Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sunday Afternoon

I’m at home in Andora. This place was once a village of fishermen and olive growers, their stonewalled houses lying protectively around the old castle and abbey. Nowadays its one of the many places in which people from Turin and Milan buy two-room apartments as a weekend escape from the bone chilling, soul killing fogs and mists of the Po valley.

I’m fixing up the last things in the house and preparing for the voyage to Baghdad. I’m told I leave on November 2nd, which gives me an extra day. The weather is still warm here. On Saturday it was 25°C – enough for me to sunbathe on the top terrace. Today was a good day to prune my fruit trees - I have plum, nectarine, cherry, pomegranate, lemon and almond – and a vine of course.

What will the next months bring me? Such things shall I see! Over morning coffee I look out up the valley, past the old mansion and to the snow capped mountains. Will the next white-topped mountain I see be the Hindu Kush?

Into my library to pull out books on the Sumerians, Arabic and Persian. I knew I’d need them one day ! Everything else I’ll download from Wikipedia. Will I get to stand in Ur? On the ruined ziggurats of Babylon? Under the arch in Ctesiphon? In the House of Wisdom in Baghdad? I sure hope so!

Looking at my house and the work I have put into to it to make it more beautiful, wondering when – and if – I’ll ever see it again. This summer I totally rebuilt the top terrace, including designing and building a wooden pergola which essentially gives me another room 5 x 4 meters square. Spent all my evenings up there, and days too, when I worked from home. These past years all I’ve wanted to do is get out of Italy. Now I have to leave my home, I look at it with longing - and renewed plans to finish this and that when I get back again. If I could find such a place somewhere else ….

OK, I’ll pack everything into the large green Samsonite. Backpack for the cameras and computer. Tote bag for the cabin – they wont let me take the backpack on board, I’m sure. Last minute things bought. All back-ups done. Papers sorted out. And all that stuff can stay filed...

Last week of work in Italy coming up.

Ready to go!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Be careful what you wish for!

I'm sitting in the Panorama Restaurant overlooking the runway at Bratislava Airport. It's cold and rainblown outside; an ever denser greying mist rises from the tips of the trees that mark the perimeter.

My second trip through Slovakia, but just that - passing through to Budapest. This trip has got me what I wanted: a contract with a company that pays me more than I'm currently earning and also gets me out of Italy. But how I got here and where I'm going would make anyone doubt my sanity.

This part of my life started in April 2005 when I got a phone call that led to a job with a US company. What happened there isn't part of this story, only to say that, as a consequence, late in 2006 I found myself working with an Italian company who wanted to see if its products could also be sold internationally.

For me both jobs were an opportunity to get out of Italy. Don't get me wrong: I like the Italian style of living, the cooking, the language, the Mediterranean climate - and as a photographer the locations are marvellous! Its just that doing business there is so unrewarding - both financially and operationally.

Both opportunities didn't materialize, so I went looking for a third. And found it - with a German/Hungarian company that works in the Middle East.

I had met them first in December 2006, when I traveled to Kandahar with my Italian client to attend a bid for water purifying systems (that's what they sell). While waiting for the airplane to arrive (it was a day late, which was great for me because that meant I could take some more photos) we chatted about things, including what they were doing.

We stayed in touch and back in July I asked them about job opportunities in the Middle East. Their first question was "would you work in Afghanistan?" Well, I've been to Kandahar and I've lived in camps - and I knew that would be on the list of questions to ask me. "Yes" was my answer.

Between July and this pass-through of Bratislava to sign my contract in Budapest we talked about other locations, other possibilities, other challenges. "I'm up for anything" I said. Which I am. So of course I got it.

Be careful what you wish for, the old saying goes. You may be granted your wish.

On November 1st I fly out to their operations in Baghdad, where I will live and work during a three month evaluation period. If I survive that, then I get to do something else. I could be there for less; I could be there for more.

Locked into the airport, like Tom Hanks. In a base surrounded by 40,000 guys with guns and things. On the inside looking out, that is. Several thousand more on the outside looking in - but I'm not supposed to worry about them. Working 12 hours a day, 13 days a fortnight. Boy am I going to be stretched!

So here I am, in Bratislava airport thinking about Baghdad airport, traveling home to back my bags, sort out last minute affairs, finish off things with my Italian client. Its dark outside now. Ryanair is on time anyway. Had a good lunch in the restaurant, so no need to eat dinner. Anyway my credit card isn't working. Again.

Yep, I took this job 'coz I need the money. I like challenges. And I love adventure.

I'm mad.

Work Work Work !

I started my work career in 1976 with the Bechtel Corporation of San Francisco, working on material requisitions planning for projects in the Gulf and in Indonesia.

After gaining my MBA in 1984 I moved to PriceWaterhouse in Norway as its expert in advising on tax issues and developing financial models stimulating returns for the petrochemical industry.

For more than thirteen years I then worked for specialist software companies that provided financial and marketing information systems for leading multinational companies. In these roles I successfully turned around failing operations and opened up new sales channels in a number of countries, principally in Northern Europe, the Mediterranean and in Latin America.

Bored with the sector, in 1998 I switched industry by moving into the hospitality business. As a general manager for the world's leading provider of furnished offices, I was responsible for turning around operations in Italy, Greece, Turkey and Austria.

In 2000 I wanted to put all my learned skills together and jump into the internet boom by providing start-up services for companies expanding in southern Europe. Great fun while the boom lasted. I also co-launched two online businesses - one for for e-books, the other for event management. Both a bit too ahead of the curve and anyway not sufficiently funded.

In 2002 I launched a project to create a business center division for Italy’s second largest hotel chain. I oversaw the fit-out of the first property, and led the team to deliver profitable results within the timeframe set. I also helped several clients in the fashion, cosmetics and film distribution sectors define and develop their business models as well as assisting them acquire additional financing.

In April 2005 I was engaged by a US security technology company to do the same thing and to solve its problems with two European acquisitions. Unfortunately circumstances prevented full execution of these goals so I moved within the security/defense industry to assist an Italian supplier of life support systems define its market position and open up international market opportunities.

Starting November 1st 2007 my latest project is with a German/Hungarian life support services company. At first I will be based in Iraq, essentially to learn their business. Thereafter, who knows?

Since 2005 I am a freelance photographer and somtime freelance journalist for an Asian newspaper.

I also design and develop web sites for friends and the various activities in which I have participated.

A little background

I'm Norwegian-Irish in origin and a real voyaging Viking to boot with discovery and adventure in my blood. My father is the Norwegian half and through him I'm descended from a long line of roving wayfarers. My mother is the Irish half (though she was born in Wales) and through her I get my misty-eyed Celtic romanticism. Fatal combination.

I was raised and have lived in so many places around the world that in reality I am a true world citizen and feel at home in almost every country I happen to land in. I'm thoroughly in love with life, with exploring new places, meeting people and making new friends.

Right now I'm resident in Brasil and have a house by the sea in Italy. As of November 1st 2007 I work in the Middle East (see Work Work Work! above). I've been married twice; don't have any children.

My principal hobby is photography. In fact I do freelance work (some of my photos have been published!) and I occasionally write travel articles for a Philippines newspaper. My dream is to get a photo essay published in book form. I've lots of ideas for projects - just need 6-12 months of free time to put a couple together ...

I should have been an archaeologist or anthropologist or something similar, since I'm profoundly interested in the origins, histories, languages and migrations of humanity. But I wanted to live in the present looking forward to the future, so I went for something different.

What will I do in the future? When I daydream I see me running a really friendly hotel in a tropical seaside location. Just don't see where it is yet - Caribbean, SE Asia, Brasil, Greece. All are good candidates, no?

Personal stats (for those who want to know)
I'm born on May 17th 1956 (Norwegian Independence Day!), so that makes me 51 years old by the calendar. I have absolutely no idea what 51 is supposed to feel like - I feel like 25-30. I'm still having way too much fun discovering the world to think about age. Oh yeah, and I'm 185cm tall, 74kg, with fair hair cut short and green eyes. No mustache, beard, tattoos or anything like that (yuk!). I don't exercise that much but I'm relatively trim. What flab there is will go when I work out for real these next few months (one upside of being in a military camp!).

My hot buttons
Travel, adventure, challenge. I'm a sucker for anything that has those words in them.

Things I promised to do that I haven't done yet
  • Raft the Colorado river
  • Take the Trans-Siberian express
  • Travel across India
  • Visit Japan
  • Visit Korea
  • Live in China
  • Stand in the ruins of Ur, Bablyon and Nineveh
  • Ride in a hot air balloon
  • Sail to the Spice Islands
  • See West Africa

People I admire
Nelson Mandela, John Paul II, Mother Teresa. OK that sounds platitudinous I know - the usual batch of the virtuous. But for me it isn't. and it's not because I agree with (all of) their views. I don't agree with Mandela's views on the role of the state in an economy, I disagree profoundly with John Paul's position on many issues and I don't think devout proselytizing is the right thing. What I admire is how they lived their lives - honest dedication to a reasoned principle based on peace and giving. And by doing so they helped transform the world we live in. By way of counterpoint I have no time at all for celebrities - unless I find they are doing something useful with their lives. Most aren't - they are just 15 vacuous minutes of media events or (worse) longer run media campaigns.

People I despise
Anyone who promotes and profits from racism, intolerance, fear and exclusion. Particularly and specifically European politicians who use such tactics to influence people, win votes and gain power. You know who they are. I've seen the damage these policies do to people and societies. They are beneath contempt.

My tear-jerkers
Stories of freedom and liberation. Homecomings, reconciliations and reunions of people split by fate, circumstance and time. Much to do with my childhood I guess, when I was often away from home (I was a boarder from the age of 10), as well as the consequences of the actions my parents took when they saw how I decided how I wanted my life to be.

Politics and religion
I'm fascinated by both - the subject of many an interesting conversation.