Sunday, September 30, 2007

Update To Scooby Central: What Happened to Africa?

This is to answer the emails I received regarding why some of my posts from my last trip to Africa were removed. I'd like to start by saying that this blog started as a way to communicate with my friends and family, and for my friends (the scoobs) to stay in touch and share thoughts with each other. Basically, it was a private place that was open to the public if they (you) wanted to read it. In fact, what I enjoy most is the responses I get from those I don't know. Logging on here and finding out that someone from another state, or country has bothered to read my posts and then taken the time to comment on them means a lot to me.

In the last two years, primarily due to the massive role the new google changes have had on the internet, the "private" aspect of the blog has decreased and the public awareness of my little spot on the web has increased dramatically, as evidenced when someone found me when searching for Tripoli, Libya, and later published my post all over the web, garnishing massive response to the editorial I had written to my friends back home.  Google's new technologies have made searching the web much more inclusive, such that my postsing, rants and raves, and pictures quite often wind up in google results when people are searching related materials.

Additionally, I'm one of the few americans who has had the pleasure to visit Libya for an extended period of time and as such I have more posts about it than probably any other american blog on the web, which thanks to services such as technorati, digg, and google, have put my personal thoughts at the top of the search engine results when people search libyan information.

In the USA, this isn't a problem at all. I am one of the largest proponents of free speech you will ever meet. I believe everyone should have the right to share their beliefs, thoughts, opinions, humor, and all other parts of their personality that they choose with the world at large. However, having said that, there are limitations that I am quickly coming to surmise that need to be instituted on this forum, at least when the posts come from me.

Libya, where I've spent much time over these last two years, is NOT a free democratic society, and as such has rules and customs which are much different from our own here in the USA. As such, some of the things I've said and posted on here have drawn some fire from people from time to time. Can it hurt me? No... not really. The most that can happen is that they refuse me entry if I try to go back again.  (and I love it there, so I'd hate for that to happen) However, I have made many friends in Libya who I respect, care for, and admire, who CAN be hurt from ramifications of what is posted on this blog. Quite frankly, anyone who upsets the libyan government can and might very well BE evicted from the country. It's not for me to say that this is wrong or right, because I'm not a citizen of their great country and as much as I THINK I know of their customs and beliefs, I am still quite ignorant of many of the ways things work abroad.

About 50% of the email I receive from this blog is congratulatory; appreciative comments about the interesting things people have learned from my travels. THAT is why I post these things.. to share with the world that which not every American can experience themselves. The other 50% of emails received are warnings, disparaging remarks, and recently even threats about the ramifications of my "freedom of expression."  It is for that reason that the posts have come down. I'm not concerned about myself, for like I said there isn't much they can DO to me as an American citizen, but there ARE many friends and acquaintances who have made it their lifes work to live in that country and to work there and these people deserve to be rewarded for what they do, not disparaged for it. So, to save everyone the hassle, I've taken all the related posts down.

Will I repost them? Sure. I'll take the time to carefully be sure of the content and the ramifications of the posts and then I'll repost what I can that I feel will neither offend Libyan officials, nor endanger the friends and compatriates I have made there.

Is this censorship? I dont' believe so. Censorship would be someone ELSE telling me what I can and can't post on here. Common sense is when I do it on my own, for my own reasons.  I am certainly free to post anything on here I wish, however responsible journalism ( for that's what this is becoming) also comes with its own set of rules. When what you write injures someone else, especially people you admire and respect, then it's not worth writing if you truly care about the subject of your posts.

In conclusion, thanks to ALL of you who have posted comments on this blog. Some of you have appreciated what I've posted and others have been worried about the fallout that can ensue from what seems to me to be an innocent journal of my travels. I have taken ALL those comments into consideration when making this choice and I will try my best to keep them in mind when making any future posts.

Till next time...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

since you missed my birthday...

Dinner @ Longhorn, then off to the Bistro

Bistro sucked, Brad Benson was playing but the crowd just wasn't there. They a few of us "party animals" headed to Lucky's...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Africa: Day 6 (Ras Lanuf) July 27, 2007

(This wasn't published until my return to civilization on September 14th, 2007)

  Well, I've decided to cease my useless ranting about all the things I cannot change and instead share with you some of the unique experiences that will be mine alone in this world to experience.

Upon entering Ras Lanuf camp, we were priveleged to get to know some of the expats, a friendly term used amongst the expatriots of other countries who have hired on full time with Veba, here in Libya. The universally proclaimed leader of this rag tag band of immigrants is Billy, the wholesome British ex-sailor who keeps the rest of the expats all sane. It bears mentioningthat this is in no part due to his overly kind demeanor or kind speech, for the man gave me understanding of what it means to curse like a sailor. His deep brogue makes his bawdy curses seem almost affectionate though and the smile with which he delivers them is a giveaway that he likes you, or so I'm told. I won't tell you the first thing he called me, but later Bryan told me "Oh, noo.. if he calls ye that, then surely he likes ye. It's when he's quiet that ye must worry overly."


Bryan, the supervisor for maintenance, is another Brit implant here in the colony of Ras Lanuf, the kindliest and most generous soul a person could hope to meet. I firmly believe he would give me the shirt off his back if his coverall design woud allow. As it will not, and I'd not have him bare-assed without his coveralls for proof, you'll just have to accept my word on the matter and let me move on in my introductions. Bryan has helped us more than any other person since we arrived, and all on his own personal kindness, not because he has anything to do with our project.  Quite the contrary, his department is the only one we're not working hand in hand with. Nevertheless, his kindnesses make the days bearable when other circumstances make me want to crawl back under a rock and wait for Ramadan.

Harry is Billy's counterpart in vernacular olympics. Any time I've ever walked into the Brit-Shack, as I've come to call it, you can find the two of them comfortable ensconced in their relaxed postures, standing around the pedestal-bar, listening to 1940's jazz or 1960's Patsy Cline. The first night I was invited to spend time with them, I think I only gained a measure of respect because I had a rather impressive list of Patsy on my iPod. Otherwise he would have not believed me in the least and would have summarily thrown me bodily out on my ear.

The conversation on music led me to my next person of note; big Ivan. Picture if you will, a giant Serbian of a man, raised in the wartimes of Yugoslavia, and who dreams of coming to America to see the sights that we take for granted every day. We spent an hour the first night I met him talking animatedly about the music of the 30s and 40s. In his country, the government decided sometime in the 1950s that all new music was absolute crap, so most of them have spent their lives without the newer influences of the modern musical age, though the youngest of them could sit for hours with any elderly gentleman of our nation and discuss in detail the music of four generations ago as if it were only yesterday that Glenn Miller played on the record player in their home.

Another man of great note is Slavko. Slavko works for Harry in maintenance I think. I can't be sure of the department. The next time you think you have a hard life, take a look at a guy like this. Another war-torn generation of people who rose from the ashes of Serbia to try and escape to make a life for themselves, Slavko is one of many who reside in the construction camp a few miles up the road. They are locked in at night at 7 PM as if they are in prison, though they are in fact not. Slovko got to come over last week and hang out with us on my first night in the Brit-Shack and picked me as his immediate new best friend. You'd have to physically stand in front of the man to understand how intimidating a Serbian (russian) construction worker, who sounds like Ivan from the Rocky movies, can be a complete wonder to talk to. He was quite verbose about how much he loved what he does and how happy he is to be here. He fell immediately in love with my blue-black sunglasses, and I felt happy to let him have them. After all, I always come prepared and had my good pair in my suitcase in the room anyways. They seemed to thrill him to no end. I believe the phrase was "Look Billy. Slavko is american movie star."  I will have you know that I DID fight to get my hat back, but that too has now been admired by the local Area Manager of the camp and it seems I will be bringing another with me on my return trip. Thankfully mine didn't fit the guy who so admired it!

Ha. That's Slovko giving me a big kiss. I got kissed by that man more in one night than I get kissed at home in a week. I love you, my darling April, and don't ever grow a moustache. It itches horribly.

There are many more to tell you about but I can't do it all in one night, so I'll spread the introductions out over a couple of posts.


In other news today, I did have occasion to run across the first camel spider I've ever seen in the wild. I have to admit, I was fairly surprised by agility and the ferocity of this creature. The picture shown below is a baby spider, spanning approximately the width of my outstretched hand. I would never have known if not for Bryan telling me, to look for its mother, which apparently stays near when they are still small, if only by comparison to other camel spiders, which I've been told can span ten inches.

 I was posing with Bryan for this picture here, taken behind RTU-1 at the oil field tank farm, standing only a few feet from the dangerous little creature.

We all three walked VERY carefull back to the land-cruiser we had left idling a few hundred yards away. Our trip back was spent with much more time looking at the ground than the preceding trip was.

Though not deadly to a human at first bite, the feeling still would not be a confortable one. The camel spider anesthizes its victim at the moment it bites, numbing the area with a mild neurotoxin, so you never feel the bite. However, at that point the arachnid clamps on with its teeth and begins secreting a meat-eating fluid that will disolve the flesh of it's intended vicitm. This sounds much worse than it is. It's not as if the animal is going to eat you, though you might indeed wake with a small hole where you didn't have one before. It's likely enough that the creature will eat its fill of you in a matter of moments and then wander off in search of whatever it is arachnids search for.


In case you're curious, that picture you see is about half the actual size of the spider. I was searching for an item to use for a size reference but was unable to procure a volunteer willing to "lend me a hand," foot, or any other appendage for that matter and I cant say I was too keen on getting any closer myself.

What truly amazed me is that while Bryan, Kris, and myself circled the spider from a distance of about sx feet away the little spider was perfectly capable of watching us all at the same time. Whenever one of us twitched toward or away from it, it turned to face us directly head on, moving forward and raising its two front legs in a warning of attack. Never once did it retreat from us. When we closed in together on it, it only moved far back enough to get us all three in its vision before returning to the offensive. This is quite frankly the most hostile arachnid I have ever seen. I've heard lots of misleading stuff about them from web sites and from friends who have seen them in the deserts of Iraq, but never had the experience to see for myself what they are like in the wild. Quite disturbing to say the least.

That rock, shown to the left of the spider in the second picture, is about the size of my shoe, if that helps to put it in perspective.

I can say with honesty that this trip has been much more lively with respect to wildlife than my last trip to the desert.

Only yesterday, Kris got the chance to see his first camels inthe wild, traveling together over the dunes to the west of the road we were traveling on.

Today, as I was out walking solo on a survey expedition, I was able to spot wild dogs a little ways off and I spotted their tracks up near where I was conducting the survey. I tracked a gazelle where it had come through the fence line sometime during the night and then later saw where the dogs and a desert fox had come through the fence in different places, quickly locating the tracks of the gazelle and setting off in pursuit. I have yet to spot the gazelle or the fox in the wild, though I'd love to get a picture of both if circumstances permit.

I know that things here will grow tiresome and the yearning for home will grow like a cancer as days progress into weeks and weeks into months, but I write these things now in the hopes that I will remember my perspective as I face those challenges and deal with more and more time away from home. Trips like this into the desert and especially the times I've spent with the expats are completely irreplacable moments that no one else I know will ever get the chance to do. I'll carry some of these stories for the rest of my life and one day tell my grandkids of their grandfathers adventures in Africa and the people I met along the way who improved my life just by being part of it. The experiences I have here and the people are my own personal history in the making, the thing that makes my experience unique and personal to me.

I'll write more later as time permits, but I feel I must get back to the daily grind. If I can ever get an internet connection, I'll publish these posts to you all. I hope you all know you are missed and that I'd love to have you all here with me if I could!

Ma-Salama for now.



Africa: Day 5 (Ras Lanuf) July 26, 2007

(Reposted after the changes were made to the blog)

I'm sure some of you are wondering where I've been. I've been too busy, sick, tired to write since I arrived and communications are worse than I had hoped they would be. I'll try to start at the beginning to let you all know what's been going on since we got here. Before I get into that though, I'd like to say I love you to all those I usually get to say it to in person; April, Mom, and Hannah.

Hannah: I don't know where I'm going to be on your birthday in a few days, but my thoughts are with you. Someone please please hug my daughter for me and tell her that her Dad loves her. I'm not sure if she'll get to see this or not, so someone please make sure to call her for me and tell her I miss her and love her.

April: I miss you so much darling. I know you and I have the least amount of problems compared to the others on my team when it comes to communications. We're used to being apart and not speaking for a couple of days at a time. But I want you to know I love you, I miss you, and I'm thinking of you constantly while I'm here. It's ok here, but it's never wonderful when I'm this far away from you.

Mom: I'm sure you're worried. You always do. Don't worry too much. We're all ok. I'm keeping the guys hydrated and we're getting along all right here, if sans a few modern comforts; like hot water.. ugh. I'm lucky apparently in that regard. My room has working hot water, though others seem not to. Privelege of being in command? HA! I'm not sure. To me it just means that there's a line waiting to get in my shower in the mornings.

Ok. I'll see if I can start a semi-decent narrative of our adventures since arriving in Africa on the 21st.

Things were great on arrival. It felt like coming home to see the sights of Tripoli and to feel the sand beneath my feet as I walked through the town. You don't realize how much of life you miss while riding in a car all the time. Walking the streets and smelling the sea, the scent of the arid desert sand, the mildly sweet scent drifting from the date palms, and all th me other sights and smells that make this place like a second home to me.

Upon arrival, my plans were changed without my knowledge; instead of having four days or so to get the guys acquainted and supplied, we had only one day to rush around like mad before leaving for the desert. As such, the tourism aspect was cut drastically short. I did get to take the new guys to the Venezia though, meet with Mani, walk them through Medina-Al-Khedima, and show them some of the sights, such as the Arch of Marcus Aurelius and the ancient hotel, Gurgi Mosque, and a few others.

Mani was great, as has always been my experience with him. He took good care of us and, in typical libyan fashion, went out of his way to help us out with all kinds of things. Thanks again Mani for meeting with us and for introducing us to your friends, Malek and Mahmoud. I almost forgot, thank Nasr for me too, for taking his time to drive us around and for helping me get the phone for Wess. Please extend my thanks to all of them and let them know that we will not forget their kindnesses. Should they ever need a favor that we can provide, we are in their debt.

To continue, after getting settled in the hotel and making a few trips around Tripoli, we were put in a mad dash to get our desert passes issued. Rather than letting me do my job and plan my travel and arrangements, others took that responsibility over and royally screwed it up. At this time, six days after entering the country, we still have no return tickets home, no visa extensions, no proper identification papers for desert travel, and no tools. If you were here, you could see my "surprised" face....

As always happens on these long overseas flights, my bad tooth acted up again and the infection started soon after I landed in Africa. Within 24 hours of hitting the sand I was screaming in pain and screaming more because the screaming caused more pain, a fairly vicious and unpoductive cycle now that I look back on it. I slept ok the first night, but had to spend the entire second night packing the stuff that was rescued from our Libyan apartment. Between that and the running around and the pain from the toothache, I never went to bed at all. I had to fly to Ras Lanuf and chair a kickoff meeting with no sleep in 48 hours, no pain meds (because they lost the bag containing almost $1,000.00 worth of medications and our hygeine supplies). Surprisingly, I managed to survive that long enough to get to a clinic and get some local meds to knock the edge off the pain. Now, four days later, the left side of my  face looks like I'm chewing on a tennis ball, but the meds keep it bearable for the time being.

Some of you know that we had an apartment in Tripoli when we were here last. Well, the landlord is a piece of &^%$... sorry, but I needed to say that. That sorry sonofabitch took 40 thousand dollars of our company' money, but won't let me in the apartment to rescue the rest of my stuff from there. So now, I'm down half my clothes, ALL my medical and hygeine supplies, and all my electronics gear. Not to mention the people that are CURRENTLY LIVING IN MY PAID FOR APARTMENT are making use of all my kitchen supplies and my coffee pot. Do you have any idea how completely insane you have to be to come between me and my coffee pot?

I had to end this early to get back to work, so I'll just start a new post. Read on.