Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Politically Absurd

Yesterday I had an uncharacteristic craving for chocolate. I had to have a chocolate milkshake. And so I went to my favourite café in Maerua Mall and had one, thick with ice cream and sweet chocolate sauce.

I noticed, while I was ordering, that I could have a mixture of flavours, and if this was what I wanted, then I should “ask one of our waitrons”.

Waitron? Who came up with that one?

I looked around in alarm, in case my waitron decided to fuse in the highly charged, stormy atmosphere, and explode, flinging cogs and ballbearings at lethal speeds through the crowded restaurant.

I’m living in a Philip K Dick novel and I never even knew it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Donner and Blitzen

It’s stormy. For weeks it’s been getting hotter, and yet there’s been no sight of relief, of a break, of rain. Everything has become parched.

For the last two afternoons, spectacular wild-horse storms have come racing towards us over the mountains. We can watch them coming for hours, the distant thunderheads thrashing with lightning, growling at the edge of hearing.

I spent the weekend on a friend’s ‘farm’ (some troublesome goats - RIP, two enormously fat pigs - destined for the slaughterhouse as of yesterday, three short and stocky ponies, still alive, some elusive ducks, two dogs and a cat). We spent a quiet Sunday sitting in a breeze that was soft with coming rain, sanding down a couple of pine tables. The sweet, intoxicating fragrance of pine mixed with linseed oil and the ozone tang of the distant storm.

I was about to have my armies invade Afghanistan in daring attempt to take over Asia* when we remembered that the tables were in trouble. We went outside to bring them in and watched the rain advancing. I stood, exhilarated, the lightning whip-cracking into the earth, until fat drops began to gust into me, harried by the rising wind. As we ran inside, hailstones the size of peas sent puffs of dust up from the still-dry ground.

When the deluge was finally over I stood open-mouthed as a rainbow grew out of the golden-lit hills behind the farm, and arched over the pinkening sky. I wish I could describe it. The sunset on the retreating storm clouds is beyond words – so I took a photo. Actually, I took about ten, but here are the best ones.

Sunset 008

Sunset 004

Then, yesterday, the weather surpassed itself, a cavalry in pursuit of Sunday’s lone horseman. It crowded in from all sides, wrist-thick splits of lightning jagging across the bruising sky, plunging into the ground in all directions with a noise like the earth cracking apart. And then it started to hail.

The two of us sat in a bar in Maerua Mall, listening to the sky crash down around our ears, barely able to hear ourselves think. Hailstones piled up in foamy drifts, swirling around the gutters, like stray suds gathering around plugholes. The floor was awash. They were sweeping rivers out of the pizza restaurant where we had dinner. Everywhere you looked, people were running, trying to dodge the wall of rain. It was phenomenal.

I’m a bit worried about cycling in it though, which is fine, because currently the valve from my front tyre is attached, as if fused by some terrible external pressure, to the valve of my bike pump. They’re like copulating dogs, except you can’t separate them by throwing water on them.
*Risk. What a great game. If you’re winning. It reminded me of the monopoly games I used to play with my family when I was younger. I can remember that same uncontrollable urge to heft the board and all the pieces in the air, and then run about laughing maniacally in a rain of paper money and Community Chest cards as if it were yesterday.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Infestation

Today, I have mostly been sitting at my desk, trying to kill ants with the end of a broken pencil.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Black hole

The fecking shysters at the Criminal Records Bureau/Metropolitan Police have now had my application for five months. It’s supposed to take four weeks. I don’t know what they’re doing with it – folding it up and sticking it under the legs of wonky desks? Using it to make whizzy paper aeroplanes in those moments of boredom where there just aren’t enough applications to process? Using the back as a handy note pad to work out their tax returns?

The CRB being, ironically, in Liverpool, it’s entirely feasible that it has been stolen in a break in, and is being torn up and used as handy wraps by burberry-fixated scouse coke dealers.

Or perhaps they have accidentally shredded it, and have spent the last five months trying to stick it back together with sellotape.

My visa runs out in two weeks. There is no sign of an extension on the horizon. I’m concerned that unless I get my CRB check very, very soon, I am in danger of being ejected from the country, never to return. I’m not ready for that. I like it here. And also it’s a bit chilly at home right now.

I know that the Met are busy protecting London from Evil Terrorists, but surely there are enough personnel left to process my application a little more quickly? They can’t all be running amok on the underground, shooting random civilians.

I am getting a bit cross.

Monday, November 21, 2005

H.O.T.

I’m trying desperately to think up inspiring words to use to describe to you how hot it is today.

Even my elbows are sweating. The backs of my knees are producing enough moisture to rival the average daily rainfall in Wales. I keep imagining how utterly wonderful it would be to discover a forgotten pocket of wintry air in the back of the stationery cupboard. I don’t know what made me think I might find it in the stationery cupboard, but I’ve stuck my head in there just in case the idea was a result of divine inspiration. It wasn’t.

All I can hear outside is the whirr and grind of cicadas in the bushes. Cicadas make the heat seem more intense. They sound like radio interference, when there’s nothing but sultry, oppressive silence for them to interfere with.

Solitude and peace remove any distractions from the heat, but the presence of people just makes it more stifling.

I’m finding it next to impossible to imagine what the weather’s like at home. I went to watch the rugby on Saturday, and the pictures from Twickenham seemed like they were from another planet. It was only 3pm, and the sky was already darkening. The naked trees and pebbledash semis looked chilled and subdued. The players all breathed wreaths of vapour at each other – presumably some kind of gamesmanship.

I simply can’t imagine ever feeling cold again. Worse, coolness threatens permanently to elude me.

I’m going to go home, open the fridge door and sit in front of it.

Friday, November 18, 2005

You shall have a fishy...

“Marius, can you get me some food while you’re out please? A pie? And some water? Thanks”

Two hours pass.

Marius walks in through the door.

“Your water is in the car”, he says, running past me into his office.

“What about my pie?”, I ask hopefully.

“No pies left. But I got some raw fish.”

“?”

Convinced that he is joking I go out to the car. On the seat, next to my bottle of water, is a plastic tub of roll-mops.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Line dancing

I spotted the taxi driver as he came around the corner. He was still out of sight of the gaggle of school kids that last week were responsible for my 40 minute wait in the boiling heat with a supermarket carrier bag full of dairy produce. They were, by all accounts, also responsible for beating up one of my colleagues and stealing her cellphone and all of her money, but that’s not why I was lurking out of sight.

It’s impossible to get a taxi from Maerua Mall at lunchtime at the moment. Exam time means that the kids are always there. No matter how many of them leap into taxis, there seems to be a never ending supply of blue clad, notebook wielding teenagers. It’s as if, when one disappears, an identical one is created out of thin air in a bizarre realisation of a Doctor Who episode.

Being British, I am a firm believer in the value of queuing. It’s just right. I have an in-built hatred of queue jumpers that leads me to do that arms-folded-foot-tapping-tongue-tutting-stare-balefully-at-the culprit-in-the-hope-that-they-will-feel-absolutely-ashamed-of-themselves-and-piss-off-to-the-back-of-the-queue thing that you always see British people doing in check-in counters at airports.

So last week, my queuing gene compelled me to wait until the kids had all gone before trying to get a taxi. After 20 minutes I realised that this was futile, so I started extending my arm at passing cabs to indicate that I was looking for one, in case just standing there in the scrum looking desperate and hot wasn’t obvious enough.

It made no difference. I actually did manage to get into a cab at one point, about 26 minutes in, but had to get out again when four kids hijacked me by jumping into the back, and instructing him to go to Katutura.

So, today, unwilling to go through this rigmarole, I put into practice my new belief that queuing is for losers and sissies, and came out of the back exit to nab the cabs before they made it round to the front. Clever, no? It worked. Hallelujah.

I was less impressed when my taxi driver deliberately cut up an ambulance, despite the presence of flashy lights and sirens, and then drove slowly in front of it for a few agonising minutes while the driver gesticulated wildly at him to get out of the way. My driver trundled along in second gear, looking in his rear view mirror, chewing a bit of twig like a man deprived of gorm, while some poor bastard no doubt bled to death in one of Namibia’s regular horrific road accidents. And it was my fault.

Queues are there for a reason. I understand that now.

Equal Opportunities

It’s time to go through the CVs for our receptionist post. There are millions of them. They slide in drifts off the desks, and pile up on the floor. We need snow shoes to navigate the office. An entire rainforest has expired in order to supply the paper we are now sifting through.

I’ve been involved in selecting candidates for interview before, and so was quite prepared for a mammoth endeavour, reading each CV in detail and marking them according to the job description. Ability and experience is everything – age and sex irrelevant.

Not here. Oh no.

On the chuck pile go:

*Anyone over 25 (We’re a young organisation)
*Women with children (Kids are always sick or have problems at school)
*Married women (ditto)
*People who live more than 50k outside Windhoek (Will have to stay with relatives, which won’t work out, so they will go home)

I paled. It just seems so wrong. But then, when we have over 500 CVs, and our shortlist must not exceed five candidates, it does seem like a good way, if unfair, to get rid of the ones who won’t get anywhere anyway. I must confess to having come round to this way of thinking after dutifully reading over 30 CVs.

So, in the spirit of efficiency, I have added the following to the chuck pile criteria:

*People who staple their CVs in a way that causes me to injure myself when I open the envelope
*People who write their motivation letters on scrappy bits of stained paper with badly torn edges
*People who can’t spell ‘receptionist’, ‘typist’ or the name of the organisation
*People who fill in application forms for other positions and use that as their CV
*People who enclose every single certification they have ever earned, even if it’s in swimming.

It’s making a huge difference.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Taxi with a twist

I had a mercifully brief conversation about my sexual availability with my taxi driver this morning that took me right back to the time I spent in Egypt, and the constant question “Do you have a boyfriend?”

When I worked as a tour leader, I led a number of different trips. For some reason, if you were ending one trip at a particular hotel in Luxor, the likelihood was that you should relocate to another hotel in town to begin the next trip. Cue extended lie in, followed by hasty packing of huge rucksack, dragging belongings downstairs trailing scarves and toiletries, flinging it all in a taxi and haring off to check in across town.

I used to have the following conversation about 20 times a day:

“Where you from?”
“England”
“You have a boyfriend?”
“Yep, most certainly do, thanks for asking.”
“Egyptian boyfriend, or English boyfriend?”
“English.” (No choice but to answer this – if I said Egyptian, I’d be expected to provide name, addresse, shoes size and dental records)
“Aha. Then you need an Egyptian boyfriend too.”

Normally at this point, I’d laugh, and he’d laugh, and we’d all have a jolly old giggle, I’d pay him, and he’d bugger off to annoy his next client.

One guy took it a bit further.

“You like sex?”
“Excuse me?”
“You like sex?”
“I wouldn’t know”, I said. “I’m a virgin. And anyway, in my culture it’s considered extremely rude to ask a woman that question.”
“But all western women, they like sex. All the time.”
I told him that if he didn’t shut up, I’d get out of the cab and find someone else to take me to my hotel. He kept quiet for a blissful five seconds.

“I have a bed.”
“Gosh. How nice for you.” I sensed this was going to be an interesting discussion.
“Is in my flat. My bed. Is in my flat. Is nearby.”
“Lovely.” Getmeoutofhere.
“You come with me now, we have sex, I bring you to your hotel. Fifteen minutes.”

How could a girl refuse such an appealing offer? A hurried humping session with a toothless, unwashed cabbie on a scummy mattress in the sweltering heat of Luxor was just what the doctor ordered. Naturally I requested that he hightail it to his flat immediately to commence festivities. In fact, why not just pull into the nearest alleyway and go at it on the sticky plastic seats in the back?

At least that’s what I meant to say. What actually came out of my mouth was “No. You’re extremely rude and I don’t want to talk to you any more. Shut up, and take me to the Pharoah hotel, which is what I’m paying you for or I’ll report you to the police.”

A golden opportunity missed.

As I dragged my stuff out of the boot, the hotel porters rushed to give me a hand. I turned to pay the driver, and found him proffering a grubby piece of paper.

“My phone number. You change your mind, you want sex, I come, I pick you up. Fifteen minutes.”

Mute with amazement, I took it. I probably still have it somewhere. You never know when I might need it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Waxing Lyrical

This is what I did with my weekend.

Walking along the crest

<Sky

Home is thataway

Mountains, trees, plains

Bloedkoppie - standing on top of the world

and it was THIS big

I wish I could show a picture of the sunset I saw on Saturday night. We were ensconced in a lovely, shady camp spot, boerwors and lamb chops at the ready under the tree, braai ready to fire up. We put everything we needed into my backpack, and then we climbed for a while until the Landrover became a speck far below, and the whole world was laid out before me. The sky is so vast here, the horizons so far away. Mountains gave way to mountains that gave way to a limitless expanse of blue. The half moon burned brighter as the earth turned, and slowly hid the sun from view. A kestrel flung itself out into the thermals and drifted, keening, until we could no longer see it.

In the shade of a small cave, we sat and poured the wine, and then we sat and watched as the sky became a canvas that you wouldn’t think could be real. Soft greens and impossible blues merged into pink and purple, like a fantastically complex cocktail before it’s shaken. The plains stretched away, seemingly empty, but alive with countless invisible lives. In my mind I populated the landscape with ostriches running and zebras grazing.

When it was over we climbed down, before the light went, and finished the wine by the fire.

No photo could do it justice, and my writing certainly can’t. I just hope I never forget how it looked.

Meet and Greet

I met my new landlord for the first time last night. He is a lovely old gent, big shock of white hair, friendliness seeping from his pores. He moseyed round last night, brandishing a bottle of some kind of cream liqueur made from the sap of a palm tree that veldt dwellers have been using as an aid to bare-knuckle lion fighting since the mammoths roamed the earth. Exciting stuff.

“My name is Janni”, he said, informatively. “You may call me Uncle Janni.” He grinned at me, and pointed to his hair. “Because of the white hair”. Glad we cleared that up, then. I was starting to worry.

He handed me a piece of yellow paper and asked me to write down the names of his new tenants. There’s only one of me, so I simply wrote down the two names, and hoped that putting ‘not a tenant’ in brackets next to one of them would go some way to explaining that, contrary to all appearances, the unidentified young man who was lurking round the back taking my laundry off the line is not actually a resident.

He moseyed off again. I went inside, and we toasted ‘Uncle’ Janni.

Come to think of it, I do feel up to a little lion wrestling today.

Indecision

Oh, I don’t know what to do with this. I felt empty of inspiration, and sick to death of this blog. Now I’ve done some other exciting stuff that’s made me want to write things, and here we are again, four days later, and I’m tapping away.

I’m still planning on making a fresh start, but for now, if anyone’s still reading, I just shove stuff up here.

Thank you to everyone for all the kind comments. You’re all fab.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

So long, farewell, aufwiedersehen, etc....

I’m writing about cheese. This absolutely cannot be interesting to anyone. I feel that after a year, and a move abroad, this blog as it is has reached its natural end. Something else is now required, so I’m going to move along, and wave goodbye to everyone. I’ll probably start blogging again at some point, but it won’t be here, and it won’t be for a while.

So thanks for reading, everyone. It’s been a blast.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Cheesy wotsits

Does anyone remember the whole Parmalat fraud scandal a couple of years ago? I was quite confused when the big news hit the papers. I’d never heard of Parmalat, but by all accounts they were close to ruling the world from behind the façade of their dairy product business, until the management in Italy let slip that they’d ‘lost’ 3.5 billion euros.

Anyway, I forgot about it pretty quickly, because frankly, Parmalat didn’t feature large in my life. Until I got here.

I love cheese. I’ll eat any kind of cheese, at any time of day, preferably until it’s all run out, and I’m supine on the sofa, cracker crumbs resting in drifts on my swollen belly. A nice melty brie – yes please. Crumbly, creamy wensleydale – bring it on. Give me a good chunk of Cornish Yarg and I’ll give you anything you want.

Namibia doesn’t get cheese, and for a nation so rich in goats, this is a travesty. All you can buy in the supermarket are blocks of pale, flaccid battery-cheese. Those cheeses are miserable, I tell you. They look like they’re raised in perpetual darkness. I’m sure they torture them before they’re taken off to the cling-film machine for wrapping. They arrive at the supermarket in foot long bricks that could give you a nasty injury if one fell on you while you were innocently buying milk. They all taste like shit, and they are all made by Parmalat.

The global giants have won. Obviously their billion euro fuck up didn’t stop them from trying to foist inferior products on an unsuspecting nation.

I could cry.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Lurgy. Again.

It started with a vague burning sensation on my right shoulder. After about five minutes I mentioned it. Within ten, I felt as if I’d been flayed alive. From the back of my neck, down to the backs of my thighs was an expanse of fiery red, the heat warming through the cold towel that had been thoughtfully placed across my back. When it was peeled off, it felt as though my skin went with it. I imagined that I lay there, muscles and sinew exposed to the elements.

I had a very fitful night’s sleep, not helped by the extraordinary amount of tequila rushing through my bloodstream. I dreamed that I had mushrooms growing out of my skin – flesh coloured lumps and bumps so huge that I couldn’t get my clothes on. I woke up this morning feeling shockingly bad, unsure as to whether it was a hangover, or because in patches I still felt as if I’d been branded.

I think I might be allergic to crayfish. It’s a fucking tragedy.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Desirable: good telephone manner

When someone rings you, and says “Could you hold the line please?” does it instantly make you want to hang up? It does me, and it's happened to me twice this morning, during a string of calls about a job advert that we have placed in the paper.

A woman rang through to our offices just now, and after hearing my cheerful greeting, said “Where am I now?” I don’t know, love. We don’t have a satellite tracking device in the office – we’re a charity. If you’re confused, ask a policeman.

It strikes me that half the people applying for this job are unable to read, and therefore should not be applying to be a receptionist/typist. For a start, the name of our organisation is on the very top of the advert, and so if you ask me how to spell it, I am not going to be impressed with your powers of deduction, or ability to use your initiative.

Secondly, the deadline for applications is clearly stated on the bottom, and so asking me whether the post has been filled, or when the deadline is, similarly is going to make me question your capacity to function effectively.

Even worse are the people who ring up and say “Where are your offices?”, and then, when you have explained, ask you to hold on for a minute while they get a pen, and then make you repeat the whole thing. Forward thinking – is it a thing of the past?

There is obviously a niche market for training people how to apply for jobs in a way that doesn't get their CV brutally consigned to the huge burning pile in the car park. I should suggest it to someone.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Lurgy

I look as if I should be quarantined in a high-security medical facility. My face is covered in unsightly red blobs. They itch like buggery, and they are expanding by the minute.

I’m not sure why this is.
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