A Late Review of 2019

So much has happened since I last wrote to this blog. The year that passed came heavy with difficulties and heartache, and although I felt the urgent need to unburden, I was frequently torn between the need for brutal honesty, with myself and this writing space, on the one hand, and the desire to make things look pretty, palatable or worthy of publishing on the other. And since I value honesty more than visibility, I kept quiet. During the last quarter of 2019, I found myself in the midst of so many events, that I had first to absorb and internalize. I needed to make sense of what was happening around me and inside my mind before I shared it with the world.

This time last year I felt like the weight of the world has landed on my shoulder. I had my personal grief to deal with in addition to a challenging situation at work, where I was saddled with a supervisory role I was not fully ready for. The team I led, on a temporary basis until the vacant position of chief was filled, consisted of chronic under-performers with huge egos and unpleasant attitudes. I surmounted the difficulties as they arose, but eight months into the task, I found that I was thoroughly tired of being the hardworking odd-ball in a team of slackers.

It stung me initially, that I did not make the cut for assuming the Chief’s role permanently, but later I understood that perhaps I did not have the time and energy to constantly crack the whip behind this team, and I resigned myself to the time-tested method of wait-and-see. I kept things running as best as I could and waited for the next Chief to assume the position and take ownership of this problematic situation. I practiced patience and tolerance to the limit, putting my foot down only when it was absolutely necessary, and thus achieved the maximum cooperation possible from my troublesome and trouble-making colleagues.

I also practiced running, mediation and kept on with my therapy sessions. These simple actions, were my lifeline, and now I think that they rescued me from a total breakdown. The running, for one, was crucial. I was selected in the draw to enter the Berlin Marathon and worked since late 2018 to gradually increase my mileage. I thought that completing the marathon would be a worthy goal that I have full control over, something that I can achieve in the year I was faced with antagonism, failure, rejection, heartbreak and grief. I envisioned this achievement as an antidote to pain, and a remedy for restoring my faith in myself.

I fought hard to make it happen, from carving out training time in a busy schedule, to planning a short turnaround trip and absence from work. And of course, I also had to arrange care for my son in my absence. But as I crossed that finish line, the rapture on my face told it all. I went the distance, and the euphoria carried me on its wings even when my legs could barely function. The very next morning I was on the way back home already, and even as I dragged my aching legs to the office a few hours after my arrival, I felt triumphant and invincible, there was nothing I could not do. I made it to the finish line, and for a short while, I felt certain that I could surmount even the tenacity of my heartache.

The next obstacle was my long overdue visit home. This was brought about by my sister’s illness. My parents made the journey in September and I thought that I could coincide with them there for one week during a school holiday. The logistics of planning this journey were a nightmare, and the whole plan would have come to nothing if it weren’t for the assistance of family in Dubai. This time I dragged my son along, and left him behind with a cousin in Dubai while I took a flight to Damascus.

When I left Syria to the Gulf in the late nineties, I had no idea that my departure would be permanent. I first became a Gulf expat, and visited home a few times. Then I met my ex-husband and moved far to South Africa. The last visit I made to Syria was with my ex husband in 2002. In those 17 years, my sister got married, and became a mother to two boys, now almost young men. During the same period my parents and brother left Syria in their turn to settle in Germany.

Even before Syria’s rapid deterioration from civil protest to unrest to all out civil war, the prospect of a trip from South Africa was daunting, and given the fact that I had the competing priority of visiting my parents and brother, I somehow never got around to making that visit to my home country. And in all honesty I did not miss it that much.

My emotional detachment from my native country is an uncomfortable subject that I would rather tackle elsewhere. Because although there is a universal theme of expatriates frequently feeling like foreigners in their native countries. The Syrian experience, especially after the war, adds another layer of complexity. I had trouble with the Syria of the 1990s, but last year I stepped into a place I did not recognize at all.

The road from Damascus to Aleppo seemed endless as it made a very long loop around the rebel-held areas in Idlib province. Whenever I nodded off to sleep I was woken again by the car stopping for one of the scores of control points. They were mostly amicable and waved us through but their presence was a clear indication that this was still a country at war with itself. My native city of Aleppo was even more scarred, whole buildings gutted and showing their broken insides, with remnants of a living room or part of a kitchen counter overlooking the void where the other half of the building collapsed to rubble and dust. The city itself ends abruptly with concrete barriers cutting off a main street that was once a busy bypass to the north, connecting it to the Turkish border.

Like the city, my sister was also battle-scarred. But unlike the city, which to me changed beyond recognition on many levels, my sister still retained her fighting spirit. She changed too, but I could still recognize her feisty nature, and her ability to laugh at herself, and make fun of a terrible situation. Perhaps I recognized my sister because I still have much love left in my heart for her, whereas my love for my native city has run dry.

I went the distance, here too, to visit my sister. And despite the difficult circumstances we managed to reconnect and make some memories. There were also the awkward moments where I felt like a stranger in what used to be my father’s house, but the love and support that my sister deserved had to come first. Still, I could not help but see that whole city, the whole country, lived under a cloak of misery. Some of this misery was visible in plain sight, but most suffering lay under the surface, and manifested itself perhaps in my sister’s illness, my nephew’s rebellion, my brother-in-law’s dependence on tranquilizers and cigarettes, and my cousin’s obesity.

I choked on my tears as the ancient Airbus 320 lifted off from sad Damascus airport, and climbed to cruising altitude. I prayed for my sister’s full recovery, and I prayed for everyone who was left behind in my broken native country. In my heart I knew that I will never return.

The year was tough, like running a marathon, but I managed to end it too on a high. The last two months were more pleasant. News from my sister was encouraging, and my new chief arrived and quickly assumed his new position. I was pleasantly surprised by his forthright character and his willingness to work hard and confront problems. I gladly took a back seat and allowed him to establish his leadership and authority. I have learned from this experience that I function better as a supportive and diligent first officer, and that I have no interest in command.

I concluded the year with a long and well-deserved proper holiday. My son and I visited the family in Berlin. My parents had safely returned from Syria too. Their return trip was perhaps more eventful than mine. First they missed their original return flight because of the unrest in Beirut and had to reschedule a different departure a week later. Then they spent almost half a day in Beirut airport as the local low-cost flight from Beirut delayed its departure because of the ongoing protests.

My son and I made a city stop in Vienna before we headed to our final destination in Berlin. And it was a long and lazy holiday to finish off a really difficult year. I had time to knit, read, ruminate, and simply enjoyed being with family, without worries about the office. We shared our stories from 2019 and reflected on our hopes for the year to come.

Throughout this last part of the year, I felt I was experiencing a rare period of downtime. In my last visit to the therapist in 2019, she told me that she would not book another appointment for me in 2020, and advised me to call her, if I needed, next year. My biggest fear for the new year was to find myself adrift without a new goal or a challenge. I entered and was selected for the Berlin Marathon this year too, but I knew that running a second marathon is not as motivating as running a first. The stakes for the first one were not that high. It would have been no big failure to try and fail, and the success, when it came, was my big underdog moment under the sun. For this second marathon, however, winning would not be as sweet and losing may be doubly bitter.

I have thus concluded my summary of 2019, with the problems I anticipated for 2020. In trying to solve them, I started a daily gratitude journal and set myself on a course to surprise and challenge myself. A book I am currently reading suggests that life should be approached in a gameful spirit. And to keep my interest and skill in the game I need to devise and accept new challenges. I need to embrace new changes and challenges and believe that 2020 will be my best year yet.

Fixed at the Edges but Broken at the Centre

The past few weeks have been some of the most difficult in my working life, and the show is set to continue, during a year that is extremely heavy on conference and meeting schedules. I am heading my small unit as Officer-in-Charge, while management makes a final decision in the recruitment process of my future boss, the new head of the unit.

The workload has been unreal, and my team are some slackers, to put it mildly. Some of them will not do an ounce of extra work without the incentive of overtime. Meanwhile I am doing double my usual quota of work in addition to the admin I am saddled with since October.

Through this, I have attended to my own waxing and waning aspirations at work. I oscillated between wanting the vacant position of chief of unit, and dreading the prospect of it. As I mentioned earlier, by all reckoning I am the only one in my small team who is willing to put in the extra work and go the extra mile. The rest are in it for their own agenda. One wants a promotion to land at his feet when I become the chief, and the others just want things to carry on as slack as ever while cashing in on the overtime.

One afternoon, they even decided to leave the office and work from home for the rest of a Saturday meeting shift without checking with me. On that day I was in and out of the office several times, dealing with one problem after the next with my son, who needed to attend a compulsory school open day, then came back from it with an upset stomach. When I finally settled my child’s ailment, I came back to find an empty office two hours before official shift end. I wrote an email to the typing team leader reprimanding her on leaving the office, and while I copied only my immediate supervisor, she went on to escalate the matter to the several heads of the Department, questioning my own lack of reporting to my subordinates on my whereabouts.

Fools have the biggest egos, and I have to manage a small incompetent team where each member has a huge sense of entitlement, whereas I have none myself. It looks like I am not even entitled enough to become their boss. I did not have enough ego to sell myself to the selection panel for the Chief’s post. Perhaps my inner dread at managing this exasperating and frustrating team sabotaged my chances at landing the job. In short I failed the interview, even though I was the top scorer on the technical part of the recruitment test. It is true that I barely make the cut in terms of the years of experience required, but the job was within reach. I have been doing it for six month already during the heaviest workload I have seen in three years, so perhaps it is my intuitive side that did not really want it.

While I was initially disappointed at my failure to grab the chance for a promotion, my feelings finally settled into a sense of relief. The battle is far from over and I have some of the heaviest challenges ahead as officer in charge, but failing at them is no longer such a big deal, because at least now I can plead that the responsibility is above my grade-level. I can allow myself to fail now, and this has eased my sense of dread considerably, especially as my stint as officer in charge might lengthen at least three more months into the future. It is going to be a marathon, not a sprint and I might as well conserve my efforts. And I should follow the example of my slacker team on this one, since I am not getting paid for the extra responsibility.

You would think that with all this going in my life I would have little time to ruminate over my other emotional problems, You would be wrong. There is always time for a little bit of heartache. When I led my team to finishing a successful meeting, and as I came down from the adrenaline rush of delivering all those documents on time to the participants and member states, there was a piece of me that missed a kind word, from the man I loved. He used to text me at the end of my night shift to check on me. The memory of this would lead me again to remember all those little moments of kindness and caring that he showed. My rational mind and my wounded heart would then start again on their well-trodden circular path of an argument that leads nowhere. My mind would tell me it was just normal and natural kindness and my heart would deny this and try to articulate what each small gesture felt like, and how they were all perceived, as part of something bigger, even before he or I were aware of them as such.

Another day in the morning I was sitting at my usual spot nursing my heartache. I wrote about it in my notebook. I was feeling blue because I had conjured him the night before in a dream. In the dream we just walked together and sat on the steps of my old college in my country of birth. I think we held hands as we walked but no further intimacies were shared. I reflected on this earlier as I was drifting into wakefulness. My brain has no reference to what it would feel like to be intimately close to someone I love so much, so I cannot recreate it, not even in a dream.

I once told him that seeing him, even from afar, is enough to bring my day off balance. But apparently even the thought or image of him, in wakefulness or asleep, does the same. In my notebook I wrote: How do I get over someone I carry within me? And that question made me weep. A Kenyan colleague I never met before stopped on her way to a morning walk, and we talked. I told her my story, and in the telling the loss and the pain intensified and became even more real. I must remember this too. I should never share it outside of paper, and cyberspace, as it will just grow and fill whatever empty space was left for my breath. I went to the office with red and swollen eyes, but at least I connected with a kindly soul.

I still walk with the pain, and on some days it is kinder on me than on others. Philosophically I try to take it as a lesson, as a teacher of endurance, patience and acceptance. If it weren’t for surviving my suffering of the past 20 months, I wouldn’t have been able to deal with the pressure and adversity at work. I would have crumbled under the weight of this responsibility, this grindstone I am carrying around my neck. Today, thanks to my training on the endurance of pain, I am still upright, and still planning on going the distance, like a marathon runner. I say to myself that being here has fixed me at the extremities but broke me at the centre, in my heart. My consolation is that a broken heart feels keener compassion for a broken world. No regrets.

Brides of the Organization, and why I will NEVER be one

I was asked recently while on lunch with a colleague why so many single women at our organization, and particularly at our office, come into the service young and promising, then turn slowly over the years into embittered, old, and tired spinsters. He put his question rather politely of course, using words like “seem not to find their way to a proper private life”, and did not use any offending adjective to describe their outcome.

Aha, I thought to myself. So the men actually do notice these things. I have contemplated this phenomenon with my girlfriends. Privately, I called these women the Organization’s Brides. I also watched with trepidation the way my working  life has sapped my energy over the past four years and turned me from a tanned, healthy and happy woman into a pale, wrinkled and somewhat flabby woman, who has firmly set foot on the threshold of middle age. Yes, this type of workplace does exist, even in a highly esteemed organization. Because unfortunately, you do not work for your organization, you just work with your  direct boss. And this boss (or supervisor) comes with the complete package of his culture, upbringing, and education. Regardless of whether they are men or women, these bosses also come with the scars of all the past abuse they endured, and seem to mete it out indiscriminately upon their underlings.

I do not know whether my colleague’s question about the single women at our office was a general or particular one, but I honestly answered it from my vantage point as observer. I do not count myself among the brides of the organization. I have a very fulfilling life as a mother, and I do not let work take over my free time.

I devoted a lot of thought to the question of why women suffer so much in our workplace, and it all boils down to culture. Not organizational culture but our own brand of regional patriarchal culture. Women who are born into this culture are usually unaware of abuse or bullying from male counterparts, until they grow a backbone. Sometimes they never realize the wrongdoing of others until it is too late.

So a young woman like this arrives here, faces up to her predominantly male colleagues, and tries to prove herself capable against their prejudices. Meanwhile, she carries with her the baggage of conservative thinking, the deep-rooted fear of doing wrong, disgracing her family or being classified as a slut.  Moreover, there is a trap waiting to swallow workers with lower self-esteem. In my office these people are invariably women, who are starving for recognition in this male-dominated arena. They are desperate to please and prove themselves capable, so they take on all the jobs that nobody wants, rush jobs, weekend work, and sometimes night duty. After all there are no children at home, and no husband who would mind. Work becomes a respectable alternative for partaking in the pleasures of life. They first resist the temptation to live, then they totally forget about living. Work becomes life, and takes over. Depending on the age of these sad women, the male boss takes on either the role of a dominant husband or all-powerful father. They are incapable of contradicting this type of authority.

The experience of female Arab students at university abroad is another example. Their male colleagues from the same background are prepared by their culture and upbringing to take one of two roles, either the protectors, or the conquerors. After all an Arab young woman is too proper to have a relationship outside of marriage, unless a person from her own background becomes her mentor in the ways of love, then it is okay.  Regardless, there are very few Arab men who “would buy a cow if they get the milk for free”.  And imagine a single woman working with this type of mentality in the 21st century.

If I came here at age 25 or 30 I would have perhaps succumbed as well to that type of bullying. I may even have accepted the protection of an alpha-male colleague, under the guise of love. Like every other woman born in that environment I was programmed for submission and dependence, not leadership and independence. I am more likely to obey and say yes, than protest and say NO. But I learned to say NO and it was the most important lesson of my life.

A Working Mom’s Guilt Trip

Today was the last of the spring break. I mostly spent time with my son, looking after several outstanding issues, taking him for a dental and doctor checkups and putting our home in order. I have only ventured near the office on Sunday, the last day of the month, to put in a last translation to boost my average for the month of March.

That afternoon I had taken some good friends from the office out to lunch. We marked the 2nd anniversary of my arrival in New York, and my confirmed appointment as permanent staff. After lunch we walked to the office, and I took my son Robert along, thinking I will be out of there in an hour. I forgot that the office was like a black hole. It swallows all sunlight, brightness, joy and enthusiasm. So I made the mistake of reading my email, and was immediately consumed by fury at one of management ill-advised and badly thought out plans.

It seems that we in the lower ranks need a little more mental stimulation, never mind that we barely cope with the workload. Therefore we need to get excited about collectively reviewing the Arabic terminology database, by order of management. It should be noted that we the little people were singled out for the task, the seniors were excluded from it, although they are the ones who supposedly correct our work, and set us straight with terminology. There were many more problems with the division of labor, as the letters of the alphabet were considered all equal (or almost equal). This means that one colleague has to check the WHOLE section starting with Q, while letter sections like A and S were simply split down the middle between unhappy colleagues. One particularly unlucky (or unloved) person ended up with the chunk starting with P on his own, maybe seeing that p and q can simply be mirror images from each other. This review is done in addition to, and in parallel with, the work done by dedicated terminology staff, and I would not even try to explain the unwieldy process we are required to follow in order to mark the records needing reviews.

One of my good friends at the office has this brilliant strategy of just working through his task and not checking any emails until he has finished his allotted work for the day. This is something I should try, because normally if it is urgent someone would phone. Email is for less urgent stuff, or the downright annoying bickering. After reading this email, I was stuck in the warp of indignation, righteous anger and the need to vent. I started reviewing it with some of the colleagues who also showed up to work on Easter Sunday. I made tables and rebuttals, showing how badly planned this whole thing was, and soon it was night-time. My poor son was keeping busy on his tablet, making drawings, designing posters, playing the ukulele and generally being an angel. When I finally turned to the work I was supposed to do in the first place it was past his bedtime. I walked with him out of the office after ten. Throughout the hours we spent in that cave, he never complained, and although he asked to go home half a dozen times, he never raised a fuss when I told him I had to finish what I was doing.

Robert’s maturity on Sunday night broke my heart and made me regret that I made him suffer my office for so many hours, when we should be doing something more fun instead. We had walked three blocks away from the office when I realized that I left my USB key on my desk, and I said: “Oh I forgot my USB”. Robert said: “Mommy we can go back if you want”. I cried when I heard him say that. No matter how hard I try, I can never be free of working-mom guilt.  Sunday night as I registered the delivery of my document, I did not feel my usual sense of accomplishment at a job well-done, there was only the bitter taste of guilt. I felt a lot of resentment against a workplace that causes me to be unfair on my son. A lesson learned from my past, however, is that I can never influence the politics of the workplace, I can only change my reaction and attitude towards it, maybe I should ignore work emails and half-baked plans. Concentrate instead on my own plans, and on my growing son.

Life in the Hobbit Hole

In our office there is no coffee machine for the workers to gather around. There is a tiny kitchen where we occasionally meet while depositing salad in the fridge or washing  yesterday’s coffee out of our mugs. What we do is mostly a solitary activity, save for some team-building communications that serve the exact opposite, or email exchanges on terminology that keep going for weeks.

We also meet sometimes at the hub of the activity the office of programming where the documents are distributed, then each of us heads up (or down) into our individual Hobbit Holes, as a good-humored colleague quite aptly named our office cubicles. Some brilliant genius thought that translators really need peace and quiet to enhance their productivity, so they mercilessly partitioned the floors of our office block into open working areas for typists and small windowless individual boxes for translators; we do not need sunlight anyways, it will hurt our poor eyes. So we sit in these caves and translate the world’s bumbling bureaucracy into equally baffling Arabic. We are encouraged to translate ambiguity with ambiguity, because the original is most likely intentionally ambiguous. Yet, when an Arab delegate picks up a document he cannot make heads or tails out of, it will certainly be the translator’s fault. So is our life, we bottom feeders.

Nobody really cares about the lowly translator. The interpreters often get the limelight. Their triumphs (and mistakes) are broadcast on national television. Ours are relegated to the gods of filing and archive, forgotten until they are once dug up, to be passed around for the mirth and amusement of other colleagues. It is about the only pleasure we get, to laugh off mistakes, horrible rendering, or gaffes of mistranslation. Because there is little pleasure in rendering utilitarian text. I always wondered whether two years of translating them has made my Arabic writing better or worse, I am not sure.

In-house translators are not too visible. They are perceived to be highly tolerant of crap coming their way, linguistic and otherwise. Therefore the high echelons of management gave us these terrible offices; out of sight of the main campus of our organization, we will also stay out of mind, so management hopes. I have been in this tomb of an office for almost two years now, and to add insult to injury there is a demolition going on next door to our building. They mailed us tenants back in November (or December) to tell us that the demolition will take 6-8 Weeks. Well, it has been almost 12 Weeks now, and they are still going at it full-blast with cranes and jack-hammers. The combination of noise, dust, vibrations and gloom is quite nerve-racking. Last week, I needed to run outside the building, I felt close to a panic attack.  We on the  lower floors are most affected, by dust, low light and noise. Apparently the former director of our section wanted the lower floors, because the lifts weren’t reliable, and so we suffer the consequences.

I have decorated my office space, and tried to bring in some color to the gloom.  Pictures of my son, and some of his artwork to remind me why I have to keep working. Pictures of Africa and a map of South Africa to remind me of where I want to be. I have also opted out of the institutional fluorescent lighting and brought a yellow indirect light. One of my colleagues invested several hundred dollars in buying noise-cancelling headphones, I still cannot justify this type of expense, so I put up with this noisy hell-hole. Another colleague found the solution to escape to a higher floor. She works in an open plan area at a different section. I may still follow her example.

For this week though I am giving myself and the Hobbit Hole a break. I am off  with my son for the Easter Break.




Out of Balance in New York

I am bombarded by unspeakable feelings and fears since I arrived here. Perhaps it is the change of seasons, the change of scenes, changes in my own circumstances, or it is just another milestone .. a passing midlife crisis.

When I first came here I suffered intense homesickness for Cape Town.  I tried to function within the parameters of my new existence, but alien things were all around: Parks as spaces of asphalt and rubber floors,  skeletal trees and flowers behind protective bars. All this next to the ever-present noise, and the mobs.  There was no escape from the oppressive weight of the city, even if I looked up beseeching the heavens I would only see a strips of blue stabbed with silver skyscrapers. I missed looking at grass, sea and a big wide sky. Once I was so miserable, I cried openly in the middle of a playground and was grateful for the shoulder of my mother; she helped me out that day despite her own homesickness. There were countless other times I cried myself to sleep and wished I had never come here.

Things will get easier, this is what people tell me. You will get used to the convenience of the city and get desensitized against noise, pollution, stress and all the ailments of this Big Apple.  In fact, things are starting to fall into place since I came to live on Roosevelt Island. I come to the peace of home and can look at Manhattan from the safety of this rock. I do not need the hectic city and its uncivilized people jostling and elbowing to be one second ahead of me at the subway platform.

Most days I ignore the city, trying to live in my own insular bubble on the island. When I have to meet Manhattan I block her out with music, South African radio shows or even an audio book. There are also some days when I swear to try making our relationship work. I will put up with her greed, her blatant consumerism and her egocentric qualities that threaten to swallow me whole. On some rare evenings when I see her across the East River, blushing red and gold in the setting sun, I can almost allow myself to love her.  But I know that the next day she will be her dismissive and cruel self, wanting my heart and my soul and offering me only the spoils and burdens of a living.

There are the good things, I admit. I like my job and Robert will have a good education. I get along very well with my colleagues and working beside them and with them made me realize what I missed in eleven years of living in my adopted country. I missed speaking the language I grew up with, it has been a long time since I last read an Arabic novel and discussed its plot and style.  It has been ages since I spoke with someone who closely knows the complex political situation in my birth country and understands the implications of what is happening there. Outside of my family, it is perhaps over a decade since I agreed with anyone on the contentious and paradoxical issue of religion.

I am finally able to do all that again, and I enjoy it. I feel that I am starting to make friendships to last a lifetime, but although this is positive and exciting, it scares me, because friendships mean staying and putting down roots, and something in me still resists that. I want to run, to escape, to move back to Africa.  I do not want anything to ruin my plans and hinder me.  My intuition, however, tells me that something has gone out of balance in my life recently. Maybe my desire to leave has began to falter, maybe I am starting to lose my strength against the temptation of the city, or maybe this is all just a novelty phase that will wear off as summer turns into deep winter freeze, who knows.

Review of 2010

The year 2010 is for me definitely a watershed year, where I tested the ropes on great many things and I am glad with the way they all turned out.

Early this year I finally made what I have been threatening to do for a long time, namely quit my office part-time job and concentrate on my home-based translation business. The decision was brought on after long consideration, and quite by chance on the day I handed in my resignation I found out that I qualified for an interview for a translation job with a high-profile international organization.  Of course, this did not mean I got the job but at least I travelled to the interview unencumbered by excuses to an employer, and I faced my interviewing panel as an independent language practitioner.

In April I found out that I passed the interview too and I braced myself for a long wait, loitering in a roster, without any idea when or where I will be called, but this did not concern me much at the time, there were other things to look forward to.

In June the World Cup came to South Africa, and my desire to live the experience to the full was also one of the reasons behind quitting my job. Robert had a prolonged holiday from school and we had our fill of the festivities, street parties and the fan walk. I was also fortunate enough to see two matches live, including the one Semi Final held in Cape Town between the Netherlands and Uruguay.

I am a World Cup baby, and I celebrated my 40th this year in style. And  a ticket to Algeria Vs England was a present to myself (the match itself a dud though). My birthday month also saw me sign a contract for buying a tiny new flat in a brand new block just around the corner from where I am renting. It was a huge leap of faith as I was not sure whether I can afford it, but my parents stepped in and rescued me with a generous loan that saved me from resorting to the banks (and risking getting turned down by them). My flat was scheduled for completion in February 2011.

Later in the year I had some stress with deadline and projects but in general I gently plodded on doing my work, looking after Robert and not forgetting to have a good time.

Late in October the saga with my lengthy job application progressed one step further and I was nominated for a job in New York. The rest of the year I spent doing some paperwork and speculating about how long the process will take.

I finally told Robert’s father of these plans in November and he did not take it easily. I had a few days of emotionally exhausting talks with him, where I stood firm on the fact that my life is going on – without him. He understood that the move will only benefit Robert in the long run.  I met him halfway, by offering him to rent my new apartment at a rate considerably less than market value.  Of course he was very pleased with that. He saw the flat with me a few days after Christmas and was involved in suggesting some minor changes.

Befitting my new amicable relationship with my ex we had a picnic on Christmas day at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and he was with us to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

We had a simple celebration at home with music and dancing (provided by Robert). We had champagne then walked downtown to watch the Christmas Lights on Adderley Street. Later we came home and had a quick late supper then walked up to Ocean View Drive to watch the fireworks at midnight. It was a quiet end to a wonderful year and I hope 2011 will be just as great.

My Ex and the Art of Manipulation

I spent nine years married to Robert’s father, and six months after our son was born he decided that he needed more from life. I was at the time trying to get back to work after an extended maternity leave and put up with living as refugee at a friend’s home and losing almost everything I worked long and hard for. Throughout all this there was one thing that kept me going and kept me alive it is loving Robert.

Throughout my marriage I always felt inadequate and not good enough. This feeling was enforced by the treatment of my ex husband, who always looked down upon me and made feel inferior. Five years ago I broke up with my husband for the first time. We were both working on HIS dream running our own business, a service station in a scenic coastal town of the Eastern Cape. During that time I worked as hard as he did, and for very little rewards, but still battled for my space. My salary went to pay off our bond and I was reduced to asking him for money. I was denied a computer, and an internet connection, because these were not part of his priorities. I was severely reprimanded when I used the internet connection at the office, and was given extremely harsh treatment on one occasion when I did some of my translation work late at night at the office.

Throughout all that I was working for HIS goals, and denying myself mine. I was manipulated by blind love for him and sense of responsibility of what makes a good wife. My unhappiness gradually drowned out my love for him. As the workload and responsibility of running the garage wore him out he became more and more hostile towards me, citing me as the only reason for his unhappiness and telling me at every opportunity: “We do not need you at the garage”, making me believe that the only things wrong at the business was my attitude which was bringing everyone down.  I lasted two years under this psychological torture and then I decided that I did not care anymore and drove over 1000  km  from the Eastern Cape to Cape Town.

He never thought I would do it. He tried every single trick he could, and in the end he decided to play soft instead of hard. He ended up convincing me that I would be carving a way out for US from the drudgery of running this business. I still loved him at the time so I took him back later when I had a job and a place of my own in Cape Town. It would have been the biggest mistake of my life if it weren’t for Robert. And because of Robert I can forgive every single cruelty his father committed against me.

I have been divorced now for two years, and I must admit that I still had feelings for my ex during the first year of our divorce. But sometime during this past year my feelings towards him were finally laid to rest. A week ago my friend Britt asked if Robert’s dad was seeing someone, and it struck me that I really did not care.. It was a relief and a revelation at the same time.

My ex is only important now inasmuch as he is important to my son. Robert loves his father dearly and I love my son enough to put up with what I consider typical insufferable behavior of my ex. But when he tries using my son as a manipulation tool I feel resentful again.

I do not dwell on the past much, and I battled to condense the narrative of my divorce story, there were many more ways my ex hurt and manipulated me in the past, when we were first married, and when I arrived in Johannesburg as love-drunk bride and found an austere and brooding husband I never really knew. These memories do not serve a useful purpose in my life at this moment and they are therefore filed away, for now. Unless typical ex behavior occurs, and today is one of these days.

I found out today that I might be a candidate for an interpreting course that could take me to Gauteng for a week. The course is part of a contract I may be doing for a government entity to interpret during the World Cup.

Typical ex reaction: You should think of Robert and not of yourself. Translation: It would really inconvenience me to look after him during these days. Okay I already had misgivings about leaving Robert for a week. I miss my son even when he spends one night at his dad’s, but still I answered: Huh, isn’t earning a living part and parcel of thinking about Robert? How about maybe I ask to increase maintenance?

Ex reaction (very shocked): You should think carefully of what you are doing. I am doing everything I can for my son and [insert here sob story about how hard done by he is and how he is on the verge of losing his job but this man told me just a few months ago that he was looking to buy himself a flat in a posh area of town]. He could tell that this was not having an effect on me, so he went on with a veiled threat: “Are you aware that our son can only leave the country with my consent?” “I would do everything I can so that he has a father, I will gladly be his guardian”.

Oh really? If one week with your son is considered strict inconvenience then how would you deal with a lifetime? Secondly, if I ever leave the country it would be because of a job offer and I know the answer that will shut you up for good if this situation arises:  Pay me an alimony equivalent to what the overseas job pays and I would gladly stay home.

My ex has no power of manipulation over me anymore. I see through his every action. He is motivated by fear of losing money in EVERYTHING he does. Losing me did not hurt him as much as the paltry alimony and divorce settlement. He is cold and calculating to the extreme. I would like to think that he is different when it comes to our son, for the sake of Robert. But still he blames Robert’s occasional misbehavior on ME. He wants me to speak to his teachers to stop giving him cakes on Friday because he figures sugar consumption makes him hyper-active. Friday is baker’s day at school and all the kids wait for it every week, and I am supposed to go and deprive my son of it just because my ex has him some Friday nights. It is so easy parenting on planet ex. I never ask or try to interfere with what and how he spends time with our son. Honestly I do not want to know his parenting style because I do not want to be judgmental. I trust that if I do what feels right on my side Robert will be okay.

If I ever over compensate in something with Robert then it is with love. I always try to show love, in words actions and behavior. I figure that this is one of the things that my ex did not get much of as a child and I pray that I am not raising the father over again. I cringe to think of my son’s world if he only has his father to come home to; a world of all rules, no sweets, no joy, no laughter.  I only cling to the one hope that my son with his love, his innocence and his intelligence will outdo the manipulations of his father.

Getting out of Geneva

Morning Frost in March

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.

Hotel room

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.

More Treats for Robbie

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.

Paper Men (and women)

Don’t you just hate it when you ask something relatively simple and doable from  your superiors at work and then they start quoting you the “rules” , the Employment Act and proper procedures ? Meanwhile you know and they know that rules and procedures are elastic and that they have frequently transgressed those or blatantly threw them to the wayside whenever some minor interest of the corporation was at  stake.

I had this experience many times, therefore I was not surprised when I asked my superiors a few days ago to retrench me and got NO for an answer. I just knew that they wouldn’t do it because of the way they started citing the rules. Basically it does not change a thing, I am still going to leave this company, but it would have afforded me a little better shot-term financial benefits.

I have mixed feelings at the end of my road with this corporation. I am frightened, relieved and elated, all at the same time. I might miss the benefits and suffer the lack of funds for some time,  but I definitely will not miss the office politics. I will not miss the rules and regulations that are taylor-made to restrict and obsturct the employees. I will not miss the paper trail recording everything from minor mistakes to a few minutes of late-coming. I will not miss having to explain sick days or the reason why I wanted a particular day off. And most of all I will not miss the paper men and women who think that forms and signatures will help enforcing a collection of mindless rules. They don’t! They only teach people to sign whateve stupid idea their bosses come up with thus creating more and more “paper” men (and women).

I only have to put up with all this for another four weeks. My resignation was handed in today.