Friday, August 06, 2004

Every Setback is Not an Opportunity


It is sometimes difficult to get those back in U.S. offices to be patient and understand the difficulties in working here. It's not just that it has a different language and different business culture (which it does). It is not just that it has its own mature bureaucratic system, accounting methods, and paperwork (there are reams of that, too). It's that it is a post-war reconstruction zone.

You can't just pick up the phone and call anyone, because the phones don't work, and anyway most people don't have them. You can't set an appointment, because that would tell the assassins exactly the time and place to murder whomever you are meeting. So you have to just show up, and hope that the office you are visiting is open, and that whomever you need is there.

When you do that, traffic is utterly unpredictable, because the number of cars on the road is at least triple what it was even a month ago. Whenever the military or a VIP is moving (unannounced of course), they close half the roads through the city, turning freeways into parking lots. About half the time--and an unpredictable half of the time--offices are just closed. Whenever there is a big security alert--like the church bombing--everything just shuts down. At the University, there are no summer classes, so to save salary and electricity they close. Contractors show up, but are turned away 3 times out of 4.

And the big construction contractors and projects--Titan, Halibuton, KBR, etc.—are sucking the country dry of qualified managers. There's just a lot more money to be made working for them than for us. So there may be plenty of workmen, but there are few to direct them, and even fewer to manage routine back office matters like invoicing.

Did I mention the 130-degree heat? That is not an exaggeration. The electricity cycles in 2-hour on, (hopefully only) 4-hour off increments, on an unpredictable schedule. Usually it cycles off-phase, which means that it won't actually run many appliances, like air conditioners, and it fries computers. So everyone sweats through the night and arrives to work exhausted. There are backup generators (which fill the air, inside buildings and out, with deisel fumes), but those for home use run on gasoline, not diesel. You can't legally fill gas cans (to prevent black marketing), so to get fuel for generators you wait in line, fill the car, drive it home, and siphon the gas out of the tank. I am buffered from this somewhat at the hotel--they manage to keep the air conditioning going some of the time, so my room temp at night stays down around 90, which is OK with a fan--but the people working for us don't have that luxury.

Compared to these unpredictabilities, sorting through, say, a budget variance, feels pretty minor. At least that has me inside air conditioned offices, where it's safe, and only 85 degrees.

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