Sunday, October 27, 2013

Career opportunity

The Construction Engineer vacancy is open again and will close on December 4 - jump on it!

Applying might finally help you find the work-anxiety-life-anxiety balance you've been striving for.

(This post written while listening to The Clash Career Opportunities.)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Welcome, goodbye, and I'm back

First and foremost, a huge WELCOME to our four new Foreign Service Construction Engineers who started at our OBO building on September 30th! They each went through a lot to get here, and now the real fun begins! Very cool, it's great to get help - especially really good help.

I was out of the office for a couple of weeks for two project visits that were planned for a long time but postponed: Niamey Niger and N'Djamena Chad. Both were very interesting and very different. The Niamey visit was for an active construction project I've been supporting remotely for about a year, and the N'Djamena visit was for a prebid meeting for a new embassy project.

Niamey was pretty hot, dry, and goaty. (I was surprised to see so many goats.) People posted there say there isn't too much do to: not many restaurants, weak internet, and regional travel is limited due to security concerns. It's certainly not all bad, as evidenced by this sunset photo I took from where I stayed:

The construction project is moving right along. It's a rehabilitation of an existing embassy compound, so one of its challenges involves careful coordination of construction activities with an operating facility. There are other occupants to consider as well:
It's coming right for us!

I was able to eat at some local restaurants and buy some food in a local grocery store, which was great. The biggest challenge was the local language of French: I speak a little so that made life easier, but my vocabulary needs a LOT of work. That gives me something to do with my spare time!
I ended up playing tennis one night with some of the embassy staff and we played until we ran out of water, which took about 90 minutes for each of us to go through a liter in the ~95 degree heat. There were quite a few bugs, but it was still very fun and I was glad there was a recreational outlet for the staff. Some of them said they played just about every day.

The flight leaving Niamey yielded the following photo taken just west of the city looking south, with the Niger River in the distance:
Not a lot of green, but not desert either

N'Djamena was pretty hot, dry, and grasshoppery. (I was told there were a lot of grasshoppers because it was harvest season and pesticides aren't used.) Unfortunately, the government of Chad doesn't take kindly to photography, so my photos were extremely minimal. I did sneak this shot of my dinner menu at a local Lebanese restaurant though:
The exchange rate was about 500 CFAs per USD, so deep fried beef brains were $8 - not bad!

As you'd expect for a landlocked country in the middle of Africa, shipping is difficult.  And since minimal materials and products are available locally, this basically means everything is expensive. A 2013 Mercer report found N'Djamena to be the fourth-most-expensive city in the world for American expatriates. And the Mercer report's data on a three bedroom unfurnished house rental rate of $2200 per month is significantly lower than the quotes I heard, which were well over twice as much.

N'Djamena is a challenging location for a variety of other limiting factors too: health care facilities, amount of skilled labor, availability of utilities, even finding housing (let alone the price), traffic congestion, et cetera. Yes, it gets hot (around 115 degrees F), but it also gets sandstorms. The contractors' bids are due in about a month, so we'll see if their estimates are in line with the government's estimate (and corresponding budget).

I'm back in DC and things haven't changed much despite the shutdown drama. At least I had a fantastic fifth-season teaser video for Archer to welcome me back.

(This post written while listening to Avicii Wake Me Up.)