Washington Gas Sucks

February 6, 2008

I am so incredibly steamed right now. After making me go in to see the gas company customer service people in person (which they then told me was completely unnecessary), we scheduled the installation of my gas meter for this morning between 7 and 12. After hauling myself out of bed to get dressed after being up with election returns until 2, I’ve just waited and waited. I even put a note downstairs on the call box with my cell phone number, since the box doesn’t work (probably because I don’t have a phone).

Finally, at 12:45, I call the same people who made me go to the office in person and they explain that the technician had been there at 11 and left a note on the glass door. I go downstairs and there’s no note. I walk up and down the sidewalk, checking the flowerbeds and there’s no note. There was no courtesy call, as there was supposed to have been. I think the chumps saw that my street was under some construction (replacing lead pipes, I think, which seems like a noble undertaking) and decided not to bother. So, now, the only option is to reschedule for “between 8 and 5 tomorrow,” which having wasted today already, I’m rather upset about.

So, while there aren’t any other options, I would like to alert the world to the fact that Washington Gas sucks and has terrible customer service. I hate monopolies, ’cause I’d sooooo take my business somewhere else.

The great irony of all this is that I HAVE gas already (apparently for free) and the gas company seemed shocked as hell about it. Muppets.


Life in the US

February 2, 2008

I was talking to the Boy tonight and giggling gleefully about all the craaaaazy new contraptions I’ve discovered upon living, really living, in the US for the first time in two and a half years. And now, I understand why people think this is the land of milk and honey: we have everything! And it’s moderately priced (as long as I don’t multiply prices by 7 to put them into rand)!

My new apartment, while located ages from a metro station and in an amenity-less “emerging” neighborhood, has enough gadgets to keep me SUCH a happy bunny. I have a dryer!!! Which means that for the first time in ages I have my very own, completely dry fluffy, big towels! This might seem like a little thing, but after London, where nothing ever dries properly, and South Africa, where I used those horrible travel towels the whole time (because buying proper ones seemed like an extravagance), it feels like the world’s biggest luxury. And, although I can’t imagine needing it for just one person, I have a dishwasher and A MICROWAVE (we didn’t have one in London, so I’m kind of in awe of not needing to spend 10 minutes heating up some soup and needing to wash the pot afterwards). OMG.

This last thing’s the best though. The Boy was thoroughly amused and a bit patronizing about it, but I refuse to be deterred. So, I have two window units, one in the bedroom and one in the main room that are both heaters and air conditioners (A/C! Be still my heart!). And they operate by REMOTE CONTROL!!! So, I have this plan to wake up with my alarm, turn on the heat, push the snooze button, then get up when the heater’s had 10 minutes to take the frost off. Pure luxury. Only in America.

This is all, of course, in addition to my tendency to wander around stores, particularly the grocery store, in a daze wondering where all of this came from and why on earth we need so much of it. In the recent past, I may have had a short freak-out over the need for 10 ft. of shelving devoted solely to pickles. Seriously?! I’ve also been acting like a bit of a n00b, as I bumble my way around DC and the metropolitan area. What’s startling is how willing people are to help and how many strangers strike up conversations with me.

It’s one of the things I’ve noticed about myself since I got back from the Peace Corps: I feel much more willing to strike out without a plan or directions. And, more importantly, I’m willing to have conversations with perfect strangers. It was always awkward in SA and still is (a bit), but I feel more willing to be open and more willing to hear their stories (and met some very cool people as a result). I feel more confident in places that probably would have sketched me out before. I think this will sound weird, but I feel even more comfortable around persons of color than ever before. I think living in South Africa made me super, super aware that despite differences, people who live in the United States have more in common than we often realize. And for some reason, I seem to have a bit of serious street cred, because I lived in Africa.

I do, however, have to fight the urge to call every older woman, especially the African-American ones, I meet “ma’. I think that might get misinterpreted. And, after three weeks, I’m finally ready to cut back on the root beer. Hurrah!

January 28, 2008

Oh, er, right. I’m not in South Africa or the Peace Corps anymore. I moved to DC two days ago and am starting a new job very soon. I also couldn’t feel happier about my decision to leave.

And, yes, I’m changing the name of the blog again.

Finally! Candidates on the ICC

November 30, 2007

There may be readers out there who, like me, care very much what their Presidential candidates are saying on the International Criminal Court. My friend from Chicago and I wrote to Obama a very long time ago asking about his position, but we never heard back (and were a bit peeved about it, considering that he’s her US Senator). We finally decided to do the research ourself and turned up this gem from the (UNA-USA sponsored) American NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court (AMICC). It’s a fact sheet giving candidate’s actual answers to ICC-related questions.

I have to say, I’m not excited about Obama’s responses, which basically give some cautious optimism, before noting that the Court is still young and “it is premature to commit the US to any course of action at this time.” He also expresses concerns for American service personnel. Frankly, I think that if our servicemen and women can’t behave themselves (and remember, in this case, not behaving means committing war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity), they should be just as subject to anyone else to the Court’s jurisdiction. Of course, the reality is that they would almost undoubtedly be court-marshaled and tried under the Uniform Code of Military Justice in US military courts. This would eliminate the Court’s jurisdiction because the US would have shown itself both willing and able to deal with these crimes. Ahem.

Where was I? Ahhh, Hilary. Her answer: Bush’s unsigning has been really bad for us, the ICC has really behaved itself admirably since its establishment and “I will as President evaluate the record of the Court, and reassess how we can best engage with this institution and hold the worst abusers of human rights to account.” I like this answer better. She doesn’t say that she’ll sign right up again, but makes it pretty clear that she’d like to be a partner for the ICC, in its investigations, and avoid being an obstructionist force on the Security Council. I don’t think the Senate would ratify the Rome Statute in a million years, so I think this is as good a compromise as we’re likely to see.

And, finally, Bill Richardson, just because he made me happy. I think this pretty much says it all: “The US should join the ICC as a full-fledged member. We have nothing to fear.” Again, not in a million years, but wouldn’t that be nice? Happy Joyce. 🙂

All in all, I might use my worthless primary vote (NO ONE will care what happens by the time the Indiana primary rolls around in May) to show support for Richardson and maybe help him get the VP nod. On the other hand, I’ve been often torn between Obama & Clinton and this is the sort of thing that could tip the table. I’ll be honest, it’s a lot harder to be inspired by Obama when, unlike most US voters, all your news about the race comes in print format. Populism doesn’t work as well when it isn’t being delivered in speeches and definitely doesn’t work when reported dryly by the Economist. On the other hand, am I a one issue voter? Sigh! I need to find out more about their opinions on the UN.

Things I think I will not get used to….

November 23, 2007

1) People being rude. Two days ago, a group of primary school kids yelled at me, in English: “Your vagina is beautiful!” While that’s hysterical, it’s also just tiring.

2) Screaming. The adults that I’ve lived with scream at their kids all the time in tones that I only associate with something being really, really wrong, even though it might just be to check on them or to ask for a cup of tea. It really bothers me.

3) Gasto-intestinal distress. Yes, I’m sick again. At least today there’s no fever, it’s cooler and I can do more than collapse on my bed again after every trip to the latrine.

Yesterday, I officially “quit” my job, as in I went in to the office to tell them what PC and I had decided. The Director of the Department was very kind about the whole thing. My supervisor gave me the limpest handshake I’ve ever recieved.

Update on the site situation

November 20, 2007

Alright, Peace Corps came to visit, we talked and they’ve released me from working at the municipality. I am absolutely over the moon about this. Even better (as if it could get much better), I’ve been given permission to go looking for my own new site. I told my APCD (program director person) about a meeting that I had set up for January with an NGO that runs provincial and a national Model UN and I’m hoping to meet with them before then, now (have permission to go to Pretoria and everything). I’ve sent e-mails to everyone I can think of who might have contacts in South Africa and am open to suggestions! Although I love this family and I will continue to stay in contact and visit them, my APCD also gave me permission to move and I am really, really hoping to be a city girl again sometime in the next few months. I’ll keep you posted.

Christmas & the immediate future

November 17, 2007

First, um, and I feel really tacky doing this, but I thought I might make some Christmas/Solstace/Winter Festive Season suggestions for, er, presents.

Because, I’d really, really like some kind of specific things to share with my host family. Primarily, I’d like: children’s picture books and magazines or books with lots and lots of photos. I feel a little bad giving them copies of the Economist, see, to “read” along with me. The kids here are 7 & 8 and none of them can read yet, but I’d like some age appropriate stuff that we can practice on or that they/we can at least look at together. And the littlest one (he’s 2), love trucks. Granny & Gogo would probably love anything that’s from the US, maybe decorative sorts of items (they’re both in their 70s and gogo can’t walk). Thanks!

Um, and because I’m a little selfish (and bored), I love entertainment: books, magazines, DVDs, that sort of thing. I do get the Economist and the Christian Science Monitor and would still LOVE trashy gossip stuff (People), as would the girls in my village.

As for the work situation, I’m on a stoppage right now (supervisor approved), until my organization authorizes payment for my transport. Peace Corps is coming out to talk on Tuesday about the entire work situation. I’m looking forward to our discussion and hope that it’ll help alleviate some of the stuff that I’ve been dealing with since arriving at site. More on that later.

November 8, 2007

Anyone who’s ever been or known a Peace Corps volunteer (and gotten an honest assessment out of them) or who has a decent sense of imagination, probably knows or has heard that life as a volunteer can involve a LOT of ups and downs. You might not hear about the downs, especially in a public forum like this, but I’m trying to write about the things that have gone well. Whether it’s an event or something I’ve done or a relationship I’ve made, these are the things that make me think that I could be effective and survive for two years. These are the good days. Read what you want into the fact that blog posts have been pretty sporadic.

Anyway, today was a good day. I helped the local home based care organization recreate a really, really complicated reporting form. They worked closely with the last volunteer in my village and I was super impressed that, after I made all the tables that were needed, the staff member took back the computer to enter all of the labels and the data. It was very “thanks for your help and I can totally do the rest of this!” I sat with her to help dictate the data and with tweaking the tables (and taught her how to put shading in some of the boxes), but it was really gratifying to see someone here be so very independent. Their old volunteer really taught sustainability. Sometimes it’s nice not to be needed. 🙂

My second engagement of the day was to attend the ward committee meeting for the villages that surround mine. It was so exciting to be in an environment that I actually know something about. Thanks to my time with the Lib Dems, I feel like I do understand how local government can and should engage with its constituents. I feel like I have something to offer if I work with these ward committees, which is a big change from my usual job. Plus, they asked for my help! Which, for me, is huge. Anyway, the ward councillor is a cool guy and he actually reminds me of my friends (who are about the same age as him) who are councillors back in the UK.

Ok, that’s about it. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes with the ward committee. Now, I’ve just got to convince my supervisor that I’ll get a lot more done if I’m deployed to them, rather than being forced to sit in the office.

Now, I’ve got to attend to my dinner (I’ve eaten more Ramen in a month and a half of Peace Corps than I did in four years of college) and figure out how to ignore mentally disturbed drunk guy from next door, who has a habit of showing up at all hours of the day and night and loves to talk “to gogo,” no matter how often he’s told to go away (and stay away). Ugh.

A food question

November 1, 2007

Um, this is a little weird, but just about ever since my day of horrific food poisoning two weeks ago, I’ve been reluctant to eat. Thinking about food makes my stomach go queasy, as does thinking about the actual taste. And I’m not really hungry, which is in HUGE contrast to training, when I could never eat enough. I even have a bar of chocolate that I have absolutely no desire to eat, which is WRONG!

Any ideas what’s going on or what I can do to fix it?

Also, because I’m interested: what do you find most interesting about me? I’m doing a poll. 🙂

Senior Citizens Parliament

October 25, 2007

Yesterday was a very good day. Last week I spent most of one day in a pre-workshop for the Limpopo Senior Citizen’s Parliament and, knowing that my supervisor was scheduled to be away at a workshop, I asked if I could go along. The big day was yesterday.

I was “supposed” to get picked up at 7:30 for the 9:00 event. (My village is straight south of Lebowagkomo, where the Provincial Parliament meets and about 45 min or an hour away.) I totally knew that no one would be there for some time, but I went early because there was NO WAY I was going to miss the taxi! It eventually got me at 9:00, but some of the others had been waiting since 6:00! I just stayed out of the sun, read my book, and ROASTED in my suit jacket (the choice was between being hot and being sunburnt). We had a really nice taxi. It even had a DVD player! So, we alternated between watching a miracle preacher save some kid who hadn’t walked for 15 years and the previews for a Nigerian movie (and anyone whose seen those can tell you that they’re…special). We couldn’t watch much of either because I don’t think the driver could drive and manipulate the DVD controls at the same time. It was so amazingly bizarre.

I absolutely loved the group that went from our Municipality. I sat with one tate (lit. father) for a long time during the event. We couldn’t really talk, but he was so kind and lovely. Two women from a village west of Jane Furse spoke (there were loads of observers and carefully limited speakers) and I was so, so impressed by their candor, their bravery and their insights. I mean, to get up in front of a full house in your legislature and talk about sexual abuse against old women? I thought they were amazing. And I told them so, afterwards! One of them was so excited by it all that she took me by the hand and we talked all the way to the food tent. I’m going to go and visit their pensioners club soon, hopefully.

Four topics were discussed: 1) pensions and pension pay points (many people go to a certain place on a certain day of the month to get their money in cash and sometimes have to wait for hours and hours and get harassed by vendors, funeral parlors, etc.); 2) Care and services for the elderly (Home Based Care, old age homes, etc.); 3) impact of HIV/AIDS on seniors (many of whom end up caring for dying children and the orphaned grandchildren, some become infected because their children haven’t disclosed their status, they don’t know about proper handling for people with HIV/AIDS, or they don’t have gloves); and 4) Contributions of seniors to the quality of life (lots seemed to be about sharing culture and morals).

There were some fantastic ideas. Like: little care packages with wipes and water for the people waiting for their pensions (not to mention making toilets available) or giving away GLOVES at the government clinics, the way condoms are available. Lots of people called for more education, whether about HIV/AIDS or better ways to manage your pension income. Of course, one of the biggest rounds of applause for the day came when someone suggested more corporal punishment was the way to stop the spread of HIV. I got a lot out of it, because someone gave me a translation device! Now if only those worked in the village….

It was also an interesting cultural day. Everyone was wearing their best clothes and it was so much fun to look at the different ones: Venda, Southern Sotho, Pedi, Swati and so on. Awesome! And they even had a special table of food for people on a no salt diet…which was so me! Of course, I’d only just recovered from a very, very bad “running stomach” (yes, that means what you think it does) so I was taking it easy.

I think the part that I liked best of all came at the beginning. Someone (who I think was important, but I’m not sure who he was) spoke for a long time to open the event. And he made a point that I thought was important, but probably blindingly obvious to everyone there. He talked a lot about how these older people were the ones who have the most to tell us kids about life under apartheid, how they were the ones who lived through it the longest and fought against it. I think that my favorite people here are the old ones and I can’t wait to get to know them better. (Bonus: if they worked in Joberg (which many did), they tend to speak great English!)

Oh, yeah, and I’m pretty psyched that I got to visit the Provincial Parliament (that’s like the State Legislature). It was a lot like a college campus, really, with lots of government agencies in different buildings. And pretty much no ornamentation (but then, the Indiana General Assembly doesn’t have to spend much on translating equipment). It was such a great day and one of the best I’ve had in South Africa.