Friday, March 31, 2006

Birthday update

Ok, so here's what I think I want to do: I say dinner around 6 ish (so Tom can come!!), but I don't know where. I don't mind anywhere, I'm eating with my parents earlier that day, so I really don't have a preference. I want input, and to find out who can come. Let me know soon, ok?!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Call me at the hotel

I just got back from the desert today and I don't have a room of my own tonight. The town is booked for the next 12 days at least, so in the meantime, if anyone can, please give me a call. I'll be at this number tonight (which will be from about 1 PM your time until about 5 PM your time.) The hotel number, from the United states, is: 011-281-21-335-0676 They do not speak very precise english, so don't ask for room Twelve-thirty-seven. Ask for room "Twelve-three-seven" You'll have to give the digits or else they'll goof it up. Tonight I should be in either room 1237 or room 1222. If you don't get an asnwer in the first room, try the second one. The operator will pickup again if no one answers and you can ask to try the other room. It's much cheaper for you to call me than for me to call you. (It's 8 dollars a minute for me to call you there in the states) This number should work also: This is my libyan cell phone: Call this anytime you'd like: 011-218-92-587-7039. This has free incoming for me and is about 50 cents per minute if you use a cell phone. Love you all... I won't be online for three more days... no internet at the hotel.. and time is short now. Call or email me soon. Tommy

I'm back...

Hey all. My apologies for the infrequent posts. I have spent the entire last 8 days in the Sahara desert. I will spend some time this weekend trying to compose some posts to share my experiences with you all. I just wanted you all to know that I was alive and that I am thinking of you all. I'll write more soon. April, Mom, Hannah... Just wanted to take a minute to let you know I was thinking of you. Bannag, I miss hearing from you Sassenach. Write me... mo-ron.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

My birthday!!

It's that time again folks, LOL! Monday is officially my birthday, but since I have to work, I was hoping that those that could would like to get together for dinner on Sunday night. Any time or place is fine with me, I just really want as many to come as possible. Call me and let me know something, and I'll start figuring stuff out. TTYL!! Tommy, I really wish you could be here, but I just can't wait until I get to go to Africa! I can't wait to talk to you soon!! I LOVE YOU!! XOXOXOXO

Solar Eclipse

Hey Tommy!!! I'm not sure if you'll get this in time, but there's supposed to be a solar eclipse over there "early Wednesday morning" (not sure if that's your Wed. morning or ours)... Anyway, it's only visible from that side of the planet. Didn't know if u knew. I just thought it would be cool to check out!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ghani Desert

Aside from personally being the author, I would never believe the composer of this article was indeed the same man who wrote the previous one. I intended to sit down tonight and continue to regale you all with wonderful stories of the desert, however the true ability to fabricate that much wonder escapes me at the moment. To be sure this is indeed a beautiful land, but right now I would give my left arm, or at least Tim's left arm; for I may have need of both my own, for a chance to eat again at the corinthia, or to have a snack of any sort that was not buried in spice.

Right this moment, I am in Ghani, not quite in the heart of the desert, but in the northern-most reaches of the Libyan desert. At 0900 this morning, we boarded a private plane, a twin auto of you're curious, and flew 200 km south from Ras Lanuf. I have pictures taken from the air and from the ground that I will share with you when I find time to be connected to the internet once again, but for now I will resort to text in the effort to make sure I'll be able to post this once I again reach a place with communications. Were it not for Tim, I would have indeed gone crazy here. His flaming red head is a welcome sight that makes me smile each time I see him trudging along miserably behind me; his nose eternally stuck to the LCD screen of his GPS. To be sure, there is no other man with whom I would prefer to be lost in the desert with. For he alone holds the satellite coordinates that can find me safely home again in the event that we start a jihad; which I may be about to do.

Not that you can tell from your vantage, but I was pulled away again by Shams (Pronounced Shahms, with a soft "a") for some updating. One thing I think I miss most over here; personal time. When at my main project site, there is a full day of work every day, often working one to two hours longer than the other companies on-site. Once we arrive back at our rooms, yet another hour of my night and sometimes as much as three are consumed working the days progress over with the staff, planning the next day, or just performing the duties of counselor for guys who want someone to vent to. When you add to the mix the fact that dinner time over here is a three hour event, very little time is left to oneself for relaxation, meditation, or just even having time to write you all. Writing to those of you back in the states is one of the things that keeps me sane here. I miss walking my house in the mornings while April is yet asleep. Saturday mornings usually consist of me trying to rise an hour or two before her so I can make some coffee, check my email, and just generally get to by myself for awhile before anyone else is awake. This is the time that the cats know they can pester me without fear of being banished from my lap. Some days I stand on the eave of my porch and watch the neighbors take a jog down the street. I count the new shades of nature within my view from the porch, noting the change in the leaves that signify the turning of a season, or the upward turn of the leaves on the trees that tell me nature is expecting rain that day. All those little things are foreign in this land. I miss sitting on my porch, never really content until I have inspected all the plants for signs of brown leaves and have pruned them all back to green, constantly clucking at myself for being negligent in their care that previous week.

I miss the creak in my computer desk chair that I always found so annoying when I was there. I vowed time and time again to fix that creak so it will quit bothering me. However, now I think that when I next hear it I will smile in remembrance of the days when I longed to hear it. It would signify that I was indeed home, among family, among friends, among familiar surroundings in which I can easily navigate. 

I very much miss my Jeep. When I purchased this one, I bought the vehicle that was most like the one that made me happy; my first Jeep. I remember those days, driving around town, taking small things for granted. You have no idea how convenient it is to take a quick five minute ride to the store to buy whatever you may have forgotten the day before. Over here, when I have forgotten a supply, I have to make a phone call to have the part flown in from another part of the country. Today, we decided that it would be good to go ahead and send a plane back to Tripoli to pick up the cable for the GPS, in case something happened to it and all its data was destroyed. We have spent many hours working on this project and I would not like to go back and report that I lost the satellite coordinate information due to the fact that I forgot a five dollar cable. So, tomorrow, a plane will depart Tripoli and fly south into the desert with my cable. It seems far too complex for such a small item, however the nearest computer supply store is approximately 200 km north of my present location and the next closest location is about 1300 km south of my present location. In light of those facts, I find myself more than happy to allow them to fly me my cable.

I saw camel tracks today. (I fear that I have the need to ramble here a bit, so please bear with me. ) I attempt to keep my thoughts organized for all of you who take the time to read these words, but sometime I am struck with the need to write what enters my head. I remember looking at the track and thinking how strange to see a camel track. To someone from the corn-fed-tobacco-smoking-collard-eatin' section of North Carolina that I am from, a camel track is as strange as seeing the camel itself. I tracked the camel for a few minutes, tracing its path as it attempted to come in from the desert in search of food here at one of the camps. Here, this far into the Sahara, the fences that are located everywhere serve more to keep the camels out than to keep the people contained inside. 

I am tan now. This was one of the few things I was glad to see today. Being naturally dark-complected has made my life here much easier. While the light or olive-skinned European contractors walk around bundled from head to foot in jackets and pants to protect themselves from the harsh rays of the sun, I am almost able to completely forego the necessary coverings. Today was a little worrisome, so I came back at lunch time and picked up my aussie-shirt (yeah, the one you all hate) and wore it for the rest of the afternoon. The desert was hot today. From noon until almost five in the afternoon, the sun seemed to hang suspended like a great furnace in the sky. As the hours wore on, it seemed as if God himself kept turning up the temperature, just to see when the sand would bake. The water in my water bottle was so hot it was almost undrinkable. It did nothing for thirst, but I drank it anyway. Dehydration in the desert is not a fun experience. The natives here also complain about the heat, but warn that this is nothing compared to the scalding temperatures they will endure in the summer. During the summer here, temperatures often reach 50 degrees (Celsius) or about 135 degrees fairenheit. There is no breeze to cool you and the occasional breeze you do experience is most likely going to carry dry heat in interspersed with an uncomfortable amount of the powdery fine sand that coats this region.

Tim has a cold. Yes, indeed. I pack him up and carry him six-thousand miles across the world, into the middle of the desert, and he develops a cold. How in the world that man survives the calamities of nature, I will never know. The poor guy is constantly sniffling, sneezing, and feeling generally miserable. Personally I attribute half his condition to dehydration and an advance of his allergies as a reaction to it, but only time will tell. He hasn't drank a bottle of water in two days so I know his system is depleted. However, he perseveres through copious amounts of Tylenol sinus and coca-cola, or at least the Libyan equivalent thereto.

I miss you April. As I am sure you will read these words, when and if I ever get to civilization to publish them. I'm sure you would find this location beautiful, but I am glad you are not here at this part to experience it with me. While it would indeed make my personal experience much the better, the physical conditions in these camps are not such that I would want you here. There are no women. All the camp personnel are men; from the general staff to the cleaning crews. I have yet to see women's quarters at any of these locations, nor have I glanced one single shoufa amidst all the head dresses in the region.

Sassenach, I miss you as well. Being this far removed from your friendship is no worse than being removed from it when I am home, but at least I can talk to you when I am there. The lack of communication that I have become used to from you has made this a difficult journey to make. I'm sure you have possibly emailed me, but I am as yet unable to get to my email and do not yet know when I will once again connect to the digital world.

Hannah, I wish so much that you could experience this with me. Since I know you have school and sports to attend to, I expect you have a busy life going on at home. You are too young to understand it yet, but knowing that I can see you when I need to or when you want to makes being separate from you much easier to deal with when I am home. You are never more than two hours away from me and I can always reach you on the phone. Here, however, the distance might as well be a million miles away. You might as well be on a different planet. I am trying though, to take enough interesting pictures that maybe when I get back the two of us can sit down together and make a photo album of this trip. I have been trying to keep the photos in order and to take photos of things that might interest you so that you will find my story one of interest and one you can be proud of. In the meantime, I hope that you are minding your mother and your father there at home. You do not know how lucky you are to have Michelle for a mother and to be one of the few children lucky enough to have two dads that both love her. You are in the most capable hands and I know that Shawn and Michelle have provided you with all the things necessary for you to grow up and make us all proud of  you. I would, however, like to take this time to point out, while to far away for your mother to scold me, that you got your brains from my side of the family tree! (relax... only poor humor, mother dearest.) 

Mom and Ray, I know not how to tell you both what I am experiencing here. Ha. I'm technically a man of the world now, at least insomuch as having been on both sides of it can make one such a man. I will never again utter the words "BFE" with quite the same context as before, for now I have seen it and it is indeed a LONG way from anything familiar or comforting to me. I am blending well though I think. Mother, you have done a great job of raising me to be a man who respects the rights of others, customs of others, and who tries to be tolerant of things that I do not understand. In as much as I am known to have a quick temper when things go wrong, I do manage to keep a cool head and refrain from going beyond the point of reason while I am here and at the mercy of people and customs that are foreign to me. 

I can not wait for you to go to Brazil. I hope that you travels will bring you the experiences that I have always wanted to allow you to have. Ever since I have been old enough to know how much you worked and how much you sacrificed for the two of us, I have always wanted to pay some of that back. And more importantly, I want to do it in a time that will allow you the youth in which to enjoy it. I have told April to give you a check for your Brazil fund, as I am calling it. Please make sure she remembers. I wanted this to be money for your trip that you could spend on things that please you. Spend it not on food or travel expenses, only where it will be remembered. Buy something for yourself that you can look back on and smile. I am quite sure that you can find room on that mantelpiece at home. I remember all the years ago when that pig fell off and smashed to pieces on the floor. Get yourself something in Brazil that can go in that spot so that you will remember it. Of course, small amounts of money can never repay the debt I owe you for teaching me the things you have, but it is a small start. I hope that maybe now I am finally at a place in my life when I can help to begin to offer back some of the gifts you have given me throughout the years.

Raymond. I am proud of you. In case you haven't known it in the past, it is true. I sit here six-thousand miles away and think "what would Ray do if he were here?" Then I look around for the nearest armed guard and wince at the idea. No doubt, you would have us both in the cook pot with some antic within the first few days. You have always been the more brash of the two of us. You are headstrong and stubborn and you have made a lot of mistakes in your life, but I don't think anyone may have told you how far you have come from those mistakes that haunted your past. You have turned into a man, a responsible one, a caring one, and a good one. I just thought you should know I recognized that in you. Growing up, you always lived in the shadow of the "first-born." You would have thought that our father was an English lord and I was the heir to the throne. However, I don't know that you ever knew that you would then be the prince-regent of said kingdom. Now our father is away, probably for the rest of his life, and with rare visits being the exception, he will never know except through story and rare incidental meeting that you have turned out to be the man that you are. Looking back, I often wonder what life would have been like if things had stayed the way they were when we lived on the beach. By now, I would have come into my hereditary kingdom; a house next to Aunt Linda. And I would have been granted my royal vehicle; a busted dodge ram truck with a sign on the doors. Hmm... yes, I am quite glad that life has turned out the way it has for the both of us. Congratulations on your new job. I have been in your position before and it is a tough job to perform, but you have the dedication and more importantly, the hardheadedness, to see it through. Just don't throw anyone on to a stove top or in the dumpster, ok?

And take care of Mom for me. I know she is a strong lady and that she will ever be the queen to both us her sons, but I fear for her when I am this far away with no way to return home quickly in the event of an emergency. If things go right, this will be the way my life goes for awhile; at least for the next couple of years while I establish myself firmly in the business realms here and in other countries. I work with the foresight of what my future could be like if I can work hard enough, and put to use all the talents taught to the both of us by our father, grandfather, and by Mom. I work to establish a place in this world that I can call my own. I am not delusional enough to believe that I will leave a lasting empire after my years are gone, but I do hope to be to leave something for my children to be proud of. And as time goes on here, I hope that if you are interested, I can find a place here for you doing something you enjoy and getting to travel the world with me. But to do that, we need to be able to give something back to Mom first. I want mom to be able to relax once in awhile, not work so hard and I know that you wish for the same. We have often spoken of it together, but maybe we are both on a path now that can facilitate that shared vision we have always had.

What else is there to say? It has been a long day and tomorrow promises to be even longer. When I rise in the morning, I have three more locations here to survey. Then, sometime around lunch time or early afternoon, I hope to make it into the nearest town and to find an internet connection that I can use to get online. Monday morning, I will fly to Tripisti ( I think that's how its spelled) and will spend a day there. The next day will see me in Amal, deeper into the sahara and at the location of the last and largest of my surveys. Then I will be home, such as it is, in Tripoli. Having experienced another side of Africa and what it has to offer, I can truly say that I will very much look forward to room-service once again and to the instant coffee I hated so much when I was there. 

April, my dearest, please communicate with our boss and make plans to travel as soon as possible. I miss you dearly and the image of you getting off the plane in Tripoli is the only thing I have had to look forward to now for weeks. I want to show you the sights, take you to the exotic local destinations and secret local hideaways, but more than anything else I want to hold you again in my arms. I swear woman that I am going to teach you to hug me and kiss me at least a hundred times a day. Never will I allow either of us to forget how nice it feels to simply touch your face with my fingertips. Hurry to me and do not delay.

To you all, I say goodnight. It is almost eleven PM here in Ghani, so it's about four in the afternoon where you all are. Yes, Shak, I know it is indeed different for you. I have not forgotten you my dearest friend, nor you Ding ( in case you're reading this too and getting indignant about not being mentioned.) Both of you should write me. Shak, I hope you're keeping Viper and the Major in good shape for me when I return.  Take care of the SG in my absence and let them know that I have not fallen off the face of the earth, only traveled to the other side of it.

I love you all, miss you all, and sincerely cannot wait to see you all again.

End of entry for now. 03-25-06 2246 hours GMT+2.

Foreign Destinations

Greetings all. In case you have been wondering where I have been these last few days, and why I have not posted. At the moment, I am sitting in a dormitory style room, reserved for traveling employees, on site for a client company. I left Tripoli yesterday morning at 8 AM, checking out with pleasure from the Bab Al Bahar hotel, hopefully not to return any time soon. By nine in the morning, Tim and myself were on a plane bound for yet more exotic destinations. We were ushered onto a company-owned Dash-8 ( a medium sized prop driven plane suitable for hopping across the country) and three hours later we touched down in Ras Lanuf. As I am forbidden by client privelege from divulging where I am and what exactly I am doing, I will attempt to let you know the personal side of my visit thus far. For those of you who would find it convenient to have a point of reference, Ras Lanuf is an African location in the northern region of Libya, somewhere between Tripoli and Benghazi. I am located directly on the coast of the mediterranean so I know somewhat of where I must be, but distances here are basically irrelevant. Work and travel here have been interesting, to say the least. The desert highways are black-top expanses of asphalt that lumber onward for hundreds of kilometers and disappear into the horizon in all directions. The land here is flat and without much decoration, however its beauty is unrivaled by anything I have ever seen. Though, not truly in the desert, this location is much like what I picture the flatlands of Arizona or Nevada to be. Rocky crags and great rivulets created by the rain storms are the only natural occurrences that serve to break up the alchemy of the land and the soil. For the most part, this is desert. I will try to show you some of the more stimulating things that I have seen since my arrival at this location. I hope you enjoy them and that the software I have downloaded will facilitate a decent upload. Dearest April: I know that you can not be with me here and I wish most wholeheartedly that you could be. I don't know if you can read this in the picture below, but it was my attempt to show you that I was thinking of you, am always thinking of you, while I am here. Since I can't send a postcard from here, maybe this will suffice. This is written in the desert sands, near the shores of the mediterannean, almost six thousand miles from home. Traveling Takes On A New Meaning: This may be a small thing of no significance to you reading this, but it takes on monumental consequence when seen from my perspective, knowing myself and what my dreams were only six months ago. This is my foot print. Someday I will look back while telling my family and children of the time I first went to Africa. And on that day, I will be able to look back at this photo and remember the first time I ever placed my feet in the sands of the true desert. This photo was taken on March 23rd of 2006, standing on a burm surrounding an oil field in Africa. It is a small thing, inconsequential to most of you, but it is something that I will remember forever. Dinner: Yes, that is correct. Dinner. March 23rd marks the day I accomplished two more things on my list of "Things I never thought I'd do." The first of those was having to stop my truck because there was an irate camel family in the way. This is the first camel I have ever seen in the wild. Take my word for it when I tell you that they are much more attractive in your local zoo, than out here in the sun and the rocks. Later that same evening, while dining with the laborers up at the mess hall, I was introduced to my first taste of Camel served over Cous Cous. For those of you who are wondering, camel tastes surprisingly similar to a beef or pork roast. As with most meals here, the meat is boiled in a curry-based sauce and served with either cous cous or pasta depending on the cook. Here is the rest of the family. In case you are curious, this plant shown below is a favorite of the camel. When taken, those green balls you see on the plants are about one and a half inches across. If left alone, they will grow to almost four times that size. The seeds are encased in this round, spiny, and very sharp cluster that will split and deliver its seeds back to the earth later in the summer. The green stems surrounding the bulbs are just as tough and spiny as the bulbs themselves, serving to keep most animals away. The camel, however, isn't much impressed by the fearsome spines and ignores them while happily munching away. I'll end this post here and begin another. I wouldn't like for the program to crash midway through trying to post all these photos.

Friday, March 24, 2006

To My Carolina Girls!!!!

Carolina Girls A girl from North Carolina and a girl from California were seated side by side on an airplane.The girl from NC, being friendly and all, said, "So, where ya from?"The Cali girl said, "From a place where they know better than to use a preposition at the end of a sentence."The girl from NC sat quietly for a few moments and then replied, "So, where ya from, bitch?" TO ALL OF MY CAROLINA GIRLS WHO I KNOW WOULD DO THE SAME DAMN THING!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

One step forward, two steps back.

3/21/2006 7:31:56 PM

Greetings again all. This is yet another post that you shant have have the opportunity to read until the day after I posted it. Hopefully this is an issue we will be able to correct over here. I haven't been able to communicate with most of you except through this medium, but I hope this finds you well and in good spirits. Myself, I am taking this time to write in an attempt to lift my spirits. It has been a long and tedious day. Delay after delay plagued us at the site today so I have made plans tomorrow to bury myself in the physical side of my work and to leave this cursed laptop alone for one day. I will hop online, briefly, to make this post, but most likely will not be online as much as the last few days.

To Bannag: On the subject of my numerical stoisicm in regards to our little game. 
I got your email today and I would like to inform you that I have checked with the powers-that-be and no, we have in fact NOT been stuck on Question #317 for as long as you might think. In fact, I was forced to defend you to the powers-that-be for being so lackadaisical in your duties as a member of this aforementioned game! So, now, to preserve my dignity and to answer the question which you originally asked, I will take a moment to try to remember exactly the nature of the question. (I'm politely NOT going to mention that we were in fact on #311, but instead I'll give you the benefit of your advanced age and accept that maybe your memory is slipping.)

So, Question #311 #317
What is the oddest thing I've seen since I've been in Tripoli?
Now, the delay in responding to your question actually puts me in a better position to answer it correctly. (Come to think of it I have just been struck with a thought that this application could be applied to every question ever asked of another person? This breeds new questions in and of itself; fuel for the game. When IS the right time to ask a question? When is the right time to answer a question? Remind me of this part later and I'll address it in context if I can remember the context that's currently relevant in my mind.)

So, in answer to your question, I will attempt to skip past the obvious answers that come to mind, such as:
  1. Looking down on my plate and seeing dog.
  2. Looking down on my plate and seeing pigeon.
  3. Picking animal bones from my food from time to time. (Yeah, that happens)
  4. Explaining to others what that little garden hose by the toilet is for. (With and without graphic representation)
  5. Explaining to Mike that the other bowl is in reality NOT a second toilet so he should refrain from peeing in it.

The absolute oddest thing here that would really surprise you back home? Hmm.. quite possibly the cultural insignificance associated with punctuality and time in-general. People here; individuals, businesses, and retail stores, restaurants, and others. None of them have any notion of punctuality or time. For example, I will set a lunch meeting, or an evening meeting with a broker, manager, or other individual and it will be completely expected for them to arrive 5 minutes late, 30 minutes late, or four hours late. However, the whole time they are late, they will continue to call you every two minutes to let you know that they are "fill-in-the-blank" minutes away. Example; I'm waiting downstairs for the broker to take me to see one of the villas we're thinking of getting over here. He calls at 5:50 when he was supposed to be here at 5:30 to tell me he's almost here. In fact, he's seven minutes away. I remember remarking to myself "wow, not 5, not 10, but seven minutes... hmm." Ten minutes later he calls me and tells me he's eighteen minutes away now. Traffic is bad he tells me. Wow. Not only is he late already, but now he's three minutes past his seven minutes and thinks that his eighteen minutes is actually to be expected. It's as if Allah came down and moved his car back across town without telling him. I was at first upset and thought that this was just the man I was dealing with. However, I soon found out that it is in fact the whole culture.

However, that being said, since they know that WE are Americans; they know we are punctual creatures. So when I am two minutes late for whatever reason, I am forced to sit through a dissertation from the locals about how us Americans are not very punctual and we are the ones who are always concerned with time. I think, truly, that they take an odd sort of pleasure from the concept of playing with our time-tables. That, my dearest Bannag, is the oddest thing that I have seen since I've been here.

Question #318:
You know me, perhaps better than anyone alive. Considering the things you know about me, my personality, and my way of looking at things, answer me this: 

What aspect of "me" do you most expect to see changed when I return to America? What parts of me do you think will be different, if any, and how? How will it affect me? How will it affect my relationships with others? (You had better put some thought into this one you fruitcake.) 

End of the "Bannag Rant"

Called to the principal's office:

My CEO called me into his office today with a small issue that he wanted to address regarding the use of this blog. He was perusing it the other day (wait right there: how in the world did HE find spare time???) Anyway, he politely asked me to be a little less forth-coming with regard to things that are released to the world at large. So, for those of you who wonder why the posting about my day might be a little less detailed, that is why. I told him that I had been attempting to keep things vague enough that it would not be a concern. He did caution me to exercise a little tighter control over what gets released to everyone on here. So, yes I will still continue to update you all on what I am doing, but just be aware that "names may be changed to protect the innocent."  I would like to politely comply with his wishes, rather than have him ban the use of the site from their servers.

What else has happened today: The Rest of the Story:

Well, it was hot today. Today was the second day in a row where we began to even feel the "beginning" of what desert heat is like. The arid dryness of the climate, mixed with the loose orange sandy topsoil of this desert region makes windy days a hard thing to deal with. I'm sure however, that being here in the beginning of the year will make it a little easier to acclimate later in the year when it really IS hot over here.

Currently it is 8:22 now here in the hotel and I have just finished picking at the room service I ordered for dinner. It wasn't great, but after the day we have all had today, we felt like staying in an retiring alone to our separate rooms for some quiet time. It's been a very long day today. I called the day "over" at about 6 PM when Bombadil and Mojo almost got in to it. King spent all day today with the warrior princess, working on inventory and making their poor gay-well-dressed executive helper work himself nearly to death. I spent the day in meetings with Mojo, Gollum, and Beaker, which is just about as bad as being left to die in a scorpion infested trench in the middle of a sahara summer.

Important Update: The "What's up" with Doc
 i love it when I make a funny! Anyway, I spoke to Doc today. He popped on Yahoo briefly and I took a moment to talk to him. I haven't been able to see him or talk to him since he left for Super Friends Qualifications. (Special Forces Selection). We spoke briefly and talked about how things are here, how things are there, and what his plans are. He did pass all his qualifications for Super Friends, so that's the good news. The bad news is that they're sending him to Iraq anyway in the summer. He'll be gone for a year, after which he'll return and continue his training in the special forces. Hopefully, things will work out where I'm home before he leaves and we will be able to catch up a little bit. I know a lot of you have been asking about how he's doing and I thought I'd let you all know what was up. I don't know where in Iraq, why in Iraq, but he's going to Iraq. I'll update more later as I find out details:

Chapter 5: Sunlight Shines On My Day Finally!
Well, without going into too much detail, which would be a breach of both etiquette and my job description, I can happily say that something wonderful came out of my day's various attempts at extinguishing fires. One of my guys gets to call his significant other and let them know the good news: He got a raise. And a nice significant one too I'm glad to say. This one of the guys I've worked with for many years that's much deserving of some appreciation. I try to make sure he gets it from me and from the team because we depend on him to do all our jobs at this company, but financial remuneration is always a great way to show that you're appreciated... and praise don't pay the rent! 

So, with that happy note, I am calling it a night. It's 11:45 now. I've had two meetings, two calls from work in the states, and plenty of interruptions to my blog event, so I hope you people appreciate the determination it takes to actually manage to complete a letter while over here. I have, at any one time, a minimum of six people talking to me and calling me all day and all night and a maximum of about forty people during the daylight hours. Private time over here takes on a whole new meaning.

Until next time, I bid you all adieu and hope you are all well. Please write me often. 

PS: If anyone wants to be a contributing "author" (someone who can write their own posts, rather than just comment on others) please leave a comment on here with your email address in it and I will make sure to email you an invitation to the blog team so you too can post. Otherwise, I'm afraid you will have to put up with a running conversation from only me, Tom, Shak, Twitterpaited, mom, and Hannah.

PS again: Hannah, April, and Mom: I love you three ladies and I miss you all. I'll post a few more pics. 

APRIL: Call Mom about the hat issue I told you about. Brad is leaving next Monday or Tuesday and he can bring the hats with him when he comes if you can get them overnighted to our house in Greenville. Please someone make sure this gets handled. It's very hard for me to communicate digitally with everyone during hours that you're actually all awake!

Talk to you all soon.

Bye (again)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Another Day In Africa

Blog Entry: Another Day in Africa Date: March 20, 2006 Time: 1943hours GMT+2 Salem and good morning to you! (The “a” is pronounced like an “ah” sound and the emphasis is on the “m”. So, you would say it like “SahleM” with a strong emphasis on the end of the word.) For those of you really into Arabic diction, that’s knows as the medial usage of the letter M in this language. Now, if you aren’t absolutely bleeding from the head from that little example of what my day is like everyday, by all means please continue so I can pelt you with little colloquialisms whining like a misbehaving child about the abuses I put others through today. My days are becoming a sordid list of To-Do’s, Don’t Do’s, Make Some Else Do’s, and Someone forgot to Do’s, with the occasional Why The Heck Didn’t You Do’s thrown in for good measure. Somewhere in that mix today, I adopted a new personal detachment from which to blast people to oblivion with issue after issue after issue that I was tired of hearing about. Today I was transformed into MacHitler. (Somwhere on the loud side of MacGyver meets Adolf Hitler). Basically it boils down the to one issue. I am personally responsible for the implementation, development, deployment, and connectivity for a 2.25 square kilometer fiber optic communications network with redundant failover mechanisms. So, today and yesterday I spent time doing what I traditionally do best: throwing out everyone’s work and starting again from scratch. I began by delineating what tasks had to be accomplished at each location and forming a template from which I can determine a particular location’s readiness level. From there, I broke up my staff and the GECOL staff into 5 groups, each with responsibilities independent of the other, but whose tasks were all interdependent on the successful completion of those prior to them in their chain. After this was done, I was left with a simple, though excruciatingly long, list of all the job sites on Swani Campus. Next, I storyboarded each task into a project management platform that could visually show these people how and why their jobs were related to the success of other jobs. Later today, I spent 3 hours preparing a scathing email to the management of the corporation informing them that it was either my or the highway and that I expected all management to be present at tomorrow’s meeting at 9:30 AM or there would be hell to pay. (Now, I’m not sure of the current exchange rate of Hell versus Libyan Dinar, but they got the point). After this, I nervously awaited the response that would either tell me that I had blustered my way to the command post or else I was about to be slapped down the chain of command by those in a position to do so. After about two hours, I saw the client’s project director on my way out the door. He was a little huffy, but informed me that he had addressed his staff and that all would be present and accounted for first thing in the morning. After sitting down and working on this task list for the past two days, I have determined that I am not anywhere near the point in my projected timeline that I planned to be by this date. However, with this new plan, I hope to achieve optimum use of the teams while at the same time playing a little fast ball and catching up to where we are supposed to be. All this today was in preparation for my departure on Wednesday. While I am gone, I hope to leave a working strategic plan of attack for King and Moose to be able to implement. So, long story short, I have spent the last two days having to play the “why you should do your job on-time” game with a bunch of people who don’t understand time-tables. However, I promise that I’ll be nice tomorrow, pending all my plans and goals have at least achieved forward momentum on their own, without me having to push them along all the time. Departure? What departure? Oh yeah. About that. Well, it seems that I am being sent across the country on aerial safari this week. In specific, there is a 400 million dollar oil project that I am going to be able to survey and organize. Considering the quasi-clandestine nature of the project, and nature of Arabic oil barons, and the proliferation of machine-guns floating around this country, I will refer to this project in only the most generic of terms. So, here is what I CAN tell you. We have been granted another project in Africa, based on our performance thus far for this client. This is another client entirely, thank Allah. (I have to say that here.. it’s like a censored curse word in music…. ) This project has three main operational locations, situated in three distinctly remote parts of the Sahara desert. I will be leaving on Wednesday morning, with trusty old Tim by my side, to prepare the site survey. To do this, I will depart Tripoli by plane and be shuttled to our main destination. From that destination, I will proceed via helicopter or light aircraft, to the first remote headquarters. Once here, there are various sites that are geographically separated that make up the basis for each region. So, once again, I will be stuffed into another plane or helicopter and taken to visit each sub-location. Long story short, I am going to be preparing a photo and GPS pattern for each location used in this project; estimated to be somewhere between 40 and 60 remote sub-sites, divided amongst the three regional locations. My purpose: To conduct an on-the-ground survey of connectivity, internet accessibility, and general conditions necessary for our team to prepare a RFP for this project. This will include geographic positioning of each location, aerial and ground photography for each location, and other not-so-fun pieces of information. Once this is done, we will fly back to Tripoli and continue on with our current project. After successful completion of this current client, then I will begin the implementation phase of the first steps for this new customer. My Team: Tim and Me My Tools: 1 Laptop, 1 Camera, 1 trusty GPS, 1 Swiss Army Knife (purchased from a black market vendor on a back street in Africa) and 1 half-chewed pack of chewing gum (if I don’t finish the pack before I leave) and one really smart guy that I can point to when I don’t know the answer to a question. For those of you wondering, since there are only two of us, that would logically equate to be Tim. I’m the muscle, he’s the brains. So, now you know what I’m doing this week. (insert dramatic pause here) (wait, dramatic pause isn’t finished.) (End of dramatic pause) So, what are you guys doing this week? It’s very hard to picture where I was only two months ago, sitting around my apartment preparing for my first trip off the continent. Now, I’m planning aerial surveillance trips across the Sahara, complete with my own camel. (Yes, I’ll take a picture if I actually wind up on the back of a camel, though it would be much more appropriate if I had my fedora!) Twenty four hours from now, I will be boarding a plane to scour the sahara from low-altitude. How unreal. It all seems like quite an ethereal adventure sometimes. However, it only sounds that way to YOU because you’re the reader, and I am the narrator. Actually being the one doing it becomes quite mundane very quickly. Communications with Me: For those of you who want to, I have a phone number you can call if you’d like to speak to any of us. Over here, I have to pay about 1 dollar per minute on my phone to make even a local call. However, thankfully inbound calls are free. I do not have the time, nor the resources at my disposal, to actually tell you what the cost is for each of your providers to call us, but I can tell you that US cellular charges only fifty cents per minute for international calls made from the US. If you are dialing from the United States, the number you dial is: 00218-92-854-7039 I would love to hear from any of you who can call. Just to let you know, I do NOT know how to check the voicemail, even if I had voicemail. All the prompts are in Arabic, so please do not leave a message if asked to do so. Also, remember that I am 7 hours ahead of EST. The best hours to reach me (when I can actually talk for a minute) are: 1 AM to 3 AM your time. (That’s 8AM – 10 AM my time) and from noon to 4 PM your time. (That’s 7 PM to 11 PM my time) I hate to cut this short, but King and Moose are badgering me to go to the Corinthia. It’s their feeding time. Tonight, I think I’ll have the Number 16, Tagatielle with Prawns over pasta, at the Venezia. After which I will happily chase that with a Caramel Macchiata and Chocolate Tort served from a very polite Egyptian man, named Mohammed who, like everyone else here, has a friend that can get me ANYTHING I need. For a culture who thinks Americans are still in love with Kenny Rogers and the Yellow Bikini song, I find it scary to leave my personal needs in their creative care. Yep. I checked. The room service menu was Chicken, Fish, or Pigeon. Pasta and Shrimp it is for me. If time and my swelling paunch permit me, I will of course continue this narrative post-chocolate tort. Till then… Tommy Blog Entry: Another Day in Africa, Continued Date: March 20, 2006 Time: 2316hours GMT+2 Ok. I lied. Sorry. Actually I had pasta penne with prawns. I wasn’t in the mood for Tagatielle. Yes, if you are one of those wondering, it is possible to obtain palatable food here that bears no resemblance to the animal from whence it came, but do so puts quite a drain on the purse strings. Dinner for 4 traditionally at the Venezia comes to about $130.00, so to have good food that you can ALMOST be assured contains neither canine nor avian pets costs you over $30.00 each per meal. Now, I have truthfully found ONE place in this country worth spending a moment or two to laud openly. I took a drive with the team last night to seek out the last bastion of American iconism in this foreign land and was pleasantly surprised. We were riding through a park where, by the way, I saw a child’s pet gazelle tied to a swing-set post with a length of string. I need not make you aware of the sheek awkwardness and rubber-necking that comes when you pass what we consider in the states to be a wild African animal, tied tamely to a post, contentedly munching what sparse grass was available to him while the locals walk past him without a second look. I remember his hide; it was a light tan coursed through with dark brown stripes running from head to flank along the top of his back near his spine His front quarters were dabbled with white dots, that will fade with his age into a full tan and brown coat. His horns, not yet developed, will reach almost two feet in length if he is allowed to grow to a full size. It was indeed quite the experience to see. However, I digress from the story, The gazelle was not the point of this brief eccliastic (sp?)moment. The van dropped us off at the front door to Saraya, a restaurant in this very active and very native part of town. When I walked in and sat down, we were given menus and allowed a few minutes to make our decisions. Here again, life is different from America. Here, as is most European countries, if you do not close your menu and put it down, they will assume that you have not yet reached your decision and will not come to take your order. I opened the first page in almost abject trepidation, expecting to see once again a menu written in a language I can not understand, and made more confusing because it is written from right to left. Instead, I am pleasantly greeted by an English page titled “desserts.” What do I see to my surprise? Oh, you can’t even imagine my elation to see real ice cream, bananas, whipped cream, chocolate fudge, and a plethora of other choices. I could have stopped on that page alone and been supremely satisfied with my main course of dessert options. However, to make this brief, I’ll tell you what I DID have, instead of all the things I could have had. My dinner, for the first time since entering this country, was a double cheeseburger, with French fries and REAL Heinz 57 ketchup (not the Arabic imitation machination they call ketchup in the local markets.) On this wonderfully delectable hunk of COW (note the lack of dog or pigeon in my meal tonight) was two patties covered in American cheese, lettuce, pickles, onion, and come to think of it… a sesame seed bun! (hadn’t thought of that until now!). I was warned not to get the double cheeseburger, due to its immense size, but argued that I had the stomach of 3 normal men and proceeded to order it anyway. This wasn’t the ¼ pound burger we get in the states. Each side of this massive salutation to beef was loaded with a full half pound (each) of burger. This monstrosity was huge! Made only slightly less tasty by the addition of “Harisa”, it was quite delectable. NOTE: Harisa is best described as a mixture of curry, thousand island dressing, and heat from the deepest level of hell. Further, it is served on every burger or meat-sandwich in this country. After scraping that off and asking for another bun, I was left to enjoy my dinner. Now, you may be picturing this to yourself and wondering, “Hmm.. how in god’s name can a man eat that burger without a repast for refreshment?” Well, I’ll tell you. On page two of the menu was a list of drinks. Not being able to decide what best suited my fancy, I ordered 3 different ones. I was torn between the real cappuccino, an ice cold pepsi, and an amazing example of fresh-squeezed lemonade! Do you have any idea how blissful lemonade is to a man who hasn’t had a single thing that even faintly resembled something southern? I drained that glass before the waiter had even set the pepsi down beside it. Upon seeing my enjoyment in the beverage, half the table raised their hands and yelled “waiter!” to order their own. Once I was done with the meal, then and only then did I concede to order the cappuccino. Amidst the ordering of my drink, I found myself turning my head to admire the most gorgeous thing I had ever seen. (relax dearest April, this particularly beauty was on a plate!) Cheesecake! They had cheesecake! Do you hear me? Can you, in the deepest recesses of your mind fathom the improbability of nabbing the ONLY two pieces of cheesecake readily available for over two thousand miles in any direction?!?! I’m pretty sure I didn’t see the 72 virgins they speak of, but I was as close to Allah’s heaven that an American is likely to get in this country. Now, as much as I would like continue this email and diagram further adventures, it has been a very long day. Since my first post, I have had two business meetings with separate teams concerning our progress tomorrow, and find myself staring dreamily at that hard machination they call a bed in this country. So, until next time, I bit you all Adieu and goodnight. My love, my prayers, and my thoughts are with all of you and I miss you all. April, Bannag, and Mom: Write me soon. (Bannag, you are REALLY running behind on our daily communications habit we have formed. I believe we are at question 317! (and Yes I know it’s my turn to answer one, but trust me when I say that I’m more busy than I ever have been and that I’ll make it up on a later question.) Bye all End of Entry 1239AM 03/21/06

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Multi-Day Update

Date: March 16, 2006 Time: 08:54 AM Entry: Well, this is the day I was warned about. I am currently at my hotel room and it is Thursday morning. Considering I will not be working tomorrow or Saturday, it stands to reason that none of you will be reading this until Sunday morning at the earliest. We have been working non-stop for the last week, from 9 in the morning until late in the evenings, trying to make sense of this network that we are developing for Gecol. During this time, our dieting choices have been somewhat limited. Long story short, we’ve been eating one meal per day for the last 8 days or so. No breakfast. No lunch; just a hodge-podge collection of quasi-american foods that. we recognize and know are safe to eat. For the last three days straight, we have had nothing but Sour Cream and Onion Pringles and the occasional chocolate. Time: 5:37 The Story Continues… After a long break, I have resumed my writings to you all. Please know that it has been quite the miserable day. Apparently, my attempts to fill my stomach with even the basic Libyan staples have been a vain attempt. What took me only ten minutes to put into my stomach, grasped me in its clutches and has now spent the last 8 hours making me pay dearly. At this point, I am dehydrated, tired, and have missed a day of work. My men are all working today and I am resigned to be here sick. I can think of better ways to get free time. Now I guess I should take the time to update you on the news from Africa. Early this week, Dr. Moe decided to update my job status. My old position was “LAN Engineer,” but I was doing the work of a project coordinator in addition to my LAN job duties. This week, he has officially named me “Project Manager” for ATI. Did I get a raise? No, not yet. Everyone has asked me that. I still have a lot of work to accomplish on this project before I feel that I will be deserving of any kind of remuneration for simply performing what I thought needed to be done. Once this project is completed and we are off onto new adventures, then I think may be the time to broach a subject such as that. Project Progress: IP Team: The IP team is the security team that is in charge of implementing the “Edge” security layer of our project. They have been zooming along doing things I can’t possibly understand, but appear to be on track. Server Team: The server team has finally been freed to perform their own tasks. Their servers just got here last week so they are dying to play with their new toys. I must admit that I am jealous of these guys who get to sit and play on millions of dollars of network server equipment. I sit sometimes in amazement and watch two guys design and implement a server-client platform that is, in essence, going to power and control the whole countries power system. LAN Team: This is my team. My pride and joy. I would like to say that things here have been going smoothly for the LAN side of the project, but I would be lying. I can not get into too much detail here, for fear of putting too much information at the disclosure of the general public, but I can state a few things; In an apparent attempt to bolster the Libyan commerce system, it was decided by the client that they would take our LAN equipment list and split it in half. Originally, all parts and materials were to be purchased from the United States and shipped to this location. Local politics changed that so that the order was split into two half-orders and purchased from two local vendors here in Libya. Now, it shouldn’t have taken a rocket-scientist to understand that a third-world country has neither the skill-level, nor the resources, to warehouse the kind of equipment that I need for this project. Hence, the vendors looked at the product lists, compared it to what they could find locally, and purchased the “next best thing” according to their evaluation of quality. Now, not only am I placed in the position of having to implement a fiber-optic network that covers millions of square miles, but I have to do so with equipment that doesn’t match what I ordered. Further, each product I need is provided half from one brand, and half from another. And to make things worse, no one but me and Tim understand that this equipment will not work together without some seriously large changes to the implementation. Fiber optics is not as simple as just placing a cable at two points and connecting them to a switch. After a week of going absolutely crazy, I have finally calmed down and started to facilitate the best method of making this equipment work. As usual, I would have gone crazy were it not for my team. Tim has been great at figuring out how to make these non-standard parts meet together and then still have them exceed the standards we are required to meet. Without him, it would have truly been a nightmare. Off Duty News: In other news, I am supposed to be going to get my Villa tonight. Doctor Moe and I are moving the team into a villa here in Libya and hiring a personal staff to maintain the house for us. So, by the end of next week, I will have a 4 thousand square foot home with an on-site security guard, live in housekeeper, and live-in cook. And no, this is not an attempt to set ourselves up like princes or anything of the sort. It is currently costing us over $100.00 per day to live and eat in this hotel. Splitting a 4 thousand dollar per month villa, even with the cost of hiring the staff, will cut that by two-thirds to about $37.00 per day. It’s a great country! Additionally, the villa will have satellite and DSL so we will be able to get online in the evenings and talk more with our friends and families over in the states. The other men in the team miss their friends and families as much as I miss you all and the lack of communication with the States has been difficult on them. Other News: In other news, it seems that I’m getting my request granted for an assistant. Dr. Moe has finally agreed that he is anything but organized, and has asked me if I wanted to bring April over here to work with us and assist him and me in this project. Of course I’m completely taken the idea. I get to take my girlfriend to Africa for a month. How many boyfriends can say that? If things go well and she likes the position, it could have the opportunity to become permanent and she would be working with us long past the end of this one project. If that is the case, she would be traveling with me and Doc to London, Cairo, and a few of the other destinations that we have to visit. She’s been all jumping up and down for the last week or so while I’ve been trying to get things situated here on this end, but either she or I will have an update on that in the coming week or so, I hope. More exciting news: Free X-Boxes for ATI staff. Yup, you heard it… lol. Since we are partnered in this project with Microsoft, my server admin asked him if it would be permissible to get a copy of a piece of software that we would like to have for this project. Mohamed, Microsoft’s equivalent to me in this project, said that might be a little difficult, but that he could probably swing Xbox 360’s for everyone if we were interested! You should have seen how fast he became popular with the ATI staff. This is a man who knows how to get what he wants from a customer! End of update.. Well, that’s about it for the work update and big news. Now I find myself sitting here wondering how to communicate what I’m thinking to all of you back home. Or course, I get to talk to April on the phone fairly regularly, but the rest of you are pretty much hard to communicate with from five-thousand miles away. I wish I could bring all of you over here. Just having the opportunity to sit here and write this message to all of you, while glancing over at the local fishermen trying to force a living from the sea below is a grandiose experience that I wish you could all enjoy. Having said that, the first twinges of real homesickness settled into me a few days ago. I thought of the things I will miss at home while I am here. After speaking to Jessica through email and hearing her thoughts on her spring garden, it struck me that I will be unable to have a garden this spring. This will be the first year that I will not be able to go out onto my porch at home and enjoy the solitude of cleaning, trimming, and just admiring the plants that I have been growing for years. No tomatoes. No Passion Flower this year. There are lots of things I will not be able to enjoy for a while if I am over here. The solitude has been different, but comforting. Most of you who know me are aware that I love social gatherings but that I also require large amounts of “Tommy” time; time where I can be alone with my thoughts. Here, I have been able for the most part to enjoy that time with myself and spend some serious time evaluating who I am, where my life is, whether or not I am happy with it, what I would rather be doing, etc. Have no fear that I am completely alone though. For whatever reason, something in my personality draws others to me like a magnet. There are those I lead at work, those who come to me for advice, and those who come to me as equals; wanting to enjoy the opinions of another they consider of the same caliber. On the other side of that coin, there are those I go to spend time with simply to sit and share the enjoyment of nature over here, such as the times that Chris and I sit on my balcony, rarely speaking while we sip our coffee and enjoy the wonder of Africa spread out for thousands of miles around us. Desmond is my link to home. His crude machinations that can make even the strongest stomachs turn reminds me what life is like back in North Carolina. He is my connection to the real world waiting for me back home. Tim is Tim. Though always one who seems to follow where I lead, he is as rock-solid in his lack of direction as ever. He has more brains than any two of us combined in most things, but requires someone to guide him in the right direction where he can use those talents most productively. So, in that, he fulfills my need to be a big-brother. He is the arrow of talent that requires me to be the bow that fires him true to his destination. Tom Hadry is a compatriot, a fellow leader. Though he accepts my leadership of the team without question, you can see a strong line of hardness in his steely eyes when he looks at you in the manner in which is his custom. He says little unless there is something to be said of importance, and yet his sarcasm and wit appear at the most convenient times, relieving the group from a tense situation. He is the closest thing to Doc Holliday that I have found in Africa, though no one can replace Doc in my eyes. Mike Clark is my Todd of Africa. He is content to sit and play on his laptop, oblivious to everything around him and rarely commenting on things. He sits and quietly absorbs what is going on around him. For those of you women in my life, there can be no replacements. There is no way to possibly find the qualities in the people here that exist in each of you. I miss you all terribly and wish each day that you could be here even for a little while to share this experience. Marisa: You my dear would be a rock that these people would crush themselves on here in Libya. Your forwardness and your complete love/hate relationship with all things would make you feared over here. You would succeed here in business where no other woman that I know could. Your business mind and ability to not let others beat you down would be a great accompaniment over here. Marion: My darling little sister, you would be crazy over here. No tractors to ride, no grass, and very little natural trees would have driven you crazy in the first ten minutes after you arrived. However, the shops and local wares would console you. You could spend days looking around the same little blocks of shops, picking out local things here that you would want to take home to everyone. Bannag: You my dearest friend would be my fulfillment of all things cultural and botanical. I can see you walking the streets and the local habitats, admiring the way that nature survives here in this place. You would be in love with nature’s little adjustments to rather mundane things that we see at home. The Aloe plant here has adjusted just enough to survive in this climate. The trees spread deep and fast to secure their roots against the innumerable storms that prevail against them for dominance in this sandy desert. Here, you would finally learn to dance like you keep trying to find the time to do in the states. You would love the local garb and would be fitting quietly into the culture in your subtle ways within a week of your arrival. And the music? The music here, both local and that of Lebanon, which has strong influence here, would entice you like no other you have heard. Sameena: You could cook anything here you wanted. This whole country is a giant mixing pot of creative things to do with curry! You would be browsing the local markets, bartering and haggling the local merchants, and preparing all kinds of local dishes while constantly calling me a “wuss” for not being able to enjoy the “flavor” of the local custom. Note however, that when I return, I now will have great recipes for Dogs of all breeds and also for Pigeon, which is discovered last night, is NOT a delicacy no matter how it is prepared. … end of blog for this day (I had to run do some work) New Journal Entry: Date: 03/17/2006 Time: 10:22 PM (Libyan) Sorry that I had end my last journal entry before I could finish my diatribe, but duty called and I had some things to take care of. It is now 10:20 PM on Friday night. I went out with the staff to the Corinthia this evening for dinner and I am happy to say that my apetite, as well as my health has returned to quasi-normal considering where we are and what options are available to us. I spent the morning today walking the market square near the hotel. There is a tent-market where peddlers gather on the weekends to sell their wares. Rows and rows of stalls occupy space beside one another over the bare concrete and sand in an endless maze of small shops. This was indeed an adventure. As I walked through the shops, I get an amazing variety of responses from the local people. Americans are rare here so I am noticed and commented on by most every shop that I pass. Additionally, I am significantly taller than the regular population here, making me stand out all the more in a public place like this one. I have noticed a particular cultural difference here that has caused me to start wearing my sunglasses every time I leave the hotel to travel in public. The normal people you see on the street here are not like strangers you might encounter in America. Considering the vast amount of them and the singularly small amount of me, I find it a smart thing to hide my eyes here. I tend to be a person that likes to look directly at someone and sometime over the years I have apparently developed a direct look that some would find challenging. When the locals here look at you, being an American, they do not turn their heads or avert their eyes when you look directly back at them. Rather, they usually tap their friend on the arm or make some comments that I am quite sure I should be glad that I cannot understand. So, in order to avoid starting a scene in public, I find places like this more easily navigable when they cannot see my eyes. I’ve never paid attention to the American habit of avoiding a direct look until I spent some time amongst the people here. It’s another small thing, yet significant if you want to understand the culture and their reaction to you. Having said that, let me state that the women here seem to react much better towards Americans than I expected. For a society of sub-classed gender, they are amazingly conversational with those of other cultures. Today as I walked through the market, I would turn row after row of similar items; things from watches, to Hugo Boss jackets, Armani clothing, Oakleys, and thousands of other less-than-legal memorabilia. Amongst the market shops are dispersed the occasional shop where you will find women cutting hair, braiding hair, or other such salon-style services being offered. Intermixed with these were hundreds of music stores. Now, the word Music Store takes on a whole new meaning in this country. For instance, the average CD costs me 1.5 dinar, which is about $1.10 US. Instead of having only the 12 or 15 songs you would expect to find, you will instead receive a CD that is the complete list of every album the artist has ever done. I purchased a CD of a woman named Daal a few days ago. When I returned to my room to download the music to my iPod, I found that the CD contained 15 whole CDs already ripped to MP3 format. So, in essence, that’s about 200.00 US worth of music for about 1 dollar US. Today, I decided to make a cultural event of it as I perused the shelves of the merchants. As I would walk through certain sections, I would hear local music blaring from the speakers of stereos at tent-shops. I would stop and ask the person, while pointing to the speaker that the music was coming from, “Who is this? Can I buy this music?” They would, after a few minutes of language-adjustment, get my drift and point me towards a person who sold that album and they would then happily tell the person what I was asking about. I bought about 8 CD’s that way in 10 minutes from different shops. Bannag, you would find this funny. I found a CD today titled “America’s Top 100 of 2006.” I was at first amazed, and then stunned by the content of this album. When I turned it over (and pardon me for doing this from memory) the contents of this album included Abba, the Beatles, Patti Labelle, Kenny Rogers (he’s huge over here), Bob Marley, Willie Nelson, Aqua, and a ton of others that haven’t been heard from in years back in the states. I distinctly remember falling over laughing when I saw “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny, Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini” as one of America’s Top songs for 2006. After the markets, we took a brief respite here in my room while waiting on my meeting with Doc at 5:30. I am distinctly dissatisfied with my luck in finding a villa over here. I think it would be accurate to say that I have probably visited 10 to 15 of them in the last week or so, and each one has more issues than the last. Either the owner thinks that we are rich oil-company contractors and can afford $8,000.00 per month, or they can’t be available for two weeks. Either way is a lose-lose for me. So far, we know that my travel Visa is getting extended as well as a few of the others, but I want to get these guys into the villa in enough time to enjoy the experience. The one we saw that we really like is a little steep on price. The one that Doc wanted us to get is one of the ones I saw tonight. Once I got there, I really liked it and figured it would make a great second choice. However, after having our super-secret-security guy do some checking, that building has been attacked twice in recent years by raiders, so I’m not too sure about that one. It’s getting to be a really stressful situation. The guys really want to get somewhere where we can get online and talk to our friends and families back home. Additionally, it would give us access to things like our bank accounts and other such related internet-based conveniences that we need to be able to access during those brief business hours that are available to us here in Africa. When it is 8 PM here and we get home, it’s already 1 PM there in the states, leaving us very little time to get things coordinated, send emails, chat with relatives, etc. More than anything we are missing the communication with the world in which we have lived. I miss talking to all of you, being able to video chat with the people who have been depending on that feature of our stay, etc. I’m not sure what else that you all want to know about. I’m sure I’ve bored some of you to death. If you’ve actually managed to make it this far through this entry, then I applaud you. Well, in other news, April just called me. Apparently we have a new digital camera at home waiting for me to play with when I have to return Raymond’s. She bought a 6.1 Megapixel digital, so now there is no excuse for you people not to be emailing me photos! On that subject; Thanks Tom for the photos! I liked the photos of your new house. Its amazing to see how drastically different vinyl siding looks when all I have seen over here is concrete and cinderblock. There is not one wood or metal building in this entire country. Everything here is concrete, stone, and marble. It’s a very “heavy” place to live. I miss you all so much. I really look forward to a nice afternoon sitting on my porch with everyone over at the house, cooking out on the barbeque and drinking REAL coffee! (I haven’t had a cup of real coffee in three weeks!) Right now, I’d love nothing more than to be cuddled up on my sofa with my baby at about 11:00 AM on a Sunday morning, listening to James Taylor on my cd player, enjoying the smell of Spring in the states, and smelling the fresh scent of coffee brewing and SAUSAGE! God I miss pork! Sameena, how the heck do you do it? No bacon, sausage, pepperoni, etc. It’s crazy. You have no idea how much Americans rely on pork products. I’m finding myself at the moment in another of those “I miss home” moments. Parts of me wants to see this beautiful country and to travel to exotic destinations, but another part of me wants to be doing nothing more than driving in my new Jeep and blaring Randy Travis at the top of my lungs while I go to Sonic drive-thru for a bacon-egg and cheese Toaster with a lemon-berry slushee! At this point I’m sorely stuck between wanting to get a villa and wanting to just get Internet here at the Hotel. It’s against the law in Libya to have an ISP for commercial customers, so there are no email services or internet services that serve businesses except for GPTC, the government-owned telecommunications company. But, since we have some pretty serious connections in the government here, we get to bend the rules a little. I’ve got the good Doctor working with a contact in Tunisia and here in the Libyan government to grease some wheels to get Internet here at the hotel for us. I would gladly stay in this little room day in and day out if I could communicate with the outside world. I’m a big fan of personal time, but sometimes I yearn for the communication of English-speaking people. The most English I have heard since I’ve been here is from the waiters at the Italian restaurant. None of the hotel staff can say anything besides “Chicken or Fish?” when I call downstairs and they have YET to ever understand me when I say “3 Pepsi, 2 Pepsi Diet, and 3 water.” (That’s how you have to speak to the room-service here. And I’m in one of the two four-star hotels in the entire country!) In other news, there is an apparently huge local event occurring this month here in Africa, though I assume it’s occurring all over the rest of the world as well. There is a solar eclipse happening this month on the 29th and millions of people have started flocking here in advance to get a room in town to be able to witness the event. Apparently, whatever makes this particular eclipse so special, only occurs every 150 years. Ok.. I’m tired now. I think I’m going to relax a little with my audio book and take myself to bed. I’ll write more again soon. I miss hearing from you all. Please please please write me soon. Thanks to all of you who have written and emailed me thus far. Please keep it up. I know you think life is sometimes mundane, but you have no idea how good it is to hear from those I love back home. My love, Tommy … end of blog for this day.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

3 Minute Management Course

3 Minute Management Course Lesson One: An eagle was sitting on a tree resting, doing nothing. A small rabbit saw the eagle and asked him, "Can I also sit like you and do nothing?" The eagle answered: "Sure, why not." So, the rabbit sat on the ground below the eagle and rested. All of a sudden, a fox appeared, jumped on the rabbit and ate it. Management Lesson: To be sitting and doing nothing, you must be sitting very, very high up. Lesson Two: A turkey was chatting with a bull. "I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree," sighed the turkey, "but I haven't got the energy." "Well, why don't you nibble on some of my droppings?" replied the bull. " They're packed with nutrients." The turkey pecked at a lump of dung, and found it actually gave him enough strength to reach the lowest branch of the tree. The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch. Finally after a fourth night, the turkey was proudly perched at the top of the tree. He was promptly spotted by a farmer, who shot him out of the tree. Management Lesson: Bull shit might get you to the top, but it won't keep you there. Lesson Three: A little bird was flying south for the winter. It was so cold, the bird froze and fell to the ground into a large field. While he was lying there, a cow came by and dropped some dung on him. As the frozen bird lay there in the pile of cow dung, he began to realize how warm he was. The dung was actually thawing him out! He laid there all warm and happy, and soon began to sing for joy. A passing cat heard the bird singing and came to investigate. Following the sound, the cat discovered the bird under the pile of cow dung, and promptly dug him out and ate him. Management Lesson: (1) Not everyone who shits on you is your enemy. (2) Not everyone who gets you out of shit is your friend.. (3) And when you're in deep shit, it's best to keep your mouth shut! This ends the three minute management course. So sayeth my mom, in a cute email. :)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

LOOK WHAT WE FOUND! Coke! In Libya!!! Of course it's made in Italy I think.. but it's still awesome to have finally. Once they lifted Sanctions, lots of stuff started to come into the country.

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And here is it in Arabic.

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Yeah.. this is dinner. And to be honest, this is a lot than some people get to eat here. This is our attempt to put SOMETHING in this bread to make it edible.. the bread here is very hard. No wonder bread, merita, or anything like that.. only hand-made bread that's designed to last.. so it's very tough and very bland. We put the last of the cheese on it and cut up a banana and called that dinner.

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Those buildings on the left are where we keep an office here in Tripoli. I have an office on the 8th floor of the one in the back. The building on the right is my hotel, the Bab Al Bahar (or Gate of the Sea).

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This is the Corinthia hotel and restaurant where we eat every night. It's about 3 blocks from our hotel. This shot is taken from the shore of the Med by our hotel.

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This is shot early the next morning. That is a boat about 1 mile out in the Sea. If you look closely, you can see that he's fisherman. Click on the photo to blow it up for better detail. In my full resolution photo, you can see the small cloth flags flying on his buoys as he prepares to drop his nets for the day.

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Here is a whole panoramic view from the balcony.

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Tell me that isn't an awesome sight. Somewhere over there, 5 thousand miles away, you guys are seeing this as early morning at the same time that I'm watching it disappear into the sea.

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The sun starts to fade: I took a few minutes to relax and enjoy the sunset with Moose on Friday. It's almost getting ready to go down in this photo.

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Ok. Maybe it's just me, but I SWEAR he looks like Freddy Kreuger in this picture.

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This is sitting on my balcony on Friday, blaring George Thorogood and Matchbox 20 off the deck of the hotel. I need more speakers over here.. forgot those in the states.

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Hi all! This is me when I'm not working over here.

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This is how I spent my second weekend in Africa. I spent most of the day sitting here on my balcony with Nescafe, Smokes, and my audiobook while looking out over the med.

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This is me after the first day. We're covered in dirt, sand, water, and other things I would rather not even think about. We pulled a 1 mile fiber run through the sewer system. NOT fun!

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Good ol' Narco is wore slam out. This was our first day in the trenches.

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Moose after his first LONG day running fiber in the sewer trenches.

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Moose Guide: This is Moose in his Tilley hat. He doesnt' have the brass to wear it out in public all the time, though I'd sport that thing if it only fit my big head.

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After Work: This is my average afternoon when I get off work, pending the sun is still up when I get in for the day. Coffee, smokes, my laptop, and the view of the med.. you CAN'T beat this!

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TaDa! Successful! Man, my beard is getting thick over here.... someone send some trimmers over with Brad when he comes.. I need a shave! (And we can take the extra and glue it to Nizar's head)

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now THIS is redneck.. lol. Four guys in the back of a pickup with 1 ton of server chassis rolling through the desert. This is when we were delivering our equipment from the stores location to the Data Center for installation into the racks.

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Look at him smilin.. he's hunkered down in a row of our new Dell server racks. Like a kid in a candy store!

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This is my new toy that arrived lately? That, ladies and gentlemen, is 3 million dollars worth of Dell servers.. WOOHOO! LAN PARTY! Dude.. I can play some serious CoH with 4 gigs of memory per server.

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This is a "sitting room". This particular one is one of three of these rooms in the villa we were looking at. Each sitting room in the villas are usually decorated in a different cultural theme, allowing comfort for visitors from different countries to feel comfortable in your home.

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Rough seas: This is the first day of the 3 day wind storm that we had over here. When we opened our doors, since we face the sea from our hotel, there are 60 mile per hour winds IN our rooms. The upside: Housekeeping is very easy. Put what you want to keep in the dresser, open the doors, and the rest flies out of your room and down the hallway where housekeeping can dodge the debris! :)

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Doctor Moe and myself at the Lebanese restauraunt here in Tripoli. This was the first steak I've had since I entered the country. You can't tell from this picture, but this section of the restaurant was sectioned off for Muslims. The tables are lower and sitting slightly above the floor cushions. Other sections of the restaraunt have full sized american-standard hieghts. But we figured we'd try to see what it's like to eat from Marion's level for a change.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

An Old Friend

Hey Tommy, I talked to an old friend of yours today and she wanted to drop you a line adn tell you hello so here it is: Hi TJ its Lisa. I just wanted to say hey from the Harbor. How have you been? I havent heard from you in a while. I hope all is well. Get up with me!!! Lisa anyhow have a good one and get back with me

Monday, March 06, 2006

hi tommy!

I have really enjoyed seeing all of your pictures and reading your posts today! Not too thrilled with the real scooby snack...being a dog lover and all! just wanted to tell you i love you and i miss you. nothing new with me...probably why i haven't posted...Marion and i had a fight, but we're ok now. that's about all...xoxo
This is too good to pass up. This is doctor Moe and the Director of Microsoft Operations for all African and European markets. He was amazed at our redneck gear and wanted a picture wearing my hat.. lol. So there you go.. we got microsoft directors parading around africa in our gear.

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The ATI Lan Team Heads To More Exotic Destinations!

Well, Doctor Moe came to meet with me last night regarding the progress of our team and the skill level with which we were operating. Naturally, I was extremely nervous about these kinds of meetings. People who don't like you over here can make your life very uncomfortable for the rest of your professional career. The context of the meeting, however, was much better than I expected. He asked me how long I thought specific team members could stay over here if needed and what our commitments were back home. Specifically I am the only one who doesn't have children actually living with me and additionally, I'm not married yet, so my personal commitments are on a smaller scale than some of the others on the team. Most of this is thanks to April who in addition to holding down the fort at home, is also holding down the wives and girlfriend's issues for me. She is acting as the "me" there while I'm gone and making sure all the payroll issues and other issues are handled while we're away. Additionally, I have to thank her... she's holding up personally as well. In fact, though I'm sure I'm missed, she is taking the opportunity to have the time of her life. She has the computers to herself, the condo to herself, and my whole check that I'm not there to spend....(ok.. maybe I'm a little worried about the last part, but not much). She's going out with friends, working when she needs to, just generally living her life, which is what I hoped she would do. We both miss each other horribly, but I don't have to worry that my girlfriend is home crying her eyes out at night and can't act on her own for herself without someone to do things for her. It's a great feeling to know that she handles everything well. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for that Darling. I digress. The point of this is that Doc asked me if I could stay longer if I needed to. I told him the same thing I've told him since the day I was hired to run this project. "I came to work for you to WORK. If you need something done, I'm your man to do it, whatever it is. If you need a TEAM to do it, we are the best team in the US for what we do." He said "Good, Because I think I'm going to send you on a trip." Apparently the higher-ups here in Libya have been communicating with the people in London who fund this project. London called him last week and told him that they heard he had a "MacGyver" over here that was stirring things up and getting things done. (lol.. I love the association... I always liked that guy!) Anyway, now they have a international project that will take place in multiple countries and they want our team to do it. (Me, Tim, Chris, Desmond, etc.) So, if things go well, I will be working this year in London (which I have ALWAYS wanted to visit), Tunisia, Libyana, Cairo (ANOTHER place I've always wanted to visit), and in New York (which really IS like a country all its own.) So, if we do a good job finishing things here, it looks like I might get to become an international man of travel! Imagine that! lol. So.. that's the update for the time being. Things are otherwise going well, though not to my standards. We are vastly overqualified compared to the local standards, but we are not being able to progress as well as I'd like. Equipment shortages, national customs issues, and other things are slowing things to a snail's pace over here. However, we will persevere. Eventually, we'll have what we need to get things done the right way and then we'll be in motion again. You all know how I hate to sit around and wait... ugh.. drives me crazy. I love you all, miss you all, and REALLY REALLY REALLY want you all to write me on here. This blog is the easiest thing for me to check from over here. Email is a real nightmare. I'll post again soon! "MacGyver"

You guys CAN post you know!

Ok all.. I know I'm far away, but I can still READ... you could make the occasional post.. update me on what's going on, talk to me, etc. The inherent problems with internet and email in Africa make it possible for me to receive mail but sending mail FROM here is very very hard. Since this web site is an internet protocol, not an email protocol, I can write you all from here and respond to you from here. Of course I'd still love to receive email from you all, I just can not easily respond to it in kind under our current data situation. I love you all and I'm doing fine. And Hello from Africa!
This is the downstairs restaurant in the Corinthian. This is a seafood and vegetable buffet served nightly in this hotel. The entire buffet occupies about 2 thousand square feet of open area from which you can select your meals.

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I'm not sure if you can appreciate this or not because of the quality of the picture, but this what I see from my bed at night through the open door as I fall asleep each night.

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