Monday, October 27, 2003

So much for packing - I managed to put my kilt and related accessories into my bag, then got bored and went for a run with a Judo guy round the 'fitness forest' (dedicated readers will remember it from way back, it has all those signs with directions for physical jerks on). His girlfriend accompanied us to the park and sat at a strategic point to keep an eye on him. Since it was night, there weren't many other people running, though quite a few 'thinking about running' in sporty clothing while not actually doing it.

That was Saturday. Sunday turned into a very random day, I went for a chat with a guy from work in order to cement the anti-Darth alliance. He's one of the few genuinely genuine bona fide straight up guys in a senior position here, so I have a lot of time for him. He is building a house in an ex-rural area to the north of the city. We bumped along the dirt road with four kids (his plus two nephews) in the back. He phoned ahead to order the local restaurant to prepare a fish. This restaurant is owned by a guy known to everyone as 'Mafavuka' which means 'fell from the sky' because he was one of the few passengers on Samora Machel's ill-fated last flight to survive the mysterious plane crash.

He walks with a limp but appears to be doing very well for himself. The fish was delish, I washed it down with a few beers, my colleague with an impressive stream of whiskies. We then went down the road to his half-finished house and drank a lot more, while an entire village worth of kids played screaming random-a-side football on the little pitch he has built as a contribution to the local community (he is not originally from this part of Moz but like many many people here, an internal migrant).

About 8 o'clock we finally start heading home, having compared many secrets and sketched out a few Machiavellian plans. Only a few km down the track though he pulls into another watering-hole which is being constructed by a senior civil servant who I will avoid naming. The kids get a fizzy rotgut each to keep them quiet, which the littlest one, a cheery madcase called Marlon (after Brando) glugs down in about 15 secs then wonders why his belly wants to explode. My pal has a double whisky but I manage to stick to Amarula as I am getting worried about his fitness to drive.

Sure enough, half-an-hour later we wander up to the car and everyone gets in - except him.
"You drive, Cameron - I'm going to sit in the back (its a 4x4 pickup) because I want to smoke but the kids don't like me smoking in the car."

So, significantly over the (British, and probably Mozambican too) blood-alcohol limit I swing the truck through the gate and we all bump happily along the unlit dirt track, zig-zagging to avoid the ravines. Finally we hit the start of the tarred road and I pull in to the side.
"I'm going to be driving faster now that we're on the road so you'll freeze your nuts off up there in the back"
"OK - I'll drive from here - let me just do a pee".
[stumbles off stage left, falling over a few times, to pee against an innocent hut that happened to be nearby]
I look over my shoulder - there are two families worth of kids in the back. I may have had a few but at least I can independently manipulate each limb on command.
"Kids - do you want your Dad to drive or shall I drive?"
"You drive, Uncle Cameron" is the chorus of relief. Hmm.

So I persuade the car's inebriated owner to get into the passenger seat and we head off again on the main road. Unfortunately there is an old guitar in the car and pretty soon it is a madhouse of nursery rhymes mixed with MTV Unplugged-style Hard Rock which is my mate's forte. None of this helps me drive 6 people along a semi-lit potholed road in a car with bad headlights, a dirty windscreen and the road-handling of a supermarket trolley. The saving grace is that only lunatics and truckers drive at night here outside built-up areas here, so the road is almost empty.

After half-an-hour we miraculously make it back and I stagger upstairs to the flat. Yeesh - what a sunday. Psychologically I am completely not prepared for being in Britain two days from now.

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Saturday, October 25, 2003

Just as I am going away for hols, it looks like things are beginning to click into place - 'I love it when a plan comes together' in the words of George Peppard (played by Hannibal) from the A-Team. Isn't coming together nice?

Our (me & Luiz's) team is running like a well-oiled machine: result, we get more work. So we will be doubling or tripling in size in the next few months. which means a mad rush of interviews. The problem is that experienced staff are few and far between here, so some of the 'ideal candidates' we have identified are practically unhirable, because for the Ministry to nick them from their existing place-of-work would cause nasty political repercussions. We have also moved into our spanking new offices which are the business, except for a few glitches with the power supply here and there.

On the Escocia front, I have still not packed but hoping to get round to it today.

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Sunday, October 19, 2003

Another chilly weekend after a week of stifling heat. Just like in Scotland, the weather is the ‘wrong way round’ – I would so much prefer to work at the office on a cold day like this – 15 people and 30 computers packed into what is basically a classroom gets pretty hot.

Today I had a run-in with one of Darth’s chief cronies. Well, strictly-speaking he is the main technical advisor to another guy who is the Grima Wormtongue (for LOTR fans) on our project. While we were interviewing some candidates for a post I have been trying to fill for two months, he started giving me a sermon about how I needed to work for a greater good of the project and not be selfish yada yada yada. This coming from a guy who has managed to divert a significant propoportion of the budget to expensive international consultants who have yet to deliver anything.

He then proceeded to tell me that we didn’t need to send our recruits on a training course as he could teach them everything. I politely got him to admit that no, he had never actually worked in the position for which he was going to be the fount of all knowledge. I thought, but did not mention, that he had also spent the past week sitting next to me asking basic question about stuff he is supposed to be the guru on. Lack of technical competence is one thing, but to add blatant hypocrisy all wrapped in a package of arrogance is harder to ignore. Plus he nearly reduced the first interviewee to tears by carelessly pointing out that he had no chance of getting the job and was wasting his time. This wasn’t the interviewee’s fault, it was the HR agency for putting him forward in the first place.

Luckily I managed to keep my hair on, plus there was a big table in between us, although I was the furiousest I have been since I came here. Seething. I subsequently tried to convey through the diplomatic channels which link our two fiefdoms, (well, strictly speaking his is an ancien regime dukedom while mine is an impoverished yet free-thinking burgh on the banks of a river which could soon flourish with trade) that it would be nice if he could try to be less of a dickhead sometimes.

Sorry, don’t normally shoot my mouth off so much about work gripes on this blog, but this week was extra special in the pissed-offness stakes.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2003

First of all, a call for phone numbers. I lost my mobile the other day (well it was nicked actually) and I don't think I was conscientious enough to have them all written down. So if you're reading this and you live in Glasgow or Edinburgh please email me your mobile number so that we can like, hook up. Man from Toward don't worry, I know where to find you on the 1st.

Today we got a typically last-minute call to appear at a meeting with some Important Men in Finance who want to see how we are spending their money. We rushed home to suit up smart, then Luiz gave his presentation again, by now well-polished, and I was the engineer in the corner to field techie questions. I even put a couple of ballpoints in my shirt pocket (joke). In fact we were more there to show that the operation is serious rather than to actually talk. The one question that was in my area was deftly-fielded by Darth Vader, who managed to put his own spin on it.

It was a very impressive effort as the question at first sight hardly appeared spinnable. Plus, to be fair, since the questioners much preferred English and I am the only native speaker in the place, I would have wiped the floor with him had he let me get a word in. Since Darth's English is only fair-to-ropey I suspected he realised the danger and thus moved to head me off at the pass. Luckily I had brought my laptop so all the time was not was wasted, I spent a pleasant hour putting the finishing touches to a technical manual while the Powerpoint flashed on the wall above my head.

Tomorrow afternoon some of the checker-uppers will be passing by the office to look around, so I will make sure that the place is a hive of brainstorming sessions, beeping servers and most of all little groups of people leaning over monitors to point at the screen in professional harmony, two 'looking on' as the third points to something really important on the screen. These are the kind that any IT recruitment brochure ever has on the cover, but in fact they are hokum, if you have 5 developers hunched round the same computer it normally means something has gone tits up.

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Sunday, October 12, 2003

Public peeing. There has been an outbreak of this here in Maputo. It could be that I have only just started noticing it – or maybe it is only now with the warming weather that Mozambican manhood reckons its safe to expose their members to the elements.

And expose is the word – against walls, behind trees or in corners. The only rule seems that you have to make a semblance of an effort at protecting the public from your extravaganza. But just like when you’re a kid and think that when you shut your eyes no-one can see you, here it doesn’t matter if the tree is a sapling and you are facing onto the street – it still counts as 'discreet'. Well actually senhores - we can see the block and tackle - so thanks guys.

Meanwhile here is a wicked invention, a decent result from all the tens of billions NASA receives: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3182744.stm

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Thursday, October 09, 2003

I have finally managed to buy my tickets for a flying-ish visit back to Scotland. I'll be there between the 30th Oct and 14th Nov, so book your seats now.
The main reason is to attend the wedding of a certain Mr. D.B. to a certain Ms. E.F., who are very inconveniently getting married on the same day my little acorn of a project first sticks its head above the soil.

Well, it might be the same day - tomorrow we have another 'important meeting' at which everything will apparently be made clear - regular readers will have heard that before!

But seriously, while I am back home I hope I will manage to catch up with everyone else too. I will be mainly wearing Glasgow but also some Edinburgh too.

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Sunday, October 05, 2003

Well the boys dun guid. We got a public commitment from the key VIPs that our project will go ahead, and Darth even came up and congratulated us later, in a kind of 'admitting-defeat' way. But he is a sly cat and there are still two more hurdles to go so we shan't let down our guard.

The eternal saga of our water supply continues, but we have now manage to negotiate a cut in the rent in return for us taking on responsibility to fix it. We got a plumber round and he has already spotted that the newly-installed pump was not primed, so hopefully he can sort that today. After that we can go swimming as the heat has been blanketty these last few days, and the mozzies are out in force.

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