Tuesday, August 16, 2011

back in town, staying busy

I have been back in California for a few days now. It's been low key so far, but about to get much busier with a wedding, road-trip, Vegas-trip, then DC trip planned for an exciting flurry of activity.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

eight weeks in - on my way

By the time this posts I will have started my journey back to the U.S. from Balkanabad. First, a short flight back to Ashgabat, an evening there, then a red-eye to Frankfurt via Baku, and ending with a nice nonstop to SFO. (I can taste the airline miles and they will taste like premium status after a couple more rotations. Perhaps this time I can avoid ending up in a middle seat.)

This first hitch through Turkmenistan has been a little longer than the prescribed seven weeks and that is fine by me. It was a good run with a lot of atypical challenges which I can envision becoming typical challenges. Carrying over the sentiment from last week, this has been really great. I look forward to being back in California and I look forward to coming back here in about three weeks.

In the meantime, it's time to see family and friends, eat some different food, and generally have a good time. Maybe I'll sprinkle in just enough work to make sure I have a good transition back and all will be good.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

back next week

Barring a change in my flight plans, I will be landing at SFO next Wednesday and should be around for about three weeks, though I do not have a return date at the moment. With that said, what's going on in the Bay Area? I've also been noodling around with the idea of trying to go by the greater Los Angeles and possibly San Diego area before August 20th. And then there's that thing the weekend after that with that guy who is going to do that other thing a couple months from now. You either know what I'm talking about or not. (Hint: It may involve poor fiscal decisions.)

Rotation is going to be wicked awesome. Oh wait, wrong regional phrase. I meant hella cool.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

seven weeks in - this is better

As a place to work and live and be, this is a much better location than Gabon. It's a mix of things, but simply put, everything here works better. This is not to say that everything here works well, but it is better. Of course, relative comparisons are hardly worthwhile if you say something is better than what you had in the past if all it does is suck less but still suck. However, I would venture to say the total suckage here is much lower than even my typically pessimistic expectations.

Please pardon my excessive use of the word "suck" and its variants. I cannot help but be reminded of a scene from The Simpsons (since everything can remind me of something from that show) where Homer uses the word a bit often:
"Yeah Moe, that team sure did suck last night. They just plain sucked. I've seen teams suck before, but they were the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked."

Anyhow, I like it here, though that is still colored by the relative recency of Gabon. I did not truly admit it while I was in Gabon, or even say it when I was back in California last December, but I was not happy in Gabon. This is not to say I was unhappy, but I was definitely not enjoying myself. I could have held out there and easily worked there another year, perhaps even indefinitely, but it would not have been a happy year. It was only when I was back in California this Spring that many of you probably heard me say how glad I was to be out of Gabon. It's hard to capture the exact essence of what did not fit, but Gabon is not the place for me. While West Africa is not on the top of my list of places to go, I don't have a blanket objection to the region. I rather enjoyed my time in Congo and believe Gabon is a specifically bad fit.

This location captures some of the elements of working in Hungary and briefly in Congo that I enjoyed. There is a sense of community here both amongst the overall base and a smaller one amongst the expats that makes everything more enjoyable. In Hungary, it was social atmosphere of the city and being able to go out and have a drink with all the guys. Congo was a big base where you saw lots of people and we also played soccer in my brief time there. Here, with the camp as a focal point, there are dinners/parties by the pool for various reasons. There is vibe at this base that Gabon never had.

There will always be client that is the most frustrating or least favorite or just slightly crazy. Even if all you had were good clients, one of them would still be relatively frustrating or crazy. This place is no exception, but all problems of this kind have solutions. Gabon however, had clients from a particular country that were very difficult to work with, seemingly as part of their culture since the most difficult ones were from the same country. We had a meeting, a technical meeting presenting a product, but the client engineer saw fit to state "No work, no pay!" increasingly loudly at least six times during the meeting. OK dude, I wasn't listening the first five times you said it, but that sixth time really hit home. Here, we might have our own client like that, but if they say it in Russian, then it doesn't make me want to punch them in the face as badly since I won't understand what they are saying.

The downside of this location is that it lacks access. This is a camp location for expats meaning we live within the walls and rarely see the city. Yes, we can and do occasionally eat out, but it will never be the same as living in the city. The lack of access also extends to resources available for work. We have to be a little oasis because outside support is difficult to get and slow to materialize. But if it was easy, then it just wouldn't be as much as much fun nor as satisfying to actually get work done.

Now, this has been seven weeks and I am in theory on a 7x3 rotation, but I am not leaving quite yet. One more week for this first rotation and then I will be back. There is the chance it is two more weeks, but I should know by the weekend if that other extra week is going to happen.