During my life I’ve worn several hats to earn a salary; sometimes there was no salary at all. My wife had to take care of me. Life is like the sea, it has its high tides and its low tides.
After being a Financial Director for the Panama Bureau of Tourism (Instituto Panameño de Turismo), I lost my job because there was a changing of the guard. The PRD (Partido Revolucionario Democrático) won the elections in 1994 and the new General Director wanted to have his own team and needed my place. I knew that was going to happen, as soon as the election results were known. So I submitted my resignation, and that was that.
Finding a new job was most difficult because of my age. I was 48. In order to keep the ball rolling, my wife had to enter the job market. She was hired as a waiter in a small restaurant and became the bread provider of our home. I stayed home and became the house keeper the best I could—I lacked the skills to cook and all that stuff. I had to learn how to mop, sweep, wash clothes, wash the dishes and occasionally cook very basic food—like boiled eggs. (Omar smiles.)
After a drought of ten years, I found a job as a CSP (Customer Service Provider) for a company called SITEL. It was, and still is, the largest call center in the country. The pay was scant, but nevertheless it was a stable job with paid vacations, Social Security benefits, XIII Month and regular paychecks every two weeks. In Spanish it’s called The Quincena-–the most anxiously awaited day of the month. Payday was a sweet word for us.
My job at SITEL was to give customer service to customers of a U.S. company called XM Radio. They marketed satellite radios and were very popular in 2007. XM Radio later merged with Sirius Satellite Radio and became the largest satellite radio provider in the United States.
It was a stressing job. Everything I said was in a script and I couldn’t stray from the structured job description. If I did not follow the script to the word, my supervisor would deduct points from my performance and place them in a large sheet of paper pasted on a wall for everyone to see. I was embarrassed to see my name printed there beside a mediocre performance.
Sometimes customers would ask where I was from, due to my deep Spanish accent. They usually thought I was from India. Frequently they would not want to talk to me. They would say, “Sir, I don’t want to talk to you. I’m not giving my Social Security Number to a corrupt Indian guy. Switch me over to an American operator. I want to talk to an American.” I tried to persuade them that I could help him or her (it was part of my job to do so), but they insisted or hanged up the phone. I remember crying at the end of the shift. It was so humiliating, but we needed the money.
I hanged in there until July 3, 2008 when I finally retired after filling in my application with the Panama Social Security. Since I had very good salaries in the past, my pension was generous. For a change, I didn’t have to memorize a script and nobody could fire me anymore, as long as I lived. Our problems to buy food were over. It was Nirvana. I couldn’t believe it for several months. The quincenas were paid regularly and we went happily soon after to buy our food at El Machetazo, the nearest supermarket to our house. With all the time in the world, I became an amateur photographer and a neophyte blogger and here I am writing to you guys now.
Below is a picture of an award I received for being one of the best customer service agents in the second quarter of 2007. At least management didn’t consider my English accent awful and my overall job performance was up to par. When I got the award, I felt like a million bucks. I felt useful for a change. The simple plastic award is sitting on my computer desk as a reminder of the most embarrassing job I ever had in my entire professional career. The good thing though, is that it kept us going for several years. In every difficult situation, there is always a bright side. Not everything is black and gloomy. Good Day.