Into a Really Big Sandbox

There I was … asked by an important and responsible representative to get myself down in person to see the difficult conditions they were facing installing our equipment on the international border. Flight to a location, four-hour drive to the ‘hotel.’ It was a hotel, but the AC barely worked (this was August in the Middle East) and the shower – I don’t even know if it had hot water, but at that temperature, it did not matter. Internet – go dream.

It was a picturesque drive – first up the mountainous slopes through the fog zone to the plateau, then on through the desert to the final location. I passed one of my former divert bases when I was on an aircraft carrier over three decades prior. I thought I was seeing some really remote areas. Think again.

The next day, after a preparatory meeting with the local military, we convoyed to about as far as you can get in that country. I was riding with a Brit engineer / program manager who had done this area for years. The sand dunes were spectacular. I asked how the occasional bush stayed put; “It doesn’t … moves with the dunes.” I asked about the water ponds I saw here and there; “Artisan wells – below the bedrock is a lot of water – it just can’t get out.” I saw them building a road to nowhere with tiny bulldozers in the distance; “They are not tiny – they are actually huge … just a long way off, removing a huge dune.”

I asked about the security situation. He said the first six months on the job they had seven land rovers highjacked at gunpoint. He himself was almost nabbed but went at full speed straight across the desert to escape. They asked for government security and got it – several folks were eliminated one night outside their compound. The local commander then invited him in for a meeting and ‘suggested’ a meeting with the local hetman to see if a relationship couldn’t be established to prevent further ‘eliminations.’ He did. Of course, the local spoke no English and he spoke very little Arabic. But with a translator and some tea, they got to the point where the hetman suggested kindly that the local kids could use a school bag. Bingo – twenty school bags with notebooks, pencils, pens, crayons … anything a local kid could need. Next weekly meeting – boy – sure would be convenient for the teachers if they could copy their stuff easily. Bingo – copy/printer with paper and ink for a year. You can see the drift – each week, a request, and the company paid … and no more gun-point SUV requisitions.

Moral: Similar to Offsets, you need to understand the local environment and identify the local needs before just plowing into the situation. Sometimes the solution is simple, inexpensive, and extremely effective.