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Sunday, 30 October 2005

Aretha Franklin Junior

I just knew she was trouble the moment she boarded the bus, about 30 seconds before it was due to pull off. Her face was set to 'attack', her handbag clutched tightly to her bosoms. She wanted a row. The woman's enormous frame blocked out the light in the doorway, and she struggled to make it down the aisle. The yelling began.

"THAT'S MY NUMBER! THAT'S MY NUMBER BOSS! THAT'S MY NUMBER!" The shouts were directed at The Husband; we were sitting half way down the bus. As a woman I am studiously ignored in this country. If we are together, all greetings are directed at my hubby. In this instance I was glad of the fact. I curled up in a sniggering ball as The Husband began to get fretful.

While on holiday we had needed to take a coach from Livingstone back up to the capital Lusaka. Tickets are best purchased in advance as seats fill up quickly. We decided to try a new coach company, mainly because their departure time would allow us to eat breakfast first. On approaching the ticket booth a seating plan was presented with a flourish. We were able to choose our seat numbers, which were then written on our tickets. This was highly unusual. In general, it is a total bunfight to get on board any kind of public transport here and seat allocation is unheard of.

Sure enough, on the day of departure we boarded the bus only to find some other people in our seats, and everyone just squishing in any old how. We suggested that our seat occupants switch, but they refused, so we just shrugged and sat somewhere else. Thinking nothing of it, until The Giantess stepped on.

Her yelling increased in volume as her girth approached. "THAT'S MY NUMBER BOSS, THAT'S MY NUMBER!" In another setting it could have been an Aretha Franklin gig. Everyone on board turned to stare at us. Some of them opened their bags of food and settled in to watch the entertainment. The Husband lost no time in agreeing that we were indeed in her allocated seat, but that the gentlemen in ours refused to move. People ducked as she swung around yelling for the conductor. I tried very hard to hide the fact that I was laughing so much, in case she hit me. The conductor lost no time in bounding aboard to sort us all out. We explained that we were happy to give up our seats to the Fearsome Lady, but could he please get the two guys to vacate ours to avoid any more incidents? A sharp smack to the back of the heads of the offending gentlemen and the issue was resolved. They began punching each other as they made their way to a different seat. The Giantess seemed taken aback that we'd agreed to the swap, and carried on muttering and yelling loudly about her 'number'.

A slight man at the front of the bus popped up out of his seat like a meerkat. "You! You you you! You talk too much! Give it a rest."
He popped back down again. A ripple of laughter spread its honey tones throughout the bus.

Friday, 28 October 2005

Why Are Things Crap?

Let's face it, this could be an ongoing series.

I like food. I like it a lot. I'm not snobbish about food, I'll eat anything. Anything as long as it is actually food, is prepared properly and has never been mentioned even in passing by Anthony Squirrel Pompom. Is it too much to ask?

The Husband and I had a particularly bad run of Food Related Incidents on holiday. On our first night in Some Town we excitedly ran to the Indian Restaurant on the main street. Mmm, Indian food yummy. Distressingly, the temperature inside the restaurant seemed to be many degrees higher than the boiling heat outside. We paused in the doorway, wavering. It was a tough choice. Would we go for lovely curry, with the possibility of an embarrassing falling-over from heat exhaustion, or would it be fried chicken on another premises which had a bit more air? Curry won out.

The Husband paused again on the cracked lino, causing me to bump into him and almost suffocate. "Um, is this right?" He found the round brown lady sitting in the plastic box upsetting.
"Yes!" I said, marching him in. I have experience of people sitting in plastic boxes.

There appeared to be a sort of takeaway section at the front, which was milling with people, but a sign for the restaurant pointed towards the back. A waitress ambled over and we were waved through an entanglement of candy coloured plastic strips dangling from a doorway. It didn't take long to realise that we were the only people in there. I beckoned to the waitress and asked her what the difference was between the front of this place and the back, as it suddenly seemed rather lonely in the 'restaurant' and more fun in the takeaway section.

"Here is for executives."

The Husband began sniggering into his menu. I tried to kick him under the table, but on placing my feet beneath my chair they had immediately glued themselves to some sticky mass on the lino.

"Thank you. We just need a minute to look at the menus."

We ordered some poppadums to begin with. You can't go wrong with a poppadum, right? Huh, wrong.

Now, I've eaten in a lot of Indian restaurants. But chewy poppadums seem to be an Indo-Zambian specialty. Cooked in 500 year old recycled oil, they clag to your teeth and the roof of your mouth, rendering your facial movements akin to those of a 99-year old care home resident with ill-fitting dentures. The 'dums don't come with chutneys or raita either. Oh no. To accompany the chewy 'dums we get.....ketchup. Ketchup which is weeping crustily out of a filthy plastic bottle. A bottle whose rim is a bug graveyard. It is very much highly unpleasant.

We start to play a game called 'What Would Gordon Ramsay Say?' but quickly have to abandon it as soon as it becomes evident that Gordo would probably have to resort to immolation.

I have ordered a butter chicken dish and a pea-based vegetable curry for my main course, but after the poppadums I am nervous about my decision. My skittishness is not helped by the 27 ½ fans on the go in the room, which are doing nothing to assuage the heat, and everything to reinforce my decapitation nightmares.

Seasons come and go as we wait for the waitress to return; dehydration begins to set in. At least the sweat puddle which has formed underneath me has loosened my feet from their gluey grave.

The closest wall-mounted fan to me begins to make a frightening racket. I shuffle around to the other side of the table. The waitress immediately appears and is confused because I am not sitting where I was. I understand her dilemma. After all, it is very hard to do your job properly when ALL TWO of your customers insist on switching places.

We order more drinks and mildly enquire as to when the main courses might appear? The waitress looks puzzled, and stares at her pad. I lean over to look at it. She hasn't written down our full order. They are not right this minute cooking our food in the kitchen, oh no. A glance at our watches indicates that it is past the witching hour and therefore too late to try another venue. We are trapped. I repeat our order and watch her write it down.

I smell my chicken dish long before I see it, and I try not to gag into the one tiny see-through paper napkin at my disposal. A bowl of oil with bits bobbing in it is plonked down before me in a precarious manner. At first I wonder if it is a dish of floating candles, but no, I am expected to eat it. The thing is though, Butter Chicken is supposed to be cooked in butter, not boiled to death in the cheapest and most rancid margarine you can scam on the black market. The dish containing the alleged pea-based curry is also placed in front of me. I can count three round green things, no less, no more. I am very sad, and think to myself, Why are things crap? I would probably be cross but I am incapacitated by the heat. They are very clever, these restaurant people.

In comparison to the vomfest which is residing on my plates, The Husband's biriyani is Not Too Bad Considering, so I pick at that. Quickly.

On the way out we pass our cash to the round brown lady in the plastic box. I bet she eats real butter.

Thursday, 27 October 2005

Interesting

The most eloquent and expressive person around here is man who can neither hear nor speak.

One of my colleagues seems to have lost his glasses; he is squinting away trying to work. However, in removing them he has dropped age from 50s to 30s.

The aliens may be coming. Three of my female colleagues have twisted their hair into spikes sticking away from their heads. Perhaps they are trying to pick up a signal. Another one has shaved her head and eyebrows entirely; maybe she is the leader.

Tuesday, 25 October 2005

Attack Of The Killer Bees

The office has been taken over by bees!!!

It's highly inconvenient but also quite funny. Well, funny as long as I don't get stung and swell up like a swollen thing. I think about all the offices I've ever worked in and hated, and how I'd like to go back in time and shut them down with a bee invasion. All those places with fluorescent strip lights, no air, hideous co-workers. The smell of dirty carpet and farts in the lift, cracked and dirty cups in the sink and pigeons shitting on the windowsill, freer in their filth than the pigeon-toed nutters inside. Immutable desks, back-breaking chairs, all possessed by the African Killer Bee. That tickles.

Water is heavy. I stumble carrying a full bucket into the wash-house. I catch myself before I fall, but still I project a possible future, of smashing my knee open on the step, a magic bandage to stick it closed, no hospitals open, bad stitching when it comes, a wonky leg. A scar on the front of my knee to match the one on the back – flesh gouged out to remove a poisonous spider bite. I should be afraid of spiders but I'm not. I fear rabies and snakes. And, sometimes, bees. It seems to be the time of year for the Camel Spider to breed, they are everywhere. The Husband thinks he has been told by someone that they are vicious, with a poisonous bite. They are funny, in any event. The kind of spider you would see on acid. They streak across the floor like Road Runner, and when we see one we shriek and raise our legs in the air. They are big. Like stretched out tarantulas, toffee-coloured furballs. When I Google the Camel Spider though, I find these creatures are not in fact poisonous or dangerous to humans; this is a myth perpetrated by US soldiers serving in Iraq. That figures.

It feels like a day to day existence right now, a wait-and-see life. Bobbing in a boat of normality in a sea of anarchy. When will we capsize? The first five service stations we try in town have no fuel. The sixth says they might have a delivery at midday. That means physical fights to get in the queue, and a wait of up to six hours. These days the temperature is hitting 40 degrees C. We pull off. Miraculously the seventh station has petrol and allows us to fill our jerrycan. The seventh station. Like the Stations of the Cross. The ATM is working. It often takes the money from my account without spewing the physical cash out of the wall. Sometimes you don't get all the cash, the flimsy paper chewed in the jaws of the mechanical monster. Money is worth so little I take out a million kwacha at a time. You don’t need a wallet, you need a backpack. Often the ATM doesn't work at all; it's a gamble, sticking in that piece of plastic.

They have Doritos and Heat magazine in the supermarket. I am made. They also have a bottle of wine I used to drink on the beach back home. We don’t usually buy wine, the 250% Random Tax on it makes even the cheapest vinegar beyond our means. For some reason this bottle is not so many kwacha. I drink it later; it is waves, pebbles, illicit barbeques and much-missed friends.

I have a secret. I am a fan of conspiracy theories. Hell, why not? But it's quite whacked to be privy to one for real. I know something about this fuel crisis, information which has come from the top. I bet the papers would love it, but I'm not telling. I have a secret.

I Have Arrived, Fo' Shizzle

Andre made me a picture. Ha ha. I bet you are all jealous. Here it is, all for me:



It is the attention to detail I love, ie the fact that there is no water in the swimming pool.

If you have never read Andre's blog you should hop over there and take a look, he is very funny and very talented and apparently has great hair. These things are important.

Thursday, 20 October 2005

Monsters

I'm not supposed to be blogging or webbing for the rest of this month. The bandwidth monster has been and eaten our allocation; THEY are threatening to cut off my only contact with the outside world.

I haven't felt much like blogging anyway.

I'm hungry. I think I may be having a panic attack. There is no petrol again. So we can go to town and get food with our spare can, but then have no petrol here to get us in the next time. I feel like I went to sleep and then woke up in Zimbabwe or somewhere.

I wonder if Andre would draw me a picture? The words are kind of lacking right now.

Friday, 14 October 2005

Babymama

I love this picture. That Community Midwife looks like she's all set to have a giggling fit. This one is for all five hundred brazilian of my mates who are sprogging at the moment - enjoy the ultrascans. Here they check that the baby is ok with some kind of ear horn....

So the ambulance managed to get out and about to do outreach. I don't know where they got the fuel. A convoy of trucks coming in from Tanzania with fuel for the country was given a police escort, but strangely the fuel 'disappeared' before getting to its destination.

When there is fuel in the country you can actually buy it anywhere along the road. The tanker drivers stop and siphon off fuel to some 'entrepreneurs' in the bush who then sell it on. It's probably not the best idea to buy this stuff, because not only is it illegal but who knows what they put in it. But then, the fuel at the service stations must be watered down, because despite siphoning off fuel along the way, the tanker drivers still have to arrive at their destination with the requisite number of litres.

You can tell which guys along the roadside are selling this illegal fuel because they stand there madly waving their arms and swinging empty cooking oil drums. At night-time they light huge fires to attract attention. What's interesting is that if you pull off to buy this fuel, you more often than not come to a traditional village with round mudbrick and thatch huts, and right in the middle will be The Fuel Man's house - made of cement, with crenellations, a huge satellite dish perched on the roof, everything painted in gaudy colours. What most impresses me is their ability to source coloured paint. It seems like the only paint colours available in Zambia are blue and black. I also wonder what this country would do if they didn't have any cooking oil drums. Everyone uses them, mostly for carrying water, but often for fuel as well.

I suspect the cats have been Out Doing Evil. In my path this morning was my chum the bright blue gecko. Except he's not blue anymore, on account of being dead an' all. He actually looked like one of those rubber toys, except for the bloodstains and the gouged-out eyes. I tell The Husband that something bad has happened.

"You mean the dead gecko? Yeah I saw that this morning."
"Those cats are so mean. They get fed. They're not supposed to kill geckos or birds or the things with the furry tails. Just mice and rats and bats."
"How do you know it was the cats? I think he fell out of the tree and died."
Yeah. Right. Of course he did. The tree he's been climbing his whole life. Absolutely, he just fell clean out of there and hacked his own eyes out on the way down.

Wednesday, 12 October 2005

H20

It is so hot. I need to bathe at least every hour. No water came out of the tap this morning, just trails of weed. I smell like turnip.

Tuesday, 11 October 2005

Update

So there was some petrol, but not lots. Enough food to keep us going, but hardly any vegetables. Scurvy approaches. At the first service station we tried, the pump attendant refused to fill our spare jerrycan. I can understand putting a limit per person so that people aren't stockpiling the fuel and going mental, but one 20 litre can for one vehicle hardly seems excessive. Johnson, who is normally chill personified, shouted at the attendant. "What, you think we all live in towns? How are we supposed to get fuel?" At the next service station they are not bothered; they're filling a lot of cans.

But it's doubtful the ambulance and clinic crew will be doing outreach work this week as the ministry has been unable to deliver their fuel supplies.

The Husband has just come from a very depressing meeting with the Community HIV/AIDS counsellors. So many women walking miles to the tarmac every day to work as prostitutes to the truck drivers. They have no way of earning income and not enough food. The women have been left widowed, gaggles of orphans piled into their small houses. AIDS is not just a disease which could be cured if people cared enough; it's a situation. I have no real desire to debate the issue of prostitution, but it seems to me like it should be a choice, and when it's not that's a problem. And what of the truck drivers? Adding to the problem, or helping the women out with money? Using condoms? Doubtful. Our Food Programme already covers a massive amount of people, but it's never enough.

Another senior manager here is about to be sacked for corruption.

I just read a geographical magazine, full of photographs of landfills. Beeyoodifull.

There is a possiblity of house-sitting for some people in town who are going abroad for a while. It's tempting - they have satellite TV and a swimming pool. Not to mention electricity and running water, aircon etc. I think they may even have a washing machine.

An Irishman has won the Booker. Hurrah.

A parcel has arrived full of books and chocolate. I am going to go bury my head in the sand. I may be some time.

Wednesday, 5 October 2005

Bugger

Our order for cement for our current construction work (wells, creche extension and health centres) has been declined - no fuel, no deliveries. It's about six weeks until the rains start and you can't build in the rain. Which will probably mean a year's delay for all these things. Thinking about it I'm not sure there's any point in going to town - with no fuel there will have been no delivery of physical cash to the ATMs anyway. Nor will there be food in the shops most likely. Hmmm. Somebody said caterpillars are tasty...

Tuesday, 4 October 2005

State of Muppetry

How do you know when an African country is really in trouble? When there's no Coca-Cola to be had anywhere. If those guys can't get the deliveries in, something's screwed.

I am Concerned now with a capital C. I'm hoping it doesn't develop into full-blown paranoia. We're almost entirely out of food, and re-stocking will necessitate the 3-hour round trip to town. I can't even grin and bear it and live on Nsima, having just had to throw out two sacks of maize meal which were wriggling off the shelf of their own accord.

The whole country is YET AGAIN completely out of fuel. We have an emergency can of petrol, which would get us in and out of town to buy food, which is obviously necessary. But if we use the emergency fuel in that way, we have no way of replacing it right now. This is not funny when you live in the bush which is full of snakes and rabid wildlife and other Dangerous Things which might constitute a Medical Emergency.

It is an hour and a half's drive to the nearest hospital, or, five and a half day's limping if you have no fuel. The options seem to be (1) use the fuel to go fetch food and risk being stuck in the bush with no fuel and possibly dying some hideous death by attack of the monster locust, (2) Starve, safe in the knowledge that at least we have fuel to get to hospital if necessary.

Planning ahead is a waste of time here. As with the fuel, we try to have emergency cash, for the times when the ATM doesn't work. Thing is, it rarely works, so the emergency cash gets used up. As with the so-called emergency fuel. There are rumours of planned riots in Lusaka this weekend. What fun ho! Somebody somewhere needs to sort this stuff out. Me, I am signing up to become a biodiesel producer.

And for your amusement, below is a little test for anyone who is thinking of working in development:

Test: You are required to help your colleague resize some digital photos, which are only available on her hard drive, and email them to the UK office. Your colleague's computer is running Windup 88. It does not have email. The floppy disk drive is broken. Where there should be a CD-Rom drive is a gaping hole. It will take a memory stick, but no other computer in the office will. Some of the other computers have CD drives which work, some have floppy drives which work. No machine is fully functional. Two of the computers are randomly networked. There is only one printer. There is a portable CD drive which works sometimes. One of the computers which is connected to the internet has no email system set up on it. The only computer with email and internet is password protected and the person who uses it is not in the office. You have 30 minutes in which to complete this task. This is not a Rubix Cube.

I need booze...

Sunday, 2 October 2005

Avauntular?

Why is there no female version of the word 'Avuncular'? At least, I can't find one. Is there one? If not, why not? Tsk, it gets so tiresome having to invent new words all the time.

Also, would people please stop dying. The funereal drums are giving me head pains.