September 8, 2008
This page continues from first friends visiting me to Cyprus.
One of the reasons my visiting friend wanted to see Nicosia the capital was because we were starting to get on each other’s nerves and needed a break. When I was visiting Prague over Christmas and mentioned that I could survive on the island for about 10 bucks a day, his eyes perked and thought he had found himself a cheap vacation and temporary escape from the cold winter town. He told me he could cover my beers and food, and we shook on it. But when he arrived the free lunch or booze seemed to peter out after the first day. Furthermore, he bought his plane ticket and THEN announced that he plans to stay two months. TWO MONTHS?! The guy is practically 7 feet tall and as broad and built as Frankenstein, so I was curious to find out how we would tolerate one another in my little caravan truck sardine can. The free beer and food became an issue, so he thought he’d give me a break by taking a bus to the capital. But he wrote an email in only a few days and came desperately crawling back – apparently the hotel prices are ridiculously expensive, even on the Turkish side. So he gladly bought me a couple of beers and dinner, and we resumed our travels together.
I wrapped things up on the Farm (Famagusta) and set out back to the Greek side to drop off my CVs. Along the way I noticed there were only a few kinds of businesses: travel agencies, real estate agencies, lawyer offices, private medical practitioners, and restaurants. Not a great choice to hire my computer skills. The pubs did not seem so interested in my playing abilities and I was not getting the flood of job offers I was hoping for.
Hit Agia Napa first, a major tourist town, and then Larnaca, which is more metropolis and where the major airport is located on the Greek side. I happened to park my truck across the street from a Czech pub on Cyprus, walked along the river dropping my CVs, and on my way back decided the Czech pub will be my last CV drop for the day. I walked in and handed the head bartender my yellow piece of paper. He looked at it and read, “Karel Kosman. That’s a Czech name, no?” I said yes, he switched to Czech, poured me a beer and we became the best of friends. He got excited reading about all my skills and asked if I’d be interested in promoting his pub, which included making a website, complete with pictures, promote the website (search engine optimization and submitting it to travel webpages), and even a video of the place.
The pictures would be put up on the pub’s walls as well, so I would have to get those printed. It was exciting and I was glad to be using all my skills. I was excited about the new work opportunity and he was already describing his vision of what the video should be like. After exchanging excited words for a while I remembered my friend and sent him a text message informing him of the good news and that I might be able to land him a few free beers for his photographic talent.
He was in an internet cafe down the street and managed to show up within a few minutes flat. We were all excited about the new opportunity, and my friend was glad for the free beers (and later food), because he was slowly running out of money. He actually tried to catch an earlier flight back to Prague but found out in the small print that it had to be rebooked before his initial departure. So he was stuck on the island, with me, and was not happy that I was demanding a certain amount of beers and food from him, according to our initial agreement. This pub gig turned out to be a bit of a lifesaver for the both of us. The staff let us use the laundry machine and shower at their place, and it turned out to be a wonderful marriage of lovely people. Within days we had taken lots of pictures and already begun filming. Over about a week I started to put together a website for them, for which I finally forced myself to learn Flash, and found it relatively easy. And throughout all this the head bartender, Pepa, would occasionally refer to some mysterious, dark haired fellow as just a friend of the owner and who will be leaving soon. Pepa agreed to pay me handsomely for my services and I eventually proposed 600 Euro for everything, together with the free food and beers. He agreed wholeheartedly. I got about half way through all my work and said I’d like payment of the first half before I continue. The excuses were mounting and the food supply was dwindling, but at least the tap did not run dry for me. He kept assuring me that the first payment would be any day now and just needed my work burned onto a CD to show to the owner. I didn’t want to do that so I brought in my laptop and gave a presentation of what video I had shot and edited so far, and the website.
The owner sat behind me nodding with approval, and the staff practically clapped their hands in excitement. But what eventually came to surface was that the mysterious dark fellow was not just a friend of the owner and with two feet practically out the door, but the manager of the place.
Pepa was giving orders to all the staff so I naturally assumed he carried some weight, but it turns out he is a compulsive liar (although I still love him) and had aspirations of taking over management of the restaurant. He was later removed as cook/submanager from that pub to work at the owner’s other restaurant – a successful one serving Greek cuisine. Meanwhile, my friend had started gesturing he was thinking of charging 200 Euro for his photographic services. Not only had I felt his free food and beer ride was more than I expected and potentially cutting into my share, this 200 Euro definitely felt like a threat. After all, I had already agreed to do the photography, but suggested my friend might do it instead, since he is better at it, if he could get some beers for his participation. Inevitably this became a point of contention and we could not agree on things from a business point of view. I saw it as my gig but that I was thinking of him and thought I could get him some beers. He saw it as simply finding some work for himself. His snoring also became an increasing problem. The friction was mounting and I suggested he find himself a hotel. This was at a time I still believed I would get paid for a week’s worth of work. He was not happy and took the bus back to the capital, this time though staying with Couch Surfer hosts, as I had suggested to him.
After showing my presentation to the owner, and after getting the constant run around from Pepa, I finally approached the mysterious dark fellow and asked him about payment. He said I was a shitty businessman and that I should have talked it over with him first, and that I should be glad with the food and beers that we had received. I told him that I was not a Ukrainian that I would be willing to work for potatoes and, in Pepa’s words, pints of beer which cost him 30 cents, and that if he would not pay me I could turn the webpages into a bad advertisement. He got upset that he had been feeding me all this time, like a mother from her heart, and asked me to leave.
So those are the first fruits of my exploits into the real working world. For over a decade I had been dealing with customers by email only, always delivering the work to them first and praying for payment after, and this is the first time I would offer my other skills to someone, face to face. Or be able to take the work back if not paid for it, as I had been plagued so many times in the past. I guess I should just expect such an absurd outcome with everything that I do.
Hooked up with my friend again on his way back to Prague, and he said his stint in the capital turned out to be successful and that he had taken a lot of interesting pictures contrasting the two sides of this last divided city in the world (samples left and right, or full gallery of Cyprus photographs). He may have left with a slight chip on his shoulder, but he indicated his sympathy for the nonpayment, which would have affected him as well.
So now I was even poorer than before and my financial situation was getting dire, the translation project having petered out to much less than was originally promised. I had been emailing with my sister, who publishes forecasts for the lumber industry in Canada, when the conversation somehow turned to the beetle problem ravaging the BC forest industry.
Apparently it had killed vast sections, much of the province left with standing dead and grey timber go into detail at some point, about the need for new mills etc. At this I joked that perhaps they would need treeplanters and that it might affect their prices. She said certainly. Considering that May was approaching on the island, a time when I usually have to leave because the temperature surpasses 30C and slowly climbs to its summer highs of 50, I thought a summer of treeplanting would be a pleasant escape into more ideal temperature and an opportunity to turn my situation around financially. I approached a bunch of treeplanting companies, was assured that I would be making between four and five hundred dollars a day, and was already offered at least one opening.
The next couple of weeks I spent trying to secure a loan for the plane fare there. I approached all my banks and friends. The banks were the expected bust (the US bank declined because I opened the account with my Czech passport, and Czech banks have always been ridiculous about lending money) but some friends did pull through. My family was flat out of cash (and tolerance) but my Iranian friend in Famagusta agreed to lend me whatever I needed. The problem was that he had already lent (he is a good Muslim) all he had to many of his other friends and had nothing left to spare. At least not until the beginning of the next month, when I was due to start planting and hence it was too late. So we spent a week filling out forms and running around campus so that he could convince his bank to increase the limit on his credit card to 5,000 dollars. It was the usual bureaucratic grunt war and time was cutting it short. As I was wrapping things up and preparing for the trip (I decided I had to put my entire business online so that I could manage it even from the bush), my attention turned to a second email account, firstname.lastname@example.org. Several months ago I tried to switch to it but ran into some problems. During the transition about 30 emails had ended up in that account’s web inbox and not on my computer, so I downloaded all those and responded to them quickly. One of those emails was from an old friend who had angered me so much about something that I no longer wanted to have anything to do with him. But I am a tolerant guy and have been exchanging the occasional and brief email with him over the past two years.
Not the paradise job I imagined before I first started this torturous profession.
We now started emailing casually and he gleaned out of me my present situation. I was careful not to ask him for a loan, but I was desperate for help, and I guess he wanted to be my friend again. Soon enough we were arranging a time to talk to one another over the net, which turned out to be at the same time when my Iranian friend went to check up on the final news regarding his increased credit card limit (I spent most of my days in his university office, helping him with English and using his free internet in airconditioned atmosphere). I spoke with my old friend for about 30 minutes, and once he felt assured that his help would win back our friendship, we purchased the plane ticket over the web using his credit card. That conversation over, my Iranian friend came back into the office about five minutes later, but rather speechless that I no longer needed his help (his credit limit was successfully raised). Many times in the past his hands were stretched out with a fistful of cash and each time I managed to find an alternate solution, but I have a feeling I will need to play this card at some point in the future. Now again was not the time.
Crammed with the crew on quad and trailer while being delivered to one of the pieces.
Because of all the delays and uncertainties, the original treeplanting company which had promised me work changed its mind, but since the ball was already set in motion I desperately approached every company I could find on the net. My mother was losing sleep at the prospect of me showing up at her door in Vancouver (gallery pics) without a job, but I figured something should pan out. She is a worry bee and obviously few people around us fly through their lives by the seat of their pants like I do, but I ended up getting a few offers before the flight took off. One of them was for a treeplanting company based in Alberta and he seemed rather eager to have me, needing experienced planters. But I told him that I was a bit pensive because Alberta is flat compared to BC, where I spent my first six years treeplanting, and I was worried for my joints because of the ‘faster ground’ (in Alberta you have to plant almost double the amount of trees to make the same amount of money). He said he didn’t like the prospect of “losing a veteran planter”, but forwarded my email to a friend of his who had just started a company and who was soon to begin planting somewhere in BC. I emailed with this new guy a bit, talking about my situation, when I received an email: “MY GOD!! I just spent an hour reading about your travels. Absolutely amazing all that you have accomplished with that truck. We’re a small but hardcore crew, and you have a place with us!” The word hardcore intrigued me and won me over immediately.
My roomate and fellow musician on one of the hotel contracts.
And perhaps it was a suitable choice for me. After all, I’m a bit hardcore, no? But this wasn’t quite what I expected. When I had planted before I was always one of the fastest planters on my crew, earning about 250 dollars a day and in the top 5% in terms of numbers. This guy Chris had planted for the guy who reluctantly referred me to him, but Chris wasn’t happy with how things were managed, so he grabbed the fastest planters on the crew and started his own treeplanting company. When I joined his crew it was his second year of operation and I figured he hired me because he thought he could use my help with setting up and running his camp, considering how I had equipped my truck and all.
I got to camp and was shocked to find that these were indeed hardcore planters, each of them planting almost double what I could. I was now at the bottom of the totem pole. Furthermore, it had been 17 years since I had planted last, and I had spent most of the past two years while on the road lying on my back clanging away at the computer. I was not in very good shape and it took me a full two and a half months before I stopped feeling constant pain. I took all sorts of vitamins and even protein powder, to help my ripped muscles rejuvenate, but such rejuvenation is substantially slower at the age of 43 and I was having a hard go at it. But by the end of the summer I did manage to earn about 250 dollars a day, even though the camp’s average (at five thousand trees a day) was roughly double mine. In fact, Chris was such a maniac, once he offered a planter 400 dollars to run after him while he would try to beat the world’s record: 20,000 trees within an eighteen hour day. He is a highly wired and energetic individual, and was obviously stressed out trying to run his operations in its infant, second year. Unfortunately, I had not proven so useful as he hoped, often making mistakes whenever he needed help (I was back to being a stoner, and was not used to such work on instant demand). I even had to joke with myself, since I had already made a mistake the first time he had asked me for help. I thought of Murphy’s law, where everyone rises in their workplace to the level of their own incompetence, and admitted that I must be absolutely incompetent since I had failed before I had even gotten out of the starting gate.
This compounded with the fact that I was there in the first place because my business had been supplying me with meager earnings for the past two years while traveling, and my efforts at distributing my CV around the island of Cyprus turned into a dismal failure. I felt like a dismal failure and spent much of the summer hovering around depression. Not to mention that all these young bucks were planting double my numbers, but I did gain some respect from them by the end.
Where we started the planting season, somewhere near Salmon Arm. More treeplanting pictures.
It was a painful summer indeed, and probably even more so by the sheer banality of the job. It does require a certain amount of intelligence to put in such high numbers, but it is extremely repetitive, and a few times I had to stop planting just because I could no longer hammer my head mindlessly against the wall. Once everything even turned to purple due to the sheer mundane repetitiveness of it and I had to take an hour’s nap in the forest.
Takin a break with the young bucks during a long drive north to the next contract. Obviously I was a bit of an oddity being the oldest worker there.
But over the summer I decided I would make a treeplanting website describing the profession and write out all the tricks I had learned how to plant fast. I did not find much on the internet offering the same, so I assumed my site could become popular among treeplanters. I also want to make a forum with a searchable database, like the one I made for my translators (regarding payment for translation services), where planters could exchange their opinions and help rookies know what are the best companies to work for. I also agreed to help my boss Chris with his accounting, and my plan was to use the treeplanter website to sell the developed treeplanting accounting software to other treeplanting companies. And maybe make money in other ways from the site, such as banner ads for certain treeplanting equipment.
Some pictures I downloaded of coastal planting.
The three months were brutal, but alas the summer season was over and I failed to get more work for the fall (mostly only on the coast, with tight crews I would have had to already start with during the spring – something to think about for upcoming years, if I were ever to repeat this torture again), so I found myself heading back to the island by the end of August. But not before making a longer pit stop in London, to party with my nephews.
Now it is the third day back on my island, back on my favourite beach, and my skin is getting used to the salt water again, so that I do not need to take a fresh water shower after a swim, like I had to during the first few days. I’m glad I got off the island during its hottest season and that I will be able to enjoy it during its best time – September and October, when the sea has been wonderfully warmed up over the summer and when the temperature starts to fall slowly from around 33C.
Unfortunately, it is proving a bit difficult to collect my last cheque from Chris, who is not answering his emails, and I hope this will not turn out to be another catastrophe. I have about 300 bucks left and will start looking for work tomorrow. I even considered joining the host of Slovakian construction workers on the Greek side, if I could drive there that is. Because I do not have car insurance for either side at the moment. In fact, two pieces of my luggage came a day late, and after I had picked them up, it was the first time there was a police block on the outskirts of the airport. As expected they waved me over and discovered I did not have any car insurance. But the policeman did not know any English, which I rattled off at full speed, explaining how I had just landed on the island after treeplanting for three months and that I planned to buy the car insurance once back on The Farm (Famagusta). He had to chuckle, probably not understanding anything I said, but he did see that I had been paying for the insurance in the past, so he just waved me through.
Now I’m back into no beer mode, and trying to survive on about 7 dollars a day. To stretch my meager savings (paid a lot of debts and bills over the summer) until the supposed payment from whatever work I may find trickles in. Meanwhile, because I am not yet able to pay my old friend as promised for the plane fare he arranged for me, I thought I’d do the next best thing and offer him a free place to crash during the best time of the year here. He is apparently arranging a flight now. Hopefully not to my detriment.
Played with in an authentic garage band during a week
off while planting.
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Published - August 2010