29 November 2009

Just holes in the roof

That's not exactly what I want to hear during the rainy season.

I was cleaning up in the guest bathroom yesterday when I saw a patch of sun on the wall that I'd never noticed before. Between the unusually brilliant sunshine, a series of open doors and curtains, and two hanging mirrors between the front door and the bathroom I thought it wasn't impossible that the sun was coming in through the front door and somehow being reflected on the bathroom wall. 

Out of curiosity I tried tracing the beam of light from the wall back to the door. As many curtains and doors as I closed and as many overhead lights as I turned off, I couldn't make the patch of light disappear. When Mike walked by after a few minutes of my fruitless investigation I asked him if he thought he knew where the patch of light was coming from. 

"Holes in the roof. I didn't mention it sooner because it hasn't started raining in through the ceiling yet."

I looked up to the bathroom ceiling, and sure enough, I could see several bits of light up above me. The ceiling is made up of what I thought was strips of dark wood and light wood, but apparently the "dark wood" is actually some kind of screen or cloth. When it's brilliantly sunny outside, you can look right up through screen to the roof.

But Mike's right. For whatever reason, it's not actually raining through the ceiling.

In other news, the turkeys were delivered about 10 minutes after we arrived home from dinner on Thursday. Still frozen, so we can use them later.

Also, in two days we're taking off for a mini-vacation in Kenya, where we'll be meeting up with some of Mike's family. We haven't seen any family members in over a year.

Oh, and we finally got our haircuts.

26 November 2009

Turkey Update

You may recall that I've been having some trouble getting turkeys into the country. It is now about 6:00 in the morning on Thanksgiving and the turkeys are not here. By the time the flight gets in this afternoon, if the shipment is even on it (yesterday they somehow got left behind on their layover), they'll be too late for today's dinner. 

We'll be having a big roast chicken dinner today and there will be plenty of turkeys in the freezer for Christmas next month.

More than one person back in the States has said something along the lines of "It's Africa, why can't you roast an ostrich or some other big bird?" The answer is we don't have those in Burundi. We have chickens. All other birds have to be imported, and expensively. I did find some frozen turkey on the local market yesterday, imported from France. They cost nearly $100 for a six-pound bird. 

Even by Africa standards, we don't have a lot of variety in our consumer goods here. And we have so few flights coming in and out. Even once you find the product you want to bring in and make all the arrangements, if there's a problem with just one flight somewhere on the continent, the whole schedule could be thrown out of whack. 

All the questions I've been fielding from people back home have bumped me out of the little groove I've created for myself. We've grown accustomed to life here. I don't like thinking about all the things I'm missing.

22 November 2009

Sunday Fail

The day started with all sorts of promise. I miraculously felt fine after staying up later than usual with good food, good wine, and good friends. I made some good coffee and started the laundry with 30 cloth napkins. The napkins are part of my festive touch for the table setting on Thanksgiving. They've been sitting in a box for over a year so I thought they could use a wash, dry, and iron.

While the napkins were in the washing machine I went to my boss's house to go over a few details for Thursday. I'm happy to report that we've found a convenient, monkey-free location for the buffet table. 

When I returned home I put the napkins in the dryer, did yoga for about 30 minutes, then was so relaxed I fell asleep for nearly an hour. When I woke up from my nap, my head was in a good place regarding Thursday's event. By now, everyone is laughing over the fate of the turkeys, agreeing that we can roast a half dozen local chickens if the turkeys don't arrive in time. 

I got my napkins from the dryer and brought them upstairs. I tried to open the ironing board, but some screws that hold the legs in place are missing. With Mike's assistance I set it up with the board just sort of resting on top of the legs. Good enough. I grabbed one iron. It looked like it had been dropped, and a wadded up piece of paper was stuck into the little opening where you add water. I pulled it out to add water, but couldn't get it back in. Hmm. I grabbed the other iron. I plugged it in and nothing happened. Ironing Fail.

Somehow our housekeeper has broken the ironing board and two irons, yet he still manages to iron every bit of clothing within an inch of its life (even the underwear!). So I decided ironing the cloth napkins would be one of his chores this week. He's obviously got a system for it.

Then Mike and I decide that it's really time we got haircuts. We are getting shaggy and we've been putting it off for several weekends. We only have one more weekend free before we go on vacation and see Mike's mom for the first time in over a year. We want to look presentable. But while Mike was eating lunch, he got pili-pili in his eye (the super-hottest hot sauce on the planet, made from local chili peppers), and cleaning that up delayed us a bit. By the time we got out to the salon, it was 10 minutes before closing time and they weren't opening the gate for anyone. Haircuts Fail.

We considered going out for ice cream because we were feeling sorry for ourselves for not succeeding in Burundi today, but the ice cream place we like isn't open on Sundays. Luckily I remembered that before we drove all the way out to it. We called a couple friends in hopes of just stopping by to chat, since we were on the road, but no one was answering their phone or radio. At home, the satellite isn't on because of the never-ending battle between Mike's employer and DSTV and the bill-paying methods, so we can't even lazily watch documentaries on British History Channel. Afternoon Distraction Fail.

It's hot this afternoon and we are laying around being lazy and cranky. Sometimes c'est la vie en Burundi.

19 November 2009

Can Turkeys Fly?

I’m in charge of organizing Thanksgiving dinner for the Americans in my office. I’m not a huge Thanksgiving fan, but events planning is part of my job, so I’m thinking of it as another notch on my list of overseas work experience: Bringing frozen turkeys into the heart of darkness.

After some research, it seemed like the best bet was to use a South African import company that we’ve used for food shipments in the past. I emailed my contact and he said frozen turkeys would be no problem. And would we like any cranberry sauce, potatoes, or pumpkin pie filling to go with them? Everyone said, “Yes!” (Except me. I ordered some South African wines—my contribution to the party—and some other yummy cheeses and meats for personal consumption.)

I collected turkey orders from my American colleagues and my South African contact collected turkeys. He’s familiar with American Thanksgiving and knows the pressure is just as much on him as on me to get it right. Americans will not be refused their perfect Thanksgiving, especially when so far from home!

From our last shipping experience, we learned what to do and what not to do in order to get frozen foods through customs quickly. We were ready for Thanksgiving Success.

Who would have guessed that a Rwandair crash in Kigali last week would have any impact on receiving our goods in Bujumbura, from Johannesburg, this week? My contact called in a panic on Monday. The turkeys were supposed to arrive on Wednesday, yesterday, a nice week early. As best as I can tell, the one Rwandair plane that lands in Bujumbura happens to be the one that crashed last week (into the departures lounge at the airport in Kigali!) and Rwandair doesn’t have a spare plane, so all their Bujumbura flights are suspended indefinitely. However, even though they knew flights were suspended, they let me contact go through all the reservations and confirmations for the cargo before telling him it wasn’t going to fly.

The other options are Kenya Airways, which is booked full this week with cargo. Ethiopian Airlines has room, but has a twenty-four-hour layover between here and Jo’burg, which isn’t going to be great for frozen turkeys. There’s a chance Kenya Air can take them for Saturday delivery, but it looks like the earliest will actually end up being Tuesday. If that Tuesday flight doesn’t come through, then I’m the Girl Who Ruined Thanksgiving, even though it really has nothing to do with me.

I want everyone else to have a nice holiday, because that’s the kind of person I am. But personally I think it will be hilarious if Africa wins this one, and we don’t get turkeys. I still have a couple bottles of wine from my last shipment, so my Thanksgiving is all set.

17 November 2009

I just sneezed all over this blog post

I refuse to believe the flu vaccine gave me the flu. Mike and I got the live vaccine, the nasal spray (yuck!), because there's a shortage of the killed vaccine shot here, and we are young, healthy adults who can handle it. I expected mild side effects; I always get them when they are there to be had. But I didn't expect that after a weekend of mostly sleeping, I'd start feeling worse every day instead of better. 

To be accurate, I don't have a full-blown flu. I have mild precursors. I'm annoyed that resting, drinking tea, and taking vitamins hasn't healed me yet. This morning I woke up feeling the worst I have in days, with a headache, achy neck and shoulders, and a sore throat. I'm not quite sick enough to stay home, but just sick enough to be mildly uncomfortable at work.

If we stayed home from work every time we felt even mildly sick, as we are constantly informed we should be doing to prevent spreading germs, we'd never get any work done. We have cycles of feeling flu-ish every couple of months from all the new and exciting bugs in the air here. We were probably going to feel like this for a few days anyway, and the timing of the vaccine was just a coincidence.

We got vaccinated for the same reasons we did last year. We live in an undeveloped region where if there's an outbreak, it will spread quickly. We also travel often through international airports, which are hotbeds of germ transferral. We've only received the shot for the seasonal vaccine. The H1N1 vaccine may be made available to us; if it is, I'm getting it. For those same reasons. 

The real worry will come in a day or two, when my supply of Riccola herbal tea from Switzerland runs out. I don't know what they put in it, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's illegal in the States. It makes me feel magical.

08 November 2009

That's Tollywood, not Bollywood

We found out Mike's next assignment. We are headed to the site of India's second-largest film industry, yet the home of the largest physical film studio in the world. It's the home of the largest snow park in Asia and one of the largest zoos in Asia. It's a burgeoning IT capital. 

It's also a city that's more than 400 years old and the region is known for biryani rice dishes. 

It's Hyderabad! We are very excited. 

But it will be a few months before we leave here, so we suddenly have to do all the things we meant to do here but haven't gotten around to yet. It's going to be a busy few months.

05 November 2009

Newsflash: The Sun Is Strong on the Equator

When I went to bed on Sunday night I noticed my shoulders were sore. I hadn't done anything with them to warrant soreness, no lifting of weights or wearing of heavy packs. I fell asleep and forgot about it until the next morning. 
The next morning my shoulders and the back of my neck were bright red. Like lobster shoulders. I'd worn a t-shirt all day Sunday. I could see the lines on my shoulder from the tank top I'd worn on Saturday. 


Saturday was the day of the Marine Corps Ball. I was at the tent most of the day helping the Marines set up. I made a conscious effort to stay under the tent all day. The only time I was out from under the tent was the seven minutes I spent walking between my house and the tent. That's how strong the sun is here on the equator and that's how sensitive my skin is.

I must have taken idiot pills instead of my vitamin on Saturday morning. Why didn't I put on sunblock? I've lived here for over a year with absolutely no sunburn and it's because I'm obsessed with staying pale and moisturized. I never step outside without it. What happened to me?

On the bright side, the redness did not appear on my shoulders on Saturday night, while I was wearing a strapless party dress. I'm all itchy-shouldered now, but I had a great time on Saturday night.

04 November 2009

I'm a gluten-free athlete

Hey, I've been profiled as a gluten-free athlete! Check it out at the Gluten-Free Fitness blog. Thanks Erin!

Be sure to bookmark Erin's blog for lots of gluten-free fitness information.

01 November 2009

Halloween with Some Local Legends

We actually had Halloween last weekend, because last night was the Marine Corps Birthday Ball. Two entirely different kinds of dressing up.

For last weekend's party, Mike and I went as two local legends:
If you've been paying attention recently, you can probably guess.

I have awesome skills with cardboard and green paint.