Monday, May 6, 2013

1 de Maio: Dia dos Trabalhados ( Day of the Workers)

I had told my cousin, Marta Alice,  I would go with her to Varela for Worker's day. At the end of April there is a mass exodus of people to the north of Guinea Bissau to the beach town of Varela. Varela is supposed to have the most beautiful beaches in Bissau and it is tradition for people to spend the 2 days before and after May 1st in Varela.
            I’ve never been, so I was really excited and all aboard for the trip. I had even offered to let everyone (5 or 6 people) sleep in the tent that came in the container we sent.
           Marta hasn’t talked to me since I flaked. I guess I should feel bad, but it all ended up being for the best. For some reason it wasn’t feeling right for me to leave, mostly because of the situation we were in in regards to trying to get the truck out of the port. It's not that my step-dad can’t handle it himself, but more so that based on past experiences, I should be there for the process. It also just wasn’t feeling right to leave. I didn’t want to be 4 hours away from home with people I didn’t feel comfortable with. Granted Marta is my cousin, but I’ve been in one to many situations with her that I’ve learned were not necessarily on the same team (in terms of comradery). Her boyfriend creeps me out a bit too.
            So after lots of reflection, I decided not to go and instead organized with some friends to go swimming at Hotel Azalia.  In attendance was Danny, Valdir, Hilha and her friend, my Brazilian friend Bruno and his friend Franciso. It was lots of swimming, racing, tossing people in to the pool and playing catch. It was a great way to spend the holiday.
            There was an older middle eastern looking guy that Francisco was telling me was from he US. I didn’t believe him, but made a mental note to talk to him. There weren’t very many foreigners there. Maybe 6 of us in total ( I didn't know the others, but knew they were foreigners because we are easy to spot.)
            After a while I came across the guy in the pool. He came up to me and said hi. I asked where he was from and he told me to guess. I laughed because I always tell people to guess, rarely am I the one guessing. I said India (knowing he was from the US) just for the heck of it. He said his name is Fazal and he is from California, LA to be exact.
            That changed everything.  When I ask another foreigner where they are from and they say the US, it almost always makes them a cousin to me, but the minute they say California they are immediate family.
            He was resisting answering the “why are you here” part and said he is just here. But no one is ever “just here”. I’m JUST here, but I came with a purpose and intention of getting to know the country and my family, so he had to come for some reason. Finally he caved and said he is here as director of a Los Angles solar power plant company that will be opening a solar power plant here in Bissau. I responded with, “That’s really cool! Do you have a job for me?” ( Side note: for some reason, speaking in creole has made me a lot more direct. I’ve been noticing ill say things in Creole that I wouldn’t usually say so bluntly in English, but now it’s slowly creeping into my English.)
            To my surprise he said yes, they are actually looking for people. I was excited because the last few weeks I have been looking for a job and have had a lot of potential opportunities, but nothing concrete. I had been talking with an American guy named Al Hope who was hired to revamp the organization of the National Airport. He said there could be an opportunity to hop in with them as a sustainability coordinator and write an action plan that would “green” the airport. I had also been in conversation with Nelson Dias, the director of the Institute for the Protection of Bio-diversity, and he mentioned I could work with them on a study of the role local fisheries systems play in the country’s economics. The studies would take place in the mouths of the countries 3 major Rivers.
             I took what he said with a grain of salt and the following day I called Fazal and we sat and chatted for a couple hours. He is Pakistani – American, born in Pakistan but lives in LA. The name of the business is called Suntrough Energy and they are an LA based solar power plant company.
Guinea-Bissau is the first African country they will be setting up a plant, and have a 25 year contract with the Guinean government to provide the country with 20 megawatts of solar energy. They also have a long term plan of having their plants in every country in the West African region.
            At the end of our conversation he offered me a job as the environmental point person for the development of the solar projects. It's a big learning curve, but he said it would be worth it to them and beneficial for me to go through the training to learn the job.
           I was torn between my “potential” opportunities and the one in my lap. With all these thoughts and possibilities running through my head, I told him I would think it over and call him the following day to confirm. 
            I went to the Portuguese bar and met up with Bruno and Francisco to talk it over. After just a few minutes of talking I realized I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. Even though it wasn’t what I was planning on getting into (solar power), it will be a great place to start getting work experience. I called Fazal to let him know. He said, "Great, you start on Monday."

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