Rumble at the Consulate ’07

September 30, 2007

We don’t need a reason to party in Juba: For us expats, all we do is work hard, maybe run a hash or play some touch rugby and drink.

Well, except for some NGOs. . .they do that without all the work.

Zing!

However there’s two types of parties that really prevail: birthdays and going aways.

Birthdays are fun and all, but a going away party is especially fun. Everyone is excited and a little jealous of the person departing. Regardless, we go cause we get a little taste of freedom; someone’s going home or on vacation and to stand next to them is to feel that for yourself.

This time it was MetalHead’s time to leave, and he threw the party at the US consulate compound. MetalHead was our security expert, Frappy’s replacement. A former street cop from The States, he’d worked security in Iraq, Afghanistan, and lived in Peru with his wife. He was a downright fun despite Five-O status. Not like Superbad fun cop, but hey, we don’t have any McLovins here.

The US consulate compound is colloquially called The Secret Garden. Landscaping, tennis courts, burgers and fries, hot showers, a decked out gym, a swimming pool, and big LCD TVs. Going there is forgetting one is in Juba.

We had set up to play some beer pong, and there was a great turn out. Everyone was having a great time, and everyone was cool. But, then again, they were all MetalHead’s friends. We had a blast. But then people started getting tossed in the pool. It was Buckshot who pushed me in. As I started to topple, I called out, ‘iPod iPod iPod iPod iPod!”

But it was too late.

My iPod and camera were submerged and unresponsive.

I saw Buckshot and he calmly left the pool area. I hoisted myself out of the and chased him down.

Now, buckshot ain’t exactly a small guy. He’s probably 6’2″ despite claims of 6’4″ and at least an eighth of an imperial ton. I’m not a small man by any means, chasing after Buckshot was probably against my better judgement. He was pretty fast for a monster of a human being.

When I caught up with him, however, I was able to tackle him down. I was also surprised at how far his sandals ended up away from us.

We tussled about on the ground for a little, but I eventually pinned him. I wasn’t trying to kill him, but hell, years of ground fighting training and it becomes second nature.

He was not happy about it. The fact that I had just been thrown in a pool meant all the dust we kicked up began to stick to me and become mud.

And there was a lot of dust.

It must have been quite a sight.

Luckily PopNLock and KCQ were around pull us apart.

Take everything away from me, if I got my passport, my guitar and my gadgets, I’ll be alright. Camera, iPod, Laptop, all gone. I was one pissed off Geek. But still, I really shouldn’t’ve resorted to violence. Buckshot flipped his lid. I was way outta line. Not gonna lie.

PopNLock and KCQ are all, “it’s between mates, it’s good boys, it’s good, shake hands.” Buckshot was not about to shake hands and reverts to a southern drawl, and take shirt shirt off.

I consider the headline: Two American Expatriates were exiled from Sudan after starting a fist fight at the US consulate.

If security got involved we would’ve been taken to jail immediately. The locals, understandably so, don’t take well to fighting. It would’ve been bad situation.

Hearing the voice of SaBumNim in my head, I felt immediately ashamed for instigating something so stupid with a close friend. So I walked away, grabbed a hot shower in my clothes and found a ride back to my camp.

I woke up in the morning and the monster of the night before reared it’s head above the lake of my mind’s memory. As I arrived at the office I knew word had already gotten around, but I didn’t say anything.

That night, we were going to watch the England-South Africa world cup match at Logali House. Raleigh gives me a ride and says, “we gotta pick up Buckshot first,” and gives me a look.

Buckshot’s a damn good friend, and one hell of a human being. How many people do you know would move to Sudan on your word after not seeing you for two years? He’s the kind of guy who lives to make everyone around him happy; it’s what makes him such a damn good hospitality professional. He’s a lazy mofo, but hey: no one’s perfect.

Buckshot gets in the car same as always, “what uuuuuuup.”

When we arrive to watch Rugby, Raleigh walks on ahead with some clients.

I look at Buckshot. “Are we cool?”

He pushes me, “Fuck you”

Then he grinned.

We both started laughing.

We started walking up to the gate and he shakes his head. “Of course, bro. We always cool.”

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A Month on a Dell: What It Did Do

September 20, 2007

Oh, I had prayed this would never happen

Thanks for nothing, Flying Spaghetti Monster.

About a month ago, a power surge fried the motherboard on my MacBook. If this would’ve happened anywhere else in the world, it would be a 1-2 week fix and a $800 or so.

Not is Sudan: a week to arrange to have it carried back to Nairobi. Then another week to get it assessed.

The initial quote: $1100 plus shipping and a six week turn around. (zoom out, kneeling in the rain, a la Shawshank, but calling out in angst rather than elation, a la Shatner in Wrath of Khan)

VS.It was quicker and cheaper to have a new one brought from The States. Luckily, I knew someone on their way.

More on that later.

But in the meantime, I was handed a Dell Latitude 120|L.

I was reluctant, but I did ok.

I installed Safari, Thunderbird, and Pidgin.

I uploaded some tunes from my iPod.

But, as my coworkers can attest, I was curt, irritable, and moody.

I missed my Mac.

I missed the minimalist keyboard, the expansive trackpad, the smoothness of the LCD hinge, the lack of latches, the well organized ports, and I really missed the built-in iSight webcam. While I missed my 2.16gig Core 2 Duo and 1gig of RAM as the Dell had a 1.73gig M and 512 RAM, it was more than the hardware: it was the software.

I adore OS X from head to toe: the dock, Mail, Exposé, and the venerable Spotlight, not to mention apps like OmniGraffle, Sidenote, Adium, and (of course) iWork. It’s a joy to use in so many respects. But I needed a computer for my work, so I had no choice.

It was the Dell or a pink slip.

As I sit now, tapping away on my recently delivered matte black Macbook, I could go on for pages about what Windows was missing in terms of software. But it wasn’t so much what Windows couldn’t do; it was what Windows did do.

Waking from sleep:

It was painful.

It was slow.

I’d press the space bar: nothing.

Then I’d hit the power button: nothing.

Space space, space-ity space space: nothing.

Power Button?

The screen would light up only to shut down. I would subsequently flip my lid and tear out of the tent while it rebooted for four or five minutes.

The Trackpad:

I poked around on the internet a little bit: I could have tracked down, downloaded, and installed a Synaptics driver and accompanying management software, restarted, and eventually turned off trackpad clicking.

But I didn’t have time to do all that.

So I dealt with it.

Switching Applications:

I’d click from Excel to Safari and it would click the link in Safari. Clicking back to Excel it would select the cell. Then I’d bump the trackpad and click open another Citrix connection.

I learned to use alt tab.

The Quicklaunch:

First thing I do when on a Windows machine is turn on the QuickLaunch so I can get to the Desktop and My Computer without using the abhorrent Start Menu.

But for some reason, about two weeks in, the Desktop icon disappeared from the QuickLaunch bar. Maybe I accidentally dragged it off with the infernal and unstoppable trackpad clicking, but I did not have the time figure out how to get it back.

The System Tray

Wireless, ethernet, iTunes, MacAfee, Windows’ Security Center, volume, MediaFour, AVG, Quicktime and Intel Wireless. There were too many icons, but why there were two wireless and two virus tools? I have no idea, but I wasn’t about to delete one and risk breaking everything.

And the bubbles! Good lord, it was like the mustard-tinged comic strip from hell every five minutes:

Take a Tour of Window’s XP.

No thanks. I’ve been to South Dakota already.

Keep your system up to date.

Huh? Do it for me, computer.
You system may be at risk.

You’re at risk of getting shoved off the desk

Virtual Memory is at a critical level.

My patience is at a critical level.

I’m sure these annoyances can be turned off. Well, I’d hope Redmond allows for the bubbles to be turned off. But start/control panel/system/system tray/properties/turn off notifications/OK/Apply, or whatever is may be, is too far into the system for me to spend time looking for it.

And what’s with Apply and OK? Do I need to to click Apply if I click OK? If I click Apply do I need to click OK? I always did both just to be sure.

More Bubbles:

Every time I attached USB device like five different windows popped up:

AutoPlay: scanning

*click*

New hardware found.

*click*

New hardware installed.

*CLICK*

Your New hardware is ready to use.

*SLAM*

This disk contains more than one type of content. What do you want windows to do?

I couldn’t find the ‘shut the fuck up’ button.

Ejecting Disks.

One argument I encountered in college was software eject. It was a load of crap then, and it is now as well. I can keep a DVD’s worth of content on a $29.99 flash drive, or 80 DVDs on a $199 hard drive, software eject rules the new peripheral media world.

Yeah, yeah, I know. One can just yank out the USB plug as long as it’s not reading/writing. But when it takes six weeks to get a new hardware, I prefer not to risk it.

Right click/eject was not always an option, for some ungodly reason. On some media it was there, some not.

So back to the damn system tray.

Right click, ‘Safeley remove hardware.”

USB Mass Storage Device.
USB Mass Storage Device.

Great.

Which one is the thumbdrive which one is the HD? I’d better click ‘properties.’ That will surely have all the information I could need.

This device is working properly.

Crap.

Eenie, meenie. . .

Multi-button mouse:

It wasn’t all bad. I was always staunchly on the minimalist side here. Have been since pops brought home that SE in ’87.

I was adamantly in favour of the single button mouse. With clicking and dragging and keyboard shortcuts, I never saw the need for two buttons. Along with the new MacBook came a wireless Mighty Mouse.

Consider me sold.

I’m still gonna use keyboard controls for most of what I would use the right click option, but when it comes to surfing, right click/open link in new tab is wondrous.

Virtuagirl:

This may not have been what the had in mind when Bell Labs fine-tuned the transistor, but I’ll be damned if this (NSFWish) is not the single greatest piece of software in the world.

The day VirtuaGirl gets ported to OS X it’s game over.

Guaranteed.


The New Restaurant

September 9, 2007

“Where the hell have you been,” seems to have been the pervasive emotion emanating from my various available channels of communication. For a good 17 days, I was not emailing, calling, chnepring, or available.  Minor facebooking occured, but I was seriously off the grid. 

In general, when people ask what I’m doing here, the usual response is, “I killed a connected man,”  but seriously: if I ever did need to get lost, Africa seems a like a good a place as any.  

I didn’t kill anyone.  

Ever.

But I am still alive.  

I was just opening the RCC, the new restaurant.  Two weeks ago, I got word from the COO that I’d be running a new project.  I reminded him that I was on a deadline from the CEO.  We decided to put our corporate chef on the gig, but he would only be here in a few days, and it was not a one man job for a number of reasons.  

1) We didn’t have a budget.  As in, it was a contract gig for a major international corporation but involved a third local party, and everyone pointing fingers. 

2) I was given 16 hours to get it going.  At first I handled it like I had handled many of our outside catering dealies: we trucked food in.  But that only made things more complicated and tied up too many resources.

3) It was intended to be a la carte. El Berkerino came in the following day and we set Monday as the goal to start full service dining at RCC.  

4) The kitchen was a bare room with three small sinks and a long stretch of counter space with no equipment (not a fridge not a freezer, not a stove) shitty MacBook frying electricity, and was piped with river water. 

5) We had no employees.  We stole a few eventually and hired some, but to start we had nothing. 

6)  It’s about 1km out of town.  That means like 20 minutes with these roads.  The only way we would be able to get people to come there was to provide the best food in town.

7) So on top of all this and the international cluster of the deal, mafi garush.  

We scrounged all over Juba for equipment and people and food.  There’s a sense of comraderie among our properties, but when a chef has only two chinois and gives you one, that’s sacrifice. We had chaffing dishes, cutlery, and crockery from the catering set up, found and trucked in a charcoal grill, a safari oven, ‘borrowed’ a soup terrine, a chest freezer, and a mini fridge, but had to have an electrician rewire everything for industrial surge protectors.

On monday we served lemon herb chicken with oven roasted potates and a soup and salad buffet.

Our luck changed drastically mid-week when we found a brand-new single-barrel fryer at the US consulate.  A day later we were serving the best fries in Juba.  Hell, we were making the best fries I’ve had in Africa, period.

The problem is two fold: grease temperature and starch levels in the potatoes.  The starchier the potatoes, the tougher it is to get them fluffy in the center.  The lower the grease temp, the more difficult it is to get them crispy.  All the potatoes I’ve worked with in africa are really, really starchy.  All the fries I’ve had have been really soggy because to get the fry to the right consistency the potatoes must be cooked for a really long time at a low heat. High heat woudl just result in a crispy outside and raw center. 

McDonalds makes their fries by frying them twice: once blanched in low heat, frozen, then flashed for service.   We do the same thing but three times, and end up with fries that are kind of like In-N-Out.  And we invented what may be the single greatest food ever created: Cheddar cheese sticks wrapped in bacon, beer battered and deep fried.  I call defribulators, or defribs, for short.

Not to mention that with my homemade BBQ sauce, we’ve the best wings this side of the Anchor Bar.  The icing on the cake is El Berkerino’s incredible ability in the kitchen.  Having worked in a James Beard nominated kitchen and on the line in a Todd English establishment, by week two we began putting out dishes like roasted chicken with soft parmesan polenta and a mediterranean olive relish, braised beef tips with a root vegetable cous cous, or citrus poached white fish and a coconut and avocado salsa, or pork leg and crackling with a peach chutney.

I mean, we’re not plating up seared duck breast with sweet breads and porcini demi glace or nothing, but this is some serious shite for Juba.  

Just don’t tell Buckshot.  He had the best game in town until we came along.