hazard pay

About 11 years ago, living in Moscow, I was approached – like most of my fellow expat managers – with a bizarre proposition. Leave the relative safety of Moscow and head out to my firm’s furtherestest outpost – Bosnia.

I’ll take a step back and point out that I was already in what was considered a hazard-pay environment. Mid-90s Moscow was a place ruled by the mafia – a wild and unregulated place in which shootings in broad daylight were conducted with impunity.  Businesspeople were assassinated.  Death was a palpable presence.

Imagine coming into this environment and recruiting for a place like Bosnia. I’ve read a lot about the conflict there – far more than is healthy.  I’ve read at least two books that shook me so much that I threw them away afterwards, rather than ever risk reading them again.  A coworker of mine, a wonderfully cheerful young woman who had been a TV personality in pre-war Bosnia told me gruesome tales of crawling through mud and being repeatedly beaten and humiliated trying to escape (she was an ethnic Muslim, and I assume probably far worse occurred that she didn’t want to share).  She was happy, nonetheless, because she made it out and got to America.

Cathedral in Bosnia
photo credit: leestudent

But back to Moscow, circa 1997:  my firm wanted people to come into Bosnia. Money was screaming for the gentle validation of auditors.  Hotels needed to be built.  Imagine this job advert:  come to a place where you will need to wear bulletproof vests in public; where you will be hated and reviled everywhere you go; where you will work like a maniac to reestablish your profession for the benefit of your firm but not yourself. Oh, and you will get tons of money, a promotion and live life at the edge – accountant on fire.  It may sound awful but I was tempted.

The money was good – hazard pay of double normal salary plus a massive per diem. Drivers, personal assistants, 2 months per year time off.  In an environment like that a hard-working young lad like yours truly could grab the future by the, er, horns and go along for the ride.  But I passed.  It wasn’t for me.  Moscow was close enough to the edge.  The first time I walked out of a bar and stumbled over a corpse (not kidding), I decided that was close enough to the edge for me.

But there are people who want that kind of experience. Smart Spending tells us one such story.  For me it was easy – life is not ALWAYS about maximizing income.  Moscow was risky enough.  Bosnia was for the adrenaline junkies.  Let’s be fair here – if I worked in medicine or some other profession where people might benefit from my presence, I might’ve considered Bosnia.  For accounting and fairly audited financial statements?  Er, not so much.

I don’t regret not going to Bosnia to work. I’ve been offered a lot of hazard-pay assignments:  Saudi Arabia, Bosnia, Siberia…  and I’ve come to realize that while I’ve got a streak of risk-taking in me, it only extends to so far.  I commend people who do go work in dangerous parts of the world like Bosnia, or the Middle East, or Newark.  But everyone has a limit, and mine was reached when I was told I would have to wear a bulletproof vest when outdoors.  Call me kooky.