To recap – You just graduated from the school of Domestic Projects to begin a new, exciting career at TouchstoneEnergy. It’s all going really well………
Fast forward a few years… a client wants you to visit their office in Gabon, West Africa. That sounds like an interesting place to go. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to undertake a simple requirements gathering workshop for a new module & carry out some refresher training?
Day Two – Here comes the luggage – and a few surprises
7am. Where am I… What is that dreadful noise waking me up from my post travel day slumber? That will be the siren that rudely wrestles the Drilling Engineers from their dreams of beer and days off. There are helicopters flying overhead, strange bird calls are heard, but at least the sun is shining through the razor wire topped compound (sorry, ‘gated community’) walls.
Reality check – it’s my first day on site and I have no bag, no fresh clothes & no breakfast. Port Gentil was closed last night and the staff apartment is sparsely provisioned. There’s a leftover bottle of water in the fridge – don’t trust the water! Time to dive into my remaining supplies from Air France and emergency supply of cereal bars. With a basic wash kit in my laptop bag and essential clothing items; it’s just about possible to freshen up in readiness for the main event. Well it would be if there was any hot water.
No bag, no breakfast and no shower. It’s not a promising start. Now I am seriously ‘grognon’ (the French even have a nice word for grumpy).
Right on cue, 9.15am, there’s a knock on the door. There stands a company driver, luggage in hand and a smile on his face to brighten even the darkest of days… a quick change of clothes, a call to the driver and we’re off.
We bump our way along the unmade roads, taking in familiar landmarks, conversing in our best Franglais with the driver. My colleague and travelling companion doesn’t speak any French and the driver doesn’t speak any English! It’s pleasing to see that the local Starbucks is open for business. Think rusting metal cart, a couple of thermos, a jar of instant and a couple of local ladies with babies in slings – but it works!
Everyone is genuinely pleased to see us and much ‘faire la bise’ is exchanged. It never ceases to amaze me that walking into an office pretty much anywhere in Africa is so different from London. People greet each other politely and enquire after health, family and friends. OK, so it becomes a little tiring after 2 weeks of being asked ‘how was your night’ every morning – but they really are interested, if anything is wrong they want to put it right. Maybe a lesson we could learn?
The day passes uneventfully; several meetings and general planning sessions take place. We already know there is a lot to do and the list just got longer. We’re here to help reinforce some of the early project messaging that has become lost in time (and translation) and deliver training.
5pm. The day was going so well. A relatively small number of power-outs, most meetings were attended on time (African time) by all invited participants and the mood in the camp is good. We are assured that the hot water is ‘fixed’ and food / water supplies to the kitchen have been reinstated. What could possibly go wrong? TIA…
You did know it is Gabonese Independence Day this week and all of our staff have been given 2 days leave on Thursday and Friday to attend the celebrations didn’t you? The answer to part one is yes, but part two is a bit of a surprise! So 2 days less to deliver the same amount of work. TIA… TIA – keep repeating the mantra and all will be well.
Wrap up day one, a quick pit stop at the apartment for a very welcome hot shower before heading out for dinner. The apartment might be basic, but these guys really know how to look after their guests. Every effort is made to ensure we are as comfortable as possible. Tonight it’s my choice of restaurant – that’s an easy one in this town. My favourite restaurant has plastic tables on the pavement, no menu and no wine list. The menu is a basket of fresh local fish – you simply choose the one(s) you want for your table to share. Barbecued outdoors and served with a skewer of the freshest, tastiest ‘langoustines’ imaginable and a platter of fried plantain with rice. The wine list involves sticking your head in the wine fridge and making your selection. The bill…. Around £35 for 3. Anyone who has travelled in POG extensively will probably know the establishment – for first time travellers, ask your hosts to take you there.
Phew, we survived day one. Good night.
Included here because most of it was a carbon copy of day two – again until late afternoon…
The conversation went something like.. ‘So, you guys are helping us with the rollout of our procurement system? ‘ ‘Yes’.
‘Can you come out on site with a delegation from our Chinese parent company on Sunday and give a presentation of the system?’; ‘Er, OK… I think!’. This week just got a whole lot more interesting!
Next – two days of Independence Celebrations, inverted emblems & a celebrity DJ….
TIA: This is Africa
POG: Port Gentil
By Sarah Davis