Thursday, April 27, 2006

Insights on Leadership

During the course of the last few weeks here in Libya, I have forced to give thought to the future progress of the company, myself, my position, and the positions of those that I lead. I've been doing a lot of research lately on the aspects of "team' management and "team' progress. Personally, I've always been of the opinion that individuals are self-motivated to succeed. Technically, I've always known that's not true. What is more true to the point is that "I want to believe that all people are self-motivated to succeed." And after realizing that, I was forced to re-examine the meaning of the word "succeed" as it applies to my thoughts. I've always used the word in conversation, but the true meaning that is in my head is in all actuality, much different from the vision of the term that is shared by the population at large. Truly, people do want to succeed, but they want to succeed in a different way. What "most" people yearn for is "Stability"... not success. That's the difference that I have when communicating my desires to others. If I look at my friends, work associates, team members, and others, the true statement is that I have somehow surrounded myself throughout life with people who want to be "stable." They want to know that they have a good job, a good life, a good family, a good state of mind. Now, I'm not sayng that people don't want to succeed, only that the best word in MY personal mentality would be to say "become stable." I do not mean to belittle anyone's efforts or thoughts of their own lives, their own achievements, or their own goals, only to stipulate that I am making a distinction in my own mind, so I can separate the two terms intelligibly. Now, this realization breeds three thoughts that bear examination here. 1.) Why do I surround myself with people dissimilar from myself? 2.) What do I mean when I say to myself that I want to succeed? 3.) How does this affect the career and the life I have chosen, considering the leadership roles I keep finding thrust upon me. I'll answer number two first, because it bears the most relation to the prior thoughts. When I say that I want to "succeed" in my life, the word that I should use out loud in conversation should be replaced with "exceed". That is probably the only way that others will understand what I truly mean. It is not in my personality to be "one of the crowd." It never has been. When I was in high school, I was the section "leader" of the band. When I was in Odyssey of the Mind in high school, I was the vice-president of the organization. When I worked growing up at various jobs, I worked to be the manager, the supervisor, something that would put me out from under the expectations of those above me who had in truth, no expectations. My professional career stands true to the same facts, bearing this philosophy further to proof of tangibility. At Internet of Greenville I sought out the position of Manager because I was not happy with the small expectation that those above me had for my department and for myself. When you face the facts, your personal accolades to not outshine the goals and achievements of your "department." Either you all succeed, or you all fail together. In that scenario, my ability for success is hampered by the possible inability of another to get me where I feel I need to go. It's not a lack of trust that they will take credit for my work, or me for theirs. It's just the simple truth that I seek responsibility and freedom to be rewarded or punished based on my own merit. I think this, in essence, is why I keep winding up in management, and over the last few years; middle to executive management. From a managerial standpoint, whether on my own or leading a team of others, I can directly influence my ability to succeed. (Exceed) If I beat a deadline, I know that I personally had a hand in the process and not that I sat around and watched others work on their parts while I simply rode the wave to success. Success, in my mind, without sacrifice, is not success. It's luck. If you don't take chances, push the envelope, strive at the cost of your personal freedoms, you can not truly succeed; you can only be a lottery winner. I'm not the type of person who wants to ever be given a position as an executive officer because the prior man quit or died of old age. As agressive as it sounds, I want to be the one who got the position by beating the other guy. I want the self-satisfaction of knowing that I "exceeded" the scope of my position or my task, that I can perform better than the man over me and therefore I replaced him. Is that an agressive mentality? Probably so. But it is my belief that is it also a key personality trait for individuals who want to succeed in an ever-evolving industry where success is forgotten the next day and failure is remembered forever. Now, having said that, I have found only three opportunities in life where I had the privelege to work for a man or company who I was proud to work "under" and did not seek, at least in my mind, to replace or to dominate. But I think that was only truly a temporary situation. These were Michael Turner, Bill Stovall, and Doc (my current employer.) Of those three, Bill was and will always be the man who taught me the most about my ability to "sell"... myself, my product, my idea, my thoughts, anything. He taught me this by being over-confident and extremely insightful himself. If you wanted to push some new idea on Bill, it was like a battle plan. I remember spending days and days refining my ideas so that I could deliver it to Bill in the executive battlefield. He has an amazing ability to shred an idea in front of your eyes and to pick out the flaws long before you can even begin to start a counter-attack. I learned the hard way numerous times with him. This is what taught me to have multiple approaches for the same "sale" I was trying to get past him. I would have to plan my preliminary method of presenting the material, while simultaneously having to be able to shift my point of attack, reinforce the conversation with a multitude of supporting evidence (troops) and then press the point home with emotion and reason. The battle was only won if Bill was inspired. You can "impress" him all day long, but unless you can inspire him, you're finished. He is too self aware of his own "in-the-moment" decision making capabilities to be pushed emotionally to a decision. Bill, Michael, and thus far Doc Moe, have given me the ability to lead others under their supervision while remaining mentors to me themselves. THAT is the reason I was happy working under them, as opposed to working my way around and over them. If I find an individual that I can learn from, who is willing to mentor me while still allowing my pride to co-exist with a learning-state, then I can grow, they can succeed, and we're all happy. It is when my personal experiences and management experiences get discounted in the face of their "superior" wisdom that I get angry and start the work-around to meet my own ends anyway. Look at my current position. I work for a man who, financially, inspires me. It's not his money that I appreciate; rather it is his unflagging determination to succeed at a project and to make it a profitable one at the same time. Then, when we finally have the project and it's time to start, he absolutely kills me by going and seeking another while leaving me to start the beginning of the one we just got. Poof! Like that! He's gone! Bam! So, at this point in my life, I can take the motivational and business skills that have been taught to me by others like Bill and Michael, and turn these to this current career path, while at the same time, putting myself through "school" with my current mentor. So, what brought up the point of all this? Well, the whole problem I have is that my current projects lack the proper management to succeed (exceed) the way I would like. Now that I have seen what we can do as a company, I want to do it. All of it. I won't settle for doing some things while letting other opportunities slide by. Additionally, I have enough experience in the business and management side of life to know that we won't be able to do this without some management changes. This knowledge, in turn, forces a decision to be made. I either hire a parallel manager, diminishing my own ability to influence the turn of events within the company, OR I do it myself. The potential options for personal failure in option one are numerous and disasterous. If you want to succeed above all expectations, then you can not possibly counsel the idea of splitting your forward progress down the middle. Based on my personal insights for my own performance goals, that would hamper my ability to affect change, which would result in a direct decrease in my happiness, therefore diminishing my perfoemance, therefore diminishing my success as a leader, therefore leading to my eventual separation of the company. See? When you take it to end of the extreme, you are really only left with one choice if you want control of your OWN future. Do. It. Yourself. When considering the ramifications of having to "do it myself," I am forced to take an outside perspective on the current operations of my company and that perspective tells me that as long as we stay as we are now, we will continue to have a turnover of valuable team members. This will, in turn, decrease our performance on the job, therefore diminishing the opinion of our company by prospective clients, therefore increasing the stress level at work while at the same time decreasing the employee "satisfaction" and the "guarantee" they feel about their security and future with the company. Again, 1 leads to 2, leads to 3, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, etc. So, ALL of this thinking brought me to the further examination of question number 1. (Why do I surround myself with people so vastly dissimilar from myself?) The truth is; because I am a leader-type personality. That's not what I would "prefer" to be remembered as at the end of my days, but it's true nonetheless. Whether I am a good one or not, doesn't change the fact that it's the core of my personality. It shows in my friendships, my work relationships, and other aspects of my life. Start with the friends I have. If you were to walk into the room and ask someone "Who is the leader here?", fingers would usually point to me. Not always, but usually so. Now, there is a definite difference between "leader" and "boss," and I make no claims to the latter, however the former has always been true. In our group of friend, we have over the years developed "sub-groups" of friends. Others predictably get together with one another and I can always tell which one has made the plans for what they are doing because of the way they communicate and the body language and posturing of a group of people. It is amazing how many subtle signs your subconscious recognizes about people when you're not paying attention to it. Consequentially, it becomes like a miniature management team of friends. Instead of placing phone calls to twenty different people to make plans, I simply call about three of them, knowing that those three will take care of their respective "cliques" of the group. Invariably, they will either all show up for an event, or none. It's rarely they appear without their figurehead. They operate as a collective, but when all the collectives are together, they defer to me. Why? I have absolutely no idea except to say this: There is only room for one leader in any organization. Eventually, it always comes down to one guy (or girl) who makes decisions that affect everyone else. Whether it is where we are all going to dinner or the United States foreign policy on Cuba's cocaine market. Both examples eventually come down to one person. This is not to say that there are not other leaders in my circle of friends, and associates. Quite the contrary; however to be effective together, one leader will usually asusme a support role in a multi-leader environment for the good of the group morale. Look at me and Doc Holliday for example. We are the best of friends. I love him like he's my own blood. However, anyone who knows us can tell you that we get tired of each other's plans after about three continuous days together. That is about the maximum amount of time that one or the other of us can supress our natural desire to lead things and allow the other to take control for awhile. After that amount of time, we need about a week off from each other. We both know it and neither of us considers it a bad thing. It's just further proof that two leaders do not peacefully co-exist in the same social ecosystem. Now, how does that all relate to my career? That, my friends, is question number three from above. Having performed some serious self analysis on my own goals, I first need to examine my weaknesses before attempting to determine where I can use my strengths to accomplish a goal. Ask any military leader from history (yes, I know they're all dead.. that's why they're considered history, but it's a rhetorical statement) and they will tell you that if you go full ahead into the fray without considering your weak points, you'll quickly determine that it's the part with the sword stuck in it. So, further progress on my plan for this stream of thought must pause while I consider the truths of my failings and my weaknesses. Truthfully, I hate to have to list them all in public... which brings me to my first one: Pride. Now, for a man to admit that he KNOWS he's over-proud of himself says one of two things. Either I am a "deep" self-aware individual, OR I am somewhere off the top of the charts of egotism as to be uncalculable. (I prefer the former, but I'm quite sure it's most likely the latter.) Yes, I'm ego-centric. I've never made any bones about it. I admit it freely to anyone who knows me. I'm ego-centric, cocky, over confident, over proud, and occasionally downright arrogant. Some of my team members would argue that point, but it's honestly true. Christopher Comeau has told me countless times when the subject has been discussed amongst the two of us, that he thinks I'm one of the most selfless employers he has ever worked for. He can recite countless times when I have given up personal freedoms, pay raises, and other things so others could succeed or be rewarded. Does that make me selfless? No. It just means that I'm smart enough to know when I should be the one to make a sacrifice for the good of my future goals. It's not a selfless act when I take a pay cut to give Tim a pay raise. Does it appear that way to others? Possibly. It's not a "generous" act to bust my butt to hire Desmond for a networking career he's not trained for and to give him an opportunity to further his career and travel the world. It's a risk-assessment and future reward for me. Nothing a successful person does is often selfless. I take a pay cut so Tim can make something a "little" closer to what he deserves. Why? Cause I'm a "good guy?" No. I did it because, and I speak only from the professional standpoint here, not the personal one, Tim is the most valuable resource I have to ensure my future growth and my career. If Tim is unhappy with his pay, his performance will decrease, therefore I will get aggravated, therefore his happiness will decrease further, therefore we will fail, therefore I have no job. So it just made sense to me to invest a little bit into my future and try to make him happy at the same time. It served TWO purposes, not one. (And I think that understand the "other" purpose behind why people do things is another huge contributor to your own success in life, but that's for another day.) Why did I bring Chris Comeau and Desmond to Africa, 6000 miles away from home? Well, I did it to provide them with a stable career that paid better than the one we all had before. Was that selfless? No. That's not the ONLY reason I did it. The mathematics of it are as follows: I am going to work for a new comany who already has a staff of its own. I want to quickly get into a position of leadership and establish a plan for the future of my career. To do this means I need people I trust with me, not people who are loyal to others. To do this, I make a risk assessment: "Is it worth it to take the risk to bring a LAN engineer who's not truly qualified yet, and risk failure, just to position the chess pieces for later in the game of life?" Answer: yes. Acts like this institute loyalty. Loyalty breeds better leadership chains. This, in turn, builds a series of experiences together that can generate a trust between the two people. This bond is what I wanted to put into place. At some point in my career, I'm going to have to make a bold move, a strike, a rapid forward movement into territory that will possess a lot of risk. When, IF, I ever do that, I want people with me who I can TRUST. And no one you have ever had to "prove" yourself to will truly trust you. By proving myself and getting them better jobs, I position myself in a place where I can strengthen the support bonds of the team. When the day comes, and I have to make a drastic career choice, I will need those bonds there to support me in case of failure. Now, knowing that, can you really see where I truly am over-proud, egotistical, etc? Yeah.. I thought so. (Geeze, that was only my FIRST weakness... So, let's make my second weakness that I'm also "uber-expository," which I will leave with no further explanation. Other weaknesses: Hmm. Ah. Yes. I have an inherent desire to micro-manage all aspects of a given project to ensure they are all done "my" way. This is bad. Of course I am aware of it and try to consciously avoid making that mistake too often, but it happens more than I can count I'm sure. There are other ways to achieve an end without using my specific means and I should try to keep an open mind and remember to ask others about their opinions before charging off on "my" plan. Ok, the point was to help me decide how all this affects my life and my career choices. Well, currently I am the project manager of ALL the projects that our company has underway. Well, that's great and all, but a project manager is the ultimate embodiment of a people-manager, and that's a skill I have to yet acquire in many aspects. Any manager that is truly worth his salt is a leader, and I have researched this a little to determine what that really means. Truthfully, the only difference between a manager and a true "leader" is power. Ok. That's simple enough. Managers (leaders) should lead by working "on" a company or project, not "in" it. To do that requires power. Power is nothing more than the ability of one individual to influence the behaviour of another. When you think about it, it's really only that. Power is having the "ability" to make someone do other than they would have chosen to do on their own. Notice that I did not say "making them do different".. but only "having the ability to make them do different." A person who just "makes" people do things is not a leader; they are a dictator, and additionally they don't last long in the management world. Oh sure, they get jobs, but they quickly destroy the project, the team, and sometimes the company itself if they aren't removed fast enough. Now, I am supposed to be a "leader" if I want to effectively convince, through successful repeated operations, my CEO to allow me to lead his company in his stead and to act in his name with less and less oversight over time. That, of course, is my ultimate goal and always has been; To take a company to heights its never been before through the effective use of people and resources. Now, here I run into another issue. Guess what? All leadership is not the same. Certain personality types are led successfully using certain types of leadership. In order to lead this company, which is definitely what it needs, means that I have to learn to adapt myself and my leadership skills to multiple types of people, both socialogically and culturally. I'll give you an example. I am an emotional person. I depend on the verve and vitatlity of others to feed my own motivation to succeed. This is why I was pretty good (ok.. decent Bill!) in sales. Sales people are led through motivation. Bill taught me this through thousands of examples over the three years we worked together. There is an old adage that states that "reason makes people think and emotion makes them act." That is a simple axiom that applies to sales people as well as it does to the rest of the human population at large... with one exception: IT people and Geeks. I am an emotional leader, and a good one. I have a good ability to paint the picture of success in the minds of those I work around and to engender them to want to see it happen as much as I do. Now, of course this only works temporarily. If you fail to achieve momentum before the "fire" runs out, you can't sustain the project. If, however, you DO achieve sufficient momentum, you only have to occasionally "stoke the embers" to get it roaring again. Now, this is where I have become aware that I run into problems. I'm leading a project that requires "normal" personalities as well as the "geek" personalities. I can successfully lead the normal personalities without trouble. What I can not adjust to, is leading the "geek" archetype. Why? It's simple. Geeks are immune to power. They are immune to emotion. If you think about it, the people who are great Cisco programmers, server administrators, code-monkeys, web editors,etc... these people are geeks. Their life and social traits have lead them down a path that requires solitude and reason above all else. These people truly"think" in the realm of reason, not emotion. Emotional leaders are powerful leaders, however they are useless with IT teams and geeks. If "power" is the ability to influence behaviour of others, and geeks are immune to power, then what do you have? A conundrum! Don't believe me? It's true. If you consider why you would hire a "geek" for a project like those in the IT world, then this bears true. Geeks do not deliver their value to a project through their behaviour. They deliver their value to the team and to the company by their "thoughts." That's what they are paid for. No amount of "power" can make a guy cheer up. No amount of personal charisma or power from me is going to make the server architecture get designed any faster. No amount of power can influence what geeks are paid to do. I can't go into a meeting with a bunch of IT personnel as if they are my old sales reps from prior jobs. If you go in there and start a meeting with a bunch of inspiration and emotion, they either get suspiscious at the emotional aspect of your leadership, or they roll their eyes and go back to doing Star Trek warp core permuations in their heads while you drone on endlessly before finally letting them get back to work. NO one is going to "convince" an IT team to perform better based on their emotional support of a goal or concept because these people think in terms of zeros and ones. It's in their internal programming. They cannot change themselves and a good manager should not try to force them. First, it would be unsecessful. Secondly, it would take a disproportionate amount of time away from your other management duties that you CAN influence. So how do you manage a geek/IT team? IT people perform fundamentally different work than the rest of a team. They exist with the purpose of inventing and implementing "creative knowledge" which is completely different from what the rest of us are used to. IT work is not affected by the "force of will" that inspire others. Sure, you can WANT to fix all the code in three days when you know it takes seven, but wanting won't get it done. No amount of motivation can make that happen. These people work within a realm of time as defined by the processes they are implementing, not by how fast they can do it, or how "well" they can do it. Either it works in the IT realm, or it does not. Consider a car. I can sell you a car with a dent in it by showing you the other features.. by overdramatizing the "flash" and the appeal of the vehicle. But no amount of sales skill or emotional frivolity on my part is going to make the server farm perform better if its pre-defined programming is wrong. Terms and thinking like this define the IT world and give it very concrete boundaries. You can't emotionally force a team to be creative to find solutions. On the contrary, I've seen it to be my experience that when you ask someone to be creative, you usually get rewarded with an immediate and unavoidable occurence of blah... nothing comes out. BE CREATIVE! (see.. nothing happened.) So, back to my original thought that started all of this: Where do I learn to be a good IT leader? In all my prior positions, I can always learn from history; military leaders, titans of american industry, religious figures, moral figures, inspirational figures, etc. Leading in this environment is different... that's all there is to it. So, what I need to develop is the dynamic.. the avenue through which a leader can communicate and lead an IT team effectively. What is the "method" used to lead these personnel and to coordinate their efforts with the more normal jobs, such as the engineers and the installers. How do I learn a whole new management strategy, on the fly, while in a foreign country, while still maintaining my grasp of the successful strategy that works with the rest of my staff? Anyway... these are the thoughts that have been beating around my head all day. If anyone has any feedback, on ANY of this, I 'd love to hear it. I'm experiencing one of those rare introspective moments, so I'd like to take advantage of it while its fresh... Till then... The over-egotistical-manager.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

My stupid phone...

Ok, I know that no one really cares... but I need to vent. I went out on a boat with some friends on Sunday in New Bern. The guy that was driving was playing around and hit a huge yacht's wake and Melissa and I had a huge tidal wave come 3 feet over our heads!!! All I saw was Melissa duck down and hold her breath. What sucks is my phone (and everything else in the boat got soaked)!! Anyway, the bright light for the flash now refuses to go off. It stays on PERMANENTLY. It looks like some kind of beacon. On the up side I will never get lost in the dark again... on the down side my battery keeps dying, it gets REALLY hot, and I may be one of the first women in history to experience a purse fire. I keep waiting for it to self combust. Oh, and the wonderful people at US Cellular told me that once it gets wet there is nothing they can do to fix it. I'll have to file a claim and they'll send me a new phone. I can't keep any of my ringers though :( I've probably spent $100 in ringers and there is no way they can transfer them. Not only that but I have to keep my battery out when I go places because it will die within 30-40 minutes and when people call my phone it doesn't go to voice mail. So, now people think that I am trying to avoid them, but I'm not and if they would leave a message instead of assuming I'll get a missed call... there wouldn't be a problem! I'm going to have a Jewish moment and just say "Oy". Why me?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

N/A ( No really.. I mean that)

Blog Title: N/A ( No really.. I mean that)

Date: April 23, 2006 2111 Hrs GMT+2

Greetings all. I am aware that it has been a few days since I’ve been able to post online. I thought I’d take this moment to share what I’ve been up to.

Umm… nothing. Yes, I realize it’s not my prosaic style to say that, but it remains true nonetheless. I’ve been injured for about 10 days now, and tried my best to work through the issue for the first 6 days. However, hindsight being as clear as crystal, I should have taken the time to rest when it first occurred. So, six days into a rather painful situation that I’m really NOT going to go into detail about here, I was pretty much immobilized. I’ve spent the last four days, prior to today, lying in the bed and doing absolutely NOTHING.

If you know me at all, you know that doing nothing is absolutely the most hateful waste of time that I can possibly be tortured with. I hate to waste time. If I’m working, I want to work hard. I do that, so that I can relax HARD and enjoy that just as much. (I have this personal philosophy that the more you work and the harder you work, the more you really appreciate NOT being at work when the time comes.)

So, needless to say, four days in the bed did nothing for my mood; hence the lack of communication from me. I did, however, get to experience some “male bonding over scantily-clad female time” with Tim. Tim is an abhorrent couch potato, so me being laid up simply slowed me forcibly to a pace he is quite comfortable with. We went to Tower Fatah on Thursday and I purchased “Alias, Season 1” on DVD for sixty bucks. That 22 hours of video entertainment lasted me all of one day. By the middle of Friday, we were burned out, our eyes were watering from staring at the screen, the room positively reeked of cigarette smoke, candy and food wrappers were everywhere (I was taking full advantage of housekeeping services during this phase), and we pretty much sat back and watched Jennifer Garner episodes for the entire day. Later that same day, I sent Tim out to buy the second season.

Being laid up really screwed up my schedule, and so I anticipated having a hard time readjusting once the week started (today). In preparation for that, I pretty much spent ALL of Friday, Friday Night, Saturday Morning, and ALL DAY Saturday watching Season Two. I stayed up on purpose, hoping to “reboot” my system and get me back on track today for work.

Surprisingly enough, it worked. AND I am now proud owner of 50 hours of Jennifer Garner leg and boob episodes, although I must give credit that her acting seems to be rather good. I’m not usually one to like “chick” TV actresses, especially ones who portray the super-buff military types. (Absolutely NO one better make a comment about Buffy…. Let it slide.)

Well, now that you know what I’m up to, what have you all been doing? I'm going to jump into the hot bath that I've had running for about 15 minutes now. Hot Bath, Good Book, Cold Pepsi, and relaxation... see ya when I get back. (Besides, this will be my one last chance to enjoy what hot water feels like. Once April gets here, my chances at the hot water will be gone!)

Peace, Love, and Chicken Grease!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

logan pics new and old

hey tommy...sorry haven't really been on in a while...hope that everything is going good for ya over there ...i know this has to be a good experience for you and the rest of the crew over there...hope ya'll get back soon....i figured that i would put some pics up so that you could see the little man as he grows see no shame in my game the above pics are about 2 months old these are some of the first pics that we took when logan was like a month old keep in touch ...and don't foreget june 3rd .......weddin bells over here talk to ya later lee

Reflections of Life In a 3rd World Country

I’m sitting here in the Amwage Hotel, recently changed to the Wenzrik sometime in the prior few months. For those of you who would like to, you can see where I am on Google Earth. I have looked at this location from the satellite imagery, so I know you can see me, but the images are but a pale reflection of life in this country.

Today, I stayed in the Hotel, once again sick from various things we get exposed to over here. I woke today thinking again how different things are compared to those back at home. Drapes are different in this country. At home in the US, we purchase curtains and drapes to accent our personal tastes, our furniture, our carpeting selection. We purchase curtains as an accessory to everyday life. Curtains here are utilitarian, remaining unchanged in their purpose; to keep out the sun and it’s harsh ever-burning rays. The Drapes in my room are Green, stitched with one of a hundred small inconsequential patterns that adorn much of the furniture here in this land. They are tall, heavy, and dark. When pulled together, such as they were this morning, they keep out every last gleam of light from the room, plunging the entire room into darkess as utter and black as a moonless night. Windows are not part of the room design in Africa. It is neither a lack of architectural ability, nor the money to purchase them that keeps them from being present. It is practicality. Windows let in the sun. They let in the heat. They bake the room in this oven-like environment. So, when I wake, no matter where I am staying, there is only the curtains and the one door to the balcony from whence I can gain light if I choose to.

I opened the drapes this afternoon and sat down to write. Immediately, it strikes me that Africa with light is a whole different world.

The view you see here is from where I sit, right at this moment in time, separated from you by six thousand miles.

The view outside my window is of life in a third world country.

Here below, you see what I can see from my balcony. However, the picture, no matter how good or bad does not transfer even a tenth of what this view affords one who is present here. From your vantage you can not hear the sounds of the muslim prayer that is broadcast from the towers 5 times per day.

Right this moment, what you might hear there is music from cars that pass by in your vicinity. Here, I hear the sounds of Arabic music being played in the street shops.

What of it actually reaches me is full of cymbal, reedy percussion, and vocals that wash me in in words that I cannot understand.

The other sounds are of horns, tires on asphalt, and the occasional greeting yelled from one local to another as they pass each other in walking down the street.

At home, right now, my senses would be full of the pollen of the sea

son, the smell of new pine and new oak growing, and maybe the first scent of cut grass for the year. None of these things exist here in this land. I am greeted instead by the scent of the Shisha bar near my window; it's alternating sweet and acrid moments carrying the scents of apples, cherries, bananas, and a plethora of others unknown to me.

The view afforded at 5 in the afternoon here is little different from what you might expect in a third world country. The nature, however, is a farce. The palms that dot this scene before you can not even survive here locally without intense attention to watering and shade. They do not grow here naturally, but instead are brought here at almost full maturity; only at that stage do they have enough vitality to fight this climate for any amount of time. They are crowded around public areas, such as the shisha tent roofs you see in the bottom of the picture. The streets here are awash with refuse; no local sanitation system will claim responsibility for cleaning these roads and side streets, so garbage may lay in place for eons, or it may be blown away on the next sandstorm that comes. Between the battle for water and shade, no grass grows here. Nowhere here do weeds battle the concrete of the sidewalks for dominance. Concrete, mortar, stone, and sand lay claim to this land, defeating all else except maybe for the wind. Mostly however, they are impervious even to that. The walls you see here can be two years old, or almost one hundred; there is no easy way to tell. Often, buildings are built from the ruins of a prior location, with only the removal of trash as the precursor to piling more stone on top of existing stone. In the United States, these buildings you see here would be hotels for visiting families to stay while they come to visit friends or family. Here, such is not the case. What you see to the left is housing. These buildings are created quickly and with an amazing efficiency, with their only purpose being to provide a place to shelter a family of 5 or 8 from the elements. At home, vines, Kudzu, and other creepers battle stone buildings for life as they reach their way skyward. Here, electrical wires cling tenuously to cracks in stone, balconies, and any other crevasse they can find. Water pipes creep up the sides of buildings in a hodge-podge with no rhyme or reason. Satellite dishes and air conditioners hang precariously from any point strong enough to hold their weight and deliver their services through holes bored crudely in the concrete and stone walls. Clothing and linens hang suspened over balconies, providing the only color in a tan and green world. Tan is the natural color of the stone, any any attempt to hide its narural domainance in shades of anything else are quiclky repealed by time, the elements, and the sand that blows ever through the air. Green is the color of Quadafi, his chosen representation I suppose of a united Africa under his rule. I don't quite see why he picked the color, for it is about as far from what Africa truly is, at least in this part of the country, than any other color in the spectrum. Every building; hotel, office complex, restaraunt, and other, is decorated with the shining visage of their leader, smiling down at his people in a dominant pose. This is law here. By law, every building reminds you of he who provides for them and shelters them against all things evil. Well, I had planned a nice long diatribe since it had been so long since I had posted anything of meaning, however life once again calls me to duty. The secondary team who arrived in Libya, as well as the remaining portion of the original team are preparing for their journey home tomorrow. Moods are festive almost, as if they are getting ready for a vacation, which I guess in truth, they are. Surprisingly, I find myself fairly OK with being left behind as the others return home to friends and family. It will be only Tim and I who remain here alone, until Doc and April come over sometime soon. Two months here find me fairly acquainted with the territory and with the population's customs; enough that I do not fear being left here alone. I am quite sure however, that by tomorrow evening, the cultural solitude will set in on me with a vengeance. No english conversation with anyone except the few words spoken by my Cab Driver and the people at work. No laughing dinners or stories told outside on the balconies. No more groups of 6 or 8 people spending time reliving our pasts in my room. It's going to be truly lonely here while everyone is gone. Most of me wishes to be joining them, to be home spending time with all of you, driving around town, listening to native radio and television. However, someone has to remain to keep a lid on this situation here while the rest are at home, else we will be completely back at square one when we return en-masse in June, if we truly can be back by that time. So, for the next two weeks, Tim and myself will be at work every day, struggling to get all the things done that the ten people before us could not. That is not to say that any of them are ineffective; quite the contrary. I consider this to be the most intelligent and efficient team I have ever had the pleasure to work with. However, as the Project Manager, it is much easier to coordinate the responsiblities of two people and two sets of issues, rather than those of ten people. Two people who are working together on every problem will, by nature, stay more synchronized than the ten who are all working on independent projects and small group projects. It also takes down the pressure from the client; for they can only ask so much when there are only two here to implement their requests. Common sense will prevail a lot more, at least that is my hope. So, it is with mixed emotion, that I bid adieu to all of those who have been with me for so long here, and I say "see you soon" to all of those back home. I miss all of you and will miss you all more in the coming days. Please try to write when you can. I miss seeing the lives' of others on here. It was great hearing from Todd, Sameena, Marcus and Mary, Nicole and Lee, Mom, and all the rest of you who take time away from your lives to post on the blog. Talk to you all soon. Ma-Salem. Tommy

Monday, April 17, 2006

I'd like you to notice the severe concentration given to even the most menial task? I mean it takes two engineers and some serious thought to attempt to put this screw in.. PLEASE.. do NOT try this at home... screw drivers have been known to leap out of amateur's hands and performs acts of public indecency. These are trained professionals operating severly technical equipment.

Posted By Gandalf
That's my laptop.. lol. Yeah, I'm in the main data center playing MP3's as loud as I can to stop myself from going crazy. I think at the moment, I was jammin out to Alan Jackson and Randy Travis.

Posted By Gandalf
This is probably about the only picture I can send that shows some of you what we're doing over here. I can't be showing off customer premise equipment without getting my butt kicked, but this is vague enough to help you understand what we do. Those two large black boxes on top: Those are Dell servers. Each one of those has 9 300 gigabyte SCSI hard drives and 16 gigabytes of memory (That's about 100 of my computers at home stacked together in one PC) THe blue slots you see beneath that are called "blades"... each blade is a server computer... a PC. They are all stacked side by side inside the blade "chassis" because you don't need to actually have a keyboard and mouse on them once they're setup.. they just run and do their jobs without user interaction.

Posted By Gandalf
These are about 15 of the 2500 cables we've been wiring for the last three weeks now. We're finally getting them routed into the building and into the main service racks for distribution onto the network switches.... later in the week I'll maybe get to the fiber connections...

Posted By Gandalf
For those of you who want to know why I've been absent, aside from not having a decent internet connection, THIS is what I've been working on for the last 3 days.. lol. This is the power distribution system for these racks.. and NO this is not the final look... this is just a temporary hot-wire to get the server farm online.

Posted By Gandalf

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Saturday, April 08, 2006

For You Darling

This is for you April. This is a broach made in Niger by a local artisan who brought it to the fair to sell. It's hand stamped silver with a bright pure turqoise stone. I hope you like it... I really do. I'll find a chain that you'll like better.. I just wanted the broach more than the necklace. Posted by Picasa

For You Marion!

This one is for you Lil' Bit. Even over here they run a Deere! Posted by Picasa

Not a toy...

Nope, this is actually a real vehicle that you'll see quite often on the road here. Like most vehicles here, it's running on 12 or 13 inch wheels and it's about 12 feet long from bumper to bumper. It's a diesel that will traditionally hold between 8 to 10 people on their daily ride to work. Be very glad the next time you're packed 3 across in the back of a Suburban. Over here you're packed 4 and 5 across in something that's only six foot wide. Posted by Picasa


Ok.. we've been here for almost six weeks and we have to come to the National Expo to find an American vehicle. I did see a 2001 Jeep like mine once and a hummer, but all the rest have been european cars. These are 2006 Ford Ranger Pickups. The sad thing is they're so expensive that you'll never see one on the road here. The Toyota's, Mitsubishi's, and Peugeot's are much cheaper and a lot more prominent here. Posted by Picasa

Been pimpin!

This is Tyrhon (left) and Brad (right) pimpin beside the new 2006 Kompressor. Yeah, you can get them in the US, but not like this. That's a 118,000 dollar car. Nice huh? This was at the Tripoli Expo today that we went to. Posted by Picasa


Ok.. now that you've read the title... relax. You all know me better than that. What you are seeing here is called a Shisha pipe. We have a "Shisha Bar" at the Amwage hotel where I'm staying. Now, you all know me; so there's two things you ought to know. 1.) I don't do drugs. 2.) Outside of #1, I'll try anything once! What you do is step inside the covered tent and take a table. (They have TV's playing the "football" soccer game if you're a sports fan.) This is a place where the more refined individuals come to relax. It's dark, very quiet, and quite interesting. And yeah.. that's a four foot pipe! So, Desmond and I ordered up two Shishas packed with "Red and Green Apple." I asked to see it so I could write about it. It's very finely shredded apples that have been cured in some kind of concoction. So, they pack your pipe with the flavor of your choice and bring it to your table where they light it for you and you "toke" to your hearts content. Lol.. it's an all you can smoke bar for 5 Dinar! (Tomorrow I'm trying the Cherry) For those of you who are smokers, I was amazed. I was expecting some very harsh taste, kind of like a cheap cigar. Instead, the pipe bowl is sitting over a bowl of ice, where the smoke is cooled, and then filtered through the water before being sucked up the pipe. It was a surprisingly smooth flavor with a very mild apple taste. I have to say it's a neat experience. I can now say I'm the only one of my friends who ever smoked a "hooka" the way it was intended to be by those who created them. Posted by Picasa

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.


Friday, April 07, 2006

Aujla, Libya: 03-29-06: well, this is the closest that I can get to a clear photo of the sun in the middle of the eclipse.. the darkness makes the camera shutter stay open too long adn the vibration you see is from me breathing.

Posted By Gandalf
Aujla, Libya: 03-29-06: The desert during the eclipse.

Posted By Gandalf
Aujla, Libya: 03-29-06: That is the north star, visible at 12 noon, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the Sahara desert. This particular phenomenon won't be seen by any living soul again for one hundred and fifty years. It was really awesome to be here to see this.

Posted By Gandalf
Aujla, Libya: 03-29-06: This is 12:22 in the afternoon.. you can tell how much the sky has darkened as the eclipse approaches its zenith.

Posted By Gandalf
Aujla, Libya: 03-29-06: This is the eclipse as best as I can share with you. It's hard to get it on a camera so I'm shooting this through a pair of Eclipse sunglasses picked up from a local vendor.

Posted By Gandalf
Aujla, Libya: 03-29-06: And here is Tim.

Posted By Gandalf
Aujla, Libya: 03-29-06: Hi. This is me standing in the middle of the desert five minutes before the 150 year eclipse.

Posted By Gandalf
Aujla, Libya: 03-29-06: This is just a view down a standard side street in Aujla.

Posted By Gandalf
Aujla, Libya: 03-29-06: This is the town mosque where you will hear the call to prayer five times per day.

Posted By Gandalf
Aujla, Libya: 03-29-06: A local business. I think this is a hotel, but I can't be certain out here.

Posted By Gandalf
Aujla, Libya: 03-29-06: Another villa. Look at the size of that car compared to the size of the house it's parked in front of if you want to get a good reference for how big these are.

Posted By Gandalf
Aujla, Libya: 03-29-06: This is a normal roadside view traveling down the highway in Aujla. This is one of the few places where there are few enough locals to catch me with a camera. American's with cameras aren't exactly welcome in these locations.

Posted By Gandalf
Aujla, Libya: 03-29-06: A common home for families in Aujla. This villa probably houses three generations of a family. That's the only way they can afford to live in the same place.

Posted By Gandalf
Aujla, Libya: 03-29-06: A street on the way to Aujla to see the eclipse.

Posted By Gandalf
Amal, Libya: 03-28-06: This was just so I can say "we" were here baby! 9,687 kilometers directly east of your location in Greenville. You and I are now one of the very few americans to ever set foot in this place.

Posted By Gandalf
Amal, Libya: 03-28-06: If you blow this up, you can see that this is a land mark made by Mobil oil in 1961... the first time they ever came here.

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Amal, Libya: 03-28-06: This is the side view of the "ship"

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Amal, Libya: 03-28-06: Tim: This is what they call the "ship in the middle of the desert." You'll see why later.

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Amal, Libya: 03-28-06: Just another desert photo.

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Amal, Libya: 03-28-06: This is my first view of Amal... nice place huh? I wonder what oceanfront property goes for here?

Posted By Gandalf
Tipisti, Libya: 03-27-06: This is our scout vehicle. It's a 2000 Toyota Land Cruiser SUV. Nice!

Posted By Gandalf