Thursday, September 5, 2013

Flying, Driving, Moving and other disasters

18 August 2013

Always interesting to fly with with Ethiopian Air. After taking off from Johannesburg for Riyadh (via Ethiopia) we were diverted to Entebbe to pick up some random passengers who had been stranded there by a cancelled Ethiopian Air flight.

This made us late for our connecting flight to Riyadh from Ethiopia. I was one of the last to board and found an Arab gentleman occupying my seat. He wasn't interested in moving and when I showed him my boarding pass with allocated seat number he just looked at me blankly and shrugged. Mafi Englisi (No English).

It turns out that the first few people on board didn't understand the concept of assigned seating and by the time cabin crew realized that there was a problem people were just sitting wherever the spirit moved them. Since random seating seemed to be the order of the day, I took a seat next to an SA lady - on the aisle and near the front, so that was good - one wants to disembark as quickly as possible at Riyadh airport.Then a rather disgruntled looking character came up and asked me to move as I was in his seat; he had just gone to chat to his friend further back. I gave him a blank look and shrugged and pulled my seat-belt tighter. When he complained to a steward he was unsympathetically led to a seat at the back of the plane and told to sit and be happy.

Meanwhile, just in front of me in Business Class a dude was complaining incessantly about his seat (what exactly his complaint was I don't know - I mean, he was in Business Class!). Eventually the steward asked him if he'd rather swop with someone in economy class. When he declined the offer the harassed steward told him to "just sit and fly". Furthermore he didn't want to hear another word from the passenger.

After take-off the young dude who had hijacked my seat noticed that I was sitting next to a female. This caused him to remember how to communicate in English and all of a sudden I was "sir" and being urged to occupy my assigned seat - he would be only too happy to change seats with me. He seemed disappointed when I told him I was cool with my seating and he kept looking across the aisle wistfully where I was sipping my beer and chatting to the charming lady.

23 Aug 2013
Yesterday was an interesting day. My driver arrived at SANG with a flat wheel. The spare was shredded from an earlier incident and had not yet, after several  months, been repaired. We then drove for about 20km on the rim looking for somewhere to get a repair. The tyre places that we found were all closed so eventually I got out and looked for a taxi. 

An elderly party in a dirty heap stopped and offered me a lift, which I accepted. He chatted to me incessantly in Arabic, spraying bits of whatever he was eating over me. From time to time he erupted into song, singing loudly and tunelessly.

When we got close to home he rather belligerently demanded money for the transport. I had nothing smaller than a 100 riyal note which I reluctantly offered (Tip: ALWAYS have small denomination notes when using a taxi in KSA.The larger the note you offer the more likely you are to be overcharged). The 40 riyals change he gave me was damp from his sweaty pocket and while I was still counting the change he snatched back SAR10.

Once in my accommodation I needed the bathroom only to find that my flat-mate had been smoking in the bathroom thus rendering it unusable (by me) for half-an-hour.

With a full bladder, I decided to open a tin of spaghetti and meatballs for lunch (all the way from SA) but the tab on the can snapped off. Being resourceful  I fetched my hammer and a screwdriver. After whacking the tin a few times with a screw-driver the top descended into the sauce at high speed, causing a gout of tomato juice to erupt from the can onto me, 2 of the walls, the cupboard and the floor. "Goodness me", I thought to myself as I cleaned up.

After microwaving the remains of my meal I discovered I was out of bread, so I changed my spattered clothing and went downstairs to the local cafe. Sadly, they were closed for prayers and I had to wait for 20 minutes to get my bread.

5 September 2012
One of my colleagues has a serious nicotine addiction and smokes incessantly. Although I dislike inhaling his second-hand smoke don't complain when he smokes in the kitchen or passage of our shared accommodation. As an ex-smoker I know how powerful the urge to smoke can be. However, when he smokes in the bathroom, there is a problem. The bathroom is small and has no windows, so when I go into it after he has used it it really pongs and I find it unusable for the next half-hour.
The first time I spoke to him about this and asked him to not do this he rather vaguely said "ah well... we'll see what happens" (ins'Allah?). What happened was that he bought some air freshener to mask the smell of the cigarette smoke. Unfortunately the result  of this strategy was that the bathroom ended up smelling of tobacco flavored citrus. Not too pleasant. 

We spoke again and I suggested that he use the second bathroom when he needed to smoke whilst taking care of his ablutions. Things went well for quite a while and then he started smoking in "our" bathroom again. This time we had a fairly loud discussion about the issue and the problem disappeared again for a while. Then recently he has again felt the need to smoke in our bathroom and I again find it unusable several times a week.

This is the same person who some time back chatted to our other flatmates about some issues that had arisen for him in the shared accommodation. We all want to smile when we come home, he told them, and this means that we need to consider the people we share with and be prepared to compromise. This, he asserted, will make life more pleasant for all. Yes, quite.

About 10 days ago we heard from one of our Egyptian flatmates that we were being moved to other accommodation. Initially we disregarded what he said because his English is such that we were not really sure what he was trying to communicate to us and secondly we had received no official notification from the academy. Then a second flatmate seemed to be saying the same thing, and when I inquired from the supervisor he confirmed that this was indeed about to happen.

This seemed like a heaven-sent opportunity for my smoking flatmate and I to part company, especially since things had become a little tense between us. He could join a group of smokers or people who don't have a problem with inhaling second-hand smoke and I could cohabit with people who are happy not smoking in the public areas of the accommodation. A win-win situation.

Accordingly, I suggested this to our supervisor. I also asked him to where we were being moved and when, and when could I inspect the new premises. The date of the move was more or less confirmed but my repeated requests to inspect the new premises and my suggestion regarding the solution to the smoking issue were ignored. I kept nagging and was then told that the manager in charge of accommodation had been informed of my request. This also had zero results and the day arrived for the move. A work crew arrived, dismantled our furniture and loaded up our garbage bags full of our belongings. We were both headed for the same destination all! 

I traveled to our new digs with the first truckload of stuff. Words cannot describe how I felt as I explored my new "home". Opening the front door, my nose was assailed by an indefinable
Curtaining kindly donated by previous tenant
Guest bathroom

smell - sort of a mix between rotting vegetation and the smell you get around a landfill site.

The air-conditioner in one of the  bedrooms wheezed asthmatically and barely produced a breeze. The air-conditioner in the other bedroom roared like a bulldozer and produced a weak breeze.

One bathroom had a spectacularly filthy toilet and a washing machine perched on blocks above a squat toilet. The shower rose like a skinny apparition in front of the
window, thus preventing the window from opening. To shower one would need to stand between the toilet and the washing machine and use the washing machine as a soap dish and face-cloth rack.

The pièce de résistance, however, was the kitchen. There was nowhere near enough cupboard space to hold our groceries and pots and pans. The cupboard that were there were broken, rotting and filthy. 

A white substance  that most closely resembled pigeon shit was spattered on several of the
Mr. C. Roach agreed to pose for the photo
surfaces. The walls, especially around the dirt-encrusted stove, were filthy with the ghosts of meals past. Some brown substance had also run down some of the walls. No hot water was available in the kitchen. I opened the fridge and cupboard using only one finger. Moving or touching anything resulted in mild panic amongst the cockroaches who would run excitedly for cover. The kitchen appeared to be the source of the pong (and the cockroaches) that permeated the entire apartment. 

There was no way I was going to use the kitchen for anything, so I set up a table in the passage for my microwave and kettle and this became my pro-tem kitchen. I was afraid to leave my 2 boxes of groceries on the floor in case the cockroaches fancied upgrading their own accommodation, so I placed both boxes on a drying rack which would at least make it more challenging for potential cockroach squatters to move in.

To round things off, I got a phone call from our HR department to inform me that they had received complaints about me smoking in the accommodation and inconveniencing the other occupants. Academy rules forbid smoking in any of their buildings and I was to cease this inconsiderate and unhygienic practice immediately! By now I was so dispirited that I meekly agreed not to smoke indoors.

Going to bed and to sleep was another 'gedoente'. Since it was impossible to sleep with the noise of the air-con I switched it off when I went to bed. An hour later I woke up sweating in the heat and had to get out of bed to switch it back on. After listening to it for half-an-hour I again switched it off and slept for another hour. And so on for the rest of the night.

Before going to bed I had composed and sent a rather bitter email to our company CEO in which I bared my soul concerning my views of the accommodation and the message it sent me about my standing in the company. I was heartened to receive a call from him the next morning where he apologized for the cock-up and where he promised to remedy the situation without delay.

True to his word I received another call later in the day to confirm that we will on Saturday be moving back to the place we vacated on Wednesday. Luckily I haven't unpacked much so repacking and resealing my numerous packets and bags should not be too much of a schlep.

I don't believe that things happen "just sommer" or without there being a point. I believe that everything happens for a reason so I am looking for reasons that I needed to have this experience. What has changed in my life or my attitudes that wouldn't have changed without this event. What has happened that otherwise wouldn't have happened? Right now I have no answers, but I will keep looking.