Friday, February 25, 2005

It's a small world

Yesterday, I ran into my old friend Angelina Jolie in the lobby of the Sheraton in Addis Ababa. I and my friends had gone to change some money, and I gave her a quick smile (before I recognised her - I swear she's shrunk since I last saw her in Tomb Raider). Naturally, she was surrounded by people, and in her role as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, so I couldn't go and greet her like the old friends that we are. Still, I'm sure we'll have time to catch up very soon. I hear she's spending alot of time in England these days.

Also, when I got on the plane from Bahar Dar yesterday, there was one window seat left. Naturally I sat in it, having only the view from the window to reassure me that the plane is not plummeting to the ground. My neighbour and I got chatting, once I'd finished crying after take off (it's really not funny), and it turns out we have a mutual friend living in Addis. So I spend the day in the company of a friend from University that I haven't seen for over a year, her parents, and my delightful flight companion.

It's a small, but beautiful world.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Blue skies, smiling at me

On Friday I fly back to London, and on Monday I go back to work.

It's just struck me how much I'm dreading dealing with the complete bollocks that life at my office presents on a daily basis. I can't even get away from it on holiday, having, in a moment of impotent fury while still 'at work' last week, sent an email to a colleague that seems to have escalated into a childish bitching session, couched in menacingly polite language.

Yesterday I spent most of the day pottering through the market at Bahar Dar. People here recycle everything. Cans, bottles, vaccine ampoules, tyres, everything. We stumbled through bit of the market where people were making coffee stoves and pans out of old vegetable oil tins, and shoes out of old tyres. The market is huge, and amazing - I'll never cease to be amazed at what people make of things - stools out of bits of old cars, donkeys out of discarded grain sacks (well, not quite the latter, but I wouldn't be surprised at anything these days).

Now I'm sitting here, thinking about spending the day sitting by the lake, avoiding Daniel and his persistent 'invitations' (Hello Rachael. This evening I would like to invite you to an Ethiopian cultural show... only 50 birr). I'm going to read my book under the jacaranda, and watch fish jumping, and eagles soaring.

I knew I was unhappy at work before I left, but now, it seems almost unbearable to have to go back. I feel like resigning right now, today, without further dissembling or delay, but that would be rash and foolish. Mind you, that doesn't normally stop me doing anything, as the BF will testify, no doubt in expasperated tones.

Anyway, whinge over. Just don't make me go home...

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Why you not do what I want?

The flight to Bahar Dar was in the afternoon. No-one told me that in the afternoons, the heat rises off the baking Ethiopian landscape, creating interesting billows and pockets of air for
small aircraft to bounce over in a seemingly uncontrollable fashion.

After I staggered off the plane, tears staining my shirt, and the taste of fear fresh in my mouth, all I wanted to do was lie down, which is why I ended up at the prohibitively expensive Tana Hotel. I checked out after breakfast this morning, and checked into the Ghion, which is actually in town, and is where the backpackers stay.

On the subject of breakfast - it was a bit of a disappointment. On enquiring if there was more to eat than some crusty porridge scrapings and a very old boiled egg, I was greeted with such offended surprise that this was not good enough, that I hastily piled it onto my plate and ate it meekly. Yum. Well worth 15 birr plus VAT and service charge, and miscellaneous indecipherable tax.

The Ghion is much better. The garden is full to bursting with hornbills for a start, and despite these being as common as muck in these parts, they're still enough of a novelty for me to delight in their swooping and squawking. They also do the most fabulous juices (the hotel, not the hornbills). My door doesn't lock, to be sure, but that's no problem. I'll just have to hope that no-one knows my laptop is under the bed.

Bahar Dar is on the shores of a fantastically beautiful lake, and seems to be one of the few places in Ethiopia geared to tourism. The Ghion is run by a large man in a hawaiian shirt called Daniel, who is friendly enough while you're agreeing to do what he likes, but sulks magnificently if you fail to please.

D: Hello Rachael. Why you didn't call me this morning about the boat trip? I was waiting for you to call.
R: [sceptical] I'm sorry - I did tell you I had already arranged a boat trip.
D: But mine was only 50 birr. Why you didn't call?
R: Sorry! Next time, I will.
D: [sucking teeth] What you do tomorrow? Blue Nile falls? I can arrange trip for you - you go with the group. Only 50 birr.
R: I think I'm going to get the bus to the Falls, actually. It will be fun.
D: No! You can't get the bus. You don't know what these people can do. You will lose all of your things. Your money, everything.
R: [sceptical] Really? I think I'll give it a try anyway, thanks.
D: But I only charge you 50 birr. Why you want to get the bus?
R: [through gritted teeth] Well, I thought it would be fun
D: [throwing arms up in the air in depair and looking wounded] Fine! If you want to lose all your things, fine with me. I don't care what you do. [pause] What you do tomorrow night? I can take you to Ethiopian cultural place, not in the guidebooks. You call me if you want to go.
R: No, thank you though.
D: [stomps off in high dudgeon, muttering loudly] Fine. You call, you don't call. I don't care. I try to help, but if you don't want, you do what you like.

Thanks! I will. I expect I'll lose all my things, and then he'll be happy.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

A bird in the road is worth...

Well, there are many many things that have blown my mind about this incredible country in the last few days. So many, that I've gone through two whole pens trying to write them all down in my pristine new notebook.

Firstly, baboons. Baboons! In the road! Waving their shiny bottoms at me and looking mean. I love them. Then there was the spindly looking, hunched over little old man in the road on the way to Konso. I did have a hunch that Ethiopian men don't have an eight foot wingspan, but it still took me a good five seconds to identify it as a Marabou stork. Ugly ugly bird, but oh, how exciting. Then there are the crested eagles, the hornbills, the bright bee eaters, and amazing indigo starlings.

There are a million things I could say about the people I've met. I could talk endlessly about the lack of water, the struggle people have to feed themselves, and the grinding poverty and harshness of life, because it's all there. But what about the beauty and strength of the people and the country? No-one really talks about those things, and it's a shocking oversight.

The thing that will stay in my mind is being forced to dance like a chicken by a large group of Konso women, who thought I was the most hilarious thing they'd ever seen. These women work really fucking hard. They farm, they cook, they look after their kids and their husbands. They carry enormous loads for long distances to bring food and water to their homes. Yet they still find the time, on their one day off, to act as educators for their communities on many many different health and home issues. They had devised a dance to tell people about trachoma, and were performing it for us while we were there.

So there I was. They'd already established that I was 31 and unmarried, which they pointed out made me pretty much unmarriagable. I found myself trapped and jostled by a large group of women, who kept punching me on the shoulder and shouting at me when I stopped trying to dance, and falling about with uncontrollable hilarity whenever I started again. I had to be extricated by the Ethiopian doctor. I'm lucky I escaped with any of my hair intact, let alone my bra, which caused a great deal of curiosity.

Anyway, got to go and drink beer now. Details of hideous flight back to Addis tomorrow. Suffice for now to say 'baby sick' and 'trainee pilot'.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Sleep, perchance to dream

I can't really articulate how tired I am. Which is silly really because I've slept alot in the last few hours/days (losing track...)

On the flight out I discovered the joys of Temazepam. My horrible doctor refused to give me any tranquillizers when I flew to India, despite my absolute horror of flying. Fortunately, I am travelling with a doctor who believes that everything can be cured with pills, and who carries around a cornucopaeia of pharmaceutical wizardry.

By the time we took off I was out for the count. I was unconcious right the way through our landing and take-off in Rome, and woke up only 3 hours before we reached Addis. The only thing I was aware of was the inflight muzak - I'll be home for Christmas, by Frank Sinatra - which was played on a loop while we cirlced above Addis for 25 minutes. I'm never going to listen to Frankie again. The bastard.

Then I was woken up this morning at 6.50 am (my body clock thought it was 3.50 am) the concierge knocking frantically on my door, looking for someone else's luggage. By the time I'd woken up and established that the luggage was neither mine, nor in my room or anywhere near me, I was wide awake.

Right. I'm going to sit by the pool and do some work under the jacaranda trees, amongst the profusion of flowers. And I will breathe in the smoky, hot smell of a tropical city while I feed the 500 species of birds that eat from the table next to me. Weaver birds, fire finches, you name it. Beautiful.

Filthy Lucre

I had forgotten the way that money smells. When I worked in Egypt I used to have to carry around huge bundles of small notes - greasy, and delicate, worn down by hundreds of exchanges, the smell lingering on your fingers. I can never work out whether I like it or not, but I find it intriguing.

Yesterday, when we arrived, I changed some money at the airport, and it smells the same way. Of sweat, and old skin, a hint of spice, something rotten. It makes me wonder about all the things that each note has bought in its long life. Food, booze, sex, books; hotel rooms, plumbers, spices, flowers, art. Some time on the internet. Music and dancing. A shave or a haircut. The possibilities are endless, and I found myself, in my dazed post-flight limbo looking at each 100 birr note and marvelling at it's myriad uses.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Please leave a message after the beep...

Right, at 5 this afternoon I'm off to Ethiopia for two weeks.

It's all very exciting, but I'm too tired and hungover, and traumatised by my lightning packing experience this morning to be excited. I expect it will be ok once I'm at the airport. Wahoo!

So, I shall return on 28 Feb, bursting with stories to spill onto the page.

Adios amigos.....

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Bargain basement bonanza

I don’t know how everyone feels about Ikea – I get the impression it’s both feared and loved in equal measure - but because I don’t own a car, and have no house of my own to furnish, the experience is still a new and untarnished one for me.

I like wandering about, picking small, inexpensive items out of the bins. Things like wooden drying racks, crappy storage boxes, nifty lidded cheese-graters and cheap, yet pleasing tumblers. I like watching all the couples in the car park, frazzled to breaking point, come to blows over the right way to put a self-assembly Haken wardrobe into the boot of a Renault Clio.

I can see though, from my two trips to this mecca of affordable home furnishing, that it could become stale, and then agonising, fairly quickly.

None of this explains the nonsense that went on outside the new Ikea store in Edmonton, north London, last night. Ikea have been plugging this store mercilessly over the past weeks. Adverts have been everywhere, and at first I couldn’t understand why, because I thought Edmonton was in Canada, and it seemed a wee bit of a trek.

Anyway, at 00.01 this morning a horde of frantic people stormed the doors as they opened. I can’t understand anyone being desperate enough to buy an Ikea sofa that they’ll turn up at midnight, and try and crush someone to death just to get it, but each to his own, I suppose. I wouldn’t have wanted to be one of the six people who ended up in hospital though.

The amazing thing is that because people couldn’t get into the car park, they LEFT THEIR CARS on the north circular (the ring road that goes round north London, effectively connecting everything – a main artery, if you like), and made their way there on foot.

Why? What would possess you to leave your car in the middle of the road and just get out? Tornado, yes; rampaging giant lizard, yes. Ikea, no.

The more time I spend in the world, the more I’m convinced that there are very few people in it who are not completely deranged. It’s quite depressing.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Brain fever

Well, the remonstrance with my subconscious obviously went well. Last night I dreamed that I was mugged in a bazaar in Calcutta by a man in a wheelchair, and escaped only with a stack of $100 bills shoved into my knickers. I won’t go into the rest of it, but it involved a car chase in a very small taxi, which I had to share with a load of farm animals.

I’m considering therapy.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Day dream believer...

I’m suing the rental car company because they’ve caused me extreme mental anguish. They sent me an invoice yesterday for £300. I tried to put it out of my head, but last night, when I slept, my dreams were fraught with dark meaning.

Against my will, I find myself in the office of the rental company. The dough-faced young man sits behind the desk, but ignores me as I wave the invoice at him. I begin to remonstrate with him, to no avail. Another person comes out of the back room, and he looks like the manager (he has a badge on saying ‘manager’). I accost him, and follow him into the depths of the state-of-the-art porta-cabin.

We have an argument, and I remember quite clearly stabbing the invoice with my finger, and threatening to sue should he not reduce the amount. He pauses, and looks shifty, and I know I’ve got him. I get him to agree that I will pay a lower amount, but then he reneges on his deal, and runs away.

Incensed, I give chase. We end up on a boat on the Thames, zooming through the grey and threatening waters. For some reason my lovely boss and my big boss are also there. And the manager has turned into Jeremy Clarkson. He is a giant – how can I compete with him? Despair sets in.

Then quite suddenly, Jeremy and I are colluding. We are escapees from an unidentified crime. Just as we are about to enter his penthouse flat for an illicit rendezvous my big boss turns up, and I wave goodbye to a life of fast cars and reckless living.

The reason for my distress is this – Jeremy Clarkson? I was going to go to bed with Jeremy Clarkson? I feel as if I do not know myself. I thought I had standards, but there I was, willingly throwing myself into an assignation with a man who is not only married, but whose misogynistic outlook I have repeatedly found deeply offensive. And I was gutted about the fast cars too.

I will have to go away and look deeply into my soul*. Excuse me.

*and have a word with my subconcious about the bloody mundane dreams it's been supplying lately.


Well, here we are again. You know what I love about the office? Variety.

Anyway, I’m not here to whinge about my hair, or the weather. For once. I just read this article in the Guardian online, and I’m near to weeping with anger and shame.

The only thing that’s cheered me up since I read it is that at the moment, if you type ‘swivel eyed loons’ into Google, it takes you here...

Monday, February 07, 2005

Dreams and delusions

It’s a beautiful day today. The sky is so clear and bright that it would be like summer if it weren’t so cold. I had to chip the frost from the bus-timetable with my thumbnail when I got to the bus stop this morning.

One thing I love about going to the BF’s house for the weekend is the walk or cycle-ride from his village into Cambridge. In winter I usually leave just before dawn, and I watch the landscape come to life as the sun rises. Near the BF’s house is a large field, which slopes gently upwards to the road, and a little windmill. In early winter the field was ploughed, and as I walked past I could see the birds hunting for food in the furrows, desperately trying to get their beaks deeper into the rock-hard frozen ground. Now it’s a bright, lively green, and this morning it was covered with soft wisps of mist. Sometimes when I walk down this road, I feel so full of life that I think I could rule the world.

The village the BF lives in is large by my standards. It has a church, and two pubs, a supermarket, a post office (what luxury!), a butcher, a grocer AND a Chinese takeaway. It’s also chock full of gorgeous thatched cottages. I don’t know what a thatched cottage goes for nowadays, but I imagine it’s a packet. Even so, I’d dearly love to live in one. I have the picture in my head. I’ll grow carrots and cabbages in my back garden, gardenias and sweet pea in the front, and clematis will creep across the whitewashed stones. I’ll also have two fat tabbies, but will niftily avoid the ‘spinster with cats’ label by growing glamorously old and speeding round the countryside in my Aston Martin convertible with the top down, in a pair of Audrey Hepburn sunglasses and a scarlet silk scarf. Everyone will love me, and bring me cakes in return for my marvellous vegetables.

Apart from the enormous improbability of any of this ever happening (I kill plants when I approach them, for a start), this dream is a little poisoned by the realisation that, unlike a tile roof, you have to re-thatch a house on a regular basis, and because of the scarcity of thatchers and the cost of materials, thatching costs an absolute fortune. So if I did manage to pick up a thatched cottage for a song, I’d still have to fork out to ensure that I don’t live under a festering pile of twigs. Although the way my hair is going right now, I’m not sure what the difference would be.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Rumpled, but undaunted

Today I am wearing a kurta. It’s quite pretty – pink and stripy – and in my still-drunk state this morning, wearing it over jeans seemed like a good idea. It is Friday after all. But I’d forgotten about my colleague (the one with the matching shoes and handbags and underwear – and now, would you believe – colour co-ordinated spectacles). She looks every inch the business-woman. At least she hasn’t tried to make me admire her shoes yet today. I assume that this is because for the first time in a week she’s not wearing one of the eight pairs she bought recently on a work trip to New York.

“Ooh,” she cooed, as I walked into the meeting room. “That shirt would make a nice pair of pajamas”. My lovely boss took one look at me and said “Is that a comment on Rachie’s unprofessionalism?” Oh, happy day. Can I go home yet?

Now I feel rumpled and messy, and this is not helped by the presence of what looks like a large grease stain somewhere near the hem. It must have come from my lardy scrambled-egg-and-spinach-muffin breakfast.

So here I am, a professional, 30-something woman, trying to look the part, but failing. Today I have hair that, frankly, wouldn’t look amiss on a crazed, scimitar-wielding homicidal maniac, a long pink crumpled shirt with a stain on it, a big red spot on my cheek, and last night’s red wine still clinging grimly to my lips. The only way I have discovered to get it off is my scrubbing them with a toothbrush, but I was in a desperate state this morning, and couldn’t quite make the effort.

Still, it’s Friday, I’m about to have sushi for lunch and there is a plentiful supply of chocolate biscuits in the office biscuit tin. Things are never as bad as they seem.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Dr Evil, I presume?

I’ve mentioned in earlier post how much I loathe my doctor, and despite Claypot’s fine advice, I didn’t get around to asking Lewisham NHS to reassign me. Oh, how I wish I’d filled in that form and sent it off.

I have to get a medical for VSO, before I can even think of going anywhere. This should be done by the GP that currently holds your medical records – the folder that contains my life as the NHS know it. Unfortunately, as he mentioned last time I went to see him, he does not have this folder. He suggested that it might be stuck in the system somewhere, but that he was sure it was on its way.

I phoned this morning to book in for a medical, and asked whether he had received my file yet. Instantly he starts being loathsome. First off he point-blank refused to give me a medical, and told me to go and get one done at BUPA. Then he said I had to go and get a smear test from “a lady doctor – someone in another practise will do that for you”, despite the fact that I had one not 18 months ago. Not that he’d know this, having lost my medical records (more on this later). He then said that he would not do any blood tests unless I was ‘indicating symptoms’. Of what? Chest pains, apparently. He told me that he was not authorised to do any tests like this unless I complained of something specific, which I know is a lie. I said “So, you wouldn’t be prepared to…”, and he begin shouting at me. Then he put the phone down.

I phoned back to find out what had happened to my medical records, and he refused to speak to me. Then his receptionist hung up on me too. So I’ve been on a wild goose chase all morning round the NHS offices, trying to find my medical records. The upshot is that they have been sent to him, and he has lost them. I am lodging an official complaint.

I thought doctors were supposed to alleviate distress, not exacerbate it. The man should be struck off.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

February Office Blues

The office walls close in
The blinds like bars against the light
We sit, our hands attached,
Glued to the keyboards
Tapping, tapping the hours and minutes away.

Perhaps I should get some professional help, if this is the kind of gem that’s being dredged up from the depths of my subconscious. I’m going to make a cup of tea now, and try to get myself into a more cheery frame of mine. Chocolate biscuit, anyone?

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Catalogue of woes

I had a disastrous day yesterday. Disastrous.

Firstly, after the estate agent debacle, I did decide to do something useful, so took the car to Tescos to get some shopping. Unfortunately, while parking it, I scraped the side. Thank you to the Jaguar owner who thought that parking at a 45 degree angle next to the only remaining vacant space constituted acceptable behaviour. You're sorry now, aren't you?

When I took the car back to the hire people they refused to give me back my £500 deposit, and when I asked how long it would be before they got it fixed and reimbursed me the money, they said "IF there is anything left to reimburse, you'll get it in about four to five months". MONTHS?

So off I went, teary and beaten, after an unproductive rant at the unhelpful dough-like man behind the counter and went to my friend's house to provide her with some conversation not restricted to "Mummy, how many nostrils do you have?". On my way home, I realised I didn't have enough money for the bus, so after waiting for 25 minutes in the rain, I then had to beg 20p from a complete stranger.

On arriving home, I realised I'd left my house keys in the pocket of the drivers side door.

Fortunately, Flatmate was there to come to the rescue. I know I whinge about her obsessive tidiness in these pages, but she's one of those great people who always get outraged on your behalf, and know exactly when to offer wine and solace. So we had a lovely evening, cursing all car hire companies, and dreaming of sunnier climes.

Roll on that day.

Then, this morning, the Beast's chain fell off on the way to work, and on arriving at work I discovered a gigantic hole in my tights, which I can't hide because I'm wearing a mini skirt.
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