Wednesday, October 31, 2012

excitement! adventure!

I've struck gold!  Okay, not really.  But I toured the processing plant last week, which was incredible.  It's a grown-up jungle gym, with chemicals and machinery.  It's real-to-life alchemy, turning rocks without visible gold into iridescent bubbles rich with minerals - gold and copper.  I loved it.  Learning an entirely new technical genre is amazing.  I wonder who and when someone pondered through the process... what it was like for him or her and if they experienced anything like the excitement that I do when I'm learning about it.

So, there we go.  Some real live mining stuff.  In case you weren't sure that I wasn't on safari in Africa, what with the mostly animal discussions.

Also, it's tough to be an advisor.  While I am part of a team here, I'm an outsider.  The core team, the heads of their departments, the management team... they comprise the serious get-it-done work.  When something goes wrong, I get out of the way.  They know how to fix it and they should be fixing it.  I advise, I coach, I listen, I help them work through what they are thinking.  But I can't jump in and do it.  That's been an adjustment.  I want to get my hands dirty, you know?

Also, we went to Mwanza this weekend.  Flying never gets old for me.  It's just fun to do something that you know you weren't made to do.  Lift off and soar.  I got some decent shots of Lake Victoria, being prepared this time around.  (Next time I'll get you all some shots of the mine.)  It was a little bit stormy, but the clouds made the lake look silky, glossy, and flat.  It was beautiful.  Also, I saw lightning from a plane, another first for me.

We met at the Gold Crest, which was a nice enough hotel.  Just nice enough though.  The impression it gives is of a nice hotel, but the details are a bit lost.  The wireless access didn't really work.  My bed was a queen-size mattress placed on a king-sized boxspring.  That sort of thing.  Almost a nice hotel.  Situated directly next to the loudest club in town.  You could hear it through the walls.  Quite the experience.  BUT the meeting we held together was very productive and the dinner that night was phenomenal.  A little restaurant on Lake Victoria with a great view and even better dessert (fried bananas and ice cream, yum).

Also in Mwanza, they parade newlyweds through the streets with horns and drums.  The couple stands in the bed of a decorated pickup (streamers, flowers) with a few trumpets or a drummer and they are driven around and around the circle in the center of Mwanza.  It's the greatest thing ever.  All activity has to stop because you can't hear yourself speak over the noise.  The attention too is fantastic.  Everyone looks and cheers.  It's a tradition I approve of... translated to my American way of life, it feels a lot like noisemakers and commotion.  Nakupenda (I love it)!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

crazy awful giant monster flying african bug

I went to my office this morning at 4 am.  All inky black African darkness outside and strange stars.  I'd been awake for an hour and a half.  When I couldn't get back to sleep, I decided that tossing and turning was not going to do me any good, so I may as well just start the day.

Because I was in the office, I did get to straighten my hair in a mirror this morning (ah, the little things).  My bathroom in Africa doesn't have a plug in it and my bedroom doesn't have a mirror in it, so I've either been using my computer camera as an ad hoc mirror or I've been doing it blind and hoping for the best.  My office bathroom has a plug in it though, so cheers.

Also because I was in the office at an ungodly hour and no good every comes of that, I was attacked, by both mosQUEEtos that kept regenerating (honestly, I swear I clapped some that sprung right back up after just being stunned)... AND this bug.

I was Skyping (at something like 5 am) with Nick when that bug came in through a hole in the window screen (right behind my desk) and I was screeching.  It's a really loud bug - it sounds like a helicopter (no really), I've seen them before (or I thought I had), so when it started buzzing at the screen, I started telling Nick about it.  And, now, in the wild, they are totally interesting because they aren't bouncing around at the light directly overhead, they are just loud flying things way above my head, so all was fun and games.  And I'd even noticed the hole and been like, eh, there's no way it'll come in... and then suddenly I was screaming.  Holy crap!  It's inside, and I was running around my fairly sizable office, and still yelling to the Skype and hiding under my desk at some point.  It was ridiculous.  Then it disappeared, but obviously didn't get out... and that was worse for a while.  I was throwing a roll of toilet paper (this is all I could find that I was willing to sacrifice, there not being many extra supplies here in the wilderness of Africa) at anything that the bug might be hiding in or near (this is a shocking amount of things to hold your breath and chuck a toilet paper roll at, even in my fairly sparse office).  Eventually I found it on top of this electrical box and was able to get a photo, a number of them in fact.  I'm pretty sure it's dead and I almost wanted to try and move it, so that I could better photograph it, but decided not to chance such a thing.

So, post-photo op, I'm googling to try and figure out what this thing is, because of course Nick thinks I'm just afraid of nothing, and that two-inch bug (okay, so maybe inch-and-a-half, but seriously, a monster) is NOT nothing.  To identify it, I made the mistake of googling giant African bugs, which was a terrible horrible mistake (I don't suggest trying it, not even to understand more completely what I mean.  Just use your imagination.  You'll come close enough).  So then I changed it to giant African flying bug.  I think it might be a carpenter bee, but then I was distracted for the second time that morning by the hole in the screen of my window...

... by an incredible sunrise. So, I grab my keys and take off running.  Like the office is on fire.  No one runs in Africa.  I don't know why, but I haven't seen anyone even move quickly here and it's 6:15 in the morning and I am booking it, in the most professional outfit I brought out here mind you (I'm wearing a jacket today, no joke), to the sunrise.  I'm pretty sure that everyone working next door is concerned about me, which is only if they didn't hear the "I f'n hate Africa!" comment while ducking to avoid a giant flying buzzing African bug.  Otherwise, they think I'm completely crazy already.

And I took pictures that don't do it justice.  I said a little prayer (RWE) and curtsied to the Creator and then went back to work.

Maybe two hours later, the giant African bee bug came back to life and started buzzing around again for a good 15 minutes until someone came to my rescue, told me they'd been dealing with these things all their life, and after being unable to successfully catch it WITH HIS HANDS (what?!), trapped it in our garbage can and set it free outside.  Also, this dude's name is Spy.  How awesome is that?


So I'm walking home to grab my trusty duct tape-and-leatherman combo that Jak insisted I have so that I can patch up the hole that the nasty bug came through in the first place and I wave at one of the cleaning ladies.  She's carrying a mop and a bucket, so she needs to put down the bucket to wave back, but she isn't close and it's just a sweet moment.  Anyway, she calls to me as I'm almost past her and asks me in I live in House 2.  Which I do.  And she's the one who has left me flowers and the swan sculpture of towels on my bed.  Not every day, but now and again.  And I leave Asante Sana notes (thank you) and flowers about laundry and fixing my water pot and whatever else.  So, she's all excited and I'm excited and we're not really speaking to each other because I speak English and she speaks Swahili, but for some reason we both end up nearly crying and we're hugging like crazy.  So I grab her hand and ask her what her name is... and it's Elizabeth, which she says "Lizbet."  And I'm even more excited now, and we're still holding hands, and I explain that it's my sister's name and so we too are sisters.  Goodness.  I managed to hold it together for a couple more hugs and walking away, I had the biggest smile on my face.

All in all, there's nothing like a good scare, a good sunrise, a good talk, and a leatherman and a roll of duct tape to make all right with the world.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

what I do on my day off

I've told some of you... I work a lot here.  Mining hours are 24/7, and my hours have become 7 am - 7 pm, six days a week.  And everyone knows just how pretty I am at 7 am.  But, I love the work and I love Africa, so I don't mind that my time here, right now, is mostly work.  Also, the mine site is miles and miles (kilometers here, and frankly I haven't a working conversion-in-head go-to standard yet, though I change dollars for Tschillings like no one's business, so anyway, I'm still measuring in miles)... miles and miles from anything.  So really going exploring is a plane ride and two days. Today was my first full day off.  I looked forward to it.  Mostly because I got to sleep in.

I borrowed a bike from Lydia, who is currently acting as the assistant to the General Manager.  She's helped us with a lot of things - getting our office set up, how to say you-name-it in Swahili, how to use the phone.  And she was the bearer of surprise soup a few days ago when I had a cold.  Anyway, she also lent me her bike for the weekend because she'd be away.  I was very excited.  My bicycling days of Key West were fondly remembered and I hoped to get more of my bearings on a bicycle.

The bicycle is huge.  I was only able to ride it by not sitting on the seat.  I fell, but only a few times, and I don't think anyone saw.  I sure hope not because everyone here rides bikes everywhere and I'd like to think I can master at least a little part of their way of life - or at least not look like a total fool while trying.  Being on the bike though, however awkward, was just as enjoyable as ever.  I did reorient myself to the site, though I didn't find a good vantage point for the sunset.  I think I could wander through the golf course and maybe find a good spot there, but it will take some more exploring.  Maybe next Sunday.

I'm nearly finished my second book - and my third is Travels with Charley.  I know, from experience, that even slowly, that will only last three or four days.  The security manager spoke of Cocktails under the Tree of Forgetfulness.  He'd picked it up when he met with us in Dar es Salaam for the workshop, at a fantastic bookstore that I will be sure to visit the next time I am in town.  It's about Kenya he says, and raves about the bookstores of Tanzania.

I am interested in becoming more connected to this community.  As a consultant, I am not really part of the work, simply an advisor, an interested and useful bystander.  I can't jump in at a moment's notice and save the day.

I volunteered to read or help with homework or anything at the school on the site, but that has not actually panned out.  It's a very small school - six children - and it seems that in addition to the teachers, the parents, and others are all very involved.

I did become fascinated about the idea of libraries in Africa, as I loved my library as a child, and wish for one on the mine site (however impractical an idea that is).  Googling led me to Libraries Across Africa, a really thoughtful idea which encompasses community empowerment on a number of levels.  Though they don't seem to have been active in a while, I may contact them anyway.  Otherwise I have to find something else...

Googling is a great past time.  In addition to libraries and the current conflict in Dar, I've learned about types of Tanzania dance (and decided that I'm going to stick to riding a bike) and black swan theory.  Black swan theory is terribly interesting because it both deals with commonly held beliefs about what impossible is and how humans react to the impossible once it becomes reality.  I've never head of black swan theory, but I'm going to begin incorporating it into conversation as soon as possible, because I think it's a fascinating line of thought.

Also, it isn't only Google who can teach a person things.  Today, I found out that that mine's vector control guy (the mosquito - and it's said mo-SQUEE-to here, which I prefer now), also has a farm.  He went to visit it today.  I can't wait to hear more about Dastan's farm, and if maybe he can identify the maybe-a-coconut, maybe-a-mango tree in the backyard.

Friends of mine got married yesterday.  And though I got a picture, it's nothing like being there in person.  My littlest sister (the munchkin) has left to fend for herself (okay, so at college, it's not really survival-mode) while three-quarters of the Kearby clan is overseas.  I miss my car and my heels and using my phone as something other than an alarm clock.

When there isn't much to do, I get lonely.

Luckily I found a friend... this is as close as I got to him (probably two feet away), but he was nice enough not to run out of the picture...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

quite the pair (pear, no really, pair)

These are fruit trees in my backyard. Growing of their own accord. Much the same way my food is getting cooking and my house is getting cleaned and my laundry is getting done. All without any help from me.

I believe one is a banana tree and the other coconut, but I could be corrected. I bet they are enjoying the rain.

Apparently my feet are unusually tiny here in Africa and steel toed boots must be ordered for me before I can venture into anything mining-related.  So, my observations of the site have been limited to getting lost and finding offices, how I'm still startled by the giant marabou storks all over the place, how beautiful and colorful it is here.

My swahili improves little by little. Habari is hello, Na mtufuta means I'm looking for someone, Rafiki is how you say friend. Also, I think the weasel looking sidekick in the Lion King (Timon, you remember) was a mongoose. Though, again, I stand to be corrected on this.

Almost everything travels in numbers here - lots and lots of swallows, and little birds with turquoise bodies and brown wings to hide within, and packs of mongoose, and flocks of guinea fowl, and troops of foxes, and tribes of monkeys. More than one of anything, of everything. It boggles the mind.

But out back, just one banana tree and one coconut tree. They've been there a while, you can tell. I imagine they are friends, grown out of their differences, and now content just to watch the house, soak up the rain, bask in the sun, a pair in their own way.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

the wilds of Africa

I've made it to the mine site!

Now, I'm sure everyone wants to hear all about that, but sadly for you, I'm not totally prepared to write about that yet.  I've had a short tour of the site, but - being the workaholic I am - I have mostly seen the inside of my bedroom and the inside of my office, the conference room, the board room, my other office, and our soon-to-be-office-building (that's right, I've got a BUILDING. oh, and okay, it's not just mine... I share with Vitaliy.)

So, of course, there's the trip to the site, which was incredibly early, but also incredibly beautiful.  There's the tour and my first impressions to get to.  There are the things I hope to do on my trip and the hardships I've noticed (really, painfully bad internet connections - I am sorry not to have sent more emails in the past few days).  So much to talk about... but mostly...


For an industrial production site, this place is crawling with wildlife.  The landscaping is incredible, the sky is clear, everything is clean.  And there are animals everywhere - tiny little yellow birds that make nests on light tree limbs to keep their young safe from snakes, giant ugly maribou storks that skulk around the site all day, lizards and centipedes with shells like rolly polly bugs from home.  And those are just the ones you see every day!  Then there are packs of mongoose, which have stripes like zebra but act like prairie dogs.  I've also seen small groups of dick dicks, like miniature deer.  And silver foxes, running away like mists in the night.  My favorite though - BESIDES THE MONKEYS - were the peacocks that were outside my front doorway yesterday.  A whole flock of them.  They are solid too, like turkeys, and did you know that they fly?  Amazing.

But the worst news is that I'm awful at taking photos.  Truly.  I have a lot of pictures where you can't tell there's an animal in it at all.  And I have a number of others of blurs peeling off the edge of the frame, where the silly little thing is running away.  I am trying, I promise, but it's just so tough when these things don't sit still.  Crazy, wild Africa.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

the trifecta


Today I got the trifecta - hot water, power, and internet.  This is apparently unusual in Africa, but I have to say, I might have been able to have it sooner if I'd used the shower properly.  I've had cold showers for five days... and all of you who know me REALLY well know that I don't only NOT take cold showers, I scald myself daily.  And also that I love showers, and morning singing, and deep thinking, and the water, and being clean.  I love these things and I was having to pep talk myself into the bathroom every morning.  However, having conquered what I believe to be my own orientations towards Africa-must-be-missing-something, I have hot showers, starting this morning.  Over the last few days, we've lost power once and the internet has been slower than it was when I arrived (though it's never disappeared completely).  But this morning, I awoke to the trifecta!  And it is VERY EXCITING.

Mostly because I have found what is missing in Africa, and it isn't hot water or power or internet or good food or great people or interesting work or beauty or opportunity or any of those preconceptions that I might have added to my carry on for the trip.  What's missing from Africa is home.  My network isn't here, they are ... hold please ... 43,020 km if I take I-90 through Mongolia and then a ferry of some kind and goodness ... oh okay ... tells me ... 7,836.7 miles as the crow flies ... that'll do.  So, on with it, my people are forever away.  My PEOPLE that I care for deeply, whose lives are so rich and interesting, whose challenges I find myself engaged in too, whose perceptions inform my thinking.  Those things aren't here.

And I do miss them, but they sent me off well.  With all kinds of hopes and dreams and journals to record them.  With words of support and encouragement.  With the momentum of many years of being loved in the cocoon, they sent me off to see the world.  I will do that for you all, I will happily keep my promise.

Maisha Mzuri.  A Swahili toast to a beautiful life.  (And don't quote me on the spelling, thank you very much.)