Monday, May 24, 2010

The Delights of Being a Trailing Spouse

I have an intense love-hate relationship with my husband's work. I love the passion & commitment of those who work for the organisation. I love the NGO's values & I love what they do & am very impressed by their work. It is full of professional, intelligent & committed people. I hate the hours he works though. The organisation also has a very hard working work ethic, it even has an unofficial nickname amongst its employees, relating to this ethic. My husband's perfectionist personality also means that, in my view, he works far TOO Hard. I hate the fact that because of an audit, meetings in Georgia & a course in Italy, he can't take a family holiday during the summer holidays at all. It does tend to dominate our life, but then he is a CEO so the buck stops with him.

Last week 28 visitors from my husband's organisation were visiting, so there were meetings before meetings, meetings after the meetings, & meetings over breakfast, coffee, dinner & even more meetings about future meetings. When these people have come from all over the world, for a big regional conference, & when little old Albania has a chance for face to face talks with the 'high ups', as the national director calls them, you grab it.

I had to go along to a few of the dinners too, to meet the new boss etc. Bit of a culture shock after my usual social circle of mums, missionaries, my cleaner & 14 yr old students. By the end of the week, my husband was exhausted & even further behind with work because of all this. His emails have reached a record 200 unread ones, he has missed about 3 important deadlines, & as a result of one meeting, has heard that even though he spent the whole of his 1st yr undoing the damage of his predecessor, a corrupt local, & getting staff back onside, the accounts in order, recruiting good staff & growing the programme; the 2nd year involved legal & financial separation from the umbrella NGO, a huge task, which as anyone knows in a developing country is also a time consuming and bureaucratically nightmarish job, & now hoping to have a yr when he could concentrate on consolidation & growth, he has been told Albania is to merge with the Kosovo operation & he needs to plan the strategy for that & then implement it.

Oh & by the way, “neither you nor the CEO in Kosovo will be running it”

So we have also learned that, although they like my husband & will 'find him a job' within the organisation, he can't stay put. He has also been told his boss has 'a role in mind for him' - an advisor job, which, when you have run and managed a company on your own, is not much cop. He was also told that he won't be moved till next summer 2011, as the boss knows what it is like with children. Great, so he grants us 6 mths grace so kids can finish the school year. It still means we will have moved 3 times in 5 ½ years. At one of these dinners, in conversation, I noticed that many of them had spent 6 yrs here, 7 yrs there, 9 yrs there. They didn't seem to move every 2-3 years. Why do we have to, & will it always be like this I wonder? I feel like a pawn. Pretty powerless.

My husband says he wished he hadn't told me because he knows I will worry away at it. I can't help it. I never wanted to be an embassy or military wife. I (naively it turns out) assumed if we lived abroad it would MAINLY be in one place. Always said I just couldn't keep moving countries every few years. But then I 'always said' quite a few things. I keep having to readjust my parameters, or rather extend them to encompass more & more conditions, or so it seems.

It's EXHAUSTING, moving countries, learning the ropes, possibly a language, adapting to a new culture, environment, climate, way of life, settling the kids in school, finding a house, finding a car, getting all those residence permits driving licences etc. again. I think I'm too old for this.

And besides which, normal developing country exigencies notwithstanding, I like it here! The children are happy, the climate is great, we love where we live, I have a job, it's only 3 hrs from the UK etc. I even quite like the chaos & unpredictability. I think I might have been ruined permanently for life in the UK. I might even find it a bit boring now.......

It's also possible that we would move back to the UK, IF my husband took one of these airy fairy nondescript advisor jobs which he really doesn't want. As he says, being an advisor all you can do is 'make suggestions' no one has to take any notice. It's a fairly toothless role. I'm not actually ready to move back to the UK. Am under no illusions about it. The traffic, the expense, the weather, the class sizes (my children are in a tiny family ish school with 10 in a class) My sister has been back 10 yrs now from Canada & still struggles with life in the UK. My brother has been back from New Zealand for 2 yrs, still no permanent job, still utterly miserable. I don't want to be the third sibling to do that!

And as I said love-hate. For all his hard work & long hours, my husband LOVES his job & loves what he does. And I am so pleased he has finally found his niche in micro-finance. It has taken him 20 yrs to get there after a lot of blind alleys & wrong turnings, unemployment, risk taking, lowly jobs & starting again at the bottom in Development. I hope he doesn't lose that.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

By plane, car or bike – Any which way you can.

My sister arrives tomorrow. Volcanic ash cloud willing of course. It seems it is blowing over the Atlantic again & threatening flgiths. Nothing like a bit of tension to add to the thrill of having visitors.

W e have 3 lots of visitors over the next 3 weeks. We are delighted, the children are excited, but in this uncertain time of natural disasters, environmental hazards & a seemingly endless troop of crises, we are also a bit anxious.

Each set of visitors either arrives, or departs on a BA strike day, (not difficult to do as they are striking for 20 days in May) That's quite apart from Volcano Unpronounceabale continuing to erupt. Gatwick is much less militant than Heathrow & often doesn't strike when they do. But don't get me started on the strike. My husband worked for BA (in management, boo hiss) for 12 years & let's say he knows what it's like from the inside & what a great deal BA cabin crew have. BA avers that Gatwick will operate as normal. Let's hope so.

Anyway it made last weekend, in southern Albania & Macedonia, a refreshingly 'other world' experience. My husband & 4 other guys were doing another of their biking adventures. It is a very peaceful, very undeveloped & sparsely inhabited area of lakes, mountains & apple orchards in the valleys. Stunningly beautiful.

I drove down, plus one other family & 2 other cars. We stayed at Lake Ohrid, 4 km from the Macedonian border. Ohrid is a tectonic lake, the deepest in southern Europe. Fortunately it hadn't decided to join in the extended seismic party its other friends round the globe seem to be attending & was calm & tranquil with not a ripple on its surface.

We had fabulous weather & a very relaxing time. Not so the boys... On Saturday they had to slog over a 1600m mtn. It took 3 hrs. On Sunday afternoon, I drove up over this same mountain, to collect my husband so that I could whisk him back to the office before he began having too much fun (no, actually, his choice to work the Bank Hol Monday. It's quiet so he gets lots done.) The others went on & I drove back up the mountain, to go back into Albania & to Lake Ohrid again. At the top my husband said,

'There you go you can experience the 1000m descent'.

My reward for coming to collect him (a 3 hr round trip) and having lent him my bike as his developed a very wobbly back wheel last wk (worn ou tbearings if you mustknow). So I got to do 1000m of descent, clocking 50km/hr with a huge grin on my face the whole way. All the fun & none of the pain. Fantastic!

This, however, was not the whole story. I had had my share of transport anxieties at the border crossing. I left my 2 children with my friend, & 2 of her children & drove the 4km to the border with my friend's daughter who wanted to see her dad who was on the bike ride. At the Albanian /Macedonian border, the border guard was very suspicious of me travelling alone with my friend's 9 yr old daughter who wanted to come along. Aren't you allowed to do this? Clearly I had the look of a hardened & ruthless kidnapper. He said I was causing a problem & he couldn't authorise me. Equally clearly, I was answering the questions all wrong "No she wasn't my daughter","She was the daughter of a friend of mine" "We are just going into Macedonia to fetch my husband who is biking around over there”. "She is just coming along for the ride." etc.

As a prospective kidnapper I obviously hadn't passed the Abduction Training School Exams on 'How to dupe border guards'. Added to all this, my little companion, having never been interrogated by a border guard before, looked like a startled rabbit, was very unnerved, stammering, trying to answer questions, in Albanian (which she speaks) & appeared very frightened. She was frightened, not by me however, by him...........

Eventually when I promised I would be back in 2 hrs, he let me through. Obviously I could be a kidnapper as long as I came back quickly..........

This happens time & again in Albania too. Officials lay down the law & then say 'Oh all right then'. Either it WAS a problem or it wasn't. Maybe they say what they have to say but aren't really that bothered.

Of course trafficking is a very big problem in the Balkans in general, & in Albania in particular, but it's not foreigners who get trafficked, but poor kids or the Roma, who have been sold because of the poverty of the family. Actually I am glad they check & question you, & I am glad they didn't ask for a bribe to let me pass. And I like to think common sense & not lethargy prevailed. I mean if they were employing profiling techniques, (which I'm sure they weren't) I don't think I'd fit the bill of 'would be kidnapper'. I have since discovered from friends in Albania, that they get a notarised letter when travelling with someone else's child anywhere in the Balkans.