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Zimbabwe Life – 4 Months In

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, it’s a testament to how busy its been for me with work, church and life.

I thought I’d give an update on African life 4 months in as it’s the new year, its been interesting to look back on the last few months and compare the differences to life in the UK.

I’ll try and not rehash too many of the details that Marie shared in her last post.

So we have been in Zim a little over 4 months now, I have to say all the negative stories you hear about Zim are probably a little over blown by western media, sure there are some problems but I wouldn’t say they are as bad as western media makes out.

We’ve been blessed enough that we live in an area with very few power cuts and I mean perhaps 2 mins every other week or so compared to 12 hours a day that some areas get. I think this is because we probably are on the same power feed as the local hospital in our area.

Water hasn’t really been an issue for us with the exception that you cannot safely drink straight from the tap, we have a borehole (2 actually) which supplies drinking water for the complex, but its not enough to run the general water supply for the whole complex, which means the main water pipes are fed from a tank which is kept full with a mixture of Borehole water, Municipally supplied water and even the Swimming Pool when the municipal supplies are not working (which is fairly regularly at least in the winter months which are June through September). As you can guess chlorine isn’t good for you and it’s commonly known that the municipal water is not to the same standards compared to the UK. This is mostly down to the infrastructure not being as reliable (burst pipes, no power at treatment facilities etc). The water situation hasn’t been too much of an issue for us, we have our containers with which we go to the main borehole tap and fill for drinking water and for the puppies, which is luckily by the side of our house which is convenient. The only real challenge has been remembering that I must spit the water out when rinsing my mouth out after brushing my teeth (I used to have a quick drink after rinsing my mouth in the UK).

As I mentioned, work has been pretty hectic the last few months. I’ve made some changes as well in recent months too, I was previously spending a lot of my time working with Frederick Townes, Willie Jackson and the gang at W3 EDGE who are the main go-to guys to go to when you want WordPress to scale. It was a blast but unfortunately it was ultimately taking way too much time away from spending it with my wife and doing some of my own project based work (not directly in the WordPress/Internet sphere).

While I was working at W3 EDGE, I had the privilege to take a trip down to Cape Town in October and speak at a WordCamp Conference. I spoke on how to scale servers for maximum WordPress performance. It was quite a geeky and very tech focused talk but it went down well from feedback from others. I put the slides up on slideshare and the video has been uploaded to YouTube, unfortunately the audio quality for the first few minutes of my presentation was a bit poor but it picks up further in. Hopefully I’ll be able to do another talk at WordCamp Cape Town in 2013.

So even after wrapping up with the W3 EDGE team it turns out I was still very busy, some new hosting clients came in looking for more capacity for their magento store, as they were paying a rather hefty amount to Rackspace each month but not getting the amount of scale they desired. Scale roughly can be thought about as the amount of traffic a site can take based upon certain factors – for example when I mention scaling up a site, it could mean adding more servers into the equation or adding resources to the existing servers or just optimising the existing gear so it can do more in the same hardware, and so on. I won’t bore you with all the details, if you do want to find out more, please do take a look at my business website and contact me there 🙂

So Christmas has been and gone, perhaps the most exciting thing in the run up to Christmas this year was getting to be involved with our church’s (ONE Church) large missional event. This year it was called “Christmas Unrapped”. It was a mix of traditional carols, a 5-10 min gospel message and a play/performance combining Spoken Word, Dance, Acting and even some Bollywood, all in the Avondale car park (there’s a reasonably large Indian population within the Avondale area). I was originally only put down to do some lighting design and lighting on the day, but quite late on it was realised that a lot of the technical side of things was not arranged yet at all. So I got promoted to Technical Director and ended up arranging and organising all the technical aspects of the event from Power, Sound, Lighting and then running Sound on the night. It was definitely an eye opening experience and may have given me a few grey hairs in the process, but looking back I really did enjoy it!

Christmas itself was nice and quiet, I was able to take just over a week off which made a real change to the fast pace busyness of work and was really relaxing, spending lots of time with Marie, enjoying the quiet moments while they last, and playing with our puppies! We can’t really call our dogs “Puppies” for too much longer as they are over 6 months old now and just recently got spayed, which was a little bit traumatic for them but Salt & Pepper have both bounced back nicely.

In just a few days that quiet will be all but gone for the most part & I don’t say that as a negative point. Our baby is due on around the 28th January, so it literally could be any day now. In some respects its still a bit surreal that I’m going to be a dad in a few days time (because I haven’t really had much to do in the last 9 months), in some respects its quite scary to think another human life is going to be totally dependant on me (& Marie) for absolutely everything, and in some respects its quite exciting and I look forward to the challenge. I’m certain that as I learn stuff, I’ll share here as time allows as well as share as many photos as I can, here or via facebook.

I’m going to leave it there for now, hopefully we won’t be so tardy with updates in the future (I say that now….).

God is Funny!

God has got a brilliant sense of humour! He tends to give me things I haven’t even prayed for, but things that I’ve thought about and want. There are a number of small examples I could give, but for the sake of time and my fingers, I’ll just give a few…

For example, the other day when I was on my way to work during rush hour, I knew the tube would be packed as it is every morning, and that I’d have to stand up, packed in like a sardine. I was in quite a grouchy mood, and I was thinking about how much I miss the chivalrous well-mannered men in Zimbabwe who offer up their seats to women, so that women don’t have to either stand or sit on the floor (depending on the situation). Anyway, I got on the tube, rammed in by people on all sides of me, and the man sitting in a seat nearby stands up and offers me his seat, and he sounded English! Now that never happens to me when I’m travelling on the tubes, and the fact that it occurred just at the moment when I was grouchy and complaining about it in my head, how ironic, that’s God’s humour 🙂 So of course I gladly accepted! (Thank You God for giving me a seat even though I didn’t ask You for one 🙂

Another example, when I was 22, I went on a Zambezi Holidays youth camp to serve as a leader. For those that don’t know, Zam Hols is the Zimbabwe equivalent of Newday (except on a much smaller scale), where youth from the Newfrontiers churches gather for 7 days during the school holidays for worship, teaching, bible studies, games, water sports, abseiling and much more. Anyway, I was really excited about serving on Zam Hols camp, and I was thinking ‘Phew! Praise God I wasn’t one of the leaders who got asked to do a talk or bible study! Yessssss!’ However, a few days before the camp, I got asked to lead one of the bible studies, and the topic I got given was ‘sexual temptation’! Apparently they hadn’t yet found a leader to take that slot. At that point I had never done a talk or bible study before, let alone on a topic such as this, so I was like ‘God that’s not funny’ but I think He thought it was! Apparently it went well, and somehow God got me through it, phew! (this example is slightly different, as God gave me something I didn’t ask for, and that I definitely didn’t want!)

A final example, many years ago, I think when I was about 19 or 20, I remember thinking how nice it would be to get married to a businessman and do bookkeeping in Zimbabwe. I never prayed for that, it was just a thought. And the irony is that I’m married to Anthony who runs his own business, and I’ll be doing his bookkeeping in Zimbabwe in a few months time 🙂

Now I’m not saying that prayer isn’t important, because I firmly believe in the power of prayer, but what I’m saying is that God knows the desires of my heart and sometimes He gives me things that I want or think about even when I can’t be bothered to pray for it, because He’s so kind and good and gracious and wonderful and loving! 🙂

Updates and upcoming changes!

Its been a while since I posted. it was also a shame I had to start posting again with a rant about a delivery company but there lack of incompetency to deliver simple packages time after time just made my blood boil! Hopefully this makes up for it 🙂

So it has been a while so fair bit of news to share I think 🙂 Finally on my final year of my degree, just 5 modules and a final year project and I will be done with studying for the foreseeable future, given that fact its obviously clear I passed all my exams in june and august. its been a busy summer for me and for STS. I finally got round to going limited as a registered company which has some tax advantages and other benefits Not forgetting a debit card with the company name on it! there’s been lots of work coming in which has been really a blessing to Marie and I.

I’m keeping this fairly short as I’d like to try and do more updates than my once every couple of months routine, so I’ll move on to upcoming changes. there’s only really 2 changes, firstly Marie has been considering blogging about stuff that she is passionate about or just plain wants to talk about, and we thought why not put it all here, because that way this will get more content over time and doesn’t have any extra expense! So soon you will be seeing posts from Marie Somerset, do read and enjoy them because I’m certain there will be some good pearls of wisdom in there.

second change which probably quite a few people now about by now is that Marie and I will be planning to emigrate to Zimbabwe by September 2012. Yes folks that’s less than 11 months away! we had been taking the first 6 months of this year to pray about the long term future and where God is calling us be it Zimbabwe or the UK or anywhere else in the world. God made it pretty clear that Zimbabwe is the place we should be to raise a family and build my business (no Marie isn’t pregnant yet!). There is going to be a lot of challenges ahead for us and some tricky decisions to be made, like do we ship everything or do we sell/get rid of stuff and re-buy new stuff in Zimbabwe? down to what church we should be involved in, we’d quite like to get involved in one of the Harare church plants but that is still to be decided, ultimately we want to do what God wants us to do so we are still open to prayers on that. we really would appreciate your prayers and thoughts over this next period of time while we plan, co-ordinate and ultimately move from the UK to Zimbabwe. Initially the biggest hurdle in our way is that I need to get residency status this December when we travel for Christmas. because Marie was born in Zimbabwe and is a resident herself it should be a straightforward process, however we are not dealing with a straightforward government so we do need specific prayers that the right people see the documentation required and have the grace and wisdom to grant the application

I will leave our news there for now, perhaps next time you might see a post from Marie.

Summer is here… I think!

Wow! haven’t blogged here in a while and thought I should post an update. It’s been pretty pretty hectic for me the last month or 2 with studies, exams and work, I’m not complaining though! It has just meant that some things have taken a back burner while I focus on the priorities in the right order (God, Wife, Study, Work, Other). So roughly in that order :).

ChristChurch has been good, Marie and I got to witness Andy Tilsley being officially “prayed in” as an elder and the general comings and goings of church life, Marie has joined the crèche team to help combat the current and further impending baby boom! and they couldn’t keep me away, am back serving Sundays on the sound team now technically called the tech team (excuse the pun) which encompasses the visuals team also which i think is a brilliant move purely because the 2 teams were quite small on there own and trying to organise social events was rather difficult because normally what ended up happening is 2 guys end up meeting up for a beer (which is not a bad thing!) rather than 5 or 6 people meeting up having a meal and enjoying good fellowship.

Marie has been the usual busy with working for Newfrontiers, carrying on as usual despite all the ongoing staff changes that take place regularly, she is still knitting a woolly green scarf for me for Christmas, hopefully its ready in time although i wont need it because we are going to Zimbabwe for Christmas again, Woohoo!

Studies have finally concluded for the summer, I am still awaiting results and have one exam to do in august – due to the bad organisation of Uni which I have probably mentioned before. i had to spend 4 weeks at uni after my exams attending lectures which apparently had been the plan since the beginning of the academic year but we weren’t informed until mid way through our exam period despite several people including myself asking for clarification several times throughout this year (i think that shows how badly organised the uni is) in fact some were so badly caught out because they had already booked flights home for the summer and couldn’t attend the lectures. gladly though its all done, i cant wait to get this degree over and done with purely because it holds very little relevance to my day to day freelance work, and any content that did is already going out of date, that’s how fast paced the IT industry really is.

Work has really ramped up the last month or so, I’ve had the chance to meet and even work with some great teams like (new web infrastructure), Rackspace (got to see the Rackspace mini and got a goody bag) and have met the awesome GoSquared team and WooThemes just the other week, its keeping me busy which i like and importantly its earning money, I’m actually quite thankful to God for all the work as I had to replace my laptop a few weeks ago (the old one couldn’t take the load i was throwing at it) which cost a seriously painful amount of money which if it wasn’t for the work i wouldn’t have been able to buy.

Other than that, not much has changed, still busy busy busy, off to see my dad and Karen for the weekend next weekend which should be good as we will probably get to go to the village church too so that should be an experience for Marie (its not Newfrontiers!), the weather here has been pretty miserable the last few days but we got a couple of thunder storms that Marie and I both enjoy watching.

Online Business – Be careful who you trust!

I have been sat on this one for a while, I had been thinking whether it was worth actually posting this or not, because one way or another it would become a name and shame article. As a freelancer, the long and short generally is – Time = Money. Time not spent working is possible Money not earned and when your freelancing its more critical than ever because you often are never sure when the next pay cheque is going to arrive.

UPDATE: Someone emailed me quietly i wont go into there email but they made the comment that i was using he/she and it could come off as demeaning, i have since where possible corrected this as i have no problems with the person themselves but rather its purely a business issue of protecting my livelihood in a manner of speaking, they also commented that my disclaimer inferred that i thought Bob’s mental status was related to their “transitioning”, i have since clarified this up as this is not what i think

It seems a strange start to a be careful who you trust article with such a comment but you will understand soon enough, but I start with my plea to all freelancers or self employed people out there, if you have offers of partnerships and business proposals, do some serious “Due Diligence” research before you commit, you will see how I failed below, make sure that such a proposal is sensible, the person has a generally good background, don’t be afraid to ask any questions about things you are unsure of, importantly if money is involved make sure the financial background is clear and that there wont be any foreseen snags down the line and most importantly get things in writing and keep ALL communications between yourselves. Anyway here is how I failed bad, for niceness I wont name the person that I basically got screwed by but I will name the project names so that you can be aware of them

Beginning of march this year the person (will refer to them as Bob from now to protect their identity) Bob, posted a request in the forum, which I frequent to keep an eye on the service for issues and help out to get my name known a bit, Bob basically needed a server guy and a designer to help get their web hosting company idea off the ground and running and rolling, the deal seemed simple, Bob would provide the cash-flow to get the resources we need to get servers etc up and running, Bob mentioned somewhere in the thread that they were dying of heart failure and didn’t know how long they had left (1-10 years possibly) and wanted to get something off the ground and not have it die with them essentially (alarm bells should have been ringing here!) I PM’ed the user on the forum registering my interest not expecting to hear anything as i was expecting a lot more replies to him and got a response and conversation between the 2 of us, Bob also shared that they had just bought a new iMac for him to work on for the new project – I thought at this point in time, great they must be serious if they have the funds to by a top spec iMac.

Myself, Bob and another designer (will call him Al, his ID doesn’t need protecting as he is a solid designer and reliable but I said I wouldn’t bring him into this issue so sticking to my word) Al started to work on this, we got things like Basecamp running for the project management and started brainstorming all the ideas and things we would need to get this going and lots of tasks were assigned and servers rented to start setting up and I was assigned the tasks of setting up servers etc, Al was assigned the design aspects of theming billing systems etc, Bob was responsible for management and strategy decisions and getting content. Initially there was a great buzz, there was lots of activity and things were getting done, then after about 3-4 weeks we hit the first snag, Bob had gone off radar, they weren’t responding to emails, wasn’t on Skype or aim and importantly wasn’t making comments in basecamp, we had gotten to a point where we couldn’t move forward without Bob making a few decisions (mainly financial) – again more alarm bells should have been ringing.

I left it a few days and then sent an email to Bob, CC’ing Al in saying I was concerned about the project and for it continue there needed to be open comms, Bob replied back reasonably quickly saying he was sorry etc and that they were concerned about how some of the comms were being done (via campfire – now I realise it is because its transcribed, there is a record for everyone – i.e. no doubt what was said) and that they had stepped back for a few days to “think” along with having some other health issues to deal with (which I thought was reasonable – personal health always takes priority over work in my opinion) Bob got back in the loop and we started moving forward again at this point Bob raised the discussion topic of project title, up until this point we had been working under the name for the project but seems to be no longer in use) but he wanted to use the name (now expired) or even (currently seems to be attempting to setup under this banner.) Bob chose

So designs were progressing, I had secured and optimised a few servers and got them ready for use in deploying hosting clients on to etc, at this point was started getting some content onto the website being built, it was a blatant copy paste job initially (and a bad one at that) but I thought this was just filler to fill the blanks to visualise what the site would look like, it became clear that this was not going to be the case and again for the second time after another 2 weeks or so later Bob went off radar to us, but was still super active on the forum and on a new site (which was later found to be just plagiarising content, and has now been transferred to a new owner that actually writes new content) as a division of the first company name, at this point i had had enough and decided to bow out quietly and gracefully from the project and Al had also concluded it was a safe time to stop as he actually needed to focus on real paid work, I was lucky that at the time I was doing it in my spare time so it wasn’t quite as much of a hit as for Al but still a hit all the same and a lot of work I could have otherwise done and earned extra money.

I had decided that that was the end of the matter and that everything was over, but a couple of weeks later Bob posted in forum something along the lines of not being able to afford an iPhone and asking for sponsorship to do strange (and probably funny) things so that they could raise funds for an iPhone. Bob said that they would donate any extra to charity. at this point was when Big Ben really started going off in my head and I couldn’t sit back and watch people take in somethingthat just didn’t make sense. I do not know which story is true but this story didn’t correlate with the one they had previously told me so I felt compelled to share something in the thread and at least get people to check there facts, I tried to be calm, honest and polite and just convey what I knew but it quickly turned into Bob having a real go at me and and sent some rather impolite messages, that if we strip the expletives out gave the excuse that they did not tell me to do the work (despite me having emails to prove the contrary). I politely responded back that I had this proof and was prepared to invoice them, I got a rather rude but shorter response back and Bob asked [the admins] to have the thread they started deleted and their account banned.

I was going to let it go again at this point but I noticed recently on twitter that Bob (or maybe I should use Bobbie as they are in the process of “transition”) that Bob mentioned that they had clients and resold at the time I was tired and gave a slightly short and sarcastic message to them that I didn’t realise they had clients to worry about (I was talking about their downtime issues that they were telling the world about). I decided to do some digging and found that lo and behold Bob is attempting to sell hosting under the name of (and quite probably using setups and designs that we had generated as part of the previous business venture) what was worse to me was that Bob was doing it so badly and the website is an absolute mess (I wouldn’t be surprised if it disappears soon after this post) so I decided enough was enough, I couldn’t let it continue, Bob is giving a bad name to the web hosting industry in general just from their website and I didn’t want to let users sign up without being aware of Bob’s clear instability or let my work be used without being paid for essentially

DISCLAIMER: I do not know what Bob’s background is financially, health wise or even mentally, from reading Bob’s blog they have mentioned mental health issues such as depression etc, his heart failure story (which hasn’t seemed to have been mentioned recently) and obviously he is in the process of “transitioning” (I am not saying his mental health issues are in any way related to his “transitioning”) – last I read Bob had a deed poll to change his name to a female one and was needing a witness to sign it. all I can safely assume is this person has problems and needs professional help which it looks like they are getting and is not stable enough to be trusted with a client website or VPS and is good at plagiarising.

Mistakes I Made and Lessons I learned

  • I never asked enough questions up front, specifically financially related, I wrongly assumed it was all ok based on other comments Bob made – Lesson: ask lots of questions if you are unsure, seriously do it, it could protect your livelihood. If they are serious, they will be able to answer all your questions comprehensively and in reasonable time.
  • I didn’t confront issues immediately I let them wait a few days, ok this was partly due to doing it in my spare time and not being able to get to certain things straight away but that shouldn’t be an excuse – Lesson: always communicate and talk about issues straight away, if the person is serious they wont go off radar without warning you and leaving suitable provisions in place, if they are really serious they wont go off radar and critical moments at all.
  • I should have got things in writing, while email is a good record tracker it cant really be called legal documentation, this makes any possible legal case harder to fight as its a, “He said, She said” scenario – Lesson: don’t be afraid to ask for some sort of formalisation of the agreement – it doesn’t necessarily have to be a legal document but something that you both can sign (scan and email if you have to) which states clearly what if any financial outcomes are and responsibilities, this will stand up much better than a bunch of emails. Again if they are serious they won’t have a problem with this

I can’t say how this is progressing but this is not the end of it, I am moving things through appropriate channels and hopefully once resolved I can more fully let you know.

Sorry for a really long and boring post but seriously BE CAREFUL with who you trust online in a business arrangement and always check and ask questions, if its too good to be true it probably is.