Words from Wik

Sharing my Experiences

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Field work in Bolivia

Recently I put together some pictures from my field work here in Bolivia, describing what it’s like to be working on a gas pipeline river crossing project. Click on the picture below to link you to the photos, which will describe a bit how we do what we do, as well as the working conditions. Any questions let me know!

posted by Wiktor at 9:33  

Monday, September 22, 2008

Happy (belated) 21st of September!!

What is the significance of wishing you a happy 21st of September, you may ask? Well, that is exactly the question I asked after I got a text message yesterday wishing me a good day, and it came up in a phone call with a friend as well. I got a bit of an explanation in Spanish over the phone but wanted to find out exactly for myself.

So, naturally I went to Wikipedia and found the article on September 21st. Unfortunately, that page wasn’t very helpful, it didn’t list the things that were mentioned to me, only the fact that it was the international day of peace. So I went on the Spanish Wikipedia page for 21 de septiembre instead, and that proved more useful. Depending on which Spanish-speaking country you live in, they celebrate different things on this day. For Bolivia it’s the following, and quite a line-up to be put all on one day:

First day of Spring (something definitely worth celebrating after that awful winter of +5 degree overnight lows, as well as all those cloudy days)
Student Day
Photographer Day
Doctor’s Day
Day of Love, or Love Day (whichever sounds better to you!)

So yeah, I am pretty sure there are enough things there to warrant the wishing of Happy 21st September! Then again, people in South America tend to find the smallest reason to be happy and wish each other all the best, and that makes this place so interesting.

Take care, and once again Happy 21st of September!

posted by Wiktor at 17:36  

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bolivia is better, but more importantly, I am disabling emails from my blog!

Just an update on the things going on in Bolivia, I left things kinda open at the end of my last post, so I wanted to close off how they ended. I ended up going to the grocery store a day or two later, expecting it to be near empty of the most important food items like I had heard, but instead I found the store full of everything I could have wanted to buy! So instead of leaving with pictures of empty shelves I left with over $100 worth of groceries! (I still wanted to stock up.)

Similar thing with gas. Yes, there was a shortage and people were stocking up, causing an artificial rise in demand. But a few days into the ‘situation’ I went to a gas station, waited 15 minutes in a 15 car lineup, and then filled up no problem!

Oh, and the rumor that the military was being deployed in the city? Didn’t happen. And last weekend, we went out to some discos but they were not letting people in, and instead were closing early because there had been two deaths in the city due to some ‘problems’. Well, that turned out just to be another rumor also, there were no deaths. But that kind of shows the misinformation that floats around and makes things uncertain, and doesn’t allow people to make the right decisions.

Anyways, now the problems are all but over. Almost all the roadblocks have been lifted. My project at work is mobilizing to site (we were waiting for the roads to open. I will spend the next 4 weeks or so in the field, meaning all the perishable food that I stocked up on will probably go bad!) Politicians have decided to spend some time talking (though not before about 30 people died in a province quite far from us). Honestly I expect things to flare up again (there are already rumors of blockades being put back in place), but right now all is well.

Okay, that’s the update in Bolivia. Next thing I wanted to say is that this will be the last time anyone will receive an email when I make a post! I am disabling the automatic email notifier. Why you may ask? Well to be honest, when I had the automatic email notifier on, I felt like I had to write something REALLY REALLY RIDICULOUSLY GOOD for it to be worth you getting an email and heading over to read. So I am disabling it, but I will now feel more free to write small, insignificant little things that keep people in the loop of how life is different here, and what I’m doing or what is happening. BUT, for those that still want to be notified of when I update the blog (both of you), there is an option with an RSS Reader. I use and highly recommend Google Reader (anyone with a gmail account can easily set up a Reader account), and will give a brief description below of what exactly it is, and how it can make your web life easier! For those of you that regularly use an RSS reader just skip the next part (but not before adding my blog to your RSS feed!)

Anyways, an RSS reader allows you to have one place to go to see when your favorite sites have been updated. I use mine to get updates on some people’s blogs, as well as get news on Formula 1 happenings (www.formula1.com) and Digital Photography news (www.dpreview.com). Those are sites that cover my hobbies and I found myself going there on a regular basis, so now I use Reader to know when there is something there worth reading. See the screen below for a sample page from my reader, click to see it full size.

So what I do is whenever I am at work I have gmail open, and once every couple of days or so (or several times a day for those boring days) I click on the Reader link and it loads up Reader with the latest news. I can then read the headlines as well as the start of the article, and if I want to read on I just click the link. Really easy, really convenient. You can add whatever you want there, almost any site that updates with new information once in a while will have an RSS feed you can subscribe to.

Of course, there are many other RSS readers out there, I just find the Gmail one most useful as I always have Gmail open. Anyways, consider trying it out if you haven’t yet. I will admit when someone first told me about these I was a little hesitant to set it up, but now I check it as often as my email.

If you need any help setting it up or adding my blog to your subscriptions, let me know!

posted by Wiktor at 21:10  

Friday, September 12, 2008

A foreigner’s view of living in Bolivia during political unrest

In case you haven’t heard, Bolivia is going through some political tension right now. If you go to Google News and search Bolivia you should have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. Headlines include “Bolivia’s tax disputes lead to blocking of gas wells, highways”, “Bolivia crisis cuts natural gas supply to Brazil by half”, “UPDATE 1-Brazil says it won’t tolerate overthrow in Bolivia”, “US ambassador given up to 72 hours to leave Bolivia”, “Chavez Expels US Envoy to Show Support for Bolivia (Update3)”, “Eight killed in Bolivia clashes, US tensions rise”, “Brazil held to 0-0 draw by 10-man Bolivia” (oh yeah, that last one was the result of the latest football match). Anyways, here’s my impression of what the country is like to live in right now.

I won’t get into the reason for the unrest and protest, you can read about that in the articles above if you like. But in general what has happened here as part of the protests is people block roads. They do that to disrupt basic services in order for their protests to be noticed higher up. So there is no transport of fuel, food, and other essential things. For the last week or so, you could buy gasoline in the morning, but by the afternoon every gas station was empty. Now I am told that there is no more gasoline in the city; in my case I got 3/4 of a tank so I am okay for about a week or so, but once that runs out I’ll be looking to get myself a bike!

Then there’s food. On the weekend I took someones advice and stocked up on water and some canned goods, but because I was hearing mixed impressions of what is going to happen, I never took it too seriously and didn’t really stock up. Today I was told that supermarkets are pretty much empty, haven’t been there for myself to see but I believe it.

Then there’s the rioting. When blocking roads is not enough to get the attention of the federal government, people in this city went ahead and stormed, burned, destroyed, and in general took over every government run building. This included the national phone company (we use that company at work, and after the raid for half a day our cell and work phones did not work), tax agency, and others. This made for some great TV footage, but it’s mainly isolated to specific locations, and the rest of the town is just like normal, you wouldn’t even know anything is up.

Now another reason I didn’t really stock up on food was that our company has an evacuation plan for expats and foreigners in case things get hairy. I expected that if things get as bad as they are now, or as bad as people predict it will be, we’d be on our way out. Well I just found out today that won’t be the case. We are staying in Bolivia for whatever may come. I’ll admit at first I was a little annoyed at that, I was expecting the company to take us away before we had to stock up on food, water, gasoline, take care of where we go, put up with a military presence, etc. But now for me it’s actually an opportunity to really live and experience things like a local, not have an easy way out, and put up with the annoyances that everybody else must put up with. So for me it’s okay.

However, for some others it’s not that great. Some other expats who have family and pregnant wives have expressed concern that the company is making the entire family stay, not evacuating the families that have no business purpose to stay. This I must agree with. And evacuation is something that is still possible now (only by air, rail and road transport is blocked as mentioned above), but even that may not be possible later as airports get ‘taken over’ or fuel shortages prevent planes from refueling. Already American Airlines has stopped flights to Bolivia.

So what’s every day life like? Not much different. A few interesting things happened at work today. Some of the more important people were given radios to be able to communicate in case things got worse still and phones stopped working. But otherwise things are normal. There was a company dinner planned tonight. I went swimming at 8:00 pm. I went to a friend’s barbecue at 9:00, had good food and beer, a normal day. At 12:00 midnight we were told that the city had been, or is about to be, “militarized”, or have military deployed, and so we all went home right away. But there was no military on the roads that I could see.

So every day life is okay. The place I live is a fairly safe neighborhood (the only down side being that several important political figures live there, with a potential for trouble from people looking for them). But otherwise I am going to work tomorrow, there is a try-out for the Brazilian BG Energy Challenge on Saturday. Life is as normal.

So that’s about it for the current update, should anything major break I will do my best to write about it and let you know.

posted by Wiktor at 1:20  

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