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A bit of humour….

Hi there,

I said I would try and do it one day! Am a huge fan of Persepolis and love the idea of describing life experiences in pictures.Life is full of comic moments….  

The characters are not very realistic to the context….amongst other things I couldn’t show any of  the dressing styles accurately because I used an online make-your-own comics website.

Hope you like it….Just click on the pictures (starting with the first one on the left) below to read my first comic strip or here for better reading!

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Posted by on August 3, 2012 in Little Adventures, Uncategorized

 

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Life in picture

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2012 in Scenes

 

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This is the way to ….?

It’s probably a normal process when you settle in a new life, and even more so when this new life was a dream fished from an idealist view of what it could be. As I said in the prologue some months earlier, what’s driven me here is beyond raison.

These past few weeks, in fact since my last post, a lot has happened and I’ve experienced so many feelings. I’ve had great moments of “it feels right”: I have a healthier lifestyle, I am (over) protected by my extended family, I have stronger links with my grandmother,…. but life has also been difficult at times. When you leave everything behind you and with, in front of you, so many cultural hurdles on a daily basis, you keep wondering whether you’ve made the right choice. Simple things, or things that I thought were straightforward have become moutains that I have to sometimes painfully climb. It pains my brain… lol… Just to give you an idea: I recently told my auntie that I was thinking of renting out a place, and, at my surprise, she took the news very badly. Information given became an argument. Me moving out meant to her that I didn’t feel at home and that she wasn’t doing things right. A long conversation followed where I ended up apologizing (but not backtracking) and a motherly intervention helped with negotiating the terms of my independence lol. Verdict: have to wait until after the Ramadan, which I guess makes sense!

Like many places around the world, the Comoros people fell victim of heavy floods. During a month, it rained non-stop days and nights….  I even got tired of my shiny new British flag rainboots! It was just like having a constant garden hosepipe on top of your head. No respite…. even locals couldn’t believe it! Nothing ever seen or heard of before. We were brought back into dark ages for a while: no drinkable water, no electricity and an internal angst of the rainy outside. It was very depressing. On top of this, our generator broke down (yes, the balance of your living standards is very slim…) so cooking, dining, showering at candlelight became a lifestyle. The good thing now is that I can practically live in almost every kind of conditions.

Environmental driven policy stop being a trendy subject when you witness the impact of climate change on livelihoods. Entire regions in the country and part of the village I live in were entirely flooded (see these pictures taken in the village). Whilst progressing through the muddy waters which in part got to waistline, I saw houses of fortune being swamped, belongings being taken by the waters, cemeteries devastated, dead sheep and even a petrol station being torn apart pouring its content into the waters…Don’t ask me how I ended up there… I don’t know myself. Whilst the emergency services were trying to loosely organise help, I was wondering: what is resilience when you don’t have anything to lose, and the little you have is barely anything? How can you rebuild what is not there? Some people will say that I was looking at things from a westerner eye…. But I really felt fortunate and grateful to be who I am.

Right now, populations are still recovering and are psychologically affected. Long term impact will certainly be medical and food security related… crops have been hit and many fear food shortage. Direct aid flooded into the country, the diaspora in different regions of the world and NGOs mobilized themselves for donations in kind, money and expertise however, notably and as ever, one wonders whether this is only  the first of a cycle that is going to repeat itself every year.The role of the state in this story be it in terms of prevention or in terms of infrastructure strengthening is one that everyone is tired of raising….

The floods made me realize that my job is not really how I want to help make a difference in the long run. It helps and is probably necessary, but I am not sure that the formula works in this context of embryonic state. In a country where politics is a mediocre king, people only believe what they see. Although my job has its perk – it’s taken me around the country discovering the islands, in new locations around the world, and I get to meet influential people …. – things are not so easy on a day to day basis for a number of reasons that I’ve already talked about in my earlier post.  After a few weeks of internal fights and feelings of inadequacy , I was  feeling under the strain of “rage against the machine”  – which is rarely a good thing when you are new. This brought me to the edge of giving up.  For once in my life, defeatism overtook me. If it hadn’t been for the good words of a dear friend and my mum, I would have just thrown the towel in the ring. Indeed, work does feel like a battle everyday….some days rounds are being won, and some days I am losing them. After these two conversations, I thought no way this is not who I am, I got the best of worst situations than this one before !?

At that point, I thought it is time for me to use my energy and my expertise in a positive way or I’ll end up hating this country I love so much despite everything. Surely, lots of charities are doing good things around here….

And my wishes were answered…. I found a charity that responded to my urge to do something useful , concrete and progressive … a small growing charity with a vision that works and who matches the desire of the diaspora to act for the development of a nation and its communities. The debate between the macro, the micro, and I’ve learnt the meso,  is a torny one in development, depending on your school of thought… doing , seeing and touching vs thinking, lobbying  and debating! I got plenty of the latter these past few months in a world where for the past forty years everyone is convinced to have the answer to poverty without necessarily wanting to see what’s outside of the window.

I now feel much better that I feed my soul and brain with more concrete things for real people with palpable results on a local basis. And, in the same breadth, I’ve found people I can relate with and something to positively challenge me again, and where my day job has actually become an asset.  I am back to reconciling work and passion….Morale of these few weeks: every problem ultimately finds its solution, if you look for it!

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2012 in Transition

 

One Month On….

After a month at work I wouldn’t say I am fully inducted or that I know what I am doing…..so generally speaking I am still in observant mode. I am just trying to assess the dynamics of this place. Everyday I keep asking myself “How does this thing work?” I sometimes feel like a baby who is trying to figure out how a new toy works….I still don’t have all the tools. Which reminds of the first chat I had with No2…..no huge speech about the workplace but more like a warning….if you don’t get on with people, they will want you down. Of course, this is not what he said, but reading between the lines this is what I understood. At the time, I was completely  offended …..but now I reluctantly sort of see his point. More than anywhere else, to get what you want and get things done, you have to maintain even and cordial relationships however shallow they are. The culture of the “Petit Chef” is well and truly part of the organisational and societal culture: a little bit of power goes a long way.

For instance, if you go to the bank, if you know someone you will get served quicker than everyone else. Of course, this is probably the case for a dozen of people at one time, but then what makes the difference is also your status. And “status” is acquired because of your job, because of your husband, because of your parents or because, also – I have learnt – you are known for your athletic prowess locally, regionally or nationally. And this added to that is what makes your life much easier!

Another advice I have been given by a colleague who also had to “adjust”: keep smiling and saying hello to everyone. If someone acts like or looks like they know you just say “Hi how are you? Your health? Your family? And all the rest….”. I am ok with this…… but now, you have to say this tirade of words every time you meet them…..even it is ten times a day. Just to give you an idea, when I used to waste time going to the loos or the kitchen for a tea round, now I just have to get out of my office and wander around…. I can just waste time for an hour saying hello to everyone I meet! Up until a week ago I was known as “the new girl that doesn’t get out of her office”….let me tell you that now I have to keep my mobile phone with me if my colleagues or my team want to catch me. This is partly because I am doing this recommended exercise, but also because I am also applying another lesson I learnt the hard way! The phone which is in your office is of no use to you if you want to get things done…. You’ve got to run around, see your colleagues, sit down and talk to them whilst they do what you want them to do! Example: you want someone to sign off something for you, don’t leave it on their intray and go away and come back the day after hoping it has been done! It is a big NONONO Amy Winehouse style…. “Make sure you follow up your files!” This is what colleagues used to tell me very sternly the first week. What they meant is literally, physically and personally follow your files everywhere they go! You take them and collect them like they are your precious child. Not doing this, I have lost a few documents in a single week!!! My list of reminders looks like the life of an overstressed parent…I have ten kids I need to remember all the names of and all their schedules for the fifteen years to come.

Coincidentally, someone I had an interesting chat with told me that Comoros have succeeded in realising what the Greeks deemed the ideal way of living:  Anarchy as a state model and philosophy of life.  Interesting fact in itself… that I will surely come to experience firsthand!

Outside of work, I am concentrating on getting that driving license and already thinking about how to get a car. Heard interesting stories on that subject… if you want a new car, Dubai is the place. A second-hand car, Germany or France. A first car to crash and tear away, buy a second-hand locally. Or if you want to try something new (like I’d liked to do)… a firm has been revitalised in Madagascar called Karendji. The aesthetics might not be to everyone’s taste bu they definitely are the most appropriate cars for the roads we have. A colleague of mine bought hers on the internet through a Japanese website….don’t ask!

I still don’t have a proper social circle yet….but pretty sure it will come quite soon. However, I do have some hilarious colleagues and some hilarious conversations.  My weekends are always packed…last minute mini-treck, beaches and other adventures….

 

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2012 in One month on

 

The Art of Getting a Taxi….

My neighbour happens to be one of my colleagues, so everyday I get a drive back home after work.  Only that time, he had to jet off earlier from work and I had to stay for a meeting (overtime already!). I did not tell my auntie (who tends to be over protective) that day was officially Independence Day – or at least a small step towards it!

On the way out, I called my cousin for some tips on “how to get a taxi” – because I live a distance away from Moroni and this is a whole strategy to get a cab (a “distance away” is about 20 minutes by car , and this is 20 minutes because your journey is made up of inverted humps and bumps….). As I have now learnt, the taxi system for the commuter is entirely based on profitability. Getting to the city centre Moroni is dead easy, but getting to the village I live in is a struggle with the elements….. and good fortune has to be your friend that day. Going back home is like Mission Impossible X.

So here I am chatting away to my cousin on the best plan of attack ….And I can hear my auntie already jumping around, worrying and agitating her car keys…. Have to almost tell her off and say I’ll try first before admitting defeat!  Because I don’t know the names of all the spotlights or areas of Moroni, she has to explain the directions in details…. So she tells me to go to “Goubadjou”, by the Friday Mosque…..only she forgot to mention that what she was referring to was the most recently built Friday Mosque. And then to confuse me further, she adds that it is nearby “the roundabout “…and both mosques do have a roundabout nearby them.

For me, the Friday Mosque is the one you see everywhere on postcards and websites about Comoros… So all confident, I hail a taxi to go to that side of the town. Must say I am proud of myself: first time I take a taxi on my own. This feeling did not last very long…

The only problem is that, given what I explained above, I ask him to drop me at the wrong place. Only I did not know, so I start walking down the pavement and I see the street by the mosque with dozens of taxi lining up and driving down the road. Imagine Oxford street being packed of taxis instead of red buses… and for every taxi I stop, I get either a big head shake or a drive away. Thirty minutes later, under the sun which is at its highest by now, very self-conscious, I am still here.

I call my cousin, explain that despite all my efforts and courage, none of the taxi wants to take me. And whilst I say this, I fix the road full of hundreds of taxis in line one behind another with reproaching eyes…. I tell her I am by the tagged shipwreck (this ship has been marred for years after the owner died. It’s been beautifully tagged, and now kids use it as a playground, and I have been told that lovers do go there too…pictures to come very soon once I get my camera back!) ….and then she’s like:

 “noooooo ….you have to go the other way round, by the other roundabout and then turn left!”

After all, I am a newcomer so I stop debating and I follow her directions. Luckily, I bumped on a colleague who offers to drive me back after the prayer (we are Friday….), but, very determined, I tell him that I don’t want to disturb him and will go to Goubadjou (something I will never do ever again!). Just to make sure I am going the right way, I ask him and he confirms.

So undeterred, I make my way there….and see this new mosque unveiling after passing the roundabout. And I am doing a big internal aaaaaaaaah! Only I couldn’t see it before because it is slightly elevated…. However, by now, it’s the end of the Friday prayer….and the roads are filling in with hundreds and hundreds of men coming out of the mosque, creating chaos and traffic jam! So I cover my head with my veil (just in case, someone happens to know me….) and rapidly walk up the street …. And indeed, I am in taxi heaven. They are all there! Seems to be like the terminus and “beginnus”of taxi commuters….

So I start asking…. And I FAIL MISERABLY! By then, I have been in the streets, battling the pavement for about 2 hours, hungry and sweaty!  My auntie calls me with a “That is it. I’ll come and pick you up” that will not suffer any contradiction. Although I feel like I’ve only lost a battle, but not the war…..

That day I’ve learnt a few life lessons:

1/ I have to pass my driving license ASAP. At the time of writing, I’ve already done a few lessons. And communication with the driving instructor is comical…. This needs another story in itself!

2/Since then I learnt that taking a cab on a Friday before 4pm from Goubadjou to go to my village is like “counting the chicken …….” (dixit Dr Reed). All the taxi drivers going that way are of course back in their local mosque and do not come back in town till early evening.

3/ Usually, taxi drivers from your local community know you so they will stop by you before you ask. I‘ve seen this happening when I am with my cousin (still not ready to repeat the experience on my own).

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2012 in Little Adventures

 

Day 1 at work: too early is like a day ahead, on time is ahead of time and late is on time

I did say that “Patience, Silence and Smile” were part of the survival kit .Today was my first day at work and these came in handy…

Had to call onto Patience…ended up waiting for my HR person for an hour and a bit….with my friend Smile when future colleagues passed by one by one several times in front of me. All this time thinking in my head…do not look like you are lost…do not look like the 5th wheel in the boot of a car, be confident and behave yourself…

Smile and Patience were again at my door when a guy just sat next to me, uninvited of course, making clumsy conversation with difficulty for a mere 5 min before bluntly asking for my telephone number….Realisation: he was actually chatting me up! I politely but firmly refused to give my phone number….  (I didn’t have any anyways…!)

Then, Patience stayed with me for the rest of the day! It became my second name: it turned out that some paperwork had to be signed by the The Boss before I could enter my office…. However, it transpired that I started during the week of …are you seated? …1/ an internal audit 2/2 days before the deadline of the annual planning …. All this together meant that everyone was stressed, panicked and not fully focussed on the new starter (me!). Anyways…. I ended waiting up until 15.30 before getting the keys of my office! In the meantime, I got told off by the cleaners –  who had sneakily observed me in the lobby the whole morning –  that my dress was too short… the dress in question was a black formal dress reaching just above my knees. Even though I was covered with the obligatory and colourful lesso, this wasn’t enough: this dress was too short /this is not how I should dress/ this is not how we do things overhere!!! And they told me that all the people coming and going were looking at me because of this…and partcularly men at my uncovered legs! And I thought that staffs – who happened to be mostly men – were welcoming! They managed to make me feel out of place and uneasy…All of this of course told with profuse apologies …and me answering that I understood and that there was no harm done. Anyways… Smile was of course of the party …with a slight shade of green…. and Silence made a forced apparition…leading to shock and frustration…..bringing Mr Tears in the toilet by her side.

Mr Tears went away quite rapidly…and I went home to get changed for peace of mind. After which I finally sat down in my office ….but with no email account, no official badges nor any indication of who to meet and when with barely any stationery to fake work …but four white walls, a couple of shelves full of acronym-ed files and an air conditioner at full blast….

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2012 in First week

 

My first few days….

So after a few days in France (apologies to those I haven’t been able to see or talk to before my departure…) and a short stopover in La Reunion ( “Big Time moments” and a sleepless girly night lol….), here I am in Moroni.

Landing in The Comoros, at least for me, is characterised by a surreal atmosphere….taking stock of the journey I’ve made. At first, the airport doesn’t look like anything different from any other international airport. But as soon as you get in the building…..you realise you’re inAfrica. And this is where I realise I am so used to the complaint/customer service culture….

 Patience, smile and silence are vital in these situations – this is the first tip! :

Queuing for your entry visa: which queue? there is no queue! Anyone looking older than me jumping past me, elbowing me …. Just be silent. Intrusive questions about where I am going….Just smile. Waiting for my luggage and being walked over and pushed….Just be patient…. In my head, I am swearing, huffing and puffing, and thinking “what the f****????”

And I am pretty sure I will find myself in other situations where these un-natural skills of me need to be put into practice!

During the drive from the airport to my new temporary home (sorry guys no picture…was absolutely shattered and already sweaty), I re-discovered the scenery and the landscape. And spending a couple of days reminded me of things I love about this country, things I don’t like so much, and things I will need to get used to.

I love the ambient smell of sea and leaves, the different shades of greens contrasting with the blues of the sea and the sky. I love the laid-back attitude of people. Even for a capital,Moroniseems very leisurely, the crowd effect is slow and chilled, but at the same time disorganised. I love how expats and foreigners – although easily noticeable – wake at dawn or at dusk to have a power walk…when the buzz of people has calmed down and you can hear the nature, and enjoy the cool breeze….

I don’t really like the traffic…. No signalisation, no stops, no traffic lights, no directions….a few roundabouts, a few avenues, a couple of traffic jams….and that’s it! Cars taking over whenever they feel like it, cutting across and engaging themselves in the road whenever and however… a four-wheel’s horn and vigilance is a driver’s best friend over here! But again, everything is done in a very carefree way….very rare to see angry and swearing drivers or even any accidents.

I am overwhelmed by the market…. Vegetables, fruits and spices, meat and fishes, lots of market stalls in the covered hall, outside and around, and the crowd…. A lot for my eyes, my ears and my brain to take on… Volovolo market makes me think of the Perfume by Patrick Suskind… the different smells and odours intertwined and indistinguishable. 

The constant hello-ing and chatting away with people at random times amazes me… it almost as if everyone knows everyone …. People chatting away from cars to cars during traffic jams, from cars to stalls on the side of the road, from cars to people walking by… If it’s not passers-by shouting your name whilst you drive or walk past, it’s you in the car honking your car horn (remember your best friend….) or raising your hands like a queen/king of this town….it’s the dance of “ca va? Ege? Habari?Unono?” and other acknowledgements that I don’t even know yet…It seems as if everywhere you go, there is someone knowing who you are! It makes me wonder about how long you can be anonymous in this town…and this is the capital! So I let you imagine what it is like when you are in a village.

 Things I will need to get used to:

  • The daily blackouts with no fixed schedule. We are lucky because we have a back up electric system independent from the grid so don’t suffer too much. But it is something I completely forgot about….I wasn’t even arrived for a day that we had three blackouts of 30-45 min in the space of one evening. This is the second tip: always have candles and a lamp torch that you can reach out in case of emergency!
  • The three showers a day…. It is so hot that you are in a permanent state of sweatiness….one shower in the morning, one in the afternoon after your obligatory siesta and another one before your dinner ready for a good night sleep! Harsh reality check: I don’t have enough clothes to last me 3 months… !

…..which makes me think about how this is in stark contrast with the weather and general infrastructure situation inEurope…. Record energy consumption because of the Big Freeze….whilst here comparatively we don’t have enough energy to go by for a continuous 24 hours and 30 degrees is the average temperature during this season.

  • Days start very early over here…. Waking up between 5.30 and 6am everyday….. even during the weekend! The first call to prayers at dawn is my first alarm clock. Then comes the sunlight which fully awakens me. And shortly after I gain some sort of consciousness, the knock at the door from my auntie! So you see no choice….early start it is!

News of the week: registered to run a 15 km next month (4th March) so now am training for this….It will give me something to focus on ( apart from the new job…) and perhaps an opportunity to meet people!

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2012 in First week