Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Today was a fairly relaxed day at work, but outside on the street the same scene as Christmas Eve (also a semi-official half-day, like Hogmanay) was repeated: dozens of people jostling and elbowing to get inside the narrow entrance of a wholesale off-licence. Every other day of the year so far apart from these two this is one of the most unpopular shops in the area - dark inside, musty with a few dejected staff standing by little mountains of dodgy portuguese wine in 5l casks. Plus you can only get in by climbing up 3 bizarre high steps to the door, then down again to get inside.

But today it was mayhem, and the steps served their purpose, bottlenecking the punters in the doorway so the staff could get them into an orderly queue. Hogmanay here seems to be a bigger event than Christmas and everyone is stocking up on the booze - as I walked out of the office an old lady swerved onto the pavement in front of me carrying a whole crate of gin on her head. We are going to try and find a fireworks display somewhere on the seafront, since tomorrow is a holiday so plenty of time to sleep in.

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In fact, the drive (between Maputo and a farm we were staying at in Mpumalanga province near Lydenburg) was very pleasant both ways as the roads were almost empty - it seems that most people don't do their festive season driving on Boxing Day!

We did have one nasty incident being overtaken by an intercity coach (very big luxury-liner type things) on a stretch of roadworks - he forced a works truck off the road after zipping past me with centimetres to spare - but this morning I phoned up the company's office and waxed lyrical about how I would never send my family on their coaches ever again, yada yada, so hopefully they will try and instil slightly more of a 'safety kultur' in their drivers.

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On sunday I set a new record for going through the SA-Moz border - 36 minutes gate to gate, including both sides. And this with a Neill in tow, who doesn't yet have all his papers, so he needed to get a border visa which is generally a cumbersome procedure.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2003

We are fast approaching the least xmassy Christmas of my life, the project is all systems go with truckloads of equipment arriving and leaving every day. One of said trucks was in fact impounded by the police at the weekend as the Ministry driver had been merrily winding his way up the coast under the influence -and without papers - while he delivered some of them to Xai-Xai. Fair-enoughly the Highway Patrol got a bit suspicious and pulled him over.

Meanwhile Neill has arrived to start working here and is bombarding everyone with Portuguese questions. I think the team like having the chance to practise their English with him - and programming words are all the same anyway in whatever human language, such was the hegemony of America in the early development of what became the modern software industry.

Because that's the way le cookie il ce crumble ici, we have been rewarded for our first glimmers of success with an endless rain of extra proposals and demands for help. Many of these are well-intentioned but totally unrealistic, so we try to fend them off nicely. However some are downright dangerous - today I helped a ragtag alliance of Mozambicans to stop one such white elephant in its tracks - it was yet another attempt to take all of our problems and hope that by writing them down in a big document and throwing money at them they would magically disappear.

With all this it is Christmas Eve tomorrow but I have had to cancel my trip to Johannesburg as we have finally got the most recalcitrant bank lined up right where we want it and we need to grab it now if we want to get things signed sealed and delivered by the end of year. So altogether very strange - during the day am so busy I hardly have time to think - subconsciously I am still thinking that the festive season is 'about a month away'.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Rushing madly to finish writing the second lesson in a Java training course...

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Sorry nae bloggerizing for a while will try and write something today...

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Wednesday, December 03, 2003

We went live today, very peacefully (which is a good way to go live, neither bang nor whimper). Several of the inevitable bugs occurred but by now I have several crack fix teams* trained up and by the end of the day we had squashed them all. To celebrate I honoured a bet I made long ago and wore my kilt to work. This generally went down well, but walking around at lunchtime it was very hard to keep a straight face as there was so much jaw-dropping. I had to go to the Bureau de Change and walking back with 5million (meticals!) in my sporran it was quite good to have the deterrent effect of sheer confusion (one guy actually asked if I was a boy or a girl) to ward off pickpockets.

Anyway, despite the smoothness of the switch-on, there will be momentous consequences - this day the worm really began to turn. For several weeks now the contrast between our neck of the woods (energetic, productive and almost 100% mozambican) and certain other parts of the project (not sure what they're doing but no software is coming out the end) has been causing rumblings. Today these came into the open. There is a frantic effort starting to 'mozambicanize' some of the teams but apparently all the new starts want to work in our team because its reputation has spread.

This is very gratifying but runs the risk of overexpansion - we can only digest so many new people at once without losing our magic formula, so tomorrow I will speak to a PIP (Pretty Important Person) to gently put this across. In fact I suspect he is a VIP in disguise, on the road to becoming a EIP, but he's also very sorted and today realised that he has definitely been 'backing the right horse' with us so it shouldn't be too hard to find a happy understanding.

*crack fix team - nothing to do with cocaine arrangers, rather a group of people who are good at working together to resolve errors in software applications

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