Friday, 31 August 2012

Friday night entertainment

They came for a visit. She asked for tea. I went to make it. She decided to go to the bathroom while waiting. She closed the door. She shouldn't have. I made the tea. She tried to open the door. She couldn't. They went to help. He got tools. They pried. They pushed. They dug. It would not give. They unscrewed. They pulled. They turned. They kicked. .... 30 minutes later... it opened. She came out. She had her tea. They giggled.

Not sure they will ever come back again.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

/ˈdʒetˌlæɡ/, /ˈkɒfi/, /ɪnˈsɒmniə/ and Jeremy Clarkson

It is 4.30am on Thursday morning. We have been in this time zone for eight days now and the darn jet lag just does not go away. I am kind of awake in the morning, cannot possibly keep my eyes open from 11am to 2pm, but then luckily by 5pm (which is 8am Canadian time) I am fully operational and ready to face whatever comes my way. And it stays that way until midnight, or 1am or 4am like today...

To be honest I was a bit dumb on this one. We had a guest last night and my husband prepared his famous espresso coffee to finish off our delicious meal. I found myself staring at the bottom of the cup before I fully realised how bad that idea was. And now six hours down the line I can fully confirm that it was indeed a very bad idea.

Once I have exhausted all the possible positions of trying to get comfy in bed, I strive to be creative to occupy my mind and exhaust it enough to let my tired body sleep. The kids' lunchboxes are all prepared in the fridge and I am up to date with all the latest gossip thanks to the Daily Mail. I drank quite a bit of water to dillute the caffeine, although admittedly it is a bit hopeless. I checked my emails and facebook. I also discovered that while "jet lag" is two words, "jetlagged" is one.

Now what?

Luckily when all else fails, I have my secret weapon against dark sleepless nights: The World According to Clarkson. I really enjoy Jeremy's style. Oh yes, he can be rude and rough and uncouth, but he is also totally original and hilarious and I love the way he writes. I still don't get any sleep, but at least I learn new words, new expressions and - most importantly - have a good giggle instead of feeling endlessly sorry for myself.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The bumps

Today as I was driving down our street, Zina declared: "They growed (sic) even bigger bumps!"

Cleaning sewers, Khartoum style
Indeed, they did. Our street has never been what you'd call "flat". It is a dirt road that gets reasonable traffic. On one end, we get all the deliveries for a big restaurant, as well as the neighbours' leaking water tank, while on the other we have a bunch of OCD-ridden people who believe that washing their six cars two times a day is an absolute necessity for their survival. Since the soaping and rinsing happen on the street, that end is flooded 24/7 even in the driest of the dry season. To boot it all, a big international organisation has their headquarters smack in the middle of our street, complete with a  fleet of 348 vehicles and an equal number of stray dogs.

So we have always had bumps. Once a year someone sends a grader and they shave the bumps off. Last time - and that was a while ago - this operation was such a success, that they managed to level the whole street to where it should have been in the first place, leaving the end-of-the-street car-washing lunatic unit with their parking spots about 80cm above street level. That was quite amusing until they started parking their cars on both sides of the street, making it nearly impossible to get through.

Also once a year some other people come and dig out the sewer that runs along the road, leaving everything that came out in the middle of the road, letting it slowly become part of it as the cars drive over it. I do wonder what any functioning public health department would have to say about that...

I guess the final blow to our street's surface was the exceptionally heavy rainy season that hit Khartoum this year. There have been no rains since we came home which makes me quite disappointed but no doubt provides relief to all the other inhabitants who have first seen dry land in the last two days.

Conclusion: yes, they did grow even bigger bumps. And mark my words, they won't get any smaller either.

Monday, 27 August 2012

You are dead to me

Now I don't usually get hyped up about music videos, but this one had me giggling the whole day. I like Train as some of their songs have been dedicated to me by various people and bring back good memories. So when I heard this on the radio the other day (in Canada right, because here we are singularly lacking stations playing anything else than Middle-Easterm "Habibi-central" music), I figured I might as well look it up on youtube.

The story line is simple: the singer gets ditched by the blonde girlfriend (as it happens) and instead of owning up to it, he comes up with various excuses to explain her sudden disappearance to his mates, thereby taking both denial and "you are dead to me" to brand new heights.

This five minute clip boasts a sunbed, a cement mixer, the Grim Reaper, a rabbi, a lion, a beheading, a mariachi band in the canned goods aisle, a pig foot, some tomatoes, a Katy Perry look-alike stealing the dead woman's shoes and ... drum roll... David Hasselhof who (much to everybody's relief) is neither running on the beach in his red swimming trunks, nor trying to sing.


And the look on Hasselhof at 4:06 is absolutely priceless.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Always look on the bright side of life

Being on holidays gives you time to think about the meaning of life and where we are and where we want to go and why we are here in the first place... You know, all these philosophical questions that people have been asking themselves since the dawn of times, never really coming up with an answer that would bring total satisfaction and explain all factors. So we keep asking. Or at least I do. And it made me stressed out and worried.

I mentioned this to one of my friends this morning (name withheld), and their answer was "Meaning of Life... Too deep for me. I just want sex and food... And the odd game of golf". I laughed, but it did make me think.

For a few days now I have been reading a book by Richard Wiseman called "Rip It Up". It explores the power of "doing as if", basically saying that emotions are created by our actions and not the other way around. So the quickest way to feel happier is to smile even if we don't feel like it to begin with.

Then I came across this, as millions have at the London Olympics closing ceremony. 

If life seems jolly rotten
There's something you've forgotten
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
When you're feeling in the dumps
Don't be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle -  that's the thing.

    And always look on the bright side of life...
    Always look on the light side of life...

How can you argue with that? It puts a grin on my face just listening to it. Talking about dancing, supposedly it is impossible to be sad while engaging in that activity. I guess this might be somewhat contested depending on who you happen to be dancing with, but in any case I am now determined to sign up for zumba classes which is the closest to dancing it will get here in Khartoum.

So I guess, at the end of the day it all boils down to taking it easy. One day at a time. Smile. Laugh. Be grateful for what you have. Do things for fun.

And a final piece of advice from Monty Python:

So remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,
'Cause there's bugger all down here on Earth. 

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Here again

I haven't been around for a while now. Haven't even checked on my blog or jotted down ideas. Just let it slip into oblivion. I didn't feel like it. I had no inspiration. I had other things to do and other things on my mind.

Then two days ago I logged in and looked at it. It is still grey with some orange highlights. It has words written by me a long time ago. Feels like eternity. It almost seems like they were penned by someone else. But unexpectedly from somewhere deep inside came the longing. The desire to be back here, to share thoughts and facts and feelings and emotions, to exorcise them by putting words onto them, to linger and let myself be immersed, to play with the language and polish it as I go. It was almost like feeling home sick.

So here I am again. No inspiration. No ideas. Not much writing skills. Just because I want to be here. I need to be here. It is my armchair by the fireplace on a cold rainy day, complete with blanket and hot coffee. A virtual home. Somewhere I belong.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Haboob season full-blast

Last night was our fourth haboob in four days. If you have been reading this blog, but still don't know what a haboob is, you need to turn to the Ultimate Source of All Knowledge and find it out for yourself. (Seriously, why did they name it "wiki"? It should have been usak...)

Haboobs are not really liked around here. To begin with, they are dusty. This is probably understating the obvious and by now some here will claim that I should have been born  British. The dust they carry is very fine and gets in through all the possible cracks. Their rapid penetration and coating of all available surfaces is greatly aided by gale-force winds that sound downright ghastly when blowing through air-coolers and air-conditioners.

So, you wake up in the morning and you can see your footprints on the floor. Then someone spills a glass of water and now you are dealing with mud all over the house. Everything you touch is covered in dust, even if you clearly remember having handled it the day before. The yard is an entangled mess of thick sand, fallen leaves and garbage blown in from the street. Everytime someone goes out, they bring some of this back in. It is not pretty. Not to mention that you get this constant sand taste in your mouth, even when you are not eating.

But despite it all, I enjoy it. First of all, because we have windows that actually close. Believe it or not, this is a rare feat here in Sudan. We do get the dust in, but it is localised to a few specific spots, such as the front door. And then obviously we get the dust that lingers in the air and that no one can avoid. But other than that, the effects of a proper haboob are not that visible in here.

Secondly, haboobs provide an interesting change of weather pattern. When you get 360 days of sunshine per year, with temperatures only varying by 25 degrees between the hottest and the coldest days, you do get bored out of your wits. At least I do. So haboobs cater to the same kind of fascination as a hail or thunderstorm back home, something uncontrollable and different.

Driving through a haboob is a bit like going through a very thick snowstorm or a fog accompanied by blowing winds. It is great fun, as long as you manage to keep safe. Also, haboobs make the temperatures drop, a little bit dampening the summer heat.

Four haboobs in four days. I feel for all those poor souls who spent these four days looking for a shelter from the winds and dust and then cleaning up the mess, only to get their efforts blown away by the next batch of sandy gales. I know that for 99% of people haboobs are a calamity. But there is still something in them that lifts up my spirits.

Monday, 21 May 2012


I am not what you'd call a "morning person". My hubs either, but he gives it  a better shot than me.

So, we have this task division thing for the morning when the kids must get ready, eat breakfast and head off to school by 7.15am. He does the breakfasting. He prepares bowls of cereal or toasts or eggs or I don't know what, since I am rarely present for this part of the proceedings.

As for me, I feel my way into the kitchen and prepare lunch boxes. They are usually lacking a bit of creativity, but it is wholesome and healthy food, so I reckon that it's not such a big deal to have cream cheese sandwiches three days in a row. Right?

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Habits and character

Tyron Edwards said "Thoughts lead on to purposes; purposes go forth in action; actions form habits; habits decide character; and character fixes our destiny."

To be honest, I had absolutely no clue who Tyron Edwards was until the Ultimate Source of All Knowledge (aka wikipedia) informed me that he was an American theologian from the 19th century who became famous(???) for compiling the "A Dictionary of Thoughts".

Now that we got this out of the way, let's get back to our subject here: the importance of habits. Now I am not a routine person. I mean, not naturally. Some BO (born organised) people just seem to get on with  life's intricacies seamlessly and without effort. Their house is clean, their mental to-do list completely ticked off every night (because obviously they don't *need* one on paper), their smart phone does not ring every five minutes to remind them of something and despite achieving more in 30 minutes than the rest of us would in two weeks, they are always impeccably turned out.

As mentioned, that ain't me, folks. I am more on the SHE (side-tracked home executive) side of life. I need checklists and things to tick and reminders and timers. I need to force myself to focus on one thing instead of multitasking 24/7. But I am trying. The Flylady was a great find a few years back and her ideas really help to keep things running. Cozi organises our family calendar, shopping list and meal plans and graciously makes them available on all our mobile devices. TripIt runs my travel schedule, keeps my booking references and reminds me of check-in times.

All this conscious effort seems to have paid off, as "very organised" (sic) was mentioned as one of my strengths in my last performance appraisal. Yip, that's me.

And now for the latest find: the Habitualist. (No relationship to The Mentalist, which is a TV show from what I hear.) Anyways, this new website lets you track the actions that will build your habits. You can decide at what frequency you want to do what and then track if you actually managed to get around to doing it.

You are probably wondering why the heck this is relevant here. Well, kind blog-reading masses, if it wasn't for the Habitualist, I would not be writing today. But you see, a few days ago I entered the habit of "blog every 2-4 days" and today it started flashing in red. So I just *had* to get it done. Therefore my character is in construction and soon you will see regular blog posts from me.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Leaving on a jet plane

In 24 hours, if all goes well, I will be on my way out of Sudan. Not to worry, I will be back in a few days, but I decided not to take my laptop with me, so probably no new posts will be forthcoming until my return.

Now, as my hubs will attest, my Samsung 900X3A and I have had this affair going for the last two months. It was love at first sight and we are inseparable on a normal day, much to the chagrin of my hubby. So taking the decision of leaving it behind was not an easy one and I still cringe everytime I think about it. But it is the right one for a number of reasons that I am not too keen to detail on an open website, so tomorrow evening I will put it away in its lovely black and pink sleeve and I will board that jet plane without it.

I just want to thank you all for taking the time to log into my blog. In these past three weeks, I've had over 650 pageviews from all over the world. Beside the usual suspects (UK, Sudan, USA...), I've also had some visits from more exotic places such as Hong Kong, Madagascar and Russia. I am really encouraged and humbled by your interest and all the positive feedback I've received.

Look after yourself and each other. I'll be back soon.


Monday, 23 April 2012


When I was learning to drive, my mother had two pieces of advice to offer:

1. Beware of drivers wearing a hat
2. Watch out when the biker's legs stop moving

While Khartoum is singularly lacking in cyclists, there is certainly no shortage of drivers wearing scarves, turbans and other various headgear. Heeding my Mom's counsel, my senses go on yellow alert as soon as I catch the sight of a covered head and it is rarely an overreaction. I don't know if it is related to being visually impaired when having something on your head or to the fact that headgear somehow puts you in your own little world, but hatted drivers tend to do crazy stuff. I mean CRRRAZYYYY...

Photo by Alistair Caldicott
Re advice number 2, as mentioned, we don't really need to worry about bicycles here. But the principle behind this still holds true: observe and expect the unexpected. After three years here, I can pick out the vehicles that will turn left from the far right lane with 99% probability or make my way down Africa road at an even speed while dodging U-turning amjads (taxis), stopping buses and randomly crossing pedestrians. The secret is an accute sense of observation, anticipation and pro-activity.

In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell exposes how our adaptative unconscious makes decisions rapidly, automatically and with very little information. Obviously, this doesn't just happen, it gets gradually developed through experience, training and knowledge, all of which we have had time to acquire fighting our way through town here for the last few years. The end result is an extremely streamlined decision-making process responding quickly, efficiently and effortlessly to whatever the traffic happens to throw at us. In layman's terms: we hit the gas and the brakes or turn the steering wheel without really having to think about it anymore, all the while holding a conversation or admiring the landscape, despite the fact that Khartoum traffic can be a terrifying sight to behold for any newcomers.

Now I must say that this talent of staying alive in Khartoum traffic is probably completely useless anywhere else in the word. It is based on a keen observation of local behaviours and practices that would be very different in another place. Let's face it, most of us are not apt anymore to drive in our own home countries. I know that I get lost with all the traffic signs in Europe, I just don't have the capacity to read them fast enough, even in areas where I know my way around.

But here in Khartoum, our adaptative unconscious holds the key to our survival.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Celebrations on Africa Road

Africa road is arguably the biggest road in town. It runs for about 6 or 7 km straight, along the west side of the airport and then down to southern Khartoum. It has two slow lanes to the South, then three fast lanes to the South, three fast lanes to the North and finally two slow lanes to the North. It totals 10 lanes separated by three islands running down the road. Its design is bordering on genius. To make a right or left hand turn, you need to go in the far left fast lane (you know the one that back home would be reserved for the *very fast* traffic), then make a U-turn into one of the three fast lanes going in the opposite direction, then drive down to the next hole in the island and make your way out into the slow lanes. All this obviously while cars are speeding around you in both directions at about 80-100 km/h.


This post was going to be about the traffic in Khartoum, but it just got "hijacked" by the news.

Africa road is right now the "Champs-Elysees" for a constant stream of honking and blinking cars and buses, with people hanging out of every possible window or sunroof, standing in the back of pickups, waving Sudanese or NCP flags, laughing, cheering and whistling.

It has just been announced that the Sudanese army liberated Heglig town. Earlier today we got the news that the South Sudan army was withdrawing from the Heglig area. What all this means, no one can tell just yet. But hopefully this is a first step towards peace.

I was going to post a picture of the celebrations, but my 10-year experience in Africa tells me that it is never a good idea to take photos of soldiers waving AK47s at the back of a pickup truck, no matter how happy they seem.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The secret to a long life

Let me tell you what I am dreaming about. Or rather, let me show you:

This is the High Line park in New York, built on a historic freight rail line. I have never been there, but trust me, if I lived anywhere near, this would be my favourite hang-out place.

Here in Khartoum we don't have anything like that. Not even close. Not even remotely similar. So when it comes to exercising, we have to use our imagination. Factor in the 40 degree heat and you'll need quite some brainstorming to come up with a plan. My previous attemps include (but are not limited to):

- sitting at home, blaming the weather and the dust and getting fat and out of shape
- yoga classes
- aerobics classes
- the Hash
- going running with my colleagues but I could never keep up with them, so that was short-lived
- more sitting at home feeling sorry for myself

Finally I zeroed in on the happily named Fit Yummy Mummy weightloss / exercise programme for busy moms. I also started horse riding back in September and nowadays I go twice a week, once for a lesson and then for a hack along the Nile on the weekend.

And my latest discovery is .... drum roll... the C25K programme. This cleverly designed running programme is based on intervals and is meant to get you from your couch to finish a 5 km run within 9 weeks. I am happy to report that I finished week 1 this morning and I am still alive, if barely...

I go running early in the morning (7.45am) to try and beat the heat. I get equipped with my sunglasses and iPod and off I go. The neighbourhood is slowly getting used to the crazy khawadja (foreigner) running down the dusty backroads. I still get stared at, but much less than the first day. The programme comes with awesome free soundtracks, totally mindless and studied to get you running at the right beat, I totally love it! And it is great to filter out any unwelcome comments from the peanut gallery.

But the one thing that really keeps me going is this gentleman just down on our street. He always wears a white jellabiya and he must be about 50 or 60 years old. I think he works as a guard for one of the houses. He doesn't speak English and my Arabic is limited, but everytime I run by, he gives me this huge toothless smile and a thumbs-up. How could I not feel motivated with such a cheer-on?

"The secret to a long and healthy life is to be stress-free. Be grateful for everything you have, stay away from people who are negative, stay smiling and keep running." Fauja Singh, 100 year old marathon runner

Monday, 16 April 2012

Of lumbago and horses

Half my household are having some issues today.

This is when he stands straight.
Last night hubs declared that he couldn't get off the couch. He then proceeded to miserably roll over and crash onto the floor. Once I picked myself up from laughing hysterically, a chair was produced and he set out to make his way from the couch to the bedroom, a considerable 10 meter distance, shuffling along with the chair step by step. Unfortunately a pee stop had to be scheduled in halfway and the floor of the bathroom is about two centimeters lower than the rest of the house. This provided us with a rather interesting logistical challenge, but I am proud to report that hubby finally made it to bed a mere 25 minutes after setting off from the couch. This morning he looked similary miserable, so we asked the physiotherapist to come and fix him up a bit. She reckoned that he will live which he contested loudly, but then agreed to stick a Tiger patch on his back and to suck it up.

In the afternoon Zina went for her special lunge riding lesson. She was doing alright except for being totally distracted by the birds and the shadows and the pony in the field and her own boots and what else... which resulted in her taking the "front exit" after a cantering session. There was a bit of howling and complaining, but she got back on, pulled herself together and started focusing on the horse and herself. David did the great job telling her to sit up and to look forward, resulting in a lovely rising trot and some proper canter.

... and after all these miseries, everyone was allowed a treat from Luxury: some ice cream for Zee and cookies for hubs. Now one is sleeping tight and the other one is lounging on the couch. I am not far behind the Zee, so hubs is on his own to make his way to bed tonight... I might need to come and pick him up from the sofa at 2am...

Saturday, 14 April 2012

The news here

"Archaeology is the search for fact... not truth. If it's truth you're looking for, Dr. Tyree's philosophy class is right down the hall." (Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade)

It is similar for the news. There is no such thing as "objective news". Even if provided with as much good intentions and intellectual honesty as possible, it is always biased by its author's perspectives and values. As a result, I am usually not too keen on posting about the local news.

So I waited to post about what is going on here, simply because no one really knows what *exactly* is going on. From what I hear, none of this really made *The News* in Europe or elsewhere. But it is very much part of our reality here right now, even though it has not directly impacted us so far.

In order to reduce that bias issue, I will list a few different potential sources of information. I would suggest you check them all out and make your own idea.

- BBC New Africa
- Al Jazeera, special Sudan
- Sudan Tribune
- Reuters Sudan

These sites provide RSS feeds that make it easier to follow the latest developments, just click on subscribe. (I think this works with most browsers)

- Sudan Tribune
- Reliefweb Sudan
- Reuters Sudan
- AlertNet Sudan

See that line on the map? The main issue here is that some people think it should be further up, while others think it should be further down.

Pray for peace.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Water in Khartoum

Dear Neighbours,

We could not help but notice that your water tank located on the top of your yellow building has an overflow issue.

Ever since we moved here almost two years ago, it would regularly flood the street. Thank God, a few months back the municipality decided to clean the sewage ditch that runs along our street. While I am not convinced that it did any good regarding the sewage issue, the resurfacing of the ditch means that now the water no longer flows into our yard but runs along the road instead. That is a great improvement, at least from our perspective.

While I do realise that the monthly flat rate of 50 pounds (about 10 USD) for water services does not necessarily provide a convincing financial incentive to install the necessary equipment preventing the overflow of your tank, I would like to kindly remind you that we happen to live in the middle of the desert where water is naturally scarce and therefore intrinsically valuable. Providing free street and carwash several times a week is arguably not the best way to use this precious resource.

However I must say that our tree planted along the above mentioned ditch looks healthy and strong and this is no doubt thanks to the copious amount of water that you so generously pour on its roots every week.

Best regards,
Your neighbours

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Zina and the horses

Our Zee loves horses. She liked them from the first time she met one and at the ripe age of two years, she made such a show about Elio being allowed to ride and not her, that Billy finally put her on a horse. She never looked back.

She usually rides once a week with six other children, Elio included. She looks forward to it every week and insists to ride "on her own" (without the groom leading the horse). Yesterday however, she was given the opportunity of an individual lesson. We explained to her that she needs to listen to Mr David, focus and control herself in order to control the horse.

She did amazingly well, picking up the rhythm of the rising trot and even cantering a few strides. David's only complaint was about the length of her legs: they are a bit too short yet...

Monday, 9 April 2012

Easter Sunday

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16

We celebrated Jesus' resurrection on Easter Sunday at sunrise sitting by the Nile, singing songs and listening to Bible texts. We are extremely privileged to be able to do this in a predominantly Muslim country and it is thanks to the Sudani people's welcoming and open spirit.

We then proceeded to host a wonderful Easter dinner, mixing all kinds of different traditions and culinary delights: coloured Easter eggs, chocolate eggs, roast lamb and apple crumble. And above all, sharing it with wonderful company.
"Rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you." 2 Cor 13:11

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Sid and Doudou

Let me introduce you to the two most well-travelled furry things in our household: Sid the cat and Doudou the... erm... doudou. These two together probably clocked more mileage in a few years than the average Swiss in a lifetime.

Sid came to us in Moramanga in Madagascar. Remember my previous comment about me saving random animals? Well, this one was actually brought home by my hubs. He was tiny, filthy beyond words, packed with fleas and very sickly. He got washed, deflea-ed and dewormed. By some miracle he survived all of the above and went on the become a big and fat cat. When we moved back to Switzerland, we arranged all the paperwork for him, including a microchip implant in his neck and brought him with us. He loved Switzerland from the first minute and spent his days out in the green fields, chasing whatever was slower than him. Then we packed him up again and moved him to Sudan. Well, let me tell you, he was NOT impressed. The looks thrown from under the bed said more loudly than words "I cannot believe you brought me BACK!" He is happy enough these days and spends his awake time hunting sparrows or fighting with streetcats.

Doudou was an ebay purchase. I should actually say doudouS in plural, since we have two of them. I thought it would be nice to have a stuffed animal for Zina and just in case one was lost or otherwise unavailable, a spare one would come in handy. Zina loved her (I am told it's a girl) from the first minute and we dragged Doudou 1 and 2 with us interchangeably wherever we travelled to. Then after about 3 years, finally Zina discovered that there was two of them. Now we have "Broken-Eye Doudou" and "The Other Doudou". Broken-Eye Doudou is by far the favourite but she can still be talked into accepting The Other Doudou if needed. The travel to Sharm El Sheikh in March was a turning point: she chose to bring another stuffed animal and both doudous were left behind. An absolute first.

Both Sid and Doudou are getting old now. Doudou went from a lovely bright yellow to a dirty greyish tinge, while Sid is over 7 years now  and has only six months left before he officially qualifies for the "Senior" catfood. He is also getting a bit senile and tends to pee everywhere he shouldn't, risking each day being thrown into the Nile by my furious hubs. I owe both of them a lot though. To Doudou for keeping Zina company and calming her fears anytime of the day or night. And to Sid for making any place we have lived in during these seven years feel like home. Thanks guys. Don't go just yet...

Friday, 6 April 2012

The generator and its buddies

Some people bring home abandoned puppies. That would be me and we are still trying to get rid of the last one we saved... ;) My hubs brings home abandoned stuff. For the longest time we had somebody's bike in our yard, then arrived the sand filter for the swimming pool (still standing on a tire beside the gate) and about two weeks ago this poor malfunctioning generator was deposited in front of our Coke fridge. It looked sad, dirty and badly in need of TLC. Notwithstanding with the prominent "Unserviceable" sticker apposed on it, it was diagnosed with an easily fixable "two-wires-switched" syndrome. So last night three guys sat down to it, convinced that a few drinks and some combined brainpower will get the thing running in no time flat. So they sat and they switched wires and sat and drank and switched other wires and sat again and you could feel the brain waves from 10 meters away. Then one of them left and the other two tried until past midnight. This morning at 10 I found Greg sitting beside it again, looking wearily at a makeshift wiring diagramme. He was dragged away kicking and screaming to help move someone's furniture but after lunch they resumed their respective positions to continue with the CPR. By the looks of it, it still has a long way to go. But as "success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration", sitting in 40 degrees heat for hours on end *must* ultimately produce a positive result. ... Right?

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Thursday night in Sudan

You know this great expression "Thank God it's Friday" or TGIF for short? Here in Sudan we say TGIT or "Thank God it's Thursday". Our weekend goes from Thursday night to Sunday morning when everyone goes back to school or work. About 18 months ago Vince was also granted the two-day weekend, so we can now enjoy two full days of rest together as a family.

Quadding on the hills near the Sixth Catarct
Now "rest" has a very relative meaning here. Last week Thursday we had some close friends over fixing the quad bikes and just generally hanging out. Friday morning we went for a trip to the Sixth Cataract and spent the day with 15 friends, relaxing, boating and riding the quads. Upon our return we picked up the kids from a birthday party where the nanny had taken them to and spent an hour chatting with the hosts. We put the kids to bed and headed out to a party, finally getting to bed around 2am. Saturday morning I went horse riding, then shopping. At 3pm we went over to a friend's house whose wife and kids were leaving Sudan and we celebrated the goodbye party until 10pm. Getting up for school on Sunday morning was a bit rough on everyone...

I must say, this is a quite typical weekend for us. Sometimes we get a little more time at home to chill out and do nothing, but not that often. As opposed to some people who like to start their weekend with a bang, I am usually very protective of my Thursday nights. We often have something low key such as dinner out with close friends, sundowners, movies or braai in our yard. This is also our potential special "Vin and me" alone time as the nanny always takes the kids for "pizza day" until about 9pm. Which reminds me, I need to go and pick them up soon.

Happy long weekend to all!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Khartoum climate

In most places talking about the weather provides an easily accessible and seemingly endless subject of conversation. The weather forecast is the most popular programme on many tv channels and it is widely discussed to what extent the actual weather happens to match the predictions. Strangers not knowing how to start a conversation will very probably go for some random comment about the current climatic conditions and this should give them a good 10 minutes of effortless thematic discourse.

Here, well, there is not much to talk about.

When we go abroad, people invariably ask us "How hot is it in Khartoum?" There is only one possible answer to that question: "Very." The monthly average high temperature never goes below 30 C, reaching 41 degrees in May and June and possibly peaking at 50 degrees certain days. It IS hot, no doubt. But it also only rains 16 days per year, meaning that the heat is extremely dry and as such bearable. Winds often blow, bringing us further relief from the soaring temperatures.

Here I don't need to peek out the window in the morning to decide what to wear. I don't need to carry an umbrella, gloves or a spare jacket. Technically, I don't even need to own any of these items. We get 3700 hours of glorious sunshine each year. That is over 10 hours per day on average. But it does get a bit boring. I do miss "weather". I get all excited when the winds pick up, the sky goes orange and a haboob covers the city, creating the illusion of fog made up of fine desert sand. When it rains, we undress the kids and send them out in the yard to run around naked, giggling and laughing.

Now it is April 4th and we have been spared the *real* heat so far. We have enjoyed very reasonable temperatures at day and cool nights. Our tap water was fresh in the morning and at night the kid's bathwater wasn't too hot for them to sit in. We might have a few more days of respite, but we know, the heat is inexorably coming.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Socializing is what we do

Some things just don't change. Re-reading some old posts here I realised how much mention there was of hanging out with friends, welcoming people and visiting them. Here in Sudan this is definitely *the* hobby that even the most recluse people tend to pick up after a while. What would cause such an enthusiasm to spend time with people whom we might have just met a few weeks back and possibly won't see much longer than a few months before we or they decide to relocate to another country? I am by no means a sociologist and haven't got the least bit of anthropological clue, but here are some ideas.(On a side note: I believe that an anthropologist would make far more interesting discoveries by studying the expatriate population in any given country than by burrying themselves in some obscure rainforest village.)

We don't have families or childhood friends here, instantly taking out 80% of our normal social interactions. Those who are working might enjoy spending time with their colleagues, like in any other place, except that 90% of the work force is made up of Sudanese people. Now don't get me wrong, Sudanese people are extremely welcoming and their kindness towards visitors knows no boundaries. But as opposed to us expats, they actually do have their childhood friends and families to hang out with, therefore leaving little time to spend on alien guests.(On a side note again, last week I had to visit the sublimly named "Aliens Affairs Office" in order to process my residency permit.)

Here we are, all of us alone in this big foreign country where we don't speak the language, where the rules of the game are totally different (not to mention, constantly changing) and where we know no one to rely upon. So we do what any other species in their right mind would do: we herd together. We organise dinners, braais (bbq for those who are still struggling with Afrikaans), team sport gatherings, running clubs, cruises on the Nile, church services, desert trips, charity fairs and group yoga lessons. We go for coffee during the day and before and after party drinks at night. We watch rugby and movies together. We go splash in someone's pool and eat cakes afterwards in the garden. We send our kids to playdates and birthday parties and welcome children in our house. We exchange phone numbers with people we have met for the first time and we call them up to come for dinner the week after.

Now I don't think there is anything exceptional to all this. All of these activities are undertaken all around the world and there isn't anything special about any of them. Except that we do this ALL THE TIME. This IS what we DO. If you look into our calendar, two nights at home a week with no other activity is considered exceptional. Sometimes it is only one night. Most often, it is none. Now, there is one trick though, you have to look at that calendar in retrospect. Activities here are rarely planned more than a few days or even a few hours in advance. A planned tv night might finish in a 10 people dinner party before you can even find the remote.

Wiki (the ultimate source of all knowledge) says that "the strongest selective pressure leading to herding rather than a solitary existence is protection against predators. It is generally believed that the most important protective factor is risk dilution - even if a predator attacks the herd, the risk for any individual that it will be the victim is greatly reduced." Not too sure what this says about our psychological disposition in this foreign land, but the fact remains: socializing is what we do and what keeps us sane.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Back to this other life

I haven't posted in exactly 2 and a half years. This was the time when I was employed by a humanitarian organisation here in Sudan and we were actively discouraged from posting opinions on a public website. Last summer my sister-in-law in Canada commented on how happy we all seem to be based on facebook updates. Well, this is what we DO put on facebook, right?

But now I am back and I won't even attempt to sum up what happened during this hiatus. I will just jump in where I am and we'll take it from here.

This morning I fiddled quite a long time with the layout. Not because I wanted it to be so sophisticated but simply because I totally forgot how to do what... So the simplest setting took about half an hour to find and another half an hour to apply.

Finding the right background was the major issue. I totally loved that raindrop background with the mountain behind it. I kept trying to change it, thinking that the layout should at least have some kind of link to the content. But I just loved it... In the end common sense prevailed and I used the scorched earth picture. Still not great, but getting there. You'll note that I did keep the orange font, vaguely recalling the colour of sand. I promise I will work on getting something a bit more suitable here in the coming weeks. Something with sunshine and sand and rocks and pyramids. Once I figure out how to reduce the size of a picture but not its dimensions.

This is day 2 of me being a "lady of leisure" as my husband keeps pointing it out. I still have a hard time getting used again to this life of no structure. I procrastinate and end up getting nothing done but taking up the whole day. I am sure some people here can relate... But I have some great ideas and plans and now it is just about getting my act together and start working on them.

Re-starting this blog is already progress. Many things happened that I wish I had been able to write down. I have never been great at journaling but (supposedly) I am relatively good at communicating, so I guess it just all boils down to some kind of discipline. I often think "man, this should be written down", so I am sure I will not run out of stories.

This will be loads of fun, just hang in there.