Sunday, December 30, 2007

Not a morning person...

As anyone close to me can tell you that I am not a morning person. This is nothing interesting. There are a lot of people who aren't morning people. But, when I say that I am not a morning person I mean that I cannot function in the morning. I cannot speak coherently. I cannot pretend that I am in a good mood. I cannot pretend that I like my job, the world, or you. The people I love the most just leave me alone. They don't speak to me; they suppress their own chipperness; they might hand me a cup of coffee. I love those people.

Anyway, this morning was a good example of the extent to which I am not a morning person. It was about 5am. The mullahs were mullah-ing the morning prayers. I hear a crash. I can't tell if it's downstairs or upstairs. Eyes still closed I think foggy thoughts about what it could be. Something falling off a table, the guard slamming the garage door, etc. And then I get that feeling. If you're lucky you've never had that feeling. The feeling that something alive is either standing over you or under the bed, it turned out in this case...hanging from your mosquito net. I open my eyes slowly and there, six inches from my face, is a rat hanging spread-eagle from the outside (thankfully) of my mossy net. I'm staring through my one open eye at his fuzzy white stomach.

There are a number of reactions that any normal person would have at this point - screaming and throwing things comes to mind. However, none of these things pops into my morning brain. I can't even think of what to yell. So, barely lifting my head off the pillow, I manage to choke out, 'go away!'

Shockingly, this seems to do the trick. (I think he was on his way out anyway and just using my mossy net as a ladder to the window). The crash turned out to be the annoying creature knocking over my water bottle and spilling water. Now, I know that I should be disturbed that while I sleep rats are traipsing around my room....but, you know, I haven't had enough coffee yet.


The sun is sinking into another perfect sunset here on the edge of everywhere. And I am waiting, pacing up and down the office because all of the boys are not back from the field. I am pacing because I cannot lock up the office and go home myself until they have returned. I am pacing because I cannot shake that leftover feeling from Darfur that when people are late then something is wrong. It's crazy, I know. There's no war here. There's not going to be a problem. The cement delivery was just late. That's all.

But still...I am pacing.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

My favourite word...

I have a favourite word in every language in which I have lived for any significant period of time. I might not know the rest of the language but there is always one word that sticks with me.

In French, it is: malheureusement (meaning, unfortunately). Unfortunately, I used it so much in my French essays in secondary school my teacher said I could only use it once per essay. Too bad. It took up nearly an entire line, of the two-page requirement, when written in script.

In Russian, it is: ksazhelyenyu (also unfortunately). Don't worry, it's not a trend.

In Arabic, it is: malesh (meaning, 'I'm sorry' or 'too bad').

In Chinese, it is: xie xie (meaning, 'thank you'...primarily because I never got very far in those Mandarin lessons, but also because I like the szh...sound. It's fun. I'm easily entertained).

In English, it is: taradiddle (meaning, 'pretentious nonsense').

The problem is I never did find a good Indonesian word. Our Logistics Manager loves saying, '20,000'. It doesn't do anything for me. In the seven months I have spent in Indoesia no word has latched on to me. Until today when we were visiting a construction site.

We have these little rented pickups that were hauling sand around and there was some trouble about how many of them had been hired. My translator couldn't find the word for pickup so just called them by their Indonesian name, eltigga ratoos. How can you not love those words? I couldn't stop repeating it all day - much to the shagrin of the translator and driver who had to spend 4 hours in the car with me.

Eltigga ratoos. C'mon, say it with me. You know you want to.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Stalking the doughnut man....

The doughnut men are elusive creatures. At about 6am they hit the streets; honking (tooting...whatever!) old bicycle horns and generally making their presence known. They are usually small-ish, wiry men who carry two heavy glass cases filled with doughnuts on either side of a pole that sits on their shoulder. They speed walk up and down the streets hawking their wares. At about 6am, if I am in bed, I loathe the doughnut men. I hear go up our street, down the side street, and then make their rounds on the street opposite. I'm convinced they are in league with the mosques to disturb my sleep. (The first lone Mullah begins his prayer call at 4:30. He goes on for about half an hour until joined by all the other Mullahs who don't end until 5:30) Half hour of blissful peace and quiet and then the doughnut men are out.

But this morning, as I follow my mother's management advice (1. guilt; 2. bribery; 3. blackmail; 4. extortion; 5. begging), I reach point 2: bribery and so I need doughnuts for the staff meeting at 8am.

At 6am I jump out of bed as I hear them surrounding the house. I try to make myself Shari'a law presentable and run out of the house...but the gate is locked...and the guards is nowhere to be found. I have to hunt him down and get him to open the gate and when I peak out - guess what? They're gone. I don't mean down the street but I can still hear them. No, they have evaporated.

Defeated, but not deterred I grab my stuff, lock up the house and hit the streets. I'm trolling around Meulaboh in an NGO car stalking the doughnut man. I feel like someone should be filming for a National Geographic film special. Nothing.

After about three neighbourhoods I decide to roll down my windows and troll very slowly hoping to hear, instead of see, one of them. My diligence is rewarded. Just as I drive by one road I hear the quarry coming down a small dirt lane. (And when I say small I mean, very down which I'm not entirely sure I can navigate a vehicle...[see post on ditches]...and there's no one in Meulaboh to bail me out if I get stuck. Doughnuts vs. getting stuck in a ditch. The call of bribery is too strong so I navigate a four point turn and head down the lane. Alas, the doughnut man has completely disappeared.

Driving slowly enough I eventually see him come out of an even smaller dirt lane and I promptly make his day by buying about half of his doughnuts. While doing this I consider the implications of my actions. Staff being happy little workers [short term gain] vs. encouraging the early-morning doughnut industry [long term pain]. As I leave with my 40 doughnuts I'm still not sure I've made the right choice.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Ok, so I find 'those' types of people annoying. You know: 'them'.

The ones who spend most of their blog time/space putting up photos of their children, or their neighbour's children. Or their brother's children. Well, let me reassure you that I am not becoming one of 'those' people. However, check out this picture of my nephew, Caden Jack. My brother disavows knowledge of how he got into this outfit and the picture got taken.

Then again, maybe it's a slippery slope. Maybe my nephew is going to find himself, inexplicably, in cute outfits for the rest of his life. Maybe this blog is going to become nothing but adorable pictures. Let's hope not. For all our sakes.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Something I wrote recently....

Well, sorta wrote..mostly. Until our media department edited it. But you get the idea. On relief web:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The ditches I've known....

Meulaboh sits at sea level and gets, approximately, 10 feet of rain a year. As you can imagine drainage is an important and fairly tricky issue here. Even with drainage ditches the whole city frequently floods with knee-deep murky water in which lurk alligators, monitor lizards, and a miscellany of other moving creatures. (You might not believe me but just this morning our livelihood team was shown a 15 foot python that the community had caught in the recent flooding.) It's not the sort of place where you want to mistakenly drive into a ditch.

But we do. All the time. Many of the roads here are built so narrowly that it is impossible for two cars to pass without one of them ending up in one of the 3 foot deep ditches that line every road. In many places you cannot make a right or left turn without making, at least, a two point turn.

We got a call at about midnight on Friday that yet another staff person had been driving home and the left front wheel was now spinning freely in a ditch as the vehicle rested on it's axle. It was pouring rain and everyone sprung into action. I will say this about humanitarian aid workers: we might not be very good at normal, boring everyday life...but give us an emergency and there's no one else you'd want there. (I do find it unfortunate that the normal, boring, and everyday is what makes up so much of life, but that's another story.) How five people can lift a car out of a ditch I have no idea. But once we were there everyone just knew what to do. Kenneth, Greg, and Nicole pulled down on the back end. Darren lifted from the front. I drove. A minute later we were out, the tire and axle were inspected and deemed driveable and we were all home ten minutes later.

But it did make me think more about the ditches. I'm convinced that there are two types of people in life. Those who end up in ditches and those who don't. I like to think that I'm part of the latter category but have had so many near scrapes this past week I'm afraid I might have to rethink that. I spent a harrowing ten minutes on Saturday negotiating a truck full of Community Health Staff out of a narrow alley, backwards, between two very dodgy ditches. I just returned from dropping some friends off and had to do a ten point turn to get out of their road. Maybe I'm losing my skill or maybe my luck's wearing thin. Is it simply a matter of time until I end up in a ditch as well?

White Elephant Gift Haven...

As the Christmas season descends on us so comes one of the best traditions of all time – the White Elephant Gift Exchange. I love these exchanges because, in a way, it mocks everything that consumerism has, well, consumed of the goodness of Christmas. White Elephant gifts are everything that Christmas presents aren’t ‘supposed’ to be: impractical, ugly, and cheap. But in the gift exchange the important thing is the game, the giving, the interaction that friends have while cajoling, arguing, and negotiating their way into possession of a magenta, crystal candilabre that they would normally cross the street to avoid. It’s great fun.

It is because of this that I took great delight in finding the White Elephant Gift Haven. That might not be that ‘actual’ name of the store but it should be. I don’t know the name of the store but if you ever find yourself in Meulaboh, Indonesia go down Natsional until the road splits in a round-a-bout. Go left and it’s about the third store on your right next to Hollywood Photo. You won’t regret it.

Let me first tell you the gifts that we didn’t buy for the gift exchange. We did not buy a stuffed animal head toilet paper holder. We did not buy the exact miniature replica of a real grocery cart. We did not buy a big, stuffed Christmas tree pillow, glass fruit, a large orangie-yellow teddy bear holding a red lace heart, nor a plastic light-up frame that flashed pictures of Mecca. We did not buy an enormous bouquet of neon flowers, a plastic clock that shows Indonesians praying, nor the most hideously iridescent pink and blue vases too small to hold flowers.

I had a hard time passing up the ‘phone bed’ which was a pastel taffeta and lace box that your landline phone could sit in with the matching receiver decoration but we eventually did settle on:
1) A wind-up, cuddly mouse
2) An aqua blue, metal, unicorn wind chime
3) A Watermelon-head-Hello-Kitty Door Dangly

I would like to say that these were the highlight of the gift exchange but, alas, they were not. They were beaten, hands down, by a gift that I initially unwrapped and then promptly lost. Once out of the wrapping the box read: Cattle World. And, inside, was a small toy water buffalo that, when turned, on walked and moo-ed, and shot sparkly red lights out of it’s eyes. It was like the demon water buffalo from Hades. It promptly had a show down with the wind-up mouse. The mouse lost. I loved it. I lost it and ended up with fireworks…sparklers. The kind we had when we were kids before someone with enough sense decided that maybe these should be illegal considering how flammable California is generally and how many children end up with burns in hospitals specifically.

After we had sorted the gifts we all danced to the Stones singing 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' at the top of our lungs. And, water buffalo or no, watermelon-head-Hello-Kitty door dangly or no, everyone went home happy and that is the point.

'You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need.'

Monday, December 10, 2007

The brief and frightening reign...continued...

My long-time readers will remember my 'brief and frightening reign' in Nyala. [see deluxe wall calendar at left]. Well, good news! The Brief and Frightening Reign Part Duex is on the way.

Now, new readers might be wondering what this 'brief and frightening reign' business is all about. Let me explain. No, no, it is too much. Let me sum up. Whenever I get left alone in charge of all other departments with no other authority or support it qualifies as the above-stated reign.

Since I'm going to be here by myself over Christmas and New Year the second era of the reign will begin. While I was dubbed Queen of Nyala for the first reign I will be called Czarina of Meulaboh for the second. In honour of this our livelihood advisor just sent me the following Get Fuzzy cartoon.

Or, you can see it here a bit better.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Very bad news indeed...

I just got some grave news in which I know that you will share my interest and concern.

I have just been told that our cleaners AND our cooks will be in training all week. Meaning that we have to clean up after ourselves AND cook our own food. I seriously don't know if I can make it. You think I'm kidding but I'm not. I don't know how to work the washing machine. I haven't made my bed in months...nay, years. And don't even get me started about the cooking.

What to do? What to do?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

I'm not a good singer....

But, neither am I a good person which is why I'll carry on writing this blog. Now, just like anyone who doesn't have kids can tell you how to parent. I can tell you how to sing. No, I take that back. I can't tell you how to sing but I can tell you when someone can't sing. It's more like recognizing one of your own. And there are some people out there who can simply not key, hasten to add. They seem to do just fine in getting a hold of the microphone and belting it out but they miss the key part.

I'm a little bitter because I just got home from a Sunday School Christmas concert here. There were kids. They were cute. They were singing - and sometimes even in key. But, it also went on for a very, very long time. When we arrived half an hour late, to a room roughly the temperature of an industrial oven, they still hadn't begun and that should have been an indication that this was going to last for awhile.

Looking through the program it appeared that there were four sections each of which contained 1) speeches 2) songs 3) dancing 4) poems. It started looking like a long evening. So we (and by 'we' I mean 'me') started a little pool to guess how long each section was going to last - the loser had to buy us a beer with dinner.

Getting the paper a colleague turned around aghast, "Let me get this straight. You're gambling...for church!?"

I hadn't thought about it that way so had to consider it for a moment. I couldn't think of any direct commandments that forbade any of the above. "Yeah, pretty much," I shrugged.

The programme started, the off-key singing that was mildly amusing at first became annoying after hour two. When the choir director grabbed the microphone and announced, "and now our children would like to sing, 'Forever.'' All I could hear was the line from 'Sandlot' echoing in my head. 'F-O-R-E-V-E-R.'

I sorta faded in and out after that. There was an impromptu sermon that had something to do with planes crashing. There was something about song where 'angels in the choir' had been translated 'angels in the carrots'...but I wasn't really paying attention. The only thing that could snap me to was off-key singing. And there was plenty of that left.

As we headed into hour three we snuck out so we could never actually say who won the bet which was fine with me given that I hadn't said it would go on for much over 2 1/2 hours.

Now, you probably think I've had my daily fill of off-key singing...but no, I'm always up for more. So, imagine my delight when I discovered that my friend Erin has posted what could possibly be the worst version of 'O Holy Night' ever (evaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar!). I simply had to share it with you. Read, follow her rules, and listen. You'll thank me.

Hear those sleigh bells jingling...

What do latrines and Christmas have in common?

Oh, nothing. Except that for Christmas this year I'm going to be building them. Yep, that's right. Me and a bunch of construction guys will be staying in Indonesia over Christmas and New Year to build latrines and houses. I've tried to make all the other programme people feel guilty for leaving by saying helpful things like, 'how can you celebrate Christmas with your families knowing that children have been without latrines for three years!?' But, it's pretty much to no avail. (I needn't mention how hard their hearts must be!)

So, over Christmas you can think of me, rattling around in a big, empty, echoey house singing 'Here Comes Santa Claus' at the top of my lungs. I also have a full box of candy canes to enjoy. Who could ask for anything more?

(I hesitate to mention that I will be accumulating holiday like it's going out of style and that I will then have a total of 20 days of vacation to spend in the new year. Good times. Bali? Jordan? Thailand? I might take some time out of my lone caroling to plan my escape.)