a local pub next week... if you want to ramp up your social life (at least temporarily), just resign.

Uh, that's like, Ronniecat-resign, not Alberto Gonzales- resign. I'm guessing there weren't a lot of elbow-benders in his honour among his co-workers.

I've gotten myself a good French text and have begun working through it just to re-acquaint myself with all the details, to make sure the rules and vocabulary are in front of, and not in the back of, my brain. I'm watching French TV (pas mal) and listening to French radio (assez mauvaise).

I'm in negotiations with a couple of people for chambres en ville.

One major drawback - I've had to stop taking the Spanish lessons. I can't risk muddying my French with Spanish right now. Husband's continuing them, so I guess he will have to chat up barmaids as well as chatting up the barmen on my behalf. Or something.

The irony of the situation isn't lost on me - in a way, I am following in the footsteps of the hundreds of immigrants I've known or worked with or for over the years... moving to a new place and learning on my feet to operate in a new language. I have a lot of benefits they didn't have - a home base that's familiar and safe; a working knowledge of the new language; a well-paying job to fund the transition. So I'm privileged to count myself as someone who is now going to see if I have the skills to make it. They almost invariably do.



Thursday, November 08, 2007

New devices help businesses serve deaf and HOH customers

Hat-tip to my sister who sent me this article about new devices developed by an entrepreneur to help customer service employees (clerks, receptionists, others) serve deaf and hard-of-hearing clients.

First, these devices are full of win & awesome. I would have LOVED to have access to this kind of technology when trying to buy stamps or order food or exchange an item or register at a hotel or...

My first reaction was that the price of the technologies described in the article was a little high - the Interpretype starts at $995 while a similar device with two screens and two keypads was nearly $2000 - and that surely with the technology we've developed for palm pilots and cellphone something similar could be created much more cheaply. And that may happen in time, as it does with most technologies.

I think any extra cost for the Interpretype would be wrapped up in its interface technology and software - if I understand it correctly, it gives the customer an interface with the clerk or receptionist's computer, so that the deaf customer can type on the Interpretype's keypad and the customer service person can type on their own computer. This gives the customer service person the benefit of working with files and relevant information at their fingertips, while they serve the client - and that would surely be worth $995.



Saturday, November 03, 2007

Sturm - und drang.

We're down here... the second-last to feel Noel's wrath. Newfoundland will be the last, but current reports are that the storm has tracked slightly westward, taking the eye directly over southern New Brunswick and hopefully - speaking from past experience - taking some of the punch out, by taking it over land a little longer, before it hits Newfoundland tomorrow.

In other news, Sherwood was right when he emailed to comment that the cat had let the monkey out of the bag last week. I submitted my notice to my employer yesterday. Then I went out and got drunk (or as near as is respectable for a lady of my years) with Husband and C. to celebrate.

I did not do so recklessly - out of the clear blue sky an offer I couldn't refuse dropped into my lap last week. The upside is that I will continue to work with the same multicultural associations and community associations that I work with now, only on a government payroll with much better pay and benefits. The downside is that I'll have either a 4-hour daily commute or will live away from Husband and the kitties for several days each week.

The adventure is that the lingua franca of the workplace is French. So it's going to be trial by passé composé, I suppose. However, living for part of the week in Moncton will give me plenty of opportunity to shop, eat, read, listen, and live in French, in the office and beyond; so it's time to put my parlez-vouses where my mouth is, I guess.

Wish me luck. I'm incredibly excited and absolutely terrified.