Sunday, 10 April 2016

Destination : somewhere

So here I am sitting in an airport. This has happened quite often in the past few years and even more often in the last seven months since I started my new job. I have transited through Geneva, Amsterdam, Zurich, Brussels, Paris, Istanbul and London, heading to Calgary, Nairobi, Niamey, Budapest, Edinburgh and Dakar. I landed for a stopover in Dar-es-Salaam, Lomé, Cotonou and Ouagadougou. Although I am not totally sure because in the middle of the night all African airports seem the same, especially when looking at them from the top of the stairs of an aircraft. Although we are not allowed to disembark, they would usually let me stand in the open door, breathe in the warm and humid air, filled with the scents of the continent I love. And invariably it would feel like home. 

So, here I am again. This time it is Geneva, waiting to embark on a journey to Senegal. I do not like traveling. The excitement wore off quite some time ago. I hate packing and despite doing it what seems like every other week, I still panic about potentially forgetting something, taking the wrong clothes (which I often do) and losing my luggage. Also African flights have this uncanny thing for either arriving or leaving in the middle of the night. There is nothing like showing up in the office for a full day of work at 9am after a night spent cramped in a tremendously uncomfortable seat, being woken up after three hours of sleep because they want to serve you some tepid breakfast. 

I will only be gone for five days, back on Friday morning. Supposedly they booked us into a very nice hotel, the Radisson Blu. Yes, that would be the same chain as the one they blew up in Bamako a few months back. Oh well, I guess I shall just keep my head down and hope that the seaview room will compensate for any disturbance caused by the local section of jihadi activists.

Then I come home, water my plants and throw in a load of laundry before heading off to Niamey on Sunday. I have been to Niger three times now and it is a bit like going home. Except of course that each room in that Chinese hotel has its own specifics, including plugs not working, doors not closing and the bathroom getting flooded each time you take a shower. Now which one of these calamities I shall be faced with will only be known when they finally give me a key to the next available room. You see, check-in is a process there. In the three times I have visited, it has never happened that they actually just had my reservation and provided the corresponding key. No. Usually they cannot find the booking. Then when they finally find it (under someone else’s name), they do not have any rooms because they are overbooked. When they do happen to have a room, it is not clean, so they need to produce a cleaner complete with a vacuum in the middle of night. Keeping in mind that we never got there before 10pm, that is proof of some amazingly efficient room service. Last time I believe it was a combination of all of the above, which meant that the rooms finally got allocated an hour and half after our arrival, thus at 1am. I guess I should be just grateful we didn’t have to sleep on the sofa in the lobby.

The hotel food is another sight to behold, as it is certainly not something that you would like to experience with any of your other senses, least of all tasting it. On our first (and last) attempt to order supper, we were served with a piece of chicken that would have put to shame the rubber tyres of a truck. We made a sporting effort at munching it down, but I can honestly say that in my several years of African dining this was the only time I was faced with food that was not genuinely inedible. For breakfast I usually stick to eggs, figuring that this should remain fit for human consumption even if relatively under or overcooked. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. Normal Nigerien food found in restaurants, served in people’s houses or even on the street is pretty darn good. But this Chinese-European-African fusion is a complete disaster. Anyways, we shall see how that goes this time around. Niamey, here we come.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Lent 2014

I must say that for me Lent has always been a "non-event". I didn't even know the English word for it until last year and it was certainly not on my agenda for 2014 as something I should plan for, never mind take action in any way.  The Hungarian word for it is Nagyböjt, literally meaning "big fast". It happens before Easter for 40 days. This pretty much summed up my knowledge on the matter. And this despite me having been a Christian for some 19 years now. No, I have no explanation to provide for this one, sorry.

So according to the Internet, Lent is a period of 40 days before Easter during which many Christians do not eat certain foods or do certain pleasurable activities as a way of remembering the suffering of Jesus Christ. It is based on
 the forty days which, according to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by the Devil. Traditionally people focused more on prayer, fasting and alms giving during this period before celebrating the resurrection of Jesus at Easter.

As I said, this whole thing completely bypassed me until last year when someone posted a link on facebook about 40 acts of kindness. Those  40 days came and went, without me taking much notice of the daily emails. And back in another year I slumped.

This year the buzz on facebook started up again and it seemed that everybody and their dog was "giving up something for Lent". I even got asked "what are YOU giving up?" Well… I could give up chocolate (like about 60% of FB users) but since I am not that keen on chocolate to begin with, that would be no sacrifice really. I could give up alcohol, but I've already given that up a few weeks back for different reasons, so then again that wouldn't count. Exercise more? I don't see how that would be a sacrifice, although for sure that would help with self control and discipline… Eat less? Good luck to monitor that. Stop drinking fizzy drinks? Yeah… that would be a good idea, but again how would that help?

And then someone mentioned 40 acts of kindness again. And I realised I was still signed up for the emails. So there, I am going to do this for Lent. Small acts of kindness and generosity, giving up some of my time, money and self to reach out to others. Maybe it will make a small difference to someone. For sure it will make a difference to me. Accepting to step out of my comfort zone to connect with others is not easy. So here is my sacrifice for Lent 2014, allowing those uncomfortable and possibly painful steps to shape me into a better person.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Done and dusted

Ok, so first here's to admit that the last two blog posts were actually no blog posts at all. They were a copy-paste from my creativity journal with a little bit added extra to spare you my shorthand.

That said, the fact remains that I've done it! Actually THEM. Firstly, I emptied the green trunk in the backroom. Amazing achievement, please clap your hands now, thank you, flowers in the dressing room, thank you. That trunk held some of our prized (???) possessions that might have been shipped out with us had we decided to leave, but since we are staying, I just put them back on the various shelves where they belonged. (You're still with me?)

By that time I decided that lunch was in order, procrastination can taste yummy sometimes… But then I proceeded outside to do my planting thing. I shall spare you the details, but the end result is a tray of wanna-be tomato plants, a pot filled with basil and coriander seeds and another housing a happy mix of sage, thyme, parsley and whatever other herb seeds I could find. Will they grow? I have no clue. Some friends seem to think that unlike the thousand year old pharaoh seeds, these have a lesser chance of germinating. (Yea of little faith...) But I planted them and watered them, so my part here is done, the rest is up to nature to sort out. And yes, I did get dirt under my finger nails. But that was small change compared to the dead slug in the planting dirt mix. Slugs are right up there with beets on my list of pet hates. So talk about widening my comfort zone...

Now uploading the two pictures to illustrate my feat took longer than the whole planting process altogether, including going to the shop to buy a shovel. Also the estimated time remaining on my Top Gear download is currently 4 weeks and 6 days. Not to worry, I will treat you to a post on our glorious internet connection in the very near future. That is if I can upload it...

Up to me???

Day 42: One more form to fill, yahooo….. It is for the end of the project, as in FINISHED project, which is clearly not the case, since my project is still outside on the garden table broken down to its elements. Finishing it seems to suppose that I actually have started on it… Now that is the big holdup here. You see, I am quite happy in front of my computer. It is a cosy place with a cup of coffee right at hand and my phone and my water bottle and some dirty dishes and papers and a stapler and six different colour highlighters in a glass jar and HB pencils for the kids' homework and my gratefulness jar and a number of other items that should have never made it to my desk but lo and behold, this is where they are. I swear items crawl onto my desk when I am not looking and then just lie low until they kind of blend in. Every week or so I force myself to take a critical look, as in examining each item that sits on this 1.5 m2 surface and no kidding, I cannot explain the appearance of half of them. I then put them away where they belong, but two days later they are back on my desk. The desk is jinxed, that's a fact. Maybe it needs exorcised. I hear rags and soapy water are used for that purpose, but I haven’t yet managed to bring myself to such extreme measures. So anyways, the project is outside and I am inside, so this whole commotion about actually finishing it seems a bit premature. But since I have checked the BBC news (the poor soul who had to break down the door of a bathroom in Sochi two days ago now got stuck in an elevator), read my habithacker email and ignored all the others, ensured I was up-to-date with the latest gossip on facebook, watched some YouTube and started downloading the latest Top Gear…. well, since all this is done, I guess there ain't nothing else to do but to get started on my creativity project, coupled with some decluttering. Off I go.

I'll be back.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Greenthumbing it

Day 39: Creativity by design - Oh gosh, I now have to actually DO something. What shall it be??? I'm thinking planting a plant. Yes, that. Don't ask me why, considering that every single thing that we planted so far happened to die. But hey, why not. 

Creative Project Completion Plan
Project I will finish: Plant a herb garden

Specific steps I must take to finish project:
- Fill pot with dirt
- Put seeds inside
- Tag them
- Water

Supplies needed to finish project (note what you already have and what you need to get):
- Pot
- Dirt
- Seeds


Errands required to finish project:

Estimate of project budget:

Hm. So what am I waiting for? Don't even have to leave the house for this one.

I don't think this project will need lots of time. Clearly I could plan something bigger, but let's start with something small and then work our way up, shall we. Once the seeds are planted and some feeling of accomplishment has been generated, I could consider setting up for weekly digital scrapbooking sessions. That is if I manage to find that scrapbooking for dummies book in the meantime. Because I have no clue where it is.

Day 41:You've almost begun. - OK, right now I have about two hours ahead of me, with nothing planned, except making some lunch soon because I am starving. So I will take the next few minutes to figure out what I actually do have for the planting process and then go from there.

And yes, I cheated on Day 40 and 41 because I did not go through all the questions and planning, the reason being that I chose a "small" project that can be done relatively quickly and doesn't need to be months in the making. At least the prep part of it. BUT I will plan for something bigger, as mentioned above. Promised.

OK, update. I found planting trays, soil and even a big hard plastic ozone tray to put the planting trays in. Also found seeds that are "slightly" outdated (2005 anyone?) but hey, didn't they dig up things from the pharaohs' tombs and it germinated? Right? Right. What I do need though is a small shovel. Yes, I could use a spoon or my hands. I hate dirt under my finger nails though. Yes, I am that much of a princess and I deal with it. I am sure we had one, but like a number of other things, it went missing. Indeed, our garden has this innate capacity of vaporising items. I think this is what must have happened to a number of rakes, spades, shears, brooms and gas bottles, because I have no other logical explanation for their sudden and permanent disappearance. So this afternoon I will pop into the tiny garden shoppie on Street 1 and buy a teeny-tiny shovel. Problem solved. Well, at least in theory, so far.

On a sidenote, I found beetroot seeds. BEETROOT!!! In MY house!!!!! Looking for the sanitizer as we speak.

(To be continued...)

Friday, 7 February 2014

The donkey

Two days ago as I was coming home from shopping, I found this donkey on our street. It was dark brown with big sores on its back, skinny and visibly just walking along. No rope hanging off his feet or neck. Several people walked by, nobody laying claim on him. He wandered all the way up the to garbage bin in front of our house, then turned around and trotted back where he came from. I don't know anything about donkeys. Don't know what they eat or how they are supposed to be cared for. Otherwise probably I would have taken him in. I am incorrigible as in I just tend to collect abandoned things. And even when I don't collect them, I can't help feeling sorry and concerned and my conscience stirs in me. I know I can do nothing really. The poor animal has been abandoned by his owner, too ill and weak to work, too expensive to keep or to be put down. So he wanders around aimlessly, probably drinking sewage water and eating garbage. Then yesterday as I was taking the nanny back home, I saw the poor thing again, standing in front of her house, quite a few streets up from ours. And I still couldn't help feeling for the poor soul. I know there are many people here who are as bad off as this donkey. Maybe worse. I can give a few pounds here or there, but it probably won't make any lasting difference, just as it wouldn't have changed much to be able to get a bucket of clean water or a carrot to the donkey. Maybe it would have changed a few minutes of his life, but clearly not sustainable. But then again, does it need to be sustainable? Maybe making somebody happy or well-fed or not thirsty for a short while is all the difference that is needed sometimes.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Something new, old, borrowed and blue

I merged my two blogs. Back in June, or was it May, I started a new blog called cement factory nomads. I had a good reason back then to do so, but then things changed and I realised that I don't want to scrap under this blue sky. It kind of stuck with me from the very beginning, I wrote when I was happy, I wrote when I was upset, I wrote to make sense of things and to record them. So just leaving it all behind proved more difficult than I thought. But then when I got back to it a few weeks ago, I also realised that it was very dark and grey, reflecting a mood that is no longer mine. Cement factory nomads had a brighter and more colourful setup and some posts that talked about the wonderful holidays we had in Scotland. So I decided to merge the two, including posts and design. So this is my old blue sky blog with a new feel, borrowed from another blog that no longer exists.

Something new, something old, something borrowed, something blue.

I think I have the right combination to baffle the Evil Eye.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Creativity Day 5

"Perfectionism thwarts creativity" and "Everybody starts with a SFD (shitty first draft)" were the two postulates of today's creativity email. So, I have five minutes (four by now) to write something. I also could have painted or danced for five minutes but that did not happen and it is 22:24 by now, so I'll just stick to writing and typing real blooming fast. 2014 is my year of C R E A T I V I T Y. I decided to do things, to stop being afraid of failure, to abandon some conventions and break some moulds. I will experiment and produce a number of SFDs. Maybe lots. I will try new things and I will first suck at them. Surely I will keep sucking at a number of them. But some of them might just click and I will learn new skills, acquire new knowledge and generally widen my horizons on all levels. So from now on it is shitty first drafts for me! :)

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Another day in Dundee

Today we woke up to a glorious sunny day, so we decided to go back to Dundee and explore the RRS Discovery in details. The RRS Discovery was built in Dundee and used for the first Antarctica expedition from 1901 until 1904, taking on its board - among others - the explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton. It is amazing how these men set out without any proper knowledge, equipment or food supplies, heading into the great unknown, facing illnesses and temperatures as low at minus 70C for months on end. The ship was purpose-built for the expedition and ample supplies were packed. However The North Face equipment and freeze-dry rations not having been invented yet, both their gear and their food seemed relatively amateurish by today's standards. It is amazing that they made it for three years, collected an enormous quantity of scientific data, kept morale by organising theatrical plays, debates and concerts, and even printed a newspaper to which everyone could contribute.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Day in Dundee

They told us it would rain today and these Scots people, they tend to be right. So we planned for a day inside. We visited the Dundee Science Centre two years ago, but the kids were just a bit too small to really enjoy it. We checked online and this time around they have a Myths and Monsters special exhibition that just started yesterday.

So this morning, off we went, armed with rain
coats and an umbrella. Our first mission was to buy a cup of coffee at the station in Arbroath. We looked up and down the street, browsed the information panels, but there was no mention of any cafes or even vending machines. So in desperation we trooped down to the platform. Luckily for us, the platform has a direct access from the parking lot and right there was a small mobile coffee van. The gentleman prepared two cups of coffee and two cups of perfect hot chocolate for us while explaining all about his past as a school teacher and the difficulties he had encountered procuring a new engine for this van.

The train ride was fun, all the more as we ended up seated beside the disabled toilet, complete with a huge curved automatic door that provided endless entertainment to our children. To our general hilarity the loudspeaker then announced that the next stop would be "Grotty Ferry". It took us a while to realise that she actually said "Broughty Ferry". You'll note that we are rather easily amused...

The Dundee Science Centre did not disappoint. I cannot quite explain how, but we managed to spend four hours in there, never getting bored. We saw a demonstration about flaming bubble bath for dragons and tooth paste for the yeti, as well as some myth busting regarding all those weird creatures. Vince discovered that the narwhals really do exist and now we all know that the long thing sticking out of their head is actually a tooth. We met Nigel the Dragon, a yeti and several unicorns. The kids had a blast and so did we.

On our way out we decided to look for the Srathmartine Dragon of Dundee that was mentioned in one of the shows. We walked along Dundee's main street in the rain looking for about 20 minutes before we located the statue. That being done, we headed down to the station but just as we were ready to enter, Vince spotted a boat across the road, so we went to take a look. It turned out to be the RRS Discovery. Since it was getting quite late, we decided that we might need to come back to see the ship in details.

The day was finished with a fish and chips dinner from the mobile van, which was lovely but would have definitely been better if they hadn't make us wait 30 minutes in the rain...  Also, on a quick note, the fish is usually yummy here, but the way Scots like their chips is not mine. They are cut huge and barely done. I like them thin and crisp. Oh well, we can't agree on all.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Arbroath day

The weather being rather lovely, we went into town this morning. There is a great playground right at the sea, complete with some kiddie attractions such as electric cars, small train and a mini golf. I think this last one is called "crazy putting" for some reason. While the sun was shining, the breeze was rather chilly, so we were quite glad to meet up for lunch with Bruce and Juliet at The Bell Rock, a local fish and chips joint that serves a magnificent buffet lunch. The afternoon was spent doing some more playground things and trying to organise a birthday card and present for Juliet. The day was finished off with a wonderful soup, some quiet reading and playtime with the neighbours' grand children. 

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Sunday in Scotland

This morning I tagged along to church with Bruce and Juliet. There is one Catholic Church in town and it was packed. As the people queued by for the Eucharist I realised just what an eclectic crowd that was. A young hell's angels looking father complete with head scarf carrying a pink baby girl, a Scotsman wearing a kilt and knife stuck in his sock, a number of people in their jogging clothes, a rather large gentleman with almost no hair except a thin two-feet long braid at the back of his head and - wait for this - a gentleman well over seventy, completely bald with a lawn mower tattooed to the back of his head. Sheer genius.

We had a family lunch with Bruce's sister and her husband and then went for a walk around the estate here. This area is called Letham Grange and back in the day it was all part of one big estate. Now it is two golf courses and a number of houses tucked away small alleyways. Some of the houses - like Bruce and Juliet's - are relatively new, built in the last 20 years or so, while others are the renovated buildings of the former farm, such as the old dairy. It is all very green and quiet. Two years ago we used to walk around a lot, but this time with me being so sick, I was happy enough to make it as far as the garden. Now that I am better, I am definitely planning to spend more time exploring.

The one sore point here is the former estate house that was transformed into a lovely hotel. Unfortunately some time ago it was shut down amid allegations of fraud and since then the owner has been involved in a legal battle. Because of this no one can access the building and it is slowly falling apart as a result. The plants have started forcing their way through the windows, the glass panes on the conservatory are falling out and supposedly the roof has started leaking, threatening the grand oak staircase with destruction. It is eerie to have this piece of "life after humans" right in the middle of the manicured golf course and the well- kept houses all around it. Such a total waste...

Saturday, 29 June 2013

A day out with Thomas

For a few weeks now, Bruce and Juliet have booked us a day out with Thomas the Tank Engine. My general well being having improved quite a big thanks to the antibiotics, I was able to join in. It started as a lovely Scottish day with a bit of sunshine and some small clouds. It was meant to be a surprise for the kids so they only knew that something special would be happening on Saturday but nothing more.

The proceedings took place at the disaffected train station of Brechin, about 30 minutes from Arbroath. Various stalls were set up for the occasion. Merry-go-rounds, hot dog stand, miniature train, bouncy castle and face painting were at hand to entertain the children before and after the main attraction: the hour-long round trip train ride on a train pulled by Thomas the Tank Engine all the way to Bridge of Dun.

The kids loved it all and the train ride was even more enjoyable thanks Auntie Juls' delicious sandwiches. A magician came along in the train and did some tricks with a rope. To Zina's absolute delight, he even produced a quick show when the train stopped for ten minutes in Bridge of Dun. 

I was totally exhausted by the time we got back, so I slept for over two hours. I was told Zina also snoozed for an hour in the car. 

Just a beautiful day altogether. 

Friday, 28 June 2013

Show down

This morning I woke up with liquid oozing out of my ear. I first thought it was bath water that got trapped last night, but soon enough I had to realise that it was more grim than that. The pain had become really difficult to cope with and I had a bit of meltdown. Vince was the sweetest thing, as usual, picking up the pieces, making tea and toast and generally trying to reassure and cheer me up.

The trip to the doctor confirmed what I already thought: otitis media, middle ear infection. He said there was so much goop he couldn't quite see where it was coming from, but sounded quite positive that an antibiotic should clear most of it within a few days. 

I must also say that strokes of genius sometimes come where least expected. I complained to him that my flu medication - while quite nicely keeping my nose from blocking up - did nothing for my pain. He looked at the ingredients list and suggested I took an extra dose of paracetamol with it, as it was not sufficient. So I did that at lunch time and lo and behold, the pain subsided within a few minutes. Brilliant.

It rained the whole morning but now the sun came out, so the kids now went out with Vince and Juls to the playground beside the sea. I wish I could have gone with as I have been pretty much unable to do anything with them for the last few days being too weak and in too much pain, but probably staying at home gathering some strength is more useful in the long term perspective. Tomorrow we are booked to go on a Thomas the Tank Engine train ride. I really hope I will feel well enough to go.

The purge process

Well, it seems that my body decided that it was finally payback time for four and a half years in Sudan. The cold got much worse, combined with fever and ear ache. I don't remember having been this sick for this long before. I am not even sure if I am heading towards better or worse. Today was a bit better than yesterday, but tonight I can't even find the strength to heat the water for my medicine... I have an appointment with a doctor tomorrow, not getting my hopes up though. I've been taking medicines for days now, to no avail. I think my body just needs to go through this process, get rid of everything accumulated over the last few years. So, it might get worse before it gets better.