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

1 comment:

  1. Why don't you just go ahead and admit that you lost track of the number? According to you, we've been at 317 for like a year and a half now.

    Give it up, you don't remember what number we are on either...na na na nah naa naa!


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