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Wednesday, April 7th, 2010
6:30 am - When You Like Your Friends $500
I know it's been a while since I've posted.  A long while.  I didn't even write on my last trip, mostly because of the severe lack of internet and of privacy.

But for some reason today, I left like writing (complaining) about the costs I'm incurring to be in someone else's wedding.  Don't get me wrong, I'm honored to be in a wedding.  I figured no one would ever ask me, being as my closest friends don't want to get married or seem to be celibate. 

Mostly, it's a feeling of concern for where my money is going.  I've got to buy a bridesmaid dress - $200.  Shoes to match - $50-100.  Apparently, bridesmaids through a shower.  I guess that makes sense.  But then, we pay for it too.  The maid of honor estimated we'd all pay about $90, but I think it will be much higher - more like $200/person or more.  I think people will gorge on our dime.  So far, I think the honor of being in someone's wedding will cost me $500, more than I'd want to spend on my entire wedding, which is sad.  The whole cost has made me anti-expensive wedding.  I believe in getting people a nice gift that they're going to use, but the events and the outfits... sheesh. 

But then, I went to a wedding in 2008 and shelled out money for that too.  A dress and shoes cost me $140, which was a good deal because I went through Overstock.com and Zappos.  I got talked into flying up but used miles.  The hotel room ended up costing me though, about $100 since I split it, plus gas for the rental we had.  Plus the gift we got.  It's all in making good friends know they're loved, so I guess the cost isn't so high.

It's just when I look at those numbers, I sigh.  I'm hoping the wedding I'm in next year will cost me less.  Part of me wants to just get married at someone else's wedding to save the money.

But I think the whole thing will be fun.  It's just hard sitting up here in DC knowing that in Va Beach, someone is already spending my dough on stuff I won't see until it needs to be paid for.

It's a good thing I like my friends.

current mood: amused

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Sunday, August 23rd, 2009
12:47 pm - Hell is Getting Better, and Yet Scary

No bag yet, but I’ll get to that later.

 

Last night I got my laundry back from the front desk, which was good.  I got some clean clothes.  For dinner, four of us walked up the street, against the recommendations of the front desk to a restaurant a block away.  He said we should have taken a cab, which may have been true, but it was only a block.  One near black, star-lit block, littered with trash, rumble, and huge pot holes.  I wanted to walk quickly and hang together, which seemed to work well.  The restaurant was called The Pointe; and served Portuguese food, or specialized in roast chicken.  It was surprisingly cheap.  I got a “filet mignon” for six dollars.  Our food took forever to come, and I’m pretty sure my steak wasn’t really a filet, but just some hunk of beef.  It was actually cooked pretty well though.  It just took an hour and a half to show up.  After that, we came back to the hotel, back along the same dark block.  This time, we passed two guys mumbling in the dark, just past the single patch of light.  I looked over my shoulder as we passed, afraid they were going to follow us, but they did nothing.  Back at the hotel, three of us went to the bar, had a drink, and called it a night.

 

I had been waiting for a call about my bag, but by 11pm, I decided that it would either show up in the morning with our host, or that it wasn’t here yet.  So I went to sleep.  I find it hard to sleep when I don’t have a book to read, but I eventually did, with the heater turned on.  During the night, I had a bad dream.  I can’t remember all the details, but I think I was in Maryland trying to drop a friend off at the mall.  I pulled up, he got out to run his errand.  Then some car pulls up and starts shooting at people.  I duck down in the driver’s seat, but the back passenger side window is open, and the man sticks his gun in and shoots me in the head.  I woke up then.

 

As I say there in the bed, I realized there was a noise coming from outside.  It was loud drumming.  Our hotel is inside of a brick walled compound, with a security gate.  My room is a first floor room, facing the street I think.  I got up and checked the time – it was about 3am.  That was when I realized the sound I was hearing was drumming – the kind of drumming you’d associate with Africa.  Someone, a woman, I think, was singing something.  It went on for a long time and I drifted in and out of sleep, tossing and turning.  I think I fell asleep around four something.  At 5am, the sprinkler system went off.  The walls here aren’t insulated, and there’s these grates towards the ceiling which are meant for ventilation.  But sprinkler sounds as if it hits the glass of my patio doors.  I woke me up the previous morning.

 

At least I had the heater this time.  I got up when my wake up call came at 7am.  I had breakfast here at the hotel again.  Our host arrived, but still no bag.  But I had clean laundry.  We called the airport again and told them we would come down there this evening if we had to.  After that, all of us, save one person, loaded into the car to head out to this game park.  It was a long drive out of the city.

 

The game reserve has this area set up with thatched roof guest houses and a lodge with a pool.  We had tea when we arrived before heading out.  The tour guide takes you out in this pick up truck, with metal benches in its flatbed.  We entered the game reserve and our first stop was a pen with lions and a hyena.  We’d seen these up close at another place the day before, so we didn’t spend too long there.  We got very close to two giraffes – which the tour guide put down for, so they would come close.  We did the same to lure some zebra and warthogs close as well.  Then we headed off to pick up some new people back at the lodge.  When we came back with a much fuller truck and went straight to see the baby rhinos.  They had been orphaned after poachers broke in a few years ago and killed all of the breeding adults.  The adults had already been dehorned, so this was apparently to make a statement and kill off the remaining rhinos so that the park would be open to invasion by various parties.  I got the pet the rhino, but I didn’t want to feed it.  Its mouth is pretty slobbery.

 

Next we drove on and saw a small family of elephants – two males, a female, and a baby.  Someone from our group wanted to ride the elephants and paid extra for the privilege.  I took pictures for her.  While she rode the elephant, we went on ahead and stopped for drink from the cooler.  We drove further and saw some gazelles, antelope, more zebra, and animals like that.  We broke for lunch at the edge of this lake.  There was a lunch with sadza, sausage, some veggies.  Some people had wine or cocktails.  The toilet was a shack with a cement floor with a homemade toilet with toilet seat.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  The lake was pretty interesting because the people who owned the park and built stone seats and benches by the water.  The elephant handlers brought them to the water, where we could feed them.  Before the feeding, the elephants went into the water to eat some of the vegetation near the edge.  Around this time, both of the males dropped their penises out, which we all photographed because you don’t see that on National Geographic.  We fed the elephants.  I got to put food in there, but I didn’t want to get licked. 

 

After that, we packed up, got back in the truck, and drove back past the lions and hyena for the new people in our group.  The whole time we’d be driving, I was taking pictures of animals and some of the crazy rock piles in Zimbabwe.  I just like them.  We went to the part of the reserve closer to the lodge to see the Cape buffalo and this elephant that thought she was a buffalo.  Finally, back to the lodge and back to the hotel.

 

After we got to the hotel, our host and I went to the airport to see about my bag.  Turns out that the people screwed up and my bag never got checked past Jo’burg.  Supposedly, it should be on tonight’s flight.  That means the guy in Jo’burg who told me I couldn’t take an earlier flight to Harare was full of shit because I didn’t even have my bags checked through.  The whole thing makes me tired.  I just want my stuff at this point.  The minor victory is that I got my book back and all of the cards were in it.  The baggage clerk at the airport remembered me and how angry I was, so I apologized.  And he did try to help.  Maybe I should tip him if it comes in tonight.

 

I’ve also decided that there’s this stone carving I want for myself.  There’s this animal called a pangolin – I want a small one carved in purple stone, but I’ll settle for green.

Hopefully, no drumming tonight.



current mood: tired

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Saturday, August 22nd, 2009
12:19 pm - Travel Hell!

I’m on the road again.  This trip has been hellish so far (although there has been some bright spots), and it doesn’t seem to end.

 I left DC on Wednesday.  I got to the airport at 3pm for a 530pm flight.  The security line was really long, although they opened up a shorter one.  I waited 40 minutes, but there were others who hardly waited 10, which I thought was pretty unfair.  When I got to my gate, the flight to Atlanta that would connect me with my flight to Johannesburg was delayed.  This was the flight before mine.  My first thought was, if this flight was delayed, what about mine?  The gate agent told me my flight would be on time.  We ended up boarding our plane at a different gate.  Things seemed to be going well at this point.  There were others on my flight heading to Johannesburg.  We’re all sitting there on the plane, and then it goes nowhere.  We sit on the runway for about an hour and a half, because there’s a flight corridor closed somewhere between DC and Atlanta.  As the minutes pass, the other people bound for Johannesburg, a father and his three teenage children get antsy.  The dad starts complaining about how he missed his last Delta flight by minutes.  I’m also worried.

 Around 7pm, we take off – our flight is expected to be about one hour and twenty-five minutes, putting us on the ground just after our 810pm flight.  We’re all there, hoping that we land just early enough to make it.  Instead, we landed at 818pm.  By the time we’re off the plane, our Johannesburg flight has left without us.  We all stop running.  The first place we have to go is to the “help desk” – a place where a frustrated agent scans your boarding pass so that she can print out this ticket that tells you where you should next go to help.  At this point, there’s about six of us, all trying to get to Johannesburg.  So we head over to the international terminal, where for the next thirty minutes, the dad argues with another agent, telling her about how unhelpful she’s being.  She’s telling us that we have to take a flight to Paris, wait about 12 hours, then catch the next flight to Jo’burg.  This guy and his kids are heading to a wedding.  I try to plead my case that I’m bound for Harare, wondering if there are any flights that can get us there.  The rationale is that this wasn’t Delta’s fault; it was the weather’s so there is no comfort, compensation, or help they can offer.  They can put us on other Delta flights until we’re out of the country.

 We all take the Paris flight.  It’s a red eye, and it landed around 145pm in Paris.  At the Air France desk, our group grows.  There’s about ten of us now, all trying to get to Jo’burg.  The Air France people, while they can’t offer anything besides a 1120pm flight, are surprisingly sympathetic.  They call around, then give us all hotel rooms with dinner vouchers.  I’m just happy to take a shower at this point.  Having had my bags lost in the past, I was carrying about two days worth of clean clothes.  The hotel wasn’t fancy, but the shower was great.  I walked around in the little village near it – there was a village of airport hotels, and a real one.  In Paris, I noticed there was a PFC Marine on my flight.  Really young guy.  Nice enough, but you could tell he hadn’t really been away from home.  He saw me in the hotel lobby, and got me to walk him to the grocery store where about 30 minutes earlier, my credit card was declined.  Apparently, this store only took debit in cash, but I couldn’t figure out with the cashier was saying.  He goes in and buys a six pack of Heineken, which he drinks before the 7pm dinner.  I went across the street and found an ATM, took out 20 euro, and bought some lemonade and snacks.

He’s the only one who turned up for dinner out of our group.  He and I spent our 26 euro on food, wine, beer, and some ice cream.  It worked out pretty well.  Then it was back to the airport.  He PFC slept on the floor – I think he had had 8 beers by the time the flight was ready to go.  We got on our flight, which was uneventful, save I sat next to another one of the DC refugees.  He hadn’t gone to the hotel – had just gone to the airline lounge since he had a membership card.  We landed in Jo’burg around 9am.  The dad and kids and the PFC were staying in Jo’burg, so they left.  The guy from the plane was bound for Swazi, so he and I went to make our connections, but didn’t say goodbye to anyone.

 The SAA desk was particularly unhelpful.  It was 9am, and they were putting me on a 7pm flight to Harare.  There were three flights that I could have made before that.  Maybe they were full, I’m not sure.  But I stood there and asked the rep about my luggage.  He said it would be on the 7pm flight, so I had to be on that one too.  The guy from the plane got me into the SAA lounge, which was nice.  It had free sandwiches, water, soda, snacks.  He left after about two hours – I stayed until around 6pm.  I really didn’t want another sandwich, or plane food, so I went to the airport food court.  For some reason, their credit card machine declined my card too.  So I overpaid in euro.  After I ate, I called the card company collect.  Turns out that the food court came up as some weird name, and it was declined.  I asked around about ATMs in the terminal, but the clerk at the phone room didn’t know of any. 

 The flight to Harare was pretty uneventful, save for the gentleman across from me who was a little too friendly.  He kept looking at me, but overall was polite.  At this point, I was just happy to be on the plane, happy to be going to a hotel that I thought would be nice and to take a hot shower with my bath stuff.  I had things in my backpack like deodorant, toothpaste and toothbrush, contact solution and glasses, but I hasn’t brought my bodywash and loofa.  I thought that would be overkill.  But two days of just hotel soap and bodygoo I stole in the Paris hotel was wearing on me.

 I’m not sure why I was so optimistic coming off the flight.  I was nervous about being here, but excited to get my bags back.  Going through customs took a while, so when I got to the belt, I was thinking my bag would be there.  But of course, I flew through Jo’burg.  In 10 hours, they had failed to get my bag on the plane.  Never mind that they added to my misery and made me wait, they didn’t bring my bag.  I was pretty angry as I went to the baggage handling people.  They probably get that a lot, but I was at the end of my fuse.  I was a day late, tired – I just wanted my stuff.  So I filled out the form, the man told me I would have my bag brought to the hotel.

 The driver who picked me up even talked to the bag people, but in the end, he just drove me to the hotel.  He walked me inside, then left.  Here was the next surprise – my reservation was there, but it had to be paid in cash, about $500.  I looked at the clerk and tried not to get upset.  I explained to her that it was odd to assume that I should carry $500 cash with me.  It wasn’t on their website.  She understood, and told me that I could make a deposit, which I did.  I gave her my emergency $80.  When I finally got to my room, I thought I would just take a shower, read, and go to sleep.  But it turns out that I left my book in the baggage office.  I was on the verge of tears, because whilst stranded in that airport lounge, I had met the former minister of health from Botswana, who claims to be the inspiration for a character in the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency book series.  Admittedly, it did seem likely.  I got her card, and while I was angry about loosing the book, the card was a bigger trophy.

 The hotel is all right.  My toilet looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in about a month – or there’s a permanent stain.  The shower is the worst part – it’s a straight down head, half covered in lime, so the water just trickles.  It takes about five minutes to get hot water.  It’s also winter here.  Not as cold as in the US during winter, but cold enough to need a jacket at night.  A jacket that is currently in my checked bags.

 I didn’t sleep particularly well.  The bed was hard.  My hip hurts on the side I slept on, so I’m limping again when I’m tired.  In the morning, I discovered a space heater, which helped with the cold.  I dropped off my laundry at the font desk to send out, since I have only about three days worth of clothes.

 I met the rest of my group though in the morning.  I ate breakfast with one.  Then we all gathered in the lobby, waiting for our host.  When he arrived, he told us that the office where we all had planned to get cash was closed until Monday, and that there isn’t a single function ATM in Harare that he knows of, though we did go look for one.  All of us needed cash.  I brought my checkbook, but not my orders, which I hope won’t be a problem. 

 The day was fun.  We went to Mbare, a public housing division teeming with people, trash, and rusting metal.  We walked around there, took pictures.  Several men followed us or tried to talk to us.  They were nice.  They just wanted to go to the US with us apparently.  Harare isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  I envision soul crushing poverty and sadness.  Sure, people were poor, but they were very friendly, and resourceful.  There was a lot of repurposing of old metal and plastic bottles going on.  But there was trash everywhere.  I’m guessing there’s no real municipal sanitation anymore. 

 Next we drove around to a nicer area and stopped to get lunch.  The restaurant was more like a clubhouse next to a defunct minigolf and water park.  There was no menu; the waiter just told you what they had.  I got the roast chicken and chips (fries), and tried the local orange soda.  Someone ordered sadza, which is made from cornmeal and looks a lot like finely ground grits or polenta.  He said it was pretty bland.  Next we went to this road where people sold local artwork.  Apparently, Zimbabwe is known for stone carvings.  I ended buying more than I should have, but less than I wanted.  But the things were really cheap.  I only spent about $15 dollars and came away with some nice stuff to give away. 

 Next we went to a local shopping center to see if we could find a working ATM.  Both of them were out of order, or rather, they were empty.  We went into the Bon Marché supermarket though, and bought some bottled water.  I only bought two liters, but I think I should’ve gotten the five.  We also sampled some wine – I’m not sure if it was South African or Zimbabwean, but the rosé was way too sweet.  The white was all right.  After that, we drove through town and saw some monuments.

 Then we headed to a game park just outside of town.  For about $5/person, we got to drive right up to the lions and take pictures.  On the way out, we saw the truck with the lion food – one dead pig and a huge bin of intestines.  After the lion park, there’s a game reserve with less dangerous animals like ostrich, kudu, eland, and zebra.  Behind that was the “zoo” where you could get really close.  They have a Galapagos turtle there, jackals, hyenas, baboons.  But the coolest part is that you can go in and pet the lion clubs.  So we did that.  It’s like a huge kitten that could one day eat your arm. 

  Finally, we came back to the hotel, where I expected to have my luggage.  Of course, it wasn’t here, and they want mw to return to the airport to pick it up.  Our host took my passport and the baggage form, and said he would try to do it tonight after the flight the bag should now be on came in.

 So here I am, about to go see if my laundry is back so I can have clean clothes tomorrow.




current mood: flummoxed

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Sunday, February 1st, 2009
9:47 am - National Holidays...
So here I am, getting ready for another Super Bowl.  I don't really care about sports, but the Super Bowl seems like a national holiday to me.  It seems like the sort of thing where we should all get Monday off so we can recover and go exercise all of those wings off.  It also happens around my birthday, which makes it a fun time for me, because some years my birthday is the Super Bowl.

I sometimes think that America should have national holidays, like the ones we have, and make them totally secular so that everyone can participate.  Last year I learned that some people don't find calling Christmas "National Gift Giving Day" as humorous or all-inclusive as I do.  I don't need to go into the specifics of that revelation, but it does make an interesting point.  How do we create an all-inclusive society where everyone can believe (or not believe) as they choose if one of your national holidays is a slowly secularizing one with a religious name?  

Maybe as more women get into sports (there are a growing number of women in my office involved in fantasy football/baseball), maybe we'll start seeing Super Bowl cards popping up.  "Hope your team wins!"  Or maybe one with those sappy messages.

Anyhow, I"m one year older.  Now I just need to work on keeping in touch with people more.

current mood: meh

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Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008
8:03 pm - Out of Africa
I'm back in the States.  I had meant to get in one more entry before I left Cape Town, but I studied instead in my free time. 

My flight back was all right - I made it home and didn't get stranded.  On my flight from Cape Town, the lady sitting next to me actually shoved my arm off the arm rest, like some seven year old kid.  Then she slouched over from her seat into mine, sleeping on my shoulder for some time until I began to actively push her off.  Then she had the gall to ask me how I slept. I think this crazy Afrikaaner old hag gave me some disease - I felt horrible.  I had to run to catch my next flight, and then we sat on the runaway.  The guy in the row next to me manged to sleep the whole flight it seemed, I was right behind him.  I slept much better - he stayed in his seat.  One of the flight attendants asked me if I felt better, since I probably looked like crap when I got on board.

All and all, Cape Town was nice.  I guess it can also be filed under "Africa Lite", since it looks more like California or the Mediterreanean.  There's palm trees and these funny looking umbrella pine trees.  You can see zebra grazing wild from the freeway.  But it wasn't safe to even walk near sunset as a woman.  There were many more people out in the evening than in Windhoek, but people from my group cringed when I was willing to go back to the hotel alone in a cab on night.  I'm aware of the danger, but maybe I have too much hope in humanity sometimes.  I was the last person to leave, so I did go out alone during the day.

I went to the Castle of Good Hope, the District Six Museum, and the South African Museum on my last full day in Cape Town.  My camera batteries died at the Castle, which was a shame, because I wanted to get some shots of its architecture.  I had tried the night before to charge them, but despite having an adapter and a converter, I blew up another charger.  I lost one in London as well.  I'm going to just buy a battery charger with a built in converter and changeable plugs. It might cost more, but I'm tired of buying new chargers. The alternative is to buy a USB battery charger - a good option, and a wall charger for home.  Anyhow, back to the castle - it was interesting, and had a few good exhibits.  But largely quiet.  There's no guided tours on Sunday, but it's half price then too.

I hadn't planned on going to the District Six Museum because it was by appointment only on Sundays.  I passed it on my way to the South African Museum and the door was open, so I thought I could peek in.  The docent just buzzed me in, so I walked around and listened to him tell stories about what the neighborhood was like when his family lived there, before the apartheid government kicked them out.  It was in an old church, and the man started talking to me about politics.  He picked up pretty quickly that I was American - I wonder how many black South Africans come in there.  He said he wanted Obama to win, which I thought was pretty cool.

The SA Museum is attached to the planetarium.  You can tell that after the fall of apartheid, there was better things to do than improve national museums.  The anthro-historical exhibits on indigenous people were out of the 70s and a little insulting.  At least the museum knew this - there was a panel display addressing this fact and directing visitors who cared to read it to think deeper on what was being said.  The place was undergoing major renovations, so everything you could see was crowded into a few rooms.  I was hungry, so I didn't spend too much time in there.

According to my little tourist map I got for free, the V&A Waterfront, where I'd shopped and eaten dinner plenty of times during the week with the group wasn't too far of a walk.  I told the hotel staff I would walk from the last museum to there, and they said it wasn't a good idea, and that I should take a taxi.  Well, there wasn't a cab stand for blocks, and the cabs I did find weren't the nice ones.  So I struck out through deserted business districts and cut through some outdoor markets.  One of them was definitely blacks only, and even I could tell I wasn't passing the test.  I eventually passed an entertainment venue, and on the other side of the freeway and to the right was my destination.  I just stood there, looking at the half sunny area under the freeway, and the clusters of men in the distance.  And lost my nerve.  I turned around, cut across this huge parking lot, marking for the private security guard, knowing full well he didn't have to help me.  He wasn't super helpful, but he did point me to a combi stand.  Combis are just passenger vans that act as the de facto bus service.  There is one in Cape Town called Golden Arrow, but it's routes apparently need supplementing.  So I got in this rickety van with the Indian driver, feeling this was way safer than my original plan to cut under the highway.  Since I was obviously a foreigner, I got to ride up front, next to the driver.  He was nice, and only charged me 3.5 rands, about 40 cents.  Once I was back with the rich tourists, I felt safer, just counted myself lucky.

I'm sure I'll remember more about my adventures later.  My mom emailed me and told me she thought my car was stolen while I was gone - nearly scared me, but it just turned out that she didn't know which car was mine.  The hotel shuttle that was supposed to take me to the airport told me it would take 30 minutes, so we didn't have to leave until 430pm to get there by 5pm.  I made the driver leave at 415, and we got there at 5pm - traffic was pretty heavy since it was Monday.  We had just gotten on the freeway when the driver asked if he could turn back and pick up another person from the hotel who waited until the last minute to book their ride to the airport.  I told him no - I had the smarts to do it right, and my flight was leaving soon.  So we plugged on to the airport.

I've been invited back to Africa later this year, but I don't know if I can find the time.  But I'll go if they tell me.  Now I just hope that I made a little money on this trip, because we ate really well.  I gained about four pounds.  I'll be burning that off.

Back to the real job tomorrow.

current mood: tired

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Saturday, April 19th, 2008
9:19 am - On the Cape
I'm still in Cape Town.  My conference ended early, and I couldn't get an earlier flight home.  I'll be the last person leaving on Monday.  It's not so bad, but I have so much stuff I needed to get done this week at home.  I really didn't want to even go, but I've had a good time.  The meetings stopped on Wednesday, since the leaders rushed us to finish early.  That's fine for others, but not fine for those of us who are here three extra days anyway. 

I got to see some cool things though.  I went to Cape Point on Thursday and a winery.  Cape Point is the farthest tip of Africa.  It's nice with bluffs and jagged rocks and all.  Took lots of pictures out there.  Then we went to this winery in Stellenbosch.  The food there was worth stopping - I had calamari with this great sauce and bobotie.  The wine was pretty good, so I picked up a few bottles.  Friday, we took a boat trip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held.  That was a nice trip as well, though it took up a good chunk of our day. 

The food here has been pretty good.  I think I've gained five pounds that I'll have to work off.  I've eaten a ton of calamari as well.  There's no gym in the hotel, so I didn't bring any gym gear.  The people who organized this conference had me so worked up about safety that I was afraid to go out at all on my own.  There's been people to travel with so far - but tomorrow, I'm probably on my own.  It's just as well - I don't think anything touristy is open tomorrow.  I can stay in and study.

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Sunday, April 13th, 2008
12:32 pm - Quick Note - I Think
Here I am, off on my latest tax-payer sponsored adventure.  I wasn't quite sure I would get to this point.

About a month ago, my division chief called me in his office just as I was going to tell him about a conference our office had been invited to.  The senior guy on our team wanted to go really badly, and even though it was my lane of the road, I felt bad for the guy. I'd gotten two trips so far, he had none, so I was ready to either ask for two of us to go, or if it was just one, let him go.  I had class that I'm missing.  This was all before I found out this guy was a total snake, and I can't say for sure that this whole trip didn't show his true colors.  Convoluted story short, here I am in South Africa.

Due to some last minute travel plan changes (I was supposed to go to Zimbabwe as well), I ended up on a very long flight from DC to Cape Town.  I took the red eye on Friday night to London, where I spent about 9 hours in the terminal waiting for my next red eye flight.  My office told me that I could use one of those travel lounges, so I forked over 15 quid to use this place called Urban Retreat Spa for a shower.  Turned out to be a great idea.  I got clean, got to use these cool massage chairs, and no one seemed to care that I was in there for about nine hours on and  off.  I felt safe enough so I took several short naps in the massage chair, only waking with the click of heels across the floor.  My second flight was a bit late boarding - I wish I had gone and bought one of those neck pillows, but the food was decent.  My only complaint would be that on both flights, the person behind decided they didn't like me reclining my seat (not during meals), so instead they just kicked it repeatedly.  I thought that was annoying.

My hotel in Cape Town is very nice.  It's upscale I guess and I've managed to find other people from my conference, so we'll all be going out for dinner. 

Here's a short book review from me: I read the 3rd Temeraire book by Naomi Novik on the flight over.  Rather, I finished it, I was about halfway through.  I met her once, maybe twice at Balticon.  She seems nice and she writes well.  But her characters are flat and lack, well... character.  Their world is interesting enough, but they are not.  They are standards in a play - there's nothing that makes them exceptionally engaging.  They're good or evil, honorable or scoundrels.  It makes for good light reading, but not at the top of my list when I have so many other books.  I don't know if I would have read the third book if I hadn't bought it in a sale when I got the second book.  There's two more out, I'm sure I'll get to them when they're in a used book store or something.

My next read is Poison Study by Maria Snyder.  I met her at the last Balticon - maybe it was her panel on chocolate tasting, but I'm hoping her book will be better.  The first few pages are interesting, to say the least.  But it's in first person - first person isn't as cool once you're out of the YA section. 

Well, I'm off to dinner with the group.

current mood: mellow

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Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008
2:19 pm - Hamilton vs. Carey: Lady Smut Smackdown
So like on every trip, I brought books with me.  Instead of bringing like five, thinking that I’d be that bored, I went for space saving and only brought three.  One of them I finished today – Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Justice.  I seem to have a fondness for Laurell K. Hamilton and Jacqueline Carey novels, but I don’t remember if I’ve ever compared them.

Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series is definitely worth reading.  It takes place in an alternate fantasy Europe (I think I have talked about this some) and focuses on this country that sounds a lot like France called Terre d’Ange.  The d’Angelines practice a free love religion descended from this world’s version of Christianity.  They worship Yeshua (Jesus’) and Mary Magdalene’s son, Elua, who said love as thou wilt.  This, of course, makes for some serious lady smut.

Kushiel’s Justice is the fifth book in the series.  I brought it with me because the hardback version was over 700 pages, and lasted me damn near the whole trip.  The first three books follow Phèdre and her lover, Joscelin on their adventures.  Phèdre is a courtesan spy who is into bondage and really likes her job and is incredible with languages.  Joscelin is her badass sword wielding consort who is endlessly devoted to her.  The most recent two books follow the adventures of their foster-son (who is introduced in the third book). 

I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who might go and read the series or anything.  But let’s just say everyone seems to get it on in this book.  But it’s relatively tasteful, and there’s a lot less bondage than in the earlier books.

I think that Hamilton could learn something from Carey.  Carey’s books are much longer and a better value, although there always seems to be the point where the story meanders.  But at least it’s not full of meaningless sex.  The last Hamilton book felt like half a book – it was incredibly short, and most of it was taken up by gratuitous sex scenes.  The story part has gotten better, but all the characters are too busy screwing on piles of corpses to care about the story line.  At least in Carey’s books, there’s a lot going on that seems to be interesting.

Anyway, I think it was interesting to read a Hamilton book then a Carey book, just for the comparison.  For my flight home, I get to read some pseudo-Romanian/vampiric inspired fantasy book I picked up.  Thinking back, maybe not the best choice – but at least I know it’s filled with blood and gore and not silly sex.

Also, I seem to be on a big Pet Shop Boys kick the last week.  Somehow, in my mind, they encapsulate London.  Maybe it’s the prominent British accents they have.  But I’ve got “Single – Bilingual” stuck in my head.  And my immature mind keeps thinking its cute because they’re singing about being gay.  But sing what you know, right Pet Shop Boys?  The beat is good and the lyrics amuse me.

Tee hee.

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Friday, January 18th, 2008
5:18 pm - Back in London

Well, my training course is over and I'm back in London.  I wish I could think of better things to say besides this place is expensive.

Last night, the whole class went out for Indian near the base.  That was pretty good.  I can eat tons of Indian.  It ended up being about £22 each, which was a little steep, but I stuffed myself silly.

I actually enjoyed the class, if only for getting to see how the Brits see things.  Over two weeks, you end up chatting about a lot of different things an dseeing other people's perspectives.  I actually met someone who wholeheartedly and completely believes in the literal Creation Theory - not even from a spiritual point of view - just that's how it is, and so what if she can't explain dinosaurs.  I also got to learn more about what Brits think of Americans.  

I think when I'm not in a public cafe, I'll be able to sort out my thoughts better and post something.  

Let's see though - got the OWT checking on my house plants while I'm gone.  There seems to be one spot that I can't get anything to grow.  Maybe I need to go to Lowe's and ask an expert to tell me what kind of plant to put in my living room.  Been hearing from the latest guy I'm seeing.  I'm looking forward to spending time when I get back.  And I get to do my taxes and see if I can afford a new car this year.  And what kind.

Speaking of cars, they've got way more diesels over here.  And the diesels get great gas mileage.  I've looked at diesels on sale in the US and its limited to big trucks and luxury cars right now.  Then there's the Prius - funny shaped, expensive, and while it has great gas mileage, takes more energy to manufacture than it saves.  And it will take about five years before you realize any savings.  So I'm still leaning towards a Honda Fit or the Nissan Versa - or possibly the Matrix.  I'm waiting to see what the 2009 Matrix will offer - and it's due out in February/March.

There aren't as many Japanese cars here - and way too many Fords.  But I guess Ford has tapped the hatchback market here.

Also, my pronounciation of several words was funny to my colleagues.  But then, it was funny in the US.  Ah well.  I had a lot of fun these last few weeks.  I'll be happy to go home - but it's back into the frying pan, as I don't get a chance to recover from jetlag.  But the weekend will be right around the corner.

And they've got different diet soda here.  Go figure.



current mood: accomplished

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Tuesday, January 15th, 2008
12:58 pm - I Learned Something
So I learned something this week, I guess.  I think I knew it before, but it's refreshing in a way to see it in practice.  I just love all the little idiosyncratic  differences between the US and the UK.  Different foods, different words,  different mannerisms. 

Today in class a young Navy officer got ticked off at this woman in the hallway how complained about the noise we made when walking past her office.  Her door was open, and our whole class filed by without talking.  Butt his guy was annoyed and told the instructor that the lady should "mind her own fucking business and close her fucking door".  I was just a little surprised because at work, most of us try to avoid dropping the F-bomb like that.  Also, the same guy likes to say "dare I say..." and the whole class uses "whilst", which tickles me to no end.  Then there are things I should have known - like pants are trousers here and pants are underwear. 

It's also nice to be in a country where people speak English and I don't have to go up to people and asked for directions where I start by apologizing for not knowing the language.  I rather like that.  And I can read the signs, understand menus, and just talk to people. 

I don't know what else to say - I'm having a great time so far.  I'm not ill, the food is decent, and everyone in my class is very friendly.  I don't mind being the funny American.  Although it is strange that in class people both listen to me because of where I am from, but can also ignore me for it.

I also bought a cool hat.  It probably makes me look like a giant kid.  I should try to take more pictures.

current mood: relaxed

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Saturday, January 12th, 2008
8:46 pm - Hail Brittania!
"Good evening Lord Monocle, the Duke of Muttonchop awaits in the Blue China room."

At least, that's the line that went through my head when I was in the National Protrait Gallery of Monocles and Muttonchops.  It was a good little place - they've even got good ol' GW.

So I'm in London for the weekend.  Working on some stuff at a place about an hour away, and its so boring there, I get to go to London for the weekend.  It never dawned on me how expensive things were here!  Some items are really twice what they are in the US which makes me feel poor.  But I know it's not that bad.  It's just sticker shock.

However, London and its surrounding area is interesting enough, with its high end stores and expensive food.  But I'mhaving a good time.  So far, I'm not ill in any way, which is a boon, although for the life of me, I can't find a place that serves salad... which might be for the best.  The worst part is that there's dessert every day on site, and it's already paid for, so I've been trying strange English stuff.

People are friendly enough.  I wish I had known that Hershey's was popular - I could have brought some as omiyage.  Ah well - next time, if there is such a thing.  

I am a little jealous over the public transit system, which I understand better having gone to the London Transport Museum.  The National Health system has a new spin for me after talking to people about it.  I saw Sicko and was all gung-ho, but now I still like it, even if it has problems.  I just realize that we can learn from those and have a much better one somehow.  

Other than that, things are going well on this recent foray overseas.  I just need to hit the gym hard this week to work off those desserts.  Speaking of which, I'm off to find some more...

current mood: tired

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Monday, October 29th, 2007
7:06 am - 90 Minute Refund - Highlander the Source

Can Panzer-Davis, the producing duo for the Highlander series refund me 90 minutes of my life please?

After a weekend of movie watching, last night I decided to finally watch my DVR copy of Highlander: the Source.  

And it's so disappointing; I almost turned it off about five minutes into it.  I can understand why it went direct to TV in the US - there's no way Lionsgate could have gotten it in a theater.  It might actually be the worst Highlander movie to date, and that's a pretty strong charge.  I think the ranking should look like this (best to worst):

1. Highlander
2. Highlander III
3. Highlander: Endgame
4. Highlander II
5. Highlander: the Source
(although it could tie with Highlander II)

That's right - it's that bad.

The latest chapter takes place in the near future - apparently the world goes to hell next Tuesday.  It can't be too far in the future, because Duncan MacLeod's Watcher buddy, Joe Dawson is still alive, and he's pretty mobile (for a guy who lost his legs in 'nam).  Anyhow, in the crappy future of next Tuesday, people are living at subsistence levels in a post-apocalyptic central European city, wearing ugly fur coats.  The movie is narrated by Duncan's latest squeeze, Anna, who he apparently married.  Kate, his immortal "wife" from the previous movie is dead.  Anna is mortal and has left Duncan because she can't bear his children (adoption, much?) and is living in the same city.  

Meanwhile, on the lame internet chat room where you have to wear red sunglasses, Methos is talking with two other immortals who are looking for "the source" - a vaguely described power/relic/sparkly dealie that holds the "power to our world".  It's not the Gathering, it's something completely new.  These two other immortals, Reggie, a short London bloke, and a creepy looking priest named Giovanni (this guy's hair really bothered me for some reason.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't natural, but I don't understand why they styled it that way...).  Some other guy calls into to say he found the source, but then he is ridiculously killed by "the Guardian" - another lame Highlander super-villain, replete with stupid headgear and pasty skin, and really bad lines (consisting mostly of Queen song puns).  

So Methos contacts Joe, who sets out to find Duncan so they can all go find the source.  Joe saves Duncan from said Guardian, and they drive off to some crazy Slavic monastery, where they meet up with Methos and company, and run into Anna.  She had dreams that told her to go there.  Methos is wearing a particularly stupid fringed motorcycle jacket.  Inside the monastery, they all meet the last survivor of the last group of immortals that went to find the Source, who looks a lot like Jabba the Hutt and talks in this stupid voice.  He tells them to follow Anna's visions and that the closer they get, the more they'll lost their immortality and start hating each other.

They set off on a rather short trip, filled with pointless fight scenes.  Methos is being extra assholish - threatening Giovanni (the only guy close to his height).  I don't get this - Methos was always about self-preservation, but this is a little extreme.  I didn't mind the mocking of religion - I guess if you had lived for five thousand years, you'd have strong opinions on it too, but really.  This makes no sense - Methos always respected people's views, even if he didn't agree with them.  

Along the way, Joe gets killed, Reggie gets killed, and the rest get captured by forest cannibals(?) I guess.  The Guardian taunts them while they're tied up and takes Anna away.  Giovanni gets free and runs off, leaving Duncan and Methos tied up.  Duncan also gets free, frees the protesting Methos, and they go for Anna.  In the woods, Methos saves Duncan's life (who is surprised because he thought Methos had turned on), and Methos tells Duncan that he's the only one of them that's incorruptible and purely human and he should go get the Source.  Methos rides off to cause a diversion, which probably gets him killed (they don't show it).  

Duncan catches up to the Guardian and Anna, Giovanni is already dead.  The Guardian, even lamer than the bad guy from the same village as Duncan, defeats people by zipping around the screen, as one critic puts it.  Now that he and Duncan are close to the Source, Duncan can to it too!  A short, ridiculous fight ensues where Duncan eventually wins.  He joins Anna in the sparkly sky world dealie and somehow she's carrying his child.  We see a fetus and it ends.

I think I read some Highlander fanfic where this happens back in the day.  It also smacks of Highlander II.  At least Zeist wasn't mentioned.  Supposedly, there was going to be two more after this - but they killed everyone off, and Duncan went to the sparkly sky place.  And the Source seems to be a lot like the Prize.  Duncan is mortal, I guess, and he had a baby.  

I think they should re-title this movie Highlander: the Coffin Nail, or Highlander: Dead Horse Revisited.  I think that if Panzer-Davis ever try to make another one, I'll start a letter writing campaign to stop them.  I'll write Congress, I will!  Or maybe I'll write Joss Whedon and ask him to stage a franchise coup and take it over.

I'll choose to pretend this crapfest didn't exist.  It's so bad!

Oh, and New Amsterdam is schedule for January 2008 on Fox.  No signs if it will be axed before it's shown.  Moonlight, however, got picked up for another four episodes past it's 9 or 13, so it might make a whole season.



current mood: shocked

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Sunday, September 30th, 2007
4:19 pm - Don't Eat the Salad!
I'm back in the States now, my trip to Namibia complete.  I usually wouldn't write anything now that I'm back, but I have to finish my adventure.

First off, I don't ever want to fly South African Airlines ever again.  Not only did my bags take a day to show up, but I had more problems getting home.  It's not all their fault, per se, but most of it is.  My flight was on Friday, or it was supposed to be.  I read my itinerary wrong and ended up at the airport late so I missed my flight (my fault).  As it turns out, the flight I needed to get to Johannesburg to get home was overbooked and it sounds like I would have been bumped anyway.  So I'm sure the ticket counter was only too happy to have me show up too late for my flight.  Instead, they put me on standby for a flight later in the evening.  Even though I was really embarrassed, I felt better about the whole thing, knowing that I was going to get to Jo'burg Friday night, and maybe on a flight into Dulles overnight.  But that wasn't the case.  I actually got on to the plane, in my seat with the belt on, when the ticket lady comes on board and says something really stupid like "the air is too hot for the plane to take everyone" and "the baggage is too heavy so we need some volunteers".  It was a 50 seat plane and there were empty seats.  So the lady doesn't get her volunteers.  Instead, she leaves and comes back with a list of names, which happens to be all of the black people on the plane.  To add to the insult, she lets five more people on board after taking us off.  The six of us, four Zimbabweans and a crazy Angolan woman (who swore the airport called her a terrorist - "Maybe today I am not a terrorist, but tomorrow we will see," she said).  They took us to some out of the way tourist hotel on their employee shuttle.  The Zimbabweans were all in their twenties and pretty friendly.  We commiserated over our situation and the "flying while black" feeling.  In the morning, we were taken back to the airport.  They were able to get on an Air Namibia flight in Jo'burg, but I had to wait until 1350 (the time of my original flight the day before).  I did get to fly in business class for two hours which was nice.  In Jo'burg, I got a seat on my flight home, and met up with some of the people who'd gotten on the flight the night before.  I guess it worked out since I didn't haven't to pay for the hotel or a penalty for showing up late for my flight.  However, when I got home to Dulles, only one of my bags showed up.  So I have to wait for that now.

I went out to Walvis Bay and Swakopmund with my host at the embassy.  That was interesting, but by that point, I was pretty sick.  Apparently, I gave Africa too much credit.  I wanted to believe that what everyone said about Africa wasn't true - it wasn't third world.  Namibia was small and sort of backward, but it wasn't that bad - surely, surely, I could eat whatever I wanted, right? Wrong!  Most meals in Namibia involve meat and chips (fries).  And apparently when health conscious Americans try to eat salads and other veggies, we become unpleasantly ill.  I won't go into graphic detail, but it was bad - really bad.  For now, I'm doing better, but I still might need to seek medical attention.

Walvis Bay and Swakopmund are two towns on the coast of Namibia.  They're nice enough, but pretty empty, like the rest of the country.  The drive to the coast was filled with arid, dry landscape, crossed by the one land road we drove to get there.  My host and I hiked up "Dune 7" a large sand dune in the desert near the coast, but by this point, I was also hacking up lots of phlegm. 

I guess Namibia wasn't too bad.  But I'm glad to be home.  It's too damned quiet there, and I can't wait until I can eat real food again (my stomach is still upset).  Amazingly, from my stomach adventure, I lost five pounds, probably all fluid.

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Sunday, September 23rd, 2007
8:15 am - Into Africa


It’s a crime that I haven’t written before.  Of course, I only write while I’m outside of the US, it seems.  And where am I? I’m in Africa, Windhoek, Namibia to be exact.

 

Having now traveled to three continents in one year, this is been an interesting experience.  I’ll have to recap the last few days.

 

I left last Sunday from DC.  I flew South African Airways (SAA), which is not a bad airline.  What I should have been worried about was getting my tickets.  Traveling on the government’s dime is great – but with the hecticness of planning this trip out, I shouldn’t have been surprised with the problems I had.

 

I left for the airport about three hours before my flight.  It was about 35 minutes there by cab.  SAA is part of the Star Alliance group run by United, so I was misdirected by my itinerary and airport staff to the United counter.  I stood in two different lines for a total of 45 minutes, before reaching the counter to get my tickets.  Once there, I was told that I was in the wrong line, and that SAA actually did have a counter.  So I rushed over there.  There was no line, but there was another problem.  They were telling me my tickets were paid for yet.  So I called our travel company (after getting pretty upset with the SAA clerk, who wanted me to go back to the United counter), and told them the problem.  They fixed it, and I got my tickets.  But now, the flight was leaving in about an hour, and they were going to board shortly.  I rushed through security and made it to the gate about 10 minutes before boarding.

 

Once on the plane, the food was edible, there was free wine, and decent entertainment.  I slept a good part of the flight.  But the things that stuck with me were the fact that we were an hour later taking off, waiting for the bags to be loaded.  So when we landed in Johannesburg, with an hour to make our flight, I was confident that my bags would make it.  They’d left DC with us, so surely, they would make it to Windhoek, right? We landed in Windhoek after about two more hours, and it was the smallest airport I’ve ever seen.  There were two baggage carriages and I think we were the last flight of the day, landing at 1925, local time.  After about ten minutes, a woman from baggage services tells the twenty people (about half of the flight) who were waiting that our bags hadn’t arrived.  I think the problem is that the plane is too small for all the bags, so they just leave them behind.  So I sat around in my hotel stinking for another 24 hours. My bags didn’t arrive until the next day at about 8pm.

 

The hotel is nice enough.  I’ve been in nicer “luxury” hotels, but it’s passable.  It’s clean, it has free breakfast (I tried omelets for the first time here), and the staff has been helpful.  Its downtown, if you can call it that.  So let me tell you about Windhoek.

 

Windhoek is the capital of Namibia, one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world.  I thought that surely the capital city would have most of those people and it would look like China, or pictures I’ve seen of Dakar or Lagos.  But no, it’s the emptiest city ever, I think.  With about 250,000 people, it’s relatively quiet.  And in European style, or should I say, anything but the US, everything closes ridiculously early.  This wasn’t a problem in Europe, or even in Doha, since most restaurants were open pretty late or I could ate on base.  But here, I have no way of storing food.  There’s no ice machines, no fridge, no microwave.  I have to go out for every meal.  But the problem is that most restaurants close at about 1800.  So when I leave work, I have to go and get food right away, or resort to getting room service (which is pretty reasonable).  Today being Sunday, my greatest fear is that nothing would be open.  There were a few restaurants open, but mostly fast food.  I tried this sketchy steak house called Spur, which is supposed to be an American style place.  The food was decent, but greasy.

 

One of the things that I didn’t really expect is how hard it is to get decent veggies while eating out here.  Chips (French fries for us Americans) comes with everything.  Other things are usually extra, if they have them.  Unless you go to an upscale place, salads are pretty pathetic, usually made with iceberg lettuce, and some sorry excuse for salad dressing.  Meat is the meal of choice, so I’ve pretty much given up on getting salad or green vegetables outside of work hours (a catering service specializes in healthy eats there).

 

I think I’ve done everything there is to do in Windhoek.  Most of the tourists here are European or South African, coming for safaris.  They stay at the hotel a few days, and then they’re off to some game park.  With that as the main attraction, Windhoek offers very little within its city limits.  Mostly everything is around Independence Ave, the main downtown thoroughfare.  Along this street are many of the sparse hotels and tourist businesses.  The tourist stuff mostly consists of stores selling stuff to take home with you.  Unfortunately, most of the things are bulky and cheesy.  Things like naked women statutes, tusks mounted with bottle openers among other things, and very fragile but very pretty painted wood, ostrich egg, or soapstone items.  It’s hard to find things to bring back.  I’m thinking some type of group item will have to do for the office.  I have found a few little things that are nice though.

 

Shopping does seem to be the main thing to do around here.  And it’s not very good.  It’s hard to find things that are affordable to bring back, but unique.  So you’d think the museums would have great stuff, right?  Ha!  I’ve been to just about every museum here: 

 

-There’s the National Museum of Namibia.  It’s housed in the oldest building in the city, a 1890s German fort.  The fort itself is sort of cool, but the museum inside is depressing.  It’s about two rooms worth of poorly labeled artifacts.  There’s really about five rooms, but it would all fit into two.  There’s a lookout tower you can climb to, with an okay view of the city.  Most of the exhibits have been vandalized, with pieces stolen.  The best part of the museum is the created rock painting wing – easily worth the trip up to Robert Mugabe Avenue from the hotel. (They love that guy here.)  It’s not to be confused with the European caving paintings, because these were done out in the open on rocks all around the country.  It’s sort of cool how they remade it, even if it’s not well explained what it is.

 

-There’s the Owela Museum, the other part of the National Museum.  It’s further down Mugabe, in its own building.  I walked over there in the same afternoon.  It focuses on the natural history of the country, with dated exhibits on the decrease in the black rhino and cheetah populations.  It also has displays of the traditional dress of women from various Namibian tribes.  By far, the most interesting are the Herero, whose women wear hats that represent cattle horns, and look like fabric covered baguettes strapped to their heads.  There’s also displays of each regional habitat for several tribes, but the creepiest thing is how well these are done.  The wax statues look like real people – I thought they were stuffed, so I stared for a while, until I was sure they were cast from just wax.  There’s also a wing dedicated to what I assume is supposed to be other nomadic tribes; only they’re tribes from Russia and Central Asia.  I assume the aim is to let local children see other cultures.

 

One thing I should point out is that the museums both have signs that say “free of charge – no donations”.  But at both, the staff asked for them, practically implied that they were required for foreigners.  I didn’t mind too much – I assumed it went to the staff, not the museum.  I paid N$30 (about USD$5) total to see both.  And I was the only person in each.  I was disappointed that there was no gift shop.

 

-The National Art Gallery of Namibia.  I got up early Saturday to go to this one.  I think this was the saddest place of all.  It’s near the SADC Tribunal (which looks recently ravaged by fire) on Robert Mugabe.  This one does charge admission, on a sliding scale for citizens and foreigners.  Since technically, I’m a university student, I only paid N$10 (USD$1.70), but my smallest bill was N$50, so I had to wait for change.  The main gallery is actually a showroom for pieces you can buy.  It looks like mostly amateur art from local schools or universities, but its all on sale!  The upper gallery is of better quality, but still on sale.  You can see the whole place in about 20 minutes if you walk really slow.  There’s one hallway with the “permanent collection”, about six pieces by a wood print carver named John Muafangejo.  My last stop was the gift shop, where I spent most of my change from the N$50 on post cards to keep. 

 

-The Zoo Park.  This park was going to be a zoo – a tiny, tiny zoo.  But the zoo is elsewhere, I guess.  Now it’s a weekend hang out/homeless camp.  I walked through quickly because I drew too much attention from the bums.

 

There are other things to do as well.  On Saturday afternoon, I went on the “Face to Face” tour with a group from the embassy.  The tour takes you to see the old black community and slums.  It’s supposed to be jarring and heart wrenching, but I guess I’m pretty jaded.  After China’s crappy cities, where people live in houses that are little collapsing and starve by the roads, or Qatar’s crappy immigrant housing, I can only feel but so sad.  I mean, I felt bad, but I don’t feel like I’ve just realized that a lot of people live in squalor.  The tour is nice though – you get shuttled around Katatura, the black area, taken to a shabeen, a local bar for some pop, then to Penduka.  Penduka is a women’s commune for poor, disabled, and TB patients.  It has a gift shop where you can buy things the women make and be sure that they get a good share of the money.  The craft market up the street from me also has a Penduka stall.

 

One thing that strikes me as odd is that people who run trinket stalls in the collectives have better prices than people on the streets who just set up where they want.  The few small things I’ve bought have been from the collective shops, especially after trying to buy something from a street vendor, and finding it for half the price in a store a block away.  Even the stores run by Afrikaaners are cheaper than street stalls.  But like I said, it’s hard to find things small enough to bring back in my luggage that looks nice.

 

Being here is interesting in that I almost, almost blend in.  Namibia has a large population of mixed race people, ranging from very light, to the darker people with only a little European blood.  I stick out a little in how I’m dressed and a little with my height.  Most of the women here are tallish, and many have solidly built, even obese in some cases.  But the minute I speak, I’m pegged as a foreigner.  People don’t know from where, so I have to explain that I’m American.  But some people thing I’m Angolan or from a Portuguese or French speaking country.  Everyone seems to be friendly though.  I try to be polite and greet people if I can.

 

Next week we’re to head out to Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, so we’ll see how that is.  There’s supposed to be more of a German influence there, so that would be fun.

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Sunday, May 13th, 2007
2:19 pm - Bad Thing
I heading from Kmart to Safeway when I saw a squirrel crossing the road.  I slowed down for a split second and it paused.  But then the squirrel dashed forward, being thoroughly squished by my car.  I was already feeling a little down and I just burst into tears.  I felt really bad about the squirrel. But it was one of those "when in doubt, take it out" type situations.  If I had slammed on my brakes, I think I still would have hit it, and the SUV behind me would have hit me.  I just wish I could have avoided it.

On a better note, I went out and bought food to cook this week.  I'm only at OWT's for about 9 more days, so I might have gone overboard.  I hope its not rude for me to take the stuff I bought with me to my next place.  I'm planning on getting his roommate something for putting up with me and getting OWT something too.  I've got to save money, since I want to get stuff for my condo.  If I get that far.

current mood: anxious

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Saturday, May 12th, 2007
5:58 pm - It's Been Awhile
It's been awhile since I've written anything - I know that.

A lot has happened though, so I guess I should catch people up.

I'm Home - I've survived the EuroTrip and my stay in the Middle East.  It's good to be back.  The last few days before leaving the Giant SandBox were pretty hectic. I had to pack up all my belongings, pick up my suits that I had made, finish organizing a trip, and submit my graduate school application.  One of the reasons that I haven't been online is that I trusted the OWT to mail my stuff from our location home.  He procrastinated for two weeks, and the mail was held up.  It took my stuff (including this laptop) about three weeks to get here.  So I've been offline since then.

Work - I went back to work this past week.  I had applied for several promotion opportunities while overseas.  I had only two interviews, one in my home office, one in another.  I got the one in the other office, but wasn't offered the one in my office.  I'm not surprised - the interview for the other position went much better.  So at the end of the month, I get a raise and get to start in a new office.  It's not a bad deal - I'm closer to my new home (up next) and I'll have a short commute.  I'll make more money - and it will be a new challenge.  I look forward to it.  I'm a little nervous, but I'll just have to try hard.

Housing - I've been house hunting the last few weeks since I've been back.  I've gone through three contracts, but I've found a place I like and got the ball rolling.  The first contract I put in was on a duplex in a working class neighborhood.  It was almost 1400 sq ft, with a basement, a den added on, and a little yard.  At $349K, it fell in my price range, but didn't quite fall in my planned budget.  The sellers wouldn't be talked down, so I moved on.  There was a townhouse condo, a really gorgeous one - but my bid wasn't high enough, even when I bid full price at $314K.  So I kept looking, and found a two bedroom condo right in my old neighborhood, in the trendy part near all the restaurants.  It needs a little work, but it's just right for one person or a couple.  I think I'll get some fish for pets.  Maybe one day, a cat.  The unit needs a little bit of work - refinished hardwood floors, a new range in the kitchen, washer/dryer installed, and paint.  But it's got potential.  It's in a good community, it's quiet, not too many people.  The highrises that I thought would be so nice turned out to suck ass.  So I think this garden style is just right.  I get the shell out the money for the little upgrades I want.  But I think that I will like it, and I can do more work later.  I'm saving the bathroom for later.

Other than that, things are going well enough.  My office has written me off - I have nothing to do at work but brush up on training skills and try to learn about what I'm going to be responsible for.  Now that I have my lappy back, I can rest a little easier.  I have my work badges too, which is good.  I can stop nagging OWT.  I guess I'll have to stop calling him that though - because he's going back to him home (where I'm staying) and I'm sure he'll be too busy to hang out with the likes of me.  His dog seems nice - but doesn't care for me much.  His roommate's dog thinks I'm cool though.  Go fig.

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Tuesday, May 1st, 2007
9:42 am - Back Home
Well, I made it.  I'm back in the USA.  I'm up in Delaware this week, on leave from work.  My mind is elsewhere so I don't have much to say right now.  But I had fun in Europe and I'm trying to buy a condo.  And the ear infection is back with a vengance.

current mood: sick

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Friday, April 13th, 2007
1:52 am - Dead Weight
We're here in Munich waiting to catch the train to Vienna.  It's me, a good friend, and my mother.  Usually, I would decline to travel with Moms, but she wanted to go overseas, and I didn't want to be the one to deny her the chance.  Of course, I have to suffer for it.

I think this will sound worse that it is.  But generally, if she's not lumbering behind our normal walking pace, she's reminscing about my childhood, trying to take pictures at bad times, so asking questions that most of my friends wouldn't ask.  But the rest of the time, I'm glad she's along so that she has the chance to see Europe.  I think its fun some of the time.  The rest, I wish she'd taken a trip with a 50s something club.  Needless to say, I'll politely decline to let her tag along on my next trip.  I'll tell her I'm hiking.

In other news, I was almost pickpocketed today.  We were at the Rathaus, watching his mime, when I felt this hand in my purse. I turned, but the woman was already going back through the crowd.  She was older, with white hair and a blue pack. She didnt get anything; I keep my wallet in my jeans pocket, close to me.  But I know she tried, then darted.  I was surprised, because this morning I was just thinking how Germany seemed orderly and I didnt think that would happen. But there was that hand.  I think that if she had taken something, I would have tackled her, old or not.  But she didn't.  My purse has a flap and a zipper - the flap was closed, but not zipped.  I'll be doing both from now on.

Also, the water here tastes funny.  If its not that dreadful mineralwater, its the "still" water which tastes off as well, but better.  And there's only diet Coke, no diet clear sodas.  Maybe I'll fare better in Vienna.  We'll be heading there by night train, with a bunk to sleep in, and then showering at our destination.  Fun fun.

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Thursday, April 12th, 2007
7:52 am - And so
Well, I made it out of GSB alive.  And I made it to Germany.  My first day here, I managed to get lost before I even found the hostel.  I made it there eventually, to discover my room was co-ed. Six people, one other woman and four guys.  Still, it wasn't as I feared.  The room sucked, but everyone was polite.  Yesterday, I made my way to the hotel where I am now, then to the airport to meet Clarissa.  Turns out my mom missed her flight, so she went to Frankfurt, then took the train.  She had a car accident, but was okay.  It will be interesting traveling with her because she walks slower than we do. It will be a good experience for her. To day its off to see some museums and castles and junk.  And take pictures.

current mood: mellow

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Tuesday, April 10th, 2007
6:35 am - Magpie

That's what I am - a magpie.  I have entirely too much stuff in my possession.  But I've made it out of here.  120 pounds of stuff later, I'm sitting in the deluxe lounge with my carry on full of liquid, waiting for the plane.  I should eat some food.

I had a good time out here, got frustrated, made some money.  I bought $800 in tailor made clothes - a good reason not to gain wight!  I didn't quite reach my goal of 170, but I'm close.  I weighed in the other day at 173.2.  I think that's pretty good.  I've just got to keep it up.  I also need to find a place to live.  

I guess I'll write more later.  Right now, food.



current mood: cheerful

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