Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Winds of Change

My morning cup of coffee is duly drunk at a small coffee shop in Rivonia, Johannesburg where I get to do the yuppie things. Checking my emails, googling all sorts of useless information and checking out the latest creations on the website. Now I have been doing the same thing in the mornings for about the last 4 years and being a creature of habit I am quite happy continuing in this way.

Now one of the reasons that I come to the same coffee shop in the morning are the fellow patrons that I have met. There is Neil, the Kung-Fu instructor, Mick, the garden landscaper, the regular business boys table that have lots of coffee and the Businesday newspaper, the Feng shui lady who hides behind the pillar, the Russian woman that spends a lot of time on the phone, then there is Paul the artist (apparently quite famous) and Dan a proud father of a brand spanking new baby (his first).

Most mornings Paul and I have a competition as to who can get the Target 9 letter word game from the newspaper, the fastest and since I cannot spell it puts him at a enormous advantage. We are as Paul has named us, "The Relaxatives". Our lives richer for the experience.

When my son was born we spent most Saturday mornings there for breakfast. The staff used to take great pleasure in playing with Laird and it was lots of fun.

Then there was Lucio, the previous owner. Of Portuguese origin, a family man with the ability of making you feel special when he arrived in the mornings, whether it be the latest news story or just the traffic, he made you fell like family! What a way to start the day.

As quoted by "Heraclitus of Ephesus", Change is the only constant." Lucio decides to sell the shop and move on in life. The new owners arrive and take over. Now the staff are either unhappy or have mostly been replaced, the feeling is entirely different and the two managers that previously wandered around, played with my son and made the place enjoyable have been fired.

So this morning I had an opportunity to speak to the owner, more from a business point of view to find out why the staff are unhappy and why the peaceful place I drink my coffee no longer feels like home. Emphasizing that the staff are the reason that I have been visiting the same place for so long. Should the staff go then I would go as well.

Pity some people do not understand that the basis of a service business is its staff.

Lets hope I am able to endure the winds of change, I find the prospect of finding another coffee shop with Relaxatives a bit daunting.

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Friday, 5 October 2007

Humanity is amazing

People are amazing, in this last week, I have had an in-depth discussion with a religious nutter on Faceboook, watched as the peaceful Buddhist monks in Burma protests turn violent, and had a traveler on one of our tours shout at me because she has no insurance. All in all interesting times.

The religious nutter posted a message on facebook describing how scared she was of Halloween in the past due to the fact that she is a Christian and Halloween being a pagan celebration, thinking that these pagan children visiting her her door and asking for sweets were a threat to her religion and I suppose in the long run....national security. Due to divine intervention however, she has now gladly decided not to be scared of this holiday but to openly use it to try to convert these little pagan witches and ghosts begging for sweets at the door, to the wonderful world of Christianity by giving them pens with little messages written on them.

So after putting in my two cents worth just to bait the poor woman, I ended up in a deep discussion with a person that is "really" worried about my future. I was really interested it trying to find out what makes someone like her tick and it did not take to long to work out that her main motivation in trying to save my soul was the fact that she truly believes that the rest of the world is at risk of burning in the fires of hell and the rest of the brimstone consequences. All this from a person that I do not even know.

Now I am not a serious follower of the Christian faith, and after our travels in Nepal a few years ago I have stronger leanings towards the Buddhist peaceful ideology. When it comes to the question of the future where do we go when we shuffle off this mortal coil, I would rather think that if I am good I would end up with another chance, and if not I will come back as a snail, here I make a mental note not to stand on the snails in the garden this weekend. Which lead me to watch the protests of the Buddhist monks in Burma with interest. The Sherpa that lead our trek to Mt Mera had grown up in a monestary, and Purbah would spend a large part of the day walking along behind the slowest of our group chanting various mantras and prayers. We would always think that these were directed at us to try to keep us safe while we wandered along but could also just have been in exasperation at the pace we walked. On more than one occasion it sounded like he was chuckling. This also seemed to coincide with one of us stumbling over a root or slipping on a rock.

Well Purbah followed our group day in and day out making sure we arrived safely in camp every evening, and were ready to attempt our summit of Mt Mera. At one stage there was a disagreement with the porters carrying our equipment. We woke up one morning packed our bags and were about to set off up the mountain only to be told that there would be a slight delay while this disagreement was sorted out. Now our entire group (apart from a two Australians and a very mad Swede, were from South Africa. A country where labour disputes are rather colourful and noisy affairs involving lots of chanting waving of fists and usually a good lot of dancing the "toi-toi". We sat down to watch the fun and games only to be amazed at the calm way it was resolved. Purbah wandered around, his favorite toothbrush in his mouth, having a little word here and a little word there with the porters, until at last his teeth clean the porters picked up their packs and without another word started up the hill to high camp. For the rest of us this was a remarkable outcome to the protest.

Which brings me to getting shouted at by my client whom did not have insurance. I truly understand that the payment of even more money after the tour price, flight tickets, taxes etc can be annoying, but we are legally bound to check clients insurance details before the tours depart. Not our choice, but those of the heavy set, well dresses, legal team that advises the agents that sell our tours for us in the UK. So I decided to resolve this issue I would take a leaf our of Purbah's book. However I was missing the following key ingredients 1: A beautiful snow covered mountain in the background, a group of Buddhist porters and most importantly my favorite toothbrush.

So after nearly half an hour trying to explain in vain that it was important to have medical insurance while you travel in Africa in case of an emergency. We came down to the following motivating solution: "Without insurance there is only one medical help available to help you during the tour will be the local Zulu Witch Doctor. Who will throw the bones, create a potion made from monkey fur, that will make you better!" - Did she sign the form and the tour departed quite happily.

Enjoy your day.
The Nepalese Negotiating team.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007


Today is a rainy day in Johannesburg, so probably more along the lines of muddy tracks than Dusty journeys.

We operate a small safari company taking people on journeys of a lifetime through Southern Africa. From October 1994 when Bruce Taylor and myself started the company we have seen it grow organically from one battered and broken mini bus to a fleet of bespoke safari trucks that get our traveling companions around in comfort and safari style.

We have poured our life's blood into the safaris to make sure that they epitomize what the true Africa. On Sunday I watched a group of happy excited travelers heading to Botswana on the wildest of our tours. Two of the people traveling on the tour have been on two previous trips of ours, commenting before the departure that they loved the previous holidays. So I suppose we must be doing something right. Makes the 14 years of hard work worth it.