Saturday, April 29, 2006

Water, water, everywhere...

I am very, very hungover.

I walk into the deli. When the lady behind the counter turns to me, I smile, and say 'May I have a bottle of water please?'.

Simple, no?

No.

She looks confused. 'Pizza?'

I struggle with nausea at the thought of pizza, and thankfully I am triumphant.

'Water. Please'.

'Water?' She looks at me, clearly baffled. I start to wonder if I am asking for something strange.

'Yes, please', I say.

'You want a glass of water?'

'No, I'd like a bottle of water. From your fridge.'

She smiles at me as if I am an escapee from an institution for the mentally unstable, and disappears into the kitchen. While she is gone, the other lady approaches.

'What is it you want?'

'Water please, a bottle of water.'

She immediately goes to the fridge and fetches me a bottle of water, for which she charges me N$5. This makes me very happy, not least because I can rest in the knowledge that it is not me that is deranged.

I open the water with shaking hands, and sip the cold, life-giving liquid. I feel it dribble deliciously directly into my brain.

When I open my eyes the other lady has emerged from the kitchen with a polystyrene cup of tap water, and is standing before me, seemingly at a loss. I raise my cold, cold bottle of water to her, and stagger out into the daylight.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Nightmares

I am jolted awake into the dark by a crash. I don’t know where it’s coming from. I am disoriented, but I’m sure the whole neighbourhood can hear my heart trying to escape from the confines of my ribcage. I look down at my chest, almost expecting to see a Roger Rabbit style heart pounding out a foot into the room.

Lying in my bed, alone in my little flat, I feel very vulnerable. I am glad that I remembered to lock the burglar bars – something I have done every night since my friend Michael told me about how he found a man with a gun in his living room at 2am, trying to steal his laptop.

Another crash; it’s very close. I hear laughter. My neighbours are all elderly. I can’t imagine they would be throwing a wild party at 1.30am, or asking builders to dismantle the house in the dead of night.

As the crashing continues, I become increasingly frightened. There is no-one here who could protect me if someone broke in. Cocooned in my web of burglar bars, I am reminded once more that should someone successfully gain entry into my haven, my safety net would become a trap.

I am afraid to turn on the light, in case I attract attention to the fact that someone has heard what is going on. The crashing continues. There are shouts and screaming. I stumble into the living room to retrieve the phone book, and then I lock myself in the bathroom to call the police. They promise to send someone round. I crawl back into bed, and wish desperately that I was at home, safe, in London. The thought makes me laugh, particularly in the light of a recent email from my friend, who told me that she looked out of her window in Camberwell the other day, to see a group of boys firing guns into the air.

As the crashing and shouting escalates I wonder who I can call. I left David, the security guard next door’s number at work, and in any case, he might not be working tonight. I don’t know my landlord’s phone number – a fact that strikes me suddenly as ludicrous – and they are not listed. Also, I don’t know what I would hope to achieve by waking two pensioners in the night with stories of armed robbers.

I would call my bloke, but he’s had a horrendous and tragic day; he’s sick, and he’s tired, and he’s heartbroken. He could do nothing from where he is, and I can’t bring myself to call him and wake him up, just because I am scared and I feel alone. So I call the police again, and weep down the phone at them. I feel pathetic that I am so frightened of burglars who aren’t even trying to get into my house, but the police are very kind. Apparently they are outside my house – can I go outside to speak with them?

I am flabbergasted. ‘You want me to go outside?’, I ask. All my senses are telling me not to do this, but I unlock my gate, and go up to the main gates. As I walk up the drive, I hear laughing, two loud bangs, and the silver confetti of breaking glass from the house next door. I let the policeman in; again, he is helpful and friendly, although he refuses to get out of the car because Boris is bounding around, delighted at the opportunity to make a new friend. I suddenly feel enormous affection for this fat, stupid dog, who just wants to love everyone. If he wasn’t so hairy and moulting, and if he didn’t wave his pink doggy penis around so arbitrarily, I would drag him into bed with me, for something warm to hold.

The police car departs on a tour of the block, sirens wooping in the dark. I draw all my curtains, curl up into bed, and cry, although I’m no longer sure what it is I’m crying about. Soon, everything becomes quiet, and I drift into a fitful sleep, my dreams populated with would be burglars and thieves, their hyena faces at my window, snarling and laughing.

This morning, in the warm sunshine, my fear seems completely out of place. David the security guard next door steps out to greet me as I leave for work, a steaming cup of coffee in his hand. Everything is normal.

He asks me about last night. When he arrived for work this morning, his colleague told him that he had seen two men standing quietly, either side of my front gate, at 2am. He didn’t shoot them; David seems disapproving of this. He tells me that if he had been there, he would have at least threatened to shoot them. He says it is his responsibility to protect not only the house he works at, but all the houses he can see from his post. He shows me his gun. I feel oddly comforted, until he tells me I shouldn’t have left the house.

Those robbers, he says, his face concerned, they could shoot you.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Brat

“Good morning, Africa Online!”

“Hello! It’s Rachie here from …… I called yesterday afternoon to say that our wireless internet was down and no-one has called me back. It’s still not working. Could you send someone to find out what is wrong, please?”

“Hmm. Well, since when has it not been working?”

“Yesterday, at around midday.”

“Oh. Well, you know, it could be the weather. It is very cloudy.”

“…!”

Cue various promises to come around ‘in half an hour’. Five hours later, I have resorted to phoning the guy up, and leaving messages on his cellphone every half hour.

“Hello, Rodney, it’s Rachie again, from … I still haven’t heard from anyone, so I’m just going to call you every half hour or so, until you either get back to me, or come round and sort it out.”

“Hi, Rodney, it’s Rachie again. Still no calls! Just to let you know. I guess if I don’t hear from you, I’ll be leaving another message at, oh, 2.15 or so! Bye!”

I wouldn’t normally do this, because it is rude and aggressive, and I don’t like being rude and aggressive. However, I found out quite early on that this approach is one of the only effective ways to get people to come and sort out your problems. Otherwise they’ll just assume that you’re not going to harry them to their graves, tell you they'll be there 'now now', and put you promptly on the bottom of the list. I think it’s an age thing. Ten years ago, I would have been horrified at the thought that someone I don’t know, and am never likely to know, thinks bad things of me. Now I don’t give a toss. I just want my emails.

At 4pm, I get told that it is Telecom that is the problem, and they need to get someone to come out ‘maybe later next week’ to look at my box.

“Hang on,” I say in my best Acerbic Voice. “I reported this yesterday. I’m a bit fed up that no-one did anything about this before 4pm and now I won’t be getting important emails that I’m supposed to be getting”. I’m a bit embarrassed about saying the last bit. There aren’t really any important emails, or at least, not for me. I end up sounding a bit ridiculous. Especially as while I’m ranting about how important I am, the director of VSO comes in and hands me a parcel from home. It contains Ty-phoo tea bags.

30 minutes later, the internet is working.

Maybe it was the weather after all.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Namibia - Birthing Haven to the Stars

It is ridiculous. For months before my impending departure to Namibia, people I met in pubs would find out that I was off to do VSO, and would ask me, politely, where I was going.

“Namibia!”, I would say, excitedly.

“Nambibibia? Mandimba? Mandibles?”, they would repeat, blankly, clearly wondering which desperate continent could be hiding a country so rarely heard of, and difficult to pronounce.

“No! Namibia! It’s above South Africa, below Angola and next door to Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana! It’s by the sea!” I would say, knowing that none of these would be likely to enlighten someone who is incapable of saying a four syllable word of such staggering simplicity as Na-Mi-Bi-A. I mean, if you can say Do –re-mi, what’s the fucking problem?

Anyway, now that bloody Brad and Angelina have turned up, and are hiding in various lodges and seaside hideaways with their celebrity foetus, everyone’s talking about it. You can’t get away from mentions of Namibia in the press. I’ve got tabloid journalists in helicopters hovering above my house every second of the day. It’s intolerable.

I’m going to have to move to Djibouti.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Excuse me, Mr President...

I still have the car. It’s still a pain in the arse to drive, but bliss to have access to. At least now I have got the hang of wrenching it into first gear and, time being a great healer, I can now more or less drive without the need to take a bag of Kleenex with me. A good thing, because I almost got shunted off the road by the Presidential cavalcade this morning. Or at least I think it was them. It could just as easily have been Brad and Angelina, on their way round to my house for coffee. And I’d have hated to have them see me all blotchy eyed and raving.

This happens quite a lot in Windhoek, as it is a small city. Namibian President Hifikepunya Pohamba likes to travel in large and numerous beflagged and blacked-out limos, escorted by many wailing police cars, his route cleared by frighteningly grim-faced traffic police sporting spotless white gloves and firearms. Whether this is because his wife needs to carry a lot of diamond encrusted shoes on their trips around town, or whether he finds it amusing for people to try to guess which of the 15 limos in the lineup he is actually in, I don’t know. However, this isn’t the first time I’ve happened across their route on an innocent errand in the last two weeks. This time, he had the Botswanan President with him.

Today was actually very scary. I’m a good driver, but sometimes I’m not so observant. They have a system here called the ‘three- or four-way stop’, which means at intersections, the first driver to arrive at the stop sign has the right of way. I have a mysterious blind spot as far as these stop signs are concerned. Sometimes, I just don’t see ‘em. It can be a problem.

I’m ok with traffic lights though, which is why I was so bemused when all the traffic seemed to be running red lights with gay abandon down Hosea Kutako Drive. Of course, I hadn’t noticed the frighteningly grim faced traffic police sporting spotless white gloves and firearms, waving everyone through, which would have tipped me as to the cause of the free for all.

So, caught up in the flow of 4x4s, and shonky taxis, I just ran the red lights with everyone else, and soon, all the traffic around me seemed to melt away. There was only me, and my boss, who for some reason kept saying “Ze President of Botswana is ‘ere”, on the road. And rapidly approaching in the rear view mirror was a man on a police motorbike. As he overtook me he appeared to be quite angry, and was gesticulating me rather rudely. I was a bit confused.

I very shortly passed another grim faced, heavily armed traffic policewoman in the middle of the highway, who also seemed overly cross. It was at this point that I realized that if I didn’t get the hell off the road, the double-Presidential cavalcade was going to end up containing a ropey 1997 Opel Corsa hatchback. And their bodyguards might not like it. They might try and shoot at us. I think African Presidents can be a bit touchy about having non-matching cars in their parades, however much we might smile and wave.

So today, for the first, and hopefully the last time in my life, with my boss in the passenger seat saying “Yes, I sink zat now perhaps it would be a good time to get off ze road”, I reversed at full speed down a four-lane highway. I managed to peel off down a side road, just as the whole bang-shoot shot past in a blare of sirens and waving flags.

You can’t say my life here isn’t filled with mystery and excitement.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Drive Time Blues

I have the use of a car at the moment. Usually, this would make life much easier. Cars in Windhoek are very, very useful.

Unfortunately this car has somewhat of a glitch, in that it is incredibly, ridiculously difficult to get it into first gear. You think you’ve got it, you take your foot off the clutch, and start to move up the driveway/into the road to turn right/across the busy intersection/away from the traffic lights, and the car sputters and dies, because once again, you’ve slipped it into third. You’re then stuck in the middle of the road, with taxi drivers bearing down on you, and 4x4 monster trucks about to shunt you into the middle of next week, while you struggle with the fucking gear stick until your arm is numb.

I’m in an emotionally fragile state right now, and so my mornings this week have consisted of fighting noisily and helplessly with an intransigent vehicle, and then collapsing in angry, desperate tears onto the steering wheel.

I should just cycle, really.
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