Thursday, April 28, 2011

A post with no name

So, I’m not really sure how to tell the story of my African Easter holiday. So let’s just pretend you’re sitting on the foot of my bed in the magenta room and we’ll work it out together.
If I were to sum it all up in one word I’d say gluttony; but there’s no fun in just using one word, especially when food is involved. Since Nick finally had a break from work he decided to make me his subject to try new recipes on. We’re talking full breakfasts with two different types of bacon, sautéed mushrooms, flap jacks with caramelized bananas, and homemade cornbread. We’re talking gourmet turkey sandwiches, poached eggs, ratatouille, and pasta sauce made from heavy whipping cream. We even had a dish that was titled “evil apples” main ingredient: butter. I also happen to fill the role of adored little sister in this house, so Roelien and Nick like to try and outdo one another in spoiling me. Since this competition has started I’ve had to move my socks and underwear to a new drawer in order to make room for all the chocolate. I promise you, they will have to roll me out of this country.
When we weren’t eating we found other things to amuse ourselves. We visited the Hartbeespoort Dam, which made me feel like we’d stepped into Holland. There were windmills everywhere, and everyone was speaking Afrikaans which is basically Dutch spoken with an African tongue. We visited the farmers’ market there and bought enough dairy products to stock our own specialty grocery store. The dam itself was gorgeous; all the water flowed downwards and looked like it was disappearing into the foothills of the nearby mountains. But the best part of the day was when we drove through the tunnel that leads to the dam and Christine (who is an 82 lady by the way) begged us to roll down all the windows so she could stick her head out, scream into the tunnel, and listen to the echo. She made all of us join in her fun. I love this woman.
We also happen to live really close to the Union Buildings, which seem to be the South African equivalent of the White House. So with all the Easter holidays and then another Public holiday later in the week we were able to catch a few fighter plane air shows from our terrace.
Now for a different story completely. Feel free to take a break and get something to eat or a drink if you’re tired of reading about my life, or if all that talk about food made you hungry.
I didn’t have to work until Thursday this week so some people from the ward invited me to go to Gold Reef City with them on Tuesday. It is a little amusement park and it was nice to ride some roller coasters. It was also nice to hang out with people who aren’t double my age. Anyway the weather was on the fritz all day long and we found ourselves in sporadic rain storms all throughout the day. When we were ready to go home is of course when there was a perfect downpour and we had to make a mad dash for the car. Then the second we were all inside and driving off the sun came out more beautifully than it had all day. Apparently karma and I do not get along.
Anyway, after a long day of roller coasters we went back to my friend James’ house and made crepes for dinner. That’s another tradition I’m completely on board with. When it rains here everyone eats crepes. Fantastic idea if I ever heard one.
So we sat around eating way more than we should, laughing at ridiculous jokes, fighting over who should have won the World Cup last year and in 2006, and analyzing American politics. Before we knew where the time had gone it was 11:30 and well past time to go home. (It’s a general rule to be home by 9ish, 10 at the absolute latest.) So we left and when I got home I found myself completely burglar-proofed out of the house. I couldn’t even access the staircase to where the door that I have a key to is.
After pacing the house a couple times it was apparent that I had two options: sleep outside in the rain, or think like a criminal and find a way in. The rain got old really fast so I went for the criminal route. Turns out there is a ladder up the side of the house that runs parallel to a row of windows. The bottom three sets of windows were bolted shut, but the top one was wide open. Even better, it was a bathroom window. I could sneak in without waking anyone. So in true Pollyanna fashion I put my purse in my mouth, climbed the ladder, scaled the window seal, and got one leg through the window.
That’s when I realized that this wasn’t my bathroom. I had climbed too high and was now breaking into the apartment above Christine’s house that she rents to three very sweet college girls (the ones who had locked me out actually). I still was considering letting myself in just to get out of the rain, but then decided that being locked inside their apartment with nowhere to sleep or to hide would lead to too many questions come morning time. So now trying to be very very sneaky I pulled my leg back hoping I hadn’t left a muddy footprint on their toilet and went back down the ladder.
Luckily Roelien stays up late and by this point she had heard enough walking around and seen a silhouette show up on her window enough times to prompt her to see what was going on outside. She let me in, made me go dry off and put on warm clothes, made me some hot chocolate and sent me to bed. Nobody in the house is aware that I half-way broke into the girls flat upstairs, I plan on keeping it that way.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fancy Pants

Last week was the UNEP-SEED Symposium on the Green Economy. I would explain all the abbreviations, but it won’t mean anything anyway. Basically a bunch of people were getting together to discuss their efforts towards a green economy, maintaining the rain forest, and other like actions. Cool for them. I really wanted to attend, but I got snuffed and told to go babysit high schoolers instead. Oh the joys of being an intern.

I did, however; get invited to the awards and ceremonies dinner. AND I was treated like a big shot. They had all these beautiful fruit cocktails out that I was turning down, turns out my boss lady also doesn’t drink. I won brownie points. So during the cocktail part of the party I mingled with some people from the United Nations Development Programme (please don’t mock the spelling, I do it because I have to) they told me that I should get a masters in NGO management and community development. We’ll see where I end up on that front. One member of this group was a man from Kenya named Kibee. He was telling me all about how he was leaving for DC in the morning, would be in London in two weeks time, and Spain by September. He also told me that he wants to marry someone just like me so that she won’t mind joining him on all his travels. I haven’t decided if that was a compliment or not, and if I should be flattered or not.

So everyone was mingling and cocktailing and whatever else when suddenly we all heard this loud shout. Then a bunch of half naked African men started shouting/singing/dancing their way through the crowd. We all followed them into the main dinner hall. They made a tunnel for us to walk through and then followed us in to do a complete stomp presentation. I was won over. I love traditional dancing and song. They were amazing. My camera was dead so I’m trying to track down the photo and video footage, wish me luck.

Anyway, the night progressed. I listened to a German man and a Chinese man attempt to give speeches in English, which was entertaining. Then I acted like a proper glutton at the buffet table. Though I was nothing compared to one of the winners from Germany who ate three full plates. But can you blame us? Half of the things offered we had never even tried before, and everything was divine. I mean seriously, the recipes here are perfectly to my liking: lots of fruit, lots of pork, lots of bbq sauce. I was in heaven. Then there was the dessert table. Malva pudding, if you ever have a chance to eat some GO FOR IT! Then there were some other treats and their main ingredient was sweetened condensed milk. That stuff is the nectar of the gods, I promise you.

There really is no point to telling you this, other than it was an exciting night for me. It was my first night out in South Africa. It was also my first time being treated like a professional and colleague in the international development arena. It was nice. Good incentive to graduate, grow up, and get my named printed on business cards.

I was able to track down a couple pictures from the evening, still waiting on the dancing pictures though. Enjoy.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Stranger Danger

DISCLAIMER: This story is not intended for audiences who posses tender hearts or motherly inclinations

Before I start my story, it should be noted that I have a hyperactive fear of strangers. I don’t like them. I always assume they’re out to get me. I have been known to run for my life to get away from seemingly harmless people just because I didn’t know them and for that reason they were a potential threat. That being said, on with my story.

I have a philosophy about Friday. I believe there are two parts to the day. First Friday is part of the week; it still has that nose to the grindstone feel about it. Second Friday, on the other hand, is part of the weekend. It is the preamble to Saturday. It is all things “TGIF.” I love Second Friday.

South Africa gets Second Friday. Work is only a half day, and everyone gets an early start on the weekend. I’m a huge fan. So, on Friday I left the office at one so that I had time to walk to the bus stop and get there a little bit before the 1:30 bus. 2:45 rolls around, and I’m still standing on the side of the road, frustrated, worried, and scheming on how to get home.

I was standing processing all of this and staring in the direction of where the bus should be coming from when I felt someone start to grab me from behind. I’m still amazed at how calm I was, I didn’t scream, I just turned to face the man who now had me wrapped in a “hug.” He was a black man with a large brimmed hat and very dark sunglasses, just so you can have a mental picture.

He started to tell me that he saw a light in me, that he thought he had seen an angel when he saw me, and he asked me what church I belong to. This is where my Mormon instincts took over for a split second; I told him I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and considered telling him more about the church. Then my brain snapped back to reality. This is a bad man, get away mode.

So I stepped away from him for a bit and listened as he jabbered on reading me verses from his bible and talking about the light I have. He kept hugging me as he talked, and because I was scared and hadn’t completely developed my get away plan yet I just let it happen. Then he asked for my phone number, I wouldn’t give it to him. He asked where I live. “Nowhere near here” was the only answer I could give and I stammered just trying to say that, I’m really bad at putting on a brave face.

He was a little frustrated with how little information I was giving him. He asked if I was shy because I have a husband. I decided Heavenly Father will forgive me for lying this time. “Yes, I do have a husband; he’s waiting at home for me.” I should have added something like “he’s a big Hungarian man with a bad temper,” but like I said I was too scared to talk, much less be witty.

Finally he asked me for some money. I only had enough to ride the bus, and I told him that. So he gave me one more tight squeeze and left. Then I broke down into tears while two women rushed to find out if I was OK and what he had asked for.

Apparently he frequents that street. He says he’s a preacher from Zambia and after talking to women he meets on the street asks for their information. The last woman that he was seen talking to had given her information. She hasn’t come back to the bus stop since. They don’t know if she’s missing or not.

Freaky? I say so.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

UNIC, Jari speaking

The internship. That’s the whole point of being here, right? So it seems that something should be said.

To be honest, I was bored to death at first. Spending two hours looking at newspapers and then surfing the web for the next six isn’t really that stimulating, but progress has been made. At the end of last week I was asked to develop my own work plan. I was told I could include anything I wanted to learn, or anything that I thought may be useful in the office. Intriguing.

So after playing with the idea of telling them that I should be a special envoy sent throughout all of Africa (and of course hitting all the tourist spots along the way) I came up with something that is actually productive, and turned it in. Since then I have been trained how to update all web articles, how to draft and send UN Newsletters to appropriate audiences, I have been given access to UN Pretoria Twitter and Facebook accounts and manage them (social media for a job, genius!), I am creating an itinerary for Monique Coleman’s South Africa visit (eat your heart out High School Musical fans), and I’m in charge of all contact with prospective interns. I still have way more free time than I’m used to; and I still have to do the mundane photocopying-like tasks that always seem to crowd the desk of an intern, BUT it’s progress. Also they keep telling me how ambitious I am, and that I’m such a great worker. So, at the very least, I’ll get a lovely letter of recommendation at the end of this shindig.

Though, I can’t help but think that the hours I spend with nothing to do could be spent outside exploring. There are some touristy things I want to do that require company and time, and I have neither. There is a way to remedy this though. I was promised time off if my family came to visit. I was even told of some cool places to take them. So everyone, please peer pressure my mom into coming to Africa, and bringing the little brother along. I promise to return the favor some day.

In other news, when I'm at work is when I am most aware of my "competitiveness." I'm kind of cut-throat and a little bit mean to the other interns. Because all of our work is presented as a team I get penalized if they do stupid things. So I end up playing the captain of the ship role. I read over everyone's work to make sure that it's presentable and get a little agitated if it's not. I also find myself having to explain the easiest concepts. For example: how to play a youtube video, how to type with more than just my index fingers, how to search for news articles from a certain date using Google News, etc.

On top of everything I have this strange compulsion with indoctrinating everyone in the ways of the American Dream. "Come on girls, pull yourselves up by your bootstraps. If you try hard you can do anything!" Yes, I'm seriously that girl. I'm a firm believer in it though. So never fear America, I may tease your food and some of your customs but in my heart of hearts I love you.

Friday, April 8, 2011

I am lost

I am severely and irrevocably directionally challenged.

First, an ode to Gus-Gus the Nissan: Better known as Gus, you are the only car I’ve ever loved. Together we have seen wonderful places, visited grand cities, and made magnificent memories (like the time you got that bird stuck in your grill at Misty’s wedding). Yes, you are a great car. A bit temperamental at times, but I forgive you for that. You are missed you wonderful Nissan you.

I truly miss the independence of being able to drive myself around. I also miss my GPS because I only got lost about 36% of the time with its help. But alas, both my car and my GPS are far from me now. My new ride is an old city bus with doors that don’t shut all the way, so it whistles as we drive. It’s awesome and you’re jealous. You don’t have to tell me, I know.

I was scared to death to ride the bus here. Everyone told me I was stupid to do it, that I would get lost, get mugged, or some other terrible thing would happen. BUT THEY WERE WRONG! I found the bus stop, I boarded the right bus, I paid the right amount without revealing my wallet or cell phone, and I took a seat. Home free I thought! That’s when I started to let my mind wander. I think that might be my main problem. Have I ever told you stories about when I was little and I got lost a lot? It was mostly because I would get distracted by toys, or swimming pools, or dogs, or older kids, or other things and forget where I was or what I was doing.

Wait, what was I talking about?

So after 20 minutes on the bus I started to think we should have passed my stop already. We had. So I freaked out and the bus driver let me off in the middle of nowhere, pointed to two different bus stops, and told me to take whichever came first. Ok Mr. Bus Man, I’ll do just that. I know this place like the back of my hand, not. Then a man got off right after me and started calling to me. Great, this is the part where I get mugged, raped, and killed all in one stop. Brace yourself, Jari.

He actually turned out to be really helpful. He showed me where to wait so I could see both busses coming. He waited with me. He told the new bus driver that I’m a stupid, lost American girl who needed to be dropped off at the hospital, and then went on his way. I know I forgot to say it at the time, but thank you kind stranger!

So I finally found the hospital, got off the bus, and walked the two blocks home. I made it completely safe, just a little hungry. The bus itself wasn’t even scary. If you want a scary bus ride I suggest you visit Guatemala. That will change your life.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Stayin' Alive

I’m sincerely excited about the fact that I’m still alive. It’s probably because the one thing everyone told me to do before I left was not die. I feel successful.

Actually, I’m living quite well. My African grandma, Christine, has the most amazing house. It sits on a small hill and overlooks a part of Pretoria. There are front and back courtyards, a terrace, a sun room, a drawing room, and my room is painted magenta. Seriously, call MTV’s cribs. The plumbing and electricity are another story. The toilet spits at me whenever I try to flush it. Taking a shower is also interesting. It’s too small for me and the water temperature and pressure are really inconsistent. I probably look like a dancing giant when I’m in there. I’m sorry I don’t have any pictures. Technically I’m not even supposed to be blogging right now, and I don’t really think the UN would like it if I brought in my camera and set up shop.

So my African life thus far:

I live with an 82 year old who could easily pass for 60. She tells strange jokes, makes amazing food, drives recklessly, and is probably the kindest woman on the face of the planet. She likes me to sit on her bed and watch TV with her at night, and she makes me hot chocolate or tea before I go to sleep. She’s also the YSA Sunday school teacher in the ward...she’s kind of eccentric. It’s a good time.

Nick. He’s 46, bi-polar (I’m being serious), ridiculously smart, and lives in the room next to me. He’s great to talk to because he seriously knows something about everything. I decided I want to enter into trivia game shows with him.

Roulin (or Roulynn, I don’t know how she spells it) is 40, and she lives downstairs. She’s become like a big sister to me. She has lots of weekend plans of places she wants to take me while I’m here. She took me to the overlook (the view from the picture in the last post) and to the mall. She knows a lot of history about the area, and I try to remember everything she tells me. She also has a fantastic sense of humour and is getting me hooked to British sitcoms.

The church. There are so many LDS Young Single Adults here. It’s really amazing. There are 20 in my ward alone. On Sunday evening I went to a regional fireside (they told us to get married, act surprised) and there were so many people I could hardly breathe. It was like the Honey Bun * 50 * Mormon ÷ Food. (My family may be the only ones to understand that equation fully, sorry) It was an experience, let’s just say that. They’re also trying to find me a ride to institute during the week. I’m really glad there are so many people; it makes it hard to be lonely or homesick.

The internship. Basically, I shuffle through newspapers for 2 hours in the morning trying to pick out the most important Africa issues. Then the headline summaries are reviewed and I have to recompile them afterwards. Then I send those summaries are sent to New York and eventually they get dispersed through the organization and used by the Secretary General. So that’s an interesting couple of hours. Then I sit around waiting for projects and keeping up with you lovely people.

So there you have it. I’m alive, I have an amazing home and African family, I have people to keep me busy and entertained, and the internship is exactly like an internship should be.

(I have better stories, but I just wanted to get the general info out)