Thursday, June 25, 2009

What Am I Doing Here?

I'm in Alexandria in Egypt and this has been one of the weirdest business trips so far and even threatens to dwarf my press-one-button trip to a nuclear power plant*.

Even getting here was a complete disaster. I though arriving at 3am and flying back at 4am would be the worst, I'm facing. Far from it. First I had to postpone the trip by 24 hours because the embassy needed more time to issue my visa. During rebooking, the useless twat at the travel agency:
  • put me from business to coach (what made him do that?)
  • booked me a one hour stop-over during the evening rush-hour in Frankfurt (tort of negligence)
  • claimed that my caring employer could save 1500$ by letting me fly back on Saturday instead of already Friday (of course, since the Friday flight would have been business class!)
As had to be expected, my plane to Frankfurt was late and I missed my connection to Alexandria. I was rerouted via Cairo which included 5 idle nocturnal hours at Cairo airport and I arrived in Alexandria exactly when I was supposed to be in the meeting, which was the main purpose of my visit. Well, I got the summary at the end.

In the evening I met some blokes from an European shipyard who invited me basically to find out if I'm interfering with their business here. Of course I am, but I cunningly laid a false trail by telling them what I planed to do for today of which I knew they were not involved. They conceded me valour but predicted a chance of less than 10% that I even pass the first test, which was getting through the first of many gates. They seemed to have experience in this and they do not go on such an endeavours without the helping hand of an admiral.

My task was to go onto a warship to make a survey. Sounds simple. The survey was organised by an attaché in an embassy in a southern European country (I prefer not to disclose more). All I knew was the name and phone number of this attaché, the name of the gate I had to report to, and the time I had to be there. Helpful would have been something in writing (preferably in Arabic), the helping hand of a local representative, a car with a driver, some basic knowledge of Arabic**.

Well I had none of them and bounced twice at the gate. The first time was at 9am. At eleven (meanwhile soaked in sweat) I got in. A pass was issued for me, permitting access to the ships. The only problem there... the ships were an hour-long drive away.***

Shortly after twelve I was sitting in a taxi holding the mobile phone with the attaché on the other end to the driver's ear. After the various destinations and terms and conditions were settled, I soon started praying since the driver kept texting on his mobile while he was trying to run over everything that dared to obstruct his flow.

Passing two further gates and another office later, I was actually on board of one of the ships. I had 20 minutes left to gather the information I needed, before the base was closed for the weekend. Mission accomplished! An officer on the ship declared me a hero after he realised that I'm on my own in this.

Without the really cute sailors at the various gates, who kept trying to help and kept communicating with me although we did not understand each other, I would have failed.

* I hat to fly to Germany, drive to a nuclear power plant, go through all the processes to get into the plant (like watching a 2.5h video and changing all the cloths including undies and shoes). And all I did was to press one button and then I did everything above in reverse (well, except the video).
** my knowledge of Arabic is derived from Raï, which only helps during pillow talk.
*** At this point I called Mr.Mac, just because I needed someone who was willing to listen to my moaning. Many thanks mate, it was what I needed at that point. Anyway, if I will ever develop a brain tumour, it's because of the trillion phone calls I made today.


Pilgrim said...

Next time you can book me a interpreter/translater at least for arabic-french. Rai is berberian, which would have had no use at all in Egypt. :-) Propz Pilgrim

MartininBroda said...

Das klingt ja gruselig. Ich war tatsächlich schon fast besorgt wegen der ausbleibenden Beiträge und die Twitter-Nachrichten klangen auch nicht wirklich beruhigend. Na dann gute Nerven und vielleicht kannst du ja wenigstens noch irgendeine positive Erinnerung aus Alexandria mitnehmen. said...

@Pilgrim... and I was under the false impression to have whispered in Arabic into the ear of my habibi :P

@Martin... All die Probleme waren von Leuten verursacht, die nicht in Ägypten sind. Die Gastfreundschaft und Hilfsbereitschaft hier ist sehr gross und ich hätte es ohne die Unterstützung der Leute hier nie geschafft.

Gauss Jordan said...

At one point, I held romantic fantasies of being a jet-setting consultant, swooping in (via business class, of course!) to save the day, and then leaving the clean-up work and minutiae for "regular" developers to solve.

After spending 2 months flying every other weekend for an entirely different reason, I decided that was not for me. One or two trips a year, though, would be fantastic.

MartininBroda said...

Na dann gibt es ja doch etwas Positives und mein Wunsch für dich ist insofern erfüllt.

Pilgrim said...

Habibi is for women, Gomad. P.S., I meant you can book me as... said...

@Pilgrim... I see, I actually need your services - and I will stop calling my registered partner habibi.

@Gauss Jordan... I spent about 7 days per year in the air. Travelling is kind of a love-hate thing. It makes work more interesting, I meet different people and knowing and spending time with your customer makes a better products. Though I should not spent so much time away from Toño. On the other hand we can fly on our holidays business class on miles.

Randy said...

Dont you just love business trips...

I always here people say how lucky I am to travel so much, yet I always have similar experiences that you encountered.

Booking agents and embassy personnel are possibly the most incompetent people on the face of this earth, and just when you need them most, they tend to fuck stuff up worse...

Kinda funny tho, I guess Im not the only one who gets screwed on nonsense business travel. said...

@Randy... I had to think of you when I was in that taxi.

Suf Steve said...

welcome to middle east!

Alexandria is nicer and calm compare to cairo!(worst)

u re lucky! if in cairo, u must have been sold

mr. mac said...

If our caring employer wasn't turning into such a cheapskate,I'd have been standing outside the gate with you and we would have been moaning and complaining face to face. said...

@Suf Steve... Yes, it's great to be back after almost 20 years.

@Mr.Mac... if only, you're the best moaning and complaining with mate in the world.