Nairobi

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.

View from the guesthouse in Gigiri

Almost Home

Yesterday Mr. Handyman came to install my washing machine,  my stove and a security door. This last one is kind of mandatory in South Africa, although the house break-ins in our area are neither more nor less than the average place in the world, or so we like to think. I ended up paying the handyman too much, and I was the one who solved the problem of connecting the washing machine to my hand basin, by suggesting the correct fitting : a simple T junction. They wanted to sell me a new tap, that would have cost a fortune and would have probably ruined the handbasin, and I do not want to talk about the mishap with installing the security door either, which the apprentice screwed in the wrong way while the master handyman was busy making small talk.. Ah well, all in a day’s work in South Africa.

Since I ended up paying a fortune yesterday for the privilege of owning and using my appliances, I wanted to make use of them as soon as possible,  hence we made pan cakes for breakfast and for lunch we fried fish cakes and fish fingers, but the highlight of the day was inaugurating the washing machine; I think it is truly a mother’s best friend. The handyman thought the dishwasher was too, but I beg to differ, because there are disposable substitutes for dishes should one want, but they haven’t invented a socially acceptable form of disposable clothes. In theory you can eat take out, from the pot, or from the container to minimize on dishes, nobody would notice unless you invite them to your home to watch this anti-social behavior, but everyone would surely notice if one chooses to minimize on clothing or go completely without… Therefore the washing machine is definitely non-negotiable.

Today it is two weeks since we moved here, and I am definitely not in a frenzy of ordering. Things are getting to their places in their own good time (or in mine). I  have been busy with a number of small jobs and I was keeping strange hours, such as sleeping at seven with my boy and then waking up after midnight to translate, review or proofread as the case may be.  Now I have a bigger job that will demand my attention for the next four week.. I am a very busy woman.. touch wood.

That said, things on the day-job front do not look that great. The atmosphere is getting increasingly stifling there are more rule-writers and micro-managers than I can tolerate, and I keep wondering how long before I just throw in the towel and concentrate on spending my time in more rewarding activities, like making my flat feel like a home for example..

Now it is almost home with a few touches missing here and there. There are many positives to the new place : It is closer to Robert’s play school, so I normally walk with Robert there and back,  this dramatically reduces my travel time and transport expenses.  The down-side is that it is far away from my favourite food stores; I definitely need transport to do the shopping or I need a high degree of enthusiasm to walk back five kilometres or so with a heavy backpack. This is the only way to go though if I was going with Robert since it is too difficult to get him, his stroller and my shopping bag(s) onto a minibus, or even a bus – our city buses are horribly inaccessible with a half a dozen steep steps to the passenger deck and very narrow seats and aisles.  Still, I can do this. Shopping is not an everyday affair, unlike taking Robert to the day-care.

Robert himself seems to be heading towards a difficult time for me. He has developed an interest in the Micky (Music in our language) and asks for the radio the moment we step into the flat. One would like to think that he wants to listen to the songs, but no, not Robert. He wants to move the CD player about, plug it in, then out, then carry it to the floor, or put it on the table. Later he starts pushing buttons indiscriminately, and opening and closing the tape deck, taking out the CD and then putting it in again… drives me absolutely insane.

I tried to ask him to promise me to leave it alone, not play with it or move it. But his only concession to my demands was learning a new phrase :”promise mommy”. It is actually so cute when he stands in the lounge and asks me for the radio, then says to me “promise mommy, promise me” while slowly nodding his head in affirmation – makes me want to give in.. I am thinking of buying him a cheap tape recorder to break, and I will make tapes of his favorite songs so that he will stop scratching the CDs. Oh, the things that this boy is making me do, but I love him so much.

Starting to Crack

Wednesday was a hopeful day, and I thought I found our new flat and started planning my life -sort of- around it.

Today was a terrible day in contrast. I am stuck with a proofreading job, part of a translation that I already did last month and got paid for. It should only take one or two passes with an experienced layout artist but I am dealing with a rookie, and she is driving me around the bend. I have been trying to work with her for about two weeks now and there is very little progress, so I finally decided that perhaps it is good to try and do the job myself and embarked on a downloading half a dozen of trial software, using up my internet bandwidth and purchasing extra. I feel sick just thinking about the bill that I will get next month for my usage. This in addition to the upcoming bills of moving and admin related to rent.

Lastly when I called the property management company to enquire about the lease for the apartment I viewed, one of the workers there gave me lip and retorted that I was “not a good tennant” because I argued that they should please give me feedback soonest, I do not even know whether I will be getting the flat or not. Life is not easy when you are me.

My place looks like somebody just dumped a truckload of broken toys, dirty dishes and laundry haphazardly everywhere, I am demotivated to no end, and blogging about it to the whole world is not making me feel much better about myself.  Hopefully today is going to be a better day.

Poor Robert has to put up with a grumpy mother today. I feel sorry for the little boy, it is not his fault what is happening right now.

My Home My Castle.. where are you now?

Another erratic week has passed, with rain and floods in the Cape. My life is no less flooded with news, worries and small irritations.

It started last week Monday when Robert had a fever again while at school. He was sleepy and lethargic, and appeared to have problems swallowing. The fever did not break on the next day and I was forced to phone work and simply tell the truth : My child is sick and I cannot take him to day care and therefore cannot come to work.  Before resorting to this I tried Robert’s father but obviously his work is much more important and critical than mine,  so I just have to take whatever management deals me for this since I have no sick days or family days left – or so I believed at the time.

Robert improved ever so slightly on the next day, mercifully an off day from work for me,  and I decided that we tough it out this time and do not run to the doctor, which proved to be the correct decision in this case since he was well enough for school on Thursday, although I took precaution and gave him a dose of fever medicine before school on the day.

My troubles for the week though were not over because last week I also received notice to vacate my flat, by latest August 31st. This came as unwelcome shock for me, even though I hate many things about my current place, mainly its dilapidated general state, filthy carpet, pealing paint and leaking plumbing, but I am the kind of person who puts up with a lot of inconvenience and I do not particularly care for major changes and upheavals in my life. No, I am not a mover and a shaker and I HATE moving with a passion. This will be the fifth time I move since I came to Cape Town in 2005, and that is too much for anyone.  It is even too much for me because I only moved a dozen times in my adult life.

Small consolation for me is that the whole block has been served notice, on the pretext of major renovation to the building. The place does look shabby even on the outside and there is no denying the need for a major facelift, and some serious maintenance, but the timing is very unfortunate, for me that is. For the landlord it is probably just right to get the whole place done up and ready to be rented out during the World Cup.

I am starting to think that this whole World Cup thing is a curse for us bottom feeders, and regular citizens.  Everyone with a little stake in this city thinks that the World Cup will be their chance to make a fortune.  Not only landlords are licking their lips, taxi drivers are also starting to flex their muscles, unhappy about the public transport system which will start running in 2010, since they expect that it will take a chunk out of their profits. Workers Unions are exploiting the opportunity as well, and pressurizing construction workers into a strike that has hampered the construction work at the Green Point Stadium. Of course the workers are normally unwilling participants in such actions, but do not dare to go against the unions and the threats from more belligerent members.

I was euphoric many years ago when South Africa won the bid for hosting this World Cup, but now I am beginning to think that the best thing that can happen to me personally is for this spectacle to move elsewhere.  The properties will be selling like crazy, rents will be cheap, transport will not increase in price and my city will be my own again. Now I feel like I am being squeezed out for some wealthy foreigner who will take my apartment, and maybe even sleep in my bed when I am on the streets. Yes, this is over-dramatizing the situation, but I am a wee bit paranoid about being homeless.

Ah well, tomorrow I am going on my first -probably of many- flat-viewing errands, I hope that this time Robert and I will get to stay in the same place for two years at least. I want to move as soon as possible and will not wait until the end of next month if I can help it, because I do not want Robert to spend another birthday in the chaos of moving.

On a happier note, today is Bastille Day, my father’s birthday : Happy Birthday Dad, and thank you for being a great father and role model. I am trying to emulate you as best as I can.

A Rough Patch

I ran into a friend yesterday as I was going back from a walk along a very cold beachfront.  She said she found this blog by chance and she liked it. This is the first time I get independent feedback on my writing in this corner, and I am really pleased.  She wondered -among other things- what happened after the cream cupcakes and why I have been away from this blog for so long.

The short answer is that I have been overwhelmed with so many things.  I figured out this month that while I juggle so many committements and responsibilities it is impossible not to drop one ball or the other at any given time.  It is challenging enough when things are running their normal course, but when things start to go wrong it is plain awful.

It all started in the middle of last month when I was called at work to get my son from school because he had pink eye. I haven’t blogged about it at the time, but this turned out to be the first of a chain of ailments. He later had diarrhea which lasted almost a week. The week after that he developed a cough, which turned out to be a pneumonia, we spent two days in the hospital for that.. soon after that he had another ailment a combination of stomach bug and sore throat with temperature.

Between the middle of May and today I visited the GP at least five times for Robert and once for myself, it has been rough. In the middle of all that I had two demanding freelance projects to work on and on some days I had to go to my day job… It was just too much.

At times like these, and I am merely human, things start to drop or come close to unraveling.  I needed leave from my daytime job to attend to my son in hospital, and I had to extend both my translation and proofreading assignments. The level of care I took at the household level went to near zero. The chores that did not relate directly or indirectly to the well-being of my son were postponed indefinitely. My clothes lay in a pile,  I wore the same thing two days in a row, and I ate whatever was left on Robert’s plate.  I know it sounds desperate but sometimes you do what you have to do. The worst though was the lack of sleep. I survived on four to five hours of sleep a day and worked every free minute that I had..

Even within my own set of priorities things started to suffer. My son had to put up with a preoccupied mother,  I arrived frequently late at my day job,  I had to phone sick once, and had to leave early at least twice because of my son falling ill at school. It is small wonder under the circumstances, that I neglected this blog.

During this difficult time I also came to realize that the way I am doing things is not working. Sooner or later something is going to give, and I do not want to breakdown or loose my health. I need to be here for Robert.  Some of my responsibilities and commitments need to be rethought, delegated or let go off completely. Maybe then I will have more time to devote to things that give me pleasure like blogging, knitting and reading. Amen.

Two Definitions for Nasty

Robert and I both can attest to the definition of nasty this week.

The little one has been teething and his canines (eye teeth) are giving a lot of trouble. At the beginning of the week I noticed that his top right canine has cut through, and two days later the bottom one followed.  The of course it was the turn of the teeth on the left side. I saw him during the week rubbing his gums, and even resurrected the teething ring which was a gift from his ex-aunt Jackie. He now frequently asks for it, calling it “bite” and rubs it vigorously against his aching teeth.  I always heard that canines are the worst, and now I know that this is probably true, because this was the first time I saw Robert crying with teething pain. This did not even happen when his four molars erupted at once.  On Thursday, he developed tiny red spots of rash which were localized to the left side of his face. I did not think much about them at the time but on Friday the teachers were worried and asked me to get the ladies at the office to have a look. One of them gave me the diagnosis of “measles” and I was extremely annoyed with her.  She is already out of favor with me because she keeps calling me Mrs Jxxx, which annoys me to no end because I never took my ex-husband’s surname while we were married,  and was definitely not going to start adopting it after I divorced him. Her grim diagnosis not withstanding, Robert was allowed to stay at school, because he simply did not have any other symptoms. The principal said that they will call me if he developed a fever.  As my luck will have it, Robert did develop a little temperature, but only when we got home, and we spent some miserable time on Friday night and all through Saturday. I still maintain that the teething is the culprit, because it is obvious that only his gums are hurting.

While Robert slowly gets used to his teething. I am suffering my own teething pains with the translation project I am currently working on. I have never experienced such slow progress since I started freelance translating. I sleep very little, I eat on the run and only get out to buy the necessities,  but still I cannot seem to catch up. A good friend of mine is in Cape Town on holiday at the moment and I was only able to meet up with her for two short visits, I feel bad but I cannot help it because my deadline is looming and I am not even halfway there. All I want is for this job to end, and I promise myself and my son that I will never ever accept such horrible work.

The Way We Talk: Introducing the Adjective

I have been doing more reading than writing in the past week. I waste my time reading a large blogroll consisting of must read news articles and analysis, knitting blogs, parenting blogs, language and translation blogs. I should perhaps cull this unwieldy flock and start over, but I cannot bring myself to do it. The bloggers I read have become like friends, and it is not easy to cut them out of my life after following their trials and tribulations for so long.

In addition to this electronic reading addiction, I have succumbed to procrastination syndrome. I always feel I have time, it will be done some day, but that someday never really comes. I still have a large hole in the blog that needs to be fixed and updated, and I have my notes about many missing posts, but it is all some day. Now yesterday I got this huge translation job that will keep me busy for the next month, but instead of putting my head to the grindstone and starting to work on it, what do I do? I feel this irresistable urge to update my blog, so here I am.

I think Robert’s first adjective used correctly merits a post by itself. One of the knitting bloggers I follow has a daughter who is approximately two months older than Robert, so it is interesting to read about her development and anticipate what will come next. Around 18 months the little girl made up a sentence that went like : flower .. pretty.

Robert is very much a boy, so he is not interested in flowers. I doubt that he has a word for plant either, and his interest there stops at pulling parts from growing things. The poor jade plant sitting just outside our door bears sad witness to this activity.  So it is normal when his choice for a first adjective was  typically male as well : it-di-gadin (it’s disgusting). This came about while Robert and I were having a bath. He was happily playing in the warm water while I washed my hair. Because my child is such clean freak (at this tender age, and he does not get it from me either) I continuously fish out my stray long hairs from the water while we bath. I roll it into an unappealing but perfectly harmless hairball for later disposal.  My son however, caught this thing, wrinkled his face and nose at it and exclaimed : it-di-gadin. It did not take me long to understand what he was on about, because yesterday this word was cause for much amusement. I told him that his nappy was disgusting, and gave emphasis to the pronunciation. It’s obvious that he liked the sound “disgusting” made, because we repeated it time and time again to the chorus of his laughter. Today he remembered the word and used it appropriately.

Babies apparently start to remember more and more things at this particular age and I am beginning to notice that. A week ago I pointed out the waxing gibbon which rose just before Robert’s bedtime. Yesterday he pointed to the direction where the moon was and said clearly : moon.  Maybe he thought I was pointing to the palm tree which is in the same general direction, but still the fact remains that he remembered something I showed him once a few days back. I still fail sometimes to understand him, paper and pepper sound exactly the same for example, and there are things that he remembers or connections he makes that I do not know anything about.  In our daily commute, for example, from home the kindergarten and back we pass the Sea Point library on Main Road. And if Robert happens to look towards the library he would get excited, and start shouting Ki-kah, Ki-kah repeatedly until something else catches his attention. I have wracked my brain for the meaning of this ki-kah, and I even asked his father but we both remain clueless. It could be the library, the fountain in front of it, or even an experience he had inside it,  but I cannot figure it out.

We are also at the very early stages of combining words. Yesterday Robert was climbing the steps barefoot, when he suddenly stopped and started whining and pointing to his foot. I think he said: bain..foot (pain..foot?). He might have stubbed his foot in his rush, but it is also possible that I misheard or overinterpreted his reaction.

Progress with a side order of Setbacks

Little One Sleeping

It is this time of night again when all is quiet except for the mosquitoes buzzing around my head. I feel a sense of peace and accomplishment today; little one is sleeping, the dishes are done, the toys are picked up from the floor, with all bits and pieces accounted for, and I have fixed one of Robert’s toys – the stacking rings which he destroyed recently. I still have a stack of books that need urgent care and attention after a close encounter with toddler terror; it is hard to catch up.  However it is nice to know that I am ending the day a tiny bit ahead, who knows what setback tomorrow will bring.

I was at work yesterday and I handed in my sick leave, and had a generous helping of humble pie with management in the ivory tower. I saw with my own eyes the form where I filled in my part time option incorrectly; pretty stupid eh? The guy I called the blond cretin was on duty travel so at least I was spared his gloating. I really haven’t changed my opinion about the planning side of our office.  Even in the five minutes I spent there waiting for the person in charge to show up, I was acutely aware of the shallow intellect and inefficiency.. life is a never ending tea break up there,  while below deck, we strain and slave away so that the ship stays afloat, so unfair really. But staying with ther here and now, I have blown my chance to show superiority over the incompetents of the ivory tower; I was just as bad, I am even worse than them because I assigned myself, not somebody else, with a wrong option.

Today I had the day off, and Robert and I set out for some errands. We walked as far as Moullie Point, where I got some paperwork from Robert’s doctor and got to the police station where I signed a proof of address and inquired half-heartedly about the wallet that I really lost two months ago. On the way back I went to the library and got myself a replacement for the library card. Robert was asleep so I spent some pleasant time browsing in the library.  Membership to the library is free to South African citizens and permanent residence, which is pretty good, but the quality and the age of the books is not top notch for lack of funding, I would actually prefer to pay a membership fee if it means access to better and more varied books. The Sea Point library has a corner for kids and there is a children’s librarian who has a reading program every Wednesday and I am hoping to take Robert there next week.

We walked quite long today, but it was a sunny and warm day; a perfect day in Cape Town and a great day to be South African. We bumped into a friend and may people stopped to talk with Robert, and he had such a ready smile for everyone. This was such a contrast to my experience in Europe, but I guess it is easy to be friendly when the sun is shining and everyone is in a holiday mood.

Before we got home I also managed to do some shopping, and filled my backback with fruit and vegetables.  Last week I bought some peaches and nectarines and they were both really tastelss, so I almost skipped the nectarines this time, but I am glad I didn’t; they turned out fabulous.  Robert got his first taste (and sticky feel) of plums; I let him handle them and mess to his heart’s content.. Later he ate fruit yoghurt and then sausage, and contiued to sample with me everything I put on the table.

I am always happy when Robert eats well. His appetite hasn’t returned to normal yet, and the culprit this time might be teething; he is cutting two molars at the same time : top right and bottom left ( he already has one bottom right molar). Maybe I can also blame teething (in addition to my own sickness on Sunday) for his renewed interest in nursing. Even when he is ready for his daytime nap now he comes up to me and grabs my shirt saying : Mama. The funny thing is that he never called me this name before, so I think he uses the word to refer to the breast, really funny.

Today I also noticed that he is saying something that sounds like : danguda, dagoda,  as if he was speaking Chinese. Later I figured out that he is  repeating a sentence he hears from me all the time : don’t go down. Also today I think he reached a very important mile stone. He was playing with the pots and pans and using their lids as a mirror. He usually looks to his image and says baby ( baba or babbi) – and I said to him : Yes, baby Robert.He responded by looking at me and pointing to himself; he understood the  reference, and could identify his name.

So this is all fine and well, my little boy is growing and his cognitive skills are developing, it is wonderful to be able to watch that every day..

While we are still on the subject of progress, I received a phone call from the furniture shop and my things are ready in the warehouse, and all I have to do is wait for them to be delivered (and pay the balance of course). I will close on this progressive note, and will talk more about setbacks some other time.

Starts, Stops and Stupidity

I recently read an article on Babycentre about extended breastfeeding and it calmed down my increasing feelings of guilt at my lackadaisical approach to weaning.  Most of the time I am letting Robert drive the process, and I have no intention of covering my nipples with chili sauce to put him off – which is a remedy I vaguely remember from the less worldly mothers of my native country. Robert is actually very mature about the whole thing, he rarely requests to be nursed during the day and I have managed two nights in a row to put him to sleep without resorting to the comfort of breastfeeding.  I feel comfortable that weaning will take place sooner or later, perhaps even before the end of the year.  A month ago I managed to reduce breastfeeding to nightly sessions only, but then his prolonged sickness was a setback; breast milk was the only food he wanted, and it was the only thing he was able to keep down when he had the stomach bug.  Today I am having another setback because I am suffering with an incapacitating flu (yet again), and breast milk is an easy meal to offer when mom is bedridden.

I believe my frequent bouts of flu are intimately linked to my emotional and mental state. The flu hits when I experience an emotional setback, a conflict at work or a disappointment, this weekend has witnessed two such incidents.

I guess I am not so lucky after all, the black cloud that my ex husband purported to float around my head is still very much there. Never mind my near miss with the cell phone; On Friday I lost my wallet for the second time in two months. Since this follows so closely on the heels of similar incidents, I can hardly make any excuses except for perhaps stupidity, confusion and absentmindedness.  I mean this is now the third time that I have something fall out of my pockets (from the same shallow-pocketed pants I may add) but I never really took notice of the problem until now. Well, not many people are this dense.  In the aftermath of the event I made a quick google search with the sentence “I always lose my wallet” and all I got was writings from party animals and people who generally get themselves too intoxicated to remember what they did on nightly revelry, let alone where they lose their wallets in the process.  Ah well, shit happens I guess.

My bad wallet jumped out of my pocket early Friday evening somewhere en route on Sea Point Main Road, and I only noticed its absence early on Saturday morning when I was getting ready to go to work.  I was too frustrated to go to work and I actually phoned to get out of it but a very nice Duty Manager was on the floor in the morning and she asked me to try my best to get there and I couldn’t say no. Lucy did not have any small change to lend me for the taxi and I do not have a change box at my little flat, so in the end I picked up a two-Euro coin and used it for my transport. At work my friend the Duty Manager gave me some money to tide me over until Monday when I will be finally able to go to the bank and get a new bank card.

The day progressed like a normal day at work usually does, no disasters, no major happenings. As I was ready to leave my Team Leader indicated that he wanted to speak to me for ten minutes about my quarterly review.  The review was encouraging, despite the fact that I made one serious mistake involving the transport of Dangerous Goods, and another less serious one which resulted in a complaint from a customer airline. I also had two incidents of late comings recorded during the time; it is hard to punctual when I depend on public transport and the early arrival of my nanny, and things easily spiral out of control when anything else goes wrong.

As I was leaving the little man from productivity planning, the star of my previous woes with the work schedule showed up. He had apparently been putting in extra time on this Saturday to prepare the shift roster for January. I went to get my copy and was unable to believe what I was seeing there. After all the trouble and the degradation I went through trying to explain to my situation to management, they put me again on flexible shifts, working afternoons as well as mornings.  I think I went straight to the little man and showed him my schedule, and he gave me a puzzled and uncomprehending look : “this is what I had” he muttered, and the only thing I could do was retort : “You guys are really funny, you know that?”. I just walked away, trembling with my pent up rage, and the desire to strangle and trample the blond cretin.  At the water cooler I bumped into a colleague, who pointed out to me the futility of getting mad and letting my mouth run away with me, whinging only as I usually do. He put into my head the idea of filing a formal grievance, which I definitely intend to do.  I cannot even begin to describe my feelings of utter rage at the incompetence and inefficiency of the people who plan our working schedules.

My worries about this recurring problem made me forget momentarily the problem with my wallet, and in any case my cards were safely canceled by then and there was nothing left for me to do other than casually ask at some of the places I passed yesterday, if anyone had handed in a wallet. At the first Supermarket I asked, there was strangely enough a wallet but it wasn’t mine. The fact that people seem to find things and hand them in, encourages me to ask further. I do not like it because it makes me relive my stupidity again and again (every time I ask) but I hope that the exercise will be humbling enough for me to learn a useful lesson.

Robert’s dad brought him home at three, and he was burning up with fever, presumably the side effect of his MMR vaccination, so I was caught up with this problem for the rest of the night.  Sponge baths and suppositories absorbed me with wallet and work forgotten for while. However I still managed to email my incompetent management to ask about the scheduling; my tone in the email was not as poisonous as I felt. I am saving all my wrath though for the grievance letter which I have started to work on.  Another battle for the walking wounded… life can get too interesting sometimes.

Enough Already

Every so often there comes a time when it feels that things are falling apart and I run out of resources to deal with my problems, yesterday was one of those days.

A few weeks ago I found out that Robert’s daycare will be closed for a full month over the holidays; namely from December 16th to January 16th. During the same time Lucy will be away in the Eastern Cape, and Robert’s dad may not be available either because he wants to travel to Canada. This throws a spanner in the works for me, because apart from paying a month’s fees for the daycare and getting only half a month, I will have to resort to the holiday after-care and pay additional fees for that. I thought I pre-empted the situation by reporting to my planning department early and working out a suggested schedule. I described my predicament in detail and got the usual bland response : “we will let you know”. I wasn’t surprised when I did not hear any feedback from the planners but I was in total shock when I showed up on Thrusday and saw that according to the December roster I was allocated a completely random schedule with a mixture of early and late shifts and with working days on Christmas and Boxing Days. I cannot describe my feeling of anger when I saw that, but the actual slap on the face came when I read the agent briefing online stating that they delayed the schedule in order to give 20 agents vacation over the holidays. I read in disbelief that they actually gave 20 agents vacation over the holiday, and why not me too ? and why the heck did they give me afternoon shifts again when I specifically requested morning shifts? Somebody obviously cares a lot about me and my situation in the ivory management tower. The management team member I spoke with about my problem showed up on the floor and when I asked him what happened there, he just shrugged his shoulders and informed me that he referred my problem to his superior S. and they were still going to speak to me.. This is supposed to make me feel real important, happy and relieved.

Thursday was the day when I made my first really stupid mistake at work, it has been a long way coming. This comes closely after a written warning I received for a safety relevant mistake with the loading of radioactive dangerous goods, so things do not look good for this load control agent. I left the office quickly because I could not stand the place for another minute.

The Global productivity manager or whatever his name is in this company called me on my way home and set up a meeting for Friday after the end of my shift to discuss my situation.

Yesterday was the greatest day of my life. I am awarding management the best accolades for caring and for helping me. I think they just wanted to make a point. Not only did I have the pleasure of Global productivity but also Global team leading on my case. They both started what can be best described as a sermon. Lambasting me because I was not showing flexibility and of asking for stuff that is not practicable. When I tried to point out to them that I have problems and I have no idea how I could make them fit in the scheme of their rules and policies they said everyone had choices. When I said that they did not even come back to me with feedback and just hit me with a computer generated roster, they said they were sorry but they had to get the roster out. When I said that they awarded 20 agents vacation over the holidays why didn’t they consider me? They said my initial request was not for a vacation. Yes, they do understand my problem but company policies and contractual obligations etc. Mr. Global Productivity chirped in by saying that they always helped me before but I did not show any appreciation (was I perhaps being punished in December for my lack of appreciation since April?) I have no idea. What followed was complete breakdown from my side, because I felt I was talking to a wall, while they continued to dance round and around rules and regulations : I can swap shifts with other agents, I can swap three shifts within my roster, I can try perhaps and ask for vacation ( a pathetic two days) and perhaps a few comp days -compensation days for public holidays worked (of which I have a few but I cannot waste since I still owe the company so many working days). Mr productivity did not want even to promise me the possibility of working consistent morning shifts, because they have no ideas what the scheduling will be like. How can they expect 100% flexibility from someone who has so limited options, I have no idea. In all the bosses wanted me to know that I am only one of 170 people, and every one of them has personal problems.
The bosses did not agree with me when I pointed out that the privilege of sitting in their managerial positions entails dealing with lesser employees problems and addressing them; they figured that all they need to do is address the needs of the corporation. I am sorry they have got it wrong. Productivity is not a one way issue from the side of the corporation, it is the people who have to be productive. Productivity requires putting the correct person in the correct place at the correct time. Making the employee happy is also key to productivity, yet this is something that these people in their ivory towers haven’t figured out yet. We have an extremely high staff turnover, and of course it is always the brightest, the most intelligent and those with the highest self esteem are the first to leave. Those who stay are normally the less bright, those with low self esteem, and those who like me cannot afford to leave.

The meeting took almost an hour and I know in my heart that they only wanted to make a point. Lest I forget that they are helping me out and “bending” the rules to do so. The chose the wrong person to exercise their sense of authority, and in the process they made me lose some of my dignity, and I resent them for that. Just before I left I asked them about the new shifts they were planning for part time employees, I was just grasping at straws and looking for any solution. They presented me with a leaflet that had just been made public today. I stuffed it in my bag and rushed to catch a taxi to the daycare to pick up my son.
My resentment towards management grew when I glanced at the leaflet on the way home, to discover that it contained no less than 20 different part-time working options. Couldn’t these people realize that at least one of them would work for me? If they cared enough perhaps, but my guess is that they just did not think about my situation, it is my problem after all. Well, at least productivity is going a step in the right direction by offering people options and modules according to their preference. I am surprised it hadn’t dawned on them before that 170 people would certainly have different requirements and by giving each person a schedule that suits their requirements they end up with efficient planning and real productivity. Not a randomly spat out computer roster. I just wish they produced this wonder somewhere at the beginning of the meeting, it would have helped me keep my composure.

Yesterday’s trials have taken their tolls on me and I succumbed to the flu. Robert is still suffering with it; I had to give him two suppositories for fever last night. He still has no appetite and routinely spits out my food offerings. I am starting to get really fed up with this whole thing, the worry, the mess and the constant nightly vigil. If my boy doesn’t get better over the weekend we will have another trip to the doctor on Monday.