Of odd jobs and old perspectives

What is an odd job? What specifically makes an "odd job" odd? Does the robot who works as a waitress have an odd job? Is it odd because she's a robot or because she's a waitress? 

While I was planning to pursue my Master's in Australia, I had to entertain the idea that I might have to get one of those so-called "odd jobs", and I was ready. Or so I thought.

For those who do not know, an odd job in Bangladesh is equivalent to a normal blue-collar job everywhere else in the world. In this country, it is generally associated with working in the hospitality industry or retail sector or driving a cab—jobs that are at times frowned upon and shrugged off into a category of its own with zero importance or worth attached to them. In Bangladesh, an educated person cannot even think of such a thing—it would be social suicide for the person and his/her family, even though so many of us are doing it abroad. But why is that?

My initial transition from working in a fancy office in Bangladesh to making fries in a burger joint at Darling Harbour was not a pleasant experience. It was filled with moments of self-doubt, existential crisis, and tears—lots of them. It completely shattered the bloated ego that my friends and family had nurtured throughout my life. Within days, I went from being greeted at the reception to the one greeting customers with a fake yet glorious smile; from being the one to give orders to the novice completing one; from doing a "socially respectable" job to an ordinary one; and from longing to get out of the country to missing home and my mum's hilsa fry and daal.

But perhaps the most ironic part of my ongoing journey is thatI nearly didn't get my first fry-frying Spongebob-esque job because I was overaged and underqualified, according to my 19-year old manager who was already three years my senior in this sector.

I could only blame my parents. If only they'd allowed me to begin working part-time when I was 15 years old instead of coddling and spoiling me with whatever I wanted, maybe today I wouldn't have such a hard time finding a job. Why wasn't I allowed to work in the numerous cafés and restaurants sprouting around Dhaka?

While my parents and our society remain in the shackles of the phrase, "Manush ki bolbe?" (What will people say?), kids in Australia are becoming more responsible, independent and learning the importance of hard work. They are being exposed to a work environment where they have to get out of their comfort zone, adapt, and deal with people from every sphere of life—all at a very young age, whereas at 15, I was busy throwing tantrums about why my rice pudding had raisins in it.

Parents, as taught by their predecessors, protect and nurture their children to the point of being useless in real life. They think "adulting" is a phase that we will automatically breeze through. They might as well be taking us on a nice helicopter ride across the Bay of Bengal and dumping us in the middle in order to teach us how to swim. After 22 years of education, we are thrown into the wild, expected not only to survive, but to thrive.

From 18-year-olds who just finished high to school to 55-year-old research associates who are looking for an income on the side, I have worked with a wild bunch of people in this field, each with their own stories, backgrounds and experiences. They have made me realise two things about this line of work: firstly, I will lose a lot of weight, and secondly, work is just work, nothing more, nothing less.

I remember, during an interview for the position of a cocktail waitress, I met a girl who was already doing a government job for the transportation sector in Sydney at the time. To me, she seemed like a person with a career, who is settled in every conventional way. I asked her why then she was applying for this job, and she seemed surprised by my question. "It [the government job] is tedious. And more importantly, I'm not content. The pay is good, but what else?" she said. I was always taught that if the pay is good then that's all that matters, so what was this satisfaction she spoke off? This job was a way for her to meet new people, work casual hours and, as a cocktail waitress, attend parties, all the while making enough to get by. Her enjoyment was more than any money she was already making. I could never have imagined something like that. I was programmed differently as a child. In the education that began when I was four years old, no one thought to instil the idea of satisfaction or what I want from my life.

So, what is the endgame to all my stress and study? A good job. That's all it came down to, with not a clue what that "good job" really meant or would be.

Just when I thought I had already become the person I was meant to be for the rest of my life, I began to change. Waiting tables not only taught me how to carry three large plates at once but also made me realise that no matter how educated or open-minded you are, some ideas of hierarchy are ingrained within and it took me months to adopt this new outlook. I have learnt to see that a job cannot and should not define you, and we as a society need to refrain from the idea that certain jobs are for certain people. Answer me this, will I stop being a Master's graduate if I keep working as a waitress?

Asmaul Housna is a Master's student in Sydney, Australia.


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