Takeoff to Casablanca is less than a week away, pre-work and training is nearly complete, and my attention is turning to packing my suitcase. As I was making a packing list over the weekend, for some reason I could not stop thinking about a short story I read many years ago in school called “Things They Carried”. Tim O’Brien’s most well-known work is about a platoon – his platoon, actually – of young men who found themselves comrades in arms in the midst of the U.S. Vietnam War. He describes the things they carried with them 50 years ago on their field marches to paint a vivid picture of what it was like to be in their situation. It’s sad and funny and poignant – and deeply relevant to today’s current events. If, like me, you were forced to read this in school but haven’t read it since, get your hands on a copy and re-read it. Trust me, it’s worth revisiting as an adult.
The subject matter of the story is serious and sometimes gruesome; that war and the people who fought in it experienced some tremendously troubling things. In that way, it could not be less relevant to this very exciting and positive mission on which the IBM CSC Morocco 6 team is about to embark. But on the other hand, it’s about a small group of people who’ve never met coming together in a new place to set out on a mission. In that way, it’s very topical. One of the reasons American teenagers are asked to read the piece is because the writer’s storytelling mechanism is relevant to everyone. The things we carry in our purses and briefcases on a day to day basis and the things we selectively pack into our suitcases for a month in Morocco say a lot about us.
Here is a snapshot of my suitcase through the lens of Tim O’Brien’s storytelling:
“The things they carried were largely determined by necessity,” (p.2). Clothes, my computer, medications, all of our logistical packets of information, and of course my passport.
“What they carried was partly a function of rank, partly a function of field specialty,” (p.4). I have a bunch of IBM “swag” sitting in my apartment which the folks in the corporate headquarters asked me to carry to Morocco for the team. I have 9 ‘Big Thunder Tote Bags’, 9 rather ugly “IBM Rebus EYE BEE M” caps, 6 Jelly luggage tags, 6 LED Light Keychains, 6 Chroma Earbud sets, 6 Stylus & Cleaning Cloth sets, 2 USB drives, 2 Packs of post-it notes, and 1 ‘Element Pen’. If the numbers seem bizarre for a team of 12, that’s because I’m sharing the load with teammate and fellow DC consultant Mr. Jordan Heichel. (Because he was worried about space in his luggage, I agreed to take ¾ of all the big items. I’m sure his silk cravats and shiny shoes will be all the better looking for the extra space in his bag… ;). I also installed a bunch of software onto my computer I normally use on my client machines to help with the work now that I have an idea of what we’ll be doing. Hopefully it was worth all the time it took to get the downloads approved. This doesn’t have much to do with “rank” – but definitely is particular to my job skills and geography.
“What they carried varied by mission,” (p.6). One of the tricky things about packing for this trip is how to balance items for the substantial professional parts of the trip with the personal parts of the trip. How much professional attire vs. sightseeing attire? Are there books or reference materials I have that might come in handy? I honestly don’t know what our weekends will be like, but I’m hoping to take in as much of the country as possible while I’m there. I’m also planning on packing my big DSLR camera. This is probably un-intelligent; it’s large and takes up space, it’s also expensive and will be hard to replace if it’s lost or stolen. But the experience promises to be so formative and exciting that I can’t convince myself to leave it behind. I’m not a “great” photographer but one of the ways I like to experience new places is by taking pictures. Additionally, part of our IBM CSC mission is to document the project… and that’s what I plan to do! Pictures can be such an amazing window into an experience.
“The things they carried varied to some extent by superstition,” (p.9). Mock me if you will, but I plan to bring a small stuffed ‘animal’ with me to Morocco. Well…not so much an animal as a 6 inch stuffed likeness of an E.Coli bacteria, covered in fuzzy material and complete with flagella. It was a gift from my husband, and it’s weirdly cute. It also reminds me of him; it reminds me to have a sense of humor and take joy in my life, and it reminds me that it’s ok to be myself - nerdy and unique.
And finally, “…they carried themselves” (p.13). We carry ourselves, our perspective and our previous experiences to Morocco to work and to learn; to give and receive; to experience and grow. Hopefully we will carry ourselves with poise and an open mind – as good representatives of our best selves and of IBM's #ibmcsc morocco6 team.