Friday, September 28, 2007

A very serious conundrum...


The British have a nice tradition of having tea around 4pm every day and this is something that I've decided to adopt since being here. It sort of perks up the afternoon - especially afternoons when it's grey and chucking it down with rain like this one. However, I usually go about making tea without thinking too much whether there is milk in the house. So, when it turns out that there isn't what is one supposed to do? The tea is ready and hot and if I go out in the rain to get milk it will be cold when I return. Am I supposed to just drink the tea without milk? It's slightly bitter and not so nice then. These are the sorts of dilemmas that only one source I know can deal with...the internet. I turn to Google for the answers. Google, not letting me down, tells me that milk in the tea can block the health gains of drinking tea in the first place. Google finds that George Orwell thought that tea should be bitter. And lastly, Google finds that my bloodflow is improved by foregoing the milk. Ahh, I shouldn't have worried and brought my conundrum to Google in the first place.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

So sad!

“It’s over,” I announced glumly to a friend arriving home late last night.

“Kels,” she said sympathetically. “He’s a communist. Don’t let him break your heart.”

“He’s a communist. I’m a Republican,” I added, sullen.

She shook her head. “It was never meant to be.”

And it wasn’t. My love affair with Ken Livingstone is over. But, I have to admit it was beautiful while it lasted.

Sure, some would have said that it was doomed from the beginning. He’s the 62-year-old Mayor of London. I am a thirty-something, middle-class American. He made a name for himself by defying Margaret Thatcher at every turn. I happen to think that Ronald Reagan was a fairly decent guy. But, you see…Ken Livingstone made the buses run on time and that’s enough to make any girl weak in the knees.

London’s a pretty decent city. In fact, I think it might be the best city on earth. I mean, I heart New York with the best of them and DC, Chicago, and LA are all pretty darn great in their own regards. I have a soft spot for both Moscow and Paris. I wouldn’t shirk the opportunity to pass through Bangkok, Toronto, Nairobi or Singapore again. But, London is…well…London. And Ken Livingstone made London work. No, I should rephrase that. He made the buses run on time which disguised the fact that the city doesn’t, in fact, work long enough for me to fall in love with it.

For those of you who don’t know London well let me tell you that one of the greatest aspects of the place is that public transport is functional. By that, I mean, it transports the public. (I don’t have very high expectations of public transport, obviously). It gets masses of people from here to there and from there to here and that’s all it’s meant to do. I do not expect it to be comfortable, to be convenient, to be timely or affordable. If it is any of those things that’s a plus but not be expected in your ordinary day. Anything designed to provide a service for several million people is doomed to be slow and inefficient – at best. Just look at the U.S. government.

But Ken, not being dissuaded, introduced a plan that gives free public transport to the elderly, handicapped and children. He reduced transport charges for those on low incomes. He introduced a charge for people who drive into London during the day which cleared the streets of congestion so that buses weren’t getting stuck. He insisted that Londoners use a sort of debit travel card called Oyster so that people could get on buses quickly and keep them moving. It was a beautiful thing. It was, in a comparison that I’m sure he would dislike, Rudy-Guliani-esque.

Some friends thought my love would wane when striking Tube workers shut the underground down for three days. Nothing doing. I stood at a bus stop in central London trying to complete a journey that normally took 40 minutes but that day took 2 ½ hours. “What do you think of Ken now?” a friend asked. I shook my fist and said, “Let ‘em strike! We don’t need them! Ken’ll take care of everything and in the meantime we’ll take the bus!” And by “we” I meant me and the rest of London who were probably less enamored with the situation than I was. But I stood by my man.

I stood by him until tonight when, the situation became intolerable – coming home from work the trains were all delayed. I was annoyed but chose to overlook this. Love requires some give and take, after all. But then, I had to wait 40 minutes for a bus. 40 minutes! My commute took me nearly two hours and there was no strike to blame it on. Someone needed to bear responsibility and that person was Ken.

In the grander scheme of things, people have broken off relationships for reasons less trivial than a 40 minute wait for the bus so I feel somewhat justified. Ken, obviously sensing the cooling of my ardor, sent me the paper, ‘The Londoner’ today which announced that the London bus fare has now been reduced by about 20 cents per journey. I softened a bit but my resolve remains. He’s simply going to have to try harder to win me back.

“You hear that Ken? I want Bus #1 running on time!!”

Monday, September 17, 2007

How to survive...

I bet the 'How to Survive' books have overlooked these crucial skills!

How to survive a robot uprising. Seriously. I actually learned something.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Doing the math...

Being a person who likes to be busy...perpetually I was slightly shocked to discover that my new job description is a bit - how-shall-we-say - lacking in this regard.

It begins with detailing the main purposes of my job wherein I was surprised to find that I am, apparently: an experienced and highly skilled writer, and then goes on to list my key duties and responsibilities (media, documentation, institutional learning, etc.) with a percentage of time that each will take up listed beside it. However, despite having redone the math a number of times, I couldn't manage to make the percentages add up to 100%. While that was unnerving I began to be excited about all the ways I could fill the rest of my time. Realizing that it was late, I put the thing aside until this morning when I had a crack at it again. Suddenly, I saw where I had gone wrong - having missed an entire section that was 40% of my JD.

Malesh for me. I guess my 'laying around on the beaches' and 'reading trash fiction' is going back down to 0%. And this is why the general public should be glad that I work with words and not with numbers.

Monday, September 10, 2007

One post a month...not bad!

Well, for those of you who have grown as bored with my comings-and-goings as I have you're in luck! I've gotten a job. Yes, no more waiting a month or more for a new entry the blog will be back up and running as soon as I ship out. Which, looks like it will be in early October. So, what exactly is the scoop? Read on...

I'll be going to Meulaboh, Indonesia which is located along the western coast of the Aceh province that was the worst affected by the 2004 tsunami. Map. I'll be the Communication's Officer which means I'll be helping to write up internal documents as well as dealing with the media/local government as the programme closes. It's a six month gig and a welcome change from Darfur. Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world and Aceh is under Shari'a law but the government there is...how-shall-we-say...less pervasive than in Sudan. Also a welcome change.

The tsunami response programme I will be working on will be closing after over two years of helping the Indonesian people rebuild their communities and lives. It is also the same programme that I went out to help with immediately after the tsunami in 2005 so I will get to work with some of the same people I got to know then.

Do let me know if you intend to be in Southeast Asia at any point over the next few months as I'd love to have visitors!