Friday, February 23, 2007

Civilization, here I come!

It's my last day in the office for almost two weeks. Tomorrow morning, I will be on my way, via a long, circuitous route, of course, to Ireland!

Our headquarters is in Dublin, and I was supposed to go when I first started this job back in September. But since I was already working in Malawi at the time, it was decided I would go once I was settled in a bit. So 6 months later, I'm finally off to the land of Guiness, Yeats, U2, and the Shamrock Shake! (You must click that link, by the way. Worth it.)

Everything is just about sorted here. I've started packing, borrowed a warm jacket, picked up my meals allowance, and I just got my ticket in my hot little hand!

While I'm away, my house is going to become a B&B for two of the bigshots who work in our head office. So naturally I've locked up all the good booze. I mean, come on - they're Irish. I would lock up all the beer too, but I'm too lazy to carry it up the stairs, so I will just have to accept a certain amount of loss.

I will spend a week in Dublin, then get my semi-annual CT scans to make sure I'm still cancer-free, then I pop off to London for two nights. I was hoping to spend the weekend there visiting my old roommate from Eritrea, but the appointment is Monday in Dublin, alas, so I'll have very little time in the U.K.

My plans are to:
  • Go on a pub tour in Dublin. History should always come with alcohol.
  • Hit a pub on "trad night" for music
  • Eat obscene quantities of cheese
  • Shop at H&M
  • See cousins and friends
  • Go to Neal's Yeard Dairy to bring home even more cheese
  • A movie would be a treat as well
And you'll still be hearing from me - the hotel has free wireless internet. Man, I love the developed world.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pictures from Mardi Gras

Well, I have some rotten luck. Around about 4 o'clock on the day of my very first party in Malawi, a huge storm hit Lilongwe. I had to pick up a few last items, so I dashed for the car after work, getting soaked. Then when I got home I found that the power was out. Well, that's not unusual here, so I went off to the store, decorated the king cake, and showered while there was still a bit of light left. Then I noticed that all the neighbors had power - it was only my house that was out. Tried the fusebox - there was a short in the system.

So I went over to my neighbor's house, and they were nice enough to let me use their stove to cook the rice and beans. Just as the food was almost finished, the power in the whole city went down.

Fortunately I have a lot of candles, and a good long battery life on my computer.

We still had a good time, though, and the candlelight was actually a nice touch. A lot of people couldn't make it, though, due to trees down in their neighborhoods and the bad weather. Well, I'll just have to have another Mardi Gras party when Jorge gets back!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mardi Gras!!!!


I miss New Orleans - this is my 2nd Mardi Gras away from the city. It's worse even than missing Christmas (which I have done, in Sudan, so I should know.)

Since it's just wrong to drink alone on Mardi Gras, I've invited just about everyone I know over tonight to keep me and the last bottle of SoCo company.

We'll be having King Cake of course, along with red beans and rice and Natchitoches meat pies. I even managed to find some masks at the "Santa Plaza" store here (which is open all year-round, and has the strangest assortment of totally unconnected items, like forks, children's toys, and enormous polyester underwear.)

By the way, if you have ever considered making King Cake, and are insane enough to think it can be done by hand (after all, what did the old Creole chefs do back before Kitchenaid?), just put down the wooden spoon and back away. Imagine trying to incorporate a cup of butter into a giant ball of well-chewed bubble gum. And then go order it online.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

My incredible, determined husband

First of all, I have to say that Jorge, my husband, will hate that I write about him here, with his name and photo and everything. He has a paranoia that someone wills steal his photo from the web, doctor it in unseemly ways, and post it on some sort of sexploitation website (oops, I hope I haven’t given you any ideas...)

But it’s time again for the husband-brag. He’s amazing. Jorge took up running not long after I became sick with Lymphoma. Along with his brother, he joined the Team in Training and (with help from my savvy fundraising skills, naturally) raised about $5,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. He ran his first marathon in San Francisco just 6 days before our wedding.

Since then, he’s become a Runner. He is most committed when he has some goal to reach, such as the 50-mile ultra-marathon he ran in November 2005, even though his training was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina. Last year he ran the Mardi Gras Marathon in 3 hours and 36 minutes. On Sunday he ran his 4th marathon, in Birmingham, in a speedy 3:29. I am exceedingly proud of him.

And I always think he looks hot in his race pictures. So here you go, deviants – Photoshop away!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

I'm so sick of healthcare expenses

Grr. Just aggravated today, and need to vent. For the last couple of years - ever since I was diagnosed with Lymphoma - Jorge and I have spent thousands of dollars on healthcare each year. Copays, premiums, uncovered expenses. It's a real burden.

Before I took my current job I made it very clear that I would not work here unless the insurance covered medical expenses related to my prior illness. It took a few weeks, but finally I was told that the insurer would cover those expenses. On my very first day on the job, I discussed this with the operations manager, and was told that in these cases, they normally fly you to South Africa to have any kind of specialty care done, but that it wouldn't be a problem.

So I'm supposed to get CT scans every 6-12 months. In a week I'll be going to Ireland for a week for work, so I asked if I could have the tests done there - since they have better facilities and I wouldn't have to take time off work.

So first off, they tell me it would be too difficult to get the tests arranged in Ireland. When I complained to the new operations manager, he took it straight to them, and they found a place where I could have the tests done. But now they're saying their insurance won't cover it, because they won't cover any check-ups or preventive healthcare, except for pre-departure immunizations, etc! What good is the insurance then, if you can only get care after you've become ill, rather than preventing it in the first place!

Anyway, I hope the office here will honor what they told me on my first day, and foot the bill. I am so tired of having to pay out of my own pocket, when I could actually be saving these insurance companies hundreds of thousands of dollars by identifying problems early on.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

lonely little me.

Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you get some action.

I, of course, will not be getting lucky on this holiday o’ love. Although it seems that Jorge and I must have spent numerous Valentine’s Days apart, I can actually only remember one other time when we were separated, just before I left for Ghana. This will be the second.

Well, we never do much anyway. We made a big(ish) deal of it during the first 2 years we were together. Jorge, bless his heart, was so young, and knew so little about me, that he actually gave me a stuffed animal on our first Valentine’s Day. And a balloon. I think he must have stolen them from his baby niece. The older and more sophisticated Jorge sticks with flowers and good food now.

The picture is from another Valentine's Day party - with my very own homemade valentine.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Godfrey is Back!

My housekeeper, Godfrey, has been out sick for two weeks. Fear not – my floors did not go unmopped, my bed unmade. Another housekeeper, who is waiting for a colleague to settle into his new home, filled in. But it just wasn’t the same.

Godfrey, who I think should be re-named Godsend, does a great job of keeping Jorge entertained during the day. One evening I came home to find out that the two of them had spent a good part of the day throwing peanuts into the air and seeing how many the could catch with their mouths. (Jorge won, by 8 peanuts).

So Godfrey started work again on Monday, and when I got home that day I could tell just how desperately boring it must be without Jorge around. Every surface in the house had been cleaned, and every little knick-knack neatly sorted. My pantry is organized by food type. Even my bobby pins were in a tidy little pile.

So today I asked him to cook, which, I think, is his favorite part of an otherwise tedious job. When I got home, I had a note that said “The Shepherd’s Pie is in the warmer, and the mangoes are in the fridge.” (Just take a moment to savor that…)

I know most of you have never had this experience, so let me just tell you, so there is no confusion: The only thing better than coming home to a spotless house, a set table, and a warm, delicious dinner, is having your good-looking spouse there, preferably handing you a fresh-squeezed margarita. Life just doesn’t get better. Unless there’s a cheese course involved somewhere as well.

Monday, February 12, 2007


I had a nice weekend this week.

Friday night started out well - Jameson's whisky and "The Karate Kid 2". Kind of a dangerous combination actually. I almost re-developed the enormous crush I had on Ralph Macchio when I was 9.

Saturday, I was rather proud of myself, because I ran errands. I used to be quite adept at it, back in the days before I had a housekeeper (Godfrey) and personal assistant (my husband). But running errands in Africa is so much more complicated than popping over to the Target and back. You have to make a separate stop for just about everything, and there's never any guarantee that what you need will still be in stock once you get there. (For example, not one store had regular flour this week. I'm expecting bread riots any day now.)

That evening, my friend Matt (a.k.a. Movie Matt, whose blog is listed here) had a pre-Valentine's Day party. I considered wearing all black in protest for being alone yet again on Valentine's Day, but instead I donned some festive pink and danced the night away to such classics as "Doin' the Butt", "Push It", and "Take on Me". Good times.

Yesterday I slept in, then did some work that I've been putting off for a couple weeks. Then it was back to Matt's for a big-screen viewing of "The Fellowship of the Rings," in its 4-hour, editor's cut version. It should be called "Lord, that's a Long Movie...of the Rings".

Friday, February 9, 2007

What a disappointment.

No bugs for lunch.

And I was so looking forward to it.

Lillian had a very busy night last night, and wasn't able to prepare them for me. Well, maybe next week.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Well, that ought to teach me to keep my big mouth shut

I went to Mangochi District yesterday for a meeting, and drove back this morning. On the way down, I noticed a lot of people standing by the side of the road, holding out baskets of small, dark items to sell to passers-by. I thought, "ooh, perhaps berries?"

So on the trip back up, I asked my colleagues what was in the baskets. They said, "Oh, would you like to try?" And before I could say another word, we had pulled over by the side of the road and were checking out the merchandise.

I'm sure I don't need to tell you, but it wasn't berries. It was insects. Boiled termites, to be exact. About the size of potato-bugs. My coworkers bought a bag each, and they are going to prepare them for me so I can have them for lunch tomorrow.

Great. I just had to ask, huh?

I'll be sure to let you know how they taste. I'm thinking oily and crunchy. With an earthy sort of flavor.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Lucky me!

I have a strange relationship with luck. I would never consider myself a lucky person. I can wipe out an entire blackjack table in 4 hands. Luck likes to knock me around sometimes, then comes right back and picks me up, as if to let me know who's in charge. Everytime something bad happens, some good fortune will come along to alleviate the situation. For example:
  • I got cancer while unemployed with no health insurance (OK, extreme example). BUT, it was the cancer with the highest cure rate, and I ended up getting free health care through the Louisiana Charity system after a friend at Tulane Hospital stepped in for me.
  • Our house got flooded in Hurricane Katrina. BUT, we only got 2 feet, because the levee breached on the other side of the canal. We got quick FEMA aid, and the landlord fixed the whole place up for us within 3 months.
  • The US immigration service lost Jorge's green card. Twice. BUT, it finally came, 9 months late, on the day before we evacuated New Orleans and stopped getting mail for 6 months.
I could name other examples, but you get the picture.

So anyway, small example today:

Over the weekend, I went to the ATM with my new bankcard, which I've only used once. Silly me, I forgot the PIN number. After a couple of efforts, beep beep beep, oops, there went my card.

Now, given that it took about 2 months for the bank to give me the ATM card in the first place, I was a bit worried about how long it would take to get another. So today I went in to the bank and explained my situation. I filled out the form for the replacement card, and when the woman assisting me looked at the application, she said, "Oh, but we already have a card for you." They dug through the unclaimed cards, and it turns out there's been an ATM card sitting at the bank for 2 months, waiting for us to pick it up. I got my PIN number 10 minutes later, and now I'm all set.

So today was a lucky day. I hope that means I'm going to win my Super Bowl bet!

Friday, February 2, 2007

Jorge finally had his day in court

OK, the title of this post is a bit misleading. Jorge has apparently had several days in court during his lifetime. He gets a kick out of it, I think.

But he's never been to African court. Now that's something else entirely.

There's something about my husband that just antagonizes people in authority, especially his bosses and the police. Since he has no boss here (just me!), his only worry is the Malawi PD.

In the mornings here, scores of police get dropped off in strategic locations throughout the city, to stop cars and check for violations. You can get a ticket for a number of things, but they're all fairly reasonable - not wearing a seatbelt, not having insurance, or not having a valid driver's license. If the police see Jorge, they have to stop him. It's like an impulse they just can't resist. On several occasions he has been stopped while driving to the grocery store on a quick errand, then stopped by the exact same officer on his return - 15 minutes later.

He has learned to schedule his activities around the cops. They take their lunches from about 11:30 to 1:30, so that's when he ventures out onto the road.

One day a few weeks ago, Jorge made a terrible mistake. He saw our housekeeper, who was heading home for the day, on the road near our house. He stopped briefly to ask the guy a few questions. The police pounced.

Not surprisingly, it's illegal to stop in the middle of the road here. Jorge was told he would be getting a ticket and would have to pay a fine. The only problem? The police here don't actually carry tickets. You have to escort the officer in your own car to the police station to get your ticket.

However, Jorge's offense seemed to be so bad that they insisted they would have to impound his car. My guess is that this is code word for "Give me some money and I won't take your car." Unfazed, Jorge left his car parked in the middle of the road, handed the officer a key that opens the doors but won't actually start the ignition, and prepared to walk home. His bluff called, the policeman relented and let Jorge drive home, but was very adamant on one point: Jorge must attend court the following day. All of the officers stressed what grave peril Jorge would be in should he fail to turn up.

So Jorge drove down to the court the next day. He explained to the secretary why he was there, and she had him take a seat. An hour later or so, one of the officers he had spoken with walked by. He was very surprised to see Jorge. The officer went to tell the judge that there was someone to see him. The judge said that Jorge could go home. And at the end of all this, the officer told Jorge "We just wanted to see if you would actually turn up."

So there you go. Justice.