Saturday, April 08, 2006

Greetings from the Amwage!

Date: 08 March 2006.

Blog Entry: Greetings from the Amwage!

Greetings friends and visitors. It’s been over a week since I have found the time to simply sit down, enjoy a cup of coffee (or what passes for coffee is this place) and write to you all to share my adventures.

So, at 9:30 this Saturday morning, I made it a plan to roll out of bed, partake in that fun game of lets’ try to get some hot water for the shower, and then quickly maneuver myself behind a solitary table here in the hotel Amwage for some quality time with those of you back in the states.

Now that I have found myself here, I find that I am amazingly uninspired. This has happened often of late, and is the primary reason that I find it difficult to write. What once inspired me and put me into a state of wonder now simple passes as the normal daily routine here. All new things fade… I’m sure that’s most likely listed in some Confucian monologue somewhere.

To begin: Hotel Hopping!

Last week I had to move some of my men from the hotel we were all originally at, the Bab Al Bahr, to new accommodations. The Libyan national goods expo they are having in Tripoli this week has had the town booked for months in advance, so I knew this was going to be a nightmare. Common sense dictates that when the one hotel you’re already staying in is full, you have not much more chance elsewhere for accommodations. However, with the help of my very intimidating Arabic friend, Mohamed Eteer, and by flirting unabashedly with the cute Arabic girl at the El Wahat, I was at last able to procure three rooms for the team for as long as I need them. However, this seems contingent upon me returning from time to time to wink and posture for this Arabic lady behind the counter. The men there keep telling me that they are full and need the rooms whenever I arrive. A few English words carefully crafted and delivered in a sultry tone at the Arabic receptionist however, gets me a giggle and a “Mush Mushkal” (No Problem) every time. It’s very hard sometimes being me… lol. I thank the star that I was lucky enough to be born under that I, for some reason, have a natural manner with the delicate gender. I’m most always fairly successful at negotiations with men as well, but this usually requires at least a moderate effort and seems to require some “give and take” to get my ends met. However, in this country, my efforts with the female population lends me much faster results and usually has a much higher success rate. However, for the sake of my hide, I think I have digressed quite enough. I can see the arse-kicking I’ll receive when my darling April gets here now!

That does pose quite the conundrum, now that I pause to give it thought. I’m able to just about get anything I need here with a wink and a smile. I think I better begin to work on my real public relations skills before April gets here to join me. Somehow, I think she’ll put a stop to the winks and smiles from the ladies when she chases them away with that “don’t’ even consider it” look she thinks I don’t see.. She’s quite feisty when she chooses to be. However, it’s a sacrifice I’ll gladly make to have her much-needed company here with me. I truly can not wait to see her. I find myself counting the days until I can hold her again in my arms. Yes, yes, yes, I know. I shant begin an emotional diatribe… relax.

I’m trying hard to think what you will find of interest that I can tell you about. So many things leap out at me to tell you about when I see them, but I either forget them or find my inspiration absent when I actually get five minutes alone behind the keyboard to write.

Inspirational Moments:

I found myself laughing out loud last week while I was working at the site location. You’ll need the back story to completely understand why. Sometime last week, after I acquired rooms here at the Amwage for this half of the team, I was sitting in my room discussing music when Brad came in. He informed me that he brought a “bunch of stuff” with him but that wasn’t aware what he had, and that I was more than welcome to peruse his music collection for my iPod.

This breeds yet another back story I find I must acquaint you with. For those of you who are not aware, I am a music lover. I don’t mean an aficionado, or someone who really “likes” it, but a true lover of song and verse. Additionally, though I am very social, I find that I tend to want to work others as hard as I work myself. To do that, especially over here, would eventually breed resentment in my men. To accomplish the best of relations and productivity, I find it most beneficial to find long, tiresome tasks, that I can set aside for myself to perform on the site. This way, I can task the other teams with their responsibilities and the I can turn my radio off and disappear for an entire day to lose myself in the physical work which requires little or no communication with others. This stops me from constantly worrying and hovering over the others who all have their own jobs to do in their own way. There is plenty of work, so finding something that can occupy me for ten or twelve hours is less than difficult. Any network engineer can tell you that he hates nothing more than “racking equipment.” This is the process that often requires standing in the same spot for twenty four or thirty-six hours straight while organizing the millions of dollars worth of equipment located in this seven foot rack. Thus, in the effort to maximize my “alone time” I chose these tasks for myself to do. (Amazingly, no one argued… lol)

Now, to return to the previous prelude: While perusing Brad’s music collection, I was amazed to find country music, gospel music, and even bluegrass music. I literally jumped off the bed in the room, thankful for the arrival of the one thing I had forgotten from the states. I had no idea how much country and gospel music was part of my life until I had been six weeks without the twang of a six-string guitar and the heavenly sound of a slide on a steel guitar. So, on the night that he let me borrow his hard drive, I spent six hours laughing to myself as I found artist after artist that I wanted to copy to my iPod to play later. Desmond only shook his head resignedly as I sat there calling out the names of artists I truly did not expect to find in anyone’s collection except my own. There before my eyes lay the digital imprint of my childhood. I eagerly loaded up my player with the childhood memories of Kenny Rogers, the Oak Ridge Boys, the Statler Brothers, over 100 songs from Alabama, Alan Jaskon, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Patty Labelle, Tammy Wynette, and over a hundred others. I actually could not wait to get to work the next day. I had enough music clipped to my waist to keep me “rocking out” for at least a week solid if I never played a song twice.

With this to look forward to, nothing much could ruin the day I had planned for myself. After meeting with the Project Manager for the site, the production manager, and instructing the various teams what they needed to do that day, I happily set out to hide in a closet and work for the next twelve hours.

Picture, if you will, the tan desert sand, the morning sun opening up its rays to slowly begin to bake the earth in its unabated heat at only nine in the morning. Various hundreds of sandaled, long shirted men milled about, beginning their own plans for the day; carrying mortar, mixing concrete, laying power lines, and a a myriad of other tasks. Their dark hair and sun darkened skin marking them as veterans of the heat and sand that is ever-present in this country. No one sings or whistles, or even talks much as they work. They arrive each day to arduously perform the tasks they are so very grateful for being paid to do. In succession and from all parts of the site, heads slowly raise to discover what the god-awful racket is they are hearing approach.

It’s 10 AM by the time I got on my way to my site due to logistics issues I had to handle. When I turned on my iPod to begin my journey I was struck with the difficult decision of whether to begin with the Statler Brothers or with Alan Jackson’s Gospel album. Memories flooded me from various parts of my childhood at the mere thought of either selection. I remember riding in the front of my mom’s blue Dodge car as a child, listening to the southern quartet renditions of “Elizabeth” by the Statler Brothers, which dredged up other memories of music from those days of my life. Alabama and Lionel Richie and “Deep Willy Wonka” made me laugh before I ever got out of the building. So it was this that put the stupid grin on my face as I began my journey that morning.

I chose, however, to go with the Gospel playlist for the start of my day. There can be nothing more communal than the beginning of the day when the cold of the morning is battling the sun for dominance. Cold breezes are quickly battled back by warmer ones, and then more completely by hot arid currents that bring the day’s dominance into full view in preparation for the sun’s daily vigil across the empty blue sky of Africa. I remember that no clouds dot this blue skyscape. From the moment you see the sun and it has established itself, it will let no mercy rain down until at last night chases it from the sky. It is with all of this in my mind that I click the “shuffle” button and put my mind into gear for the long walk to my destination. I remember rolling laughs so hard that I almost cried as I walked through the middle of the African desert to the beginning twang of “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine” blasting through my headset. I hitched up my tool belt around my waist, lengthened my gait, and began a happy trot through the sand as I remembered all the days in church as a child. I remember times when I was so tired of singing all those same old songs, and wishing I was anywhere but there in that uncomfortable Sunday-wear that my mother made me wear. I remember the hair cut I had at the time. I remember the smell of Mom’s perfume on Sunday mornings and the holding-hands that Lisa Gard and I did under her pink coat with the green belt in the second row of church when we thought no one was looking. I remember the sound of Arvin and Mearl Meekins as they belted out their baritone and bass over the din of two-hundred voices. I remember the alto of Miss Marie’s voice and the sound of Miss Pearl always present as a back-right accompaniment that could drown out even the power of the men when she was caught up in the moment and singing to her hearts content. I was caught up in the vision of Charles Snow fervently directing the music and of the country-nashville voice of Grant MacDonald from the left front side of the room. All these things raced for my attention as I laughed my way across the sand and belted jubilations at the top of my lungs.

Blessed Assurance was replaced by the memories of Sunday school when “In the Garden” began and I remembered Grant playing that on his six string. Through out the morning I happily belted out “leaning on the everlasting arms,” “Standing on the promises,” “Are you washed in the blood,” and tons of others, all of which I was so very much glad that I learned as a child. The words were lost on the natives, who I’m sure had no idea what in god’s-earth I was singing. It’s bad enough to hear people sing when you can hear the music too, but these poor people were buffeted with nothing but my horrible bass and baritone that baroommed from the marble walls of the small office I was working in. This continued for almost eight hours non-stop. Surprisingly, after about the first thirty minutes, no one in the building would come in to see me any more. I chuckled to myself as the security man that was put in place to guard over me begged his duties to me and excused himself to some location, ANY location, where this tall American wasn’t assaulting his ears with racket! This is a maximum security building! This man just pushed the key into my hand and fled like the devil himself was chasing him. At any other time, I would have taken the time to be offended. For surely, my singing isn’t as bad as all that? (No comments from you Bannag and Twitterpaited!)

That day I think I worked longer, harder, and through more aggravation that I could have suffered any other day last week, but it mattered little. I was lost to music, to memories, and I was content to test the acoustics of the slate marble of my small confining room while my childhood and my faith rocked me comfortingly in their arms. When the batteries ran low, I removed my headset and placed Arvin in the mental corner of the room with me, where I attempted a horrible impression of his tremendous voice singing “It is well with my soul.” I remember thinking that if he were here in this place, the sheer power of his voice and the conviction in his song would crack the foundations asunder where I stood and rain the light of heaven into the small room where I stood. So, brother Arvin, if ever you read this, know that you were with me that day in Libya, standing in the corner of a small white marble room, and that together we rained the blessings of God on small part of Africa together. (Although I’m quite sure that they would have preferred you rather than the horrible representation I made on your behalf.)

For those of you who are home, and who often get lost in the mild-politics of life, I encourage you to stop and sing… just one song. Find that which most inspires you and share it with the world at the top of your lungs. I think back on those days and remember fondly how much I loved the little church I grew up in. I hope it someday returns to its former glory and unification, for I fear now that the love that used to shine from that little building has been forever lost to personal grudges, politicking, and to the management of money before faith. It is with love and a heavy heart that I urge those of you who remember those days to strive to bring them back. Roanoke Island and the world needs that light that used to shine forth from those doors on Sunday mornings. The world was a better place with the voices of Arvin, Grant, Charles and Brian Snow, and the thundering sermons of Steve Crane, John Charles, and others who have graced that pulpit over the years. God, I remember now as I sit here, how I wondered at the power that emanated from Steve Crane as he preached from that pulpit. I think now that heaven itself got a little brighter and that hell retreated in fear when he would lay the unadulterated word of God out for all to hear with a conviction that I have never seen again in any other preacher. He was my age now when I listened to him last and more full of conviction than the army of crusaders that launched across Europe in centuries before. Find that strength again if you can.

That was my day. I truly hope that I there are many more like it while I am here. And, in an effort not to ruin the mental picture that I hope I have left you with for this day, I will bring this to a close. I did not mean to turn this into an emotional post, nor a religious one, but the words have a way of finding their way no matter what I intend when I begin to write. So, friends and loved ones, I bid you Adieu until next time.

Please write, comment, post, email, etc. I miss hearing from you all. Now, I think I’m going to load up some Alan Jackson Gospel, Elvis Gospel, and take a walk through Tripoli. This is one of those days when I just want to walk through the world, lost within myself and my thoughts. I love you all.



  1. Greetings all. I'm taking a break out of the unpacking and getting settled in to say hello. I'm sorry I'm nog contributing as much as I'd like Tommy. I've been preoccupied with the new house. Anyway, that is going well. It's cool being a homeowner (homo for short). I find myself just walking around and looking at things and saying: "that faucet is mine, that door knob is mine, that light fixture is mine". I know it's weird, but I'm not very materialistic so I discard on a regular basis and this being my first new things in many years, it's pretty cool. My Jeep is a 91 if that says how often I buy things. I love being here. I don't have a house within 1/2 mile of me and I look out across big open fields for miles. The wind here is incredible. I guess it's because I'm close to the ocean or because there are no trees around. I just love it and can't wait for you to be back so we can all get together for a cookout and throw a football or something!

    Anyway, work is going great. I'm finding that my job title is FDIC and Sarbanes Oxley whore! Most of my time is spent making sure we are compliant with all of the laws of this great land! I'm hiring a telecom specialist/field tech/support person. If you know of anyone, tell them to search for the job on Monster and apply there.

    The dogs are great.

    I've become addicted to Battlestar Gallactica and I am making my way through the first season. Of course there is the monthly viewing of Dune and Children of Dune. LIke paying bills, that is just part of the routine.

    Ok, that's enough for now. Take care. Let me know if I can do anything for you from this end.

    Say hello to they guys there. Love ya all........

  2. Thanks for the memories. I am glad you carried so much with you from your experience at RIBC. It is a great church; I love it and I know God will take care of it. As soon as I find out how to print the section about the church, I will be sure Arvin sees it. He asks about often. I am very proud of you and miss you very much. Mom


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