Saturday, September 18, 2010

Extraordinary Rendering – You are what we eat!

In August 2006 I was offered the role of PA to the CEO of one of the island’s oldest and most prestigious companies. As I was in desperate need of a full time job I accepted. Freelancing didn’t cover much, especially not the mortgage payments.

About a week before I was due to start, my new boss had a heart attack and promptly died right in the middle of his yachting holiday. I got the call asking me to start a little earlier than scheduled. This was due to the fact that I’d now be working for a new CEO, the boss’s daughter. She and the Co. Secretary (her brother) needed help desperately.

Friends told me not to go, that the death of the old CEO was a bad omen they said. Being a person who sometimes revels in tempting fate, I laughed out loud and said, “Bring it on!”

Background: The Company’s activities are primarily in the fields of energy supply, healthcare and environmental management. It owns and operates the country’s largest power plant, and has moved into oil and gas, as large deposits have been found off the coast, in waters shared with Israel and Egypt. It also operates the largest waste management treatment plant in the country, with a capacity of 60,000 tonnes pa. It supplies and maintains hospital equipment in 90% of the hospitals and clinics, as well as collecting the clinical waste generated by these establishments.

My office was located in the upper echelons of the five-storey building, along with the CEO, and her brother. I had to do the usual PA stuff, and at lunch-time I would frequent the staff kitchen/diner and learn about the day’s events ‘below stairs’.

I would learn how the company had only two service engineers for the entire country. When the capital city’s new General Hospital ventilator broke down, both men were 100 miles away, so the poor soul hooked up to the machine was left with little chance of survival – scandalous.

I was sceptical about the things I heard, but the following week a UN representative of some rank, kept calling me asking to speak to the CEO. He wanted to know why our company hadn’t kept to contract and picked up the waste on schedule.

Within a couple of days the soldier in full uniform, complete with blue beret, turned up in my office demanding to see the CEO. She was conveniently on her way out.

Words were crossed in the hallway. The Major, or whatever he was, announced that no more funds would be forthcoming from the UN and that the contract was cancelled.

The CEO replied that the UN had to pay, “Too bad - it’s required by the Government.” The Major, angered at the general lack of respect, turned around and left with an official, “You’ll be hearing from us.”

The following morning I entered the office to find a distressed engineer (about 60 years old) shouting with my boss that another pipe had burst at the rendering plant and water had short-circuited everything. More crossed words and then the Co. Chairman decided to take matters into his own hands, and drove down to the plant to see the mess for himself.

I was beginning to think there was definitely something in the stories I was hearing. This is when the old engineer sat down in my office to compose himself and began to reveal the truth about the forever problematic state-of-the-art waste rendering plant. (Rendering: reducing, melting, transforming, through heat)

Production had begun before the entire plant was completed; joints and piping were always needing to be reassessed. Sometimes the ‘separator’ malfunctioned. I asked the old engineer what that meant. He explained that sometimes the human clinical waste got mixed in with the animal waste or the non-organic waste.

I asked him outright, “You mean bits of humans get into the machine which renders the other stuff?” He nodded his head and gave a muffled laugh. I felt sick.

What does the company do with the waste? They produce and sell among other things, ‘Blood and Bone Meal’, that’s dried and powdered blood/fatty tissue/bones of animals, for fertilizer, animal feeds, and pet-food additives, to companies in the EU.

Luckily during my short stay with the company my duties didn’t extend to visiting the fiery pits of hell, sorry, the plant. It often had malfunctions, and because it consists of several specialized machines, you needed a specialist to fix it and that costs a lot of money.

We had such a specialist working for the plant but he refused to continue unless old unpaid invoices were settled for maintenance. On hearing this news, the CEO told me she would ‘deal with him once and for all’.

She got the specialist on the phone and a conversation ensued where my boss threatened him with deportation (he was a British national). His response was to hang-up. She proclaimed “I was only joking!” Everyone who knows her, and the power her company wields in government circles, knows that she was being deadly serious.

Things took a decidedly sinister turn when the following evening, I was sitting watching the evening news when an alarming thing happened. There was the specialist on the 8 o’clock news, standing outside of his house which had just been ‘fire bombed’ by persons unknown. Asked by the reporter if he knew who was responsible, the distraught specialist replied that he had ‘a feeling’ he knew who was behind the ‘terror-tactic’ but couldn’t name them. I had a feeling too.

A day or so passed, and two policemen arrived in my office for an apparent scheduled meeting with my boss and her brother. I didn’t schedule the meeting so I was guessing it was a personal visit. By now, I had decided that the money wasn’t worth it, and I was looking for a new job.

The old engineer who had previously been so loud in the CEO’s office turned up to advise me that there had been a power-cut at the rendering plant again. I felt like walking out while the police sat in the adjoining office.

My phone rang and Chrisy, one of the secretaries from Sales and Marketing, asked me if I was going to go down to the kitchen for lunch. “We’re all going to share Pizza, are you in?” My stomach turned. I declined and waited until the next day before I announced that I was leaving.

With a heavy sigh of relief I threw my few belongings into my bag and headed out the door. Nobody seemed very surprised to see me go.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Look Who's Talking

I’ve been reminiscing a lot these past few weeks, trying to put the vignettes of my life into some kind of chronological sequence, if only to remember the little details that have been squeezed under what they call ‘cold-hard-facts’. But the truth is in the details.

With the anniversary of my brother’s death, Sept. 9th, and thoughts about life and death swirling in my mind, trying to write about it is difficult. I still can’t bring myself to put it down on paper.

Instead and apart from, the slowly dissolving issues of guilt, fear, and loss, I’ve found myself trying to contemplate the question of why we are here, that ‘meaning of life’ conundrum. I’ve reached the conclusion that everything is ridiculous and meaningless, and all a complete illusion…I will probably revise this stance next week.

After lately being thrust into yet another new world-of-work, where the people all around me, the people I work with daily, have literal blood on their hands due to it being the medical profession, I am still finding it difficult to adjust from advertising via international (corrupt) banking through to paediatrics and (murder-on-demand) gynaecology.

The abortion clinic (and it is an abortion clinic because the ratio of terminations to births is approximately twenty to one), has made me lose faith (what little I had) in humanity’s future, and shaken me to my core.

A good friend tells me I shouldn’t judge, and to think that the poor baby may have had a terrible life. I know this, I don’t want to judge, but I simply can’t help it. As I see girls/women of all ages and races walking in and out the clinic on a daily basis, I know some of them have no choice, be it health reasons or otherwise.

I also see women who act as if they are having a hair-cut, other women returning on a regular basis and changing their ‘preference’ between staying pregnant or ‘dropping it this month’, as it is called often.

Another friend tells me I am naïve and know nothing of the world, and tells me not to be so shocked that so many women are having abortions weekly, and that it is the way of the world.

When I see a women selling her baby girl for Euros 3000 (in cash) and walking out with a smile on her face, or the old man that brings his 'maid’ to be ‘sorted out’ on the hush-hush, or the student that is selling her eggs, and doesn’t feel too good today… I am sickened to my stomach… I am angry… and I am judging.

I knew the huge salary I was getting from my old employers was ‘blood money’ and the ill-gotten-gains of the money-laundering and gun running rackets of the Middle East. It was money probably garnered because someone somewhere got shot in the head. I was disgusted with myself but I took the money anyway, and pretended that I was a bimbo and naïve and knew nothing about the world.

Nowadays, I eat birthday cake, while the ‘congratulations balloons’ hover above my office door, and a doctor hands me a piece of paper with a bloodstained edge.

Maybe it wasn’t pretence after all.