Sunday, February 18, 2007

Africa: Day 24 (Back to Civilization... sort of)

Let me begin by offering my sincerest apologies to those of you who refer to this blog often to see what I'm up to. On the small chance that you have nothing better to do than read about what I'm doing, then I have been very slack about keeping you inundated with new information. I can't take all the blame, however. With the arrival of my CEO in town, my recent trip to Sebha in the south Sahara desert, and meeting new friends, not to mention trying to spend my little amount of literary inspiration trying to write a novel, I have had little time for communication lately. I guess I should begin in by taking things in order... nah, that's too simple. I'll just fill you in as it comes to me.


My CEO arrived in town last week to check up on progress and to make some other arrangements of his own. Any of you that know Moe know he's always full of ideas, new things he wants to try, which means he's always tasking us with creating new approaches to modified American technologies that can be deployed in this country. Life with him here has been interesting to say the least, though we haven't actually seen him much except for the first night. My plans and travel have kept us fairly insulated from each other so far.

I was hoping to be back from Sebha before he arrived, having had time to compile all the necessary data to create the final deliverable document to the client. As usual in this country, relying on the locals for anything related to a timeline is worse than hopeless. Repeated delays due to lack of planning, general stupidity, and an inability to understand the concept of respect for another's plans make working in this country unbearable sometimes. Don't get me wrong, the people are great, but you just can't depend on them for anything "on time." Having spent seven months here now, I can tell you there's  reason this country is considered third world.

Imagine a society where no one congratulates you on hard work, rewards extra effort, or recognizes true initiative in a person. Now apply that moral characteristic to whole countries' labor force and you begin to see the ramifications it has on technology and innovation. No matter how hard you work here, no one is going to promote you to something else unless you're related to the boss. No amount of skill gets you a "good job Mohamed," or anything else like that. Living in that environment, these people have adopted a "I just show up and do what I'm told until I can't do that anymore, then I stand around twiddling my thumbs" attitude. Simply put, these people just don't give a damn.... about anything. They're not interested in furthering their own lives because they have no concept of the capitalist momentums that are ingrained in Americans by age 6.  In America, we all have small jobs as kids, earning money by mowing lawns, etc. We are reward oriented in the fact that parents give their children a treat for doing really well on a test in school, or something similar. That mentality carries over to our adult lives as well. When we join the work force, those of us with a drive to succeed will work harder to earn that possible Christmas bonus, or get a promotion, etc.

Here, none of that applies. In fact, last month a British friend of mine I've met, who runs the accounting division of an oil-related company paid a Libyan man here a small bonus for actually going the extra mile and surprising her with his efforts, coming in on his days off to get work completed, etc. The first thing she found out was that the other locals shunned him because he's working too much, doing more than they feel is necessary to get the job done. The second thing she was hit with was a line up of Libyans with their hands out, ALL expecting bonuses equal to his. There is no reward system here, so to them it means that they all get more money this week because Joe-blow got the job done faster. Even the concept of personal reward is alien to these people.

The reason I believe it will never change is due in large part to their religion. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the words "En Sha-allah." It means "if God wills it." Basically, they apply this to every single facet of their lives. We will get you on a plane sometime, Mr. Tommy En-sha-allah. Yeah, really? Friggin amazing. It took allah 6 days to get a ticket for me! You know it only took my Libyan employee Mustafa about fifteen minutes! So, I say "en-sha-Mustafa!"

Can you tell I'm having one of those days?

I absolutely LOVE the culture here, the people, the society itself, but when you're talking about working in it, it's ludicrous. The problem with this job currently is that we came here setup to be supplied and transported by the customer, which means at their whims. I haven't even gotten a ride to work but once in the 24 days I've been here because the Younis (who we've dubbed "Useless") is off playing with his camel somewhere.

I'm slowly working on becoming self-sustaining, procuring my own vehicle so I can drive, etc. Relying on these locals for transportation has cost us thousands of dollars, no.... tens of thousands of dollars in wasted payroll and per-diem because we have to sit around and wait for days and days and days to get things done. To date I've been in this country 24 days. I checked my journal today to see how many days I've actually NOT worked because we can't get anything done due to Libyan stupidity... ten days. That's ten days of lost work in three weeks because we have to wait on Libyans to quit scratching their ass long enough to sign for a driver, or whatever.


Ok.. next topic.

The British Invasion

Thankfully, I have had a few experiences lately which have renewed my flagging inspiration. Those of you who read the blog often have noticed that the banner (the big picture on the top of the blog) changes from time to time, as I programmed it to. Further, that image oft as not contains pictures of me in my travels. Well, you want to talk about coincidence: check this out.

While sitting in the Corinthia last week, I noticed an American woman sitting with a man at a table, two tables over from Tim and I. Apparently, hearing us chatting and seeing the laptops, she too recognized that we were Americans. However, at the time neither of us said anything.

Later that night, she was online at home in Tripoli and was playing around with Google's "blog search" feature, after talking to another friend who has a blog here in Libya. (To add to the level of coincidence, that friend also happens to be a friend of Aprils... six thousand miles away.)

While searching, she put in the keywords "Tripoli, Libya" just to see what would come up. Well, apparently I'm the first result for Tripoli, Libya in Google's blog search. As she clicked on the link, she was carried to this blog... which loaded my picture on the top like it usually does. Imagine her surprise when she just happened to accidentally click on the only American guy in Tripoli after just seeing him hours earlier in the restaurant.

So, thankfully she's a communicative person, and had decided to make some comments on the blog to introduce herself. Not knowing what else to do, I emailed her my local Tripoli number and told her I'd love to have lunch sometime and hear about her travels here in Tripoli. The next day, boom.. phone call.

So, long story short (not really) I got to meet Tara and her husband Kevin, who have been living in Tripoli for two years now. Tara, a native of New Mexico, married Kevin (who's last name I can't remember.. sorry Tara and Kevin). Kevin runs a company based out of Houston Texas, called PGS Enterprises. PGS (Petroleum Geo Services) is a company that located oil in the desert for oil companies to dig up and sell. Interesting job, I must admit. I'm intrigued by some of the stories I've heard from them thus far.

To digress for a moment, poor Kevin has his hands full. Tara, his wife, is COMPLETELY American. Arriving to meet me at the Corinthia for lunch, she steps out of a 1986 Jeep Laredo 4WD, wearing a white resistol, and cowboy boots.

After having lunch, we planned to do it again and to let me meet her husband and the crew. So, late Friday afternoon after work, I was picked up and off we went. We traveled to meet with Kadeja (another friend of April's here in Tripoli) and went to see Kevin's offices, where I was introduced to the crew. You have no idea how pleasurable it was to hear "bugger off" in that strong British brogue, as opposed to endless days of Arabic conversation. That was the first time EVER I had spent five minutes in a room with four English speaking people that weren't my own staff.

In her typical bulldozer manner, Tara invited Tim and I to join the crew for a barbeque that night at the yard, one of the company locations. You can imagine my delight to have a chance to have a beer (yeah, Chris.. the kind with alcohol in it), red wine, vodka, BBQ shrimp, lamb, and chicken... all cooked to American/British standards... LOL. It was a great break from the norm here.

I also got the chance to meet a few of the locals that work here; Kevin, Tomo, John(aka Trevor), Vivienne, and a few others I can't remember... and one loud German dude who didn't like me, but pfft... who cares.

All in all, it was a great experience and I hope I can repay the favor to them sometime while I'm here. Since they live in a completely self-sustaining compound here, they don't get out to travel much and don't know where a lot of the local shops are, so I've got some plans to take a few of them out to show them the town later this week.

Oh yeah.. I got a few pics while I was out there. I got one of Tara, so April can see who it is she's been chatting with on Gmail, and of the horses... yeah.. they had horses! I could seriously build a little shack and live on the Yard.


Anyway, before I forget, I'd like to take a moment and sincerely thank Tara and Kevin for their hospitality, and thank PGS for allowing us to hang out for a night... on behalf of all the Libyans I didn't have to kill that night!

Well, since I haven't been online in almost a week I think I'm going to end this here, without the benefit of an edit and pre-post-review, and go to Saraya to post this and check my email.

I'll try to write again soon. This post isn't up to my usual par, but I had to vent a little.

Write you all again soon!

Tommy: 1250HRS 021807


  1. 1) What is Tim drinking in the background during the middle of the day?

    2) Why in hell are you wearing a fraking coat in the desert?

    3) I hope none of those Libyans you're talking about has a computer and can read your blog. If they can, then En Sha-allah you'll be home in one piece.

    4) Have you ever noticed the parallels between the people and their social skills in Frank Herbert's work (Dune) and that place you're in???


  2. Yet another classic... "en-sha-Mustafa!"
    Good stuff, cuz. Keep it coming. :-] Love you!

  3. I'm glad that I finally got to meet you Tommy and I'm glad you had a nice day. Tara and Kevan are truly wonderful people. Now you'll have to meet the rest of the bloggers in Libya... we're very nice people :)

  4. Was wondering if you had been swallowed up by Shai-Hulud, living in the desert and all. Tom, love the Dune reference!
    Glad that you have made some new friends that may make the time there a little more bearable.
    Hope to see you some time in 2007.

  5. Sorry to see you guys go, but since you left something here mechanical/electronic/basically.. 21st'll be back to fix it....cuz nobody here's gonna do it..unless they bring in the Chinese..who do pretty much everything in the THIRD WORLD for cheap...sigh. Sadly, it seems the United States is now exporting nothing, importing everything, and educating alot of imports at our universities. So I guess America's biggest export now should be Knowledge. Has anyone in the Bush Administration picked up on this yet? I figure we should start taxing the foreign students coming in and taxing them again when they leave. Maybe this strategy would balance the budget....

  6. Too much information..... R these really friends of yours?


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