Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Miss Switzerland

"She's Miss California, hottest thing in west L.A..."

Well, not quite, but definitely I am Miss Switzerland and I can prove it.

Yesterday we went to collect my new modem from Sudani. The lady there asked for my passport and duly proceeded to enter my data into the computer. I paid the 200 SDG and got the modem and a copy of the contract in exchange.

We took a look at the contract and have been laughing ourselves silly ever since. Probably considering my name being way too short and plain, the lady entered the Subscriber Name as "Schweiz Suisse Svizzera Svizra Switzerland"

Right on.

Honey, you married Miss Switzerland.

Monday, 30 March 2009

My husband loves me

The British left two painful gastronomic legacies here. First, the bread is bad (this was not my first choice of word). No offense to any Anglo-Saxon readers, but you have no idea about how to make proper bread. That packaged tasteless, soft, crunchless, zero-nutrition value, white thing that comes sliced in a plastic bag and that you need to toast to even get a chance to butter it without making a hole in it... well, that ain't no bread. Our options here breadwise are therefore pretty limited: we can get Lebanese bread (also wholewheat), the above-described British horror or we can buy some bread from O-Zone. It is not *quite* bread, but it's getting there. It comes in a couple of different formats and has wholewheat and cereal versions to it. It is still soft on the outside though. So if any baker would like to come here and make a contribution, he'd be more than welcome.

The second issue is about chocolate. Or rather: the lack thereof. People here doesn't seem to be able to tell the difference between candy bars and chocolate. And since candy bars are obviously cheaper (sugar and palm oil are clearly more affordable than cocoa and cocoa butter), they only sell candy bars. The closest we come to chocolate is Cadbury's. Gosh, it even pains me writing the name down. Don't get me wrong: it is not bad. It is just not chocolate. I've been drooling at the thought of 70% dark chocolate for days now. Or even milk chocolate. Maybe with whole nuts in it... Mmmmm... Nothing of the kind here. But my Mom is coming at the end of April and I'll make sure she takes some stocks with her. In the meantime, we came across some Ferrero Rochers. Not sure what it's called in other parts of the world. Technically, it's not really chocolate either. But it does taste good and it doesn't have this dull and sandy aftertaste that Cadbury does. So because my husband loves me so much, he got a box of them for me. A whole box. And a BIG box at that. And I've been smiling ever since.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

The crash and Afra

This afternoon V was supposed to pick me to go and fetch the "Enrolment Pack" for E at KICS. Instead he got crashed into at some crossing. He stopped at the red light, obviously unbeknownst to the guy behind him. So we went to the police station where they took everybody's statements. It was surprisingly civilised and organised. The car is pretty bashed, but I am more worried about V complaining about headaches. It seems his neck took quite a hit. I am hoping he'll be feeling better by tomorrow. In any case, he's booked for a Thai massage for tomorrow afternoon. It's the closest we can come here to any kind of chiropractor...

Since the nanny was looking after the children anyways, we went to Afra centre. It is "the" Mall. Our aim was not really to hang out or buy anything, we were heading to the Sudani telecoms office to enquire about their wireless internet connection device. We got the info pretty quickly and now we just need to decide if we want one or not. I'd say yes. The modem costs 100 USD and the monthly fee is about 60 USD for unlimited connection. V's got a similar device from another operator through his job, but he needs to take it with him quite often to the office, so I am left home alone with no coms and that sucks. A bit. Also, I would prefer to have something we pay for ourselves and thus have complete control over, instead of relying on the office to take care of us.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Street 47

Our street was paved this morning. There seems to be some kind of government programme to pave the streets of Khartoum. Yesterday it was Street 49, that's parallel to ours. Please don't ask where Street 48 is because I haven't got a clue. Here are some "before" and "after" pics.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

It's Wednesday, I believe

I haven't posted for a few days, mainly because our internet was down again for several days in a row. It's TAF: the African factor.

We are following the news closely about the situation here. Every day seems to bring something new and not necessarily good. Aid workers have been abducted, then released; the ICC prosecutor wants to appeal because Mr Bashir hasn't been charged for genocide; Mr Bashir held a big rally stating that all foreign aid organisations should leave the country within a year. We are keeping our head low and waiting it out at this point.

Meanwhile, life goes on and it's business as usual. The kids started nursery with the Egyptian nuns across the street, four mornings a week. They seem to like it. Yesterday morning V and I hung out together until 11am, what a treat! First we went to get the car repaired at Mitsubishi and we had a coffee that the Hungarians would rightly call "black soup". It was dark, thick and almost chewable. But it was also very good, once we let it settle for a while. Then we had some "ful" for "breakfast" (10.30). It's a beans dish that can be prepared in a number of ways, ours was with cheese and really good. We also went to Universal Café at night. It's an Italian restaurant with really nice and rather expensive food.

Yesterday I attended my first Pilates class. Well... the class itself was really nice, but I needed to deal with the "expat woman / wife" crowd and had a hard time with that. I felt totally out of place and I really couldn't get a grip on the whole atmosphere. I also found it relatively expensive, 15 USD for a lesson?!?! It seems some ladies go there Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday and there is even a waiting list. My friend Juliet told me that I really needed to "get my foot in the door", in order to get a chance to secure myself a permanent place. I am still wondering IF I want to secure that place or not, but I'll go back next Tuesday and give it another go in any case.

And to finish this on a cheesy cross-cultural note, the other day we went to the supermarket (the "nicest" in town) and they had terrible Hungarian pop music playing. As Handsome Rob would say: UN-believable.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Changing the layout

I just changed the layout here. Those dots were getting a bit too much.

Home Care, KICS, O-Zone and the maid

Yesterday we went to Home Care. It's a small (by European standards) store with the most improbably assorted bunch of stuff you might imagine. It's got lavishly displayed china sets, pictures, rags, electric appliances, blankets, carpets, tea sets, tupperware boxes, candles, garden hose bits and pieces and a whole toy / stationary section. To my delight we found a small inflatable pool for the kids for 20$. Now we just need to buy a big carpet to put underneath, since our tiles are so slippery when wet. We also wanted to buy a frying pan to replace the charcoaled remains left behind by the previous tenants. However, when we got to the cashier's desk, we were told that we couldn't buy it because there was no price tag on it. "You can buy it tomorrow." Can't wait.

This morning we went to visit the school E will be attending from August. It's called Khartoum International Community School (KICS www.kics.sd ) and it's run by V's company and therefore paid for our kids. Otherwise the kindergarten level tuition is about 7'000$ (US) a year for half days and no food included. High school level tuition reaches beyond 20'000$ a year. For somebody like me coming from a public and hence completely free school system, this is like the fifth dimension... Anyways, the facilities are beautiful, the staff was more than welcoming and E cried because he was not allowed to stay there. So I guess this is a good sign.

To help him get over his sadness and me to calm my rumbling stomach, we went to O-Zone for brunch. It's an ice cream shop / bakery / cake shop with a big shaded garden area. We had some coffee, sandwiches, juice, chocolate croissant and waffle. The kids loved it and they were happy to run around on the grass. I enjoyed it a lot too.

And about the maid... Well, I guess I am definitely not brave enough. V's former company's maid was available for a few days this week, so we asked her if she could come and clean the kitchen. As mentioned earlier, the whole flat is in dire need of a deep scrubbing type cleaning and while I am ok dealing with the daily mess, this needs more dedication than I am able to provide with two small needy children. So Sara washed and scrubbed our kitchen cabinets, tiles and floor for two days and now it's sparkling clean.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Brave??? Me???

Two days ago a fellow expat wife told me that I was "brave" not having a maid for another week. She also suggested I ask the housekeeper in the building to "do at least the mopping" in our flat. She sounded shocked that I might have to wash my own dishes, floors and clothes. While I sure appreciate the convenience of having somebody doing these chores instead of me, I certainly wouldn't consider it an act of utter bravery doing them myself. Funny how the limits of "brave" are defined differently according to your perspective.

The braai and the sandstorm

I love our rooftop. It is huge and it is high enough to have some view all around. We also live close to the airport, so we see a lot of planes landing. The kids enjoy this a lot. Its only issue is being paved with those shiny tiles that become treacherously slippery as soon as they are wet. The kids fell several times already.

Tonight we had nine people over for a braai. Our neighbours, some ICRC people and a WFP gentleman with three lady friends. It was good fun. Since we are the only flat with a direct access to the rooftop, we get to have a prime seat for all these events. It also makes it rather easy with the kids; when they got tired, I just quickly bathed them and put them to bed. Can't wish for any better. :-)

We've had a lot of sandy wind tonight. It's called "habub". Well, tonight wasn't too bad really, we still managed to finish our braai outside, but we had to hang on to the tablecloth and other light items to prevent them from finishing three storeys down. We'll see if it gets any worse overnight.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Back online

We haven't had any internet since last Thursday. First we thought it was some revenge after the ICC's decision, but then we discovered that the real cause was much more prosaic: the guy in charge at the office forgot to pay our bill.

It's been rather hot these days. I guess it's nowhere near how it will be in a few months, but to me and the kids it's already feeling rather warm. It is ok to be outside before 11am and after 5pm, but in between we are just cooking. I refuse to use the aircon more than absolutely necessary, and when I do switch them on, it's at 28 degrees. It already feels much cooler than the temperature outside.

I discovered that some “important” stuff was left behind, and that made me quite sad. I am missing my whole jewelry box. I also packed a “crafts” box for the kids with playdough, paint and other stuff that never made it here. And most importantly, our little pool never came either. I am rather upset about all this. I guess it's also everything combined, so I am bit more fragile, but just writing about this makes me cry. Stupid.

Our flat is coming along nicely. We rearranged the kids' room and the office. We got rid of a bunch of furniture that we took down to the empty flat on the ground floor. Now it's starting to feel a bit “home”. I am still missing a bunch of stuff that V hasn't brought home from his office, such as books.

The one issue about our flat is that it is horribly filthy. I think it's a combination of two factors beside the natural dust problem: it was empty for a long time and the people living here before were just pigs. Sorry to be a bit rude here, but I can't describe it in any other way. Both the kettle and the toaster had a thick layer of grease sticking to them. While I can kind of relate to grease on the stove, I cannot for thelife of me picture how you'd get that quantity of goo on a kettle?!?! Surely it's never been wiped or washed in its life. And that's just one example. We've been introduced to “Flush” which is supposed to be a toilet cleaner, but it cleans pretty much anything. It took off a thick layer of dirt and limescale from the bathroom tiles within seconds. I don't even want to know what's in it... It's probably killing all living organisms in the groundwater. But it is very efficient. So I've been walking around armed with a rag and have been wiping random things, such as light switches, shelves, grouts, plugs etc. Now that the furniture and stuff is mostly sorted (not quite, but we're getting there), I can make a plan for some more organized scrubbing. All the grouts are either dark brown or black. It's totally gross. But then it will take a lot of time and lot of scrubbing to clean them one by one. All the kitchen cabinets must be emptied out as well. I discovered that the walls can be washed relatively easily, so I've already cleaned a bunch of black marks off them. I also washed the covers on our chairs. Some moron thought it was a good idea to buy white chairs for Sudan. You can see every fingerprint on them. They were grey by the time they went into the washing machine, and I am not kidding myself, they won't be white for very long. But we have no other option right now.

Talking about the washing machine... what a carve up... The washing machine stopped working after the first load I put in there. The pump gacked out. We called the people in charge, they took the machine away to get fixed. That was probably Monday. On Wednesday, they brought it back, saying that it had been repaired. Still not pumping. Take it back down. (We live on the third floor, no elevator). They wanted to give us the one from downstairs, but there was some issue, so they couldn't. Anyways. Machine comes back on Thursday. We try it out, it works. People leave. Throw a load in, it doesn't work. Call people again. They take it away once again, but this time they brought the machine from downstairs. Finally. They also told us that our machine worked fine downstairs. Good on them.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

The news from The Hague

So... the wait is now over. At 4pm Sudanese time, the indictment became official. Another wait begins for us: we wait to see what the reaction will be. Not nervous or afraid at this point, mere curious. I would say probably nothing "big" will happen, but then again, who knows...

Tuesday, 3 March 2009


Sitting around doing nothing is probably the single biggest challenge for any "Westerner" coming to Africa. Getting bored takes on a whole different meaning here. This morning we were supposed to have three things happening:
1) Receive our shipment from Lufthansa
2) Meet with a potential cleaning lady
3) Get our water pump fixed

Out of the three only the third one came anywhere near: we've had two guys on the roof fiddling with the water supply achieving the final result of no running water at all. I guess this means that they did do something with the pump actually. I am waiting to see if there will be any to wash the dishes with.

As for the other two, well... we just wait.

Also, since there is no water and right now all things on my to-do list have some kind of wet component, I am sitting doing nothing. Well, I am cooking lunch, which luckily doesn't involve water (no soup today) and I play with the kids. Also, I need to iron, but I can only do that when they go to bed because they are still monkeys who like to pull down stuff and I am just way too afraid they'll get burnt somehow.

Anyways, I should go and see how my potatoes and sausages are coming.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Sudan here

So... We got here. The journey was rather enjoyable, the kids were good and we even managed to eat our food and watch a Discovery channel documentary about a tunnel in Turkey before the monkeys woke up. Amazingly, the cat made it as well and it only took us about an hour to clear customs for him. We haven't really seen him since, he's been hiding under our bed. We have a nice rooftop flat, all furnished Ikea (globalisation for you!)and I really enjoy it. We have been around a little bit, but V had to work, so that didn't leave us much time. We are hoping to sort out some kind of nanny pretty soon, so that we can socialize a bit more. Small children under three don't really allow us to go out or attend any events. Yesterday we visited the Zimex people for some Coke (and other stuff for V). E ran around a bit and finally hit the tv stand, opening his upper lip and bruising his gums. There was blood everywhere. The good thing about that was that we didn't have to make long and painful explanations about why we would prefer to give a miss to the supper at that Corean restaurant... Since our flat is on the top floor, we are the direct beneficiaries of a HUGE rooftop terrace. It is supposedly accessible to everybody in the building, but as it stands nobody really uses it, except the Hash people once a month. It allows the kids to go out and play with water or just run around. E loves to water the half-dead plants out there or try and clean the thick layer of dust from the tiles. Dust is a bit of an issue. We can't really open the windows because a thin layer of red dust just covers everything within a couple of minutes, especially when there is a bit of wind. Luckily we have really easy cleaning tiles all over the flat, so I just wipe it up several times a day and it seems ok so far. The city is big and spread out. As usual, I am totally lost, my orientation skills are absolute rubbish. I need to see stuff on a map, so I think Google Earth will be my friend here. We have a Mitsubishi pickup truck to drive around. It is rather old and rattly but ok. Kids enjoy it anyways. Today V had quite some time off, so we made it to the Swiss embassy to register in the morning. We also went grocery shopping and spent over 200 dollars (ouch!!!!) on stuff like yogurt and frozen veggies. Since on Wednesday the ICC will tell about the potential indictment of the president here, we were advised to stock up on food and "be careful", whatever that means. So now we have some canned goods, pasta, soy sauce, frozen meat and cat food for the animal at the modest price of 10 dollars a box. Next time our plane goes to Europe for maintenance, I am stocking up on food. Everything is horrendously expensive and even local produce, such as fruits and veggies and dairy reach Swiss prices. What do the locals eat and where do they get it??? I need to get to the bottom of that. Can't spend this kind of money on food on a regular basis. Anyways, I should go and get some supper on the way, it's almost 9pm... Kids finally seem asleep.