Gus

March 9, 2008

My staff here is great.

They want to learn so badly, that I’ve commanded a role of executive chef, teaching them American food. One of the stewards is is very vocal, but sometimes can’t wrap his mind around what he wants to say in English. Or maybe he gets nervous when he addresses the boss. Whatever it is, when he stumbles in ellucidating his thoughts he will mouth words, staring persistently in the distance and and flap his arms until he gets it right.

I admire such persistence and dedication.

They are hard workers, at shifts for 12 hours a day or longer.

Despite their determination, every now and then they do things that boggle my mind.

We received a couple bunches of fresh asparagus in the other day. It wasn’t the the half inch thick organic gus we uses to serve chilled with vinaigrette and parmesan shavings at Houston’s, but it was good enough. I showed my chef and sous chef the proper method of snapping the stalks at their natural break point and stripping some of the bitter skin at the bottom.

“Sawa?” I inquired to see if they understood. They both nodded vigorously in assurance of their comprehension.

“Then,” to explain the cooking method, “we cook just like french beans.”

They both nodded in understanding and started jabbering in Swahili. Most of my professional Sudanese staff speaks Arabic and Swahili—as well as English—as so many of them grew up in Kenya o Uganda while the war was going on. It helps, cause my head chef only understands English when it

is

spoken

very

slowly

and

succinctly.

I returned to my office to plow through a mound of paperwork, beads of sweat dripping on the trackpad as the afternoon sun poured through the window.

Before dinner I usually do a walk though, complaining how filthy the place looks, no matter how clean it usually is, and washing my hands at least three or four times to make set an example.

“wash these dishes. . .clean the burners when ever they’re off. . .we need a sweep, a mop, and another mop after that. . .I want every horizontal surface wiped. . .how long has this meat been defrosting. . .”

On this particular afternoon’s walk through, things were good. I marveled at how slowly the dishwasher managed to wash dishes. The staff cooks, two little ladies with big smiles were chattering in some language but stopped as I walked by. I decided not to ponder the possibilities of the topics of conversation.

Staff cooks. God damn. We have maybe 25 employees on the compound and I employ two ladies just to cook for all of them. We go through 24 kilos of maize meal a week.

I saw the young man peeling carrots for the fresh steamed vegetables of the evening. I look at the prepared vegetables. I saw tiny little nubs of something, shaped like baby carrots, but much skinnier

“No way. They didn’t,” muttered the InMo.

“What is this?” I asked picking one up.

The chef walked over grinning. “As’gus,” he said.

I couldn’t hold in the laughter. They had taken the ‘as’gus’ and peeled off everything—everything–including the little fragrant buds at the top, and cut them into little sticks about the size of, oh, I dunno. . .haricôt verts, to be steamed with carrots.

Just like green beans.

I explained it a little better on the remaining stalks, so my cooks learned how to properly prepare gus.

I learned I had only a vague idea of the meaning of the word ‘succinct.’

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Go Home To

December 8, 2007

 

The first time I felt homesick was about 4 months into my ordeal, December ’06.  I had just gotten malaria and wanted nothing more than to be in a cool room in a warm bed and to be better.  Malaria was like the worst hangover in the world. You’re sweating, but you’ve got the chills.  You want to vomit, but have nothing up which to chuck.  I’m not even gonna mention the headache.  I wanted painkillers or sleeping pills or anything to make me feel better.

 

It’s not fun to be sick here, and in accordance with Murphy’s Law, sickness is more prevalent here.  I don’t think it’s pleasant to go see a medical professional anywhere in the world, and in Juba it’s no different.  However, detailing the woes of third world digestive issues to the lady with whom you cheered for the Barbarians against the ‘Boks the week before is about as uncomfortable as it gets.  Except for getting there—which is even worse—as the bumps on the road seem only to exacerbate one’s symptoms, one can only focus on observing life outside the bubble of the truck to take the focus of the discomfort.  

 

The smells are most unpleasant.  It’s always a gamble driving by the graveyard, if a breeze is coming off the river, an unbearable pong undulates through the air and assaults one’s olfactory system.  The smell is a lot of excrement, both man and beast, and probably a little decomposition.

 

But more than anything I think it is trash.   Unidentifiable burlap sacks, plastic shopping bags, empty bottles both glass and plastic, scrap metal, aluminum beer cans and tins that formally held various sustenance.  Trash lines nearly every street and a path and dusty trail in town, it lines the drainage ditches and streams, with each rain floating down the Nile to become Khartoum’s problem.  

 

Sometimes the wind will change direction and a silent, revolting ,black snow falls.  Fragile wisps of curled ash twist through air, over the course of a few hours will covering table cloths, and blowing along the ground with the orange dust, collecting in drainage ditches until the next rain.  

 

Boys ride Chinese motorcycles heads back, eyes squinted through the dust at breakneck paces.  Urchins sell dilluted diesel fuel out of old water bottles at rickety handmade stands, and speakers blast music at levels too high for the speaker cones resulting in unbearable levels of distortion.  

 

Police in their purple camouflage carry worn kalashnikovs and traffic police wearing their stark white uniforms in contrast to the dusty  background blow their whistles at the youth zipping through the roundabouts. 

 

Giant UN LandCruisers with monstrous radio aerials storm across the bumps weaving among the goats and every now and then a herd of cattle will stop traffic, their heads heavy with massive horns as a young man nicks their ankles with stick.  

 

And through all this, it can get tiresome: all this just to get some medication.   

 

Tex and I have had many discussions about the expatriate life here.  “You work hard here, you make your contribution, you make your difference,” he lamented once when he wasn’t proselytizing the virtues of Betrand Russel.  “But what do you go home to?  An empty tent, or container—maybe an actual room if you’re lucky—or you drink at the bar with the same people every night.”

 

He’s right. It can be a fairly lonely existence here.  For the last month I joked around, ‘it’s a seller’s market: had to import,” but that’s the truth.

 

Sure, the tent isn’t as nice as our duplex in Karen, but I’ve been lucky: I’ve had something to go home to.

  


Back In The ‘Dan

November 23, 2007

So in three days, I changed gears, packed up my shit, and The Girl and I headed to The ‘Dan.  Having just got situated, we had to act so fast, the time of change had yet to set in and inadvertently did not say goodbye to most of the wonderful people we’d met in Karen.

The Company hired her to take over for Buckshot, running the camp for a Major International Aid Organization.  She was happy to get back to work and set her prospects in Nairobi on hold to make some holiday cash.  The company signed her to a short contract, and secured us the time to go to the states for Christmas.

That’s right everyone, I’ll be stateside in three weeks.

I’ve been back at The New Restaurant almost since my return to Juba.  Some personnel got shifted, priorities changed, and there I was, back where I was distracted with food rather than logistics, inventory, and databases.

It’s been fun.  El Berkerino and I have been rocking the place steadily.  We’ve helped secure a contract with a Large International Para-Military Contractor And Consultancy, and things are going swimmingly.  We added a number of new menu items and honed the concept to the primary market: roughneck guys from south of the Mason-Dixon line.  If in a future interview, anyone asks me ‘my greatest challenge’ I’d say without a doubt, preparing BBQ and Cajun cuisine for a bunch of good ol’ boys with only a two burner gas range, a charcoal oven, and limited ingredients.

Thing is, the guys here are awesome.  They’ve been all over the world, have places in the Philippines, young international wives, and have a rosy outlook on the world.  They’re some of the best customers one could have and have become somewhat of a family in a short time.

The other bonus is that The Girl’s camp is right down the road.

The past couple weeks here have been unlike any of my other tours; I’m not just enjoying the work and the scene.

I’m living it up.


The Greatest Musician in All of Eastern Sub-Saharan Africa

October 9, 2007

One night, at the Bedouin bar, I was hanging out with Griffin. He runs the place.

He’s a great man.

A few beers into the evening, He says he wants more live music. Someone points at me and says, ‘This is the guy you wanna talk to!”

I’m all, ‘Uhhh, hey. . .’

But at the behest of the best drinkers in Juba, Griffin was somehow persuaded. I mean, I’m a great salesman, but I wasn’t about to book myself as entertainment for the competition

But theser gys were giving rave reviews of my playing ability, so I agree to play in two days.

But on thursday, I cannot find a PA or anything. I call Griffin. I email.

Nothing.

So I watch Ireland get whooped by France at Logali house instead.

Griffin happens to be there himself.

‘Aw crap, dude! I tried getting in touch with you!”

“Yah, it’s fine, mate. No worries. Next week, we’ll do it right, yeah?”

“Deal, dude.”

We chatted a little bit more until I realized I still had the same problem. Acquire expensive sound equipment in a developing nation in a span of seven days.

Luckily, one of our clients is a large multinational corporation that does infrastructure, technology, law, and government consulting all over the world.

The head honcho here in Juba told Raleigh he could use it anytime he wanted.

GOLD!

I’m assured it’s in his bungalow, and I can get it at any time.

This past week my boss was up my ass like a cheap pair of undies. So I didn’t actually check on the PA until about lunchtime Thursday.

Of course it wasn’t there.

I was still committed, and Griffin said he’d look into arranging one.

“Great googly moogly,’ muttered the InMo. “This dude’s never even heard me play. Talk about faith.”

Feeling dejected, I did some reading, then ran into Tex on my way to dinner. He rerouted me to the bar. Some hours later Wheezy shows up and Tex tells him about my show.

“Well, don’t start advertising for me yet. . .I still don’t have a PA.

“We have one,” counters Wheezy, “Allow me to email Sultan in Nairobi, and we’ll work something out. I’m sure it’ll be ok.”

“Sultan? Wait a sec. You work for Large Multinational Corporation that does Infrastructure,Technology, Law, and Government Consulting All Over the World?[sic]”

“Yes.”

“Well Sultan told Raleigh that we could use that PA.”

“Perfect. I’ll try and bring it by during lunch.”

I missed Wheezy at lunch.

I was off trying to make sure my codes were up to date and we were able to reconcile the arrivals of two trucks and an airline shipment in the same day.

I managed to scrounge a vehicle and went to visit Wheezy, but Wheezy wasn’t around. I managed to find someone who knew and gave me the PA.

“Hey, uh, Wheezy said there were mic stands.”

“I don not think so. I have never seen them.”

“Could we check again? We scoured the storage space to no avail.

“It’s alright. I’ll see what I can do.”

My driver said he knew a place. We bounced along the road to three different places only to be told, “Mafi.”

The third place was on the side of the main road towards Juba University. It had large speakers outside blasted music at obnoxious, distorted levels. The colorful dign thathung over the door purported to desigante a recording and photographic studio, as well as a general electronics.

Inside, the thin walls did little to block out the arabic blaring from the speakers outside and the dirt floor supported shelves holding DVDs and Panasonic stereos and chinese knock off iPods and a TV blaring AfricaMagic, the Satellite TV channel that plays Nigerian soapoperas. Four or five men in various states of repose seemed more concerned with the television show than the kawajja willing to give them money in exchange for goods and services.

“Mafi mic stand,” said the presumed proprietor. I rolled my eyes dejectedly, but caught a glimpse of the clip for a mic on a pole leaning in the back of the store. “Like that! There!”

“Rabble rabble rabble,” said the men.

“you want to buy or hire?”

“Hire?”

“Is not for hire.”

“How much to buy?”

“Is not for sale. Mushkula.”

“Mushkula? Is it broken?”

“Yes.”

“Let me see.”

“No.”

“I have technicians a welding machine. I’ll fix it for free.”

“Rabble rabble rabble”

“So let me take a look.” I began to move towards it and the men watching TV stood up and stared at me.

I look at my driver for some support, and he shrugged to indicate he was as confused as I was.

I was so frustrated I was ready to go ballistic. I was breathing deeply to calm myself. I turned back the men and stared the biggest one right in his pupils. I waited for him to blink. When he did I, I stepped in and struck him in the temple with my elbow, the punched the guy standing to his right with the same arm. The proprietor picked up a chair slammed it against my spine. I hit the ground, and rolled over only to see the mic stand swung at head. Cat like reflexes meant it hit my wrist and not my face. Grabbing it, I jabbed the assailant in the chest, spun it over my head and knocked down the proprietor. The last man standing made a dash for the door. I tripped him with the stand and he hit hard, knocking himself out.

Mic stand in hand, I walked out of the store.

Then it exploded.

Problem was, the mic stand actually was broken, so it was all for naught.

A few more places at malakal market, and we came up empty handed. we bounced back to the Bedouin Bar somber and silent and I unloaded the PA. I told Griffin I needed a mic stand. He wished me luck.

My tech guy said the UN had some. So went to the UN.

I waited around for Buckshot to finish some bullshit and we went to talk to the UN.

Nothing.

I was fuming.

“What good is this UN thing anyway,” muttered the InMo.

Around 6 o’clock, I went back to to see if Wheezy was around.

He was not.

But the Dude from before was there. So we did some more digging.

Sucess! it was a in unmarked box.

I showered and got ready pumped for the performance rock star style. I hung out with my groupies. I smoke two joints.

Then I smoked to more.

I gelled my hair and drank a couple Red Bulls to offset the heroin.

It was show time.

I pulled on my tights and set out to the Bedouin Bar.

When i got there it was a mature crowd. I knew immediately that I should have gone with leopard-print lycra rather than Zebra.

The party was pretty tame, and I waited quite a while to get on stage.

I got the nod from Griffin and walked over and did a quick sound check.

“uh, Hello?”

Heads look up form their drinks and conversations.

“Hi. I’m _________. [G major] But the ladies call me Oh Godyes.”

A quick adjust on the gain and I was off and running.

Mild applause followed each song, and I realized how sober and boring the audience was. I changed to some oldies, like ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,’ and a rockin version of ‘Nobody Does it Better.’

Still not much better.

Meh.

I cut my set short a few songs after a bunch of my friends arrived fashionably too late with a rousing rendition of ‘Hey Ya.”

Everyone said it was great except for Ego who told me I was a great guitar player, but I shouldn’t sing. I laughed and offered him a guest spot on the next set. He bitterly denied the opportunity.

We watched England narrowly defeat Tonga, and it was time for set two.

The had people had left. IanJames, Sauce, The BDB, Raleigh, Tex, Pahoyhoy, KCQ, PopNLock, Griffin, and about 15 other people remained.

I don’t remember what I started out with it, but even the people I didn’t know I had a good time.

I even caught Ego bobbing his head a couple times.

I began engaging the audience.

“Give me a band!”

“Gordon Lightfoot!”

“Dude! ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is like seven minutes long!”

“U2”

“Right. Play one chord without an echo pedal. That’ll sound real good”

I’d bust the balls of the requester until someone called out something I could play.

It worked well.

By the time 1:30 AM I couldn’t put the guitar down. Seriously, I did like 4 encores, and a pile of untouched open beers brought to me by various members of the audience

I walked home with IanJames after another beer triumphant as The Greatest Musician in All of Eastern Sub-Saharan Africa*.
The Greatest


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.”


Bravest Man Alive

August 19, 2007

Alright.

I don’t know if this is an appropriate topic for the chnepr forum, but I heard a pretty amazing story last night.

I was at a little shindig at some NGO. PopNLock and KCQ were there and I hadn’t seen ’em in months. PopNLock proceeded to challenge me to another dance off, as apparently is customary in his weird, twisted coastal Kenyan culture. We tore it up. It was all over when I pulled a double knee drop. PopNLock will still say he’s the better dancer.

But I think we all know the real answer.

I ended up dancing with some girl, and when I left,  she followed me out. We chatted a little in the cool night.

“Eaah. Not really getting along with this one,” assessed the InMo.

I met a bunch of new people, saw a bunch of Old friends, like Zim the lawyer/de-miner who used to fly, “a mahogany bomber.” There was Slick, the oil salesman, Irish the Irish girl, Disgruntled the Guy whose stage I stole, Stitch the Aussie who sewed my shorts, Logical the logistician, Zulu the birthday girl, and a bunch of others. It was really quite nice seeing everyone back together and what what.

My ride left and I decided to solicit a ride home from KCQ. He and Logical was talking to someone new, BravestManAlive. When I joined in the conversation, I heard, “there must have been a lot of blood.” I’m a big fan of injury stories since I have a lot of them—injuries and stories. But this trumped about anything I had. BravestManAlive had just undergone a circumcision.

“Why would you do that?”

“Well, my I was in Zambia, and my ‘banjo string’ was torn in an act of love.”

“Your banjo string?”

“Yeah, you know, ‘the turtleneck.'”

“Good god,” I managed to mutter.

“What were you fucking?” bursted out Logical.

“A bucket of gravel?” posited the InMo.

“It was her hand,” stated BravestManAlive calmly and succinctly.

“That must be the worst hand job ever in the history of the world,” indignanted KCQ.

“Yeah. The aftermath of the surgery was pretty bad too.”

“I can only imagine,” I stammered, trying to find appropriate words.

“Anesthesia?” posited KCQ.

“Yeah,” BravestManAlive shrugged, “General.”

“That’s a relief,” sighed Logical.

“Well,” stalled BravestManAlive, “If you’re gonna be unconscious with someone cutting at your pecker, there are better places to be than Zambia.”


The New Bar

August 17, 2007

I’m back in Juba, and we’ve got a new bar. We’re having a big grand opening on the 25th. I named the bar, designed the logo and composed all promotional materials like this ad, running all next week:

The bar ad

The white space is where the website for the bar goes. It has all the info not provided in the ad.

Sort of a teaser trailer, if you will.

Today, after lunch I was just walking by, and I saw two of my more senior local employees enjoying a beer.”

You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said aloud. “Are you drinking beers?”

“We are on break,” offered employee #1.”

It doesn’t matter. Let’s go to the office.”

“It is OK. I am strong,” replied employee #2.

“We’re gonna see how strong you are if you don’t move right now.”

“May I finish my beer?”

“NOW!”