Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Happiness is a warm cigar

I feel, much of the time, as if this is not my real life. It is as if I have extracted myself from reality for a long temporal holiday, and when it’s over, I’ll go back to the ticking clocks and the daily grind, where I will slot in seamlessly and look back on this as a strange, timeless hiatus.

Of course, this is one of the things that contributed to the demise of my most recent relationship. My ex-bloke said to me, when he broke things off, that were we in the real world things would have been different. At the time, I agreed with him, but now I’m not so sure.

We met before I even left for Namibia through a mutual acquaintance, and I knew almost immediately that I wanted more. When we met again, three weeks after my arrival, everything was still shiny and new, and once we began seeing each other, I stayed trapped in my little bubble. He was my best friend, my lover, and I depended on him emotionally more than I knew. He was all I had. I didn’t mind that he monopolized all my time; I couldn’t think of anyone with whom I’d rather be. Even now, when things are still so raw, I can see that this state of affairs was not healthy.

In a way, I’m glad it’s over. I still feel deeply hurt, and abandoned, and angry, but it’s fading, and soon I hope I will not miss him at all. My initial reaction was to run, to go home, and to slip into my old life as if under a comfort blanket. Subconsciously, I wanted to put myself in a position where I could meet someone new, and begin yet another relationship behind which I could hide. Serial monogamy covers a multitude of sins, dontcha know. I’ve always been so afraid of being alone, but at the same time, afraid of settling down. I’m now convinced that had I gone home, I probably would not have come back.

But in the post break-up weeks, with the drops of my burst fantasy-bubble fast drying up around my feet, it’s become clear to me that it does not matter where I am or what I do, and no matter how detached from reality I may feel, if I’m going to stay here, then I need to start making it my home.

So, over the last few weeks, I’ve been putting down small roots. Every time I do something to the house, or phone a friend, or go to my salsa class, I feel more calm, and at peace with myself. I’m starting, gradually, to feel real, and to feel happy. Not with the fragile euphoria that characterized my feelings about my life in Namibia to date, but deep inside, in my bones.

I hope it’s not just the weather.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Monday Morning Whitney Houston Blues

I had such a lovely weekend. I went to Swakopmund with some friends, went out dancing til the small hours, ate at warm and sunny pavement cafes, browsed in upmarket craft shops, climbed sand dunes and sat by the sea and chilled out. Much beer was consumed, and much good food digested. We even took a jaunt down to the Burning Shore to give Brad and Ange a wave, but the security guards looked a bit threatening. I expect they were too busy what with her giving birth and all to come out and say ‘hi’ anyway.

On that subject, I keep meaning to mention that my favourite radio station, Radio Wave, have been running a poll over the last few weeks, on the subject of whether the day that Angelina Jolie gives birth should be a national holiday in Namibia. I say yes. Any excuse for a long weekend is fine with me.

And now, here I am, in an office with a room temperature of -6, with only a fax machine with a stuck ringer, and a receptionist who insists on playing Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you” on repeat for company.

I knew there was a reason that I hated Mondays.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Gordon Bennetts

Working Title seem to have done a lot of fantastic films – O Brother Where Art Thou, The Big Lebowski, Wish You Were Here, My Beautiful Launderette, The Man Who Wasn’t There, to name a few.

They’ve also been partly responsible for a massive amount of rubbish. Wimbledon – possibly, next to Love, Actually, the worst film ever made. So when I sat down to watch the new version of Pride and Prejudice last night, with Keira Knightley all done up in wispy calico, frolicking with gay abandon across England’s misty fields, I expected it to be bad. I’m happy to say that I was not at all disappointed. It was truly hilarious.

Here are just a few things that I liked about it:
• Mr Bingley’s hair. It seemed to loom larger over his head with every scene, eventually threatening to engulf anyone who approached him in a teetering quiff of tsunamic proportions.
• Donald Sutherland. I’ve always been a bit in love with Donald Sutherland, but after seeing him wax poetic over an enormous pair of pig’s testicles, I’m just open mouthed with admiration. Not too open mouthed though. Those testicles were kind of alarming.
• The statues. Clearly the absence of sex scenes in the film requires losing Lizzy amidst a collection of Roman marbles. Cue many lingering shots of firm stone buttocks and strong manly chests to help prod the audience’s flaccid imagination into a sweaty, gasping frenzy. It takes precious time away from plot and character development, but hey, who cares? Everyone knows the story anyway.
• Mr Darcy. So miserable, he seemed permanently on the verge of tears, yet we know not why. Were his breeches pinching in tender places?
• The alternative U.S. ending. The luminous swans on the lake at Pemberley for instance, must be a result of the high levels of uranium present in the Derbyshire soil in the late 17th Century. And the closing scene... ‘Mrs Darcy… Mrs Darcy… Mrs Darcy…’ Pure genius. Don’t watch it without a bowl handy for those with delicate constitutions.
• Every proposal scene Working Title films include has to take place in the rain, a la Andie MacDowell, because if you’re trying to blink water off your eyelashes, you can’t help but look desperately in love. This is no exception. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
• The dialogue. I don’t know where Deborah Moggach got all that stuff about ribbons from, but dang, it’s good. Jane Austen could learn a thing or two from her and no mistake.

I watched it twice, and it’s even funnier the second time round. I can definitely recommend it.

I’d still rather have Colin Firth wading out of a lake though.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Police brutality

As far as I am aware, the policewoman behind the counter is speaking to me in Oshiwambo. Usually people speak to me in Afrikaans, but whatever the language, I cannot work out what she is saying.

“I’m sorry?” I say, a confused look wandering across my face.

“What date did the accident happen?”. She’s not speaking Oshiwambo at all. She’s just speaking English very, very fast.

“28 April.” I ran into the back of someone’s car. It was very minor, but promises to be a royal pain in the arse in terms of insurance, and the fact that the people who own the car don’t have any.

“What?” Clearly she is having trouble understanding me too.

“28 April.”

She writes it down on an official looking form.

“What date did it happen?”

I stare at her, convinced that she could not have just asked me that question again, and say, very slowly, “28 April.”

”NO! NO! I mean the day, the day. What day did it happen.” I realize that we are both speaking to one another as if to small and very stupid children. This could be a long process, as there are 500 more boxes on the form to fill in. In triplicate.

“Friday”, I say slowly.

“Where did it happen?”

“Near Maerua Mall. On Centaurus.”

She looks at me with undisguised contempt, and starts rapping her pen against the bars separating us. I’m starting to understand why they are there. “Where? Where? Centaurus is a school, not a street.”

I start to feel a bit teary. I cannot believe that this woman is haranguing me for not knowing the street name of the place where I had my accident. This is a country where no-one knows even major street names, not even taxi drivers. If you want directions you actually have to know where things are, which can be very problematic, if you are, say, a bewildered tourist, and are looking for directions. The conversations tend to be circular:

“Hello. Can you tell me where the museum is?”

“Ah. It is near the government house. You know government house?”


“Ah. It is on the road near the Kristuskirche.”

“Um. How do I get to Kristuskirche?”

“You know where is the court house??”


Ad nauseam.

We manage to finish filling out the accident report form without it resulting in my arrest, despite a minor altercation over my British driving license.

I ask for a copy of the report and am told this will cost me N$30, and that I must queue up for it round the corner in a different department, even though she is holding all the existing copies in her hand. I decide the insurance company doesn’t need one after all.

I can tell this one is going to run and run.

A change is as good as a rest...

I'm thinking of moving this site over to the free blogging service on WordPress.

There are a number of features on WordPress that I quite like:
  • You can create different pages, so I could have lots of other stuff on here. Not that I would do much with it, other than write nonsense about myself, but the option is there.
  • They have a nifty little calendar.
  • You can categorise your entries, so that people arriving at the site can browse through all the exciting posts you have ever written about say, pigeons, and be enlightened more quickly than they might have been if they didn't know there was an entire category of posts all about pigeons.
  • erm... that's it, really.

The 'cons' of moving the site are:

  • You have to choose one of the ugly and boring templates, which you cannot then change (although according to wordpress, this is so that I don't have to tax my brain with snippets of HTML or CSS or whatever, and is therefore for my own good). I quite like this leafy autumnal template that I have at the moment, but blogger is pissing me off with its insistence in moving the sidebar down to the bottom of the page whenever I post photos, and being in other respects unimaginative.
  • Because you can't change the templates, you can't use haloscan for the comments, as far as I can tell. Please enlighten me if this is not the case. This would mean that I would have to leave all my lovely comments on this site.

I don't know. Who cares? Really?

Pff. I'm off to buy some chocolate.

Monday, May 22, 2006

I'd like to thank....

Because it’s lunchtime, and I have nothing better to do, I had a look at my statcounter. It seems that someone nominated me for the weekly post roundup thing that Tim Worstall does on his uber-blog. And he describes me as delightful, which, of course, is as it should be, but it’s nice to be loved. This site has seen a flurry of visitors. I am quite beside myself. Fame finally beckons. I won’t forget you all though, when I’m fabulously wealthy and living it up on my own private island.

Thank you, whoever it was who put my post forward! You shall be rewarded with a bag of fresh guavas.

In the bleak midwinter...

It’s very, very cold here at the moment. For the last three days, everyone’s been wandering around in woolly hats and scarves. I’m currently wearing my coat and scarf in the office, and I would wear my gloves if it didn’t impinge on my typing. It’s down to -2 at night, and it’s even colder in my flat, with its ceramic tiles, poorly insulated windows, and inch high gap under the back door. I bumped into Uncle Janni stoking the braai yesterday, who just laughed at my clothes and said “Ja, your flat is very, very cold, you know”, before scurrying back into his centrally heated, carpeted abode next door. I’m lucky to have such a caring landlord.

I went out on Saturday for some much needed retail therapy (there’s nothing like spending a lot of money on Stuff to make you feel like a strong, independent woman), and suddenly noticed that all the trees have lost their foliage. Everything looks wintry. Even the fig tree in the garden, the figs from which I have been waiting forever to surreptitiously harvest while Mrs Uncle Janni is not looking, has suddenly become bare of fruit and leaf. I don’t know where the figs went. Maybe Boris ate them, hence the recurrent vomit-fest that he currently undertakes nightly outside my back door. I feel cheated.

There has been no interim season. It’s simply gone from rainy to winter. There were no drifts of golden leaves to kick through, no whirling autumnal flurries as the last vestiges of greenery gave up the ghost. It’s as if I blinked and missed an entire season.

Bearing this extreme cold in mind, I went to two outdoor showings of films at the amphitheatre in Zoo Park on Saturday night, as part of the International Film Festival, Windhoek’s one annual attempt to pretend it’s not a cultural desert. I nearly froze to death, even under six layers of (brand new) winter clothing. Almost everyone turned up with blankets and sleeping bags. The gluhwein and hot pea soup ran out. We sat beneath the stars as the arctic breeze whispered through the palm trees. Everyone was speaking German*.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m in Africa at all.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The sweet, sweet, smell of...

It’s guava season. I went into the supermarket last night, and the smell of guavas hit me like cheap perfume. It’s a sweet, high stink, redolent of a glass of Sunny Delight that’s been left out in the sun too long. Cloying. Sickly. It hits you in the back of your nasal cavity, and dribbles down the back of your throat, distributing headache spores along the way.

It’s funny, because when I lived in Malaysia, I grew to love the smell of durians, and they smell like foul drains – so bad that people are banned from bringing them into posh hotels and offices. Even now when I catch the scent of a durian, it's as if I’ve been whirled through time and if I close my eyes, I can imagine that I’m standing in the market, jostled and pushed, amid the shouts and the hustle; intense nostalgia in a spiky green package.

Anyway I managed to get the smell out of my nostrils before I got home. On arrival at my front door, a puff of putrescent Eau de Guava greeted me from a carrier bag hung from my gate. It’s the second time Mr and Mrs Uncle Janni have donated a crop from the tree in the garden. I haven’t the heart to tell them that I loathe guavas, and that the stench of them in my house makes me feel physically sick. I put them in the cupboard under the sink. Tonight I will give them to David, the security guard next door.

I drifted off to sleep to the sound of Boris vomiting enthusiastically outside my back door.

I knew just how he felt.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


I have business cards! It’s all very exciting. Since I’ve been here I’ve really lamented not having business cards*. People give them out all over the place: ‘That was a great salsa class – here’s my card’; ‘I’m very drunk, and have no idea who you are, but here’s my business card’; ‘Isn’t the weather at the pool great today? Call me. My number’s on the card’.

Invariably I find them scattered around my flat, or under my chair at work. They fall out of pockets, or become mangled and irredeemably fluffy in the wash, or mired in the piles of small change that gather in the dark recesses of my handbag.

I’ve started sticking them in a school exercise book now, because they are piling up in useless drifts against other useless items on my desk (currently – two empty water bottles, one bottle of spunk liqueur, a pair of shorts, two hundred damp tissues & a packet of ryvita). However, until now I have had nothing with which to reciprocate.

In the UK I was hopeless at the business card game. I’d go to meetings, rarely, being that breed of trust fundraiser who lurks behind the phone, and spends most of the day with her head buried in the filing cabinet in case someone notices she’s not ‘networking’. Anyway, the meetings I did go to, I’d invariably forget my business cards, of which my charity had had about 1,000 printed up. This was wildly optimistic – I don’t know 1,000 trusts. The only way I could conceivably get rid of them was to staple them to applications, which seemed a bit pompous [Hey, look at me! I have business cards, and am therefore very important] and a waste of money. So they just gathered dust.

I couldn’t then believe it when they changed the design, and we all got new business cards – another 1,000 to dispense in a mere two months before my departure. Madness.

Anyway, I have a whole pile of 500 to get rid of now. My name is spelt correctly – a miracle! Praise be! They are nice and shiny, and look as if they’ve been laminated and chopped up by a small child with its first pair of training scissors. Professionalism counts for a lot in these parts.

As ever, for reasons as yet unfathomed, my boss is obsessed by capitalizing the surnames of everyone in all his correspondence, so I am Rachael JOHNSON, Fundraiser. I don’t know why I find this disconcerting. It’s as if my surname is shouting at me.

I can’t wait to start dispensing them in the bar later.

*This is creative storytelling at its most creative. I haven’t really.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Heartbreak Hotel

Woe. Loss and pain, etc. I will spare you most of the gory the details of my current emotional anguish. I wish it was about something worthwhile, like the imminent extinction of the cheetah, or the plight of London’s street pigeons, but no, it’s just over a stupid man*. It’s pretty grim though, and I’m costing the office a fortune in Kleenex. Thank god I now have my own office, and can cry in relative privacy.

It’s a strange old process, this break-up lark. I seem to have gone from ‘Oh, goody, I’m over it. That was reassuringly quick. Pass the ketchup’, which was the state of play midweek last week, to ‘Every second of the day is an exercise in mental torture. Bring me a variety of classified pharmaceuticals and a trough of vodka immediately.’ When will it end?

On the upside, I’m going to see Mission Impossible 3 tonight. I’m quite excited. I haven’t been to the cinema for a while. Also, the Da Vinci Code opens on Friday. I have so much to look forward to.

Right. I’m going home now, to clean up the half pint of cream I accidentally sprayed all over the living room furniture/my clothes/the bedroom door this morning, after shaking it enthusiastically without checking the lid was on. Can’t wait.

That is all.

*Not that the man in question is at all stupid. Just men as a whole.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Remember me, when I am gone away

“…anyway, the cheetahs aren’t endangered. The cheetahs are doing fine.”

I put my hand up. After spending 2 days at the Cheetah Conservation Fund, I was somewhat skeptical of this pronouncement, made as it was by a farmer who runs a hunting lodge.

“Erm. Ahem. [I am very good at public speaking – everyone knows this]. You said that you have personally killed about 150 cheetahs, over how long?”

“In the last six years.”

“Right. And your neighbour has killed about 30 or 40 cheetahs recently?”

“That’s right.”

“And you’re just two farmers. And there are farmers all over Namibia killing cheetahs in these numbers.”

“That’s right”.

“And if there are only 3,000 cheetahs left in Namibia, it’s not going to take long for all the farmers to kill them all is it?”

“No. That’s right. The cheetahs are taking a hammering. Which is why I’m trying to get the government to allow trophy hunting of cheetahs….”

Quite how he can stand there and say the cheetahs aren’t endangered is beyond me.

I don’t want to get into detail re my views on trophy hunting. Suffice to say that if someone achieves personal fulfillment by shooting an endangered animal, and returning home in a blaze of glory triumphantly bearing its severed head, or it’s flayed skin, then they should be consigned to the first circle of hell immediately, without trial, and spend eternity being chased across the bush by toothy predators with a penchant for live flesh. The flesh would have to regrow daily, obviously, after the toothy predators have had a good feed. I have given this some thought.

I have to concede, however, that he may have a point. If a farmer kills a cheetah, and gets however many US dollars for it, this will then compensate him for the loss of his game. However, if you get paid that much for cheetah hides, what’s to stop you killing as many as you can and reaping the rewards? When people were being offered compensation for lions kills, they used all kinds of wily ways to lure the lions onto their land, where they then poisoned them, and many scavengers as a consequence (including the endangered Cape Griffon Vulture, of which there are only about 25 in the wild in Namibia). It seems that people will do anything for a bit of cash.

Anyway, Namibia is the stronghold of the world’s cheetah population. It is estimated that there are between 3-4,000 cheetahs left here, of the world’s population of 12,000. Unfortunately, there are a lot of farmers here who don’t give a flying fuck about the cheetahs and their imminent extinction, and are killing them off at a staggering rate. 150 cheetahs in the last six years means 25 every year, just snuffed out by that one farmer. Anthrax is also killing them off, although not quite so effectively, I don’t think. You do the maths.

So, I would say come to Namibia and have a look at these gorgeous animals*, because at this rate, in ten years or so, there won’t be any left. Failing that, go to their website and read about all the fascinating things they’re doing to try and stop the cheetah’s decline – I especially like the Anatolian guarding dogs.

It’s a wonderful world, isn’t it?

*I’m sorry the photo is so blurred. For some inexplicable reason, I turned the autofocus off.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

My eyes are dim....

Why? Why do schoolchildren use pastel coloured ink on white paper?

I’m trying to do some data entry from evaluation forms we collected from a recent tour. If I read any more inane commentary, written in yellow, pale green, or baby blue ink, my eyes will swivel one final time in their sockets and drop, squelching onto my keyboard, condemning me to wander the barren moors with a bloody scarf around my head, like the Earl of Gloucester in King Lear.

Although these days we have the RNIB, so I’d probably be fine.

Anyway, I am going away again. Back Tuesday.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Relative Poverty

I have a recurring conversation with David, the security guard next door. It happens when I ride my bike to work, or when I step outside to hail a cab.

“So! Why you not buying a car?”

“I would love to buy a car! I can’t afford one though.”

David, at this point, laughs at me, and pushes me away, as if I am jesting with him.

“Your friends, they have cars. So you can also buy one.”

I tell him that my friends had to save up a considerable amount of money to afford cars in Namibia, because they are so outrageously expensive.

“Yes, yes”, he says, shaking his head, obviously unable to understand how I, a white, employed, foreign young woman could possibly be in a position where I can’t afford to shell out N$50,000 (about 5,000 quid) for a banged up old piece of junk.

Then, yesterday, he approached me, his head squeezing through the fence, his voice carrying spookily through the bougainvillea.

“Ah Rachael! You are fine? It is cold, neh?”

I agree. It’s fucking freezing here at the moment. I’m sleeping under 2 duvets. I have new sheepskin slippers. I wear my fleece in the house. It is indeed cold.

“You go to see [some name I can’t make out]?”


“You know, Paloma. From When you are Mine. You watch When you are Mine?”

As previously mentioned, this dreadful Mexican soap opera is a national obsession. Everyone has to be home at 8.30 to watch the badly dubbed tribulations of Diego, the man with the squirrel on his head, and his evil family, as he tries desperately to win the love of Paloma, the beleagred manageress of a massive coffee cartel.

Very recently, it was advertised that Paloma and one of her co-stars will visit Namibia and you can buy tickets to see them. To see them do what is a mystery to me, but it’s caused mayhem. Forget Brad and Angelina – no self-respecting Namibian gives a toss about a pair of spoilt Hollywood brats. But when Paloma flies into town, boy, it’s a different story.

Not having a TV, I have missed most of this.

“Oh, I don’t have a TV”, I say.

“What? You don’t have a TV? Why?” It’s as if I’ve told him that I bash myself over the head with a brick on a nightly basis.

“I can’t afford one.” It’s true. The cheapest TV I’ve come across is about 180 quid, and on top of that if I wanted to watch anything half way decent, other than the NBC news in Oshiwambo, and When You are Mine, I’d have to invest in DSTV, which costs N$500 a month. Too much for me.

“But, no! No!” He laughs. “But it must be very boring for you. Why do you not just buy one?”

“I can’t afford it. It is too expensive.”

He shakes his head in disbelief. With any luck, though, I may have shut him up about the car.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Drink Me (Baby)

Firstly, I’d like to say thanks to everyone who gave me such lovely advice after my last post! I did decide not to go (it was only going to be a two week holiday in any case), because I was worried that if I went, the feelings I’d be trying to hard to leave behind would probably throw a wild party, and trash the house while I was gone. I went away for the long weekend with a friend, who was endlessly patient in listening to my extremely one-track conversation, and salving my wounded emotions with red wine. It was grand, and now I feel much better.

Anyway, check this out… I went into my local bottle store on Wednesday, to buy a 3 litre vat of wine (4 quid! And it’s nice!) into which I intended to throw myself in order to drown my tortured soul, etc. etc. After I had braved the Giant Walk-in Fridge and was thawing out at the till, I noticed this little gem on sale for a grand total of 7.5 Namibian Dollars.

I had to do a triple take. First of all I thought it was just a coincidence, and that the name just sounded like ‘sperm’, but then I looked more closely at the delightful little cartoon on the label. Oh, and in case you were wondering, ‘Saug Mich Aus’ means ‘Exhaust Me’ in German.

What a quaint and charming idea! I’m still completely gobsmacked that anyone would produce this and expect it to sell. As it appeals to my puerile sense of humour, it cheered me up no end.

I’m not going to drink it though.

UPDATE: Apparently, according to Zenta, (see comments) it doesn't mean exhaust me at all. Alta Vista must be run by a bunch of prudes. It means 'Suck me dry'. Which is even better. But I'm still not drinking it.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Advise me, go on. Do.

I’ve just been dumped by the love of my life. How’s that for a dramatic opening? Good, no? Thought so.

Whatever. The fact is he’s just too busy for me right now. Actually, he’s too busy for everything right now, including tending to his own sanity, so it’s not a surprise that I was sacrificed, but it makes me feel no better. At least my heart was only figuratively ripped out – it could have been a lot worse if I’d been born an Aztec.

Anyway, my point in writing this post is not to express how utterly shitty I feel, but to ask some advice*.

A big part of me wants to go home for a couple of weeks. I want to sit and drink wine with my friends, I want to meet my nephew, and I want to eat bacon and eggs in a greasy spoon while reading the News of the World. I want to drink a pint in a pub. I want to travel on a bus. I want to go into a bookshop, just to see if it’s as magical an experience as I remember, having been starved for so long of real bookshops, and lumbered only with charlatans that sell wall to wall Wilbur Smith. I want sushi.

However, I have no money, and very little time. I don’t know if running away for a wee while is wise, or whether I should just weather the storm and hold my head up as if nothing is wrong. Not that I’m managing that much right now. I’m sure most of the shoppers in pick’n’pay yesterday thought I was some crazed lunatic who was really, really upset with the potatoes.

So, seeing as I am incapable of making a rational decision myself, please advise me. What do you think? To go, or not to go, that is the question…

*do old teabags really reduce puffiness of the eye area?
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