Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sliding home

Sliding home
1 May, Labor Day in much of the world including South Sudan
Still in Juba until tomorrow.  The UNHAS/WFP flight departs early, 9 am, so we’ll have to leave by 7 am to manage check in.  
Have started orientation for Regina, my replacement, but since today is a holiday, we aren’t pushing it.  Her daughter lives here and works for a German development organization, so they got together today for a tour of the town.  Tomorrow back to reality.  Tom, our logistics officer, says the police have begun dunning local shops SSP 100 (about $33 at the bank exchange rate) to support the government, which has no money for its new war with the north because it’s not selling any oil, and oil provides 98 percent of its revenue.  Tom said his landlord dunned each renter SSP 10 for the same cause.
4 May, Rumbek
And the rains came!  We’ve been talking in the office about how we’ve only really had sprinklings of rain, other than that one storm.  Then as I sat waiting for a big meeting to end so that I could return to my locked office, the sky got instantly black and drops the size of black olives fell from the sky.  I decided a wet me now was better than a wet me when the rain had turned the walking areas into mud pies, and hustled back to my tent where my boots were.  Mind you, I had been carrying them to the office every day in case of rain ...
As I sit in my tent, the storm works its way across our compound.  Thunder roars like the sound of the WFP airplane engines we hear so often at the airport across the street.  Rain pounds my tent but I am dry.  The air outside was thickly humid before the storm, which doesn’t bode well for the evening.  Another sweaty one.
Outside the office after the rain

7 May, Rumbek
An incredible amount of wind in late afternoon, green leafy trees shaking so hard it sounded like rain but nothing fell.  News from Logistics today is of severe fuel shortages, extremely high prices for same and a need to stockpile.  To be discussed tomorrow.
Which reminds me of Julio, a fellow “inmate” who has the big tent diagonally in front of mine, and just returned from his R&R in Libya.  Gasoline is 13 cents a liter in Tripoli.  Julio marveled at how friendly everyone was in the country, how relaxed the environment was and how much he enjoyed the trip.  He stayed with friends of friends so he got to see the real country, not a tourist’s version.  They took him to an oasis in the desert as well as the seaside.  His hosts entertained and slept in the men’s lounge of the house, and after a day of sightseeing, he often crawled into his sleeping bag and fell asleep while they were still smoking and talking in the night.
9 May
At lunch today, my cell phone “booped” which meant I had a text message.  “Boop” is what the message tone sounds like.  So in case Regina or a staff member needed something, I checked.  It was the ubiquitous Ministry of Health warning message, this one about white worms.  “Any person who complains of a white worm emerging from his or her body must report to the nearest health facility.”  Very appealing to read when you’re eating.
10 May
I danced on the bar with Wayne, the camp manager, last night.  Nice guy that he is, Wayne had a small send-off party for me last night, and WFP manager Jennifer donated a bottle of tequila.  I limited my tequila shots to two by keeping some in the glass every time Julio tried to refill mine.  In between, I drank almost a liter of water (and I’d already had dinner).
From early in the week when everyone learned Friday is to be my last day here, they’ve been talking about a party and getting me onto the bar to dance.  Unfortunately it started to rain so most of the guests were “locals” (Afex residents), but we had a good time.  Julio is convinced I was drunk, and that’s why I got up on the bar.  Little does he know that there’s no way I would get drunk in a public place.  The voice of my Scots Presbyterian mother echoed in my ears that a lady never drinks too much in public or embarrasses herself (or her mother).  Plus, I know I’d’ve fallen off in two seconds ...
But it was a fun evening and now to bed with the natural sound of rain, not a machine.
Guilio, Julio, Gabriella, Marko (?) and Wayne at the party
11 May
We’ve been bemoaning that the rainy season is getting a late start for our farmers.  No more.  A gully washer started up again around 4 am and continued through my first cup of coffee.  I was heartened to hear a flight take off just before leaving for the dining hall, but that was it for today.  ALS, the private airline that flies to Nairobi, cancelled its flight due to excessive rain and insufficient aviation fuel in Rumbek.  So here I am until Monday.  Spent most of the day alerting family and friends and canceling and re-scheduling flights etc.
12 May
Rumor has it that the local fuel distributor promised ALS sufficient fuel on Monday.  Now we must all pray to all the gods of weather that it won’t rain again until after my take off.  
Spent a lot of time last evening explaining why I was still around.  Had a glass of wine with a group of expats that I met at the swimming pool and a few from Afex.  Around 9:30 I decided to return to the office, check my downloads and messages, and head for my tent.  Not.  One of the messages was from our travel agent Omega notifying me that since I’d done an online checkin, I had to contact the gate in Nairobi to tell them I would not board.  The flight was leaving in an hour!
Found a KLM Nairobi number online and got an agent for Kenya Airways, their local partner, who could not help but at least gave me a number for the gate ... unfortunately the wrong number.  Used my SkypeOut to contact Omega in the US and for an hour, we went back and forth while she tried to get through to KA to get the correct number.  The issue was that if I were a no-show, they’d cancel everything.  Lisa learned this earlier when she had trouble with the re-booking we’d discussed when I first learned of the cancellation of my Rumbek-Nairobi flight.  Lisa had called Delta (I had Delta flight numbers; another KLM partner) and KLM (which was operating the flights) in the USA and in Holland, and all told her there was nothing they could do; I had to cancel at the gate.  After several minutes on hold tonight, the KA agent who answered hung up on her! Anyway, Lisa figured out a way around the cancellation issue, and this morning I had a new reservation in my email box.  I will not check in online, even at the risk of an inside seat!
12 May
Just before dinner, the sky got very dark and shortly the rain started.  Although heavy for an hour or so, it stopped by the time I returned to my tent.  I saw Guilio and Gabriella, two Italian expats managing another project here, and Gabriella assured me we’d have good weather on Monday.  They are on the same flight to Nairobi, en route to their R&R in Tanzania.  
13 May, Happy Mother’s Day
Thirteen years ago I got my last Mother’s Day card from my son.  It was delivered posthumously.  Peter had asked my friend Janet to buy a card for him, and knowing him so well, she found one that matched his oblique sense of humor.  He wrote a very Peter note, signed it, and returned it to Janet for delivery.  The card is framed and on the wall in my bedroom.  It reminds me of the whole person that was my son.
14 May, still in Rumbek
It’s almost-always-sunny in Rumbek, and so far today the sun is shining.  Checked with ALS rep and he says we’re flying today.  Hurray!  I will have to wear my Wellies (the thick rubber boots I bought in Amsterdam at the Army surplus store) as they are too heavy and bulky for a suitcase. One of the expats at the pool yesterday suggested I do this, and it seemed a good solution.  Plus my bags will be overweight as is.  I imagine wearing them will cause some raised eyebrows at airport security, but so be it. I can take them off for closer inspection.
16 May, Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
The first message I hear over the loud speaker on arriving at the Lindbergh Terminal is about a tornado watch that is in place for the next 90 minutes.  I am definitely home.  It only took four flights, three days and one hotel overnight.
Flew out of Rumbek to a beautifully sunny day, landed in Lokichokio, Kenya, to a damp asphalt runway, ditto at Wilson in Nairobi.  But both legs were mostly smooth flying.  The brother of a Kenya colleague played cab driver and wound his way through Nairobi rush hour to deliver me at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.  Quesadillas with salsa and guacamole at the Java House in the airport and Coke Zero, my standard dinner on this leg of the trip.  Crowded flight with a very large man sitting next to me made it worthwhile to pay the exorbitant fee for an ‘economy comfort’ seat.  No sleep but lots of legroom and a more comfortable seat.  Seven hours in my favorite airport, Amsterdam’s Schiphol, gave me time for my usual yoghurt, granola, fresh fruit, pastry and real coffee breakfast.  Another, more reasonable fee for another economy comfort seat.  Again, not much sleep but worth the price.
Because I was arriving later than planned, I had cancelled my hair appointment for today.  But after arriving mid day and feeling the need for some relaxation and personal grooming improvement, I called Connie, my friend and hair dresser, and was able to get in.  My roots are now covered and my neck is now uncovered.  My hair is shorter than it has been in a long, long time but feels good after that gawdawful mid length that is just long enough for a two-inch pony tail and nothing else that’s comfortable in hot weather.  Thank you, Janet, for encouraging me to keep the appointment.
24 May
This has been a week of McVisits as one of my Peace Corps colleagues referred to the quick visits that result from a short trip home. Again I am apologizing to those I didn’t get to see ... will be home longer next time, and in August, back to retirement (except for some quarterly consulting that has been offered by Women for Women; more on that later).  I was happy to be home, however short, and to see that everyone seems to be doing well.  My nephew Christopher is a good condo and cat sitter; Lily loves him and may not want me back!  The new air conditioner is working well; I took care of the two required city inspections (electrical and mechanical).  The car had a dead battery despite my sister’s regular trips around the block.  Went to the dealer which installed a new one at no cost; it’s still under warranty and has less than 12,000 miles on the odometer.  My niece Tomery is going to use it for a month or so as her car “blew up” on the freeway when she was driving home today.  Thankfully no accident occurred, but the  service station said it needed a new engine because it threw a rod or something internally, a not unusual incident in an old car.
We celebrated Chris’ birthday with a family dinner at a favorite restaurant.  My niece Michelle’s husband made fresh shrimp, scallops and salmon for dinner at their remodeled condo. What a great cook her is, definitely a keeper!  Went to Brainerd to see my former mother-in-law, who is doing okay considering her age and health issues, and the Hagens.  Got to meet my God son Craig’s new girlfriend and her son, lovely additions to the clan, and saw his brother John’s new car, the first ever, and his nephew John’s ‘big boy’ bike, a birthday present.  Lois, my oldest MN friend no matter what years you’re counting (age or length of friendship), gives me hope for ‘old age,’ as she continues an active life despite failing eyesight.  When I’m back here more permanently, we’ll return to writing her memoir.
Finalized arrangements with friend Marilyn for our Alaska cruise in September.  I am so psyched for that, a long time dream.  Afterwards, I’ll visit Marianne, an old friend from my St. Paul Companies days that I haven’t seen in 20+ years, then on to San Francisco to see assorted friends and my middle niece Dyana.  Will stay with friend Jean.  We usually do an out-of-town trip for a few days.  Not sure where we’ll go, but Michelle’s husband Jon suggested Dyana take us to visit the company he’s working with.  They make realistic models for Air Force training exercises.  When we had dinner, Jon showed me a few pix of dummies with legs blown off by IEDs.  Yuk!  The company was started by George Lucas and created special effects for the Indiana Jones and original Star Wars films. Those films were made long before all the computer generated animation films rely on now, so the employees know how to make props look real. And they did.  By the way, Dyana is due for a promotion to Major soon.
25 May, Warsaw, Poland
Arrived groggy from two long flights with 24 hours of no sleep and had four hours to kill before I could get into the flat.  My friend Marta, where I stay in Warsaw, is away and left the keys with a neighbor who knows me from the years when it was my flat.  Had lunch, bought my train ticket to Krakow for tomorrow, walked around in the gorgeous sunny fresh air: nice way to kill four hours as a zombie.  Arrived at the flat, took off my jeans and fell asleep for a couple of hours: nice way to become less zombie-like.  Now I’m catching up on email, downloading some things to watch, etc. as feeling more normal.
26 May, Warsaw
Back into my Poland groove.  Ran down to the neighborhood market and bought half a loaf of uncut bread and fixin’s for a sandwich to eat on the train. Ate and made my lunch while BBC World Service played on the laptop.  Had fresh Tschibo Exclusive coffee with “village” bread, farmer’s cheese and homemade raspberry jam for breakfast.  
26 May, on the train to Krakow
Attention RPCV friends and colleagues.  I just caught the IC to Krakow from Peron 3, Tor 4, and it’s definitely an almost whole new train station.  The ticketing floor renovation (read: gutted and totally redone) has been completed just in time for Euro 2012.  Unfortunately the retro sculpture made of old signs was removed, but everything else is bright, new and shiny.  There are even designated lines for the ticket queue.  Down on the platform, it’s also bright and shiny, including easier to read schedules but the same old ugly floor floor tile.  And the distinct scent of Warszawa Centralna is gone.  
27 May, Krakow
God is no doubt scratching her head and wondering what’s going on.  I have been to church twice in two weeks -- last week I was a Lutheran with the Brainerd Hagens, this week a Roman Catholic with the Krakow Reenes.  I enjoy attending services when I’m in Brainerd, a small city in central Minnesota; it’s a family affair that includes the grand niece and nephews who behave pretty well, even when Papa (their grandfather, my brother in law) isn’t there to keep a stern eye on them.  One of the pastors is female, the congregation makes up in age diversity what it lacks in other kinds, the songs are familiar.
As for Krakow, Inga said that today is one of the holiest days in the Catholic Church. So she, nine-year-old Tosia and I went to the cathedral at Wawel Castle across the street.  The incense smell was overwhelming at times, but we had good seats for seeing the service and Inga said the homily wasn’t political.  The priest spoke about the demography of the young men joining the priesthood.
Later we walked the path along the Wisla to a karczma (inn) where you grill your own kielbasa or pork steak over an outdoor fire.  Along with a number of David and Inga’s friends, we belatedly celebrated David’s birthday. I had my first kielbasa of this trip.  (Since I love kielbasa, or kohlbasy to my Hungarian father, I only eat it outdoors in Poland.)
31 May, Sandomierz
Hala made me an appointment at the ‘spa’ so I had a manicure since I have fingernails thanks to seven months of no dish washing, and my eyebrows waxed (I hate tweezing more than the pain of waxing).  I am back to my usual loveliness.  Tonight we’ll have a board dinner, tomorrow Hala has us scheduled for a day of visiting clients.  I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again.  Then off to Scotland on Sunday.  Hurray!

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