Saturday, 30 May 2009

About the weekend

We had a great weekend. The past tense is justified because in the Muslim world Friday is the day off, maybe if you're lucky Saturday as well, but by Sunday morning latest everybody's back to work. Unfortunately V's not among the lucky ones, so he has only one day off per week.

Thursday night we had a braai (bbq for those who have never met a South African) on our rooftop. We had the horse people, a Sudani-American entrepreneur, the pilot and the neighbours over. It was great fun as usual. The last batch left after midnight and V duly proceeded to watch the Moto GP race rerun until 4am.

Friday morning the neighbour lady invited us for breakfast, so we hung there until the kiddies nap time. The afternoon was spent loitering around the house. In the evening the neighbours (yes, the very same ones, they had an overdose of us this weekend) took us to the "Pickwick Club". It's a social club organized by the British Embassy. The security measures are stringent and we had to have our names on THE List, present a photo ID and brave a metal detector before being allowed into the inner courtyard, complete with tables, chairs, bar, bbq and a pool. We were informed that the pool was totally off limits and getting so much as our toe wet would exclude us for life. I guess this is how the British set a democratic example of freedom of expression in the political situation we are living in here. Congratulations, God save the Queen!

Today I took the kids to Ozone in the morning. It was rather good fun until E spotted the only mud patch of the garden and make his sister sit in it. We did make it home after 15 minutes spent in the ladies room trying to wash the mud off the kids. Auntie invited us over after nap and I seized the opportunity of having a cup of coffee I didn't have to prepare myself, so off we went. We got even more spoilt than expected: we were offered salad and sandwiches for supper which was absolutely fantastic.

Now here we are, ready to face another week ahead. Time just flies by so quickly here.

Friday, 29 May 2009

My blog list

On the left hand side of this page, you can see a number of websites under the title "My blog list". I chose them based on different criteria, sometimes because of their content, sometimes because of the people who write them, sometimes for both.

1. Don't Call Me a Yank(ee): This is my friend Ron's blog. As mentioned in an earlier post, I met him in Angola. He later moved to different countries until he finally ended up in the South of England near his five-year old daughter. I like reading his ramblings about Neeve, music and life in general.

2. ezazanap: This is a collection of poems and short stories written by a childhood friend of mine. We were in the same class at primary school then lost contact for 16 years, until finally facebook got us talking to each other again. He quit his important and well-paid job about a year ago in order to be able to spend his time writing and living life in a way it is worth to be lived. Obviously most of you won't be able to understand Hungarian, but I love the way his writes.

3. Making Sense of Darfur: For me this is one of the references about the situation in Darfur and Sudan in general. It is written (mainly) by Alex de Waal who is known specialist of these issues. It's great insight and the comments help to deepen the debate.

4. szudánblog: This is the diary of Hungarian aid worker based in Khartoum. I don't know who she is, but I enjoy the way she writes, even when I don't necessarily share her points of view. Again, only for Hungarian readers.

5. lifestyles of the fab and famous: This is written by my niece-in-law (if anything of the kind exists). I don't get to see much of my husband's family, since they are living so far away, therefore it is nice to get to know them (or at least one of them) a little better.

6. Sudan Watch: A general info blog about Sudan and obviously Darfur.

7. Mitch Scoggins' Weblog: I met Mitch in Madagascar where he was in charge of programmes. We are very different but had that instant connection that allowed us to work very efficiently together. (I guess the copious amounts of coffee helped as well.) He is nowadays in the States and it seems he's given up the expat lifestyle, at least for a while.

8. Travels and Stories: Another blog run by a friend of mine, met somewhere in Africa. He's always been amazingly good at writing things and making boring project descriptions come alive. You can't see that from his blog, but he's also really talented in photography and scrapbooking, and that was before scrapbooking with those curly flowers and pink paper clips became all the rage. I used to love looking at his albums.

9. The Khartoum Chronicle: An anonymous blog by an expat living in Khartoum. It seems anonymous blogs are a must here...

10. My Surrogacy Journey: I met this mom on a "moms forum" site when I was pregnant. She's got two children and decided that her own contribution towards helping others would be becoming a surrogate mother. I think that this is an amazing gift and I can't wait to read the next chapters of her adventures.

I guess I will be adding more blogs as I find them and I'll let you know why I happen to like them.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

They make us laugh

E has been getting better at talking and he sometimes dishes out really hilarious replies. Here are some chosen extracts:

E: (points at the Nutella jar)
Me: (playing dumb) You want some jam?
E: (keeps pointing at Nutella jar)
Me: Or is it some butter?
E: (exasperated by such a dumb mother) Look at my finger, Maman!

V: Thank you but I don't want any cake.
E:(puzzled by such an incomprehensible decision) Is it too much for you, Papa?
V: Yes, it is.
E: Oh. Sorry about that.

V: I am missing my bike.
E: It's in your phone, Papa. (V's got the picture of the bike in his mobile phone)
V: Yeah, but that's not the same.
E: fetches his prized bike keyring) Oh, that's ok Papa. Here, have mine.

T still doesn't say much except for single words. She can name a lot of animals and she obviously understands everything we tell her. Of her own accord, she decided to call E "Buck" which we find quite funny. She calls herself "Nina". E calls her "Didi", we never managed to figure out why.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Of chairs and stamps

I've got my driving license, I've got my driving license, yaayyyy!!!

Since we are planning to be here for a while, we decided that it was better for me to get a proper Sudanese driving license. Routine checks are fairly frequent and it's better if the policemen are actually able to read my papers. We have a company pickup truck and usually V takes it to work, but it's nice for me to be able to go shopping or see friends on my own without always asking him to chauffeur me around. He's good sport and doesn't complain, but since we usually we also have to take the kids, it's a bit of a logistical nightmare.

I am no faint of heart, but we asked the company's logistics department to help us out with the formalities and what a good idea that was! First my Swiss driving license was duely translated into Arabic and certified by the University. But that was just the preliminaries.

On Day-D we showed up, V and Ali and me, at the traffic police headquarters ready to brave the Sudanese bureaucracy. Well, for about an hour after our arrival, we didn't have much to brave, since everybody was having their breakfast break, complete with ful and bread. Finally the officials started to arrive back to their desks where they sat down and stared at their black computer screens for further 15 minutes. V needed all his power of persuasion, plus some chocolate biscuits, to keep me from getting up and leaving.

In the meantime I discovered that the chairs scattered around the hall were actually placed in strategic locations. I was asked to move chairs several times, supposedly meaning that I was moving up on the waiting list ladder. Ali paid the money to someone sitting in an obscure backroom and in turn we were provided with a receipt allowing us to expect better and bigger things. I was also joined by a fellow hopeful expat working for V's company and from then on we spent our time cheering each other on. After about 90 minutes sitting in the main hall, we were herded out to the backyard and into different shady offices where we underwent an eye exam and were kitted out with further receipts and stamps.

Upon our return, we were allocated new and MUCH better chairs. I guess the eye exam is definitely a step up on the social ladder. A lady proceeded to enter my name into the computer, closely watched by two of her colleagues. My Ethiopian companion mentioned something about "job creation" at that point. Unfortunately my name was not to the lady's liking, jeopardizing our hard earned stamps and the fruitful outcome of our quest. You see, my parents were expecting a boy. When I came out obviously missing those boyish bits, they were somewhat short for name ideas. So they only gave me one first name. Now this confused the bejabers out of the veiled lady. She needed three names and I only had two. With a diplomatic incident and an IT meltdown in sight, we finally agreed that she'd put my maiden name down. Good thing I am married. What on earth would she have entered otherwise???

Another stamp, another piece of paper and I was ready to get my picture taken. If you look closely you'll be able to see the unmistakable curve of a smirk on my lips, but then you'll have to remember that we were about two and a half hours into the process at that point. Finally the holy grail (in the form of a driving license) was delivered into my hand.

It's all in Arabic, so I can't tell you what it says and I look paler than dead on the picture (and about 20 years younger than I am, according to my husband), but I've got a local license now to cruise around.

Not sure that this is a blessing. But I'll tell you about the Khartoum traffic some other day.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Ron, the Hash and the AK47

My friend Ron published a post on his blog a few days ago, inviting his readers to check out my ramblings here because I'm "doing well". Well, to return the favour (kind of...), let me tell you how I met Ron.

I was working with an NGO in Luanda at the time, young and idealistic and innocent, ya know, those kind of adjectives you just grow out of after a certain time... We were still in the middle of the civil war, stringent security measures restricting our every move and improving our chances of survival. Anyways, some not-so-innocent-anymore friends of mine talked me into attending the Hash House Harriers gatherings. Now if you've never been an expat, you've probably been spared the knowledge of what HHH stands for and you might as well remain in this blissful state of ignorance until the end of time. However, for the purpose of our little story here, I must give you some basic information.

The Hash is a regular meeting in most major cities housing a sizeable expat population. The idea is simple: the hares (usually a group of 3-4 people) set the track across town / slums / people's backyard to be followed by everybody else in a run (walk for the feeble and weak) that lasts about an hour. The physical prowess gets its reward at the end in the form of copious amounts of beer or soft drinks (again, for the feeble).

That particular day the pack was going through downtown Luanda which was a crowded and rather decayed part of town, blazing in its own bygone glory. However a lone cowboy decided that it was time to rewrite history and the expat crowd provided the perfect opportunity to finally demonstrate the superiority of the local people over this imported riffraff of assorted oil workers, UN executives and NGO do-gooders. He stood right in front of the charging hashers and pointed his AK47 at them.

Now, most people did what everybody in their right mind would do in such circumstances: disperse and keep low. Not so my friend Ron. He was the last man standing, right in front of that gun, glancing from left to right at his fellows crouching behind bushes, cars and garbage pails with that bewildered look on his face, shouting all around: "What's wrong with you, guys??? Have you never been shot at!?!?"

Erm... no. Sorry to disappoint, Ron.

So, this is how I met Ron. Nowadays he's living in the UK, being a part-time Dad to his five year old daughter. He writes a blog where he tells about his fight for his child, baseball and drinking in the UK, among other things, you can check it out here.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Dear kids...

... I am sorry for having been a crap mother today. I apologize and I know you'll forgive me. You already have. I just need to get this out of me so that the guilt doesn't linger on. I was impatient and not interested in you today. I wanted to do my own thing and it's normal to want some ME space from time to time, but it's not nice to send you away. So, I am sorry. I'll do better tomorrow. Promised. And if not, I'll apologize and you'll forgive me again and again as I am learning every day to be a better mom to you and a better person to myself and everybody else around me. It's a steep learning curve and there are many setbacks along the way, but I want them to make me rebounce and not recoil with guilt and feelings of failure.

So tomorrow morning, I'll be there on the front line again, ready to face another day with you.

I love you.

The greener grass effect

"What if I had...?" This is probably the most frequent question people ask themselves. It questions our past choices, builds different scenarios for our present and wonders how our future would be different - usually better - had we decided otherwise. What if I had studied something else? What if I had taken another job? What if I had married somebody else? What if I did / didn't have kids? What if I had moved someplace else? The answers are invariably: I would be happier, richer, more important, more powerful, more beautiful, more relaxed, less stressed and the list goes on.

I've been there, done that and I am not sure I've got the t-shirt just yet. Questions do come back to me on a regular basis. What am I doing here? Can I undo what's been done? Any way to escape from the consequences or change the outcome? Don't get me wrong, I love my life and as I said in an earlier post, I finally feel at peace with where I am and what I'm doing. But still, questions pop up and my brain goes into a frenzy of building castles in the air that vanish as soon as the wind of reality hits them.

The other day I came across a text in the Bible. It's Psalm 16. "Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance."

Now doesn't this define the colour of my grass? :-)

PS: És mindebbõl a tanulság? Talán mégis csak a Hufnáger Pistihez kellett volna feleségül mennem??? ;-))))

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Shopping local

I went shopping this afternoon to the "best" supermarket in town. Even the smallest Migros (Swiss supermarket chain) would make it blush in comparison, but hey, you take what you can get, right?

Here is what I paid in Sudanese pounds:

2 kg cat food: 90
Tabasco: 8.50
4 pots of yogurt: 4
Green beans: 6
Grated mozzarella 250g: 9.30
2l milk: 8
1l yogurt drink: 3.50
Banana: 1.60
Grapes: 10.90
Bell peppers: 4.10
Apples: 8.45
Lemons: 1
Candy bar: 4
Kiwis: 9
Kellogg's Fruit'n'Fibre: 19.50
Marmite: 20
Olive oil 750ml: 17.50
Seran wrap: 5
Ariel 4kg: 40
Grape juice: 7
Berry juice: 7
Butter 450g: 10
Herbal tea: 5
2 l tomato juice: 13
2 l apple juice: 13
Plastic cups: 30

That's 355.35 SDG in total.

Or 178 Swiss franks.

In Switzerland, it would have cost me about 140 Swiss franks (based on, known to be rather more expensive than buying the stuff in a normal supermarket)

That's almost 30% more.

Don't come and tell me that Switzerland is expensive.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The news and me

I don't write much about the political and humanitarian situation here. I got actually told that it seems that we're living in some kind of a tower, far off from local realities. In a way, that's very possible. Right now most of my time is spent with the kids or household chores. I do read BBC and reliefweb news with a special focus on Sudan, but I do feel a bit out of the loop. Most "insider" information only goes around in NGO/UN circles, and right now I am not privy. We don't have TV, so I can't sit down and watch the news, I have to actively look for the information on the web. With all the junk out there, it's hard to know what's going on exactly. To give you a taste of it, here is the top ten most read articles on BBC News this morning:

1. Sri Lanka leader hails 'victory'
2. Have you heard 'the Hum'?
3. Jumper survives 6,000ft free fall
4. Boy aged 12 did not father baby
5. Ethiopia troops 'back in Somalia'
6. Asian leaders condemn Burma trial
7. How Borat hoaxed America
8. Zuma minister pressed on Mercedes
9. Cab driver sex victims to sue
10. Rumsfeld 'Bible texts' criticised

I mean, c'mon, how are you supposed to get any value info out of THIS?!?!

I also don't speak Arabic (courses start in August, can't wait!!!), so local newspapers are out of my reach and so are conversations with local people. Not that I meet many of them, mind you. But then again, that's a function of my current occupation: full time mom and housewife, spending most of my time walled up in my flat.

This is one of the reasons I am really looking forward to going back to work. Meeting people, getting into the flow of events, knowing what's going on and simply getting out on the street to see for myself.

Only three months to go. :-)

Monday, 18 May 2009

The shopping list

We're headed back to civilisation in one month time and I am trying to figure out what we'll need to take back with us. These are trivial matters, I know, but since shopping here is either impossible or outrageously expensive, I need to do a bit of thinking ahead. My husband would think that this is useless, but that's because he can live with one pair of shoes for five years and believes that we should all do the same. I am thinking of ordering a number of things on the internet, mainly because the in-laws live in the bush about two hours drive from the closest mall. We've got KLM tickets that are based on a piece concept, meaning that in total and between the four of us, we can bring back a whopping 184 kg load. That should accomodate a number of books, dvds, shoes, clothes and other goodies. So, what do we need? ("Need" being defined somewhat loosely, I'll concede.) School clothes for E, including pants, socks, shoes and trainers, all according to school standards, the rest of his uniform is bought directly from the school. Normal clothes and shoes for both kids, with increasing sizes, making sure they last another year. Clothes and shoes for me, maybe for hubs as well. Books, books and books. I am craving to read here, and I am working my way through our limited library here. Maybe some new DVDs, since we still don't have TV and we can recite by heart all our movies. What else? Small goodies that make life more fun, some food items, chocolate, cheese and dried meat.

I know that the holidays are mainly about seeing people. But when you come from a place like this, it's also about recharging your other kind of batteries. Seeing green scenery. Eating nice food. Wearing nice clothes. Aimlessly stroll around a mall for hours, just looking at all the beautiful and / or useless stuff available.

Ya know, just BE, in a different context.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Musings about children

I came to think a lot about the advantages / disadvantages of having children lately. Only a generation ago when you got married, you were expected to produce a number offsprings within a reasonable amount of time. It was not really optional. People felt sorry for couples who didn't manage to have children and those who refused to have them were frowned upon. Now it's actually the opposite. I had several friends tell me (maybe not so directly) that they were feeling sorry for me for having my children and what a hard job it must be and really it must spoil my whole life. I mean let's face it: things do become more complicated when you have children. Shopping is a mission trying to prevent them from emptying all the shelves, booking holidays is a headache and intercontinental travel with two kids under three is a full-blown nightmare. They wake you up in the morning and most of the time in the middle of the night too. They want you to watch them build a puzzle when all you want is a cup of coffee and once you managed to sneak away and get your mug, they'll come climb on you, so that you either pour the hot beverage on yourself or on them. Going anywhere requires logistical organisation, including packing toys, a change of clothes, water, snacks, wet wipes, diapers and other essential items. However no matter how much you've packed, they'll need the one item you forgot back home. Children are rather expensive too. First you have to buy diapers + clothes + toys + various equipment (carseat, pram, blankets, baby bed, etc.), but that is usually not so bad because most of the time you'll find somebody to give / lend some of the stuff. But then you hit the stage where they want the Wii, the tv, the laptop, the iPhone, the latest (and most expensive) designer shoes and clothes and you haven't even started putting money aside for their college fund. Your social life also goes through the drain. You could get a baby sitter to go out at night, but by 11pm you are just too tuckered out to enjoy any party, not to mention that you know that by 6am some little hand will be pulling on your hair demanding a dvd to be played right away. Fights with your better half become frequent and revolve around most important matters, such as should you let your kid have a pacifier or how many seconds he should be left crying before you go into his room and soothe him. I read somewhere that more than 50% of all divorces happen in the year following the birth of a first child. So I guess having kids does suck.

Luckily I didn't really get to think about all this. Both our kids were accidents. Since they were not planned, we didn't really expect anything either which might be better than hoping, trying, hoping again, until finally the much desired baby arrives and the abyss between the dream and the reality shatters even the best intentioned parents. We had our bad moments and we still do. But our kids are great. I am not even willing to go near to explain why kids are so fantastic, I believe anybody who's spent some time with children will know exactly what I am talking about and for the others... well, no amount of explanation will do more than a day with a toddler.

Sometimes I do wish to be « free ». To read my book without somebody shredding it at the same time. Get up late and drink my coffee without having a conversation about diapers and what's in them. But then again, sometimes we all wish to be free. Free of our job, free of our family, free of our spouse. Sometimes we'd all like to take a plane to an island and live off building boats and fishing and not having to be responsible for anything or anyone. But come Monday, we go back to the office, we buy a box of chocolate / case of beer for our spouse and send a card to the great-aunt Funny how human beings actually find a way to realise themselves in the responsibilities they are taking and how much they'd miss them if they were taken away.

My kids have taught me way more than I taught them. Patience, resilience, perseverance and lots of laughter. They have no sense of time and they know nothing about stress. They live in the present, they don't beat themselves up for the past and don't worry about the future. They know no failure, they just see a new opportunity for trying again. They never give up. They go from tears to laughter within seconds and forget the hurt. They forgive instantly and they love unconditionally.

Yes, kids are a lot of work. Hard work. But that's because it is mainly about changing myself.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

J'y suis, j'y reste

I liked this place from the moment we arrived. It's nothing fancy, really, and I usually don't know what to say when people ask me "So what is there to be done for fun in Khartoum?" but I like it the same. The weather is either too hot or too dusty or too dry or too windy or everything at the same time, but it doesn't bother me. Our place on the rooftop is a prime location to be woken up by airplanes taking off and various imams. It is also collecting dust and sand at a rate I've never seen before. It's on the third floor, no elevator and all the heat from the deck and from under the roof is focused in it. But we have a huge deck that is perfect for the kids to play, run, cruise, cycle, climb, slide and jump. It also came with a braai (bbq) and some plastic furniture that allow us to invite and entertain our friends easily. We are bound by Islamic decency rules when we go out and I am not especially keen wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts when it's 47 degrees out, but Islam also means that I can go out at any time of day or night without ever worrying for my safety or the safety of my kids. People drive like mad and you'd think that they are deprived even of the most basic self-preservation instinct, but accidents are rather rare and you can get anywhere with a rickshaw. As mentioned, not too much fun is to be had, unless you organise it yourself, but both local and international people are fantastic and spending time with them is the best thing. There are also a few lovely spots, such as O-Zone or the Soba horse farm that allow us to relax with the kids.

So, since we all like it here, we are settling in. E will start KICS in August and T will go to Gina's nursery. We just got confirmation that we can stay in our flat, there had been some speculation about the company terminating the lease for the building. I would have liked a garden, but here we have a 24h guard, a free generator, decent furniture, including kitchenware and appliances and a proper water filtering system. If we moved, we'd have to start from scratch to equip it all again and arrange for our own guard and generator. I'm not really keen.

I also found a job, starting mid-August. I'll be working for a humanitarian organisation doing human resources. I am really looking forward going back to work, actually much more than I expected. It's a five-days a week job (here it's usually 6), with at least 6 weeks off per year, possibly 8. It's a Christian organisation, so that's also a bonus. I'll still get to spend some time with the kids and they'll also get to do their "own" thing in school and nursery. I really can't wait.

So, it looks like we're in here for the long run. I finally accepted that I want to be a full-time expatriate. I am sick and tired of going back to Switzerland and also to be asked (mainly by family): "So, when are you coming home?" Home is here now. Or wherever else we decide to transfer in the future. But as long as my kids are provided with quality education, I don't see the point of going back. And by the time they need to go to university, they can go on their own. For the time being I have no craving whatsoever to go back to the "civilised" world. Holidays and breaks are sure lovely. But I like it here.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Haboob or not

So, it looks like the sand is mostly gone. For the last four days we've been living amidst a fog of sand lingering over Khartoum. It all kicked off Wednesday night with a major sandstorm, leaving our flat covered in dust. Then things got relatively calm until another huge storm hit us two nights ago. The winds were so strong that the Coca-Cola fridge on the deck got pushed by more than one meter. I spent over four hours cleaning up in the morning, you could see our footprints on the floor in the dust. Haboobs can be terrible, but they also come with some perks. The airport was closed several times for relatively long periods and even when it was open, there was much less traffic than usual. Also as the winds are now coming from the North and planes take off into the wind, it is much less noisy than when it's the other way around. The temperatures also dropped considerably, we barely hit 35 degrees during the day instead of 46 or 47.

We are currently planning our holidays and the flights we'll need to get where we want to go. So far it looks like hubs will have to take the two kids on his own to Canada and I'll have to bring them back on my own to Switzerland, due to various courses and trainings we both need to attend in different parts of the world. We WILL have some family holiday time all together, but probably less than two weeks. So far it looks like this. Me: KRT-AMS-GVA-AMS-YYC-AMS-GVA-AMS-KRT. Hubs: KRT-AMS-YYC-DFW-ICT-DFW-YYC-AMS-KRT. The kids will travel with one or the other, depending on which one of us is available at that point. The only saving grace in here are the airmiles that we'll be collecting...