It has been a while as usual. I have now taken on a new challenge. I am studying Global Development through an online university and it is taking me a lot longer than prescribed to go through the material. It seems that I am somewhat of a slow reader.
Apart from that, two very important things happened. First, my son has his first Canadian passport. I do not think it is any thanks to his father; Canada is just a civilized country, which has respect for its citizens, regardless of their age, and does not discriminate against single mothers, whether they were Canadian or not. The father has given me a little lip recently about going to the Australian Embassy in Pnom Penh and wasting some of his precious time. I just let it slide, as I usually do. So we now have travel dates, and it is going to be absolutely fine, with a bit of administrative juggling to report Robert as a Canadian citizen here in the US. My employer would take care of that but it simply means that as far as the US government is concerned he would have to stay Canadian for as long as we stay here, and he will have a considerable advantage over his South African mother, I do not mind that.
Another amazing thing was, that I got my own little slice of window in a new office. It was purely through an act of providence that I got this blessed change of scenery. For once, the dreaded grapevine of office gossip served me correctly and I was recommended for an open plan cubicle without formally asking for it. I can only say, it was just good karma coming my way, or perhaps the magic of putting my desires and wishes out on the blogosphere; my own wishing well. A few weeks ago I blogged about my old hobbit hole of an office.
Next time I will wish for something more substantial.
Dear Blog: I want a tall, dark single dad with a sense of humor, and preferably with a connection to Africa.
Readers, cross your fingers for me, you will be the first to know if this works.
Today we leave South Africa on our very long flight to New York. I spent my last night in SA at my friend’s house. She is also the new adoptive mom of my cat Pete.
The day before that has been hectic with moving stuff and vacating the flight. At least I have 18 hours of doing nothing while en-route to JFK.
I am sending a shout-out and a heartfelt farewell to my beloved home country. Robert and I will come back, in two years. Stay well. Sala kahle my Mzansi. Thank you for giving me a place to love and be proud of. Thank you for helping me grow up and find my patch on the rainbow. I will always think of the road leading to you as Paradise Road.
The clock is ticking and it will be soon time to depart the Cape of Good Hope, leave Africa and the southern hemisphere, and my beloved Cape Town to the Big Apple, the cold north. I have never been a fan of the US but New York is different, it is the intellectual and cultural capital of the USA, and a melting pot of the whole world.
Still I am not sure how I will respond to it on an emotional level. My friend K arrived from Germany last week and we are often with her on her excursions and visits. Throughout that I feel like I am on holiday and appreciate the beauty and special attributes of Cape Town. If I had to describe it in one word I would say it is joyous. This led me to thinking about Berlin which I think offers tons of wisdom but little joy, whereas I can perhaps say that Buenos Aires and Rio De Janeiro could be more joyous than serious. I have no idea whether this perception is true and perhaps I will have a chance to visit these cities and measure the degree of joy myself.
What is your joyous place and what is the word that describes your city?
I woke up very refreshed this morning and was greeted by the sight of frost from my window. I showered, emailed, and uploaded some pictures and went on slowly to the venue of my interview. It took some time to check in and get my temporary badge, but I arrived with time to spare. The interview was conducted in an annex and I did not know what to expect, which was just as well, because otherwise I would have been more worried than I should.
I had my laptop with me, along with my diplomas and documents but it turned out that I did not need any of that. First I was shown into someone’s office and then I was given a brief outline of what will happen, the interview will be led by a lady from Geneva (whose name I failed to record) and she will start the process and hand me over to the panel, but first I had to do a short translation within twenty minutes on the fly.
I tried to keep my wits about me as I did the translation which dealt in broad terms with the Middle East conflict. Later the Geneva lady led me to a room where four tables were arranged in a box shape. I took one side of the box while members of the panel took each of the other three sides. I was introduced to the head of the Arabic department in New York, the head of the Arabic department in Geneva, and the head of training in New York. The latter shared his table to with the Geneva lady who took the role of moderator; they were on my left and I faced the big boss from New York. In all there were two women and two men that I was trying to impress.
First the question and answer session dealt with my translation, my choice of terminology, the difficulties I had, the errors if any. Next there was the competency based part of the interview, where I thought I did really well. Fortunately I had just finished a collaborative project with colleagues in Australia and I could draw from my very recent experience on all concerns regarding technology, teamwork, etiquette and others.
Two hours later I was dismissed. The Geneva moderator told me that I will be informed within the next month of the outcome of this interview, and so I made my way out of the interview room. It was still too early to go to the hotel so I looked around the big buildings and joined an English tour group on the premises, but unfortunately I only caught the tail end of the interview and the group were soon disbanded and I figured it will be too late to wait for the next one. I made a quick stop at the shop and bought a little teddy bear for Robert (this one will become later known as Geneva), and I bought a cap for myself and for Robert’s father.
I had time for another leisurely lunch and some more emails before I changed, packed and made my way out of the hotel. There was a short walk from there to the bus and 15 minutes later I was at the airport.
I had plenty of time. I first called my parents with my leftover Swiss coins, then sat on an outside terrace in the sun. I ate my bananas and read my book until it was time for my flight. I also sent text messages to a friend in Frankfurt who was keen on meeting me at FRA Airport since I had a few hours wait before my flight leaves late at night for Cape Town.
It was funny boarding all these flights and imagining my erstwhile colleagues doing the load papers for them all the way in Cape Town. It felt good being a paying passenger rather than the poor standby. In any case, I arrived in Frankfurt with some delay but Andrea was waiting for me in the lounge. We had drinks and talked about how lucky we were to have left our former employer. We gossiped and laughed a lot until the Cape Town flight was called.
Andrea sent with me another present for Robert who will be spoiled in the next week, with chocolate, chocolate Muessli. I lay back in my seat and braced myself for a long night of movie watching, but it doesn’t matter I am on my way home to my Robbie. Mission accomplished.
Geneva is a very small city. The airport is no more than 15 minutes away, which made my transport to town really easy.
I arrived at my hotel before regular check-in time and had to store my overnight bag and then go out to explore the area and the site of my interview tomorrow. It is very good that I have one night to rest and tomorrow I will leave right after the interview.
My flight was uneventful, except that my next door neighbor was a talkative Austrian with a keen interest in sailboats. In fact he was in Cape Town to finish a catamaran he is planning to sail around the world soon. So we kept each other company for parts of the evening and then he fell asleep and I resorted to watching movies for the rest of the night. I arrived in Frankfurt groggy and tired and we parted ways to go to our respective flights; but we exchanged emails and he promised to give me a call when he is next in Cape Town to check up again on his boat.
I walked about in Geneva until check-in time. I bought a wi-fi account and the hotel provided a city transport ticket for two days, and I took advantage of it during the afternoon. First though I freshened up and treated myself to lunch and a Swiss beer, I tried to fit the role of a business traveller (not very well). Later I explored the town, a bit of the lake and stopped at a supermarket to buy some supplies for dinner. I bought Muessli to take home, some cake and bananas which will have to do for my dinner.
When I settled in the evening at my hotel I had some time to type emails and look at my notes for the interview. I was so tired by the early evening that I slept without any problem, without worrying about a thing.
One of the last things I remember checking on my stolen lap tops were flights on KQ (Kenya Airways) to Nairobi. I was close to buying a full fare ticket rather than take advantage of a stand-by, because I was not entirely comfortable with using my company benefits to write an exam for another job. My qualms were put completely to bed after the incident with my computer and my whole concern shifted to the option that would cost me least money.
So as it happened I bought myself only a stand by ticket on SAA and double-checked that I do not need a visa. Since I was flying to Nairobi via Johannesburg I found myself at Cape Town airport for the earliest flight, I reckoned that since it was a Sunday the flights will be busy and they will get busier as the day wore on. There were two flights from JNB to NBO on the day but I did not want to wait around for the later flights and preferred to arrive earlier in Gigiri to orientate myself.
So it was I left with heavy heart early in the morning, leaving Robert with his dad and with lots of instructions and support. I was due to come home on Tuesday afternoon and that means I will spend two nights away from my little boy. I did not get on the first flight out to Johannesburg but was on the next one which meant that I would make the connection to the earlier flight to Nairobi.
I spoke to Robert again from Johannesburg as I was checking in for the flight and sent a text message to my contact at the guesthouse in Gigiri to arrange for a taxi from the airport. The flight to Nairobi was four hours and I arrived in the afternoon to a warm and humid city. The taxi was waiting for me, an old car with tattered upholstery but the driver was very nice.
Nairobi struck me as a true African city. I passed this way before almost ten years ago, on my way to Johannesburg at the time I only glimpsed the airport and the skyline of the city but I got the feeling that things haven’t changed much since then. The airport itself is distinctly third world, with dirty tiles and smudged counter windows, and plastic loungers showing their cracks and their age. The drive from the airport was easy, and there was no traffic to speak of on a Sunday afternoon, but the dusty road reminded me of Aleppo, and I am positive that it would get terribly congested during rush hours. Drivers had the same lack of curtsy I experienced in the Middle East, where traffic circles are a clear invitation to chaos, when all cars from all direction claim the right of way, and the horn seems to be the only useful traffic signal. This is very different from the scene in South Africa’s urban centers.
Also reminiscent of the Middle East was the general state of the roads, the pot holes, the broken lamp posts, and the uneven sidewalks. Things like that appear also in South Africa but they are less prevalent in the large city. As we neared the city center I saw huge birds gathered on one of the trees by the roadside, and I realized with a chill that they were vultures, I never expected to encounter such a sight in the middle of an urban setting, and again I had to remind myself that this is the heart of Africa.
Although Gigiri is the home of the United Nation office in Nairobi (UNON) there aren’t many guesthouses in the area, and the place where I ended up staying is the only one that responded to my inquiry. It is big house overlooking a garden and has a huge kitchen and television room for the guests to share, the room itself was very big and had a television and a small fridge. Again the furniture, curtains and colors reminded me of the Middle East, there were lots of velvet, gold thread, curtains with tie-backs and tassels. The setting showed signs of age, but was nevertheless comfortable. Most impressive was the friendliness of the people who were looking after the guesthouse. They helped me with directions to the UN office and I walked there on the afternoon of my arrival for orientation and timing. I told the young woman that I will be back for dinner.
The walk to the UN office took just over twenty minutes. I returned just as it was getting dark. I remember that I stumbled into a little puddle on my way back and muddied my sandals. I was grateful that I will be wearing sensible and not dressy shoes for the exam.
Dinnertime at Rugiri Guesthouse was a quaint affair. I met the only other guest, I do not remember his name anymore but he spoke with a very distinct north American accent and I was therefore shocked to find out that he was Russian. Despite his full head of hair, all dyed a dark reddish brown, I could tell that he was old enough to remember the USSR, and that perhaps gave us a little more to talk about. He was thrilled to find out that I came originally from Syria. We sat at the kitchen counter throughout dinner. He had TWO laptops and was working on something while helping the young woman who is in charge of the guesthouse to download or upload something on her own Netbook. She was, I understood, working on an assignment for university. Meanwhile I was still sore from the loss of my laptop and wondering when I will ever have the company of one again.
The mystery Russian man had many interesting things to talk about. He worked for an NGO and was in Nairobi on one of his projects. Throughout his travels he came across many adverse situation and perhaps that is why he was guarded about personal information, he never volunteered much, but he told me one story that I found interesting. In his opinion what separates civilized men from savages is one meal and a drink. He came to realize that once when he was besieged with other relief workers and the rations of food started running short. It is a scary thought to contemplate.
I will remember himthough for his love of reading and he gave me some book titles that I promised to check out and will read in due course. I think his taste ran towards the futuristic apocalyptic, because Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World featured in that conversation.
The next day I met him again at breakfast and we exchanged good wishes while I went on my way to the exam. The UN building in Nairobi is surrounded by a lot of green and the entrance is interesting as you follow a winding path of flagpoles to the main building. The security procedure was not long and I was early to the appointment. It took a little longer to locate the man in charge of the exam, who turned out to be a weary-looking Frenchman, who did not hide his dissatisfaction with the “strange” instructions passed down to him from New York. Inwardly I sighed, here was the shape of things to come: bureaucrats complaining about other bureaucrats did not sound so good.
In time I met the other two candidates in Nairobi. A Moroccan gentleman who was visibly older than I was. He told me that he was a teacher at a local university. The other candidate I saw but I did not talk to. She was the blind candidate who gave rise to the Frenchman’s complaints. At the time we arrived they were still busy trying to set up the software to help her perform the test. The next hours went by very quickly for me as I wrote the three exam papers one after the next. Sometime in between the papers we had a break, and I ate the crackers and cheese I brought with me. I even came prepared with a sachet of instant coffee, but it was a mission for my Moroccan colleague to find the boiled water for it. When the time for the third and last paper finished, we said our goodbyes and I went to retrace my way back to the guesthouse. My brain was tired but I was high on adrenaline feeling that I did the best that I could.
I asked for a place to go shopping and the ladies at reception gave me direction to the village market. I expected some sort of local market that sold local produce, but it was a small mall called the Village Market. I saw many of the familiar South African franchise brands, like Steers, Debonairs and even Woolworths. I just stopped at one of the local supermarkets where I bought a few treats: dried pineapples and Kenyan coffee come to mind. I spent all the Kenyan currency I had left after paying for my room and meals.
In the evening I had dinner alone. My companion of last night had already checked out, but I still enjoyed a fish dish that one of the male staff of the guesthouse cooked. The next day was a public holiday in Kenya – Kenyatta Day and I saw some programs on national television about the man. I also discussed Swahili with one of the friendly staff, it has many words of recognizable Arabic origin. Before she left for the night the lady receptionist/caretaker assured me that my taxi driver will pick me up for my trip to the airport bright and early. I said my goodbyes and turned in for my last night away from home and from Robert.
The trip back home was very uneventful, until I arrived at Johannesburg airport that is. At passport control a very bored-looking female immigration officer asked to see my immunization card, after asking me where I arrived from. I was later turned away from immigration on the pretext that I needed an immunization again yellow fever.
Help of course was at hand in the form of a private international clinic, the only problem is that the shot cost me over R700 (more than $100 at the time) and that was many multiples of what it cost in a normal hospital. Somebody had to take me around immigration to an ATM because I did not have that money in cash and the disgraceful private clinic did not have a credit card facility. I was fuming at the end of this misadventure and no amount of justification from the medic at the clinic could convince me that their operation was anything other than highway robbery with the endorsement of government, absolutely awful.
The delay meant that I had to wait a little longer to board a flight to Cape Town. Fortunately the flights were not full on a weekday and I proceeded home with a little less money and sore arm. The thought of meeting my little boy soon was enough to get me over anything else.
In all it was a successful trip and I will remember Nairobi fondly. Kenya looks like a true African country with no more white-man hangups. In fact, apart from the mysterious Russian and the senior staff at the United Nations, I did not see any white people in Nairobi, and I was impressed with the efficiency of everyone from the staff at the guest house to the taxi driver. Yes, things were run-down and a little reminiscent of the cash-strapped country in the Middle East I hail from, but it was pleasant to see the Africans -for better or worse- running their own country.
The holiday with my folks was too short but we all had a good time. On the 27th of September we celebrated the birthday of my mom, a great woman to whom I owe my life and lots more.
I connected with a former co-worker and we telephoned many times. She sent some books and presents for Robert to my parents address.
I met again, one of my very classy and good-looking cousins, she is a few years older, but looks younger in her photos. As always meeting with any of my beautiful well-presented cousins makes me self-conscious and insecure, and this more the case now that I am parent of a toddler.
We got to do some limited sight-seeing. We went for walks, taking in the beautiful autumnal landscapes and the rain. We went shopping. On sunny days there was the playground, with younger and older members of my family.
And Robert was always busy with Oma (as Oma was busy with him)
I just spent a wonderful time getting the love of my family and healing the wounds of my failed marriage. We talked, we gossiped, we argued and we made plans, most of which will perhaps never materialize, but still it was great to be part of a family again, even for a short while.
While I was away pieces of my life still came through to me via email. I received occupational rental for the house, and some communications with the lawyer. I also got a new job assignment which I will have to start immediately on my arrival in Cape Town, and of course there is always the trouble of work and having to arrange for someone to look after Robert when I get back to work and before he attends day care on a regular basis.
While I was with my family, all these problems were set aside and they now loom larger than ever in front of me. But I am sure once I set foot in Cape Town I will be happy to be back.
Yesterday Robert and I set off before sunrise from our little flat. The trip almost started with a mishap when the taxi I ordered sat for ten minutes in front of the wrong address a block away. The problem is that they do not call the customer and their head office is off duty at the ungodly hour of 04:30.In the end it all turned out alright and we found each other and arrived at the airport in good time.
Getting on the flight was no problem as I expected. I had already listed myself on standby for the day and SAA staff gave me a bulkhead seat which is right behind business class, and so Robert and I had three seats between us, and I was close to the toilet for the inevitable nappy changes. Being a nervous flier at the best of times I was a little bit concerned over the long trip and how Robert will take it, but the time somehow passed, and people took interest in the little baby, talked and played with him and generally took his inquisitiveness with humor.
Getting on the flight from Frankfurt to Berlin gave me a few white hairs. It was the last scheduled flight for the night, and was obviously overbooked. The airline staff did not seem concerned though and I thought they would not leave me behind, baby and all. I was right and I got on the flight sandwiched between two passengers and with Robert on my lap. My next passenger was a very interesting gentleman from Vancouver BC of all places and he was flying to join his German girlfriend in Berlin. We chatted up a storm and my little boy, probably lulled by the familiar Canadian accent went to sleep for the duration of the short flight.
My aunt was waiting for us at the airport. It was a good thing that I called her on the weekend to tell her we are coming because she thought we would be only showing up on Friday for my mom’s birthday. That would have been quite funny to arrive disoriented and tired an hour before midnight and try to figure out how to get to my parent’s place using after midnight transport..
We decided that it was best to crash at my aunt’s place and only call my mom in the morning. It was late by the time we finally put our heads down, and my little one was so disoriented, tired and unhappy, he cried for almost half an hour before finally dozing off on my breast.
Today my aunt did not go to work and called my parents with the flimsy excuse that they should pay her a sick visit… My parents live only a few minutes away on foot and my aunt and them visit each other all the time, so they do not need much convincing to come over.
The look on my mom’s face as she saw us sitting there in my aunt’s living room was worth traveling 10,000 Km. I was so happy I made the effort.
I am now home with my family and can enjoy to be a child again.
Oh I have done so many things in the last few days I do not know where to start.
On Wednesday I had Robert’s father looking after him again while I went to apply for the visa for a second time. I remember we went briefly before that to the police station where they certified his letter giving his “permission” for me to travel with his son. I also managed to buy tickets, go to the lawyer and sign transfer documents for the Gonubie house, and order a bed and a washing machine. Needless to say that this took more than half the day and my ex was angry because he missed his opportunity to go to the gym, and “wasted his day”. My day was far from wasted, and even with all the work and running I had the chance to visit with my neighbor/landlady, since her husband owns the block where we are staying. We got to know each other over some coffee while Robert and Kiara got to socialize.
The past days were not all bright though, I had a problem with the lawyer earlier this week because the transfer proceedings have been already initiated by conveyance lawyers in East London, and my lawyer was upset because he would not get his share of the deal this way, especially since it is stated in the divorce order that they will take charge of all the property transfers (obviously I missed on this one in all the excitement that the house sold). I pleaded ignorance with my lawyer and thought I let myself off the hook with them, how little did I know about the nature of these lawyers.
I also had a minor problem while applying for the visa. My photograph was out of date and I was so scared that they would send me back for a second time, but they told me to come back on Friday with the new photograph which just means that I have to stand in the queue again and not collect immediately.
On Thursday I had a few more loose ends to tie. I started early with Robert and we traveled into town where I got a new passport photo, then back to apply for a phone line at Telkom and a private mailbox at the post office. I could not resist stopping at the book shop and buying some second hand books I fancied – it is an addiction with me. I still had to work in the afternoon while Lucy looked after Robert.
This morning Robert and I took the trip into town again, this time to pick up the visa, and we stopped for a little bit to say hello at my office. I am still haunted by the reaction Robert had to my workplace last Christmas, when he went into an uncontrollable fit of crying. This time he just looked inquisitively around, but I could not register any negative or positive feelings on his face – he is obviously indifferent to the ninth floor. We had to make our way back home quickly because I received a call from the furniture shop notifying me of the delivery of my new bed and the washing machine.
The people arrived an hour or so before I was due to work, and as usual in these cases, the workers start out slowly and carefully then start bashing their way around when their delivery schedule starts to pressure them. Unfortunately for me the slow part of their work involved putting the bed together while bashing around was the fate of the washing machine. It was moved between two different spots and then it became obvious that they will not get it right in their rush. The task was also complicated further by a loose toddler, and I simply could not supervise safe installing while also keeping an eye on my son. I finally said that they can perhaps leave and hoped that I could figure it out with the on-site landlord agent who is generally helpful to my ignorance in home maintenance. I usually exaggerate my “incapable female” attributes to best effect.
Mercifully Lucy arrived in the middle of this upheaval and took care of Robert, and then I had to run to work, late as usual. Lucy assured me she would sort everything out and I had no idea how she could, because I had the old bed, the futon mattress and the washing machine all in strange positions and a small space has very low tolerance to disorder.
I was so worried that I called later from work and Lucy assured me that everything is fine. The washing machine was put in place by the landlord’s agent and the flat was in order. I came home to a different place, and my son received me with a beaming smile, nice and clean from his bath. It is such a joy and relief to be home.
After all this frantic running, I have my visa, my ticket and I accomplished everything that needed to be done before my trip. I only have two more working days then it is off to a well-deserved holiday.
I arranged today for Robert’s father to look after him while I attempted to get my visa to Germany, and as usual I was ill prepared for the requirements.
I had thought that I would get the invitation letter to them at a later stage and the medical insurance as well, but they needed upfront (obviously duh). The main problem, however, was that I needed a letter from Robert’s father approving his departure on holiday with me. I never thought that I would need such a thing, as I had sole custody of my son… ah well
Unfortunately, this means that I have to ask Robert’s father to look after him again this week, maybe next Wednesday when I have time off, but that is precisely at the last second, because the visa takes 48 hours (until Friday) and I am planning to leave early on Monday, so hopefully there are no more snags on Wednesday.