Sunday, August 24, 2008

Marriage

Its the topic on my mind. Partly because my cousin is getting married in a few weeks and partly because I keep getting proposed to and partly because EVERYONE else I know is either getting married or proposed to, and partly because 'rings' recently came up in conversation.

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

Frustration

Work is fine. Its exactly what I have always wanted to do while in Juba, in fact. I am making things work. Its what I love to do the most. Give me a working system and I get bored and lazy. Give me a complete mess and I dive right in.

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

Oh dear

I would like to state in advance that I am writing this immediately after the event, and am therefore a little drunk.

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

Back

I am the panicky sort. Generally if things start faling apart, I panic. Well, that used to be me. Despite all the drama of last few weeks, I had this wierd calm that things were gonna work out. Dont be decieved though. I did have my down days when I thought the world was going end, but generally, I was suprisingly calm.

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

Smoking

As I have previously mentioned in this blog, I am a smoker. I smoke a lot. Probably about 30 a day. Yes, I can hear lung cancer beckoning. I am in the best kind of denial. The problem is I LIKE smoking. I don't want to stop.

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?