Monday, December 23, 2013

Back from Freetown

I'm back from Freetown, which was definitely an interesting adventure. Despite all the work getting the project started, I did manage to see a couple of sights in the area.

I went to the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, which was very interesting. The facility rehabilitates chimps that have been too close to humans. The people certainly have their heart in the right place, but it's worth noting they haven't intentionally returned any to the wild. Four escaped in 2006, led by a chimp named Bruno in a wild story that culminated with the death of a local. Pretty scary actually. No one knows what happened to Bruno, he's quite the local legend. He's also a legend with people who worked on the embassy construction project because a construction worker was one of the people attacked (he survived).

I also went to Lakka Beach where we had fresh lobster, and I do mean fresh. See below for before and after shots.

We had to ask for butter, so we were feeling pretty sorry for ourselves.
I got a lot of time with the embassy drivers, and I asked one if a local rock splitting legend I'd heard about was true - he said it was. He said his friend's uncle happened to be an expert and he explained how it works. If you don't have enough money to remove a large rock mechanically (with an excavator), you can hire a local expert like the uncle who will bring kerosene, a piece of tire, and some tinder. He'll light the tire on the rock and let it burn for 2-3 days to heat the rock. He'll come back, clear off the fire, and pour water on it. The rock will crack, the expert will get the rock started, and laborers finish the job. I saw this in action several times in different places back and forth to work, one in a new road being built and another in the foundation of a new small building going up. I think it's a rather ingenious idea.
Back to the driver's story, I asked if his friend's uncle was still doing this. He said, "Now he is REALLY old, so he does not do it anymore." I felt like the 20-something driver was baiting me, so I intentionally took it and said, "What do you mean by 'REALLY old'? Like 40?" He smiled and said, "No, no - 50." Now before anyone takes offense, remember the life expectancy in Sierra Leone is currently about 57 (in the US it's 79).
Some Americans say living in that part of the world is also called "going on the West African diet".  Well, I didn't think I was going out of my way to eat less, but sure enough, I lost several pounds over the trip.  Now that I'm back in DC, I can work on getting back to my pre-trip cubicle weight.  The holidays came just in time!
(This post written while listening to Paul Simon You Can Call Me Al.)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Freetown redux

This trip has been a great adventure for all sorts of reasons, starting with the project: I'm getting my first OBO project going and applying what I've learned in DC over the past year plus.  It turns out that stuff DOES apply to real life (unlike differential equations, engineering school tricked me).  I have a lot to learn, but it's reassuring to have a good grounding in many basics, particularly the financial side of things.

I've been coordinating all sorts of issues to get the job going: hiring local construction management staff, shipping, taxation, housing, vehicles, site security, support materials procurement, and other things in addition to "normal" work like clarifying design questions, reviewing submittals, preparing the project files, compiling the final contract document set, weekly reporting, etc.

It makes for a lot of work so I haven't gotten out too much, but I did go for a short hike yesterday.  It really is easy to get very nice views here:
View north from Leicester Peak (Lungi is across the water in the distance)

Piles of rocks like you see in the foreground are very common around Freetown.  Just remember: on days when you think your job is tough, there are a LOT of people here whose occupation is Manual Rock Crusher:

They might have a nice view, but this was the middle of a Saturday afternoon...

Other things I've learned and seen:
- The Coke here is WAY too carbonated.  I still buy it, of course, but it's weird.  It's made in Algiers - who knew?
- The prices here are actually pretty high.  A normal size bag of Lays plain chips was $5.  I winced several times before I bought it.
- Near the hotel I'm staying at, there's a house I frequently drive by at night.  Almost every night, there's a group of people playing pool on a real pool table outside in front of the house.  Sometimes they use a flashlight.  (It's gone in the mornings, I'm not sure where they store it.)
- There's some sort of animal outside that makes some pretty horrible noises outside at nights - it almost sounds like dozens of Donald Ducks getting strangled repeatedly and VERY painfully. But I've seen enough horror movies to know NOT to open the door.
- You know your hotel room has a problem when you don't need to put on mosquito repellant when you go outside, but you do before you go to bed. I briefly named one Dead Albert because he WAS fat with [what I "hope" was] my blood, but then he died.

I spent a lot of time being driven around by the embassy's local staff. It's interesting to talk with them, and sometimes it's equally interesting to not talk with them: drivers can plug a USB drive into the radio to play their own music, and one driver's tastes were all over the place, going straight from Lil Wayne Abortion to Lionel Richie All Night Long.

I'll be here for a bit longer, so I'm hoping to get out to see a bit more of the area.  In the meantime, I'll just wonder what Lil Wayne covering All Night Long might sound like.

(This post written while listening to Nico Vega Beast.)