Saturday, November 14, 2009

Planes, Trains, Boats, Busses and Automobiles Ch 3

Ah - Rome!! We finally made it. I can't imagine what this place must be like during the summer. The tourists were enjoying a "late" vacation in August. We found that getting around on foot wasn't hard since our apartment was in a great location near the Spanish Steps (which I passed numerous times but never climbed. I'll save that for another trip). The subway system is rather two dimensional, nothing like Paris. We got a bus map and decided that if we wanted to get out of our area, we could always jump on since we had purchased three day passes to get us into attractions and was good for the subways and busses.

We had to make it to the Vatican. It was a pretty easy subway ride and walk in good weather. We followed all of the tours to get to the entrance and found that it was not too crowded. It is everything that has been said and more. The Sistine Chapel is unbelievable and St. Peter’s is way over the top. There is no way that pictures can do it justice (but I have many attempts to try and capture some of it)

After leaving, we decided we needed to try something completely different so we found a bus heading for Trastevere. We were crushed in and didn’t know where we were going to get off. I was digging for a map and Ryan and I were trying to look out the windows over people’s heads to see if we could find some landmark to alert us to where we were. I started counting bridges and looking for the Isola Tiberina (Island in the middle of the Tiber River). We finally decided on a stop and got off; it was close enough. To get back we decided to take the Metro “B” line back to the main station, transfer to the “A” line and walk back from the Spanish Steps. I think I know the way by heart, if it’s daylight.

I’m sure that Lynn and Anne have waxed eloquently about the trip so I won’t go into the sight seeing stuff. As we were leaving a day before the kids, I talked to the concierge at the Plaza Hotel across the street from our apartment and he acknowledged that he could call us a cab if one was not there when we got up the next morning. We were up and out the door by 6:30 and sure enough, we had the cab waiting for us. Let’s hear it for great concierges’, even when you aren’t staying at their hotel! One taxi ride, one more plane ride and we made it back to Tripoli.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Planes, Trains, Boats, Busses and Automobiles, cont.

Ahh . . . Elba. It is a lovely island and I imagine a quite active one, before 15-September. It seems that we arrived after the tourist season and the town where we were staying is basically for the locals. Even the tourist information center was "Closed for the Season". We saw a bus stop down by the harbor and actually saw a bus pull in at the early morning, however, it was going away from where we had decided to spend the day. After trying and calling the landlord who had no idea about the bus schedule for Rio Marina, we decided to venture into town and as luck would have it, a bus pulled past us and stopped about 100 meters ahead of us. We waved as it rolled past and sent our young, athletic passengers ahead to hail the driver. He waited for us and I climbed aboard and asked in my best English, "How much for the four of us?" He answered in perfect Italian, and I didn't understand a singe word. I started handing him money and he just shook his head. Since this isn't Libya, I knew he wasn't saying that the ride was free but was muttering something about how stupid this tourist was getting on his bus and then I noticed that all of the older women on the bus were trying to help. They were saying the names of the towns on the bus route. Finally the light bulb went on and I realized he couldn't quote me a fare until he knew where it was that we wanted to go. That settled, and the fare duly paid, we settled in for a lovely 1-hour bus tour up and down, over and under and through the mountains of the island. We stopped at every village and hamlet along the way until we finally found the town where we knew there was a beach. We got off in the center of town since we had no idea of where the "proper" bus stop was located. After wandering around a bit, we found the beach and a couple of lovely restaurants. The kids left us to contemplate a lovely bottle of the local favorite and went exploring and said they would meet us at the beach in a bit.

When they returned, we all enjoyed a dip in the sea. I had no idea that the Mediterranean was so salty! It was quite easy to float. Anne and Ryan purchased a couple of goggles and we were able to swim with the fishes.

While Ryan was purchasing goggles, he found the local bus station and the list of times for busses returning to Rio Marina so we had no trouble retracing our route to return to the village for the night. I forgot to mention that while in the beach town, we found an internet café and not only got to check on the birth of John and Robin Alexander’s baby but confirmed the schedule for the train and ferry for the next day’s adventure traveling back to Rome.

We were all packed and lugged our back packs, day pack and gear down through the town in the dark at 6:30 to catch the 6:50 ferry so we could find a train that would get us to Rome by noon. To make a long story short, we got there, not without a little confusion about which regional train that we needed to be on at our connection, but that’s the fun of the adventure. On the way to Rome, again, I ventured to call the landlord to alert him that we would be arriving. It appears that the service that was renting the apartment, expected us but spoke very little English (beginning to see a trend here?). It appears that they were as frustrated as us as soon a text message appeared saying that they would meet us at 5:00 at the apartment. Since, we had a confirmation for 2:30 arrival, and we didn’t want to roam Rome with our packs all afternoon, we texted back asking them to meet us at 2:30. Now being the good techie that I am, I had down loaded a map of the apartment location and we hit the Roman metro/subway to get there. Talk about a ground zero location, 5th Avenue, Rodeo Drive, rolled into one. High end fashion from the Spanish Steps all the way to our apartment. Only one problem . . . There was no apartment with the address that we had reserved. Before I went into total panic, I texted the rental guy saying that I would meet him at a bar close to the address nearest to the one I had. He arrived and spotted me instantly, the guy with the 30 pound orange backpack standing in the middle of the street/alley. He looked at his instructions and told me, “I’ve never been here before.” His address was the same as mine and wandered around for a couple of minutes muttering before finally calling his office. It turned out we were in the exact location but the address they had in their computer was wrong. He had the keys, they worked, we paid him, and had a wonderful time.

(to be continued with more photos)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Planes, Trains, Boats, Busses and Automobiles

Lynn gets to include all of the tourist scenes from our trip to Italy but I'm here to give you the back story on how we got around! Flying from Tripoli to Rome was an easy couple of hour flight once you take into consideration getting to the Tripoli airport after 45 minutes of rain the morning we left. If you think street flooding at home is crazy after a couple of inches of rain, here, it only takes a few minutes since the street drains serve as garbage recepticles rather than drains. No one worries about it; they just sweep the garbage, dirt and plastic bags down to the storm grates (assuming there is a grate on top of the drain) and plug it up. When it rains, people get out with whatever they have and try to "unclog" the drain. And John Blount at Harris County thinks he has a hard time with SWPPP activites! Anyway, our driver took some back roads and safely got us to the airport in plenty of time. I received a call from our driver coordinator, Najmi to make sure we made it. He had made sure that the driver had the high route to get us there. He knows how to take care of us.

We met up with the kids at the Rome airport as they stumbled off the plane, a bit jet lagged after the all night flight to London and Rome. As you can see, we had decided to carry everything in backpacks, so no rolling suitcases through the crowds. We caught the train from the airport and into Rome and found our hotel for the night near the train station. The picture below is us packing up at 6:45 the next morning to head back to the train station to head north.

We made the successful transfer from the sleek EuroStar train to a regional affair to get to Vernazza in Cinque Terra. Grabbing our packs,we waded our way through the Sunday day trippers through the small town to find the bar we had been told served as the check in point for our apartment. They were expecting us and showed us the lovely apartment below which had two windows with small balconies overlooking the town square and coastline.

The old folks took the twin beds for the first leg of the trip and let the kids have the bedroom. We switched when we got to Elba. After a couple of days in Cinque Terra (see Lynn's blog) we moved back south to Elba. We had no confirmation of our apartment other than an email from the owner saying that they didn't take credit cards to hold the reservation but if I promised to come she would hold the apartment for us. We had no idea what time we could get there so we had to wait until we could get a train and ferry schedule in Piombino to then call and let her know we would be arriving. The only trains going to Piombino were Regionals which stop at most of the towns along the way and transfers at Pisa.

Once the train reached Piombino, it stopped at the station at the end of town. We got off with others and wandered around looking for the marina, which was supposed to be about 200 m from the station. No marina! We looked around and finally someone saw saw us and finally communicated that the train makes a side trip from here to the marina. We all rushed back onto the train just before it left and made the cross town ride to the marina. This would have been muck easier if we had internet connections to see what the schedules were for the trains and boats, but we didn't so we plunged ahead. At the marina station, we found out the ferry line we thought we were going to take wasn't leaving until later so they pointed us toward the other ferry office to make our booking.
Once on board, we finally were able to call the next apartment owner to let them know about our arrival. Unfortunately, the lady with whom I had been emailing was out and her husband didn't speak much english. She finally called back when we were about 15 minutes from shore to tell us that her brother-in-law would meet us and take us to the apartment.

To be continued . . .

Thursday, October 1, 2009


It's beginning to feel a bit like fall here in Tripoli We enjoy sitting outside on the roof patio for dinner and conversation afterward and the air is starting to be rather cool. This week has been catching up for being away for a week in Paris, finishing out all of the monthly reports and then preparing to be gone next week to Italy to meet Ryan and Anne.

This is going to be a bit different arrangement than being in one place and exploring a city such as Paris. We are meeting in Rome and then dashing off via train to Vernazza along the northwest coast. After a couple of days, we migrate south, taking a ferry at Piombino for Elba. A couple of days on the beach and then off to Rome for the final leg of the trip. It should be quite varied and very interesting! We'll try and post some photos along the way.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Back in Tripoli

I feel that I'm going through decompression after such a lovely time in Paris. We spent the last month going through Ramadan on a 9 am - 3 pm work week; we flew to Paris for a wonderful week and then come back to Fall in Libya, and the 8 - 4:30 day. Everyone at the office was slowly trying to get back up to speed but still not at 100%. I hope to get all of the month end reports finished tomorrow so that I can make a site visit out west and then leave for Italy on Saturday to meet with Anne and Ryan.

Here's a few more moments in Paris.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

PARIS days 4

Monday in Paris - woke up to a beautiful day with plans to go to the Louvre. I have always heard about the world's greatest depository of art but I didn't quite know what to expect. I've seen pictures, watched the DiVinci Code multiple times, seen videos but still wasn't ready when we came up from the Metro. It seems that each time we exit from a Metro station to the streets of Paris, it's an OMG moment. We climbed the steps of the Louvre exit and all I saw was a massive public building, no pyramid, no open space, etc. It finally hit me that we were entering from the side, not through Tulliries Garden along the Seine. Once through the gates, the whole place, with the I.M. Pei pyramid, opened up in front of us. What a beginning to an overwhelming experience.

Once we navigated the lines of tourists (not too many compared to what we would expect during the summer) we walked into another world; a world of art, sculpture, adventure, archeology, history, and more. You can spend hours, days, months and probably years in the Louvre. I can't describe all of the works of art and objects de art that we viewed but will post pictures over the next week or so.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Paris days 2-3

PARIS – DAYS 2 & 3

What a beautiful experience. We decided to go out exploring on our first full day and took the Metro into the middle of town, the Place de Concorde. Every time I come out of the subway it’s an “OMG” moment. The sights, the sounds, the history are outstanding! It was a bit foggy on Saturday morning but we walked around the Tullieries. From there we decided to take a walk up the Champs-Elysees to the Arc due Triomphe and then back down. The only comparison I can think of would be 5th Avenue in New York City.

Sunday found us traveling to the original Paris, Isle de Citi. With the start of Sainte-Chapelle Chapel on one end and the Cathedral at Norte Dame on the other, the Citi is tres magnifique. We crossed over to the Isle de St. Louis with street performers, shops, restaurants, crepes, wine, espresso, and lots of people.

Dinner, Sunday night, was at the La Cave, a bar/café on the corner next to the apartment. The bartender had told me in the morning that they had Internet but I had forgotten the network name. Lynn spotted a guy sitting out in the median of the street with his computer so I went out and asked if he spoke English. He answered, “I’m from New York”. It turns out he’s an IT consultant working with Renault and owns the La Cave. He got me hooked up so we can stop in and connect with the rest of the world.

Lots of walking and lots of fun with Lynn.

Picture when we get back to Tripoli

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Paris - Day One

It's really Day 4 but I'm just now getting an internet connection at the friendly neighborhood bar, La Cave in Montmarte.

We arrived a little late on Friday. It seems that a number of people in our country of departure feel that they are entitled to "open seating" rather than what's on their boarding ticket. It took almost an hour to get it all straightened out, including some normal yelling and posturing and 4 airline personnel getting in the face of one man to make their point.

Jean-Yves met us at the airport and is the most gracious host that anyone could ask for. He got us to the apartment and made sure we had our feet on the ground. We took off to explore and found the neighborhood amenities, grocery, pharmacy, cleaners, etc. Following Lynn's lead, we marched up to Sacre Cur for one of the most beautiful views of the entire city of Paris.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

September 1 Celebration

I'm only two weeks late but I am sharing the sites of the 40th Anniversary Celebration of Independence in Libya and the 10th Anniversary of being part of the African Union. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ramadan Lights

This is a video of our drive back from the old market last night. We left at 10:00 pm, just as the majority of the shops were opening. All of the shops are open 24 hours a day through the end of Ramadan so that families can shop. Think the week before Christmas.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Never get tired of sunsets

I couldn't pass up the opportunity to post the photo above. We saw our first rain storm since we arrived in the country. Unfortunately, I saw it on my 3 hour drive back from Mizrata along the coast. We saw three or four wrecks on the way back. People not used to driving in the rain, going too fast and hydroplaning. Our driver was able to catch some sleep since we were in meetings from 11 - 3 so he was alert and careful. If everyone would act like our guys, it would be a lot safer.

Thursday meeting and reports then the weekend.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

It's still Ramadan

Things are still pretty quiet during the day here. The 6 hour business day can get a little complicated. LAst Saturday I was asked to come into the office for 4 hours to help prepare a presentation to the Prime Minister on Sunday night. The meeting was good for us but occured from 10 pm to 2 am. Today, I was planning to drive out to Tandamerah, a town out west about 2 1/2 hours but instead got pulled into a 3 hour meeting with our client and 6 of our contractors. Tomorrow we have a follow up meeting in Mizrata, about 2-3 hours away.

Lynn is staying as busy as she can. She's met with several ladies this week and continues to make friends where ever she goes.

We are counting down the days before leaving for Paris. Lynn is reviewing the Michelin guide book to help plan our itinerary. There are so many things to consider, there's no way we are going to hit them all in a week. I guess that means that we will have to go back some time. After a week back in Tripoli, we leave for Rome to meet Anne and Ryan. There is definitely a benefit to being this close to Europe.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sunday and its a new week

Things continue to go slowly as we move through Ramadan. We are counting down the days to
leave for our Paaris get away on 18-Sep. I'd guess that 90% of the people at work are going to be gone that week since we have three days off and you can take two days of Paid Time Off "PTO" and stretch out a long 9 day holiday.

The celebration on 1-September was enjoyed by all. One of our Libyan partners threw a party last Friday night
from 9:30 pm - 12:30 am. I'll post some pictures or video of that later.
In the mean time, enjoy some pictures from the celebrations.

Monday, August 31, 2009

August 31

We received a surprise yesterday afternoon. A rumor started circulating around noon, in fact, Lynn called me to tell me, that we were going to have the day off on Monday. It seems that the leader has called for a two day national holiday for the celebrations rather than just September 1. Lynn and I have been enjoying a leisurely day around the apartment, sleeping in, working out, reading, napping, enjoying a wonderful concoction that Lynn threw together for lunch, walking to Aruba for more snacks and groceries. There aren't many shops open until after 8 pm, that's when people get out and start hitting the streets to eat and shop.

We think that they celebratory fireworks are going to be tonight. We don't know for sure since we haven't seen anything in writing except for tomorrow night's schedule. The plan is for a group of us to sit on the roof of one of the guesthouses and watch from afar. No matter what, we can visit and have a good time.

I really haven't mentioned how happy I am to have my beautiful talented wife back with me. It has been a joy to have her back to share everything with. I guess that I didn't realize, until she went back to Houston, just how spoiled I've become over these 33 years with her. She can be by my side anytime she wants to.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

NBC News

You never know what's going to happen on a day to day basis. Friday night, Lynn and I were invited to have dinner at the home of the Principal of the International School. He and his wife are a lovely couple from New Zealand that we had met at church. It was a great evening of getting to know each other and sharing stories and experiences. While there, my phone rand. It was a young man from the US Embassy with the consular affairs office. Again, we had met home and his wife at church back before Lynn went home. He told me that he had received a call from NBC news that they had a crew in Libya for the September 1 celebration and wanted to talk with Americans doing business here; specifically with my company.

The principal was kind enough to drive us home around 9 pm and I got on the phone with my boss to relay the message. He suggested that I contact someone else, and to make a long story short, I finally e-mailed our COO before going to bed.

The next morning, Lynn and I decided to take a walk down the street to the local grocery store to stock up on goods for the week. We were surprised to run into the COO and his wife (a friend of Lynn's who we didn't think was back in the country). I inquired if he had gotten my email and he explained that he had been trying to contact the ambassador but hadn't heard anything so when he got my message, he was able to reach my contact and through him the folks at NBC.

When we arrived at the office this morning, he was set up in the parking lot in front of our building being interviewed by the NBC correspondent. Keep your eyes open, I might even be walking by in the back ground of the footage. I don't know when of if it will be broadcast but if anyone sees it, please let me now.

Signing off for now, have a good day.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fender Bender

(I thought about not posting this blog because I didn't want Judi Kimler to think things are dangerous over here but since it's nothing more than a bump in the driveway, I'll tell the story.)

The first thing that you have to understand is that we are not allowed to drive by our company. They provide Mercedes vans and drivers for us. We look like a bunch of tourists being shuttled around like sheep from apartments to work and home again with the occasional business meeting, out of town site visit or shopping on the weekends. I’ve always said that the ultimate luxury I could have in business would be to have my own driver to take me to work. Now I was thinking Limo into Manhattan or something of the sort, not van pool in Tripoli. The second reason that we aren’t allowed to drive is that traffic fatalities are the highest cause of death in the country. The only way that I can describe it is to say, why put lines on the road; they are totally ignored. It can be compared with one of those road races with 10,000 people running down the street; you just weave in and out filling in any empty space. If there isn’t one you just drive in reverse until you find an empty space. For some reason it works. You are starting to see the logic here about us not driving. Now throw in Ramadan on top of all this, remember the aforementioned lack of coffee, food, cigarettes, sleep since they stay up most of the night partying and eating before the morning call to prayer, and you have some scary drivers! We were poking along on one of the major collector streets and traffic was pretty stop and go. We had just pulled past a side street where a cement mixer was trying to pull out. I guess he thought that we should go or he’d help us along but we heard a crunch as he came out and rear ended us at about 3 kph. Now our driver and the driver of the cement truck did what every other Libyan driver does in this type of situation; they both got out of their vehicles, surveyed the damage and started yelling at each other, voices raised, hands flailing, while cars poked around us looking to see what all the fuss was about. Now there were 7 of us in the van so I guessed if things took a turn for the worse, we could pile out and take on one guys but alas it didn’t resort to that. I expected a 30 minute siege so I put my headphones on and listened to some calming music and before you know it, our driver hopped back into the van and started off down the road. I looked over at him and noticed that he had the driver’s license of the truck driver and put it in his pocket. I saw him glancing back in his mirror and realized that the cement truck was following us. We went another kilometer or so and then pulled over at what I guessed to be a police station. You see, most things don’t have signs on them and the ones that do are in Arabic so that’s not much help for a bunch of yahoos who don’t read or write good English much less Arabic. Our driver hopped out and either gave the license back to the guy or someone but was soon back in the van and driving us another couple of blocks to our apartment. I don’t know if he went back or what. All of us just piled into our little cubbyholes, turned on our computers and logged on to see what the outside world has been up to.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

And the beat goes on . . .

Well, it's Sunday morning again and we start a new week. I don't know if I'll ever get into the cycle of Friday and Saturday being the weekend. 58 years of doing it the other way is a hard habit to break. This will be my first full week of Ramadan. As I mentioned previously (I think) our work hours at the office have been reduced to 9 - 3. Can you imagine working a 6 hour work day in the States? And that includes a break for lunch.

I don't expect to make many site visits during the season. I don't want to trust my life to a driver that has been going on 4 to 6 hours of sleep a night for the past several weeks. Things will progress without me being there. Besides, some of our contractors just give their guys a paid vacation since they aren't going to get much work out of them anyway.

I'm off to breakfast and then get in the van to start a new week.

Friday, August 21, 2009

We started Ramadan last night and have Libya’s version of the 4th of July on September 1. During Ramadan, everything gets turned upside down. During the daylight hours, everyone (Muslims) abstain from food, drink (including water and coffee), cigarettes, etc. In the afternoon, the wife’s expect the husbands to drop everything and go shopping for everything to break fast that evening. So at nightfall, the partying begins up to around 1 or 2 am. Everyone then crashes and gets up before dawn so they can have a meal then grumpily start the cycle over again for 30 days. So far we haven't seen any ill affects from our friends here. They've taken the British stanch of keeping a stiff upper lip and going on with life as we know it. Several came by the dinner table rubbing their stomachs and looking at their watches to see how close we were to sundown.

At the end of the 30 days, they have a three day party. Lynn and I are taking that time to be away in Paris. We can have our own party there.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Last night I was invited to a social affair hosted by the US Embassy. Lynn and I had met several of the Embassy staff at church so, even though I am without my social chairperson, I decided to go alone.

We might have mentioned sometime in the past that we live outside of the downtown area near Gargaresh Road. This is one of the few roads in Tripoli that actually has a name that anyone knows. It has miles and mile (or should I say kilometers and kilometers) of shops. We're talking ladies fancy dress shops, toy stores, grocery stores, appliance shops from vacuum cleaners to commercial kitchen appliances, furniture stores, bedding stores, butcher shops, . . . . you are starting to get my drift. Anyway, after sundown this part of town becomes "the drag". Men and women in vehicles poking along, speeding along, brakes and tires screaming as cars speed up and slow down, horns honking, people yelling - way too much testosterone! So into this fray our three vans dove as we made our way to the party. This night, I was one of the lucky ones who had a driver who knew where he was going. One of the other drivers called to let us know that he was lost. We gave him instructions of where to meet us and waited for them to arrive then proceeded to the party.

As socials go, this one was nice, nothing fancy, just an opportunity for people to get together, exchange business cards, have a little "California grape juice" or other adult beverage and visit about things in general and nothing in particular. I met some guys from Boston and Dallas with the Commerce Department. They just happened to be in town and managed an invitation. There were a number from other Embassies represented beside the US of A. I guess that there's an unofficial group of folks that comprise the "cocktail set" of International Diplomatic Corps.

After making our way back through the crowds again, we got home late and still had one more day of work in the week ahead of us. Six am came mighty early. It seemed that I had just put my head on the pillow. The good thing is "TGIT" Thank Goodness It's Thursday (our Friday).

By the way - Ramadan started at sundown tonight. It's going to be an interesting next 30 days.



Monday, August 17, 2009

Beach in Malta

It's been a while since I posted a video, so I decided to add this beach scene from my last trip to Malta. This is for Anne, I hope you enjoy it.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Photo Shoot

I was invited to be part of a photo shoot that we are using in our future advertising campaign as well as ads in conjunction with the September 1 celebration (That's Libya's 4th of July). Karen, our corporate communications guru is trying her darndest to get everything done before leaving for the states to see her son graduate from the Marines in San Diego. She included me since I represent a certain demographic of white males over 50 who can walk and chew gum at the same time.

She had recruited kids from America, Australia and Libya for the shoot along with contractors, field supervisors and the like. We all met at the office at 7:30 am so we could get some good light and not be out in the heat of the day. We divided up into 4 vans and a sedan and headed out to the highway construction site that is one of our infrastructure projects.

It wasn't long until we got separated in the snarl of traffic and our driver turned off to take a shortcut. Since one of our infrastructure guys was in the front seat with him, we figured we'd just sit back and leave the driving to them (not that we had any choice in the matter). We wandered off for a while and my colleague sitting next to me asked if I knew which direction we were going. I told him that by my Boy Scout reckoning, and the shadows on the street, I guessed we were going southeast. We both acknowledged to each other that we thought that the highway was a bit less south and much more west, but what did we know, we're just housing guys.

To make a long story short and a longer drive shorter, we finally turned around, came back to town and then proceeded to make our way to the construction site where everyone was waiting for us . . . in the heat . . . with kids playing in the dirt. A twenty-minute drive had become close to two hours.

We jumped out of the car, got in place, took some photos and then shook hands, got back in the van and trusted that our driver could find our way back to the office without retracing his steps of the morning. We soon arrived safely back to start our day around 10:30

Friday, August 14, 2009

Busy Day

As you are now probably aware, Friday's are my Sundays.I can sleep in a little bit since breakfast doesn't start until 8:00 rather than 6:30. Rasheed did his usual job on the Friday morning pancakes. I don't know if mine were fresh or "off the pile". Anyway they were still warm. As we were sitting outside, Chris passed the "sugar water" that we call syrup. The label proclaims "2% real maple syrup". I think at home we would translate that to say "with real maple syrup flavoring" or something of that ilk.

We had a very nice service at church this morning. Allison Lee, one of our friends from the US Embassy was baptized. The Nigerian choir was in its usual fine form and we had a good time of worship together. The headmaster from the International School was back from holiday so I was able to introduce myself to him and his wife. They invited Joe Zimmerman and me to join them for lunch after church but I already had plans to meet up with the crew for chinese at 1:00.

The gang assembled in the lobby and we strolled down the block to the chinese restaurant. Lynn and I had been to the one on Gargarsh the first week we arrived but this one is next to the Shell Oil housing. The menu was ample and they had a soup that was divine; kind of like a mix of egg drop soup with tofu, vegetables and maybe sliced almonds. It had a smokey taste. I would love their recipe.

Afternoon was time to crash and relax. James and Jane Shanks had invited me over to their apartment for a home cooked meal of pot roast. Joe came by and picked me up so we enjoyed a great time of food, visiting and playing with their three dogs, one chihuahua and two pomeranians. Cute but getting pudgy.

I planned on meeting everyone on the roof to watch the stars fall (meteor shower) but by 10:00 no one was one the roof and clouds were starting to roll in from the coast.

All in all a very nice start to the weekend. I'd better finish up and call my Dad. Today is his 83rd birthday! Happy Birthday Dad!!!.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Friends or is it Fiends?

Just so that you don't feel sorry for me being so far away from long time friends and family, I'd like to introduce you to a few of my friends. I don't have a picture of Phil but he keeps me out of trouble or the other way around. He's getting ready to leave for three weeks on a trek through Africa with a couple from the company. The three of them plan on arriving in Kenya and staying a few days with the Masai Tribe along with a 3 day photo safari. Phil is an excellent photographer with all the right equipment (sorry Ryan - he has Nikon, not Canon). I can't wait to see his pictures upon his return. From there, they go to Mt. Kilamonjaro and a nine day climb to the summit and back. They have been practicing with hikes up the hills in the desert at least once a week. Before coming home, they have another photo safari planned. That's quite a break from the day to day operations here.

Next is Karen. She and Lynn have become friends. Her husband is older and back in Houston. He told her that it sounds like she lives in the dorm. Come to think about it, he's probably right on. Karen acts as our communications officer. She would appreciate your input
John as she wants to go back to college and get a degree in Cultural Anth
opology. John, you are going to have to weigh in and let her know if that will make her a better corporate communications guru. She feels it will give her a better understanding of her audience. She might be getting a bit warped hanging around with all the guys. A couple of weeks ago, a couple of the "boys" tried to convince her that she should just give up and join the male race. I must say, she held her own in that argument.
Now Robert is quite the proper English gentleman. He corrects us when we become too American with that sly wit that the British have. Of course we have him quite outnumbered and remind him often. We also reming him that being from Texas, we can still secede from the union much as Scotland can from the UK. He takes our ribbing very well and can usually put us in our place in a gentlemanly way.
Finally there's Ron Pelekanos. He's a combination of New York and Greek. He's the expert in telling our foreign friends the proper technique of both ordering a New York slice of pizza and the proper technique of rolling, eating and keeping the movement going so as to not lose the cheese into your lap. Ron loves golf and is crazy enough to play each week on the one course that exists here (I don't know where it is) that has plenty of sand traps and the "greens" are oiled. No I'm not kidding as you who have been to the middle east know.This is our usual 6:30 am breakfast group out on the patio. I don't have a picture of Bill from Wisconsin by way of Chicago. He must have slept in the morning I took my camera with me.

I'll introduce you to more later

Monday, August 10, 2009

Monday Night in Tripoli

While the rest of you are heading into your afternoon and trying to see what you've got ahead of you this week, I'm headed to bed and then "hump-day" as we head toward the weekend. This week has been crazy with meetings, meeting and more meetings. I haven't been out to any of my projects in several weeks and am starting to fell that I am neglecting them. I do finally have CM/CS (for you not in the lingo, that's Construction Management/Construction Supervision) for all three projects. Only one is under contract but at least they are showing up.

I have been trying to explain to my mentor partners the difference between project management and program management; one is where you are doing tasks and managing tasks the other is when you become a people manager, managing the people who are in charge of the tasks, focusing them on the goals and objectives while you manage multiple project teams. I was fortunate enough to have a mentor explain to me the difference when I was in my 30's and it made sense. Now I'm trying to pass that along to the next generation. Maybe thats when you achieve the next level of management. Who knows.

I'm going back to Gharyan tomorrow. This time with a driver who has the purpose of getting us to a meeting with our client & on time, not a side trip adventure as before.

Maybe I can finish the week with only 4 or 5 more meetings. Oh well, there's always the weekend.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

More Malta

OK - here's the crew that I mentioned at Restorante Alphonso. Now be truthful; isn't that a group of guys that you'd like to hang out with, even if they didn't speak your language?

The last photo is a night shot from the Upper Barracca Gardens in Valletta looking back at the Prime Minister Offices. I'm going to post some pictures in several albums from the trip, one from the Wine Festival, one of my favorites is at the St. James Cavalier; originally St. James was built to act as a raised platform on which guns were placed to defend the city against attacks from the land (Floriana) side. As well as prohibiting entry, St. James could also threaten those who had already breached the city's defenses. It went through several transformations during the British rule but has now been converted into The Centre for Creativity-Malta's Millennium Project.

It has integrated many of the original spaces into an exhibition space, music room, children's activity space and cafe. I hope you like the pictures of the spaces (especially you Ryan Booth). I only wish that I had Ryan's creativity and camera to do it justice. I learned that the City is transforming the entry gate into Valletta into a new space. I've seen pictures and it will be a spectacular, designed by Renzo Piano, who is also a designer of the Meniel Collection in Houston.

Oh, did I mention that I attended the Delicata Classic Wine Festival? They had a wonderful selection of Maltese wines which I was obliged to sample. The aforementioned gardens was a beautiful place to host the event, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, with fountains, a sampling of local Maltese food and an Oriental booth for those who wanted more than fruit and cheese or Maltanese fare. The band was very entertaining and energetic. Now if I had just had my beautiful wife with me, I’d probably closed the place down before jumping on the bus back to St. Julian. However, since she was back home, I called it a night around 10 pm.

The next time, I'm taking the woman of my dreams (yes Lynn, that's always you!!!)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Malta Adventure

I'm trying an experiment to link my Picasa Photo Album to my blog post.

I hope this works. I put a 10 pictures of Malta, Beaches (for Anne, and a couple of Maltese CAt photos. Let me know if it works and I'll post a couple of albums from this weekend.

More stories to come.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday (my Saturday) morning in Malta

The breakfast buffet at the Hotel Juliani is a comfortable spread (especially since they comped it). The best thing is they have ham! I feel like the dog on the commercial, "I smell bacon. Bacon,bacon, bacon." Ham is close enough.
It's hot on the island, and why not, it is August. There appear to be a lot of tourists around but not like you might expect. The last time we were here, the cab dirver said that tourism is off 60%. A lot of shops have SALE signs in the window; something that is uncommon in Tripoli. I didn't buy anything more than a map of the Islands since we returned Ellen Johnson's to her.
I was plannig to just get something light for lunch but passed a Burger King. Now I have my rules about eating fast food most of the time and when I am in another country, it is just against my core beliefs to buy into the American fast food export. However; I got to thinking that when I am in Libya, and it's probably going to be until around the 20th of September before I leave the country again, I can't get a real hamburger, fast food or not. So I indulged - - - and I don't feel a bit guilty about it either.
Pictures when I get back to Tripoli (but not of the hamburger).

The barber shop opens again at 2:30 pm, after their noon break, so I'm heading over there to get a "trim".

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Weekend in Malta

Yea! It's the weekend (Thursday night - Saturday) and I caught the 5:00 pm flight to Malta. I called ahead to the Hotel Juliani where we stayed previously because they had told us to not use Expedia but just give them a call and they woud give us a good rate. When I called the other day, they quoted me a 130 euro/night rate, which seemed high. They didn't request a credit card so I just let it go and figured that I would discuss it with them when I arrived but since it's the high season, I could get stuck. When I checked in, I inquired about the rate and reminded them of what they had told us last time. The girl quickly said, I'll change the rate to 88 Euros/night and confirm with the manager since you called in. Not bad for soft negotiations.
The last time that Lynn and I were here, we asked the front desk for a restaurant recommendation and they sent us to the Barracuda. It was a good quality place but way too stuffy for us after working all week. We should have had on suit and tie to fit in with the "in crown" there. It turned out that the Barracuda is where the glitteratzi go when they are in town. This time, it was my objective to find a hole in th wall Italian restaurant that wasn't on the tourist map. I struck out from the hotel and satrted wandering the streets away form the St. Julian's inlet and back into residential neighborhoods. I followed a group of people but ended up at a dead end that looked like a youth hostel or student hotel. I turned around and headed back doen the street and on the otherside noticed a little place, no one inside, but a fixed price menue on the door; three courses for 15 Euro. I figured that at that price, I couldn't go wrong. It\s kind of hard to burn the spagetti. I went in and was greeted by a young kid, who looded like he was 15-17. He spoke English but had an Italian accent.
I asked him where he would like for me to sit, he looked around, no one elst there and motioned me to a table near the dooor and asked if that would be ok. I assured him that it would be fine. About then, in waltzed, Max, the proprietor. He started talking rapidly in Italian the waiter explained to me that he spoke no English. Max brought me a copy of the fixed price menu for the day and left. I ordered a glass of their house red ( a wonderful Maltese Falcon; blend of cabs, merlot and syarah grapes) as I purused the menu. I decided that when in Rome,do what the Romans do and ordered the mozzerella chesse and tomato salad for the first course and told the waiter to have the chef pick something for the second and third course.
Course One:
The first course was predictable. Roma tomatos, mozzerella cheese balls sprinkled with dried basil. I asked for some ground pepper and he brought a pepper mill to the table. As he ledt I started grinding and all I got was . . . nothing. I called him back, explained the situation and he brought me another with no further problems. Add a little balsalmic vinegar, ground pepper, maltese bread and we were off to a good start.
Course Two:
I should have pulled out my camera right there. A plate full of spagetti piled high with tomatoes, clams and mussels steamed to perfection. My mouth is watering just remembering them. I quickly dug in. As I was eating, I noticed a large table in the corner that was set for 8-10 people. My you waiter, being the only other person taht I could see in the room, kept flitting ove to the table checking to see that everything was in order. I noticed the door open and a couple Max's, the owner, frinds started coming in. They looked me over as the came in and drifted over to the table set in the corner. Max greeted them and they would come and go, go back to the kitchen, walk out fornt for a smoke or talk on the phone while I gobbled down my seafood and pasta.
Course Three:
It was about time to get a refill on my wine so Max just brought the bottle over to the table and set it down. The next course was tomatoes and greeens salad and a wonderfully prepared steak! We're talking 10 oz. of honest to goodness delight. Taking my time, I savored the wine, the steak, the beautiful Italian conversation at the other table as their food and wine was starting to be consumed. I asked my waiter if he qould inquire of Max if I could take a picture of him and his friends. Being Italian, I never doubted what the answer would be. They hammed and posed as I got a group shot.
After a cappichino, which my young waiter sheepishly admitted that he had never made before (it was quite good) I paid mybill and asked the waiter if he would translate for Max and his friends. I told them thank you for allowing me to share t=dinner with them and for good food and good friends.
When in Malta, please visit Restorante Alfonso!!! I recommend it highly. Now to sleep off all this food.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Which door will you choose?

One of the fun things that I have observed since being here is all of the different types and colors of doors. Now I am giving you several examples and you have to guess whether they come from Valletta, Malta or Tripoli, Libya. If you can guess correctly, you may win a prize, or you may not -the choice is mine.

When I left to come overseas, a good friend of mine reminded me of an adage; "... to remember to celebrate the small victories along the way". Most of the time, those are easy; like remembering to laugh at things which appear absurb, to be happy that you get home at night no matter how lost or circuitous a route you took getting there, to enjoy the people that surround you on a daily basis. Today actually included a couple of items in "W" column at work. A contractor who showed up, listened and understood that I am trying to help rather than undermine him and a CM/CS who actually called and said that he intended to attend a meeting tomorrow after being AWOL for 6 weeks. As the saying goes, Showing up is the half the battle.

And the winner is . . . wait, I must delay until I see your votes and comments.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Catching up with Friends

I decided that since this is the 40th anniversary of my gradation from high school (I was quite young when I finished - or so it seems) that I would take the occasion to peruse the reunion website and try and catch up with some fiends (notice I did not say "Old" friends). Now there are a few that I run into on the rare occasion but most I have lost track of.

Now lets see, I've contacted my closest choir buddy out in the pacific northwest who's in the Ukraine this summer, a friend who has returned home to care for parents in their last years, an attorney who is now a para-legal away from the fray of conflict but who's husband is now a successful restaurateur, my long lost copy editor from Fort Worth who works in Dallas but has his PhD from Denton and wants to be a used car salesman when he grows up and a few others who haven't taken the time to return my emails.

It's is good to see what time has wrought and what adventures we have all traversed. When I look back I am amazed at the time in which we have lived, the things that we have seen and experienced and hopefully learned along the way.

So now let's all have a little fun.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The News at 4:00 pm

Sundays are always interesting as you get to work, log on to your laptop and hope that the server is up and you can get a connection, print your reports for staff meeting, etc. Well we got to work and as the saying goes, things didn't work the way we would have liked. Only a minor inconvenience. It was the first time since I've been here that we have had a full contingent at staff meeting (well, almost - we are still one Brit shy of a full load).

Our director of communications is a good friend with whom I share coffee and breakfast most mornings on the deck. That makes it sound a lot more cosmopolitan than reality but who cares. She told me this morning that we were expecting a film crew from our client this afternoon to do an infomercial for the September 1 Celebration. If you don't know what that is, Google Libya and September 1. The producer/interviewer came in and set up his camera next to my desk. After sitting there feeling awkward for about 5 minutes, I reached in my computer bag and grabbed the camera I alway carry for project photos. I asked him if I could take some pictures and like the star that he is, he exclaimed that he would be happy to allow me to take pictures as he posed. See, there are some things that are no different anywhere in the world. They kept filming as we neared the witching hour of 4:30. Luckily, they finished at 4:25 as we all rushed to log out, unplug, pack up and make for the vans home.

Not a bad Sunday at all.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Trip to the Market

We had scheduled a van for this morning to take us downtown to the market (Souk) to poke around and shop a bit. Word got around and we had a full bus as we headed downtown. We made one stop to drop off one of our friends as he was meeting others for lunch elsewhere. We departed at Green Square at the entrance to the old Medina. As you can see, the streets are backed with shoppers looking for this or that. The way things are arranged is quite different from what we are used to in the malls in America.
In America, the mall owner protects his tenants from some competition by only allowing so many shoe stores, a certain mix of women's clothes shops, etc. Here, all of the merchants selling the same type of goods group together so all of the gold jewelry merchants are along one long row, each with their own kiosk, all of the spice vendors are in the same area, all of the shoe vendors in another area and so on. The only thing that I found that I needed was pepper corns, 1/3 kilo for 2 LD. I never found the pepper mill. I had to make another run this evening to the local home /kitchen furnishing store in the neighborhood to purchase a couple of canisters and a pepper mill.

After wandering the streets shopping we had worked up an appetite. And what way to finish off a shopping trip than mexican food (Libyan style) atop a nice restaurant overlooking the Marcus Arelius Arch.
What you see above are the beef tacos. They were out of enchiladas so we all opted for tacos. The tortillas are a corn based Libyan bread but worked quite well. The seasonings were good and the hot sauce isn't mexican restaurant style but it is hot.

All in all, it was quite a nice outing for a Saturday but alas, back to work in the morning.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

End of the month

Here we are trying to close the books on July. Our administrative assistant left last weekend to go visit her mum in England so I volunteered to handle our reports for the Region while she was gone. My brain must have been somewhere else. I now have the responsibility of writing my reports and consolidating reports for all the other SRMs.

1. Weekly Report
2. Monthly Report
3. Top 10/20 Report
4. Contract Register
5. Units/Invoice Forecast Report

I'm not really minding. It's giving me a lot of exposure to everything that's going on in our Western Region.

Tomorrow I spend the day meeting with my new mentor assignment. He's been with our client for some time and was one of the chosen to go to Houston last year for 90 days of training. He'll probably know more than I do, especially about dealing with the complexities of the system here in Libya. I'm looking forward to meeting him.

Sorry that I don't have any funny tales to tell. With all the stories that the guys tell about getting their hair cut, I may wait until next weekend to fly somewhere and find a western barber or maybe I can become one of those distinguished gentlemen with longer hair. You never know.