For the second time in my life, I experienced an earthquake. Last night at about 4:00 a.m. I heard and felt it all for a split second, and thought "hm, that sounds and feels like an earthquake but it couldn't possibly be." They just don't happen in this part of the world. I decided I wouldn't even ask anyone about it today because they'd surely think I was nuts.
But sure enough, one of my colleagues asked me this morning if I felt it. Strange....
Just like 1986, when I was on the toilet in BFF Annette's house. I heard a rumble and felt a tremor but chalked it up to an old furnace system kicking on. When I came out of the bathroom, Annette was mildly freaking out and asked if I felt it.
Wow, our vacation went quickly but it was just right -- not too long, not too short, and just the right way to forget about work and this dingy place for a little while.
I was delighted to find that things in the office hummed along and that no major crises awaited me. My staff did a good job in taking care of business. The dog is healthy and happy, although she now has fleas since all she does is lie in her doggy bed, which we gave her in July. The cat, who was well cared for by a colleague who reported that she was a recluse the whole month, is perky and pesky as always.
M & K went back to school today. M was all nervous with excitement and couldn’t finish her breakfast, which consisted of a meager piece of toast and some butter. Oh well. In the car on the way to school, she told me her stomach felt ‘funny.’ As usual, she was all tense about getting to her classroom ON TIME and freaked out on K when he didn’t get out of the car soon enough once we navigated through the nutty traffic congestion around the school and finally arrived. Clearly, the child does not have any African DNA -- why else would she be hung up on time and dislike to dance?
She was also stressed about finding out who her teacher is and which friends she’d be with in class. The French system is a little different - teachers only returned yesterday, so class assignments are only posted the morning of back to school, which only compounds the chaos of the first day back. M's tension eased slightly when she saw that the one friend she has been consistently close with the last two years is in the same class, as well as a few of the girls she started to hang out with from her class last year.
K is in the same classroom with the same teacher this year, which we are all very happy about. M questioned it, though, asking 'did he flunk?' As he did all last year, the minute he crossed the threshold of the classroom, he transformed into a perfect child, a little shy but fully concentrated on obeying the teacher and performing his settling in tasks with total precision.
After we delivered him, we took M up to her class. Once we greeted the teacher and introduced Maeve, we ceased to exist. She didn't look back at us once as she strolled in and took her seat next to her best friend. I spoke with her briefly at lunch time and got a jumble of information, not much of which really made sense but at least gave me the distinct overall impression that Day One was excellent and exciting.
Details to follow.
I've gone over the edge. I nearly started crying this morning because I stopped in the Air France office on my way to work but found it closed. Oh, the difficulty in getting anything done here!
I had stopped at Air France to ask them to confirm that K will have kids' meals on his flights. Air France has NEVER gotten this right for us (gripe #1). On Monday I asked a colleague to verify that this time will be different. The colleague left for vacation on Tuesday with not a word to me on the status of my request (gripe #2). Another colleague had a hard time getting a hold of Air France (gripe#2.5). Ultimately, she talked to them but let me know that Air France had no way of confirming a kids meal because the internet was down (gripe #3). Rather than waste anyone else's time on this, I asked what time the airline office opened in the morning. Two co-workers said "8:00," which is just perfect since I pass it on the way in to work. So I stopped, found it closed (gripe#4) and cursed my colleagues, who should know better! (gripe #5).
As background to all of this, I am guilty of my usual 'over-performing' to compensate for what I see as a total lack of planning and focus on the part of my dear sweet spouse. As usual, I am finding myself stressed to the max and angry as a result of feeling like the world will fall apart unless I do something to stave off disaster. To wit:
Who took care of travel and logistic plans for the three kids' who've already gone away or on vacation? Me
Who ensured that all of our travel plans are taken care of? Me
Who sketched out the vacation itinerary and budget? Me
Assembled required paperwork needed in US?
Organized C's paperwork and mail from the university?
Purchased gifts for Paris family and friends?
Made arrangements for pet care while we're gone?
Already packed for me and K?
I think you get the picture. All of the items on our shared to-do list assigned to G, by the way, haven't been checked off yet. Are they critically important? Not really...otherwise I would have taken care of them already!
Last night I nearly blew a fuse. I called G at 18:00, after a not-so-great day, to say I was just finishing up and was ready to leave the office and run the errands we had planned. He said OK, he'd finish up work where he was. Forty minutes later I called to ask where the hell he was. Already out in the market running errands, so I said I'd go home. I walked outside, but our car wasn't there. He hadn't told me he took it, so I was stuck. Luckily, I got a ride home, and Mr. Live-by-the-Moment rolled home at around 20:15. He got pissed at me that I had already eaten dinner because he wanted to go out to eat. I was already annoyed as hell with him so told him to go out by himself, which he did. I went to bed.
Tonight he will have to pack his stuff and do whatever he needs. I am going to relax. I promise.
Ahhh...put one kid on a plane last week and another today. One more on Tuesday, which will leave me and G with just our little clown Special K. So I guess I can put up with M hanging over my shoulder constantly everytime I sit down.
Today W returned to Cameroon for good. Her departure was not what I expected. Not a tear shed on anyone's part, which in a sad way is reassuring. I took it as a sign that she is just as glad and relieved to leave us as we are to see her go. For the first time in months, I don't have to worry about locking up my valuables when I'm home or hiding all of the phones. And for the first time in years, she will see her mother and other family. I wish her well but am not sure I will ever be able to welcome her back into our home.
Well, it's that time of year again for me to become one cranky bitch over pretty much nothing at all. This is the sign that I need a vacation desperately. Just like last year and the year before, I am so down on this place and the futility of getting any real 'development' done that a change of scenery to recharge is in order.
Specifically, I find myself getting more than annoyed at things that are outside of my power to change. For one, the damn moto-taxis here are feeling to me like easy and justifiable targets. I could crush so many of them with our oh-so-heavy monster SUV. If I see another one of them pull up too close, squeeze into the two inches between my car and the moto-taxi in front of it, make a left turn in front of me from the right turn lane, drive straight in front of me despite my right turn signal showing where I'm going, I will harm as many of them as I can.
Then there's the crappy roads in our nice neighborhood. No one bothers to fix them except for throwing chunky debris (large pieces of concrete, rocks) into the sink- and potholes as filler. This is considered an adequate fix. Add to this mess permanent rainy season lakes in all of the roads and holes, and you get a town full of unwalkable and almost undrivable streets. Yes, yes, the monster SUV is well suited to roaring over all of this, but don't distract me from my loathing and disgust.
And don't get me started on the freakin' trucks here. On a good day, they are nuisances. They routinely double park on roads around the port as they wait their turn to pick up or deliver their loads, which leaves one narrow lane for most traffic to get through. Their drivers are horrible and think nothing of holding up traffic to turn, which usually takes about 20 minutes because they lack rear-view mirrors and their gears are all shot. They drive so badly that they knock over street lights and cement barriers regularly, and tear up the roads horribly by miscalculating turns and crushing curbs and the few patches of repaired road that exist in this city. This week, though, the normal annoyances have escalated into a total breakdown of order. I have had to alter my drive into or home from work every day because these colossal hunks of rusty junk are now triple-parking on the city's main thoroughfares! Triple parking! I have driven on the sidewalk, over traffic medians, and wherever I can to get around them. And I have sat stuck behind them when there is no escape route. How, pray god, can the government here allow these things to totally take over the roads? Why isn't there a port official or a gendarme out there kickin' some trucker ass to make sure that at least one lane is open for local traffic to move?
The jackasses responsible for paving the road we live on -- an interminable project which started last October and is nowhere near finished -- decided to tear up part of our driveway as a favor to us. The new road will be higher than our driveway, so I guess they figured that while they are at it, they will make the driveway apron level with the road. Nice thought, except that they are demanding money now to do it. We keep telling them that we didn't ask them to tear it up, so they shouldn't ask us for change. We are at a standstill with them, which means we can not pull into/out of our driveway and garage and have to park out on the still un-paved road.
Have I mentioned the beggar mentality that prevails even among the 'elite' here? The government issued a state of emergency the other day and paraded around in flood waters for the media to witness their concern for their people. They called a meeting today to see what assistance international donors are going to provide for people displaced. Keep in mind that it rains every year and floods occur every year. But OK, there are people flooded out again this year and they deserve to be helped -- BUT FIRST AND FOREMOST BY THEIR OWN GOVERNMENT. But the government is totally out to lunch. When we asked them today what does exactly their emergency declaration means, they said "it means that the situation is urgent." I'm not kidding. When pressed for details on what special powers or provisions they would enact (um, how about re-orienting parts of the national budget to meet critical needs?), or what they are doing to address chronic, predictable, structural issues, they had no answer whatsoever. But what they did have were lots of grave faces, pseudo-worry, and pleas for aid.
Given my state of mind, I pledge to stay in my house all weekend. It will do no one any good for me to be out stoking my rage on the pot-holed, truck and moto-taxi-clogged, rain-soaked streets here. Then again, there is really nothing to do here anyway so I guess it's a good time to plan vacation details.
It seems that rather than champagne, sparkling apple juice was mistakenly served for the official toast at the offical 4th of July party. Oops.
That's nothing compared to the rather offensive gaffe committed by honoring a certain entertainer who died recently with a moment of silence and the playing of taps, which is supposed to be played only for military veterans. Never mind that many consider the entertainer to have been of questionable character, and that our murdered PCV did not get such honors from her government (although the host government did honor her sincerely it its speech). Who vetted that?
Please, read this: http://www.slate.com/id/2222022?nav=wp
Now, read this to get a sense of what the July Fourth 'celebration' here was really like: I suppose ours last night looked festive enough, with tents and lovely pictures of the US, flags, bunting, and party lights. Music was provided by iPods. Food: corn-on-the cob, mini hot-dogs, and mini chicken legs. No dessert except for an enormous cake that was left less than half eaten by the end of the evening. For the first time, yes, someone did sing the national anthems. However, I would advise returning to the recorded music again next year. It was definitely neither elaborate nor a hot ticket, though it was much more 'exclusive' this year due to budget cuts. The cuts also resulted in wine in twist-off bottles. I am sure the French loved that.
We are the bad Americans in our tiny community this year because we've chosen to eschew the 'un-official' celebration today. I don't enjoy 'forced fun' events, and today's would certainly be one. Over a hundred folks from a major religious organization in town to perform medical surgeries are there. They do amazing things, but I really don't feel like schmoozing with them all. Plus, the pool at the party location has been emptied for cleaning, and without it, I can't see sitting around under tents sweating it out just to say we did something on July Fourth.
We're in full blown rainy season, which means much cooler temperatures. Like below 80 degrees. Unfortuntely, it doesn't mean things are all that much more comfortable here, as the humidity envelops everything like a big, wet, thick wool blanket. The a/c in our bedroom is not working, and since it's the weekend, we can't get anyone to look at it until Monday. Which means that I slept in the living room last night and plan to do the same tonight. Oddly, we were in Accra a few days ago to pick up Chimene, and it was very pleasant there. Same coast, so how are they much less humid?
After being in Dakar and Accra back-to-back, this place is feeling even more like a pit. We went to the new mall in Accra that we've heard so much about. Is it amazing? Depends on where you're coming from. I would not really buy anything in any of the stores, which are nice but ridiculously overpriced. When you are a K-Mart/Target/Walmart shopper like me, it's hard to imagine paying more for basically the same quality of items. But the South African grocery store is another story. Yes, the produce is all imported and ridiculously expensive ($9 for a bunch of cherry tomatoes, anyone?) but the dry goods were plentiful, not too pricey, and not full of bugs. It was a marvel just to walk around the place. We didn't get to go to the American-style movie theater, but I'll bet that it's worth the $10 or so they charge for a ticket to see first-run movies.
Here we do have a brand-new supermarket, American/French style. It's been under construction for over a year, and I thought we'd never see it open. We've visited it every day since, just to feel like we are not in such a dumpy post. M has declared it her favorite place here. It has everything: toys, hardware, kitchen stuff, food, wine. It's kind of like a Walmart superstore with overpriced items. Even though you can find almost everything in it at a better price elsewhere, it will probably become our most frequented supermarket here. It's right down the street, and they have a huge parking lot, something which is worth a few extra dollars in my book.
And speaking of extra dollars, I was shocked to learn that President Obama has signed a bill to authorize payment of overseas comparability pay http://www.afsa.org/062509afsanet.cfm. This is huge (and one more reason to love the Prez). For me personally, it will mean roughly an extra $20,000 a year in salary. I'm not making any investments yet, but this is very, very encouraging.
I am sitting in a hotel lobby waiting for my ride to the Dakar airport. I've been here for an enjoyable week of training on disaster management. It sounds odd to say that. But the training was good and the weather is perfect.
Being here makes me realize what a backwater my current post is. This place is a real city with real amenities. A decent airport! Good roads with bridges! Tunnels! Working traffic lights and lanes that drivers pay attention to! Taxis! No moto-taxis! Grocery stores! Bakeries! Restaurants galore! Tree-lined streets and neighborhoods! Funny what you notice when you come to a place that is so close yet so far. I marvelled at seeing real trash trucks on the road here. Though they certainly also have real city problems to go along with all of these nice things, I would definitely come back here to visit and/or work. Lovely.
On Friday a group of us went out to Goree Island, one of Senegal's, if not West Africa's, most famous sites. It's just a quick 10-minute ferry ride from downtown (on a real ferry boat!) Three things struck me. First, the place is incongruously beautiful. I was not prepared to marvel at lovely cobblestoned streets and old buildings. There are old colonial houses that I would have killed to get in and film to add to my housing idea book. Two, the place is a total tourist site for Senegalese. Never mind its history, the place was crawling with school kids and other folks who were just there to have fun, mostly on the beach. Three, they do a shitty job telling the story of what really went on on this island. The restored Maison des Esclaves was not as imposing as the slave houses on Ghana's Cape Coast, and our 'guide' was a tired, old fat man who really shouldn't be giving presentations. He annoyed the crap out of me. First, though Senegalese, he was trying too hard to sound American and ended up slurring his words together so that the sound was familiar to our ears but it was all almost incomprehensible. And he sounded like he was mouthing the words to a recording. I was tempted to see if he had a battery pack in his back. If I could have yanked them out to stop his presentation on the slave house I would have.
M is getting all geared up for her birthday party. She was working diligently on her invitation list the other day and added a name I didn't recognize as one of her friends. She proceeded to tell me that the girl was new at the beginning of the semester and that K always says that "she always looks like this [and stuck her front teeth out over her bottom lip.]" Right then and there I knew exactly who this friend is because I have noticed the girl, a darling little brown thing with the most prominent, unfortunate rabbit teeth. I didn't say a thing to Maeve, but I thought "oh my god, I hope K makes that remark as naively as M just related it to me, rather than to make fun!" He is such a sweet child, usually. Though he torments M mercilessly I really hope he's not going to turn into a playground meanie.