Thursday, December 10, 2009

Funny Stories

Last night was one of those occasions when I felt, “I really like this living abroad experience.” (It happens more often now.)

We were having a meal with the director of my husband’s NGO & his wife & his American boss & his wife who were visiting from Cyprus. We hosted it because for people like him who travels loads for work & is constantly in different countries & bland hotels/guesthouses, visiting a home & having a home cooked meal then becomes the novelty & a treat.

We have done this a few times now, & I love it because I get to meet the people my husband works with & his work becomes more real to me, but also because you meet like minded people, from all over the world with whom you share a common purpose & you get to know some fascinating people who have lived in interesting places all over the world.

And when you live in these sorts of places as an NGO worker, life is much more unpredictable, unusual or unexpected things happen & (in hindsight of course) it can often be very funny.

So it was inevitable that conversation turned to people we’ve all known who always seemed to have a mine of interesting stories to tell as a result of living in some of these places.

I still remember a colleague who was visiting us from Bosnia with his wife, who was just such a person. He told us the story of having to dive under his table in the, then only, Italian restaurant in Tirana in 1996, to avoid the bullets as a gunfight broke out between 2 rival families. A waiter & 2 customers were killed.

He tells these stories in such a dead pan, matter of fact way, & indeed they probably are to him because this sort of thing happens to him all the time, even though he’s ‘just an NGO worker’, not a war correspondent or anything. However he said his closest shave was one time in Bosnia in the 90s when he got kidnapped; sack over the head, bundled into the back of a van etc. Fortunately they weren’t very professional & he fought his way out somehow. He said he knew he had to do something immediately if he was to have any chance, before he got driven into the middle of nowhere.

The funny thing about the story though, was his wife interrupting him, saying,

“What? You never told me you’d been kidnapped! How come I don’t know this 15 yrs on?”

Strange the secrets a man, well this man, keeps from his wife...

It was, in fact, funny though, not awkward, as she herself recognises this is typical of him & the scrapes he gets into. In some ways it’s probably better she doesn’t know.

Then the conversation turned to our own funny stories & unusual incidents. I liked our American visitor’s story best because it really summed up for me the nature of these cross cultural experiences living abroad, namely: lack of resources, unpredictability, the need to improvise, to be resourceful, flexible & adaptable. And the ability to laugh at your situation.

Our friend had been living in Moscow in an 8th floor apartment (15 yrs ago) & had slipped a disc badly. He was bed ridden for a few weeks, & realised he would have to call International SOS & get medivacced out to have it sorted.

Of course International SOS had to use their counterpart in Russia. So 2 stereotypically butch male nurses arrived (in order to lift him onto the gurney). This gurney, by accident or design, was actually slightly convex instead of concave, so he was in even more agony. They negotiated him into the lift, which refused to work. Remember, he was 8 floors up, unable to move, on a hospital trolley.

Exemplifying the 1st pre-requisite of living in a developing country: the need to be a jack of all trades & to improvise & ‘make a plan, one of the nurses, undeterred, took the front off the control panel in the lift & proceeded to rewire it until he got the lift to work.

Once at the bottom of the apartment block, our American emerged, feet first on his trolley, to the awaiting.........hearse. There was no ambulance available which could accommodate a prone 6 foot 4 man on a gurney, so a big black hearse had been commandeered into action. The nurse slid him into the back of the hearse & off he went to the airport with his (obviously seasoned) wife giggling helplessly at the sight of her husband’s size 12 feet waggling through the back window of this hearse; no doubt also disconcerting observant passers by.

I imagine he is one of the few people to have had the experience of travelling on his back in a hearse & emerging to tell the tale…

The thing I liked about this evening was that we could empathise with each other’s tales & swap similar experiences with each other. Not that my stories were anything like these. If we had told a story like this in the UK, in many cases, it would be to an audience, it wouldn’t be a shared dialogue, so in a way it made me feel I belonged & less of 'the odd one out'. Group therapy I guess- NGO style.


Mwa said...

I'm afraid I was more of an audience as well, but a very appreciative one!

Potty Mummy said...

And this happened in Moscow, eh? food for thought... (don't worry - things have changed a little in 15 years. I hope!)

Expat mum said...

Yes, you couldn't make this stuff up could you? Very entertaining post.

Iota said...

See how much more interesting your life is than it would be in England! Loved the hearse story!

Rob said...

I could think of nothing more nightmarish that being driven anywhere in the back of a hearse! Maybe not being able to get afterward? Still, horrifying but amusing!

Thanks for the post!

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

The hearse would have had me in total hysterics. Hilarious!

Like Potty, I think Bosnia has changed a bit since that particular story. At least I hope it has...

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