Saturday, August 30, 2008

Return of the Native?

Well, we made it back to Albania. Just. As usual the shenanigans began with getting to the airport in the 1st place. In this instance my dad was driving us to the bus and then coming with the children and me on the bus, as 'porter' I'm ashamed to say, because I had so much stuff, I cdn't do it alone. We had packed all our kit into their camper van, which we would then leave in the 'Park and Ride' during my dad's 'flit' to Gatwick and back with us.

Problem number 1; the camper van didn't fit under the barrier in the 'Park and Ride.' Fortunately all the 'Jobsworth' employees stayed at home that day, and eventually someone senior enough was found to allow us to park, on a bit of pavement outisde the barrier. This was, however, after repeated warnings that it was highly irregular because if he let one, it wd open the flood gates (of camper vans??) and everyone would want to park on that bit of pavement outside the FREE park and ride. We nodded sympathetically, at the horror conjured by the prospect of an army of retro camper vans descending on his orderly park and ride. So hurdle number one vaulted....

Everything else went pretty swimmingly (except perhaps me trying to jolly along the jaded security guys at Gatwickand negotiate the mine field of what is and isn't allowed in hand luggage) I loaded everything into the x ray tray then he asked me to remove my belt. I grinned and said, 'but my trousers will fall down' (actually true as it happens. Ok a bit lame) He looked wearily at me and said "well it won't be the first time and it certainly won't be the last'..

Good so that went well then.

Nappy cream (tho not a liquid) and about 5 ml of deodorant (also not a liquid) fell foul of the regs because they were NOT in plastic bags. Otherwise we were through. I'll never understand the restrictions. They were quite happy with the 2 cake tins and saucepan in my bag. (In there because quite heavy) Clearly 'bizarre' is an acceptable category of item.

But my arrival in Tirana went slightly less swimmingly when I realised I didn't have 50 lek for the trolley. Momentary panic....... Fortunately some friends were coincidentally flying back on the same flight. I borrowed 50 lek from them. Now all I had to do was fit 2 boxes, 2 cases, 2 holdalls & 3 hand luggage bags on ONE trolley (and my daughter if she'd had her way. She knows it's not allowed in the UK, but most other airports they don't care how many children ride on top.) .

You always know you are returning to a developing country because somebody arrrives with a fridge freezer stacked on their trolley, another with a t.v. All the electrical items so expensive in the developing world. My husband got stopped at customs in Sri Lanka once and was accused of bringing his telly in to sell. The t.v was a 14" fifteen yr old number in a very shabby box. My husband looked at the box, then at the customs official and just laughed.

I must admit, I must have looked like I had missed the plane to Lagos or Dar Es Salaam and inadevertently ended up in Albania, with my battered boxes covered in brown tape and tied up with rope, another, even bigger box, supposedly containing a bike, (it did) but with something suspiciously like shoes and a duvet poking thru the 'hand holds', oh and one suitcase with a very dodgy lock, so also tied up with string. I'm just glad one of the boxes, at least, was an old 'lawn mower' box complete with picture of gleaming Flymo. Passing thru the baggage halls in the 'Land of Apartment Living', I figured it would be safe from light fingered baggage handlers. Unless of course people have grass on their balconies.

I probably just looked like the stereotypical NGO wife, travelling alone, kids in tow, with as many supplies stuffed into said shabby luggage as BA's measly allowance would permit. Perhaps I fit into this NGO Wife mold more than I am happy to concede....

My mother-in-law, not unreasonably, asked what all this stuff was I was travelling back with . Given I had been back in the UK in March for a wedding, one might well ask. (On that occasion, I'd brought MY bike over. I'm getting good at flying with cycles) It always seems to be much more once I start trying to pack .....Well here, is the list:

1 boy's bike (with gears for the hilly park)

1 food processor ( a birthday pres from 7 members of my family)

2 pillows (replacing 2 which went mouldy in our shipment)

1 4.5 tog duvet

Next size up trainers and sandals for two children

Some winter clothes

Food stuffs I can't get here (you know baking powder, squash, vanilla extract, Earl Grey tea, spices, dried fruit to name a tiny few) Give me credit, I left the weetabix, shreddies & baked beans despite popular request.

A year's supply of vitamins

A year's supply of contact lenses

Birthday and christmas presents for husband and children

Bike spares ( inner tubes, V brakes, puncture repair kit, horns, bells, pump)

Bayonet light bulbs

Endless DIY stuff

Some camping equipment

Books (begged, borrowed and bought)

Fertiliser for balcony plants.

The odd pot of wrinkle cream. For emergencies.

A friend in the UK once said to me, when I said about all the stuff we always go back with,
"but isn't that cheating?" In a slightly uncharitable moment I did feel this was an easy comment to make from the comfort of her sitting room, down the road from any possible facilties and resources she could imagine needing.

I guess she reckoned living abroad is a kind of 'Challenge Anneka' i.e if you were stupid enough to up sticks and live in some backwoods country with no amenities or resources, then shouldn't you 'go native' and live like the locals do?

Well, yes maybe it is cheating in that sense, but even psychologically I'm cheating then, because I know actually at the end of the day I have a 'get out' clause. I will be leaving. Eventually. In fact it's that single fact that often helps one cope, in the worse moments, but also can make one in danger of not getting stuck in. It's a fine balance. And one that definitely needs to be struck.

Before moving abroad we were given the advice to take anything with us that helped us feel at home, or settled. We're not trying to create a Little England, but being able to, for example, bake, being able to give my children vitamins, have equipment that enables us to do things as a family, like camping and biking , are all very important to me.

I have to confess, also that I'm my own worst enemy. If my husband had been in the UK with me, he wd have done most of the packing (partly to vet what I was smuggling into the country I suspect) and would, as he always does, have ruthlessly weeded out what he considered non -essentials.

I feel it needs to be said here that in my husband's hand luggage when he flew back earlier in August, were 2 champagne flutes and a glass decanter. Clearly we have different definitions of 'essential'........