Strange coincidences

In life, we sometimes encounter astonishing coincidences, as if some unseen author is playfully weaving our threads. I’d like to share a few that happened to me in the early 90s, during my time at Lotus Development, a computer multinational known to many. You might recall Lotus 123, one of the first spreadsheets that propelled Lotus from an emerging startup to a global corporation. Everything was going well until the competition from Microsoft Excel and a failed release of Lotus 123 for Windows dramatically impacted its market. However, Lotus didn’t fall behind and launched Lotus Notes, an innovative product whose roots intertwine with the very web itself, offering a secure and advanced document environment. Although IBM eventually acquired Lotus, Lotus Notes endures, now known as HCL Domino.


Éire (Ireland)

My journey with Lotus began in Dublin shortly after marrying a delightful woman, incredibly beautiful, well-educated, and fluent in Spanish, English, and French. Back then, the office in Ireland was one of the most important in Europe as it was where Lotus products were translated into nearly all the world’s languages. There, I played a crucial role in second-level support for various products of this American company, assisting technicians who, in turn, helped customers. It was a golden era, filled with valuable friendships, and the future seemed brimming with infinite possibilities.

After about two years in Ireland, known as the emerald isle of Europe, our specialised technical group, composed of just eight members, received unexpected news: we would have a new high-ranking boss in the multinational’s hierarchical structure. This surprised us—why would such a small group require a director of such level?

The explanation came in our first meeting with John McKenzie, an American in his forties, with dark brown hair and tall stature, who had travelled from the United States specifically to meet with one of the smallest teams at Lotus Development in Ireland. He revealed that there were plans to expand and centralise the support structure, unifying all offices with technical staff in Paris, which included our team in Ireland.

“Does this mean our team in Ireland will be closed?” asked our team leader.

“I’m afraid so,” John confirmed, “However, due to your recognised performance, I encourage you to consider relocating to Paris. The City of Lights, with its exquisite cuisine, wines, and charms. I offer an additional financial package of a thousand pounds, superior to the company’s standard.” No one showed interest.

“Only a thousand pounds?” I questioned, aware that the reputation we had earned within the company was due to our work, not just technical but also our understanding of how different departments of development and marketing across the whole business group functioned.

“Alright, two thousand pounds. I don’t have that budget currently, but once the new support structure is established, I can grant you that amount,” he promised.

“We’ll consider it,” we replied.

Though we didn’t say it explicitly, it was clear no one was interested in relocating to Paris. At that time, Ireland was the epicentre of cutting-edge technology in Europe, and the job opportunities were exceptional for a team with our skills.

Not long after, the HR manager called each of us individually to present us with two options: relocate to France with an attractive financial package or leave the company, with the possibility of receiving courses to improve our job interview skills. We all chose the latter. These courses turned out to be valuable in the long run, helping me in various situations, such as debates on political ecology or explaining the Spanish electrical system and the concept of social currency. I already had a secured job with the new technical support team at Creative Labs, specialising in multimedia for PCs, when something unexpected happened.

While discussing a technical issue with Mercedes from Lotus Spain, I received an email from the new manager of Lotus Assistance France. He offered a trip to Paris to see the city and the workplace. If we decided to move to France after the visit, the financial offer would be even more generous. Though I had a good offer from Creative Labs, the idea of a paid trip to Paris was tempting. My wife and I decided to accept. I knew the team’s reluctance to relocate to France was a problem for the manager, who was facing the lack of a second-level technical support team. I accepted the offer, on the condition that it also covered the travel expenses for my wife and our one-year-old son, to which he agreed without hesitation.

My only previous experience in Paris had been brief, en route to Switzerland, so I was excited about the visit. My wife, who speaks French fluently, was also enthusiastic. Upon arriving at Charles De Gaulle airport, we were met by Claude, a taxi driver hired by Lotus France, who took us to a small hotel in Saint Quentin en Yvelines. He pointed out the location of the nearby “magasins,” which Loreto clarified meant shops, not magazines as I had thought. The next day, Claude drove me to the Lotus Assistance France office, where Eduardo Fonseca, the manager, was waiting to show me the facilities. Although I showed interest, I knew I wouldn’t stay, which made me feel awkward when that night Eduardo and his Argentine wife invited us to dinner at their home. The meat they prepared was extraordinary, but not enough to change my decision, something I communicated to him. He simply suggested I enjoy the stay and give him my final response from Ireland.

The next day, we went out to buy some baby food, as the hotel’s offerings didn’t suit us, nor our son. We entered a Carrefour, one of those that still abound everywhere, but something extraordinary happened when we reached the fruit section.

Suddenly, my wife stopped in her tracks, looked at me, and said:

“The fruit has a smell!”

strange coincidences

I took a deep breath and, indeed, I could distinguish the scent of apples and peaches, mingled with other aromas that brought back memories of my childhood at the other end of the world, where fruits also had a smell. I don’t know if you’ve ever bought fruit in shops or supermarkets in the British Isles. There, the fruit hardly has any smell and lacks flavour. Apart from a few apples, they hardly have any native fruit, so they import it from countries as far away as Chile or South Africa. This means it’s picked before it ripens and matures in transit, losing much of its flavour and all its aroma.

I picked up an apple and smelled it. In an instant, I was a child again, biting into an apple like the ones my grandmother used to buy in Rancagua. My wife and I looked at each other and knew it: we were going to live in France. Not just for us, but also because the idea of our son growing up knowing that quality of fresh food convinced us completely. The next day, I told Eduardo.

“Haha, I knew something like this would happen to you. Welcome to France!” he replied.

La France


Leaving my Irish friends behind was sad, but even more so was bidding farewell to Ireland, Éire [ˈeːɾʲə]. Ireland, a unique country that, like me, combines a Latin spirit with an Celtic/Anglo-Saxon culture. But France was a new apple to bite into.

Lotus took care of the move, hiring a company specialised in relocating diplomatic personnel and providing us with first-class tickets to travel from Dublin to Paris. Once again, we were met by Claude, a character who would become a good acquaintance over time. He explained the French traffic regulations to me, which require yielding to vehicles coming from the right, including in roundabouts—completely opposite to what is done in England, Ireland, and Spain. My ignorance of these rules led me to cross the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe at about 60 or 70 kilometres per hour, terrifying those entering from the right. It was the only way I could find to get across without anyone cutting in front. When Claude explained it to me, I understood the panicked shouts of my French colleagues when travelling with me through Paris, saying all sorts of things in French—a language I didn’t yet understand, so I assumed those shouts were directed at those other rude, reckless Parisian drivers.

The working atmosphere in France was very pleasant. I was surrounded by young people from sixteen different nationalities. Culturally, I have always felt closer to the north, so I fitted in well with the Belgians, Danes, and Swedes. There were no Britons or Germans in our team, as, due to the size of their markets in Lotus, they had their own teams. My job was specifically to provide second-level technical support for a range of products, but my deep knowledge of the company and its technology soon led me to take on responsibilities beyond my technical profile. My colleagues and my direct boss, Javier, were delighted that I could solve product issues in languages such as French or Spanish with just a call to the team leads in Ireland. But over time, I began to gain a reputation for having more influence in the company than a mere technician should have. This all started quite unexpectedly.

About four months after arriving in France, some friends and former colleagues in Ireland announced their wedding. Although the salary was decent and the financial aid for the move to France had been generous, we had spent almost all of it furnishing our apartment in a very austere manner, just with the basics from Ikea. So, I didn’t have enough money to travel to Dublin, and back then, although Ryanair already existed, it wasn’t the low-cost airline it is today. The plane tickets were very expensive. I decided to speak with Eduardo to see if I could get part of the additional money that John McKenzie had promised in Ireland to those who relocated to Paris.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. What money?” Eduardo responded.

“When I was in the Dublin team, didn’t they promise additional money to those who moved to Paris?” I replied, somewhat surprised that he didn’t know.

“Sorry, but I already gave you a very good financial package to come here, and that’s what you accepted. I don’t know anything about any additional money, and I’m not giving you any more,” he said seriously.

I accepted his answer, but something in me didn’t want to leave it at that. Returning to my desk, I called my former boss in Dublin, Brian, and explained the situation.

“Yes, yes. I remember he said that. You haven’t received it?” he asked.

“No, I haven’t received any of that, and Eduardo, who doesn’t know about this, says he’s already paid me everything he offered,” I replied.

“True. Don’t worry, I’ll remind John. I’ll take care of it,” he assured me.

I thanked Brian and mentioned he should stop by support if he ever visited Lotus in France. I felt relieved remembering the money, as it would not only cover the trip to Ireland but also allow me to use my remaining vacation days. After a few days in Dublin, we planned to go to Bilbao to visit Loreto’s family. I knew that, being Lotus a large company, getting the money could take some time. ‘Things move slowly in palaces,’ as they say. I was checking my emails when the phone rang. It was Eduardo.

“Alejandro, can you come here for a moment?” he asked.

“Sure, I’m coming right now,” I replied, hoping his bad mood had passed. Arriving at his office, I found him typing on his computer. I knocked on the door.

“Come in,” Eduardo said, with a strange expression. “I don’t know how you did it, but I just got a call from John McKenzie, who is my boss’s boss, and he told me, ‘Pay Alejandro the equivalent of two thousand pounds,’ and then he hung up. So, I’ve already asked Lucía to make the transfer. That’s all.” His tone reflected surprise, and that expression remained on his face. I was going to tell him that John had been my temporary boss in Ireland, but a little voice in my head told me not to. It would be helpful if Eduardo, also my boss’s boss, thought I had contacts with directors high up in the stratosphere of the multinational.

Weeks later, I was in Dublin with Loreto and Álvaro, enjoying the wedding. We stayed at my sister’s house. I took the opportunity to stop by the Lotus office and thank Brian for his help. I told him about John’s call to Eduardo, and he explained that John was in a hurry for an important meeting and decided to call Eduardo before he forgot. That’s why he seemed brusque. Internally, I smiled, grateful for how things had aligned in my favour, without imagining that fate had another surprise in store for me.

I decided to visit some colleagues. One of them was responsible for the printers. In France, we faced the challenge that, although Windows was already installed on many PCs, there were still MS-DOS users. In the MS-DOS era, each application required its own printer drivers, unlike Windows. If a customer had trouble printing with Lotus 123 on a specific printer, we couldn’t test because we didn’t have so many different models.

When I went to greet my colleague, I mentioned our problem in France and asked if he had some printers he could lend us.

“I’m glad you asked,” he replied. “With the transition to Windows, we no longer need these printers for testing, and I have to get rid of them.” I looked at the cabinets full of modern printers.

“And what are you planning to do with them?” I asked.

“We can’t sell or give them to employees, but we can to other departments. I’m getting quotes to dispose of them, which is expensive because they’re electronic products.”

“Really? Better send them to France; we need them for supporting MS-DOS customers,” I suggested.

“Good idea. I’ll compare quotes, and if it’s cheaper to send them than dispose of them, I’ll send them to you,” he said.

The next day, I left for Spain to continue my vacation, satisfied with how things had worked out.

I returned to work two weeks later, tanned and eager to continue enjoying life in France. My workplace was a sort of ground-level industrial hall, surrounded by large windows on three sides and with a spacious open area. Each workstation was a cubicle with one or two desks, separated by solid panels about a metre and a half high, offering some privacy but allowing everyone to see and hear each other. The cubicles were grouped, separated by corridors that served as pathways to move around the office.

As I entered, I greeted some colleagues near the entrance. They returned the greeting but with looks of bewilderment. I continued towards my cubicle, noticing the same surprised expression on more people. I began to suspect something strange—perhaps I had been fired, and no one had informed me—when Jose, a French guy of Spanish Republican descent, approached me and said in Spanish with a French accent:

“Welcome back. You have no idea what a mess you’ve caused.”

“A mess? I don’t understand what you’re talking about,” I replied.

“Haven’t they contacted you? Haven’t they told you anything?”

“No, but what happened?” I asked, increasingly intrigued.

“No wonder they couldn’t reach you if you went on holiday to some lost village in the mountains of the Basque Country.”

I was going to correct him that Bakio was on the coast, but he interrupted me:

“Come, see.” He guided me through the office to the other end, where there used to be an open space near the bathrooms and the cafeteria. Now, there was a table with some printers.

“Oh, I see Paul managed to send the printers,” I said, somewhat confused, seeing a group of people around us, waiting for my reaction. “I thought he would send more.” Laughter erupted among them, followed by comments in various languages, none of them Spanish or English.

“But what the hell has happened?” I said, already tired of the mystery.

“Sorry,” Jose replied between laughs. “At the time, it was a problem, but now it’s funny.” He proceeded to tell me what had happened.

A few days after my departure from Ireland, and without my knowledge, a courier arrived at Lotus Assistance France.

“Good morning. I have a package for Alejandro Ahumada,” he said to the receptionist, who didn’t know I was on holiday.

“Alejandro Ahumada?” she asked, surprised that a technician would receive something like that.

“Yes, it’s from Lotus Ireland for Alejandro Ahumada of Lotus Assistance France.”

“Do you know what it contains?”

“It says it’s hardware.”

“Okay, one moment, I’ll call the network and hardware manager.” Lucía went to get Patricio, a technician of Polynesian appearance known for his good humour.

“Hi, they told me you have something from Lotus Ireland. Can you leave it here at the entrance, please?” Patricio asked, but the courier seemed confused.

“No, I can’t. It’s too heavy and doesn’t fit here.”

“What do you mean it doesn’t fit?” Patricio was puzzled.

“Follow me, please.” Outside, in the parking lot, was a huge truck with a giant wooden crate.

“That’s the box for Alejandro Ahumada.”

“Holy crap! How are we going to get that into the office?”

“I have no idea, but I can only wait two hours to unload.” Patricio realised the trouble he was in.

“Putain! Merde! Mais quel bordel Alejandro a-t-il monté !?” Patricio exclaimed in that unique French way of swearing.

And that’s where the show started. Patricio had no idea how they could get a three-by-three metre, two-metre-high box into the building in less than two hours. The courier clarified that the truck had a crane, solving the first part of the mystery. But where would they place it? After thinking, he remembered that some of the office windows were removable. Without wasting a second, he called the maintenance manager of the office complex, who confirmed his plan.

In no time, workers were dispatched, and in an hour and a half, a section of the building was dismantled. The support technicians, whose workspace was in that area, had to quickly relocate, taking their PCs and phones, surely remembering me in multiple languages as they watched the support call queue grow and grow.

The truck positioned itself as close to the building as possible, and the crane placed the huge crate next to the bathrooms. This created an unexpected inconvenience: now, to reach the bathroom or the cafeteria, one had to go around the building. My colleagues had me in mind for days every time they wanted to get a coffee or go to the bathroom.

strange coincidences

“And where is that huge crate now?” I asked Jose.

“We dismantled it together. Silvia, who’s the smallest, got inside and started passing us the lighter printers. Once there was more space, we could dismantle the box. I’ve never seen so many printers,” he replied.

“And where are they now?”

“Patricio bought shelves and placed them in the hallway leading to the server room. Go see; he probably has something to say to you,” he replied with a smile.

As I approached the server room, where Patricio had his station, I saw that the hallway and the room before the machines were filled with metal shelves loaded with printers of all kinds. Patricio, from his glass office, greeted me with a smile.

“Have they told you?” was the first thing he said.

“Yes, and I’m sorry. They were supposed to notify me, and I never imagined they’d be so quick or that there’d be so many printers.”

“If you had been here when they arrived, I would have killed you! We were all going crazy, not knowing what was in the box until Silvia managed to get inside. We imagined everything from smuggled Guinness to a car,” he said, laughing.

“Lotus Ireland wouldn’t have sent any of that,” I said, somewhat hurt but serious.

“Haha! It was a joke. That’s why I let them dismantle the windows and bring it in. You’ve solved many problems with those printers. It was a great idea,” he assured me.

Smiling, I said, “I’m glad. Come on, I’ll buy you a coffee.”

“No, thanks, I just had one. Eduardo told me to tell you he’s looking for you as soon as I see you.”

“Damn,” I thought, as I replied, “Thanks, I’ll go see him now.”

I went to Eduardo’s office and knocked on the door.

“Hey! You’re back. How were the holidays?” he asked.

“Good, and I’m sorry about the printer mess,” I replied.

“Okay, but I’ll get to the point. How much do I have to pay for this?”

“Nothing,” I said. “It’s a gift from Lotus Ireland.”

“A gift?” he said, with an expression of disbelief.

“You have good friends in the company, don’t you?” he asked. I realised it was better not to give too much information and replied:

“More than friends, I know my contacts well.”

“Okay, welcome back. Now, please get to work on the things I pay you for.”

That wasn’t the last surprise I had for Eduardo.

Singapura (Singapur)


It had been a year since I started working in France when I learned that John McKenzie’s team, the principal overseers of global support, had decided that our department needed to obtain ISO9002 Certification. This was essential to assure clients of the quality of our work methodology. Thanks to my knowledge of the company and my contacts in offices worldwide, I was the obvious choice for Eduardo when asked to name someone to lead the creation of documentation for all the procedures in our Support department’s day-to-day operations. The international team was led by Mary Dickinson from Lotus USA, an American with extensive management experience and exceptional talent for human relations.

Unexpectedly, I found myself turned into a sort of director or team leader, albeit with the salary of a basic technician. My task was to coordinate people from different support groups to document their daily procedures. Though it was more engaging than supporting Lotus software, which had become all too familiar to me, it wasn’t easy persuading the managers of each team to allocate part of their staff to the project. We needed their cooperation for about four hours a week, which meant four fewer hours for their usual tasks. This wasn’t well received by the managers, as they had to compensate for the absence of those “resources” somehow. At first, they resisted, but their complaints to Eduardo were short-lived, as he explained that it was a higher management project and that I was the person responsible in France.

Everything worked perfectly. We established a procedure to manage the created documentation and held weekly online meetings with the rest of the teams from the US, UK, Germany, EMEA, and we also had to include Singapore, the centre of support in Asia. It was gratifying to see how some of the selected people, used to only interacting with clients, discovered unknown facets of the company. I especially remember Matthijs, a serious and efficient Dutchman, an ex-tank captain, whose participation in the project was key to his later promotion to manager at IBM.

After several months of work, I had the first in-person meeting with all the team managers worldwide in Boston. Discovering that city was an enriching experience for me. The first thing was meeting completely ordinary people, struggling every day to get by and take care of their families, with no interest in destroying utopian political projects like Allende’s in Chile. Of those I met, no one knew who Allende was, and some couldn’t even locate Chile. “South of Mexico,” they’d tell me. Moreover, and this was unexpected, the Latin culture was something common for them. In an English-speaking country, for the first time, I felt that my name wasn’t an enigma.

The work meetings were very useful for learning how to manage teams and for public speaking. The only disappointing thing was discovering that the famous ISO quality standard only required that work processes be documented, not necessarily of high quality. But participating in it allowed me to get to know Boston and its sister city, Cambridge, across the Charles River, where I visited MIT and sneaked into Harvard University.

Shortly before returning to France, Mary, the project lead, approached me for a chat.

“How’s everything going?” she asked.

“Good. I’m learning a lot, and I’ve enjoyed Cambridge and Boston more than I expected,” I replied, anticipating the typical question, “What did you expect to find?” But Mary surprised me with another question.

“You’ve worked with the support team in Singapore, haven’t you?”

“Yes. I was there for two weeks while working in Ireland, teaching how to support Lotus Agenda,” I answered, sensing that the conversation was more than social.

“Did you meet Mei Ling, the support manager?”

“Yes. I participated in several meetings with her and two business lunches. We also had a very interesting talk about how support is handled there and how it’s done in Europe,” I replied.

She looked at me for a few seconds and then said:

“I’m going to tell you about a problem we have that no one has managed to solve. Please keep this between us.”

The organisation of the groups for creating the ISO procedures has gone very well in Europe, as you’ve seen yourself, but we’ve heard nothing from Asia. I’ve written and spoken with Mei Ling, the support manager in Singapore, but she’s told me clearly that she can’t do anything. It’s a decision of her boss, Mr Koh, who is also the CEO for all of Asia, and apparently, he doesn’t consider it important to stop working to generate the documentation. It’s not support work.

I even asked John McKenzie, the CEO of all international support, to talk to him, but without success. We’ve had no response from Singapore.

I was surprised she told me this, until I remembered that in this project I had the level of the team lead for France.

“Okay. I’ll talk to Mei Ling to see what can be done,” I said, thinking I was getting myself into a big mess.

“Any help would be welcome. Asia can’t be left out of the international support procedures,” she replied.

A few days later, back in France, I contacted Mei Ling by email. I was very formal, asked about colleagues who had literally taken care of me and shown me the city-state when I was there, and explained that the documentation was an important process and that Lotus Asia couldn’t be left out. Her reply the next day was what I expected. She was very sorry, but she couldn’t do anything. It was out of her hands. It was her boss’s boss who had to approve allocating resources to the project, and he didn’t think it was important. I suggested she send another email to Mr Koh, copying me in (carbon copy), so I could also be aware of the conversation and provide my perspective. Thus, I began to formulate a plan in my mind.

A week later, I received an internal email from Mei Ling. The email was addressed to Mr Koh with my name in CC. Ling insisted that Lotus Support Asia must participate in the procedures being established. She requested permission and resources to integrate someone into the work teams. The next day, the first thing I did when I arrived at the office was to check the queue of technical incidents assigned to me, and then I opened my email. I had an email in my inbox with Mr Koh’s response to Ling, basically repeating that the support priorities in Asia were different. Allocating resources to internal matters was secondary to dealing with customers, and at that moment, there weren’t enough resources for everything, so customers were the priority, and internal projects weren’t.

I got up from my seat and went downstairs to get a coffee. The cafeteria area, where we ate what we brought from home, was empty during working hours. I made myself a coffee and sat at one of the tables, thinking about how to respond to the email. The response had to be the perfect combination of courtesy, firmness, and support. I knew the importance of this because, during my time there, I realised how formal and respectful they were towards the company’s hierarchies. It wasn’t difficult for me to adapt, as in my childhood, I lived in a country where elders were always addressed as “usted” and with great respect, and in Singapore, the treatment towards bosses was very similar.

I returned to my desk and replied to Mr Koh’s email. A decisive and firm message, indicating that not participating in the international support organisation wasn’t an option. It would negatively affect the work of the Asia team in the future. That international support must be a great team of mutual support and Singapore had to be part of that team. All this with assertive but very polite English. I reviewed the email several times and then sent it with a copy to Mei Ling. I hoped I hadn’t gotten the tone wrong.

strange coincidences

A few days later, I remember it was a Friday, when I arrived in the morning and opened my email, I saw one from Mr Koh. I took a deep breath three times because I was nervous and wanted to read the message calmly. I knew perfectly well that if Mr Koh found out that I, despite having some responsibility in the ISO working group, was nobody in the hierarchy of Lotus France, and someone of my level simply couldn’t use the tone I had used, I could easily lose my job.

 To relax a bit before double-clicking on the message, I focused on the present moment. I listened to how Derek, my teammate, was helping someone over the phone in French amid the noise of multiple people talking to each other or on the phone providing technical support in different languages, which was the typical sound of our office. I looked out the window and observed a small bird darting between the row of trees bordering that part of the building. In that moment of tranquillity, I clicked on the message and read it. Mr Koh agreed with me and would provide the necessary resources for the Singapore support team to participate in the work teams. I read the message several times, almost not believing I had achieved something that even the US executives hadn’t managed. When I closed the email, I saw that a few lines below, I had another unread one from Mei Ling. She expressed deep gratitude for my support, as they could now participate in the international teams.



Almost two months later, one afternoon, Lucía approached me with an email requesting my participation in a meeting in London for the entire team responsible for the ISO certification. She asked if I agreed to attend. The meeting was in three weeks. I, never one to pass up a paid trip, eagerly said yes. Besides the journey itself, these meetings always taught me something new. A few days later, she handed me the tickets and hotel reservation details and told me she had emailed me all the meeting information. I glanced at the ticket and saw that the flight was at around five in the afternoon, and as far as I remembered, all flights to London at that hour departed from Orly, which was much closer to home than Charles de Gaulle Airport. I roughly calculated the time I should leave home and checked Lucía’s email. It was from the project manager in the United States and the topics were more organisational than technical, but what caught my attention was that the meeting started an hour after the flight’s landing time. I was guaranteed to arrive late since getting from Heathrow to central London would take at least an hour on a good day, but I didn’t mind. I’d go directly and, not being a crucial attendee, it wouldn’t matter if I arrived a bit late.

The day of the trip arrived, and Claude, the company’s taxi driver, came to pick me up. I was confident that the flight departed from Orly, which was relatively close to where I lived, but when I handed the ticket to Claude, as he found the departure time odd, he said: “Alejandro, this ticket isn’t for Orly; it’s for Charles de Gaulle, which is much farther away.”

I asked if we could make it, and he said he doubted it, but we could try, though we’d be cutting it very, very close.

We sped off towards Charles de Gaulle, racing through many places, almost breaking the speed limit, and driving very fast along the Périphérique of Paris towards the airport. When I arrived, I practically jumped out of the taxi and ran through the airport until I finally found the check-in, where a flight attendant was already packing things away. I approached her and asked if this was the flight to London. She said yes, but the boarding had closed. At that moment, I thought, “Great, this is typical of me, always missing flights.” I didn’t know how to get another flight since this had been organised by the company. The flight attendant then looked at me and said:

“Please, show me your ticket.”

I handed it to her. She looked at it, read it several times, and said:

strange coincidences

“Wait here, please.”

She walked quickly towards some doors and disappeared through them.

Her reaction seemed very strange to me. I thought, “This could be good or bad. But it can’t be bad, because if it were, she would have simply said, ‘Sorry, it’s too late, the flight is closed, and you can’t board.’” Her leaving without saying much caught my attention. I was already thinking I’d have to head back home when she returned and said:

“Sir, please follow me.”

I followed her through those doors and down some stairs that were obviously not for public use, seeming like something for airport staff. We arrived at a lower area where she again said:

“Wait here, please.”

The area was painted all grey, with a few seats, a glass window overlooking the airport’s exterior, some planes waiting, and no one else around. A bit surprised by what was happening, I waited. Then I saw the flight attendant returning with a police officer. Once again, I thought, “Is this good or bad? If a police officer is involved, it’s probably bad. But why? I haven’t done anything.” I was very curious when this officer approached and asked for my passport. At that time, I had a United Nations refugee passport, and I handed it to him. He looked at it curiously and said:

“With this passport, you need a visa to enter the United Kingdom.”

I explained:

“Well, not really, because if you look at the cover, you’ll see it says United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so it’s a travel document for refugees issued by the UK, and they do let me in because it’s their document.”

He looked again and said:

“Okay, fine. Do you have anything to declare in your luggage?”

His question puzzled me: “Why would that matter to a police officer?” I thought, but I remained calm and responded with a neutral expression:

“No, I have nothing to declare.”

After my answer, the officer stamped my passport. I realised that he wasn’t just a police officer but also an immigration officer. The situation left me perplexed. How was it possible that the flight attendant had managed to get an immigration officer out of wherever he was to come to this grey room at night just to stamp my passport? It had never, ever happened to me. To pass through immigration, I had to queue like everyone else from outside Europe, and, like everyone else, they stamped my passport with the usual unpleasant questions and without smiling or looking at me. This was highly unusual and not normal at all. The police officer handed back my passport and left. At that moment, the flight attendant said:

“Please wait here.”

She went through another door. I remained in that grey-lit room, looking out at the planes already illuminated by the airport lights at night. I didn’t know what to think or what to do. But given what was happening, between good or bad, it was clearly more good than bad. Suddenly, I heard a deep horn sound, like that of a truck, honking. I thought it was just normal airport noises. But again, I heard the horn. I looked through the glass outside and saw the flight attendant who had been helping me, sitting in a truck, motioning for me to get on. Still more puzzled, I opened the door and ran towards the truck. I got in, and the flight attendant, with a professional smile, said:

“Please fasten your seatbelt.”

I buckled up, and she drove the airport truck swiftly and skillfully, navigating small paths between planes and luggage behind Charles de Gaulle. We were moving away from the terminal, everything was dark, only the airport lights illuminating the way. In the distance, I saw a small plane with its lights on and a door open. Suddenly, I realised we were heading towards that plane, the one I was supposed to take, and it was waiting on the runway. But how was this possible? For a plane to stop right before takeoff to wait for someone, to open the door and stay there on the runway? I couldn’t believe it. I even doubted the legality of it.

I got off the truck and started running towards the plane, but then I remembered the effort the flight attendant had made to get me there on time. I thought of the Toblerone bar I had in my jacket pocket, so I stopped, turned around, and ran back to her. She looked at me in panic, as if to say, “Please, you’re going the wrong way!” However, I pulled out the chocolate and handed it to her, saying “Thank you” and “Merci.” Then I ran back towards the plane, where a man was motioning for me to hurry. I rushed up the steps, and he quickly closed the door, saying:

“Please, take a seat and fasten your seatbelt.”

He took my small travel bag, and I sat down. I hadn’t even fastened my seatbelt when the plane was already taxiing down the runway. I couldn’t believe what was happening. And there I was, flying towards London in a small luxury plane surrounded by VIPs. At that moment, I thought that upon arriving at Heathrow, I would still be late for the event, but this trip was proving to be quite entertaining.

strange coincidences

The plane quickly reached London, and from the window, I could see the city, which is unusual when flying to Heathrow. I thought I was lucky because, although on other flights, sometimes the planes fly over London, it’s something very rare. But this time, the plane kept descending lower and lower, and suddenly the buildings were so close that I was surprised. “Where is this plane going?” I thought. To my astonishment, we landed in the middle of the city.

Even though I had lived in England for many years, I didn’t know there was an airport there. But everyone lives in their own reality. Despite my current education and income, when I lived in England, I was in Nottingham, in working-class neighbourhoods. There, you don’t know people who travel from London City Airport; I didn’t even know it existed. I got off the plane and walked towards a building that was small compared to other London airports. I passed through a few rooms and suddenly found myself on the street, next to the taxi rank. I looked around to see if any immigration police were following me to check my passport, but there was no one. Apparently, the rich can travel without customs or immigration checks. I got into a taxi and decided to go directly to the meeting. I thought the journey would be at least 20 minutes, but in five minutes, I was already at the doors of the hotel in central London where the meeting was being held.

“Five minutes!” I thought, “but where is that airport?”

A question I left for another time because I was already on the meeting floor.

I left my suitcase and coat at a small reception and entered. I saw some familiar faces, such as the director of the support department for England, but hardly any of the people I usually dealt with in international work meetings. It struck me as odd to see so few familiar faces, and I began to suspect that this was not a regular work meeting. My suspicions were confirmed when I entered a room where waiters were offering drinks and saw John McKenzie, the head of all international support for EMEA. He wouldn’t be at an ordinary work meeting. I decided to be careful with whom I spoke and what I said. The confirmation came when I saw John, with whom I had worked in Ireland before he became a super boss, sitting next to Mark Steven, the head of all global support. I had recently met Mark when he visited the support office in Paris. My direct boss organised a group of English speakers to show him the city. There were only about five of us, and everything was going very sober and formal until, after visiting the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur, we stopped for lunch at a terrace in a square in Montmartre. Halfway through the meal, in less than five minutes, the sky darkened, and it started to rain torrentially. The French, knowing their weather, quickly got up and took shelter inside the restaurant. Mark, my boss Javier, and I stayed, confident that a few drops wouldn’t ruin an excellent meal and wine. After ten minutes, the meal and wine were drenched, and we were soaked. The rain won.

“Alejandro,” I heard someone calling. It was Mark, American, ex-Air Force, strong-looking and African American. I greeted him with a wave.

“Come over here,” he said in English. I approached and shook hands with a smile, still wondering what kind of mess I had gotten myself into.

“I was just telling John about our soaked lunch in Montmartre when you walked in.” he said cheerfully and continued,  “What a coincidence. I told John, ‘That’s Alejandro, the one we got soaked with,’ and it turns out you worked together in Ireland,” 

Despite not knowing why I was in a high-level meeting of the multinational, I decided to accept the situation as normal. However, I ordered a Coke instead of a beer from the waiter when he asked. It’s not a good idea to mix alcohol with high executives when you’re just a regular worker.

The three of us were there, laughing and sharing anecdotes when Eduardo came in, smiling as he greeted someone.

“Here comes your boss,” John said and waved to get his attention. Eduardo was about to greet him when he saw me. His expression changed to one that wasn’t very friendly. I understood: there was Alejandro, the troublemaker who almost did what he wanted, sitting with the two highest-ranking officials at the entire meeting.

“I think it’s a good idea if I leave you. I’ll go and ask if they have some ‘Mild’ beer to drink. I should take advantage of being home,” I said to Mark and John. Both, who had clearly noticed Eduardo’s change in attitude, agreed.

I nodded to Eduardo as I left the room, and almost out, I heard John calling him. One Coke wasn’t enough, so I headed to the bar to order a ‘Mild’ beer. The bartender had no idea what I was talking about.

“Are you from the north?” another waiter asked. I told him yes.

“That’s what my grandfather drank. It doesn’t exist here anymore. At best, I can offer you a ‘Bitter,’ but if you’ve asked for a ‘Mild,’ you’ll probably like a ‘Stout’ more,” he said.

“What do you have?” I asked. He mentioned a few I didn’t know, except for Guinness. So I opted for that Irish dark beauty.

The bartender placed it on the bar, waiting for the Guinness to settle properly, when someone called me. I no longer knew what to expect. I turned, and there was Mei Ling.

“I’m so glad you could come! I didn’t know if they’d let you attend this meeting, so to make sure you came, the Singapore office covered all your expenses.”

I finally began to understand what was happening.

“Why did you do that? A simple email copied to Javier would have sufficed.”

“It’s the closing of the ISO project, and you and I know I can be here thanks to you. I wanted to thank you in person. I’ll tell everyone else when I speak as the APAC representative about the great work you did.”

As she told me this, I remembered that Eduardo had no idea about any of this. Something that Mei Ling, being so formal and hierarchical, would never have imagined. I quickly explained the situation and asked her to please mention Eduardo in her thanks. I didn’t want to have problems with him, as he was still my boss. Mei Ling quickly understood and assured me she would.

I now understood the executive flight and the profile of the people at this meeting. Neither Eduardo nor John would have ever invited me to rub shoulders with such profiles, much less pay for a luxury flight. While sipping my Guinness, I wondered how much Singapore had paid for that ticket that got the plane to wait for me on the runway and an immigration officer to come out just to stamp my passport. Surely many months of my salary.

strange coincidences

The meeting turned out to be very informal, marking a pleasant conclusion to a project that had lasted almost two years. The first to speak was the project manager, Mary Dickinson, who, along with her small team, had crossed from the United States. Then it was the turn of Mark and John, who expressed their gratitude for the well-done work, followed by Mei Ling, representing APAC. She described what had been achieved, highlighting the communication and coordination with the rest of the teams and the short time they had to do it. In her speech, she pointed to me as the architect of Lotus APAC’s ability to integrate into the project, immediately thanking Eduardo for allowing me to collaborate with Lotus Singapore and APAC. She emphasised that without Eduardo’s decision, she wouldn’t be there. For a moment, Eduardo glanced at me, but this time much more relaxed. Mei Ling had hit the mark with her words.

The meeting ended relatively early, and everyone dispersed to their respective hotels. Mine, as I expected, was a five-star establishment in central London. I didn’t notice any other colleagues from the company staying in the same place. I decided to keep quiet about this detail when I returned to Paris, just in case Eduardo had had to settle for a lower-category accommodation.

The next day, during breakfast, I saw that part of the US team was also staying at my hotel, so I approached to greet them. I expected questions about my role in incorporating APAC, but Mary Dickinson had already told them everything, and they treated me like a high executive of the company. At the end of breakfast, the logistics manager came up to me and mentioned that I’d be travelling to Paris with them by train. I was already imagining them getting seasick on the ferry between Dover and Calais when she clarified that we would be travelling on the Eurostar. Clearly, the VIP treatment wasn’t over yet.

We headed mid-morning to Waterloo Station. The carriage was first-class, and we didn’t have to go through any passport or customs checks. I hardly noticed when we crossed under the English Channel. I asked the stewardess for a Guinness, and while travelling at around 300 km/h towards Paris, I reflected on how pleasant that lifestyle was: crossing borders in luxury, without queues or barely any passport checks. Especially for me, who, with my UN travel document —which included a note saying “Valid for all countries except Chile”—, was usually treated at customs around the world as a third-class citizen. This trip had been eye-opening: I had glimpsed the VIP life and, without a doubt, I had liked it very much.


Reflecting now, almost thirty years later, those luxurious days resonate in my memory—a warm recollection of a distant time, as different and remote as the lifestyle of those people I had the privilege to cross paths with. They were individuals from a realm that seemed to play by its own rules, enshrouded in a sphere of privileges that ordinary mortals could scarcely imagine. Often, I ponder the impact of such lives on the fabric of our world; lives that by their very nature consume more resources in a day than many could in a year.

The irony isn’t lost in my ecologist’s reflection: those who hold the power to alter the course of our climate crisis are also the ones who contribute most to it by maintaining a lifestyle that many would deem unsustainable. In those days of swift travels and vanishing borders, as easily disappearing as a beer settling in my glass, the question of whether such individuals would ever relinquish that way of life seemed rhetorical. And yet, even knowing how detrimental it could be, I recognise that forsaking that mirage of ease and comfort is no simple task, not even for someone aware of its implications.

strange coincidences

Flying above the rest

Would you? Would you change your life if you suddenly found yourself sailing those privileged waters, detached from the everyday concerns of the majority? Sometimes, looking back, those memories serve not only to evoke nostalgia for simpler and grander days but also to question the depth of our convictions when contrasted with the temptation of a life without constraints. It’s a reflection, after all, on the humanity of our choices and the world we are leaving to future generations.

You might wonder why I didn’t stay at Lotus Assistance France, when everything I did seemed to align perfectly weeks or months later, creating an image of power and control within the company. I know that in a few years, I could have easily become one of the bosses, and years later, part of the executive group with a comfortable and secure life. But something happened almost a year later that I couldn’t ignore.

Walking one Saturday afternoon through a forest near Bois-d’Arcy, while my barely two-year-old son threw stones into a stream, I was worried about his health, as the air pollution around Paris at that time was dreadful. I decided then to observe my life in the future, something that the Machis of my family did effortlessly and that I had also inherited. A Machi, in the Mapuche culture of Chile, acts as a witch or shaman, healer and spiritual leader, capable of seeing beyond the obvious and influencing the course of her community’s life.

In that moment, under the shadow of the trees, I had a vision. I saw the flow of time in my life, a river branching in multiple directions. I could see how my decisions not only affected my path but also that of my son. I saw clearly that if I continued down the path I had chosen, my son would fade from my life. I didn’t see what would happen to him, but his absence in my future visions filled me with a profound unease. Two months later, we were on our way to Bilbao. I had left that job and found another at a small company. 

The decision to leave Lotus and choose a more modest path in Spain was not made lightly, but guided by a clear vision of what truly mattered to me.This move to Bilbao and the new direction of my professional life happened because I could clearly see the effect my decisions had on my family and the world. Those years navigating the turbulent waters of the corporate world taught me that sometimes, sacrificing material comfort for something deeper and more enduring is necessary. My journey through these experiences provided me not only a broader vision of the world but also a more intimate understanding of what it truly means to live in harmony with our values.


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Alejandro Ahumada Escritor, podcaster y Administrador de sistemas informáticos
Alejandro Ahumada ha navegado su vida entre cambios y constancias, desde los cerros de Valparaíso hasta los valles de Cantabria. Tras la caída de Salvador Allende, que desencadenó una brutal persecución política contra personas como los padres de Alejandro, este se exilió con su madre a los trece años, encontrando refugio en el Reino Unido. Su travesía incluye Escocia, Nottingham, Dublín, Francia y Euskadi, hasta asentarse en Cantabria con su esposa, sus hijos y su gata, Déjà Vu. Ingeniero informático de profesión, Alejandro equilibra la lógica con la creatividad. Como escritor de relatos de fantasía y ciencia ficción, sus historias han sido descritas como "Realismo Mágico Personal". Inspirado por autores como Neil Gaiman, Isabel Allende, Terry Pratchett y Ursula K. Le Guin, su escritura convierte la vida en un lienzo mágico, donde cada experiencia revela la magia oculta en lo cotidiano.