Misadventures in Coworking Abroad

I haven’t written in a while and it’s because I’ve fallen so far behind on everything that I want to write about that the idea of trying to catch up makes it a bit hard to breathe.

And so I decided to last Sunday afternoon to do the only thing I can do when I start to feel this way and the words seem like they just won’t come: Write anyway.

I’ve been wanting to share a story about working at a coworking space in Ghana for a while, so here goes:

The first time I went, my brother took me. We found a place to sit, no problem. The A/C and the electricity and the Wi-Fi worked like a dream. I thought I’d found my coworking home in West Africa and all was great with the world.

The second time I went, it was later in the day and there was nowhere for me to sit with access to a table and an outlet. I could have one or the other, but not both. I chose the outlet, and propped my laptop on my knees, and began to work that way, hunched over, but dealing with it. Sometimes in life you’ve just got to deal with it, you know?

It became time for lunch, and I decided to try out the food counter in the garden. The menu advertised “BREAKFAST SERVED ALL DAY!” And I made the mistake of letting myself get excited about that. I should have known better.

In all my restaurant experiences in Ghana thus far, I had never once had the great fortune of them actually having the first item I chose on the menu. I’d started to make it a habit to choose three from the get-go — if my second choice was also not available, the third usually was. But old habits die hard. I was hungry and caught off guard and in my pitiful foreign naiveté, I believed that if I asked for a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich at two in the afternoon, I could have it, because a laminated piece of paper deemed it to be so.

I put in my order with the girl behind the counter and…

She. Laughed. In. My Face.

I kid you not. And then when she realized I was not joking, she slowly explained, as if to an infant, “We do not have bacon — it’s too late in the day for bacon.” Did I not see the ridiculousness of my order? her intonation implied.

“OK,” I told her, having learned from past experience it’s better not to argue with the person serving one’s food. It was in the afternoon, and too late for bacon, and so there was no bacon to be had. “It’s my first time eating here. You have to help me out. What do you have?”

She told me, “You can have turkey.”

I nodded acceptance and paid and did not ask if she meant “turkey and egg and cheese” for fear of being laughed out of the goddamn garden again if I did so. And when my order arrived at my table, I was glad that I hadn’t, because what I got wasn’t a turkey, egg, and cheese sandwich at all. It was some sort of turkey salad sandwich, made with deli-style slices of turkey, and mayo, and maybe relish. It was also a club, so three slices of bread, salad stuffed in between, cut into quarters. Bizarre and unsatisfying and not at all as delicious as a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich would have been. But I ate every bite. I dealt with it.

The third time I went to the coworking space, it was under construction. They shoved us all into a fish-bowl style room with three glass walls that faced the garden; the fourth was connected to the main building. It had previously been used for meetings. Though I hadn’t gotten word of the construction beforehand, some people must have, because the room wasn’t filled to capacity. So I had the great fortune to secure a seat both at a table and near an outlet.

I sat with about twenty other poor souls and attempted to get work done in a different type of work zone.

There was buzzing, and cranking, and hammering, and all of that could be dealt with with earphones, which I had and used. But then there was water — from a powerhose — aimed right at the glass walls of the fishbowl that we all occupied. And, even when the water began to seep through the bottom of the door and into our room, creeping dangerously close to laptop cords, that could be dealt with. Someone shoved a piece of cardboard in the crevasse, and the fact that that began to deteriorate almost as rapidly as it had been put into place phased no one. We dealt with it.

But then, the power went. And with it, the Wi-Fi and the A/C. And I could feel the sweat beginning to bead on my forehead.

The middle-aged African man seated across from me looked at me ruefully when that happened. He rubbed the space between nose and where his glasses had been and shook his head and said, “How long do you think before it comes back?”

I laughed and I told him, “I’m not sure, but I know how long I’m willing to wait.”

He smiled back. “Yes. It’s frustrating, no? We paid for this.” And we both chuckled at that. “It will come back on eventually,” he told me. “It always does.”

And I knew he was right. And that his attitude about our situation was by far better than my own churlish sentiments toward it. But that didn’t change my mind.

I waited fifteen minutes, and then I got up, nodded my goodbyes to my friend across the table, called an Uber, and went back home.

I never went back — because I’d reached my limit of what could be dealt with.

And that probably says a lot more about me than the coworking space. After all, these things do happen. Construction happens. Water spills happen. Power outages happen. But every now and then I just get fed up with being amicable and amenable and go-with-the-flow (no water pun intended) and I have my own version of a total meltdown, which is comprised of me getting up in a huff, taking my toys, and going home.

And it’s juvenile, sure. But sometimes juvenile is just the ticket. There’s something to be said for letting off a little steam and then heading to a safe place to rest and recoup, where you know that, without fail, there will be WiFi, and A/C, and bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches aplenty.

***

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2 thoughts on “Misadventures in Coworking Abroad

  1. Thank you for sharing your scary places. As always it is as if I am there. Keep posting.

    1. Thanks so much, Mike — glad you enjoyed the post. And I’m really appreciative of your encouraging words! :)

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