Sunday, March 19, 2006
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.