Sunday, December 21, 2008
Firstly, you have to understand that I worked a late shift last night. This means that I worked until 2am, drove half an hour to get home, had a drink, read my book to wind down, and was probably asleep by 3.15am.
Today I worked a double shift. This means a 10am start, work through until 4pm. Go on an hour break, and start again at 5pm. Work through until 2am. Tonight I got home a little early.
The day started out with the usual rubbish. Our manager drives us mad. I don't mean like managers usually do. I mean in the way that makes you see red with rage and fury. I seldom lose my temper at work. In fact, I have prided myself on the fact that I have NEVER sworn at my staff, shouted at them for anything less than outright insubordination, and that my staff have always stuck around because I treat them with respect. This manager doesn't know what that means. I quite regularly have to go stand in a dark corner somewhere and breathe, so that I dont actually walk out of the restaurant, or, you know, kill him.
I was pretty tense. Next thing I know, its mid lunch service, and one of the waiters is shouting at one of the chefs because the pasta that goes with the veal is cold. The chef wants him to take it anyway. What does he care, he cant see the customer. Before anyone can blink the guys are actually punching each other over the food pass, veal and cold pasta is all over the floor, and I am standing there absolutely frozen, when I know I should be backing rapidly away.
I want you to picture this for a moment. Both the chef and the waiter are diminutive. I am 5ft 8" and they are both shorter than me. The manager who breaks them up is 6ft 2". He cant actually pull them apart they are so locked in together. The kitchen resounds with the words "jou ma se poes" (and no I am not going to translate) and the two continue to go at each other in what is an almost comical parody of a dog fight involving chihuahuas on crack.
Finally the whole thing calms down, and food is distributed hot, and a slightly confused customer appeased. It gets towards the end of my shift and I can see my break rapidly approaching. About 20mins before I am due to leave, when I can almost taste the cigarette I am going to light up immediately, I suddenly hear a massive fight going on in the kitchen and next thing I see a chef run into the back area behind the building with blood actually POURING out of his head.
WHAT? ..I hear you say. Yes. Blood. Pouring. It appears that two of the chefs in the kitchen (not the two previously involved) decided that the best way to deal with an argument was to pull knives on each other and make like one of the Scream films. The ENTIRE kitchen was drenched in blood, managers were running around with pristine white shirts dripping crimson, waiters were sent out to deal with customers the best way they knew how, and kitchen staff were scattering in every direction. Police sirens began to wail, closely followed by ambulances. What exactly do you say to a customer when your chefs are carried out the restaurant by emergency medics, while being handcuffed at the same time?
We all assumed we would close for the night. But no. The show must go on. We were booked to capacity, and over capacity and we had to find a way to serve them all. We went though a list of what food has been taken off the menu due to 'contamination' and the staff meeting at 6pm resounded with the sound of jokes that went something along the lines of: 'Our steak is to DIE for' or 'you should try the linefish, its BLOODY good'. Also, you would think that everyone would be very very very nice to the kitchen staff for the evening. Not true. That kitchen was like a Nazi interrogation chamber. We all avoided it like the plague, unless we knew that the food being served next was ours. Then we just took a deep breathe and plunged into the fray as one would plunge into a river full of piranhas... as quickly as humanly possible.
Finally the night was almost over. And then Mr Sarcastic (the manager that makes us all see red and is single handedly responsible for about 6 waiters walking out the restaurant mid-shift) felt that clearly he hadn't needled me enough this evening and started walking round my section making sarcastic remarks about absolutely nothing as all.
I gave up. I just cashed up, did the duty assigned to me, and walked away. The drive home was miserable, as I was driving my brothers car in which I cant smoke, and by the time I got home I was tense and tired and craving. I arrived home, and as I was closing the door, I realised it was going to slam, and instead of propping it with a foot, I grabbed it with my hand... which instead of halting the impact, merely provided a means with which to inflict pain on myself. It was only then that I cried.
I have written it down, so maybe I can sleep now. I am working another double tomorrow. I hope that no one tries attempted murder, and that if someone does, it isn't me getting homicidal on my manager. Wish me luck.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
This is my reply (because no doubt this is kinda how my life would go):
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
- a ticket to the USA to go see him for the first time in months
On the second day of Christmas my true love realized for me:
- I cant use the ticket because American immigration hates the Arabic in my passport and keeps thinking I am responsible for genocide in Darfur. (SOUTH Sudan people...SOUTH!)
- a Major General in Sudan had also sent a ticket to get me to Sudan to meet his 'other' wives.
On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
- a new passport with no Arabic in it
- A steel baseball bat to fend off the Sudanese admirers
- A pair of skis so that I can learn when I get there
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love realized for me:
- The new passport is going to take 4 months to issue
- The Major General has an AK-47 and the baseball bat is ineffective
- The skis wont fit in my luggage and are considered a weapon by airport security
- That 150 cows is worth a LOT of money and that maybe he should pose as my father at the negotiations...
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
- An expedited Passport that costs twice the amount
- A big gun courtesy of the American Firearm Association (you can travel on a plane with it so long as its in a locked case - apparently)
- Charms that look like skis so that I have the 'feel' of owning skis before I get there
- A card saying that having me is worth more cows than can be bought.
- Nothing else, because the first four have left him broke
On the sixth day of Christmas my true love realized for me:
- In South Africa an expedited passport means you pay more money so they can afford the phone call to tell you the passport is going to take the usual amount of time.
- That after spending all that money, I could have bought an AK-47 off the side of the street in the local township for half the price.
- That because charms of skis have sharp edges I cant take THOSE on the plane either, because I might stab someone in the eye with it and take over the world.
- That the card wont reach me until next Christmas because the term 'snail mail' means something in this country.
- That because the Rand is doing so badly on exchange, the $$ he has spent actually seem like WAAAAY more when compared to South African Rands
- Nothing else, because he is still pissed off he spent all that money for nothing.
On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
- A phone card so I can phone the department of Home Affairs myself, and complain about the wait for a passport.
- A training manual on how guns don't kill people, people do.
- Plastic charms which aren't as pretty but wont kill people in an airplane.
- An email with the same message about cows in it.
- an exchange calculator so that I can keep a tally of rates and let him know when the opportune moments are.
- Anti-malaria medication, since its starting to look more and more likely that I run away to Sudan and take the cows
- Nothing else. Even more broke than before.
On the eighth day of Christmas my true love realized for me:
- because we only have one landlines network and a complete lack of monopoly controls, calls are so expensive, and you are on hold for so long to Home Affairs that frankly, one card isn't enough.
- Giving a gun to a woman who regularly wants to kill customers/staff/managers might not be such a good idea, and that he cant afford the bail money.
- charms are a choking hazzard
- emails may not reach me for ages because internet access in South Africa is almost as bad as the phone lines they run off
- in the current economic climate the exchange rates are changing so as to make an exchange calculator null and void.
- the peace agreement in Sudan is coming to an end and could mean the end of any chance of going there for the cows.
- That he cant actually take any more days of this Christmas c**p and that he is going to run away to a be a Buddhist monk and forget women even exist
On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
Saturday, December 13, 2008
CHRISTMAS CAROLS FOR THE SEASONALLY DISTURBED
* 1. Schizophrenia --- Do You Hear What I Hear?
* 2. Multiple Personality Disorder --- We Three Kings Disoriented Are
* 3. Dementia --- I Think I'll be Home for Christmas
* 4. Narcissistic --- Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me
* 5. Manic --- Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets
and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Trees
* 6. Paranoid --- Santa Claus is Coming to Town to Get Me
* 7. Borderline Personality Disorder --- Thoughts of Roasting on an Open
* 8. Personality Disorder --- You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm
Gonna Pout, Maybe I'll Tell You Why
* 9. Attention Deficit Disorder --- Silent night, Holy oooh look at the
Froggy - can I have a chocolate, why is France so far away?
* 10. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder -- - Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells,
Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells,
Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells,
Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells,
Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells,
Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells,
Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells,
Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells,
Have a merry Christmas, y'all. Mine shall be merry, and by merry, I mean drunken.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
The reason for this is that inevitably, the thing I have always unfailingly made to absolute perfection will fall apart into a mixture of odd-looking, ill mixing ingredients.
This has happened on three different rather important occasions.
1. When I first moved in a with a boyfriend in the UK. It was winter and we wanted stew. My stew back home in Cape Town was legendary. My friends would hang around a little longer in the afternoon in the hope that they would be offered some for dinner. So I promised an astounding stew. A fantastic one! I was safe in the knowledge that my stews always satisfied. The end product was a glutinous bland mass of decimated vegetables and meat that somehow managed to not only taste of absolutely nothing whatsoever, but to look like it tasted that way too. The boyfriend raised an eyebrow, looked at me like I was completely mad, and never let me cook again.
2. Attempt number 2 (I haven't had a kitchen of my own in such a long time that there have been mercifully few attempts). My lovely man (who I so recently visited in the USA) and I had returned to CO from our road trip and I felt like comfort food. Macaroni cheese seemed like the best thing. Again, I felt safe in the knowledge that it was the one thing there was no way I could muck up. And it would be the first time I had EVER cooked for this man, and I kinda wanted it to be at the very least edible. It was a disaster. A gloopy mass. A big bowl of cheese flavoured yellow glue. The only positive to the whole meal was that it so effectively bound my stomach I didn't have to worry about sneaky bathroom visits for a few days (you know whats its like in a small space with a new partner...) My man was very nice about it though. That made me feel worse. He even went so far as to (*shudder*) eat the left overs the next day. That made me concerned for his health.
3. The most recent attempt happened only 2 days ago. Luckily this time I was feeding a friend. This particular friend still maintains that I made him the best steak he has ever eaten. So I had a reputation to live up to. Luckily he is also a really honest friend, and has no problems being totally straightforward about his opinion. Which affords me a certain amount of relief when it comes to being worried if someone is just putting on a brave face and fighting down the nausea. I decided to make him a butternut squash risotto that I made recently for Miss M in the UK. On that occasion it came out incredibly well, so I thought to replicate the meal.
This one did not. For some bizarre reason the risotto went sticky before it had softened, the butternut was bland, and the whole lot badly in need of salt despite the handful already administered, and frankly, it even looked awful.
I looked at my friend as I handed him his plate with the caution that if it was as bad as I suspected it might be, I had some left over curry in the fridge and he could have that instead.
After a few minutes of chewing in silence I couldn't bear it anymore and told him again about the curry.
He replied by saying: 'No actually I am finding this quite fascinating to eat. Because, despite what it looks like, I am surprised with each new mouthful that it doesn't taste like mashed banana.'
I think that has pretty much done it for me now. Yet, I have offered to cook dinner for two friends tomorrow night. What was I thinking? Now I have to think of a fail safe meal...
You know, I think the common thread in all those meals that went so badly wrong is that they all went bad when I tried to make them in a new country. I wonder if that means I will be able to make a killer stew again, now that I am back in Cape Town....?
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
I think however, that for those of you who frequent the service industry, and have not worked in it, I have some pointers for you....
1. NEVER, no matter how important you are, say 'Do you know who I AM?' when the manager cant find your booking. We don't care. You are one of many. How nice for you.
2. Don't be rude to the waiters. Your food, and your drinks, WILL have a few mishaps on its way to your table. The staff get the job in a place like this because they are best, and cause they are ballsy. They don't really care what you think.
3. When your table orders drinks, order all at once. I cant actually tell you just how annoying it is when you have to run back and forth to a table ferrying individual drinks because people are being indecisive. The barman gets annoyed, and shouts at the waiter. The waiter gets annoyed and shouts at the runner. The runner gets annoyed and walks away to go play with glasses, and then you have to wait 30 minutes for someone to bring you your food, because everyone is suddenly over worked.
4. Dont go to a very expensive restaurant unless you can afford it. We can spot you a mile away. You order tap water instead of bottled, and ask the price of everything before you make a decision. Don't gasp when we tell you the price. Its not on the menu for a reason. If you have to ask, honestly, you cant afford it.
5. Tip your waiter. If you don't tip respectably, we REMEMBER you. And you will get the trainee the next time you visit because we always give the bad tippers to the newbie. Hierarchy is wonderful :-D
6. Never slap the bum a waitress with a tray of drinks in her hand. She may 'accidentally' spill them on you. I did. And you will look like an absolute idiot to your friends. He did. *sniggers*
Use it, dont use it. I look forward to the NEXT guy that slaps my ass....
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I started the other blog, and then realised that not only do I still have material to write about, but I also don't have the energy right now to jump backwards in time and tell the story of the past. So I deleted it. A little impulsive maybe. But it was just staring me in the face every time I logged in, and I couldn't bear it mocking me any longer.
So tomorrow I shall start the tale of tonight. Well tonight began at 10am this morning and ended at 2am with a call to police emergency response. Why can my life never be dull?
I shall tell the tale when I have had some sleep, but right now I am off to crash. I have worked 30hrs in the last 37. Why, oh WHY do I do this? I get bored otherwise I think...
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Where I am now is wonderful. I have a job I love, in a restaurant I love, working right on the beach. Its a fantastic fancy place, top of the Cosmo list next month, and I love the people I work with and the customers I serve.
However, the reason I started blogging, oh so long ago, is because I had a massive amount of information and funny moments I wanted to record, and Sudan was where I was, so Sudan is where I started. The place I felt it most though, was when I was still in London, and so I have started a new blog, here. Its retrospective and begins with me leaving Cape Town, and eventually will end where I started in Sudan.
This is where I am right now. Its the perfect place to live out the summer.
See you all another time, in another place.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Unfortunately, thanks to our rather infamous former government (among others of its predecessors) the rest of the country is pretty much buggered. Yes, that's right, buggered. The truly startling thing about Apartheid was that it kept this bit well hidden. Well, from South Africans anyway. International news is much more effective when local news is run by the government. "Poverty? What poverty? Where?" was pretty much the official stand point. That and standing with fingers in ears going la-la-la-la-la whenever anyone raised a valid point, or a sanction for that matter. If la-la-la didn't work, a nice quick bullet to the head normally did the trick. As a result, South Africa is largely 3rd world. People outside the cities do, in fact, live in huts. They do, in fact, herd (and sell their daughters for) cows. This is not a common 1st world pursuit. To be 1st world you have to PAY someone to take your daughter, in the form of a dowry, or in more recent times, a wedding. Failing that, one can pay someone else to watch the cows and this makes you 'respectable'.
What's my point? Oh yes, the blurring of the lines. The 3rd world has kinda mixed into the 1st now. It is uncommon, but not unheard of, for neighbors in a nice suburb to be disturbed by the ritual slaughter of a chicken in the middle of the night. Now I am not saying that the slaughter of chickens makes you 3rd world. I mean, essentially abattoirs slaughter chickens every day, and we even add ritual to it to make it Kosher or Halal. It is, essentially, ritual slaughter on a grand scale, but done where you cant see it. What makes it feel a little wrong is the fact that its happening next door, in someones back yard, on the lawn.
I digress. I am in a funny mood. It might be the single malt I found in my Dads cupboard. Mmmmm....
So, the third world has entered our suburbs. How, you ask? In the form of guards. I arrived home in Cape Town, and on the way back from the airport, and into the suburb where my father lives, I noticed spaced out wooden huts (nice, respectable, clearly well made ones). Each had a nice bright number painted on it.
Dad: Oh darling, you don't know about the new guard huts! Every one of these huts has a guard in them at night. Every resident has a whistle, so that if there are any problems they can alert the nearest guard and they will receive help.
I sat for a moment speechless. This is necessary?
Dad: Oh darling, it's wonderful. When I get home at night now, I don't even THINK of highjackings anymore. It's such wonderful peace of mind. Isn't it great?
'Yes, yes it is,' I replied as I tried to get my head around this. At night we now have a guard at every street corner, watching us. It feels oddly Nazi-esque, somehow. While I am grateful for the added protection, as I work nights and will be coming home late, I am slightly horrified that its needed. What will happen when the thugs run out of other hunting grounds, and realise that a guard is fairly easy to kill? Fenced compounds? Areas with designated movement?
Ah well, we shall see. In other news, being home is nice. I have a bed again, not a sofa, and (*bounces*) a cleaning lady! I have a kitchen to play in, and a car to use, and a seaside and mountain I am going to glue my eyes to for the next 3 months. Will keep you updated on the new job when I decide if I really want to be working there :-P
P.S. Speaking of weddings, my Dad mentioned today that he has money put aside for my wedding. I am kinda tempted to have one now, just for the sake of using the money. Am I bad?
Monday, November 3, 2008
Yes, this traveling mass of insane humanity is moving on to yet another adventure. This one is the adventure of going home. And in true Miss P. style, the decision was made in about 2 hours.
The conversation went like this (in two msn windows)
Miss Tig: Hey I have a job for you if you want it. Great money!
Me: Yes, but you are in Cape Town, and I am in London.
Miss Tig: Well, when you planning on coming home? Cause this guy really needs someone to help him.
Me: I really dont know.
Me: Hey Miss M. Miss Tig says she has this great job for me, but its in Cape Town. Doesnt that suck?
Miss M: Well, you could always get the ticket home on my credit card, and we can sort the cash out later.
And that was it. So I am going back to Cape Town. I am packing up my stuff into an ever decreasing package and shipping myself back to the country I honestly didnt think I would live in again.
I fly on Wednesday. Well.... here I go. Wish me luck.
Monday, October 27, 2008
When I moved to the truly awful pub in the countryside, complete with smelly named regulars and overconfident 19 year olds, I had one suitcase. It was the suitcase I brought back to the UK with me when I left Kenya. It was the same suitcase then went to the USA with me. It had the essentials.
While I was staying at the pub, a friend of mine managed to book a precious afternoon off to take me down to her friends barn in the countryside, where she had stored some of my stuff for me when I first left for East Africa. Even after I had decided that I couldnt stay at that pub, there was no way that I could call her and re-schedule, after the effort she went through in the first place to take the time off. The sum total of those belongings was 2 big black bags of clothing, and a box of personal items. Photos, dvds, music etc. All of which was stored in the tiny cubby of a room I existed in at the pub.
On one of my days off, I made a trip into London to an interview for an assistant manager position at a great pub off Oxford Street in central London. The accomodation looked great. Not too noisy, clean, own shower, shared spotless kitchen etc. The money was good, the job similar to what I had done before. I accepted on the spot.
I managed to get the manager at the country pub to allow me to leave some of my stuff there and made my way to my first day at the new place looking like a bag lady who had the benefit of a bath. I was dragging a suitcase, and carrying a box, and carrying a rubbish bag full of bits and pieces. And instead of arriving before the place opened, I arrived just as the customers were streaming in the door for their midday pick-me-up pint. Joyous.
The first couple of days of the job were fine. Nice staff, no drinking after work, no mad parties, only blissful quiet and sleep. The pub during opening hours, however, was insane. I have always worked at the type of quality location where making someone feel welcome and comfortable was more important than being able to do 15 things at once. This was not that type of bar. This was a 4 people at a time, people waving money in your face constant rush against the clock to get as many drinks out in as little time as possible. Frankly? I sucked. Badly. Its ego-destroying to discover that in your field there is a job you cant do. I know my job, I know my work. I could keep a pub running day to day with my eyes closed, and in some cases in the past have very nearly done exactly that. But this was beyond me. Do I really want to be stressed all day every day anyway? Needless to say, my week trial over, I am back staying at Miss M's and going to interviews tomorrow.
I truly am getting a little tired of moving around so very much. I would like all my belongings to be in one place, my bags to be unpacked, my room decorated with something other the stains of the previous inhabitant. I am homesick for a home I dont have. Lets see what the next pub brings...
Sunday, October 5, 2008
I arrived after managing to stay awake through my break, and felt somewhat ready for the evening. Sitting at the bar was a man I was later told is commonly known as 'Stinky Brian'. If we were anywhere near water or the sea I would have believed him to be your typical wisened old fisherman, prematurely aged by the sea, the sun and excessive quantities of ale. He even smells somewhat like fish, which gives rise to the name. He sits at the bar with an expression of impending doom, like a man who knows that its only a matter of time before Death deals the final blow, or someone takes away his drink; either of which would be equally disasterous. He sits directly in front of the glass washer, which means that you cant actually avoid standing directly in front of him. He leaned over to me after I had been on shift for 10minutes and asked in a very soft, drink muddled voice, "'ave ya seen me phone, luv? I aint seen it. You seen it?" No sir, I havent. Let me check with the staff.
I checked with the staff, and all assured me he had lost the phone about a year previously, and just to keep saying I would give it to him if I find it. I told him exactly that and turned to speak to the next customer. My customer ordered a standard round, but was in a very excited mood as he was on his way to Greece the next day. He decided to celebrate this by ordering a couple of shots. One for him and one for me. One of the joys of working in a pub run by heavy drinkers is that I can drink on duty. Legendary. I accepted the shot and continued on.
The next guys made me feel old. They looked about 10 years old, not a beard hair among them, so naturally I ID'd them, and they were all 19! One of them offered me a drink. Thanks very much. At this point I wondered how drunk I could be and still make a passable imitation of working.
I headed back to a wave from Mr Greece and was told in no uncertain terms that I would be drinking another shot. Yay! I had just gotten to the point when more drinks suddenly seemed like a brilliant idea. He handed accross the money, with a lingering hand on mine, and a long stare into my eyes. Oh dear. Suddenly I hear: "Oi luv. You seen me phone? I know its 'ere somewhere." No sir, sorry.
I turned back to the 19year olds, who were making up for their low number of years with a high number of drinks. One looks me up and down. "You new? I can show you about town, luv. Whats your phone number? We can start with my place." Oh. My. God. I just got chatted up by a prepubescent chav.
"You there, luv. I lost me phone. You seen it? I aint seen it." No sir, fuck off sir, go somewhere else sir (I thought to myself).
I went to go and bitch to a fellow staff member, but before I could say anything he asked me if I could pop down to the cellar and change a keg, as he was mid order. No problem, I popped down, changed the barrel, and returned to try bitch again. Before I could speak, he says "thanks hun. Its so nice to have a girl around here who knows what they are doing. I mean, I could never sleep with 'Caroline' for example, cause if she cant even learn how to change a keg, whats the chances she can learn in bed?" It took my slightly addled brain a few minutes to work out if I was indeed seeing a come-on in there or not.
"You seen me phone, luv?" No, you stupid drink steeped old fart of a fake fisherman, I have NOT seen your bloody phone (I thought to myself. At some point thought would become speach, and I was getting nervous).
Mr Greece waved frantically for the next round and I delivered it with the required 2 shots, which were rapidly downed by me and him. "So what you doing after work? Come back to mine and have a drink." Sorry mate, I have a man. "Oh really where is he then? He is in the States right now. "Well then, you have the 'different continent' rule, dont you then." I sighed and walked away.
"Oi luv, you seen me..." I turned to find that Stinky had fallen asleep mid sentence. I took the glass out of his hand, poured the remaining drink down the sink and woke him up. "Dont wake me up! You should be workin, not wakin me up. Wheres me drink?" You finished it before you fell asleep. "Awrite, luv. I'm off to me bed. You comin?"
I am not exceptionally pretty. I am not exceptionally busty. I just keep living in small towns and communities desperate for fresh meat of the human female variety. God knows whats going to happen to my ego when I move back to the city and find I am one of many and no longer remarkable. On second thoughts, should I stay?
Saturday, October 4, 2008
My first mistake: Accomodation. On the day that I came for my interview, there had been a farewell party the night before for the member of staff that I was to replace. This meant that everyone I met was hungover. Including the manager I was interviewed by. This was fine by me. I like a drink or seven when a good party is an excuse, and I was assured that this was not the normal state of things. However, when I asked to see the accomodation offered (pub jobs in the UK usually come with accomodation. It means you cant pull a sickie), I was told that the place was strewn with drunk people, but assured that the accomodation was above average and that I would have my own room. I figured that after living in a tent in the dustiest and most disease ridden country in the world, that I would be able to manage. I was sorely sorely mistaken.
The day I moved in I lugged my belongings from London out to the countryside, and arrived ready and full of a certain hopeful cheer. I knew I was going to hate it when I walked up the stairs to the accomodation. Imagine a teenagers bedroom. Got it? Now imagine that the teenager has been sharing his bedroom with 10 other teenagers for the last 4 years, and that they had occasionally decided that a bonfire INSIDE the house was a good idea. Not to mention the belongings of several past members of staff that they couldnt be bothered to take with them on their next adventure. At the top of the stairs is a landing that has to be negotiated with a certain amount of nimble footedness to avoid the old shoes, the random dirty glasses (some broken) and for some bizarre reason, a packet of ready sliced cheese. I am still sure that the cheese turned to watch me pass.
I made it relatively safely to my room, a little concerned for my health, and was in for yet another disappointment. My room is tiny, has a single bed that I choose not to know the history of, and has one small window, which I choose to keep closed because the heating doesnt work and the air outside is frosty. At some point it was part of a bigger room, and has been subdivided, using standard corner cutting chip board of the cheapest variety. They never plastered, or painted, over it. Also, it is directly above the bar, and not only can I hear the music downstairs, but I can actually hear the conversations of the customers as they sit at the bar on their 20th pint of the day.
At this point I almost walked straight back out again. However, I liked the people and figured if I could live in Sudan, I could live in this. Until that night. I wasnt shifted to work for that first night and so I sat at the bar and had a few drinks. Both my man, and my Dad, called that evening to ask how I was doing, and I assured them that the pub was great, the staff nice people, and that I was looking forward to my job. That rapidly changed when it reached 3am and the staff were still going strong on the drink. At this point I wanted to cry. The all night drinking is, in fact, a nightly event. As are the drugs (which I avoid as much as is possible). I woke the next day with a feeling of dread but was determined to give it a shot. I worked my first shift with a hangover, and was astounded when a staff member I hadnt met yet arrived for her lunch shift half an hour late (to no comment from management) and immediately poured herself a double gin and tonic. By the time she finished her shift 5 hours later she was hammered. I asked the manager if this is normal. 'Oh yes,' he says, 'she does this most days.'
I hate it. I hate the accomodation, I hate the staff who drink solidly, I hate the supervisor who gets too drunk to count the tills in the evening, and I hate that the only quiet I have in my room is somewhere between 3am and 9am. I am staying until the end of next week, I shall collect my pay, and run with my tail between my legs back to London. Dear god, what a place. Beautiful pub, beautiful location, and the most derelect and insane staff I have met for a while.
I am DEFINITELY too old for this shit!
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Friday, September 5, 2008
Yes, I am back in London. I had so looked forward to returning to civilisation, and to all the things listed above. However, I landed at Heathrow at 4pm in the afternoon. I had been travelling since 3am English time, and I was exhausted. I waited in the inevitable English queue for about an hour, finally got through passport control (after some suspicious looks at the Arabic stamps on the previous page) and made it to the Picadilly line. By which time it was rush hour. Within and hour of returning I was swearing at tourists standing on the wrong side of the escalator, shouting at people to let me (and my massive suitcase) off the tube before they get on, and generally just being cranky and hating the transport. Oh, how I longed for a 4x4 and some bumpy roads....
I survived though, and the next day was sitting eating lovely Japanese food in a trendy little restaurant overlooking the Thames. I sat chatting with a friend I havent seen since I left Cape Town about 3/4 years ago. Aside from the two guys and girl at the next table, we were the only people in the restaurant. We had a wonderful meal, full of little tasty things on little bamboo sticks, and discussing my friends failed marriage. Yes, I am not only old enough to have friends getting married now, but apparently I am old enough to have friends getting divorced. We decided however, that at the very least, they got to have a fantastic party at the expense of their parents, and his wife got to wear a beautiful gown, which so rarely happens these days.
He felt a little left out though. We decided that maybe there should be more situations where men get to wear beautiful gowns. This was the slightly hysterical and giggly conversation of about 15 minutes. Rising hysteria, mixed with food on sticks, and Japanese beer... I think its fair to say that the other table heard out conversation...
It was only after we had paid, and stood up to leave, that either of us paid much attention to the fact that although there were two guys and a girl at the next table, there were, in fact, no female voices. In fact, the girl (wearing a denim mini skirt, bobby socks, mary janes and with lovely long blonde hair) had a fairly distinctive adams apple.....
Yes, I am definitely back in London.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Anyway, today I was rearranging store rooms. Sounds simple doesn't it? We have 13 store rooms (I say store rooms, I mean containers, 20ft ones and one 40ft). 3 freezers, 4 fridges and 6 dry stores. They were in a mess. The bleach was being stored with the grains, the tinned food was in duplicate in 4 different store rooms, the meat was just in one big pile in the middle of a freezer with no shelves, I could go on. Basically a health and safety and logistical nightmare. I spent all day carrying 20ltr drums of cleaning liquid and drums of tomatoes and various other heavy items around. So I needed something to keep me entertained.
I decided to bring up the topic of marriage with my exclusively African staff. Normally they don't really talk to me. I am just 'madam'. This makes me feel old and slightly embarrassed, so I try to give them something to laugh at me about thats completely unrelated to work so that they still think of me as 'boss' but also as 'human'. (Its also weird to me that at the moment I have about 50 staff who report to me and most of them are 10years older than me. Sucks to be them)
The topic came up while I was laden with about 20kgs of 100% All American BBQ Sauce (made in Kenya) and my phone rang. I went though all the trouble of putting down my 100% real imitation foodstuff, reached into my pocket with filthy hands, got my phone out, only to realise that the call was from a crazy SPLA member I have been desperately trying to avoid for months. He decided I was going to be his second wife (not divorced, he just wants two wives). Please note that HE decided. Apparently this is not my choice. So I put it on silent and put my phone back in my pocket and turned back to what I was doing. And saw all the staff staring at me. Apparently not answering your phone is just NEVER done.
So I explained. Again they stared at me for a moment. Then one of them finally got up the courage and said "Madam, what is wrong with him that you aren't considering it?"
Me: Because I want to be the ONLY wife when I marry.
Staff: *amazed and confused silence*
Staff member #1: You know, you Kawajas (white people, foreigner etc) are very strange.
Me: Well, why? Are your wives happy with a second wife in their home?
Staff #2: No, but we just think they are being jealous. Its not for me to worry about.
Me: OK, well, if a man can have two wives, then why cant a woman have 2 husbands?
Staff: *absolute silence*
Staff: *followed by all making horrified noises in unison*
Staff #3: But Madam! That is madness. It has never been done before
This is coming from a man that until 3 years ago had never had a job, never used a flush toilet, never slept on a bed, or lived in one place for more than a year at a time.
Me: But many things have never been done before! You have never... (and then I stopped. How do I relate the above mentioned items without sounding like your typical elitist foreigner?)
Me: Um... well, I think that women should have the same rights as men and should be allowed to marry as many men as they want!
And with that I humphed off. There was a notable silence behind me, followed by a string of amazed high speed Arabic, followed by hysterical laughter. Job done, mission accomplished. Now they all think I am crazy.
Hey, at least this lot wont want to marry me!
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
However, the holiday is looming. I haven't had a holiday in years. Not a proper one. Yes, I took 2 months off work when I first left England and went to stay in Nairobi, but it was for personal reasons and I was nearly catatonic for the first 6 weeks so it doesn't count.
A real holiday involves:
A beautiful or interesting location of choice
Someone to spend it with
A complete lack of responsibility for that time
THAT I have not had in years! But I have one coming up... This is how my thought process during the day goes:
'Ok, I need to get the health and safety procedures written up, and those staff record forms are almost ready to be implemented, I need to go buy ink from that American guy... oooh, America, I am going there soon... for a holiday! I should probably remember to pack my hiking boots (which country did I leave them in again?) and I mustn't forget .....' And thats the end of my concentration for the next hour.
I am being a bit useless. Somehow, though, I have managed to get my employers to believe I am being incredibly productive. They keep trying to bribe me to give up my holiday for obscene amounts of money. No way. Not on your life. I have been looking forward to this holiday (and the person I am spending it with) for WAY too long.
I have to get this work done though! I. Must. Concentrate. Blogging not helping.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Imagine this for a moment:
You grew up in a country that drives on the left hand side of the road. Therefore your car has always been right hand drive. Not only that, but in your country the concept of an 'automatic' car is for the rich and lazy. You drive manual (stick shift). Your driving license test was done in a manual car. Then, for some bizarre reason you cant quite fathom, you move to Sudan. In Sudan, cars come from wherever was importing them the cheapest at the time. The law is to drive on the right hand side of the road. Any given car you drive could be left or right hand drive. Automatic or manual.
Now imagine you have been in Nairobi (Kenya) for a few weeks and have once again reverted to type and have been driving a manual, right hand drive (left side of the road) car, and have once again become accustomed.
Are you confused? Excellent.
I went out tonight. I was driven to the designated location, and handed the keys when we got there. Then, I had a few glasses of wine. And got in the car to drive home.
First, I got in the wrong door. I looked around, checking that no one had noticed. No one around. Great. I got out, walked round the car, got in the correct side. I put the key in the slot, and turned on the ignition, gave the accelerator a couple of pumps to make sure the car was warm (what was I thinking, its 35 degrees C for heavens sake). Then I tried to put the car in gear. Oops. Nothing happened. Why? I was in an automatic.
Turn the car off. Foot on brake. Start car. Gear in 'drive'. Moving forward. Progress. Oh shit! Wrong side of the road.
Amazingly, I made it home in one piece. Once I was actually driving I was fine.
I have started the new job, and I am loving it. The place is in an absolute mess. The previous manager was a mess and when they fired him he deleted everything off the computer. This means there are no stock control systems, no menu costings, no bar costings, no staff lists, wage percentages, P&L's, ANYTHING! I love it! The thing I enjoy most is setting up systems and making them work, then handing them over. I get bored fast, but this consulting thing suits me fine.
My accommodation is great. I have an en suite room, with air conditioning and wait for it.... a HOT shower! I have definitely landed well here. I wonder if they want me back full time?
More to come, watch this space....
Friday, August 8, 2008
The problems were these: I lost my job, I wasnt paid, I couldn't sue, I have a holiday booked and no spending money.
Enter Nicky. I used to work with Nicky at my old bar that I ran in Juba (the one with all the animal rescues - We called it Bedouin Bar and Menagerie). She left her job there for basically the same reasons I did. We loved working together though. She has just got a new position with a company in Juba that caters and runs several camps AND she needs someone to help her set up catering sytems. Enter me.
I will be going back to Juba on Wednesday to do 18 days of work helping with costings, service procedures, ordering and stock control protocols etc. Wohoo! All expenses paid, and a wad of cash in my hand just in time for my holiday. Also, a possibility of a full time job should I want it after my leave. We shall see if I want to stay in Juba though. Anything could happen.
In the mean time, its a whole new company I havent worked for, new accomodation, new camp mates, and I just cant wait for the new stories I get to write in this blog. Bring it on!
Watch this space...
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Anyway, Kenya has started a lovely new law that says no smoking in public. Not just restaurants, or public buildings. Public. Not on the street, no quick puff outside the back of a restaurant, NOWHERE in sight of a person that isn't on your own personal property. Unlike most other places in Africa where the police are more worried about important things like, you know, catching murderers, rapists, robbers etc the police here are looking to line their pockets. Its the most aggressive implementation of a law I have ever seen. If you are seen buying cigarettes you are watched like a hawk all the way out of the vicinity, just in case you sneakily light up. They are the Kenyan equivalent of the license plate scheming Sudanese traffic cops.
I figured that my car being my personal property, I could smoke in it. I always smoke when I drive. I always have the windows open while smoking, which makes driving in winter freezing, but I refuse to bathe in cigarette smoke, so open windows and a cigarette while driving is how it works. I was driving down the road, cigarette in hand and came to an intersection. Sitting, nay, lounging, on the grassy kerb were two police men. Police here carry AK-47's by the way. I stopped at the intersection, checked both ways, started to drive and nearly hit one of the gun wielding policemen as he jumped out in front of my car and instructed me to pull over. You don't say no to someone carrying a large automatic weapon that could kill you and your entire family in one short burst.
And he smiled at me. Big wide grin. 'Madam, you are smoking in public' (he can just imagine the bribe money in his hand already)
Me: No, I am in my car which is private property. I am not in public.
Cop: Madam, your windows are open therefore you are affecting the public.
Me: Sir (always be nice to idiots... they are easily offended), if I am in my house, should I keep the windows closed while I smoke because the smoke may affect the neighbors?
Cop: *after brief blank stare* Your windows are open. It is against the law.
Me: I tell you what, I am just going to call my lawyer.
I went through the pretend motions of making a phone call. I am an excellent actress when lying in real life. Put me in front of a camera and I go all freezy, but in real life I can pretend to be ANYTHING. Its a talent fine tuned during my teenage years. My mother is a recovering addict, and you cant lie to a practised lier. I had to learn fast. Moving on...
Me: Hi there... yess, its *Miss P*. I am fine... yes, well I have been stopped by the cops, they say.... bla blah blah........
Back to the cop: Right, my lawyer says its not illegal to smoke in the car, and if you want to charge me with it, he will meet me at the station. Which station are we going to?
Cop: Madam, there is no need to go to the station....
Me (interrupting): excellent. Thank you for the warning, have a nice day...
And off I drove. I know that what he was after was some money in his palm. Since I lost my job (and my boss refused to pay me) I am damned if I am going to give anyone else money for free. I have a holiday booked I cant afford, no job to come back to (yet) and absolutely no idea whats coming next. Actually, bearing in mind the state of mind I am in, he was lucky to get off with a pretend lawyer phone call! Next time I am going to steal the AK. Maybe rob a bank... Hmmmm... let me think this one through.....I'l get back to you in a bit
Oh, and by the way, here is a pic of my little house in Nairobi. A bit different to a tent in dusty Juba isnt it?
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Its amazing how relative experiences can be. I am back in Nairobi, in Kenya, which is 3rd world. There are potholes in the roads and they flood stupidly when it rains. There is no public transport, and the power stations regularly go down leaving you without power for hours, sometimes days. But, to me, its bliss. I am back in a real house, I have a kitchen, a proper bathroom, hot water, a fireplace, a car that isn’t 4x4 (although its confusing getting used to right hand drive and left hand roads again) and shops where I can buy fresh fruit, meats, sea food etc. It’s wonderful!
The one thing that hasn’t changed though, is staff. They are everywhere! In one of my blog posts, I had a rant and stated all the things I was going to do when I get back to civilisation. On of them was walk to the bathroom naked. Now, I am staying with my mother right now (feels like a massive step backwards, but I love her to bits and she cracks me up so its ok) and since she has seen it all before I fully intended to get up in the morning and walk to the bathroom without having to stop and put something on.
We have a cleaner but she is off sick until Friday. I woke up this morning curled under a duvet (I haven’t slept under a duvet in ages! Been too hot), stretched and wandered out of my room across the hall, and into the bathroom. As I was about to close the door I heard a silence. Not the type of silence one expects in an empty house, rather the type of silence when someone abruptly stops moving so as not to be noticed. I peeked my head (only my head, I was naked as the day I was born) out the door, and there, blushing furiously and trying desperately not to be noticed, is the cleaner, come back to work early. And behind her, through the window, the gardener. I have no idea if the gardener saw anything, but the cleaner hasn’t been able to look at me since. Poor thing.
So yeah, I am back in Nairobi for a month. I have some promising temporary work coming up, and then I am shooting off on my holiday at the end of August. Things are looking up. I think I will be back some day though. I haven't got East Africa out of my blood just yet… we shall see what the future holds.
However, if you are interested in the goings on in Sudan, and the bizarreness that is Juba, I recently discovered that one of my campmates also writes a blog. Amusingly, some of her posts almost directly correlate to mine as we have had similar experiences, but as she is still there, the stories aren’t about to end… Petunia in Paradise.
I am not about to stop though. There will be more of the adventures. I also have to mention that while I was writing this, the electricity went out and I have been sitting in a house with no hot water, no electricity, no TV and its bloody cold outside. I may as well be back in Sudan, for comfort sakes! Africa wins again.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
There are reasons for these observations. Three reasons in fact.
1) I was fired
2) I have suddenly realised how much I am going to miss Sudan
3)I am still trying to process the above.
If you read the post named 'Its been a while...', well, that is basically why I was fired. I don't think its fair. Certainly not reason for instant dismissal. But there is nothing I can do about it here. Lovely Sudanese law. So I have chosen not to dwell on it, and to move on to the next thing. Not sure what that will be yet, but it should be fun finding my next adventure.
In the mean time, I am leaving Sudan and going back to Kenya next week, and I have suddenly realised how much I am going miss some things here.
The craziness, although exhausting, has been amusing. I have had some truly amazing experiences, and learned more about my continent than I ever thought I would (did I ever mention anywhere in here that I am South African? I don't think I have).
And I am going to really really miss the people. Not the locals. The people working here. I love the people I live with. The crazy young business man who never stops working except to party once a week; the dance and sex obsessed construction manager who will happily dance all by himself to a tune he loves; his girlfriend who works crazy hours for an NGO distributing condoms, mosquito nets and water treatments and has a wicked sense of humour; the new young pilot who keeps me company on long evenings and likes ALL the same music I do; the crazy ex military guys who come and go and have stories that make even me blush.
I am going to miss the hodge podge of people from all over the world I have met in Juba. My crazy French/Kenyan/American friend who spends weeks trying to fix my computer and wont even let me buy him lunch; the brazilian guys who couldnt be more stereotypical if they tried; the Irish that have to keep trying to convince people they arent terrorists, the Scandinavians that wont let you into their camp unless you speak a Scandinavian language. Basically Juba is a mix of Missionaries, Mercenaries and Misfits. I love them.
I am going to miss the adventure of a windstorm in a tent, and a rain storm on the drive home. Avoiding the goats in the road, and boat trips on the Nile. Dinner in the open air, and a cold shower after a sweaty day, by moonlight because there is no roof on the ablution block. The fact that on a clear night you can see the most amazing stars because the only lights nearby are oil lanterns.
Dont get me wrong, I am glad to leave, and I am looking forward to the luxuries in life again. But, I am going to miss Sudan. I have found a little piece of me here.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
However, I have one major flaw in the phobia department. I am absolutely, one hundred percent terrified of praying mantis. There is no reason behind it really. I just absolutely hate the little buggers. Are they good luck to have in the home? Do I care? Not in the least. If one tried to come into my home I would take the deodorant and the lighter and flame the little bastard to ashes.
Which is well and good unless you live in a canvas tent. My zip on my tent broke. Naturally. So I was sitting up one night late talking to someone wonderful on skype till about 2am, finally said goodbye, and was just about to turn out the light... and a praying mantis flies into the tent. And lands on the lamp next to my head. NEXT TO MY HEAD!!!!!!
I stifled a scream, and ran/fell/stumbled accross the tent to the furthest corner I could. And stared at it. Now what? The mantis was sitting quite calmly on the light, enjoying the fact that unlike the laterns outside, this light wont kill it. I wish I had a lantern in my room. But no. There it sat, staring back, calmly rubbing its horrible little front feet together.
I reviewed my options:
Home made deodorant flamethrower? ..... no, canvas tent.
Someone else to come get it for me? .........Its 2am. They might kill me instead of the mantis.
Maybe a shoe thrown expertly accross the room? Wait, I am a girl. I cant throw. My wrists always get in the way for some reason...
I actually started crying. I dont cry... much. I can turn them on or off, but generally I dont cry unless its tactical. But this time I started crying out of sheer frustration. My palms were so sweaty with fear that my hands could just about rival my eyes for liquid leakage.
I decided to try master my fear and grabbed a bowl that I kept in the tent for the kittens water, emptied it, and slowly moved towards hells creature. It was now sitting on the side of the tent. I gathered my thoughts, took a deep breathe, let out a little wimper and pounced on the thing with the bowl.
I hadnt thought about the fact that canvas walls arent solid by definition. The little fucker slid out from under the bowl and flew accros the room, brushing my hand as it went. Have you ever done that dance? That 'theres something on me I am sure of it but I cant work out where' dance? I did it for a full 3 minutes. Only to see it had landed on my mirror. This time I didnt stop to think, I just pounced. GOT IT!! Wohooo! Slid a piece of cardboard underneath and took it outside and left it under the bowl. It took me a full hour to get to sleep.
The next day I was flushed with triumph. I had overcome fear and survived without mantis induced death. Until I walked to the canteen for lunch. There, sitting on the fencing, was the biggest praying mantis I have ever seen. It was longer from head to tail than my hand.
I took a picture on a very high zoom setting so that people couldn't tell me I was lying about the size, and then walked all the way round the camp to get to the canteen from the other side.
When I leave here, I am never, ever coming back.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Right, to start with you have to understand that Sudan is the second biggest country in Africa. Only Algeria is bigger and then not by much. When the colonials were dividing up land a while back they basically just sat down and drew lines on a map. This may make sense to monarchs playing a game of 'Risk', but when it comes to African tribes this is somewhat like putting the school bully and the school nerd in one project group; violence will follow. Within Sudan they managed to include both the African tribes (the South) and the Arab tribes (the North) in one country. Not only that, but the part of the country that has the worlds largest unexploited oil reserves happens to be in the South, with the Africans. And everyone wants it. Now there are all sorts of interesting tribal justifications about the war between North and South, but the basic fact of the matter is that they both wanted control of the oil. Well, obviously religion comes into it too. When doesn't it?
So, a rebel group formed in the South. The SPLA/M (The Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army/Movement). They fought for freedom from the rule of the North. I am not completely clear if they hoped to take over the whole country or if they just wanted the South to be independent. However, eventually international agencies got involved and on 9th Juanuary 2005 they signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). South Sudan is to have its own government (located in Juba) and the SPLA was to undergo training by anyone and everyone willing, so that they could become a true military branch of the Government, rather than remain a rebel group.
All well and good. The problem is that Khartoum (capital of the North) still has control over an awful lot of the goings on in the country. For example, the police force is from Khartoum. You can imagine how much the SPLA and the police love each other cant you? Darfur (also North) is still a major problem as well, as its still a holdout for loads of rebel groups. To be fair they probably spend more time fighting each other than anyone else, but the point is they are still fighting. Whats interesting about the whole process is that essentially what the CPA allows is the training of a rebel group, so they can fight better. Anyone else worried about this?
So the current situation is an interesting one. The President of the country is currently at risk of being charged with 'war crimes'. Now, I am all for arresting and putting in jail (or in some cases just killing) the type of person that not only goes to war, but decides to throw in a healthy dose of genocide aswell. However, when we are looking at the president of a country that has peace for the first time in 22 years, do you think its worth it?
Besides, the Sudanese Government is basically puttings its fingers in its ears and going 'la-la-la-la-la-la' at high volume. They have issued a statement that they do not recognise the ICC (International Criminal Court) and have actually refused to hand over 2 people who have warrents out for their arrest. Would you believe that one of the guys who is charged with 'Crimes against humanity' is the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs? I do just love this country.
Anyway, what this means to me living here... nothing at the moment. Juba has been independant of the conflict for a long time. However, should the ICC decide to arrest the president (the descision is going to take 6 weeks), things will rapidly become more interesting. The UN, for one, will suddenly be very unwelcome. They account for hundreds, possibly thousands of people living in Juba, not to mention the funding for half the NGO's.
For now though, I am safe, and the conflict is all in in Khartoum, Darfur and Abyei so I am fine where I am. 6weeks time will be interesting though...
Monday, July 14, 2008
However, I just don't know quite what to mention. I am running out of sense of humour recently, I have to admit. I mean, its been your usual Juba week. Should I relate a moment from the party I went to? Or should I talk about the fact that the road to my house is completely washing away with each rain storm? Or maybe the massive market that has suddenly appeared from nowhere near my site, and has the place crawling with drunken people walking into the road? Hmmmm.
Work I think. We have a new client. Our new client is a reputable NGO that works all over South Sudan. Whats great about the contract is that if they like our guarding services, they are going to use us in the national sites, so thats about 100 guards. Do you have any idea how much money that is??? And I get bonuses for every guard I place. 100 bonuses....... *sigh* Now, our gaurds are good guys. We have had a couple of complaints about sleeping on duty but thats kinda par for the course, so I was confident. We placed some of the new guys and a few of the old faithfuls on each site, and left them to it.
Two days after the contract starts I get a text message from the Director of the NGO. 'Your guard has disappeared. Plese find a replacement immediately'. Fuck. Racing around for 30minutes gets me a guard willing to work for the day, and delivered to the site. When I arrive on site I go see the director, and tell her that the replacement has arrived. She tells me that the guard (who at this location is a woman...according to her ID) has returned and told her she was on a lunch break..... huh? So I call the security manager, and he says he has spoken to her and that she had to go to a meeting, and couldnt find anyone to replace her and had left. I went to go and speak to her myself and she tells ME that her sister was in hospital in dire emergency and needed someone to be at her side. I like the escalation there, dont you? Anyway, turns out she was visiting a boyfriend. One of my staff from my old restaurant saw her. Shes fired. Bye bye!
I thought I had it all settled. The NGO were happy about the quick response. Fine.
Until Tuesday... I was at home chatting away online at about 9pm. I get a call. 'Miss P, your guard is drunk and had to be sent home. Please send a replacement'. Fuck. So I call the security manager on duty. No answer. I radio him. No answer. This guy is on duty for a security company in a dangerous city in a war torn country and he turns off his phone and his radio. About an hour later I get a call saying that the replacement has arrived. How the fuck that happened I have no idea because I didnt get hold of anyone. Someone just showed up. Wasn't gonna tell her that though. However, he was found asleep. An hour after arriving he was asleep. At 11pm at night. So fast asleep that she had to shake him to wake him. Luckily he pulled himself together enough to not appear drunk (which I have no doubt he was). Finally all is settled for the night, so I woke up the next day hoping I had sorted it out. I get a phone call at 7am. 'Miss P, your guard has arrived at work again. Yes, the one that was drunk last night. Yes, he is still drunk. And yes, he thinks he is working the day shift!' I wanted to cry.
I finally managed to get all the staff sorted out. I gave the security manager a serious screaming at (I say screaming at but rather it was a serious talking to. I seldom scream at staff, except at chefs for some reason. Maybe because they scream at me first..). Naturally he had an elaborate excuse as to why he couldnt possibly have his phone or radio on him. This is the third time I have had a disciplinary with the man. I have spent the last 6 days wondering how to fire the idiot, because he is fairly well connected to important people. But guess what? In true Sudanese style he simply hasnt shown up to work in 3 days. He got paid on Friday....and disappeared. *sigh*
So my boss arrived back yesterday to a contract gone horribly wrong, a manager that has run away, an an office that has staff files all over the place in an effort to work out who is who and where they are (I know its very un PC, but the only way I can tell these guys apart sometimes is the tribal scarring on their foreheads). Ah well, its just another day in paradise. Oddly I am having a wonderful day. I think I actually like stress. That or I am going native. I think thats more likely.....
Monday, July 7, 2008
Anyway, moving on. It was the 4th of July. Grand old Independence Day. So naturally, everyone and their dog in Juba wanted to have a party, and everyone was trying to market theirs as the 'most authentic American'. As part of the quartet of the hardest partiers in Juba, everyone was trying to get me and my housemates to go to theirs (can I call them housemates if they only live on the same site that I do? We have different tents and we share a mess area, but thats it. So what do I call them? Suggestions please). For some reason, when me and my housemates go out, Juba follows. I think its because we like to dance so much, and people who dance, drink. People who drink not only spend more money(hence the invites from businesses) but tend to remember the night as being more fun, often erroneously (hence the invites from people).
As a result of this, we were inundated with invites to various different parties. One person was having a party at their camp, with DJ and dancing, another bar was having a party with a free buffet of suckling pigs, southern fried chicken (dont ask how that goes on a bbq, but they did it), potato salad etc. Another person was doing a full spread of grits, mac and cheese, pulled pork (what the hell is that anyway?) and other bits and pieces you hear about in movies.
Naturally, we opted for the free buffet. Wouldnt you? And the party was HUGE. We were dancing on the bar till the early hours. This was not the highlight of my weekend though. The highlight was on Sunday, when the director of USAID here (United States Agency for International Development) invited us to his house in the USAID compound for the afternoon. Now, I have mentioned that they are the only compound in Juba with a pool. What I didnt realize was what their houses are like. Seriously. Like a house you would find anywhere in the world. Cream carpets, big comfy sofas, flat screen TV, full kitchen (airconditioned), private patio garden with garden furniture.... actually, come to think of it, its probably a nicer house than any I have personally lived in anywhere! I was blown away. Do you have any idea the expense involved in shipping this stuff all the way from the States? Yes, not from the same continent, the States. Across an ocean and a massive continent comes the cooker and the sofas and the dining room table and the four poster beds, and the tiled bathroom with the special water filter so you can drink the water you shower in if you wish. The sheer enormous cost blew me away, almost as much as being able to walk around a house barefoot again..
I thought it was amazing, and I said as much to the housemate of our host. Her reply was to look at me sideways. 'Are you serious?' Of course I am serious you freak, this house is fantastic (I thought). She then went on to explain to me that placements in Juba are only for one year, as opposed to placements everywhere else in the world which are 2 years. The reason for this is the hardship. Its the only place where USAID employees are expected to share a house (*shock and horror*) and where they dont have a separate office compound, only the one compound with everything in one place. I tried to look sympathetic, while quietly thinking of my hot tent, complete lack of living area, no TV and a lazy fan that works when the generator works.
Yes, this is where the taxpayers dollars go. For the money that is spent on transport, shipping and logistics just for the furniture and kitchen appliances of one house, you could probably set up 3 sexual health and information clinics in a rural and desperately needy area. For the value of the compensation pay they get for the 'hardship' of living in one compound, you could sink a borehole and provide clean water for a community of several hundred people. But remember, it is so very important that the employees are comfortable at all times.
I was proud to go back to my tent and know that everything in it came from Nairobi, and therefore carried less carbon footprint and provided more work and income for people in a developing country that need the business and income more than almost anywhere else in the world. For surely that would be part of the idea of an 'Agency for International Development'?
On the other hand, I spent all day in that house, watching TV and cooking in the kitchen (Mac & Cheese, whilst wearing cut off jeans and listening to Billy Ray Cyrus - no kidding, not my choice) and swimming in the pool and having a hot shower before I went home in the evening. I dont think I have felt that clean, or that relaxed, since I moved to Juba. God Bless America!
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Banks in Sudan work like this: Money (as in cash) comes in from the branch in Khartoum. It gets withdrawn here by people who have done transfers or banked checks, and then it either goes to private people, or it goes straight across the road to the money exchange business and goes elsewhere in the world. Money is NEVER deposited into the bank here. This means that every month, money has to come from Khartoum. Khartoum is North Sudan. They dont like Juba, because Juba is South Sudan, and technically the head of a 'rebel' government. So money doesnt always arrive on time. Its like international passive aggression. You stole my country, so you cant have any money, so there!
This month, Khartoum is feeling a little sullen because two planes from Juba crashed on their shiny new airstrip. So we didnt get any cash. This means that none of the businesses could withdraw any cash, which means that I cant get paid by my clients, which means I cant pay my staff. In fact, one client was lucky enough to be the last person in the bank to withdraw cash, but he was paid 5000sp (sudanese pounds) in 5pound notes. So I got paid in 5 pound notes. I am now Queen Paper Cut, from counting repeatedly.
Anyway, I happened to have some US Dollars left so I paid one of the staff in dollars. After I paid him he was discussing with the security manager (who is also Sudanese) where he could exchange his money. I overheard the following conversation:
Security Manager (SM): Well you can go the place in town with the green roof. They always give a good rate.
Staff: No. The Ugandans are there, they are Hyenas
SM: Oh yes I forgot. But you are wrong. They are not hyenas, they are snakes.
Staff: Ooooooh. Where else can I go?
SM: well there is that guy there on custom road. He is Ethiopian.
Staff: Will go there.
I puzzled over this for a few moments. I tried and I tried but I could not work it out. Finally I turned to them and asked them what on earth they were talking about. Snakes and Hyenas?
The SM turned to me and said, 'Oh its the animal they turn into at night' and went back to his conversation.
Again, I had to stop for a moment.
Me:Wait wait wait, what do you mean 'turn into'?
SM:(talking to me like I am a child) The Ugandans, they have a medicine. They turn into animals at night. Thats why you can't trust a Ugandan.
Me: (thinking that I will play along and see where this conversation can possibly go) So why does them turning into animals mean you cant trust them?
SM: Well, the power it gives them means that they can make you see what they want you to see. So if you exchange money, they can make you see all the money, and when you walk away you will find you are holding blank paper.
Me: Has anyone ever had this happen to them?
Staff: Yes, madam, it happened to my father. He exchaged money in Kampala (capital of Uganda) and when he got home he found that only the front and back piece of every bundle was real money and the rest was paper.
Me: I dont want to insult anyone, but is it possible that he was just cheated and he didnt check the bundles before he left the exchange?
Staff and SM: No.
Do you feel absolutely dumbfounded? I am floored. I mean, surely logic would dictate a review of the facts? In fact, they are right there to see! No, they are Hyenas at night and this gives them the power to make you see what they want. What amazes me is that there is probably a particularly bent money dealer in Kampala (who maybe travelled to Juba at some point for an outing) who has engendered a whole new breed of folklore. I hope he is proud.
I would love to have this power. Strangely, it only works with large bundles of money....
Monday, June 30, 2008
I think the reason for this is that I am planning a holiday. In September (that is exactly 9 weeks away, I double count every day) I am travelling back to the UK for a week or so, and then on to USA for 2 weeks. As I have been planning and fantisizing about this fantastic event, I have been dreaming of all the things I am going to enjoy while I am there. And this is where the problems start. Because suddenly I am reminded of how many things I currently miss.
I shall give a brief rundown, in no particular order:
- Hot showers, or showers with water pressure. All showers here are cold (except in the USAID compound, which we have access to once a week on Sundays when they open the pool area and showers to a select invited few- trust American NGO's to have luxuries in Sudan... and to be stingy).
- Being able to walk from my shower to the mess area and still be clean. I can just about make it to my room/tent while remaining clean, but by the time I get to the mess area I have a sheen of dust on me.
- Having hair I can pull a brush through. I use the following products: Deep Moisturising Shampoo, Deep Moisturising Conditioner, Nourishing Hair mask, and then, after towel drying, Nourishing Leave-in Conditioner. Within an hour of my hair drying, the tips are frizzy, the rest is brittle and it tangles if I so much as touch it. I have long hair. Most of the way down my back. I think I might shave my head.
- Roads. The 'roads' here are made from Murrum. Its a clay type sand with stones in it that makes a passable road surface when its dry and new. After even one bout of rain however, it is not only corrugated, but liable to develope rivers down the middle. Driving is a new adventure after every rainstorm.
- A kitchen. Not just a room with a stove and a fridge and a work surface. I mean a REAL kitchen. With nice laminate or marble countertops, tile floors, an oven that works, untensils and, most importantly, food that I can guarantee isnt going to give me salmonella.
- Staff. I dont mean having staff around. To be honest I would much rather wash my own clothes and do my own dishes and mow my own lawn, if only it meant that I could get out of bed in the morning and go to the bathroom without having to put clothes on in case the staff see me. Or walk round the property at night without having people watching me. What I miss is staff that understand what you are asking for. The service staff here just dont. Even if they speak English, they just dont. For example, there is a woman that cleans our rooms. I say to her every day that she must just leave my bed alone, as I like it the way I make it. Every day she comes in, shakes out the sheets which I have neatly laid, and then folds the whole lot up in the middle of the bed in a neat little square, surrounded by a expanse of undersheet. Eventually I gave up and told her not to clean my room, I was so irritated. However, when I decided that it needed a sweep (probably about an hour later) I went in search of a broom and was immediately swamped by staff who were intensely offended that I wanted to sweep my own room, because 'Madam shouldnt have to do the work.' I finally agreed to leave them to it and when I returned an hour later, the bedlinen was once again folded up neatly in the centre of the bed. Please note that these staff are Kenyan. Sudanese staff can generally be found under a tree sleeping. They have been at war for 20 years and the concept of 9-5 is truely foreign.
- Food. As my finale, I think food is the thing I miss the most. I miss steak you can cut without resorting to a hacksaw, I miss chicken that you know wont kill you, I miss vegetables other than tomatoes, peppers and onions, I miss sauces, sushi, fresh fish, risotto, pies, desserts, chocolate, ice cream, fresh milk, filter coffee, pastries, carpaccio, fresh homemade tortellini, FOOD!
When I arrive on London, I am going to do the following in this order: Have a shower, wash my hair, go shopping using real roads to get there, make a real homemade, fresh meal, sleep in a bed made like a normal person makes their bed, and in the morning I am going to walk to the bathroom naked. Yes, naked. (Miss M, I know I will be staying with you, but I am sure you will understand the need, and that you will simply avert your eyes. You have seen it all before after all).
I think that after that I will be ready for the holiday.
Actually I forget one last thing. I am going to pour myself a glass of tapwater, and drink the whole damn thing, and LAUGH in the face of Typhoid and Bilharzia!