Monday, November 29, 2010

British "Mustn't Grumble day".

Although we live in Albania, the 90 strong little school my children go to is 50% American. So it goes without saying Thanksgiving is given as a holiday. The school has a British director & follows the British National Curriculum (Don't ask, I've no idea why) but Thanksgiving is non negotiable. And really, what's not to like? A 4 day holiday towards the end of a long 16 week term. Hooray, or to get into the American spirit, yay!

However us Brits, & indeed the Europeans here, feel slightly 'left out'. And of course being all about 'Thanksgiving', gratitude &, Heaven forbid, expressing it, it sits slightly uneasily with the British psyche. But we all felt we wanted to mark it in some way as the Americans were all having their Thanksgiving dinners somewhere, after playing in the annual Turkey Bowl, the 'friendly' American Football match, which, though Mr Ingo & our son play, they were not invited to join in with. So we felt we needed to mark it in some way for ourselves.

So I suggested to the assembled Brits & honorary Brits that we have a “Mustn't Grumble Day”. It seemed suitably, well British. It is now an unofficial Tirana Thanksgiving European Tradition. Last year it took us to the beach. This year, as it has suddenly turned wet, to a shopping mall & play area. We only have bowling & very expensive ice skating left & we have exhausted Tirana's child friendly offerings. I should add that the British contingent in Tirana is tiny, tiny, which perhaps explains why we felt the need to assert our own tradition.

We spent the day together & had fun, reverting to British type very quickly. We all escaped for a coffee whilst the children played. The coffee took ages to come. This was of course noted & remarked upon, but still, we thought, mustn't grumble, so we patiently waited, & of course didn't mention a thing to the waiter & still left our tip, even if slightly underwhelmed by the non existent service.

It was a lovely relaxing, hilariously familiar day. We talked about the remembrance service, tutted about the Albanian president holding up proceedings by arriving late 'just because he could', reminisced about the Defence attache's splendid spurs, talked about what a jolly affair the Guy Fawkes night had been, if unBritishly mild at 20' . We even discussed the Royal wedding. I am sure none of these subjects would have crossed my lips living in the UK & out for coffee with friends. But it was British Mustn't Grumble Day so we had to fly the flag.

The rest of my Thanksgiving w/e? Well: I took the kids out for Breakfast Pancakes (they are willing participants in American culture), walked 10 mins up to the clinic to drop off yet another of my daughter's urine samples, then we walked back, all in the pouring rain, looking in vain for a bus to take us home. There are no bus stops signs here, youjust guess or watch people. Our car was being MOT-ed & we are not very used to taking buses. It took us an hour to walk home, during which time ONE of our buses passed us. Right at the entrance to the road our house is in. One bus in an hour. Grrrrrrr.

Our car failed its MOT. Still only on two minor things: steering & suspension......

We had a power cut from Saturday night (during dinner with friends), through to Sun afternoon, 3 hrs of power then another all nighter power outtage.

On Saturday afternoon, Mr Ingo (aka my husband), was changing the light bulbs in the sitting room, & our daughter was handing him the screw driver. The glass light cover fell (because Mr Ingo discovered it didn't have all 4 screws in place) & sliced our daughter's cheek as it bounced onto the sofa. Said light cover was 14 inches square & weighed about 2 pounds.

At times like this I feel particularly vulnerable living somewhere with as limited medical resources as Albania. The good thing is you can call the (lovely) American Dr any time & the entire round trip takes less than an hr. No long queues in A&E. The down side is, you just have a general practitioner sewing up the gash with 3 stitches & you just hope he paid attention in medical seamstress classes. If not, our daughter, as my husband joked with her, will forever after be able to go to fancy dress parties as a pirate, with a ready made & genuine scar rakishly slashed across her cheek. I thought our 6 y-o took this in remarkably good spirits, considering she would never entertain going as a pirate anyway, quite apart from being told she would be scarred for life (which wouldn't go very well with her princess outfit she said). Fortunately our daughter is used to her dad's style of humour & just rolled her eyes at him. Equally fortunately, being so young I am sure it will heal very well.

And when you see how close to her eye it cut, you really do think, I mustn't grumble, this could have been a whole lot worse.

And for that we are very thankful....

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dear So and So

Last week I had one of those situations where you write a letter & then burn it. Or rather the cyber equivalent, you write an email & then press delete.
It was a situation that really upset & hurt me & left both my husband & I perplexed & dumbfounded. We just felt shabbily treated. And it was over such a small thing. The trouble with situations like this is you can't say anything & so it doesn't get dealt with, so it forever changes your perception of that relationship.
So anyway it got me thinking about those Dear So & So letters Kat introduced over at her blog 3bedroom bungalow. And I decided I would write a few of these to express my frustrations at other (but less personal) circumstances we live in & ones which are responsible for my comparative silence over this Autumn.
Dear Landlord,
Please, please could you take our advice, honed in the fires of bitter experience (to date 7 electrical items destroyed by power surges), & buy yourself a surge protector for the modem we share?

To lose one modem, I grant, is unfortunate, to lose two is careless, but to lose 3 to power surges, in the space of a few months & do you not see a teensy bit of a pattern emerging?

Oh & while we are on the subject, could you also get an electrician to mend our (& your) electrical safety cut-out circuit, so that a.) we are safe & b.) when all these power cuts happen we could actually use the generator which has sat idle for 4 months now tantalising us with its hefty, useless back-up bulk.

I know, I know, the damage was caused in our fault & we were cavalier, I admit, to plug things into sockets with such 'gay abandon', without any consideration of the consequences of doing such a thing, but it was a guest of ours who wanted to charge his mobile phone &, well, silly us, we said “Go right ahead. Use our electricity. Enjoy!”

Whilst I have your attention, do you think you could also fix our blind (broken since we moved in 3 yrs ago), our daughter's window, the oven (the fan has broken & is burning everything I cook), oh & when you light a fire in your sitting room 2 floors below, the smoke climbs up to the third floor & instead of carrying on up, it seeps out into our sitting room, filling it with smoke, to the point where you can't sit in there.

However, we have found a solution to this; we light the wood burner whenever you have a fire & all the smoke goes up the chimney. This is not an unpleasant solution, & I know how you like to find 'home made' solutions, but, as you can imagine, it rather limits my daily activities. I have not, to date, found a stoker to keep the home fires burning,whilst I go about my daily life.

Ever Patient Paradise.

Dear Internet Provider Number 1.

I know you are facing large hurdles in getting Albania 'online' but really, is stringing our internet cable across the street from our tree to a pole on the other side really the most sensible solution?

Because there is building work on both sides of us, there are a lot of concrete lorries, cranes etc. passing by. Twice now a lorry has driven through our internet wire severing it. Fortunately our landlord has a (rapidly dwindling) roll of insulating tape & he has made the pole higher but there is a limit to how high he can go.

I admit sometimes our internet problems have been down to the landlord's modem breaking, but you could come & help a bit sooner & better still not just shrug & say you don't know what the problem is. It's all very nice speaking to you every day on the phone, but I am not phoning for a chat, I mean, really I don't even speak to my husband on a daily basis on the phone. But if I did he would soon get the message that something needed attention, so why don't you?

2 ½ months is a long time to be without internet. I have unavoidably developed a '40 a day Balkan Passive Smoking' habit as a result of resorting to internet caf├ęs. Please sort it out.

A Gradually Losing Patience Paradise.

Dear Internet Provider Number 2

How can we be 20 metres short of being able to be connected to your provider? Don't you want our business?

A Perplexed Paradise.

Dear Internet Provider Number 3.

Thank you, thank you for getting us online, though please refer to my letter to Internet Provider Number 1 to see that I really do not think this 'high wire' stuff is a good idea. I See you have installed a new wire.... from our ROOF terrace, 4 floors up, across our courtyard, over the road beyond the houses opposite to the apartment block one road over. I realise I know very little about these things but it does seem a tad...... precarious. Though I admit, I wish I had been here to see you set it up...

It's a shame with all the power cuts I am still not getting internet very regularly.
But thank you for your efforts which, as well as acrobatic, have been better than other providers.

An Increasingly Wearied Paradise.

Dear Electricity Board,

A small tip. Invest more money in infrastructure. Winters are wet, the country is covered in high mountains & large rivers. Hydro electric is the way to go. One of the few things Hoxha got right. But it needs upgrading badly, it can't cope with today's power needs.

I know things have improved a lot & I know it's a difficult job, though I have also heard your board is the most corrupt company in Albania, but we'll gloss over that for the moment.

Our electricity supply has actually got more erratic over the last 3 years. Could you possibly send someone to look at our antiquated little substation because every time it rains, I mean EVERY time it rains, our power goes off, & stays off. For a long time. And our generator doesn't work because our landlord has not fixed the fused circuit that connects the generator, which was fused when our friend plugged his mobile phone into one of our sockets. But I digress & it's hardly an electrifying tale (except perhaps for our friend who had a narrow escape..)

And so the flat is cold, gloomy, with no heating (except the smoking wood burner) & 2 gas rings for cooking. Oh & the electric gates don't work of course, so I have to park up the road & carry all the shopping & my school bag up the road, across our flooded sewagey courtyard & up 3 flights of stairs.
SO I would really appreciate it. Maybe it's something as simple as a hole in the roof ? Could you just take a peek?

A Powerless Paradise.

Dear God,

We have had a beautiful warm colourful Autumn this year, for which I am truly grateful. Thank you, it's been lovely.

I know Mediterranean climates have wet winters & actually I don't mind the rain too much (as long as I have a warm, well lit flat to be in....) I love the mountain-ricocheting thunderstorms too.

But the trouble is rain here means several things:
Power cuts – floods - sewage drains overflowing in our courtyard - lots of mud on the unmade up roads - & no internet often (even when there IS power). And traffic worse than usual & crazier than usual. I mean yesterday cars were driving on pavements to beat the queues....

So you see I was just wondering.... obviously I am not asking you to move mountains (though of course, I know you could.) or to shift the rain shadow, alter an entire climate, but how about sending just a little bit less? It seems we get a month's quota in a day. And then the same again the next day. It's like a Mediterranean Monsoon.

Alternatively perhaps, my son's suggestion, could you make it colder so it fell as snow?? (& then there'd be no school, & we could make use of the mountains by toboganning & maybe even 'crosscity' skiing instead of using the car.) But I'm not convinced because we'd still have power cuts from overload, so I'd still be cold, internet-less, light-less & have to get by on stove-top pasta

A Precipitation Averse Paradise.