Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Finally Festive??

Well it seems I have maligned Albania. It does have festive cheer, it is just UN-fashionably late, by Western standards anyway. Around the 7th Dec suddenly Christmas trees appeared in shops, the local markets are awash with chinese fairy lights, huge gaudy baubles, a rainbow dazzle of tinsels, a santa outfit for every size (babe to adult) including models with plaits attached to hats, Father Christmas 'skirts' and so on.

And then there are lights everywhere. 4 & 5 storey buildings have lights dripping the full length of them. Strung across the roads are very heavy wire stars which are suspended from heavily sagging cables. They swing so low over the main road through Tirana that I always choose my 'lane' carefully. And should white van man (yes you get them in Albania too) or a delivery lorry choose the wrong lane, on this broad boulevard, they will find themselves delivering more than barrels of beer or tins of paint, as the drooping Stars of David are snagged along in their wake.

I have to confess to a huge dose of 'Bah Humbug' when I see all these festive lights. Albania cannot supply power to all its citizens. The poor voiceless areas suffer most. If you live near an embassy or in the student area you don't get ANY power cuts. EVER. They don't want students rioting or protesting. Embassies have an agreement with the government not to have their 'business' interrupted by power cuts. The rest of us have power cuts. I am weary of them. The power is turned off to save it & eek it out. The antiquated infrastructure can't cope with the burgeoning demands.

But clearly Albania wants to appear fully 'developed' and Western. The way to do this? Put up Christmas lights as the ultimate symbol of superfluity, affluence & frivolity (not to mention rank disregard for energy saving, at least not in the sense I understand it).

We don't have enough electricity to go round, but hey we can still light our buildings all night with ridiculous quantities of fairy lights as it's Christmas. Even though we don't actually celebrate Christmas here.....but let's have the lights anyway.

We can always turn them out in the New Year..... in the whole country. In fact there's a joke along those lines isn't there? Not quite so funny when you're living it.

I have also discovered this year (I'm told this is quite new) you can buy a FROZEN turkey, I have one. I did NOT have to murder it for my Christmas dinner, though I have seen several hapless birds today, still alive, being carried (3 at a time) by their feet to their fate. I have even found wrapping paper, a polystyrene tray with 5 slightly tired looking sprouts, a wreath for the door. Hooray. So apologies Albania.

And we also went to a nativity play on Sunday. This was quite unusual I must admit. Firstly it was performed by adults, which I have never seen before. Secondly it featured the devil. You may well be racking your brains at this point to remember at which point the devil appears in the Christmas story. Or when your Little Darling donned a pair of horns to play Lucifer in the primary school nativity. Well this group decided to show the fight between good & evil represented by white angels & dark angels, endeavouring to stop the Wise Men getting to Jesus. Complete with very loud music.

Trouble was they did this with a man wearing a rubber devil mask, in a hooded black coat, little horns & carrying a trident. He was very 'realistic'. The devil then proceeded to leap down the central aisle where he almost knocked over a toddler standing gaping, in sort of suspended horror, in the middle of it. She screamed, & fell over in her haste to get back to her mother, and would not stop screaming for the rest of the scene (which was quite long). My daughter was covering her eyes, and saying: "Don't let him near me mummy", as I was seated right by the aisle. She then started to claw her way over to her dad 3 seats along as the devil roamed up the central aisle. He then set off another child too. The place was in minor uproar.

I dont think I have ever been to a Nativity play where quite so many were reduced to tears. And it wasn't the parents for once.

This Christmas has been quite an education.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Very Good Mothers

My 4 yr old daughter is trying to get a few things straight....

Question Number 1. "Is blanket a rude word?" she asked me the other day.

Completely out of context, she had for some reason, asked me (whilst we were cooking) if she could have a blanket. Somewhat confused, I must have frowned, because she then asked if it was a rude word. I realised again, how much toddlers read faces with their limited language & comprehension skills. I gather this is why children hate masks, and often clowns, because they can't read any visual clues. I had frowned, (I do when I'm thinking), so she assumed I was cross because she had said something naughty I guess.

This reminded me too of an incident with my son , aged 7 at the time, who was being bullied by an exquisitely beautiful little blonde, tanned Dutch girl. A little girl he adored from afar & desperately wanted to be friends with. He was very confused by her behaviour & said when I tried to discuss it with him;
"But Mummy how can someone SO pretty be so nasty?" Ah, there's a lesson for life. A good one to learn early I guess.

Question Number 2. from my 4 y-o:

"When you were little were you a boy?"

I don't know what prompted this question, but it propelled me straight back 35 years to the skinny little blonde girl with short hair, my childhood self, who was often mistaken for a boy. Little did my daughter realise this innocent question raised all those insecurities & emotions as if they were yesterday. I was immediately 7 yrs old again & in the showers at a campsite.

I overheard a girl asking her mum why that boy (me) had gone in the ladies' showers. I remember digging out the one skirt I had taken on holiday with me & wanting to wear it every day. Can't remember if I did or not. Probably not. Would have attracted too much attention as to why I was doing that.

Sometimes it was old ladies, sometimes it was other children. I hated it. In my mind it was because I had short hair. I never actually thought I did look like a boy.

I always wanted long hair but my mum didn't like little girls having long hair & chewing it or tossing their hair around. Now I'm a mother I'm exactly the same. I don't like it either. I have just taken my daughter to the hairdresser & had 2 inches cut off her hair to stop her chewing it (& to get rid of the knots she won't allow me to tease out). I have long hair by the way. Have done ever since I left home. Pyschologists would probably have something to say about that...

It happened as late as aged 11, being taken for a boy. But then I took a while turning into a woman too. I can still feel the ruler the boys in secondary school used to run down my back in order to announce to the class that I didn't wear a bra (a sure sign that you were still a little girl amongst your womanly classmates).

Still no one would mistake my 4 y-o for a boy, way too much pink going on for that. Perhaps that's where I went wrong, I pre-date the "If you're a girl everything must be pink" phenomenon. And as for boys with rulers, well she'd probably just tell them she was a feminist and that she'd burnt her bra.

My son is the sensitive one who will fall foul of pretty, but malicious girls, my daughter will stand up for herself, whilst wearing pink of course.

I am also trying to teach my daughter about privacy. When we go to the loo, together of course, I help her, then I go. Usually at exactly the wrong moment she decides that, as she is now dressed & ready, she will open the door & leave. I lose track of the number of times I have said,
"Don't open the door till I've been myself" Recently, as I was, on autopilot, saying "don't open the door...." in a crowded 'Ladies', she interrupted in her clear, ringing tones (I think is how it's put), saying:

"I know mum, because NO ONE wants to see you naked"........

Another area of permanent rumination, is the discussion of fairy tales. My daughter was asking me a question about Cinderella & the Fairy Godmother which began:

"You know when Cinderella's 'Very Good Mother' comes in and waves her magic wand....?"

A mishearing, but obviously one that made perfect sense to my daughter. In fairy tales you get Very Good Mothers, with magic & sparkle, capable of making all your wishes come true.

In real life you get Run of the Mill Mothers, like me, who make you eat your vegetables, won't let you wear nail polish, let alone glass slippers, (or anything with a heel) & even forget to put money under your pillow when a tooth falls out (or remembers 2 days later).

Big brothers, on the other hand, are evidently amazing. In real life, not fairy tales:

My daughter commented admiringly the other day, of her brother, with a wistful sigh "A is SO amazing"

"Why?" I asked, curious though not in disagreement.

"He can do so many things like ride a bike with only 2 wheels, put a film on the t.v, and speak in different languages"
(she must mean English & American as his Albanian consists of about 6 fairly useless phrases),

"AND...... (pause for emphasis) he can even wipe his own bottom".

So, the dizzy aspirational heights of being 8.

"Well" I said "What can you do? I'm sure you can do amazing things too."

She thought for a moment and then said:

"Well I can do a few tricks on the trampoline, get the cereals out in the morning, eat lots of fruit, write my own name & dance."

I'd say that's quite a respectable list for a 4 y-o.

And me? Well, I can, 'fairy godmother-like', magically turn from a 'boy' into a woman, & a mother ( & even look the part). I can go to the loo, whilst in full readiness that the door will be opened at any moment, and I can look like a rather tired & cross mother on the outside, whilst being quite nice on the inside.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Festive Cheer....

Today it rained. Last night it rained. No rain for 2 months and now this. Thunder, lightning (ALL day), torrential rain, flooding. It rained for 12 hours non-stop.

Power outtages have become more frequent as the electrcitiy supply is stretched with the cold weather and the lack of rain (hyrdoelectric)

It's good for the electricity supply I guess, but bad for the inevitable chaos that ensues with bad weather (power cuts, flooded roads, mud everywhere, crazier traffic & enlarged potholes) I could go on.

Our road floods whenever it rains. Literally more than ankle deep right across the road, so without a car or galoshers, you're trapped.

I returned from the school run at 8.20 to discover the power had gone off, for the 3rd time in 6 days. It was off all day the last 2 times. This time it was off 12 hrs.

I mentally ticked off all the things I couldn't do now: email, order the last few Christmas presents online, dry my very wet hair (I forgot to take an umbrella), wash clothes (still bloody from my daughter's dramatic gash on the head yesterday), cook (cake for school Christmas stall), iron (ok, not so tragic), listen to the radio, listen to music, sew (cushion covers for a friend), have any heating on, shower (electric pump), or even see what I'm doing. I was tempted to just go back to bed....

However, today I have plans, I have a Christmas coffee morning. With real mince pies. I phone the lady who runs the craft group I go to sometimes, who was hosting it. Her mincemeat was confiscated from her hand luggage at Gatwick, she tells me. So no mince pies. Clearly an explosive mix. Worse, they have begun to dig her road up without warning yesterday. Both ends are blocked by diggers, which have been abandoned there overnight. I hope no one in her rd goes into labour or has a heart attack...

So we can't drive to her house or park. There is no where else to park. It's impossible to find a space in Tirana. You can't drive to anyone's house here unless they live 'out' of the centre or have an embassy style villa with off road parking. SO I could bike, as I usally do, but this is monsoon rain ( I Know. I lived in a monsoon climate for 2 yrs..) I'd get soaked.

Who would have thought a coffee morning could be so complicated?

I had another Christmas party tonight, the women's international group bash, but my husband is going to a series of lectures on macro-economics (much more important than swigging cocktails with a bunch of ex-pat women, possibly even more fun...), but our newly found babysitter (not used yet) I discovered, too late, has a regular commitment on Wednesdays. So it's home alone. Again. When am I going to get my glad rags out & go to a party? Even a coffee morning suddenly seems hugely appealing, with or without mince pies. A spot of mulled wine, a dash of tinsel, even canned carols.... I'm desperate.

Still all this is in keeping with Albania's general lack of seasonal cheer. Christmas is not celebrated at all. It was a communist country with a full on Mao style cultural revolution after all. It's not even a public holiday.

I miss the festive run up, there are no pantos, neither school nor church put on a nativity or any Christmas play, we can't even have the tradition of 'buying the tree' from a farm.

Sadly Christmas trees ( I mean real ones) aren't available, so I am going to have to swallow my pride & buy an artificial one. And believe me the cheap Chinese imports make few concessions to emulating the real thing. You can at least get a green one though.

Still, looking on the bright side, I'm probably very right on and envronmentally with it. It's probably all the rage in LOndon isn't it to have a 'sustainable' (even everlasting) tree . You know
"Real Christmas Trees are SO 2007, darling"

I'm sure Harvey Nics do a fabulous imitation Norwegian Spruce....

Well mine will be lurid green, plasticky & limp. I must remember not to position it too near the wood burner as it would melt like a nylon nightie with the merest whiff of wood smoke. And without that nice pine-y smell.

Oh, and as for the turkey, well, if I want one for our Christmas dinner, it will have to be a live one, I'm told. Evidently that's the only way you can buy one here. I'm not sure I have it in me to strangle a turkey. More to the point I don't even know how I would get it home.. strapped on to my child's bike seat behind me??

Anyway I've told my Mother-In-Law, (who has kindly offered to help with the food, by bringing out a Christmas cake & pud etc from the U.K), that she will need to kill the turkey upon arrival.

She has agreed with me that we'll eat chicken...