What it’s like working for the ASI.

My blog has been silent for far too long. So, here’s a quick look into what’s kept me so busy for the last year and a bit.

When people hear where I work now, their eyes grow big in surprise, they frown and then I get a sting of interesting questions…. Here’s the answer to some the most frequent ones…

What it’s like working for the ASI.

I started this job just over a year ago, after a dead end stint in the hospitality industry. My new title; “Admin Manager” – little did I know at that time, what this role would encompass. There I thought I’d be doing a bit of course coordination, invoicing and quoting. Ha!

As with all new jobs you go through that initial phase of sink or swim. Everything is new and unfamiliar, and you’ve gotta keep your eyes, ears and mind open. Luckily I’m not really a fan of the whole sinking thing, and slowly got better at swimming – albeit in circle and doing doggy paddle.

I am lucky enough to have a pretty darn cool boss, who doesn’t sweat the petty things, and a right hand man who’s the constant in an ever fluctuating sea of busyness overload. And this made the first few scary weeks, when you feel you can do nothing right, bearable.

Who is the ‘’ASI” and what do we do?

The African Snakebite Institute is the largest snake awareness and venomous snake handling training provider in Africa. We teach thousands of delegates a year about snake awareness, identification, behaviour, biology, myths and superstitions, and first aid for snakebite, as well as teaching them how to safely remove and relocate venomous snakes. ASI is also the largest distributor of quality snake handling equipment on the continent.

What’s been my biggest challenge?

I’d say my biggest growth point has been learning to ‘’just do it’’. For someone who always liked to plan everything meticulously, letting that go and just running with whatever was thrown my way was a challenge. Just a year later and I now routinely tackle things I know nothing about and haven’t planned and plotted and procrastinated about.

Best part of the job?

Has to be the team I work with. There’s no drama, hidden agendas, or backstabbing. We’re all just out to do the best we can, and to pick up the slack when we see it’s needed. No better feeling than running with a team that wants to run.

I get to work with some really cool people. Both the regular ASI team and our volunteers.

Travelling more has been an added bonus for me. It’s not something I did a lot of growing up, and I’ve got to see some pretty cool places in the last year. Although you don’t get to experience much when you’re working, it’s still cool to see something besides office walls.

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The Filth in the Cradle

For those who live in the picturesque Cradle of Humankind, getting in and out of the area during the weekends can be a hellish nightmare. Blood pressure soars through the roof and swear words fly like fighter jets at an air show.

In many areas of the Cradle there are demarcated cycle lanes for people who wish to enjoy our beautiful countryside on a weekend ride. I do applaud those who get up early on a weekend morning, don their revealing spandex suits and pedal around the Cradle – it’s an achievement to be proud of. To be active and outdoors is one of the best things, and it’s great to see masses of people doing it. Unfortunately sometimes the M from the masses is silent.

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Home Mountain

Zwartkops Mountain has served as the scenic backdrop for most of my life. It’s been like having a favorite oil painting hanging on the entrance hall wall. It’s been the one icon I could always pinpoint on any return trip, with that warm sense of “I’m going home”.

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This unsung landmark is situated in the Cradle of Humankind, stuck, smack-bang in between three popular lodges.
About 20 years ago, it used to be fairly easy to park ones car on the side of a back road, and climb up. Now it’s a little more challenging, and to do so without the fear of being shot for trespassing is not really possible.

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A river actually does run through it….

A mere 20 minute drive out of the hustle and bustle of ever-busy Fourways traffic, brings you to another world. As you step out of the car into the cold morning air the unmistakable smell of river rises up to meet you. For those who have been lucky enough to grow up along the river banks, it’s a homely and natural smell. Every cell in your body shouts in joy “OUTSIDE!!” your smile starts to spread uncontrollably and your eyes get a mischievous sparkle.

Even though it was mid-winter and another cold front was around the corner, getting out and in the fresh winter air did us good. It blows the cobwebs from the mind, makes you forget the work week and the impending doom of Monday morning (for some). And so that’s exactly what we did one chilly Sunday morning a few weeks ago.

Enter the Hennops Hiking Trail.

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My job ate my life – a cautionary tale of the joys of being in the hospitality industry.

A year and a bit ago (about when the blog went quiet) I made one of those big scary life changing steps. I quit the job I’d had for the previous 6 years (one that was safe and boring) and took over managing a small guesthouse in the Cradle of Humankind. With delusions of this being just the right thing for me. Vibrant, versatile and organised.

I was prepared for the challenge, but I was not prepared for a job that ate my life. 1 day off a week, 1 weekend off a month. Working from 8 – 6 most days (except when the goalposts shifted) just to try and keep up. Doing everything from accommodation bookings to guest liaison, wedding planning, accounts, stock control, systems management, IT, photography, social media, quotes, ordering, shopping, maintenance supervision and managing a team of housekeeping staff (and a whole lot in-between) – it’s not for the faint hearted. No wonder the industry is rife with druggies, chain smokers and alcoholics.

When I went for the initial interview, I asked the stand in manager what the worst part of the job was, she said “the phone” – I didn’t quite get that. After a year of having a busy phone with you 24/7 answering calls politely at 12, 1, 2, and 3 in the morning, and answering them again when the person phones back 10 minutes later (just as you’ve fallen asleep) to reconfirm that you have no accommodation available. I finally realized what she meant, waved my white flag and handed in my resignation.

I had become that highly strung girl who had no life outside of work. My relationships suffered, I lost touch with family and friends (or people lost touch with me, since I wasn’t the one making the effort anymore)

I’m one of those crazy people who gives a new challenge their all, who believes that with hard work and tenacity you can change an organisation for the better. But sometimes, it’s just not worth the toll. I learnt a huge amount about the industry in that year and also a lot about myself. It’s now 3 months since I quit, and I am slowly starting to unwind. Starting to find my way back to my new self. I can breathe again.

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It wasn’t all bad, I met some of the most amazing people. I was able to become part of a team I was proud of. So proud. The guest house staff are the only reason the place runs during trying times and numerous half interested managers. They have the most amazing personalities and a work ethic that needs to be seen to be believed.

There are hundreds of thousands of people who work in hospitality. Be it the quiet house keeper who has to clean your bomb site of a room the next morning. The cook who has to start at 4:30 in the morning because you want to leave early. The barman who needs to work until you’ve drunk enough – even though he’s already worked a full day shift. The guy who needs to stay awake at night to check you in – because check in times do not apply to you. The shuttle driver who needs to get your drunk ass into and out the vehicle, and sometimes help you to your bed. The gardener who washes a car park full of cars on a freezing cold winter’s morning. You guys (and girls) are my heroes.

My tiny bit of advice (remember: Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth) for anyone who thinks that they want to join the hospitality industry, is: Beware of jobs that eat your life.

Time is precious – spend it well.

 

 

Sunsets for Sid

Sid ran the second hand book shop at the local shopping mall and of course I can’t walk past a good bookshop without going in for a decent perusal. He was in his mid-twenties, fitly built with deep blue eyes and long blonde hair. He’d always offer his assistance as I entered the shop and I would always politely decline. We did this dance of offer and refusal without fail time and time again; it seemed a way to bridge an awkward silent attraction between us. I’d wander off into the shelves browsing and he’d sit behind the counter gently strumming on his guitar. It got to a stage where wasn’t too sure if I visited for the books or to hear him play, he got so lost in his music, which was charming to see.

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Sawubona Gooday.

Agh Jabs, what can I say?
You were one in a million my friend.

With your salt and pepper hair and your deep reassuring voice. Your unfailing ‘Sawubona Gooday” greetings and your warm chuckle. Ever helpful and filled with knowledge, I came away from any conversation with you, the wiser and the better. Standing behind a counter all day, besides the fact a bus had left you limping and in pain for life. Yet even so, always that smile and that warmth and that wonderful sense of humour. I forget, was it thirteen languages you could speak? Something remarkable like that! Salesman of the year, how many years in a row? “Ah, well done, here’s another wall clock” say the pathetic white management. I always said you were the best salesman I ever met. But more than that, oh so much more, you were a friend to those who dealt with you. You made our days brighter and our jobs easier.

You were my friend, and for that I thank you.
With love, Tsotsi one.

In Loving memory. Jabulani Morewa
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