Friday, June 22, 2012

Back in the saddle

I'm writing today from Juba, South Sudan. I'm not sure what this brings me to in my "countries visited" count, but I'm pretty sure I'm now up into the 40s.

I was a bit anxious about coming here at first, with the news of recent clashes near the border and growing tensions with the North, but I've actually found it to be very quiet and calm. The only moment that made me a bit nervous was one day when I was sitting in the car in a busy trading center, and the driver wandered off to go to the market. The car ended up being surrounded by skinny, adolescent streetkids, some of whom were openly sniffing glue, which broke my heart. They peered into the car, wondering what their chances of snatching a purse might be, until the driver returned and chased them off.

I spent 9 days in our compound in a fairly remote region in the North of the country. Most of the esnior-level staff live in the same compound as the office, and it's amazing the investments that have gone into making the living arrangements comfortable enough to entice people to stay a couple years. There was reasonably fast internet, flushing toilets, and ceiling fans in the tukuls (huts, but really more like little thatched cottages) that even ran through the night.

Now, if only they could have gotten rid of the bugs and 100-degree temperatures, it would have been great.

Oh, and speaking of the bugs. I mean, the BUGS. Oy vey. I sometimes wonder how I managed to get myself into a career where exposure to enormous, creepy, insects is just a hazard of the job. There were beetles the size of my hand, quick little spiders that jumped, and flying termites that would land in your hair. I actually cut myself with my own fingernail trying to get a flying cockroach out of my hair one night. [shudder]. Using the bathroom was an exercise in efficiency, getting in and out before something could move and freak me out.

The Sudanese staff, on the other hand, were not bothered by the bugs - in fact, they were very excited about the emergence of the termites, and one night they collected buckets of them to make little crispy, fried, bug snacks.

I also had the misfortune pleasure of being introduced to the African version of American Idol, with contestants from across East Africa. I may have permanent ear damage. But on one lucky evening, they decided to put on a movie instead of the singing show, a Nigerian soap opera, or football. And let me just tell you that Jurassic Park is an awesome movie to start with, but until you've watched it with a room full of South Sudanese who have never seen the film before, you have not truly experienced it. Priceless.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

For over a month now, I was beginning to think we'd been completely bamboozled. I mean, I knew the weather in Ireland would suck, but I really didn't expect to still need a winter coat, gloves, and a scarf to go out to get lunch at the end of May (and I still felt cold even under all those layers). And yet, every store at the mall was stocked with skimpy sundresses and beach-wear. Really, it felt like a big hoax. There was even hail. 

But then, when we were just beginning to believe that there is, in fact, only one season in Ireland, and its name is Cold, the sun came out. It began to heat up. Almost overnight, it went from winter, to, well, a warm Spring, if not a mild Summer.

And apparently, the entire city of Dublin has lost its ever-loving mind.

Everywhere you go, there are women in tank tops and short shorts. Every patch of available green space in the city is crowded full of people sitting in the sun. Everyone at the office keeps smiling at me. Jorge just went into town at 8 tonight and said it's like Mardi Gras out there - every pub full, the streets packed with people, the parks full of revelers drinking beer.

It's pretty clear that people don't expect this nice weather to last long - or else, why would they be living each day as if it were their last? I'm happy at least that the Irish women will at least get to wear their inappropriately revealing new clothing once before having to consign it away for the season. Come the weekend, we'll be joining the throng as well, I'm sure. After all, I'm sure by the time June arrives it will be 50 degrees and raining again.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dean's first haircut

A few weeks ago, I finally talked Jorge into letting me take Dean to get his hair cut. Jorge has a thing about the boys' hair; he seems to think they are little Samsons (Samsonites?), and that their power is in their hair. Also, Jorge refuses to let a woman cut their hair, because, according to him, if the hairdresser happens to be pregnant, the boys' hair will be ruined. He will tell you his own tragic tale, of the thick, luxurious wavy locks that were magically transformed into tight little wiry coils, all because his mother took him to have his hair cut at a woman's salon instead of a barber shop.

But my mother-in-law Dora and I put the full-court press on him, and he relented. On one condition - he got to pick the place.

We went to Doran's, a barber shop just up the street, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

It was a fittingly manly place, and also charmingly Irish, with a handful of men sitting around on benches just chatting. Everyone was very excited to see Dean experiencing the coming-of-age ritual, and quietly taking bets as to whether or not he'd cry.

I'm proud to say he did just great, not a tear, or a cry, and certainly not the agonized writhing that Milo used to whip out on such occasions.

I have to admit, I have been clinging to Dean's baby-hood much longer than I did with Milo. and it's always a little bittersweet to see your baby's little locks go, but now he looks so much more like the little boy he is becoming. My handsome little guy.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Things that are strange here

In many ways, I'm experiencing far more culture shock moving to Europe than I ever did moving to Africa. I often find myself saying to Jorge or Milo, when explaining why we can't do something they suggest, "This isn't Africa, OK? People are weird here." (Come to think of it, that was a frequent phrase while we were in Seattle as well. But not New Orleans. Hmmm.)

So, here's a short list of some of the things I just find strange:

  • There are computer repair shops and internet cafes, and there are many of them. I thought those sorts of compaines went out of business in the Western world ages ago.

  • We had out first parent-teacher meeting with Milo's preschool last week. His report said "Milo is enthusiastic in making friends. Hopefully that will improve in time."

  • Movie theater seats are assigned, and if you decide that you do not in fact want to sit in one tiny cluster of people, while the rest of the theater sits empty, you will be reprimanded.

  • However, if you nearly run over someone, blatantly litter on the street, or start fighting while walking home from school, everyone will look away and pretend that you don't exist.

  • Although unemployment is at an all-time high and wages have been stagnant for years, everyone still seems to have enough money to drop $1,000 dollars on a stroller.

  • The government pays you for having children. You just have to pop out kids, and voila, 200 dollars in your bank account each month, for every child.

  • You cannot buy rubbing alcohol at the drug store without a prescription.

  • Restaurants somehow get away with charging 25 dollars for a cheeseburger, plate of pasta, or pizza - and yet remain full of customers.

Now, this isn't to say that people here aren't lovely, and for the most part quite friendly, but it's still all so very different. I think it will be a long time before we stop feeling like complete and utter foreigners here, despite the fact that, for the first time in half a decade, we look like everyone else on the outside.