Sunday, August 05, 2007

I wanna be somebody...

So... It's been just over a month that I've been on the road now, and I guess it's time for an honest review. What have we learned here?

Well, for starters, next time I build a successful career and a comfortable life, I think I might just hang onto it rather than pissing it away to follow some silly dream. But don't go thinking that means I regret this run, au contraire!

Besides the 'training' stint in South Africa, I've been deployed out to Nairobi in Kenya, Mbabane in Swaziland and Niamey in Niger. My scorecard is 2 for 3 so far with Kenya and Swaziland going off swimmingly despite the issues I had with support and backup. Niger is going to fail, but through no fault of mine. There's only so much you can help some people and I consider the fact that I've finally managed to convince someone that TCP/IP is not just magic but that some science is involved a big achievement. (some of you may have heard my rant about the /26 and the /24 that can't live in harmony)

Now, while that's all well and good, what have I really taken from this? It's not all supposed to be about giving, about enriching others; from time to time I have to get something out of this or my sacrifices were not valid. So lets go in increasing order or importance shall we?

I've learnt that I really do crave the acceptance and validation of others. That's bloody stupid, so I'm not going to do it anymore. I know who and what I am, and that'll do me. I've had my 15 minutes of fame and then some, so it's time to stop chasing the spotlight. I've spoken at international conferences, I've committed code and support into the Apache project, I've been published in a couple of magazines and I've made a small difference in the world around me. That'll do thanks.

Kinda related to this, I've started to understand my drive to do some of the slightly less sane things in my life. Skydiving is here to stay, it calms me down and keeps my head on straight. It's cheaper than therapy and the associated drugs and achieves more. But the BASE dream was for all the wrong reasons. Jumping off of and out of things isn't going to make me any better a person than anyone else, and it's not going to mean that I'm braver or tougher. It just means that I jump off of and out of things. "Yeah... and!?"

I've also discovered that I'm a chickenhawk. I'm an absolute coward at the beginning of anything new, but as soon as I'm bedded in for a day or two, I'm comfortable and in control. Confident, cocky, lazy, dead... On day 0, I am down around the 'nervous wreck - useless stage. Past day 1, I live at cocky. On Tuesday, coming into Niamey, all I wanted to do was welch on my contract and walk away. Fortunately honor and pride kept me in, and if it hadn't, I wouldn't have had dinner overlooking the Niger River on Friday night, wondering exactly what it was I was eating, while sipping an ice cold beer. I think this is my problem with interviews too and why I do much better than people expect at most things after the first impressions I give off.

I'm learning (but still slipping) not to judge people until I know them. It would be very easy to meet the slightly dodgy scouse lad (is there any other kind?), or the heavy sarf London boy, or the Dublin lads and assume that they're 'exiled' out to the sticks because they couldn't cut it back in the world. But then you watch quietly and you see that actually, they are a cut above the slackers and losers back in the world, and they're here because they are the only ones who can hack it.

Then you could go on to make a similar mistake in another part of the world about the slightly dodgy looking crew at a new site. After your previous misconceptions, you figure that they must be awesome to be out here, only to find they're a complete bunch of losers who's only saving grace is that at some point they will make good compost.

I've learnt to cope with loneliness. It's been 6 days since I had a face-to-face conversation with another human being. I'm definitely a stranger in a strange land out here; very few people speak English and things are completely alien. 10 year-olds roaring down the roads on motorbikes are as common as kaalgat (gotta love that word!) children following their older siblings as they herd goats through the telco compound. Vegetables are an unknown entity, so I'm physically not doing too well, but that's why we have supplements. I'm not sure I could cope without Skype and Adium, but I think I'm getting closer.

I've fallen in love with music again. I'm never far from a pair of headphones and discovering both new stuff and older stuff that I've not listened to in far too long. I'm also expanding my tastes somewhat but the old classics are still the best. Maybe that's why you slackers aren't getting the song title connections, maybe they're a little too old for most of you whippersnappers ;)

I couldn't do this forever - I'm not my old man; his breed is dying off sadly and the world is poorer for it. It's up to weenies like me to take this torch now, but we're too soft to be what he was. I guess his replacement will come from India or China or somewhere similar, where people like me do the job without whinging and panicking just because things are strange and scary.

So where next? Am I going to keep doing stupid things? Probably! Am I going to keep whinging about it to all of you? Of course! Am I going to grow, and learn, and prosper? Hell yes! Am I going to finally end this long and winding ramble so that you can get back to your regulalry scheduled lives? If I must...

/Lemming goes in search of a vegetable... or some SS7 packets... whichever is easier to find

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Health and safety, eat your heart out!

The main thing putting me off the UK lately isn't the politics, it's not the small minded sheeple who infect the isles eroding my civil liberties and it isn't the xenophobic mentality that more and more inhabitants are displaying.

My big gripe is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the mindset that it is creating within the country. A man misses his own funeral because the HSE doesn't believe he should be buried as planned... no braais at organized events, veterans marches being denied, a brave man crashes a car at hundreds of miles per hour while trying to set a speed record on a runway and the HSE want to sue, the list goes on and on and on.

There is no HSE in Africa; you're expected to use a little common sense. I've not seen any better indicator of it than these pictures. What you're looking at is a 3 storey drop out of an open door with just a bar across it. You're kinda expected to look where you're going and not to go walking out of it.

I'm guessing that this would give any HSE weenie an absolute hissy fit, but to the best of my knowledge, no-one has fallen through it.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Around Nassau town, I did a' roam...

I was in a bit of a bad way when yesterday's missive went out, so apologies for that. I'm not sure I'm doing any better today, but I have things to tell, so you'll all just have to listen. Or run screaming from your computers, whichever. If you choose the latter, please send pictures - I could use the laugh!

I'm in Niamey in Niger. It's officially the poorest country in the world, and hitting the ground here was culture shock like I've never had in my life. I knew it wasn't going to be as nice as Nairobi, but I was expecting something like Accra in Ghana. I think it was a combination of the fact that no-one speaks English, the absolute poverty and the monster transport CF at the airport when I landed. I didn't sleep too well last night, and I'm counting down until it's time to exit, stage left (picture the Lemming storming off at this point please!)

One of the scariest things is that they keep your passport until you get a visa, and I feel a little trapped. Fortunately, I've got the good old holdout spare, and I've got the route to the French and US embassies mapped from the hotel and the office. But more importantly, I'm surrounded by mercenaries at the hotel, so if the manure makes its way into contact with the turbine plant, I'll follow the Blackwater crew out. They're loud yanks that still think they're in the USMC, so you can spot them from a mile off - it makes them very easy to follow ;)

Niamey is an interesting place. Very few people speak any English at all, so moving around here is challenging. Working is even more so. Trying to ask for a switch port to be set to Gigabit, full duplex when you have no language in common is challenging. I think at the moment they're trying to prepare me a thermo-nucular deevice based on what I understood at the end of the conversation. I hope not though, because the yanks might declare war on me or something.

None of the stuff I need was prepared for our arrival, so I'm still actually just sitting here waiting to be able to work. That's where the time for this ramble comes from.

Life is very much conducted on the streets here, from day-to-day business, to money changing. I had to go and try and apply for my visa this morning, and that was an education of note. All of the forms are in French only, and the bloke behind the counter was far to busy buying or selling a gun and ammo (I'm not sure which) to be of much help. Now, I'm quite used to bureaucrats pausing in the work to take a phone call, but this bloke was pure class.

In the middle of a question, he just got up and walked out. He came back about 10 minutes later with what I assumed to be a prayer mat. Now, since 90% of the country are Muslim, I figured fairy nuff, maybe it was just that time of day when you just has ta, gots ta face east. I think it's east? But then he unrolled said mat and removed a rifle, broken down into three parts. He carried on answering my questions with the pointing and writing game we had devised while assembling this rifle, and then propped it up in the corner.

About 5 minutes later, an Arab gentleman came in and a conversation ensued. I'm not sure what it was about, but near the end of it, the visa bloke pulled two boxes of .303 ammo and gave them to the Arab bloke. The Arab guy gave him 1000 CFAF (pronounced seffa). An argument broke out and after another minute or so, the visa bloke grabbed another box from under the desk and handed it over. The Arab gentleman then wrapped the three boxes of ammo in the same mat that the rifle came in under, smiled, shook hands and headed off. Who knows what happened there...

When I left the visa office, I found that our car had been parked in. In many places this might be a problem, but not here. For the next 2 minutes we participated in the shortest case of grand theft auto in history... There I am in my nice white shirt, pushing this car up a dirt road after dropping the handbrake and taking it out of gear. And all the while, this big smiling man with a large automatic weapon (R5? it sure looked like one!) just watched the show.

When that was done and dusted, and I was leaving, I asked if we could grab a coke somewhere. Je vouz dre' un coca-cola and all that... No wonder the French hate me, what with the atrocities I have committed against their beoootiful language.

We ended up outside some hut on the traffic circle with the traffic light. The light just flashes orange all the time, but it looks pretty, so I guess they like it. I say _the_ traffic light because it's the only one I've seen so far. Maybe you need one to be a capital city. So I ask for a coke, and get one, then I ask for a bottle opener by flapping my hands and looking odd. Fortunately I was handed a bottle opener and not a chicken, so I did OK. Then I offered my driver something to drink - it seemed like the least I could do under the circumstances. So he grabs a beer at about 11 in the morning, reaches past the cash drawer for the bottle opener and we go and sit outside. Apparently we got a special rate because we're leaving the bottles behind (500 cfaf for both drinks), so we had to sit and drink there.

A little while later, some elderly white lady dressed to the nines shows up and I think asks for cigarettes. I smiled blankly, like the tame retard that I am, but my driver got up, hauled ass inside and came out with a pack of Marlboro. She handed him some money that he took inside, and then walked off. When he got back with her change, she had made it to the car already, so he just shrugged, pocketed the change and we finished our drinks sitting in the baking sun. It's commerce by committee I think, but it seems to work.

Driving out here is a bit different to Kenya as well. Luke, my driver in Kenya, would have happily committed genocide on the roads to get me somewhere on time. It wasn't anything personal, I'm sure he liked these guys, but they were in his way and he takes his work seriously. Out here, everything is very slow. There are motorcycles all over the place, but I think they lost the town helmet because I've not seen anyone riding with a lid. But at one point, my driver started going all 'Luke' on me, hooting and waving and shouting. It turned out that he wasn't out to kill someone, but he'd just seen his cousin on a bike in front of us. They stopped for a brief chat and off we went.

As I've been writing this, my driver as returned with my passport, including my Niger visa and my drivers license that he used as ID to get me my pisspot back. I've not felt this relieved for a LONG time. I guess the arms dealer or collector decided to give him my passport instead of testing his newly assembled rifle on him. From now on, I demand visas _BEFORE_ I fly into countries where they speak no English though.

I guess we need a quote or thought of the day to finish this... Well, the picture of the day is just too easy...
Have the London Underground traveler mascot:

Quote of the day seems easy today... I'm sure you all know my good mate Murphy - he has a permanent ticket to travel with me. Well, he's got some mates too, so today I'll introduce you all to Hanlon's Razor:
"Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

Finally, today we have a special... not one, but TWO beers AND a packet of chips for today's lyric and connection. The only rule is that The Ancient One(tm) can't play - sorry dad, that would be unfair to the proles ;)

/Lemming goes in search of some work to pass the remaining 7 days, 6 nights in-country. New York is looking a long way off right now!