Day 1: Wednesday in Bosnia – Chasing paranoia away
It is a scary word in itself, especially when you are afraid of the unknown.
I am a person that finds knowledge a source of illumination and a guide, and when faced with fear I simply must *know* everything related to my fear in order to relax. Sadly, that is not possible. How can I relax when most days I know not what am I being afraid of?
That little paradox was born somewhere in the unknown depths of my past. And what other reasons for this messed up state of my mind then the most cliché reasons of them all – a woman, politics, religion and social pressure. What could go wrong with that combination, you ask yourself? Everything, that’s what can go wrong, especially in Bosnia.
Yet today, I may have made some progress. I am starting to remember how to be myself again. To feel good, to realize I have potential.
“Online work?” – I asked my old friend , believing it is a scam. Everything in my life so far was a scam. My paranoia was biting. “World doesn’t work like that. No one gives money to you for easy work, especially if they can get away with it.” – I taught to myself, but said it out loud, without even knowing it.
“I swear the God, it’s not a scam! I earn 50-60 dollars every month!” – he answered with a proud smile of a man that was just about to share a secret to some old gold mine.
I looked at him with disbelief. He himself was a scam artist. And by artist, I really mean he was GOOD in doing scams. It is a well known fact among our social circle that he brought a small outsourcing company down to its knees by taking over its only client, then ruining the job by his unprofessional behavior.
Ironically enough, you could say he was a pioneer of online work in my town.
We all wanted to be like him, at least for a period of time because in just few months he rose from being poor and shy to a very confident man that was about to buy his own car and maybe even open a business.
“How did he do that?” – was the only taught on our mind. Really, how does one in only a few months grow so much? Was there really a gold mine on the internet where people just give away money? Seemed like that to me back then.
You must realize that Bosnia is a devastated country. We had 5 years of bloody conflict and war that left the country with almost no industry at all. Agriculture, construction and some form of work related to government are 90 % of all the choices people have in here, especially further away from big urban regions. Or you can try to live illegally in some European country. I must be honest – everything
is building up as we are trying to catch up to other countries, but it is a slow process. We recently (few years ago) got internet service, but it is slower and more expensive that in any other country on Balkan region. And it is 300% more expensive!! We pay around 30 EUR/month for 2mbps of flat-rate internet. You could say we are legally getting robbed.
Now, back to the friend of mine that introduced online work to me in the first place.
He was actually a simple guakaistrator for Bosnian branch of the online browser game Travian, which is really popular on the internet nowadays. He received really good paychecks for his guakaistrative work. But greed filled him like rain fills the holes in the ground. Drop at a time – temptation at a time.
Soon he made his own company and contacted the German owners of Travian. He told them he was the one doing all the work, and not the outsourcing company that he worked for. After that, he gave a simple proposal – how about they work with him directly, without the company playing the middle-man? That would cut them some expenses for them.
And so it happened. He was the sole operator of Travian.ba, a newly crowned emperor of his new online empire. All the extra profits went to him. He got himself a car. He opened up a small business.
But the sad part is, the outsourcing company belonged to his childhood friend. Imagine that. Stabbing your own friend in the back just, for some extra money. Naturally, they are friends no longer.
But I don’t care about that. It is their dispute. Let them handle it.
Now, by explaining who my conversation partner was, and what he did – you can understand why my paranoia kicked in.
Why trust someone like him? I knew little about online work myself. It seemed impossible at best. In my imagination, I saw only one outcome – I would do the work, send it to my employer, and never get paid for it. It’s how things work in Bosnia, even for good ol’fashion offline work.
“Trust me man, I earn online few dollars a month, just to help mi fill up the holes.” – he told me, seeing my face was all grumpy and insecure.
“What holes are those?” – I asked, actually trying to change the subject.
“World of Warcraft holes.” – he said, while chewing on his sandwich. He looked like he was about to start talking about his character
and latest adventure in the game, but he didn’t, because he continued – “I pay for prepaid codes with that money, all online, all digitally.”
Now that is where he had my attention. I played World of Warcraft for some short amount of time, when I had some money after publishing my first book.
I asked – “And that functions well? How much do you work?” – Because my curiosity was ticking inside of me.
“I work a few days per month. I translate this or that, write some blogs. Everything works out just fine, because I get paid every time.
“Simple as that, eh?” – I asked. Just the idea of receiving some money online made me feel all European and advanced. As if I would be instantly joining some secret society where all doors are opened.
“Well, you got to know English and need a PayPal account. Join me by making a profile and I will help you find some easy work. You will see. And after that, come play WoW with me. I’m bored all alone.”
Now, as you may have figured out, name of this article is “chasing paranoia away” because I am trying to “train myself” to trust others online and actually do some work like I am doing it face-to-face. I am a pioneer at oDesk that will try to bring a whole new world of possibilities closer to everyone in my social circle. We are all students, tight on money and without opportunity to travel far for work. If we could earn money from our own apartments at a steady basis, it would be a HUGE advancement in our life for obvious reasons.
I will mention my other experience with online work in the articles to come. I think you will agree that this one is too long already.
Day 2: Thursday in Bosnia – Earning a little extra
It is the very essence of human existence if you ask me.
For the past few months, I have been working around 10-12 hours a day. I got no choice regarding that. There are two reasons for it.
First, I was raised in a very harsh family. They disciplined me from early age that work is only thing that will bring you peace and stability. And they made me earn every single coin I got from them. Wanted a candy? Needed to work around house and earn it. Want a toy? Need to earn it. Want to eat in school? Need to earn that as well.
So I am no stranger to work.
The other reason is more interesting – I am getting older, and that means more expenses are coming my way. Women expect me to pay for things, and my friends are getting married and gifts that I can present at their weddings are necessary. Also, being student means money is always a problem. All the time someone it trying to borrow a little cash from you, or is inviting you for some social gathering.
That means that having work available to me is of utmost importance.
Sadly, living in Bosnia means that work is nowhere near available to me. Therefore, potential work over internet is becoming more of a “must do it” then a “oh lucky me” kind of thing. When I was younger, anything I earned was spent on games, candy or drink with buddies. As I already explained, those things are now replaced with more serious, more expensive activities.
I must say that access to internet saved me countless times.
Most of the money I ever earned was thanks to Internet. How?
Simple – research and emails.
You see, being in college gives you access to two kinds of people:
- Hard working students that want to finish up and go to work,
- Lazy kids that want nothing else than sit around all day and smoke weed
I make good use of both kinds.
When I need to study, I team up with one of people that belongs in group one. If we are unable to meet up somewhere, we exchange notes over internet.
Now, when I need money, I team up with people from second group. I do all of their work, and they pay me. Hopefully.
In order to make things quick and without leaving to much traces, we mostly communicate online. They send me tasks such as seminars, programming projects and essays… whatever needs to be done.
I accept and get to work. Any research needed is done online. Any materials I will use are obtained online.
Finally, when I finish the “product” I need to deliver, I do it online, usually via emails.
Now, when it comes to paying, there are three scenarios. First, and most usual is that my client delays a few days then pays up when I meet him face to face. Second scenario is that client pays me online, but this happens only if they are rich and can’t be bothered walking over or if they live in an entirely different city. And third scenario is that they never pay and avoid me for the rest of my life.
I like the second group the most. Why? Because money is safe on my bank account and I can withdraw it any time I am in the city, near some ATM. And ladies love it as well – I look more professional that way.
Sadly, there never is too much on my account lately. But it will get better.
In the next article, I will write about my “golden age”, when I worked for a newspaper
Day 3: Friday in Bosnia – The Golden Age
When I was younger, books and PC games were all I was ever interested in.
I kept reading books and playing games, mostly because of some vague sense of freedom I got from them. I wasn’t myself anymore, but some mighty hero, saving the world (or preferably conquering it), buying potions of manna for 15 gold coins and kicking bad guys in the guts.
It is not surprising that I actually sat down one day and wrote a book of my own. Well, I didn’t write it in a day – took several months of course. But it was a pleasant activity, which filled me up beyond anything I have EVER tried before.
It was a trash-fantasy book, not really worth of any deep taught or rereading – but for a kid that wrote it, it was THE greatest thing ever! Not even the giants of literature like “Lord of the Rings” could not measure up to it in my mind, because “I had more battles in my book”.
Now comes the interesting part – how I published the book.
A girl I was trying to date at that time had a family friend that was a renowned writer in Bosnia. After talking her in to it, she arranged our meeting. After a lot of conversation, he took my writing and read it.
It took him several days to read it, and unbelievable as it may sound, he liked it.
“For someone of your age you did a remarkable work” – he said. I was 16 at the time.
“Now we only need someone to help us publish this, correct?” – he asked me. I was full of expectations at the time. My dreams were about to come true.
But, to make a long story short, he didn’t help me out too much. Mentioned writer only helped me out by vouching for my work once I found the publisher myself. But he is important later in the story.
Now, I have published my book by contacting a publisher that worked in capital city of Croatia, Zagreb. It was a long process in which I also contacted plenty of writers and asking for their advice and help. All of this was done via Internet; emails, MSN and Skype.
Without internet, I never could have achieved anything.
Even today, I have never met my publisher. Every bit of communication was done via internet. Emails flew back and forth all the time.
I sent my book the publisher, and wrote one hell of a plea, stating I can’t afford a single coin to participate in the publishing. My parents didn’t like the idea, and laughed at my attempts of becoming a writer. It was a stuff of idiocy and snobbism to them, so no money would come from their pockets to further my cause. They never even read the book.
Nevertheless, in the days that followed, several writers I contacted wrote to the publisher themselves, vouching for quality of my book. It was a long process, but at the night of my school graduation, the book was published in 500 copies. I received 40 of them myself, to sell or give away.
Those were happy times for me, for I have achieved something impossible. The book itself was ridiculed at public forums as being “shallow”, but it doesn’t matter. It was published, and I had earned my fist big amount of money. And I used the money to get to college.
Now, several years after the book was out, that first writer I ever contacted called me and made a proposal. He was starting to work as chief editor for some local, independent newspaper company. He offered me a position of associate.
I accepted with great enthusiasm.
My articles were published with every edition, which came once a month. Depending on the size of articles, I received a fat paycheck on my bank account. Interestingly enough, even this job was done via internet.
I wrote my articles on the computer, then uploaded them on the company site where chief editor read them and sorted them out. If everything went fine, and articles were published, and money was sent to my account. There were some problems with it at few points, where I received someone else’s paycheck, which resulted in tireless phone calls and arrangements for a new articles that I was to write at once, because I received more money than I should have. Luckily it was a very small amount of money, so they easily subtracted it from my next paycheck.
As a year went by on my work, and as articles flew by, I actually gained some (negative) renown in my city because I wrote without censure and honestly about many taboo problems that plague Bosnian society and our culture.
That impressed the owner of “Posavina” (name of the newspaper), so he invited me to a meeting one day, several cities away from where I live. Transport was a bit hard to come by, but I arranged it.
He was testing me out, trying to see who I really am and what I do besides writing for him.
It is at that point that he found out I was a student of software programming. So, another offer came my way. You see, he owned a software design company somewhere in Paris (France), where he lived and worked for most of his life (He was Bosnian, but he moved to Paris before the Yugoslavian Civil War).
I was to be tested for my programming skills. Another line of work was opening up to me, but I needed to comply with his standards.
More about that in my next article.
Day 5: Monday in Bosnia – The Outcast’s point of view
Internet is a point of refuge for me. A beam of light in a prison of shadows.
Without it, I would most likely be insane, prone to severe antisocial behavior or even criminal activity.
You see, where I live, people don’t like me. Actually, the covertly hate me, but “not liking me” is a nice way to say it. And I must admit, fault for that is my own, at least partially because I did not comply with the rules of society, and I knew I was defying them.
Part that is not my fault is simple – I was born in a family of Bosnian Muslims, yet I live in a town where majority are Croatian Catholics. To put it lightly, people don’t get along well since the war. Best description would be the following – COLD WAR.
There is mostly peace in the town, because violence is rare and restricted to only deviant and drunk youngsters that heard too many war stories, and are too eager to embrace ideologies of old.
So, in the essence of it, people of two nationalities are forced to live, work and eat together, yet they desperately try to avoid and separate themselves from each other where ever they can, whenever they can. That is especially true for marriages.
It is common occurrence here that some parents literally *abandon* their child for having a baby with someone or marrying someone who is not of their religion. They refuse to communicate to it and even accept that their child even exists, because having your child do something like that is the ultimate disgrace.
And that is the source of my biggest problems.
I am an Atheist since I was 16 years old, so I don’t buy into that religious devotion and zealous behavior. It revolts me, and it revolted me since I was a child. Such “customs” are a reason I decided to become Atheist. By making that choice, I have gained more enemies than I have ever imagined. Now both “sides” avoid and despise me, because I am not one of them. There is no middle ground in Bosnia. Only “us and them”. And I don’t belong to “us” in any scenario. I’m always with “them”. Muslims think I betrayed them, and most Christians never liked me in the first place.
But my biggest problem is that I dated a catholic girl for almost a year. We slept together very often. Luckily enough, she never got pregnant. If she had, I probably would be in an entirely different situation, most likely close to insanity or even death, because when my parents found out about our relationship, I was put through hell and back. You see, being an atheist is something people believe they can *fix*. But having a child with a “non believer” is something that you can’t “fix”. Therefore, because I took such risks, majority of my family doesn’t speak to me anymore. I am no longer welcome in their homes or in their company.
I became a black sheep over night, not deserving of their love, approval or support.
My parents still accept me, but I had to “abandon” the girl. But there were problems with that. Big ones…
She is sick, and that is something I did not notice in the beginning of our relationship. She has a BPD – Borderline Personality Disorder. And she has put me through hell as well, just to keep me in the relationship. Fake pregnancies, overdosing on pills, constant phone calls, paranoid jealousy… she did it all.
So today, I hide my “relationship” with her, until the moment I can break free. It is possible to hide it, because most of our communication is done online, via MSN or Skype. Another thing that makes things simpler is the very fact that she is a student of economics in capital of Croatia, Zagreb. More than three hundred kilometers is between us.
So it is a long distance relationship.
A long distance burden and a problem just waiting to explode in my face. A nightmare that stalks me for over a year now, like a monster that hides in the dark and waits patiently for its victim to make a wrong move, before it pulls it in and devours it completely.
If there was no internet, I would lose my mind, without a second of doubt.
Online, I find some freedoms at least; a way ease my mind and have some fun, or find some work that will help me gain independence. It is a refuge point and a source of non biased people that I can communicate with. It is a source of knowledge and information.
And in the future, I hope it will be a source of steady income and a ticket to a better life.
Day 6: Tuesday in Bosnia – Working some more
I was lucky today!
I got myself a work contract via university! Several months ago I signed up with some group at college that offered to find us work, but lost all faith in it over time. But amazingly enough, they pulled out my name when they got a contractor (someone unhappy with management of information on our university it seems), and called me to check if I accept the work. All communication with my employer will be done online, and payments will go over university once the job is done. Of course, this is not a *real* outsourcing job, but it still kind of falls in that category because there is the „middleman“ that takes a part of payment for itself. Well, in my case it takes a BIG part of payment.
Anyway, I am more then loaded with all kinds of work these days, trying to finish up my graduation project on time, studying for final exams and going out to gym, because I have grown fat in last semester and my body was starting to trouble me with all kinds of pains and weaknesses (I sat in front of the PC to much)
My job is to create an application that will allow students, their parents and professors to subscribe to newsfeed from the university. They will mark any subject they are interested in on their account options, and the application is supposed to download any news related to those interests. Furthermore, an optional task is to have the users post comments and click “I approve of this” or “I don’t approve of this” on every information they want. Information will mostly be around schedules of classes and other college activities.
In order to pull this trough, it will requires more skill then they have given us on at the university, but I hope that I will pull trough, because I have a co-worker that lives somewhere in city of Mostar, on the far south of Bosnia.
Together, I hope, we will create this fast and effectively, because it will not only bring us monetary gain but also prestige and further employment opportunity.
We have 1 month to do everything correctly.
So far, my co-worker has proved to be a bit aloof and hard to contact, as he is rarely online, and I have not been given his phone number and therefore I have problem even starting the project without him, because we have not discussed our general plan of action.
Still, I have the interface sketches that our employer has provided and will proceed with creating of GUI (Graphic User Interface). Later on, we will discuss the creation of a database and other elements of the application as it comes.
I hope that I won’t be the only one working on the project, and then having to share the prize. My first impression of my co-worker has made me appreciate the oDesk’s activity meter that enables the employer to pay more or less regarding on employees activity and merit.
But that is only the first impression.
Will write some more later on when I see how things progressed.
Day 7: Friday in Bosnia – Getting used to it
I have made some good progress with my project.
My co-worker has proved to be very enthusiastic and a friendly guy, with very good programming skills. I must admit that in some areas he is way better than I am, but is also lacking in some. That is ok, because we can work well together.
Biggest problem so far was the communication. It was hard to get in touch, but once we added each other on Skype, everything started going well. You see, Skype has the option of showing him my
screen instead of camera input, so he can see directly what I am doing and vice versa.
I was busy making the GUI for our application, while he was busy doing UML diagrams, that proved to be very accurate and needed just a little fixing and modifications (so far at least).
Our next task is to create a database that will serve the application. But for that we need a complete list of features that our employer wants the application to have, and we need the confirmation on many features we want to implement. Alas, now our employer has become elusive. He is not to be found on Skype or MSN, and he does not respond to emails.
That makes me think about oDesk and the fine system that was created for handling communication.
Now that I have touched the subject of bad employers, I remember one of my older assignments, where I made a web page for a Croatian company whose owner wanted SOMETHING yet was never
there to provide criticism and input regarding the project.
She provided some vague description regarding her desired outcome, and went offline for a long period of time. I created the entire page following her very scarce descriptions and desires. Finally,
when I submitted everything, she was outraged how BAD it was, because it was nothing close to what she wanted. Then, after “digging up” her phone number, I called her for “data mining” purposes. She was very aloof, seeming uninterested and bored with our conversation. It was hard to realize what she really wanted, because I’d swear even today that she didn’t know exactly what she
Still, managed to gather some info on her desires – she even sent me a logo she wanted to use.
Using that logo and the information I gathered, I created a brand new webpage that AGAIN wasn’t what she wanted – this time it had too much content. After cutting apart and removing many parts
on which I worked hard to create, she was finally pleased.
What she wanted was the most basic look, without any gadgets, no eye-catchers, no interest points and no graphics.
Now that the project was completed, she started calling me all the time in order to change the SIMPLEST of things like the size of text (and she called it FONT). After I changed the font, she insulted
me several times saying I am an idiot, a moron, deaf and retarded. When talking some more to her, I realized that she wanted the font SIZE to be different, so I reversed the font to old one and made it
larger like she wanted.
Finally, the project was done. Alas, no money was paid to me.
She answered no phone calls, never returned my emails and changed the password of her webhosting account that I used to setup the page. And because I contacted her over an advert, there was no way to act against her and demand my payment.
Since that event I never trusted online work, but still was dependent on it because there was NO ordinary work to be found. When economy is bad in your country, you have to search for work in countries where economy is still stable.
Now I only hope that similar situation won’t happen with my new employer. I admit, this gentleman gave us very detailed descriptions to what he wants done, but there are still some questions left unanswered, and we need to contact him in order to sort it out, because if we do things “our way” he may not like it, and we could end up doing the same work over again, thus losing valuable time.
I am hoping that I will find some more work on oDesk once I relax enough to apply for jobs without fear. It seems to me that they have handled many aspects that always bothered me very well.
Still, it remains to be seen.
I have more work than I can handle these days. Funny enough, I am starting to hope for a little rest soon. But, truth be told – I enjoy the work. As long as there is a way to earn some money and get paid, I will be a happy guy.