Thursday, December 18, 2008


I'm supposed to leave the office at 10:00 to go home and get ready to leave. It's 10:01. What am I doing blogging?

Just wanted to say we're off today! Got the visa, tickets, and passports, and we're pretty much all packed. We booked a hotel in London but otherwise we're flying by the seat of our pants once we get there!

Should be a pretty fun trip - about 8 friends (that we know of so far) are on the same flight to Nairobi, so we're all going to celebrate once we reach the airport there. The 7-hour layover will fly by!

OK, have to leave NOW!

Monday, December 15, 2008

At last our week of holiday madness is over. We hosted one dinner, two parties, a brunch, and attended two holiday parties. All in 6 days! We are beat now. But also feeling strangely smug and Martha Stewart-like.

On Friday we hosted the office Christmas party at our house. We had about 30 people – staff, their spouses, and their babies. It was great to have all the little kids running around. Fortunately we didn’t have to cook – caterers supplied the food – but the house was trashed afterwards.

The highlight for the day, for me at least, was the first annual staff awards ceremony. Our team came up with categories, then we all got to vote on our picks for such important awards as “Most Punctual” and “Best Laugh.”

And I won this:

As my acceptance speech, I would like to recognize all those who implied I was a bit dingy, perhaps even an airhead. And all those who made dumb blonde jokes while snickering pointedly in my direction. To my husband, who frequently accuses me of laziness (usually while slouching on the couch watching TV). To you, I say:

In your face.

I would also like to point out that you can learn a valuable lesson from this. If you want results from me, throw in some opportunity for financial gain. An incentive, if you will. Want me to remember your birthday? 20 bucks, please. Want me to clean the house? Give me a promotion. Want me to not lose your plane tickets? Promise me a place to live. Oh, dang it. Miriam did that, and I still lost her tickets. Sorry.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Almost everything is sorted now

There's this amazing thing that happens when I complain - the problem goes away! It's like when I'm having trouble with my computer for hours (or more often days) and then I finally give in and call IT, and the minute their car rolls in, the problem resolves itself. I should complain more often. Why haven't I figured this out before?

So yesterday I finally got a response from the man in Kenya who issues the airline tickets. We got the ticket numbers and had the Kenya Airways office here print us out the confirmation. Unfortunately all the bulkhead seats (with the bassinets for babies) are taken now, so it means we'll probably be crammed into some middle seats with a 20-pound child squeezed on top of us for the whole flight. What's really aggravating is that it's always some healthy, 30-something man sitting in the bulkhead seats. Yes, they might be tall, but I have an extra person. Who do you think needs the room more?

Jorge's visa came back quickly - just one week processing time - so perhaps my UK passport isn't useless after all.

Now we just need our passports.

Oh, did I not mention that we don't have our passports? My Malawian residency permit was finally approved a week ago, so I took our passports to the office so they could be processed at Immigration. However, our administrator has yet to travel to Blantyre to do this. But since everything else has worked out OK so far, I am just going to assume that, oh, a few hours before we depart Malawi, I'll finally have everything together for the trip. No use worrying, right?

In other news, Milo is officially crawling. His break-dancing days are over for now, sadly. He also stands up in his crib and screams to be taken out. Not a cute development. And this morning he decided to get up at 4:30. When we finally brought him to our bed at 5:30 out of exhaustion, he peed on our sheets. Jorge as been calling him "turd blossom" ever since.

Today is also our staff Christmas party. I offered to host it at my house. There will be about 30 people, and we already have 120 soft drinks and 50 chairs. That's a Malawian party for you. But I think it will be really fun; I'm sure I'll have stories for you next week.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nothing ever works here the way it is supposed to. Take buying a plane ticket, for example. You go to the website, find the flights you want, pay with a credit card, they take your money, and presto! E-ticket!

Well, in Africa, you go to the website, find the flights you want, pay with a credit card, they take your money, and….and….um, still waiting here….

Yeah, no tickets.

Even though our credit card was charged by Kenya Airways two weeks ago. Jorge has been to the Kenya Airways office 3 times, we have called the Lilongwe Airport, and we have even called the head office in Nairobi. The reservation is confirmed, but there are no tickets associated with it. I don’t quite understand this. And apparently the people at the Kenya Airways offices can’t do anything about it, because the ticket was bought online.

I really don’t need this stress right now.

Jorge thinks it’s no big deal. They took our money, we have the reservation, he says. They have to give us the tickets.

Only this is Africa. They don’t have to do anything.

Once, while traveling with my family, I did a really stupid, Gwynnie thing and lost my plane ticket from Kenya to the U.S. (And my sister’s. She shouldn’t have let me hold it in the first place). We got to the airport 12 hours before the flight was to leave, and started trying to get the ticket reissued. The British Airways person in Nairobi said this would be no problem at all. “I just need to get authorization from the head office.”

Fastforward 11 hours and we have no time left – we need to board the flight. No one in London had answered the phone in all that time. The British Airways person tells us sorry – she can see that we have tickets, and that we have reserved seats, but she can’t let us board the plane. My dad, bless his heart, finally had to whip out the Visa and buy us new tickets, so that we paid twice for the same seats. They eventually re-funded his money, but the lesson was learnt.

In Africa, just because they take your money, it doesn’t mean you get the tickets. We are a little stressed here, folks. Let’s hope it all works out.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Malawian funeral

I attended Jane’s funeral on Friday. I came in to work, soberly dressed, expecting to be out of the office for a few hours, then back in time to finish off a few things before the weekend.

I really should have known better.

About an hour before we were to leave I was given a little lesson on what to expect. First, I would need a chitenje, to wrap around my waist like a skirt. Also, I should expect it to take the whole day.

We headed to my house to collect the chitenje, then drove to Jane’s family home. I was told to stick close to the side of Lucy, the only other female staff going to the funeral from my office, and she would let me know what to do. I was very nervous at that point, afraid that I was going to commit some horrible gaffe that would shame the office.

When we arrived at 10 AM there was already a big crowd, and it just grew throughout the day. The men and women separated, and Lucy and I took seats on the floor inside the house, where women were singing, and several people were crying inconsolably. The music was lovely and sad.

We moved outside shortly after, to allow more room for close family members. Then we sat. And sat. And sat. For almost two hours I sat on the ground by the front patio, shifting to try and find a comfortable position. Finally, as though at some invidible sign, everyone stood. The body was brought into the house, and more keening and wailing erupted from inside. A woman kept yelling “Amayi, amayi” – woman, or mother, in Chichewa, as though she was yelling at Jane to come back. It was a bit startling sometimes, coming as I do from a tradition of quiet, respectful, stiff-upper-lip mourning.

At that point I snuck home to feed Milo. When I got back to the house, everyone had moved outside. I took a seat on the ground, and the Malawian women made space for me in the shade. We sat for another two hours. An MC was addressing the crowds – men on one side of the street, women on the other. He announced the names of every person who had donated money for the funeral, down to 15 cents. Then there were speakers, from the family, from our office, from the local political party.

Finally, the speeches were finished, and we made our way to the cemetery. We had only moved a few feet when we were accosted by a group of young men wanting a lift. We told them we are not allowed to transport people in the truck bed, but they all piled in the back anyway, shouting abuse.

At the cemetery, there was more sitting in the dirt. By then I had figured out that the chitenje was for keeping your clothes clean, not modesty. First, there were prayers, then the men began covering the coffin. It was quite moving – each man would work for a short while, and then another man would come and take over, each of them taking their turn. The MC then called individual family members to come and pay their respects. There were a few dozen staff members from my organization, and we all came together to lay roses on Jane’s grave, which ended up completely covered in flowers. It was a touching farewell to a much-loved member of staff.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It just keeps coming

Bad news, that is. Yesterday one of my colleagues, the Transport Manager, died. She was in her late 30s and had been ill for some time with a severe respiratory infection. We will all go to the funeral tomorrow.

This has been a bad couple of months for the organization I work for. First, our former Assistant Country Director died in a car accident. A few weeks after that, our new Assistant Country Director developed a brain hemhorrage and had to be flown to South Africa. He is recovering, thankfully, but still has a long way to go. Shortly after that, the Country Director of the Zambia program died of a heart attack.

Then it got even worse - the brother of my colleague (and friend, and former boss) was killed in a fire-bombing attack in South Africa, more of the violence that has been occuring against immigrants in that country. The wife died a few days later from the burns, leaving a young daughter orphaned.

And of course Jorge did his damnedest to continue the trend, but luckily for me, he is made of Teflon.

Very sad, indeed. I hope things start to turn around in the next year.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Lots of random things

We had a nice Thansgiving weekend. Of course, I had to work on Thanksgiving, and out of town to boot, but I made it back to Lilongwe in time to go to a friend's for dinner. Then on Saturday we made dinner ourselves - two turkeys, plenty of stuffing, and 5 desserts. For about 18 people. We were stuffed.

Our holiday plans are finally set! We are going to Jolly Olde England! Well, at least Milo and I are. Jorge has to see if his visa comes through in time.

The visa application for the U.K. is ridiculous and insane. I have British citizenship, through my dad, and Jorge is a permanent resident of the U.S. So you would think it would be pretty straightforward for him to travel to England, right? No way. We had to fill out a 20-PAGE application and submitted even more pages of supporting documents. Dang limeys.

Jorge is doing OK. His back is hurting him more and more lately, so this week he is off to see an orthopedic specialist.

I volunteered my house today for the annual work Christmas party. I'm not sure what I was thinking.

Milo demonstrated a new talent this weekend. After he woke from him afternoon nap, we found him in his crib, naked, his diaper pulled off and lying beside him. I guess he takes after his mama - I was a nudist baby too.