Sunday, July 31, 2005

Khartoum: Step Two

From a living stanpoint -- shopping, getting around, setting up a house hold -- Tokyo was one of the easiest cities for an American like me to transition into. Khartoum is one of the hardest, at least from a certain perspective. It's one of those countries where (a) the things one needs to purchase to set up a house are never in one spot and (b) what things there are, are relatively few and of inferior quality. I guess that's to be expected in one of the poorest countries on the globe. But, still, it takes time, energy, patience and perseverence to get some of the simplest things done. But, I'm make my way around relatively well. Today marked my first foray as a driver in this crazy traffic. That was actually fun! The traffic patterns are as crazy here as they are anywhere in the world. I'm driving an Isuzu 4WD -- WITHOUT air conditioning! -- and it was fun making my way around this part of town. I found my way to school -- about 5-6 miles away -- and I got myself back home again. Later, I took off to do some shopping and I found my way to the new mall and then around to various little shops to collect the things that one would have thought were going to be in the big supermarket at the mall, but weren't!

My Arabic is coming back to me very, very fast. It was never anything near "classic" Arabic. Mine is a shopping/survival Arabic and it seems to be pretty much intact. I surprise even myself with the recall of vocabulary in the market place. That part is actually fun for me.

I'm quickly getting used to the heat, too. While it's hot here, the lower humidity makes it quite bearable.

I have been looking at apartments for the past couple of days with a realtor here in Khartoum. The lease on the Director's apartment is coming to an end in another month and the landlady is getting greedy and wants to double the rent on us! So, the Business Manager and I have been traipsing around looking at apartments. I think I've seen 7 or 8 in two days. A couple were totally unacceptable, another was "so-so", and then a couple of the others were quite nice. I think I've settled on one that will be very interesting, indeed. It's on the second floor of a two-story building. Three bedrooms and two full baths. A huge kitchen. A huge living room/dining room/etc space with two balconies. Then, a huge terrace on the roof. Air conditioners included. All that for $2,000/month! The rents here are astronomical, actually. Especially when one takes into account the lack of amenities and the poor construction. But, with the huge influx of foreigners (due to the peace accord and all the humanitarian aid that is flooding into the country) landlords are taking advantage of the hard cash floating this way.
We'll work out the details of the rent tomorrow.

I spent the day in the office trying to clean -- the desert dust seeps into and around everything! -- and to weed through files left by my predecessor. Our first priority is to get the school looking better.....lots of work to do on that front. I'm trying to zero in, too, on the educational needs here.....the curriculum that needs updating; the policies and procedures that are lacking; the enrollment which has been sagging. There's plenty of work to be done, that's for sure, and I won't want for challenges!

Step by step, I'll get to the top of this mountain just like have other mountains before this one.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Landed in Khartoum

Day One...

It’s funny how I’ve trained my eye to overlook all manner of deficiencies in Third World settings. I remember how quickly I overlooked the garbage, the noise and the filth in Cairo a decade ago. Well, it’s happened again now that I’m here in Khartoum. This time, there’s a whole slew of things to “overlook.”

Like the heat…..I console myself by remembering the blistering heat and oppressive humidity of New England just 24 hours ago. I had no air conditioning in the cottage but I survived. Last night, about 3 am, the electricity went out here in my neighborhood of Khartoum and, when it came back up again, the AC unit in my bedroom (the only functioning AC unit in the apartment right now!) didn’t start up again. So, having dragged myself out to the living room where there was at least a decent fan, I dozed off a bit longer.

Or, the dirt…..flying into Khartoum last evening, there was very little visibility because of blowing sand. (They told us that they almost didn’t get clearance to land and that we might have been taken directly to Addis Abbaba instead!) Well, some of that blowing sand finds its rest in my apartment.

Or, the cultural celebrations…..wouldn’t you know that it would be just my luck to arrive in town the night of my next door neighbor’s huge wedding bash for his daughter! In true Arabic fashion, they had enormous, colorful tents erected in front of the house as well as down the side (where my bedroom is!). Then, they cranked up the music to “full blast” and the party began somewhere around 11 pm and didn’t end until the lights went out around 3 am.

I am convinced that one of the ways we survive this kind of experience is to cultivate our sense of “overlooking.” Not to do so would be to go stark raving mad or to flee on the next plane out of Khartoum.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Donuts, again!

I'm back in New England, the Land of Donuts. The Boston Globe reported last year that there were more donut shops per square mile in New England than in any other part of the world. A dubious honor, to be sure. It probably accounts for all the overweight people that I see around these parts. If this is The Land of Donuts, then "Dunkin' Donuts" is the House of Donuts. They are all over the place!

Well, today, I had a startling revelation. I had stopped at one of the local Dunkin' Donut shops for a cup of coffee and a "jelly stick" and was searching through my pocket for the correct change to pay for the items when the clerk quietly asked me, "Are you by any chance over 55 years old?" Now THAT stopped me in my tracks! When I admitted (proudly) that I was, he promptly deducted 10% from the bill. Senior Discount! Now, that truly takes the sting out of growing older! I'll be glad to 'fess up to being over 55 if it will get me more of that great coffee and another jelly stick!