Monday, January 26, 2009

Cyber Sulking

Actually I've been cyber skulking more than sulking. I've been skulking around the blogosphere, reading blogs, but with no energy somehow to comment, lurking on ebay, writing emails, doing my BYKI computer Albanian. The computer is a very accurate barometer of my pyschological & emotional well being. When I'm down or bored or feeling lonely I turn to virtual reality. Sad really. When I'm busy & active & involved in stuff, I obviously have less time, but also less need.

Trouble is when I'm really low I don't even blog, which is not good as I find it a very creative outlet. I just lack the motivation to sit, think, create, edit. I feel lethargic. That's why I hypocritically argue against my children spending time on the computer, the Nintendo, watching dvds, because it's largely passive & solitary.

The cyber sulking was induced by email silence. From my friends. I get fed up sometimes always being the one to write, or I write to friends and a week, 2, 3 even 4 wks go by and I don't get a reply. Sometimes I never get a reply. You then wonder if they didn't get it, but you can't write & ask. If you write again it looks too keen. I was brought up always to reply to any letter sent. Maybe that colours my reaction to this silence. It's seems rude. A blogging friend (she's very wise) pointed out that perhaps I'm cross for needing my friends more than they need me.

Ah, how true. I'm cross that they are leading bustling, fulfilling lives & are certainly not sitting around waiting for me to write to them, & even less likely to spend time sitting around sending emails. Too busy leading real lives...

Trouble is it's hard not to feel needy, particularly where friendship is concerned, when you are living abroad, in an alien culture with an unknown tongue, amidst many frustrations, much loneliness, & a lack of emotional support and when you have been used to the ample and comfortable bosom of a strong support network 'back home'.

When an email does pop into my Inbox, I find I pounce on it, and then have to work very hard at resisting the urge to respond immediately, thus scaring off my friend, or becoming what this same blogging friend was herself called , a "dauntingly good correspondent" Speaks volumes doesn't it? It says in 3 words:

  • You write too much
  • You write back too quickly
  • You write too often
  • You scare me with your keenness
  • I can't compete
  • and probably 'I don't intend to try & match that'.

Or am I reading too much subtext?

I think Christmas is what did it for me. One of the things I love about Christmas is the post. Real letters & cards. It's the gold wrapped truffle in the Christmas chocolate box. for me. We have always sent & received a lot of cards. Increasingly rare in today's cyber world, & thus even more of a treat to receive. But I also love receiving emails (still a chocolate truffle, but maybe silver wrapped. You can't hang them on festive ribbons from the ceiling after all) People send greetings & catch up with you, sometimes a once a year occurrence only, but others more frequently, but always an annual dead cert.

Except this year it wasn't. We heard from fewer people than we ever have. And I wondered why, and then I went into a cyber sulk, as January slipped by & I realised we weren't going to...

You try & make excuses by saying well, people are very busy, it's a hectic time of year, I know it is. You try not to come to the conclusion that people don't care, or aren't thinking of you, or have forgotten. And these are good friends, some of these are friends whose children are our Godchildren...(& I can write this here because I also know they don't read my blog. Too busy for that too.) But I can't escape the notion that you make time for what you want to make time for. People aren't too busy to clean their teeth or change their clothes are they? I wonder if it's because we're 'abroad' now. Gone. Moved on. I feel like saying "No, no, moved away, not moved on" Or am I supposed to move on? But then whatever happened to 'Forever friends?'

Communication is SO easy these days & so cheap, even free, yet no-one skypes, or even make the time to send a one line email which would be so easy. Shamefully easy. A cop out almost. Yet we would have been grateful. Pathetically grateful, and devoured the crumbs offered.

I will paint a picture for you. First of all we live in a street with no name, on the top floor of a villa with no number. We have no landline, no letter box, we live out of the city centre. I am sure, to a Westerner, not being assaulted by the phone ringing would be bliss, not having unwelcome callers would be nice, for a while. But picture day in day out being like that. It can get quite lonely. The phone never rings, no mail plops into our non existent letter box, people don't pop in when just passing. I can say hello & how are you in Albanian but that's about it with my neighbours.

I am reasonably o.k a year on, in this country, until my routine slips, the few regular fixtures in my week which give it shape, & then it's just me & I'm not so o.k. Several things have not started up again for various reasons this year. Also a driver takes my son & 6 other children to school. All parents do this here because the traffic is so bad & it's a cheap option. It does, however, mean there's no loitering by the school gate, meeting other mums.

I love 'busy-ness. In the UK, I was a part-time teacher, I ran the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, I ran a mums' group, I organised a parenting course, I helped set up & run arts & crafts at a toddler group, I was on various committees, we always had an a open house, had people to stay, people dropped by. It makes the contrast even starker.

My brother who has just returned from 3/12 yrs in New Zealand, & my sister, who spent 7 yrs in Canada & other friends, all say this is universal ex-pat abroad experience; surprise at who does write, surprise at who never does, the experience of feeling forgotten or neglected by people back home, people not being interested in what you do or what life's like. Out of sight out of mind etc. I gather there's a whole raft of similar stuff to deal with in reverse when you DO move back. But I'm certainly not going to think about that now.

I have come to the conclusion if you haven't lived abroad that people back home have no idea what it's like, but also little realisation of how so very little goes such a long way in making one feel thought of & connected.

So I haven't been writing, this is what has been on my mind but it's introspective & perhaps too honest, & let's face it, not hugely entertaining. But that's the stuff I write about.

You know what though, 4 things really cheered me up last week, and they all occurred in the blogosphere where I DO feel cared for, and have people to correspond with who know what it's like.

I have gained a friend from my Oxford community back home, whom I didn't know very well at all when living there. It started through her reading my blog. She has sent me parcels of stuff I can't get here because she bothered to write & ask what she could send me. And she writes me long chatty emails. And she works, and she has kids & she helps her husband run a busy boarding house with 60 boys, who she provides food for every Sat night. And is in a book club, runs a church group taking up evenings too. She has made time for me, and I am grateful & humbled by that. She acted like a real friend before we even became real friends. I think it is no coincidence that she is an ex-pat herself, a South African living in Oxford. She understands.

Wife in Hong Kong very kindly gave me an award last week, which says:
Blogs who receive this award are "exceedingly charming," says its authors. This award is a fine one because it focuses not on the glory and fanfare of blogging, but in the PROXIMITY to one another through this online-world. This blog invests and believes in the PROXIMITY--nearness in space, time and relationships. These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement! Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this clever-written text into the body of their award."

That's just what I'm talking about here. Iota has been corresponding with me, having virtual cappucinos, and has generally been cheering me up (& look at what she's just blogged about) & Reluctant Memsahib noticed I'd been very quiet on my blog and asked if I was ok.

That's why I keep going back to the 'blogosphere' because there's a community there which is, maybe in virtual reality, but they are real people who have offered me real friendship & support. And managed to bring me out of my cyber sulk. For that, and for them, I am grateful.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Adventure in Macedonia

Well, rather than write about New Year Resolutions (which I don't make anyway) & looking back introspectively on the past year, which I don't think would do me any good, I'm going to write about our ski trip over new year. Actually that's not even true. The ski trip was great & all it should be, even if Mavrovo isn't the new Aspen (darling). In fact it's not the new anything, but quite fun to be in a sleepy resort before it's developed (if it ever does) with runs to ourselves, not many lifts and barely any foreigners (barring Albanians who like us, had crossed the mountain divide to get there )

No, actually I'm going to tell you about the journey home. It was epic. It was also peculiarly British in a way, not only because, er, we were all British in our party, but also becasue we had all the conditions neccessary that are supposed to 'bring out the best' in us, that ol' Bulldog spirit. If it still exists.

Namely; a crisis or two, having to 'make do', making the best of a bad situation, lots of inclement weather, and the need to 'be prepared'.
Gosh I feel I've slipped back to the 1940s already.

1. The crisis; as we prepared to leave, packing the car in heavy snow which had begun falling 12 hrs earlier (& wd continue unabated for the next 36 hrs) our friends discovered that they couldn't close their back passenger door. The lock/hinge/cable was rusted/broken/a goner.

2. Making Do. We immediately looked for rope & concocted an elaborate door-holding mehcanism with a lot of rope, many mutterings & a few boy scout knots. So far so good. Oh and mum had to sit in the back and hold the door handle for grim death (scuse the pun) all the way home. This plan was devised by the men of our party.

3. Crisis number 2. Our smugness, at both families being in necessary 4 wheel drive vehicles which could tackle any conditions (as opposed to cosmetic Chelsea Tractors) with snow chains tucked reassuringly under the seat, quickly evaporated when our car temperature guage shot up to red, 15 minutes into our journey. Our heating wasn't working either....We ground to a steaming halt, opposite a father & son ,who looked on with interest as we all got out, peered under the bonnet & disappeared in a haze of hissing steam.

4. Making the best of a bad situation; one mum & 5 kids were driven off in the 'Dodgy Door' car to a cafe to keep warm, whilst 3 of us remained to pool our mechanical knowledge & wonder what to do.

We got out the thermoses.

Meanwhile this father & son ambled over, & the father proceeded (in English) to run through all the possibilities of what it might be, thermostat, frozen pipe, leaking radiator, showed us how to check whether it was the thermostat, & eventually we all plumped for leaking radiator. The son reappeared from his chalet which we had stopped outside with a TESCO bowl of hot water & poured in SIX litres... So there was a leak..... We had stopped opposite a family who drive to Macedonia from England to stay in the father-in-lawas 40 yr old chalet. They were leaving the next day. They must have been 3 of the only other foreign tourists in Mavrovo & we pulled up next them. And they spoke English, and they understood cars. Fantastic.

"So how come you know so much about cars," we asked?

"Growing up with a constant supply of crap cars" he replied (ah, a man after us 'NGO vehicle owners' hearts. I SO need to go on a car mechanics course. Maybe that should be my New Year's resolution....)

"Thanks so much for helping us" I said, effusively.

"That's ok," he replied "I came out to get my car & you're blocking me in".

5. Inclement weather. Snowed all the way. Drove on snow packed MAIN roads. Took 6 hrs to do a 2 hr stretch. Decided to abandon the journey in Ohrid near the Macedonian/Albanian border as it was getting dark, the roads were icy & snowy. No grit, a few snow ploughs, but not making many inroads in to the snow. There were mountains to climb. The road up to the border was steep, tortuous & too treacherous to tackle. Sounds dramatic but police were turning back cars which didn't have snow chains on.

6. Making the best of a bad situation. We extended our holiday by a day, had a superb all evening snowball fight in the gorgeous pitcuresque, snow covered town of Ohrid (not as horrid as it sounds, especially not if the you have a Macedonian accent)

7. Being prepared. We filled our thermoses with hot water from the hotel dining room, in full on British Blyton style, for the next day's 'snowy adventure'.

8. Inclement weather. Next day still snowing, more driving on snow covered roads. Stopped to put snow chains on. 40 minutes later. Still trying to put snow chains on. Two cars, two different designs, one set of intsructions.

9. Making do. We made do. We got them on. After a fashion. Somehow. Not as easy as it looks. When did you ever use them in Britain? One lot was colour coded, one lot you drove 'onto' them. Well that's what we did anyway.

10. Making the best of a bad situation. How come all these Albanians, from their 'mediterranean' country, have all got snow chains , I mused as car after snow chained car crunched past us. Of course. Guys were standing by the road selling boxes of snow chains. Enterprising. The police were stopping cars & not letting them proceed unless they had snow chains.

We crossed the border and drove back down the pass and lo & behold, Albania you surprise us once more. You may not have continous electricity or water supply but you have snow ploughs. it was just as snowy but the rds the Albanian side had been completely cleared. This also being Albania, when we got out to remove our snow chains we were mobbed by guys wresting the chains from us, we thought they were trying to nick them at 1st, so a slight tug of war ensued, which actually continued when the real reason emerged. They were providing a wholly undesired service of removing them for us & then demanding money for having helped us.

Welcome back!

We rolled into our 'street which has no name', up to our villa which has no number & into our icy flat, after taking 13 hrs to do a 5 hr journey (Travel time.) Total A to B time was 31 hrs.

Half an hour later the power went off for an hour. It came on again & went off again for another hour. Ah, it's good to be home. Continuous electricity and central heating in Macedonia, a rapidly receding memory.

But still a good time was had by all. I'm not going to let a few power cuts rob me of those good memories.

I should take a leaf out of my children's book. They slip so seamlessly from one situation to another, from exigency to ease with such nonchalonce. They were sitting on the floor doing a 200 piece Christmas Beano puzzle. As the lights went out, there wasn't so much as a murmur, they simply put on their torches which they had to hand and carried on with the puzzle, peering more closely at the pieces.