Friday, December 14, 2007

My 'To do List'

If I were to make a list of all the things I wouldn't want to happen just before packing up and shipping out of a country after two yrs, I would say I would not want my car to breakdown, or my computer, I would want the CD player to work so the kids can watch DVDs whilst we pack, for us all to stay fit and healthy and not to have a million and one other things to do besides packing up.

Well you can guess where this is going already can't you? In fact it has turned into a bizarre list of near misses. Our CD has started working intermittently (ie it stops working just when we need it to work), the computer conked out after a brown out and a lot of flickering, but resurrected itself the following day. The car's A/C has broken though the car still functions. The padlock on our gate completely froze up, then started working again, after me spending 15 mins adminstering liberal helpings of cooking oil to the lock. The cake that I had ordered for our son's farewell at school didn't materialise. They had written the wrong day on my order. I was told it would be ready in 2 hrs. Too late. Then suddenly, a few mins later after checking with the chef, they discovered it would be ready in 10 mins complete with the decorations I had ordered and personalised message....? I didn't ask......... Maybe I was just that scary. Angry mothers and all that, or maybe not....That's the thing about Sri Lanka, it's always unpredictable and surprising.

I have also spent the last fortnight doing everything else, for everyone else it seems, on a mission for my friend's wedding, searching for the exact right colour silk and buying after many texts, emails and a colour card that made it through the Sri Lankan and Royal Mail post to get to me. I have been making a photo album for our househelp of our children, buying and wrapping presents for our Pakistani asylum seeker friends, fielding phone calls about our househelp, taking her to interviews, where the other person doesn't turn up, having people come to our house to interview her, as well as helping her with her arranged marriage and workign in the UK plans. Oh and not to forget making cookies to decorate for the end of term kids' party.

I know women are supposed to be good at multi tasking but quite honestly, I think I want to be a man (at this moment). Oh for a single focus. Just packing up. That's enough for me.

Oh, and did I mention my husband got dengue? There we were thinking we were (almost) home and dry......19 days to go and many bottles of insect repellent later, M came down with the classic swinging high fever and the Mother (and Father) of all headaches and pain behind the eyes, which didn't go at all for 3 days. It really is a very nasty virus. He tested negative immediately, but it show s up later. 6 days after contracting it his platelets started plummeting. He went down to 40, 000 and had to be hospitalised, put on a drip, and monitored. They threatened a blood transfusion if he dropped to 20,000. A friend (cosily ensconced in dengue free, stringent blood screening UK )told us breezily that haematologists in the UK don't worry till platelets drop to 5000. Fortunately after 3 days they were back up to 96000 and they reluctantly let him out (after 3 hrs of battling, obstinacy and eventual bellicosity). It's a private hospital you see, your platelet loss is their (financial) gain.

My husband does not have a good track record on this front. (Getting out of hospital I mean)Though really neither does the Apollo. He had one of those 'well man' checks. Can't believe he agreed to it really (I think he knew he was majorly stressed) and I must admit when the hospital told me it wd take 6 hrs, I did omit to tell that to M before he went along. SO at the end he was so fed up he just walked out. He had paid, done everything, maybe had some results to wait for. Anyway the security guard wdn't let him out of the hospital, and when M walked past and got in his car to leave, he legged it over to the barrier to warn the guy there NOT to raise it for my husband. The phrase 'Red Rag to a Bull' springs to mind. Suffice to say a manager then also came running out and M was allowed to leave........

Not sure the health check did much for his stress levels however.........

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Stress Levels II - A Tailor's Tale

I'm beginning to think I've been 'in the desert too long' In the last 3 days I have had 3 very un Asian confrontations. In other words rather than avoid them as one is supposed to here, I went all out, terrier fashion for a good ol' head to head. I just got fed up, firstly by the selfishness of the driving here, and secondly the way everyone tries to take you for a ride and rip you off. Ironic when the wealth of rich Sri Lankans is in a league way beyond most Brits, yet the assumption is we're the ones with all the cash.

People do 3 point turns in the middle of busy roads every day, they pull out in front of you forcing you to brake REALLY hard, they push in. This incident wasn't huge, but it was the straw that broke this desert camel's back.

I was in the car indicating, waiting to pull into a parking place, whilst a car pulled out of the place, whereupon once free, a guy in a huge 4WD on the outside of me pulled across and swung into the parking place. My parking place! I leapt out of my car, marched over to the car opened his driver's door, and asked him what he was doing and whether he thought I had been saving the place especially for him. You get the drift I'm sure....

He just smiled and smiled at me and said nothing, and closed his door, probably very embarrassed that I had broken the cultural taboo and was confronting him. His 'employer' in the back told him to pull out and let me in. I'm sorry but in this instance it was just selfish thoughtlessness and I'm not going to refuse to confront such anti-social behaviour just because it's un Asian to do so.

Second stressy event; I went to a tailors to get some things made because it's so cheap here. I had met the tailor several times because M had asked me to go with him for a fitting. He was very friendly, and we had had a joke together. Then it was down to business. I was first told that the 2 items were far too tricky and couldn't be copied without being simplified. This happened to me once before when I tried to get a tailor to make a bow tie. I obviously wear highly complex clothes...

Then I was told that even simplified, the designs "though they look simple, madam, are in fact very complicated" I knew then that he was angling toward discussing the price. A high price. He quoted me double what he had quoted when there before with my husband. Do I have gullible stamped on my forehead, I sometimes wonder??

I just had had enough. I told him he had been recommended, he was already more expensive than other places but we didn't mind paying a bit more because he did good quality work. But I told him I had been making my own clothes since I was 12, had made my own wedding dress, and the only reason I wasn't making these was because my sewing machine had broken. (Sounds a bit overdone, but all actually true) I explained that I really did know what was difficult and what wasn't.

To paraphrase, I said, "You make jackets, suits, women's evening dresses everyday and you try and tell me a top with no zip, no buttons, no collar etc etc will be expensive because it will be so hard to make? You're ripping me off just because I'm a Westerner. And that, as we say in Britain, is just not cricket."

I was in full sail, the spinnaker up and blasting across the stormy seas.

It leaves you with a bad taste in the mouth. you think you have struck up a good rapport and will embark on a fair and mutually agreeable transaction, when actually they just look at the colour of your skin, see dollar signs and also decide to assume you are gullible and stupid into the bargain, as they quote ridiculous prices at you. It's plain offensive.

Of course M says I should have just walked out, but by then I had spent 45 mins having measurements done etc, (because I thought I knew the prices from last time) and would need to start from square one and find somewhere else. And you know, I'm just weary. I can't face being principled or standing my ground on everything ALL the time, and marching off. So instead I haggled for all I was worth, and brought him down by almost 50%. He's still getting more than double what many tailors will charge, but I haven't had a good recommendation for a good, cheap tailor, just a long list of ones to avoid.....

As for the 3rd encounter, well I haven't even the energy to write about it, but you get the pciture I'm sure....

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Stress Levels

A friend whose partner lives in Kuwait said of him recently "He needs to get out of the desert" He is evidently a very laid back, calm guy but seemed very uptight and stressed on her last visit there. Particularly when driving. I think the same is true of my husband. We have decided it's better I drive because I am used to it, and I don't get stressed by it. He sees red. M says things to me like "Boy, you have really got used to driving here, I can't believe you didn't beep that guy" or "How can you let someone cut you up like that" etc. The traffic winds him up even as a passneger. In the UK it used to be me reaching over to honk the horn because he was being too British and polite to let someone know they'd done something dangerous or stupid.

I explain it's a way of not developing stomach ulcers, as I deal with this every day, "you can't let yourself get wound up by it" I say rather primly all too aware that I am normally the Queen of Impatience, the Princess of Panic. I excel at uptightness and stressy reactions. But bizarrely Asia and its frustrations have chilled me out. When driving at least.....

Our 3 yr old said to me yesterday "Mummy you don't run people over do you?"

"No, I don't, it's not nice"

I don't run people over either do I?" queries my daughter

NO, you don't because you don't drive do you? I reply.

Daddy runs people over a little bit doesn't he?"

This we think, was in response to me probably yelling at M to watch out or avoid people, or BRAKE. It's terrfiying for me, never mind the pedestrians. When driving he assumes he can second guess that they WILL stop or retreat, but it seems a dicy wager. Pedestrians are mad, do step right out in front of you, at the last minute, and his mentality seems to be to show them how close they came to dying......

Having been very nearly mown down by a motor bike today because the motorcyclist drove round a car that had stopped for me, I can vouch for the fact that you can't always predict what someone will do, he didn't swerve or break. I leapt back out of the way. If I hadn't, he'd have got me.

So I drive, it's more relaxing for everyone.