This is ridiculous!
Can do, no problem!
I know you can! It’s just ridiculous. AAAARGH Fucking Jimmy!
The three Filipinos reached the worksite in the evening. Their itinerary was long and tiring, even for endurant workers. They transited via Singapore, the Emirates, and Ethiopia to reach Port-Gentil in Gabon. From there, they rode in a pickup truck, two boats, and a tuk-tuk to get to the oil station. Upon arrival, the site manager dispersed them around the camp. They received no proper welcome, no explanation, and no dinner. The three men did not complain.
Bakari arrived by helicopter the next morning. He was greeted by a gentleman upon landing.
Gentleman: Good morning, sir
Bakari: Good morning, sir. I’m Bakari, the field engineer from Shell.
Gentleman: Welcome sir, I hope you had a nice trip.
Bakari: Thank you. My team should have arrived already, but I have not heard from them.
Gentleman: Whom are you referring to?
Bakari: Three Filipino technicians.
Gentleman: Oh, the Asians! Yes, they arrived. Yesterday, I think.
Bakari: Great. Please get our containers next to each other.
Gentleman: I’m afraid it will not be possible.
Bakari: They do not speak French and will work directly under me for 12 weeks. I need them to be with me.
Gentleman: I am sorry, but I don’t have the authority to move people around the site.
Bakari: I understand. May I speak with the site manager then?
Gentleman: I am the site manager. My name is Jimmy, nice to meet you.
Jimmy smiled with confidence. Bakari could not believe it. He stepped back, took a long exhale, and added.
Bakari: Nice to meet you, Jimmy. Please coordinate with whoever has authority to have my men and I set up in two containers next to each other. If not, I am afraid I would have to report that local management is preventing me from doing my work.
He marked a long pause, and smiled back to Jimmy.
Jimmy: Okay, I'll see what I can do.
Bakari: That's wonderful. We plan to start tomorrow morning. What time does the site open at?
Jimmy: Seven, sir.
Bakari: Great! So, two containers for me and my three men ready and set up today, the earlier the better. Please and thank you.
Bakari kept his aggressive stare and fake smile. He had mixed feelings about Gabonese. He loved their amiability and spontaneity. They lived and spent as if there was no tomorrow. Bakari liked to party with them, but he resented their lack of planning and overall carelessness. It triggered him on a level he could not comprehend. On his previous trip two years before, he almost got blown out because of the site manager’s incompetence. He made a scene and refused to deal with Gabonese workers. "Their laxity put my life in danger", he wrote in his report. Being a French engineer with an impressive track record worldwide, his voice was heard.
Bakari found the three technicians scattered around the site. They had three months for the entire oil platform. Since they worked with natural gas, the tiniest spark could cause an explosion. They were tasked to assess, repair, and maintain every possible source of ignition. It was demanding and difficult work. The Shell Health & Safety department recommended four weeks for such missions. An experienced and fit field engineer may do eight weeks straight. Bakari accepted to do 12 weeks, but only if he picked his own team. So, when he demanded to bring three Filipinos on temporary visas from Brunei to Gabon, Shell agreed.
Jimmy put Bakari's group in two large containers, and accomodated a meal. He served them boiled manioc and dried fish. The manioc was tasteless and the fish too salty. Bakari was offended, but when he saw his men devour their serving he kept quiet. Washing off the salt with water was the best part.
They slept well despite the jungle ruckus. Bakari planned to inspect the machine room before it got too hot. They woke up at six, conducted their meeting over breakfast, and dressed up for work. The four men stood at the gate of the engine room at seven, waiting for Jimmy. He showed up at ten thirty.
Jimmy was a gentleman. He always seemed amiable and courteous with people who looked important. In his youth, Jimmy was trained by French aristocrats from whom he learned manners, culture, and racism. He obtained an influential position thanks to his uncle, and gravitated in the oil industry ever since. Jimmy never said no. Instead, he used flowery words to formulate his deepest apologies. His job consisted of obeying his supervisor's orders. For everything else, he pretended. Jimmy was the friendly civil servant who talks too much and does too little, the perfect bureaucrat.
Three hours were enough for Bakari to blow a fuse and cool off. Jimmy represented what he hated the most in Gabon: the Françafrique mindset. French corporations and government officials had been corrupting Gabonese leaders for over a century. They used their influence to suck up oil, uranium, palm oil, fruits, women, etc. Gabonese leaders worked hand-in-hand with them to enrich their private interests while choking the country.
The Françafrique milked Gabon for generations, without building infrastructures or training facilities. Gabonese leaders entrused incompetent people with important occupations, and corporations outsourced skilled labor. Accountants came from Morocco, shop keepers from Lebanon, engineers from France etc. Site managers though, with billions of dollar worth of equipment and the power to trigger a natural catastrophe, were Gabonese by law.
Bakari respected field workers in general, and Filipinos especially. Beside their knowledge and experience, they had a solution mindset, as opposed to the Gabonese workers. Whenever he asked them for ideas or opinions, they answered “can do boss, no problem”. They reminded him of the Daltons. They looked the same, wore the same mustache, and the same uniform. As a joke he called them D1, D2, and D3. They did not mind. They were paid.
Bakari led by example. The four men worked thirteen hours a day, seven days a week. Like D1, D2, and D3, he got his hands dirty at every opportunity. His team was ready to work, always on time. After the second week, Bakari mimicked his Dalton brothers. But if something unexpected impeded their progress, for example Jimmy, so be it. They were paid by day.
On their sixth week, they had to dissemble and seal an engine frame. Bakari wanted the engine turned off to use the circular saw safely and in peace. But Jimmy’s capacity to resist effort and create additional red tape was exceptional. Anything Bakari suggested needed a technical study approved by two other engineers, who, of course, were not available. He walked back defeated, hurt, and angry.
D2 did not understand his frustration. "Can do, no problem", he said, and climbed on the T-shaped structure to assess its junctions. There were four 8-meter long structures, with a hundred and two soldered joints each. D2 came back with a hammer and a chisel, and started banging on the metal. It took him five minutes to break one joint. D1 and D3, seeing it was possible, did the same.
This time though, Bakari stayed back, abashed by his men determination. He thought of Forrest Gump and Bubba scrubbing the immense dormitory floor with a toothbrush. Then, he remembered Bubba's shrimp monologue, and smiled. D1, D2, and D3 did not idle. It took them two days instead of three hours, but they did it. No problem.
On the twelfth week, Bakari had adopted the stoicism of his crew. He was exhausted, injured, and burned out. He learned that his helicopter flight to Port-Gentil got cancelled due to budget cut offs. To get to the airport, he would need to take a boat for eleven hours in the jungle. Then a ten-hour flight to Paris. He was too tired to argue.
Jimmy forgot to make travel arrangements for D1, D2, and D3. Bakari did it for them and they set off. The three men were going for another 12-week assignment. Of how many? He did not dare to ask. They said goodbye to each other and left in different directions. Bakari felt sorry for them. He was going home for a month off. He was also envious, with their attitude, nothing was ever a problem.
The boat Bakari embarked on was archaic and crowded, a relic of the past. He was daydreaming on the deck when he heard gunshots and cries. A man and a boy were standing on a tiny pirogue below them. The man pointed his rifle at the water. Between the pirogue and the boat, two Common Waterbucks were crossing the river. The small one had Bambi-like white dots on its neck and back.
Bakari felt the deck shake and saw a tall man sprinting towards him. The man jumped overboard and landed a deadly machete blow between the beast’s eyes. A loud thud preceded his splash. He swam over to Bambi and repeated his swing, a few times. A dark red spread on the brown waters.
The machete hunter pulled Bambi onshore while the guy the pirogue dragged the heavier body. Ensued a heated negotiation. The machete hunter went back onboard with two legs of Common Waterbuck. A man popped a bottle of liquor, drank, and passed it around. People expressed their gratitude, prayed together, and sang in anticipation of the feast. The crowd gathered around the game, and the boat resumed its course in a light, cheerful spirit.
Bakari was in shock. He had experienced first-hand the rawness and intensity of the kill. Beyond Bambi and her mom's slaughter, the scene shed light on behaviors he witnessed before but never understood. He grinned at the crowd.
He got it, the hunter-gatherer mindset.