Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Politics is my life

I watched the first debate, live. For some reason, the boy and I decided to stay up until 4 am, which is when it was on here, and we hauled ourselves out to the bar in his compound where we were served Mimosas (made with champagne which had already gone bad and turned us both violently ill) and bacon egg and cheese sandwiches.

The debate itself, most of you saw I'm sure. It was boring and irrelevant and only reinforced my perception that neither of these guys is a truly great or dynamic leader. Particularly difficult to deal with at 4 am when you are totally exhausted. It was made more surreal by the cornucopia of people who were watching it with us, many Americans but also other nationalities who were either curious, dating an American or just hanging out drunk at the bar when it started.

Most of all, though, I realized how detached I am from it all. Sure, this is my country and my leader but, really, I haven't lived in the States for a very very long time, I own nothing, I visit rarely and my accent is becoming muddled to the point that lots of people place me as an Aussie or a Brit. I don't feel any passion about it, really, no more than I do about the upcoming Canadian elections.

I AM, however, still gonna stay up to watch the Veep debate, that'll just be funny.

The time has cometh

I spent my first night in the malarial pit of despair last night (up until now I managed to stay with a friend but they're now in another site so I had to move). Three things:

1. The generator only works intermittently at best.
2. The air is so thick with mosquitoes it is actually hard to breathe.
3. There are live chickens in the kitchen. And they aren't using kitty litter if you get my drift.

So basically I am now living in a hot, dark, bug (and rat) infested hole that smells of bird droppings and where I could get pecked to death at any moment. Rock ON!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What my sugar daddy will buy me

I’m going to gloat for a second. Because I can. As I write these very words I am sitting on a lounge chair outside my suite, listening to the sounds of the waves and the palm trees in the (not-insubstantial) breeze, sipping at my beer, looking at a huge, full harvest moon rise over the Indian Ocean.

This is the way it was always supposed to be.

Gonna go see what the personal chef has whipped up for me now.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Random personal musings - the Return

I have managed to shelter myself fairly well from the ups and downs of life in general. Never been heartbroken, never had some schism with a former best friend, never stopped speaking to my family, never been fired, etc etc etc. Mine has been a placid, if slightly unusual, existence. And I think my chosen line of work allows that. It is hard to get heartbroken if you live in places where datable men are, to say the least, thin on the ground. It is unlikely you’ll have a schism with any friends if you only see them once every year or two. Ditto on family. And as for getting fired, I change jobs and countries every year, nobody has had time to figure out my incompetence.

That said, I’m wondering how exactly one deals with these things in the field. As I understand it from Bridget Jones books and Meg Ryan movies, when one gets their heartbroken they are supposed to curl up in their jammies, take a sick day, eat a pint of ice cream, watch some ridiculous romcoms on TNT and have all their girlfriends come ‘round for a good whinging session about how much men stink or some equally clich├ęd topic then go out, have a wildly inappropriate affair with a movie star or the local rogue and then fall madly in love with the cute but shy next door neighbor who was there all along and live happily ever after.

But what does one do when one lives with one’s colleagues, so can’t exactly pull a sicky, there isn’t any power during the day to make the TV work and, anyway, no TV to watch the silly movies on, no ice cream, if your girlfriends do come ‘round, conversation will inevitably be more about malaria net distribution and the ridiculous indicators we are being made to report on for maternal mortality than the foibles of men, there are no local rogues to have an affair with that wouldn’t necessitate a course of penicillin after and, worst of all, the next door neighbors are all retired Dinka generals and unlikely to suddenly reveal themselves as the perfect suitor?

Am I to be denied my pathetic-girl-with-cats moment? Will I never get to experience the pure neurosis of the modern over educated girl who is pushing 30? I feel I’ve missed a milestone or something!

Chedi = Temple.... Temple of REALLY nice wine

Chiang Mai was, overall, a bit of a let down. Lovely, and wonderful and all, but just another city (the 2nd city of Thailand, for those keeping score). It wasn’t until my last night that I actually felt any sort of connection to the place.

A friend and I had gone the Night Market, the “must do dahling” of Chiang Mai. It is, of course, a huge, overwhelming tourist trap, full of badly made Thai fishing pants and hippies buying up authentic Buddahs to put on the wall of their garden flats when they get back home to Croyden, right next to the bong and the poster of Che Guevera. My friend and I had fun, though, buying up silly little things (fairy lights, a wildly hippie skirt and more dvds than you can shake a stick at) and giggling at all the fake ethnic crap you can buy.

This was fun for, ohhhhh, an hour, then we were hungry and tired. Bear in mind, that is the major central attraction of Chiang Mai and an hour about covered it. We scuppered down an alley to get away from the crowds and found some ladies squatting behind HUGE woks perched on camping stoves. “Pad THAAAIIIIII” they screech in that inimitably Thai way and, before we even really nod yes, bits and bobs are being chucked in the wok and skooshed around, we are plonked on the curb, handed some chopsticks and plates of pad thai which are so spicy I got tears in my eyes from just the steam. I acquitted myself well, though, my friend, who is Korean, complimented me on my skilled use of chopsticks and, it must be said, the food was extremely freakin’ good. As in I’m getting a bit teary-eyed thinking about it right now, as I sip my warm beer in the Nairobi airport.

After that, we stumbled out on to the street, in need of alcoholic sustenance. I had been told of this hotel nearby that was supposed to be nice, the Chedi, so we wandered a bit until we found this huge, cement monolith of a hotel. I looked at my friend, my friend looked at me, we almost turned away. But then I realized no, the girl who recommended this is stylish and chic and sophisticated, she wouldn’t recommend some Intercontinental three-star karaoke bar. So we stepped around the cement wall that served as a barrier.

Oh. My. God.

Seriously.

Huge rectangular pools stretching out in all directions in which lemongrass candles floated serenely giving everything this surreal glow and amazing smell. The buildings were low, straight clean lines, all dark wood and huge floor to ceiling windows with shutters and wide, wooden verandas (I love a good veranda). We go up to the bar, every inch the ratty cargo trouser owning field workers we are, and the waiters treat us like royalty. Before we know it, we are ensconced on day beds, low tables with more lovely scented tables at our elbows, cool towels redolent of lime and something else I can’t place are placed gently in our hands and lovely Thai wine (a kind of Rose) given to us with lots of bows and quiet smiles. We sat there under the full moon, looking and the river (what river I couldn’t say if my life depended on it) and chatted about life and families and work and relationships and all the other things you talk to someone you barely know about when there is that sudden, intense sense of friendship and well being.

Most of all, though, we kept on going “godDAMN we’re lucky.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Things that move

Ok, some things that are flummoxing my colleagues who have never left Africa. Some of which are expats and very high up in the organization:

1. Escalators - Can't get on em, can't got off em, totally freaked out.
2. Moving floors in airports - Much the same, only even more panic at the getting-off stage.
3. Elevators - I keep on coming across them standing at the bank of elevators waiting for one to come even though they haven't pushed the button (which we've explained, they just forget). They also don't push the button for the floor once they get in.

I'm honestly NOT saying these things to make fun, I'm not. I'm just always amazed at the things I forget are completely foreign.

The inevitable travel fracas

I'm in Chiang Mai... or so they tell me, I haven't been out of the hotel yet. The hotel is nice. What is even nicer is the massage place attached to the hotel. I got an hour long Thai massage last night for 10 bucks, about an hour after landing, I might add.

The trip was looooong and awful. Our flight had been moved up by 2 hours but nobody had told us so we arrived at the airport as the gates were closing. The poor women we were with who had never been on a plane before were totally freaked out as we sprinted across the tarmac after some serious begging, pleading and screaming on my part. So much begging, I can't even tell you.

When we hit Addis everything was fine. Yay. Ran in to the team from Rwanda as well. Which created a whole 'nuther set of problems in Bangkok as we tried to get through immigration. Because team Rwanda hadn't read the memo sent out to all of us, so they didn't have yellow fever vaccines. Which meant we had to find a way to get them vaccines. In the airport. Which we did. Go through immigration (amazingly, all get through). Get the bags. Race up to the fourth floor to re-check in on to domestic flight. And........

Team Rwanda didn't have tickets. Some issue with the travel agent in Kigali. Or so we thought. Begging and pleading with ticket agents again. Thai ticket agents where English isn't exactly... how shall I say.... 100%. Get them through in time to race on to the Chiang Mai flight.

And on to my massage.

Friday, September 5, 2008

And the revolution...

... will fall flat on its face.

I tried to do all y'all proud today. I tried to stand up for myself and say "No sir! No sir I will NOT move out to the middle of nowhere. No sir I will NOT be treated like a second class citizen in this organization because of my gender and nationality and general demeanor. No sir!"

Didn't quite work and ended up spending my lunch hour packing all my worldly goods. I'm now bound for the swampy pit of despair this evening.

On the plus side, though, I am leaving tomorrow for Thailand for a week, and then, THEN THEN... a week in Zanzibar! Ahhhh. In a villa. With a chef. And a rooftop terrace. And a view of the ocean from my king sized suite's veranda.

It is all (deep breath) going to be (deep breath) ok.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The other shoe drops

Well, it all begins to make more sense. My boss showed up today with his family, fresh from the other African country he's from. Apparently they are all living in the other guest house. We are not an accompanied post, families are not allowed here. If there was an emergency, how would they be evacuated? Why should my organization pay for their housing for free? Will they use our cars to get around (especially ironic since I'M not allowed to use our cars to get around)?

I have fallen through the rabbit hole and am now in bizzaro world.

The little things are the biggest

Living arrangements in the field are always challenging, to say the least. I have lived in disgusting little bug infested hovels, relatively nice high ceiling'd traditional homes, cement hot boxes and many things in between. Few people go to conflict and post-conflict countries expecting luxury and, therefore, we aren't surprised when we don't find it.

The thing that is most frustrating, however, is that in NGOs, we often are forced to live in guest houses. This means a number of things. One, it means you are living and working with your colleagues, which is tough to say the least. No separation of church and state. Two, it means you are often sharing personal space with people from wildly different cultural backgrounds and age ranges. I can assure you, I have had many a disgusted look from older middle age African men when they see me behaving in a manner which, for a 25 year old girl from west is downright prudish but, for a girl from his village would be considered one step in Sodom, one in Gomorrah.

Finally, and most annoyingly, though, is that you have very little control over where you live and when you move.

A decision was made for me, apparently, that I am moving out of my current, perfectly comfortable and convenient office/house combo, and in to a new guest house. I am supposed to move in there tomorrow, apparently, so, today, I was taken out to see it.

Seriously, I'm holding back tears right now even writing about it.

First of all, the road to get there is pretty much a lake, we almost got stuck twice and it hasn't even started raining yet. Apparently the land used to be swamp and was filled in a couple years ago so it is soft, wet and malarial. Second, it is miles away from anything. Seriously, we are in the middle of nowhere surrounded by tukuls. I won't be able to go out, to get to the office or to get people to come pick me up. The house itself is badly made, dirty, dark and dank. My two other colleagues who are exiled with me already claimed rooms, so they are getting the relatively spacious rooms with ensuite bathrooms and hot water. I have the pokey room near the sitting room with a cold bucket bath rooms for a shower.

Now, all of this would be less insulting if my other three colleagues, those who selected the houses, weren't moving in to a beautiful, modern, airy house next to the office, in easy proximity to main roads, power, internet and not at the bottom of essentially a mosquito pit.

I have to say, this is coming dangerously close to being the straw that breaks the camels back. I am now 28 years old. I am not getting paid enough or getting enough job satisfaction to deal with this nonsense!

Watch this space for a revolution.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Very scary jetplanes

I'm supposed to be at a workshop in Thailand as of Sunday. Which puts me in the strange position of standing in the middle of the office, screaming at the footage of protesters in Bangkok on BBC going "Have the dang coup already!" See, I reckon that once they actually have the coup, everything'll be fine but, if they don't, who knows when some crowd in yellow headbands will interrupt my travel.

And this travel is going to be bucket loads of not fun. To start with, it is something along the lines of 28 hours in transit. My flight will go Juba to Kampala, Kampala to Addis, Addis to Bangkok, Bangkok to Chiang Mai. So that sucks. But that isn't the worst part.

The worst part is that we are bringing local partners with us, women who work as volunteers for small, innovative local organizations here on the ground. This all sounds wonderful, right, and it is. Three or four months ago we told them about this trip to Thailand and then began the HUGE job of getting them passports and visas and yellow fever vaccines and notarized letters from their husbands allowing them to travel and luggage locks. All good.

Then last week my program officer is talking to one of them and she's says something about Uganda. The PO looks at her oddly and says "What's in Uganda?" "Thailand" the Sudanese woman says "Isn't it a town in Uganda?"

Oh sweet lord. The woman thought we were going to a conference across the border, not across the world. We started to explain to her the distance we would be traveling on a plane (sample question: "How will I go to the toilet?), the fact that we were going to an Asian country (sample quote: "They're almost white!") etc etc etc. Panic, of course, ensues and lots of frantic communications between husbands and money being set aside for children.

My PO and I were talking about it later, we were wondering if we were wrong to just assume that they knew what Thailand was. There are so many things we take for granted and I do wonder sometimes how much of my conversations with staff goes straight over their head whilst they smile and nod politely at me.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Mea Culpa

Hi all - I haven't abandoned the blog, I promise, just lots of things, personal and professional, that have kept me busy and bitter, neither of which is conducive to posting. Keep checking in every now and again and I'll start posting more again soon, promise.