The Adventure Continues...

Rants, raves and random observations from an itinerant epidemiologist.

 
100 in 1000
  1. Spend a week up a mountain learning to ski
  2. Visit Karoline's place in Moravia
  3. Hold a conversation in Czech (only)
  4. Drink 500ml of each of the following beers:
    1. Pilsner
    2. Staroprammen
    3. Budvar
    4. Velke Popovice
    5. U Fleku
    6. Gambrinus
    7. Krusovice
  5. Respond to at least one GOARN request (WHO and MSF are also acceptable)
  6. Travel across the Atlantic
  7. Return to South America
  8. Read a book to, or with, an impressionably aged child
  9. Participate in one NanoWriMo Challenge and come within at least 10,000 words of the goal length
  10. Have my nose pierced
  11. Have my next tattoo drawn
  12. Purchase the perfect jeans (x 2 pairs)
  13. Attend a spin class 3 times a week for 8 consecutive weeks
  14. Bake Viv's cheesecake
  15. Make David's casserole
  16. Make David's Chicken Cashew-nut Stirfry
  17. Invite 4 people who don't know one another too well to dinner
  18. Ride from Vienna to Venice on a motorbike (pillion acceptable, those less desirable)
  19. Attend a book group for at least two books
  20. Go on a choir weekend (learn and perform difficult piece in two/three days)
  21. Visit Madame Tussaud's (in London)
  22. Take an architecture appreciation course
  23. Join an all-girl group and sing a solo
  24. Publish in a scientific journal (top two authors)
  25. Cook a duck or other 'waterfowl'.
  26. Locate the Al-Timimi's from Doha Veterinary Practise
  27. Have a pedicure
  28. Maintain a Brazilian (ouch) for three months.
  29. Find a trustworthy Czech hairdresser
  30. Treat my inner-6-year-old twice a week (at least)
  31. Do the liver-cleansing diet properly (12 weeks)
  32. Don't eat out for one month
  33. Find a flat and flatmate
  34. Purchase one Joseph sweater
  35. Purchase one of the following pairs of designer shoes (they MUST also be COMFORTABLE, and be able to be worn with 4 different outfits and 2 types of occasion): Jimmy Choos, Manolo Blahniks, Christian Louboutin (Ebay or 2nd hand are acceptable)
  36. Send 5 books to the booksphere and track them.
  37. Go hanggliding
  38. Read 10 'classic' books (from 1001 Books to Read before you Die)
    1. Moll Flanders
    2. Everything is illuminated
    3. Madam Bovary
    4. Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance
    5. Catch-22
    6. Odysseus
    7. On the Road
  1. Run (non-stop!) for 5kms outside (preferably in a street race thingy)
  2. Send Christmas Cards on time
  3. Make a collage/mural out of street lights on my wall
  4. Buy a bed, build it, and sleep soundly in it
  5. Go to Africa
  6. Host an 'event' (classified as and when)
  7. Organise a 30th Birthday Party
  8. Wear a costume
  9. Sing on stage
  10. Buy a painting that evokes memories of Prague (cannot involve queues!)
  11. Learn a god-damned card game that stays in my memory (other than fish/snap)
  12. See sunrise. Be sober. Have woken for it. Excludes months Nov-Mar
  13. Take a walk and flip coins at each intersection
  14. Win something
  15. Draft a will
  16. Take a roadtrip
  17. Go to Italy already
  18. Sea Kayak around Abel Tasman Park (NZ)
  19. Get plants
  20. Take a train to another Eastern European Destination (accession countries are acceptable) alone preferably.
  21. Get UK to give me a provisional motorcyclists license and simultaneously get a 'card' license.
  22. Go SCUBA diving again - at least two dives lasting 30mins each.
  23. Go to a dentist. *sigh*
  24. Do a Czech Wine Trail. And live to tell the tale
  25. Make an 'outbreak emergency kit'.
  26. Go to bed prior to 11pm every night (inc weekends) for four consecutive weeks.
  27. Marvel over lack of tiredness
  28. Dine at a Gordon Ramsey restaurant (or Nobu)- preferably for free.
  29. Bet on the nags
  30. Do something for charity (applying and getting a 'red card' will count)
  31. Walk along the Champs Elysee
  32. Do 100 sit ups in a row
  33. Do 50 pressups (arms in tight)
  34. Make branston pickle (or nearest substitute)
  35. Cook something 'new' and 'adventurous' at least once a month
  36. Find a mentor
  37. Be a mentor
  38. Learn what mentoring is all about
  39. Meet an online person in real life
  40. Resist the flirt. Once. Just one night. It's okay if people don't immediately succumb to my natural charm. Really it is.
  41. Spend time at a spa (spa towns in the CR don't count)
  42. Send a care package to someone
  43. Get a Tata Bojs CD
  44. Take a French/German/Dutch course and SPEAK THE DAMNED LANGUAGE WHEN I HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY EVEN THOUGH IT MAKES ME SOUND LIKE AN IDIOT!
  45. Order new contact lenses.
  46. Make a list of things I take with me when I pack for different occasions
  47. Eat lobster. Prepared by someone else.
  48. Back up the blog
  49. Put everything onto an external hard drive
  50. Find a DDR mat and console and 'dance, I say dance!'�
  51. Go to the beach and lie on the warm sand. For an hour. (with sunscreen on, natch)
  52. Take and complete a course in either: Tango, Salsa or Flamenco
  53. Join the Municipal Library of Prague
  54. Move to another country
  55. Go to a live concert of a band I actually like
  56. Pay off debts (student loan excl.)
  57. Send thank you cards for every gift I receive (other than the gift of happiness, blah blah blah).
  58. Get an agent (literary or theatre)
  59. Go to a sports bar without cringing, by personal choice
  60. Ride a rollercoaster
  61. Hold a snake
  62. Spend a day wandering around a museum (not art gallery!)
*singing* History, sometimes repeats...
Tuesday, 28 February 2006
History’s an interesting thing innit. Dad reckons that we should impose a shelf-life on history, say, 40 years. Mum reckons it’s wasted on the young. I reckon they’re both wrong.

Here’s the deal:

History/Collective Memory/Reports
All historical documents are likely to be written from a person’s perspective. There’s no such thing as pure objectivity when a human is involved. It’s impossible. I can’t condone the behaviour of anyone in Hitler’s parade, however, it does strike me that perhaps they were incapable of thinking that they were doing anything ‘wrong’. Or maybe in later years their consciences have been playing up. Whatever…historians write about the horrible atrocities (and that’s how it’s always phrased) of the Holocaust. The nay-sayer David Irving went to jail in Austria for suggesting otherwise, because of the collective guilt felt by Austrians and Germans to this day. Will they get over that guilt? Yes, eventually. But why should they get over it rapidly?

If we had an expiry date, we wouldn’t remember the things that went before. Which means that in another forty years (arbitrary figure though it may be, let’s use it throughout) we’ll have another Reich (or equivalent) of people attempting eugenics by smokehouse. Or the more technologically advanced equivalent. Another Pol Pot. Another [insert favourite genocidal maniac here].

The aim of civilisation is to further itself, right? Some take this to mean, ‘kill others’, while others take it to mean ‘diversify’. I don’t know which is going to be better for the human race, I’m not an anthropologist, nor do I particularly worry about the dying out of the human race (if animals can become extinct, why can’t we?). I do disagree with systematic wiping out of a culture/ethnic race etc. Surely, as with all other animals (barring them damned cockroaches etc.), diversity is the only way to prolong our survival? In which case, wiping out an ethnic group is senseless. More dictators need to take Genetics.101.

Of course, despite our previous knowledge of genocide, we did nothing during the slaying of the Bantu, we’re doing very little in Darfur, but we did manage to do something in Kosovo. I’m not saying that ‘something’ was correct, and that a lot of innocent people STILL were killed (either by direct assault or economic sanctions). However, without intervening in some way, perhaps more people may have been killed. I need a quantitative risk assessor…?

Media
Here’s where the media enter. These days, the media is not ENTIRELY controlled by two people. The majority of the mainstream media (MSM - in the newsblog world) is, apparently, but there’s a lot of other information getting ‘out there’ that certain people don’t necessarily want to have circulating. Take for instance, Sungari River (China, people!!). Yes, the guy who originally blew the whistle was fired, but hopefully, some environmental agency picked him up. I do hope so (I’m SUCH an optimist, it’s ridiculous). So this is where people like me, who document what we see and publish for the world to form an opinion over, are strengthening, gaining weight (literally unfortunately, as well as figuratively!) and becoming more widespread.

So, the media spreads the word – rightly, wrongly, oversensationalisatingly (still on my rampage against sensible English, as you can see), and slowly, other humans begin to form their own opinions. These opinions may eventually lead to political rallying, activist movements etc. and finally, those who are elected into power MAY start listening to the people. (gad…give this woman a red badge someone…quick!)

Edumacation
However, and this is where Mum’s point comes in, opinions are going to be easily swayed by those of us (can I afford to put myself in that category?) who have the capacity to write persuasively. People won’t be able to form ‘informed opinions’ if they don’t have the education to look for the information, or know what to do with the myriad of information-streams that are now available to them.

This is one of the reasons that it’s VITAL that history is taught in a more realistic and accessible manner than I believe it currently is in schools. Yes, the Stuarts gave us a lot (inc. Church of England…”cake or death?”); and I guess if you’re American, it’s nice to know the name of the boat upon which your forefathers arrived (do they teach about the smallpox infested blankets I wonder?), but it’s ALSO important to understand the political regimes in countries that are far from us, where people aren’t as free as us, and to understand how they got themselves into that situation (usually with ‘help’ from foreigners…sadly!). This means that children from a young age will learn a) what empires used to exist, b) how they fell, c) why they didn’t work, d) what the impact of the fall of the empires was on the individual states/republics/countries, e) the good things about that and f) the bad things about that. In this manner, they’ll be a lot more aware of the economics/politics that seem to make this world turn. Love? Pah…even I, with my pink-specs know that it ain’t love that makes this world go around.

So, sitting kids at desks in front of a map of the world simply ain’t gonna cut it. Telling them about JFK’s assassination won’t leave any impact at all. Role-playing in the classroom, watching videos etc, other teaching techniques MAY have a bit more of an impact. Listening to, reading from, and writing to school children IN those far-flung countries will have more of an impact. All children have the capacity for imagination, sometimes I wonder that they leave school with any of it intact. Sit them in front of the computer. Hook the computer up to skype. Call someone in a classroom in Kosovo. Listen to the child’s tales of not knowing where their Dad went. Go through why the children in your class think this happened? Take them through the history before the area was heavily bombed. ASK them, for goodness sakes, what THEY would have done next. These are the NEXT people at the UN Security Council. Do you want them growing us as ignorant as we did?

Nurturing a growing cultural understanding in the next generation? That, my dears, is vital. That’s the message from someone who can calculate her blood proportions to the nearest 1/32th…

Not that she can quite figure out where the hell all this stuff is coming from? Was I brainwashed in my sleep? Dad....?

And in other news:
Am desperately trying to keep up with administrative tasks of getting to Azerbaijan (yes, it does seem as though I’m going, the WHO called this morning to ask whether I’d be comfortable setting up a laboratory (NO!) and so are now looking for a Lab expert…since apparently, they’ve now secured funding?) which means filling in forms to request travel from the SZU for my Madrid module (beginning of April). I asked Vlado whether there were more administrative things that I could finish off before I departed too…sicne I’m getting SOOO accustomed to them (also sent letters and photocopies of all boarding passes and ticket receipts to OneWorld and StarAlliance in the hope of getting some damned points for all this countryhopping – that took an hour and a half to prepare/document). He replied, “what about a trip report?” and I hastily assured him that I’d done those for all trips thus far. He said, “I mean, for Madrid.” I looked at him. Then I said, “I haven’t been yet, Vlado!” “Ah yes,” he replied, “but it would be well to be abreast of the situation, no?!” ARGH!!!

Meanwhile, I’m also trying to persuade WHO to take another EPIET colleague with me (surely that’ll keep me sweet with both organisations) who is BRILLIANT (in my estimation). Question is: will it work?
posted by Nomes @ Tuesday, February 28, 2006   16 comments
LOOOONG entry (that should put half of you off...)
Monday, 27 February 2006
THIRTY ONE PEOPLE FILLED OUT MY JOHARI WINDOW!?! I mean, I know I KNOW 31 people (on my e-mail list) but that’s quite an accomplishment (I think) – to get them to all log in and say nice things about me! Hooray (just as well I didn’t set up the inverse ‘nohari’ window).

I’m happy. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my memorable existence so far (admittedly – my memory is really lousy). In fact, the only time I was this happy that I CAN recall was when I was driving down Aotea Quay with my best friend and my (now) ex-boyfriend, songs turned up loud on the iPod, sun streaming in through the open windows. In a fit of American-type expressiveness, I believe I may have turned down the music temporarily and TOLD them how happy I was. I’m glad I did.

But this happiness is different. This is the lack of wanting to be ANYWHERE else (even Azerbaijan ha ha ha) and not wanting to be DOING anything else either. I love everything about my life at the moment (barring a few little pieces of administration that are going to follow me around everywhere). And that’s a pretty good feeling. Sure, it doesn’t mean that I leap out of bed at 0700 singing songs from Mary Poppins (because I’m happy (or I’m happy because…) I have a social life that keeps me out till at least midnight most nights too!), but when I look a the sky, the patches of snow on the ground, a small bird hopping around with cold feet, even *gasp* EVEN a burbling toddler (normally greeted with a derisory scowl if not an audible snarl), I have an inward smile. I sing everywhere I go (I heart miPod), and don’t care who hears (not sure if this is a symptom or cause). I travel (some may say excessively) and I smile at the airport Nazis. It’s craziness…I feel as though I’m in love (just after the honeymoon period has worn off – and you no longer feel slightly nauseous all the time) and it’s JUST SO GOOD.

I think it’s the continuous learning process that helps make it good. Or the fact that I know so few people here, that I can do whatever I want, without fear of being seen (see, those of you who picked me for self-conscious were pretty much spot on!). The other day I learnt that I REALLY do not want to find preservativ’s (the Czech version) in my food. This is nothing to do with an organic food movement. It’s because a preservative in the CR is designed to preserve the uterus and egg of a female. Yes folks, preservativs are what we’d call condom’s, prophylactics or (god help us), rubbers (ARGH!).

The weather has taken another nose dive, plummeting the temperatures into the nether regions again. Essentially, we had an absolute stunner of a day on Friday, temperatures up to 6oC – positively indecent. I wasn’t wearing boots – NOR tights – and could contemplate wearing a skirt (didn’t go so far as to do so, though!). However, Saturday started nice and warm, then turned crisp, went through even and quickly disintegrated into cruel, wildly lamenting and bitter (see photos). Now, I can tell you exactly how cold it got. I’ve developed a very good sense of feeling in my left nostril. That’s the one that’s got the additional bit of metal through it now. Turns out that this metal, far from being heated by the skin contact, is cooled by the air. ARGH!!! It’s bloody freezing…and it aches. Silly me (it’s not gonna make me take it out though Dad, so stop hoping).

Funny thing about the nose piercing is that my boss didn’t notice it for the full 6 weeks. And only noticed when someone else pointed it out to him. Guess it can’t mar my beauty too much then huh? Would show you photos, but taking photos of self makes me feel a little daft (I know!! Who’da thunk it?) so you’ll have to wait till the next Epiet module!

The only problem living somewhere with so much history is that it has so much history. For instance, as part of my exploratory walk this weekend, I wandered into ‘the crypt’ of Kostel sv Cyrila a Metoděje (Church of Sts Cyril and Methodius), in which an awful sacrifice occurred in May 1942. Most of you darling readers would recognise this date as being ‘during the war’. Good. Stick with me. So, apparently, Czechoslovakia, at that time was being run by Reichsprotektor (ha ha) Reinhard (the hangman) Heydrich, an SS fellow. Nasty piece of work judging by his parenthesised nickname. Anyway, there was a ‘government in exile’ in London at the time, and they basically decided to take some of the soldiers who’d escaped from Czechoslovakia and joined the Foreign Legion (everyone did in those days, it seems) to go back home and assassinate this dude. After some training from the English, a few guys agreed to do so. There were two main people, then teams of three and two were ‘backup’. All seven parachuted into Prague on a flight that made it safely back to Ol Blighty (just – cockpit cover up all the way home…pilot and crew slightly hypothermic upon landing…and missing a few bits of metal from their plane too).

Anyway, the attempt on Heydrich’s life didn’t quite go according to plan. The plan was to ambush the car as it slowed down on a corner on the way to work (this plan apparently took MONTHS to figure out, being so simple). First, they’d sten-gun the car, then lob a bomb into the back window (or thereabouts) and then finish off the bloke with their colt guns. Seems they weren’t taking many chances. Anyway, the sten gun jammed (apparently, this happened a lot…) so the assassins lobbed the bomb and it missed slightly. It did GET the target – but didn’t kill him – just got lots of metal bits into him. The driver, meanwhile, chased the assassins to a nearby area…one finally got a colt out of a holster and shot the driver. Right…

…so…problem solved? Not quite. Turns out these 7 guys then had to get OUT of Prague again. After a crazy path across town in several different routes, they arrived at this Church. They holed up there. One local guy agreed to get their food and supplies from local supporters (dissidents to some, I suppose) and in the end betrayed their presence to the SS. Who turned up at 0400 one morning to request their immediate surrender. Turns out the metal had caused massive septicaemia, and The Hangman had died in hospital. The SS were a bit pissed off with this result, and so they razed the village Lidice with the excuse that the parachutists were aided there, taking the 172 men (and boys >16yrs) outside and executing them, packaging the women and children off to a holding ‘camp’ and then killing them later. This, in turn, got the allies a little upset (as it tends to) as the SS weren’t shy about their village razing success (they’d had quite a lot of practice by this time, and had the whole ‘pose in front of burning buildings with bodies strewn’ down pat).

So…here we have an early morning surprise for the 7 in the church. Three of them were in the choir loft, and attacked the SS valiantly. The remaining four were in the crypt, digging their way to the sewer. The SS (750 or so) fought back against the three in the choir loft, and eventually blasted their way into the church. Two of the three lookouts had already consumed poison and were dead. The third had taken ‘enemy fire’ and was in the process of bleeding out. Though taken to a hospital (?) he died without regaining consciousness.

Which left the four downstairs, digging through concrete and brick (they made churches out of sturdy stuff over here). The SS decided to smoke them out (sound familiar?). This didn’t work (smoke kept rising…out of the crypt (good to know for future reference). SO they thought of drowning them out instead. At about 8am, they called the fire department, who attached hoses to nearby fire hydrants (okay – it was probably to a water mains, but afford me a little licence here, I’m no historian), and poked the hoses through holes (presumably inbuilt to keep the corpses fresh?!). The four soldiers got up on a ladder and poked the hoses back out into the street (now that’s balls!). The SS reached in and grabbed the ladder and pulled it out of the hole (the hole was ladder shaped – work with me here). Simultaneously to pumping water in, the SS also blasted another hole in the side of the wall of the crypt. Then they heard four shots.

The four soldiers had decided that their attempts to dig to the sewer (they were about 4m away) weren’t going anywhere and they weren’t going to be ‘taken alive’. This was at approximately 10am. You can imagine how pissed off the SS were.

Because of their collusion with the dissidents/assassins, the chaplains and rectors (not sure of the exact titles but you know who I mean) and their families were captured, tortured and killed.

But because of the awful razing of the village, the Allies felt pity for Prague –the government became ‘not-in-exile-any-longer’ and had demonstrated to other countries that the Third Reich COULD be beaten, AND from the inside. Apparently, this boosted ‘allied’ morale.

My morale was fairly shaken though. You couldn’t quite smell the cordite, but you could definitely close your eyes, place your hand on the hacked out area where the soldiers were digging towards the sewer and smell the fear drenched sweat, hear the butts of their useless sten guns hitting the rock, and feel the heat in the room. The pockmarked walls of the crypt tell their own story of bullets in the dark.

And what of the traitor? Well…after he identified the bodies of the soldiers for the SS, he was kind of thrown back to the wolves. And guess what? They found him, and hung him.

I’m not going to cast judgement. But I did write that I’m newly aware of the incalculable debt paid by these young men so that we could live in the free way we take for granted in the ‘guestbook’. I know there are countless of these stories in EVERY war situation. But it’s not something I’ve really had the opportunity to feel. Those feelings are VERY strong in a place like that…despite the new halogen lighting, and the display case containing a mannequin dressed as a parachutist of the time (they wore suits under their jump suits!!) which freaked me out when I was leaning down to read the cards left in the dugout area. You can definitely still imagine what it would have been like in the quiet times, 4 men gathered around, probably sleeping where one or two caskets were missing from the walls (must’ve been reasonably cosy) and eating what little black bread and cheese they could get their hands on (and, knowing the Czechs, washing it down with beer – makes me smile a little). Maybe they would’ve told each other of their families wherever they were. Maybe they would’ve simply farted and masturbated the time away till they could be collected again (being blokes in their 20’s after all!). Whatever, you could feel the camaraderie in the crypt. Or maybe I’m just a ridiculously overimaginative slightly empathetic female with a hero-complex. Whatever. THAT’S the ‘problem’ with so much history having gone before us.

(sheesh…I didn’t realise how much I’d remembered from a 20min wander around!)

After finally catching up with some friends on Saturday night (I’m glad they remember to invite me out, I’m so often away I can’t see them more than once every 6 weeks or so, which as you know, is quite peculiar) I returned home on the last normal tram (which had a pile of sand covering vomit in the front…turns out that DOES still happen!). After the quick walk down the hill, whaddya think I find outside my door? A dead body. Now, it’s pretty bad for Feng Shui to have a body popsicle on front door – no amount of flutes/golfish/mirrors or crystals are gonna fix that little Chi drain.

We’ll call him the blue guy (on account of his countenance at the time) wouldn’t be roused with normal ‘hello – can you hear me…’s (I was so tempted to do the ‘hello, is there any body there???’ lyric – but relented…) and so I did the knuckle-over-collarbone thing (which hurt me as much as it must’ve bruised him) and finally got a groan out of him. Good. So not dead then. No frantic crystal-waving or geode-placement required.

Finally figured out the words for ‘are you cold?’ which is like asking someone with a spurting artery, ‘are you okay?’ but he did nod and mumble assent at this. So helped him in, to put him at least on the chair in our (heated) joint corridor. Then I managed to formulate the question, “do you live here?” (it’s only one word for goodness sakes! But it still took me about two minutes to remember…) and when he mumbled ‘ano’ I managed to remember the word for ‘where?’ (not quite as correct as ‘which one’ but hey! I was traumatised!). Turns out the bloke is my next-door neighbour. The one with canaries/budgerigars that sing during my lunch break (it’s kinda nice listening to them chirrup as I eat my sandwich…yet not have to put up with their crap – literally). Poor thing. I hope it doesn’t make
‘corridor moments’ awkward. I think he was so wasted though that he wouldn’t remember. Sometimes, alcohol IS my friend.

Have found a TimeOut equivalent at Andel this is the local space-invaders/video-game parlour in NZ) and went there with T last night. Had a blast (literally) playing GunBlade. They also have House of the Dead 2 (which I kicked his skinny white Canadian arse in) and Manx TT (motorbike race game). They have A dancey machine, but *gasp* it’s not [deep voice] Dance Dance Revolution – so David and Nine are gonna be SOOOO far ahead of me when I next see them. *sob* How will I ever catch up? I'm gonna have to get the home version aren't I? And that, quite frankly, just doesn't really bear thinking about too much.

Oh yes, the troubles of an EPIET fellow in Prague indeed.
posted by Nomes @ Monday, February 27, 2006   2 comments
Where did all the white stuff go? Long time passing...
Wednesday, 22 February 2006
What happened to all the snow? I dunno, you disappear for three weeks (momentary respite that didn’t warrant the purchase of milk or bread doesn’t count) and the snow disappears. More amazingly, the grit does too…where did it go? Is there a ‘grit heaven’? It’s also possible to make it from home to work with minimal risk of hypothermia now – this morning I made the 200m dash without scarf, gloves or earmuffs. Of course; I shivered. However, since my only recent muscle contracting exercise has been shivering, I decided I’d call it ‘going to visit Jim’ instead. *sigh* Jim’s gonna definitely think I’m having an affair.

Does the Crème Egg sitting on my bedside table count as another lover?

No, that’s breakfast tomorrow! Since I arrived home at about 22:30 last night, there was no time to pop to a supermarket for grocery items. And the picture describes (hideously accurately) the contents of my fridge. Since when did I start drinking diet coke? I don’t. Those cans are artistically decorated by local artists, shrunk down, and filled with the awful stuff – they came as part of a CANZA goodie bag and I haven’t had the heart to throw them out yet. *sigh* I just need some indoor-peeing-on-everything-cats and a half mouldy tin of tuna and I’ve got that whole ‘single female professional’ thing all sewn up (no offense to my also single, female, professional sistren (brethren sounds wrong in this context) since you’re all shoe shoppers who make me proud…CHOOOS!).

Today my tasks are various and daunting. Firstly, I have to figure out how to fill in the WHO refund form. That, in itself, appears to be a mission: I have no idea what my ‘mission number’ was…then collect all receipts from my tardis-like ‘Azeri’ folder (there are more small pieces of paper in that thing than there should be capacity for) and put them into some semblance of order. Apparently, most people do this in the first day of their return. Frankly – those people deserve pats on the back. I have to search for paperclips before I can start anything – and that could take ‘a while’.

So far, three people have filled in my Johari Window...so thanks to LB, Mums and 'anon'. The rest of you: sort it out!

Other things on my list include ‘sorting out tax’. Apparently the office here needs a record of all the pay’s I’ve received since here to work out my tax payment. This has me so concerned that the next pay I receive will be of a negative balance that I’m putting it off…and off…and off…

There’s also the matter of the telephone. I have many people in my life who, for some unbeknownst reason, wish to speak to me in person – rather than just brave these fancy web-page thingys. Why? I suspect some of them can’t read! Whatever the reason, I’m unable to ‘take their calls’, due to an inordinate amount of white noise that hurtles itself in the direction of my anvil/stirrup/hammer set whenever I pick up the receiver. Apparently the same is not heard in reverse, so one may arrive at the conclusion I have a faulty phone or a faulty phone socket. Given my electric cordless phone is sitting under my bed right now – this should be an easy problem to solve, shouldn’t it?

Ah…you’re forgetting the joys of a Czech telephone jack. I know that phones in the UK and phones in NZ often use an American (I know…although we hate it…) RJ-11 phone jack (it scares me the amount of knowledge it’s possible to acquire). The Czechs have, you guessed it, a completely different looking wall jack. It looks like this, was apparently abandoned in 1996 in favour of the RJ-11 (thereby confirming the squeaky wheel theory) yet my building was built in, oooh, sometime before then.

So what’s a girl to do? There are two options. I can purchase an adaptor to add to my myriad of other adaptors (when countries such as Azerbaijan use English plugs in their hotels, but European plugs elsewhere…one can be forgiven for travelling with the extensive selection of ‘plug-plates’ that I now own). Or I can phone the landlord. I thought of the latter option as I strolled/shivered my way to work this morning. I imagine the conversation to go along the following lines.

Naomi: Good day. My name is Naomi. I live in the writers house. My phone is not pretty.
Landlord: What is the problem?
Naomi: My mother calls me and I listen to blank noise. (hmmm…). I need help.
Landlord: Which flat do you live in?
Naomi: I don’t know.
Landlord: Why don’t you know?
Naomi: There are two numbers doors. It is number one or number three. I don’t know.
Landlord: I see. We’ll come take a look at it.
Naomi: when?
Landlord: obscure reference to time measurement that Nomes hasn’t come to grips with…such as ‘the Thursday before the next month’.
Naomi: er…my mobile phone number is ### ### ###. You call me when phone fix will?
Landlord: Huh?
Naomi: um…

THIS is why I’m going to see if I have money on a credit card somewhere so that I can order the adapter. It’s just easier. Or perhaps I could get the WHO to PAY me in adapters – “I’d like to be reimbursed with a TRULY global multiway electrical and phoneline adapter please.” I bet they’re too expensive.

Of course, when I DO have a phone, you can all hope that I also ordered a time-wheel – the cheap version of something no doubt marketed direct to ‘busy managers’ who ‘travel the world’ and ‘trade in international affairs’ (i.e. people incapable of adding and subtracting from EST/GMT/PST/PMS while they’re sitting in another foreign airport before meddling with someone else’s problems). Mum actually built me one of these when I was in NZ, she was in Doha and extended family were in the UK. It’s still with me somewhere…but I’ve run out of room for concentric circles to include Prague/Azerbaijan/Canada etc – not to mention room on the back to write daylight savings instructions to self.

P.S. Someone mentioned something along the lines of sponsoring my writing by helping out with things like these. All donations hinted at above will be gratefully accepted. Adaptors, food – especially breakfast cereals that don’t involve chocolate - , time wheels. Also secretarial services (for organising receipts and boarding passes). Someone who could phone Star-Alliance and One World and convince them that my airpoints should be added to my account will also be considered a ‘friend of Nomes’. Badges will be out with the t-shirts…and one day, you may get an autographed black and white…

P.P.S. The longer you hang around on a travellers website, the more stuff you want to purchase for your injured bag to make your life just that little bit easier! I especially like the shirt folder thingy (even better than the Chinese woman video?). To be continued...
posted by Nomes @ Wednesday, February 22, 2006   3 comments
Doing the Lambeth Walk
Tuesday, 21 February 2006
Things are good in London - even the weather isn't completely pants. It's such a damned expensive city though...but I've caught up with Rachel - we went to Les Mis and mouthed/cried/laughed our way through it; Nerissa - who took us to Burrough (sp?) markets (WOW) and Konditori & Cook (yum); and Allison, Colin, Amanda, Bonnie & Jo from the New Years party in Edinburgh (which was fantastic...I love hanging out with that gang...they're just so darned accepting and friendly) as well as Mark B as well (friend from Uni) and all have been introduced to Umit (friend from Doha College - we go WAAAAAY back!).

Umit left today, so my intention is to go feed the swans in Hyde Park (it's one of those personal traditions that you develop when you spend SOOO many yawning hours by yourself), and hopefully, neither of us will sneeze upon the other (I have a cold...). The other thing on my list is to locate a NZ Braeburn apple...*drool* I haven't had a crisp and crunchy apple in 6 months now...

Yesterday, the WHO called. I answered the phone with a frog (actually, an entire spawning ground) in my throat, thinking "why are Geneva calling?" *excited shiver*. Turns out, they were asking wehther i'd be available to head back into Azerbaijan for a further 4 to 6 weeks (clearly, the authorities have yet to stumble across THIS missive). So, I checked with my boss, who said 'yep' (well, it's good for my institute too...to have a Czech representative in the field...looks v. good on internal documents etc) and checked with EPIET who said, "we'd rather not...".

Turns out that they're not overly fond of WHO asking for particular people, and would rather send people into the field based on skill-sets rather than personality. Now that is fine, understandable etc, and I totally appreciate that EPIET also have to distribute international missions as they see fit - to hopefully allow all of the wee fellows (of which i'm just one) a 'turn'. however, surely, surely, if a body are asking for a particular person, because of the good experience they had working with that person being where they were sent, then it makes sense to send that person? I think that, had it been someone else going on a second mission to the same place they'd gone to, I wouldn't feel too put out, I'd understand that the subtext that people learn about while they're in the field has a lot of importance when they return - it's not so easy to hand over intuition along the lines of, "I think this guy is on the make, but I can't be sure...it's just something about the way he talks about his children getting sent to overseas universities, married up with his tattoos and his inability to distribute..." it's all a bit wishy washy, not to mention slanderous.

HOwever, because I FEEL those things about that person, whenever I ask my questions of them, I check, double check, and attempt to find potholes in their stories...and I can't advise someone else to 'go after them like a terrier on crack...' because that person would think I'm insane.

So I've done what I thought best. Answered in the affirmative to WHO, and at the same time, proposed that the other EPIET person that EPIET have put forward come along too, as the IC person. Together, we'd be a great team (and hopefully, we could find an apartment in baku, instead of staying in a hotel all the time).

So now we wait....

In the meantime, take a look at this. It's basically a personality thing. You can see how I view myself - I want to see what adjectives you'd use to describe me (also, I'm judging how well you ACTUALLY know your Nomes!). Check out: THIS BUTTON and have a play. AND...there'll be t-shirts to the person who gets me most correct.
posted by Nomes @ Tuesday, February 21, 2006   0 comments
It’s been awhile, how are you all coping?
Wednesday, 15 February 2006
Apologies for not updating the blog for some time, but I’ve been coming to grips with being back home. I must’ve SERIOUSLY overindulged on the Turkish coffee while I was away (what? Two a day seems reasonable doesn’t it?) as I’ve got the largest caffeine-withdrawal headache I’ve ever sported, and it’s pulsating behind my right eye. Still, the struggle to focus on my computer has paid off, and I’ve just sent off my travel report to my Team Leader.

Shall I take you through chronologically then? As opposed to my oft-time-leaping rambles?

Right: so Thursday, H5N1 hit Azerbaijan (finally). It was reported on the FAO website as only being H5, and as of yesterday, that hadn’t changed (grr!) despite a copy of the original fax from Weybridge (the reference laboratory) sitting in my folder as my own personal ‘souvenir’. What? Some people bring home carpets…I brought home a copy of a fax. Your point?

Nothing much happened on Thursday evening, except the Team Leader was called to attend a meeting of the ministers (not all of them, just a few) to discuss the new information. Turns out the MoA was pissed off that the MoH had all this information when he himself hadn’t been informed by the Veterinary Services. Those guys claimed that they hadn’t received the fax from Weybridge, which is understandable I suppose because it would have come through after hours. Apparently, my friend the weasel-vet (no, not a Mustelidae specialist – he just did VERY good impressions), was subdued (which would have made a change from his saliva-projecting overconfident tangential soliloquies (empty of actual information) that he’d present to all of my questions.

On Friday morning, we had planned to debrief the other international members in Azerbaijan (and those national ones who were interested in what we had to say) with regards to our findings during our Mission. Obviously, because of the new ‘developments’ (I love the way they desensitise things like ‘outbreaks’ with words), the number of people in the room had doubled from the anticipated 20 people. And at one stage Reuters walked in, with television cameras at the ready. Now, I know I’d just come from my Media training in Berlin – but I didn’t have the right collar on to be on television, so I, for one, was relieved when our Liason officer told them to leave.

There were so many important people in the room that no one turned their phones off. People finally took their seats (lots of excited hyperbabble – and probably hyperbole – about the results beforehand). I was very grateful for the long tablecloth on the table I was sat at (at the front of the room, facing the audience) because it hid both my nervous jiggling leg and my lucky red ‘drama queen’ socks (thanks Lirachick!).

I was entertained by the demographic self-placement: evidence of a self-assessment of importance. In a room set up like a lecture theatre, the first two rows are often free, either because people worry about spitting lecturers, or they think their nodding off will be less noticeable in the fourth row. The US Embassy staff had sat themselves in the front row. The second row was filled with World Bank personnel. Both were basically filled with jowly middle aged men in poorly fitting suits decorated with the ties they received last Father’s Day. There was a British Embassy person (yellow tie!??!) also in the front row, but we’ll excuse him because he arrived late and had to take the only available chair (just to keep in line with my newfound eurocentricism). Everyone was scribbling furiously in their notebooks. I wished we’d been able to present them with handouts –because it would have meant they’d all be provided with one message (which was one of our recommendations – as it happens) rather than all writing down their impression of our pearls of wisdom, but because these were preliminary findings, we weren’t able to ‘publish’ them.

So the Team Leader gave his results: the surveillance of AI in humans. The scepticism in the room was palpable. There were scowls from people as he spoke about the current alert system (even I had to bite my tongue as he clarified that there WAS a system in place, it just didn’t resemble any that we’d seen in the west). Our darling team leader has a very terse manner – years of being in the military probably – consequently it wasn’t long before I was watching people make (poor) attempts to stifle their yawns. This was compounded by the simultaneous translation which was occurring after each sentence. The cardiologist who was translating did a pretty good job (as far as I could tell) but was left hanging in some instances as our Team Leader forgot about the translation and would move onto the next point without waiting.

After he’d finished his section: the lovely Irish lady gave her part (Infection Control and Clinical Case Management) and there were fewer deep sighs of dissatisfaction as people realised that infection control was a foreign concept to the hospital staff here, and that anyone with AI would probably not last (since there’s no ICU!!!). That got people’s attention again. She has a lovely soft irish lilt though, which when used in presentations has a very ‘lullabic’ (?) quality.

Eventually I got up to do my bit – pausing en route to hand the translator a bottle of water – no one else had provided him with one!. Momentary shuffling in seats, and then I had them eating out of the palm of my hand. It was magic (I love having an audience like that). I spoke clearly, precisely, slowly – allowing the translator enough time to interpret before continuing. I showed an animated slide of the migrating bird flyway and the consequent areas at maximum risk in Azerbaijan. There was hushed awe, both at the fact I’d managed to elicit so much information from various sources, and that I was able to display it in such a good way (the animation followed the birds actual flying routes…I know how to make impact). I showed photos which got a giggle (everyone had heard the public announcement to keep poultry and waterfowl separate – so the photo of the veterinary office at which waterfowl and poultry were running around together was particularly poignant), and generally made my point. Then I fielded questions (no one else had to do so!) as some people were already starting to leave (we were only running an hour late… Was there something more important to do?!!). At one point, someone asked a particularly banal question and I informed the floor that “I’m not prepared to answer that at this time”. Someone at the end came up to me and actually apologised that I’d had to field such a crap question (I know that some people say there are no ‘bad questions’, but really…this guy asked one that was dumb, and we had limited time, and this wasn’t the forum – nor was I the person to ask!).

So…I answered questions: at one point, was asked to repeat myself so that someone could write my words down word-for-word (scary – what I have to say can’t possibly be THAT important!), and then we were finally done. And whaddya know, the FAO vet had FINALLY arrived and was in the room *self-conscious squeal*. Turns out he hadn’t been there for most of my presentation, but we agreed to meet up later on that evening at UNICEF house (word to the wise: they often have the best digs – way nicer than the UN offices) and I’d share my notes with him so that he got a head start on his own mission.

Turns out (when I finally got to UNICEF house) that his mission pretty much overlapped with mine (ARGH!) and he disagreed with me that they had no plan (they did – it was just a plan for FMD which involved cattle!!! Besides which, it was neither finalised – and wouldn’t be until the President had decided upon it – or disseminated. To me, that’s a document, not a PLAN!). He did, however, allow me to bully him into giving me his TOR’s from FAO (sorry…I hate acronymising ordinarily, but you can follow, I’m sure) so that I could include them as Exhibit A in ‘why I think the two agencies need closer ties’.

Then, a call came through from World Bank, ‘er, is Naomi there please?’ ??!! Turns out someone wanted to talk to me about a ‘hypothetical’ situation in which ‘birds had died’ in the ‘drinking water reservoir’. HYPOTHETICAL remember? So…I told them I’d look into appropriate drinking water treatment and get back to them.

At 1am, I wrote to advise they got in touch with a water sanitation engineer (of which, I’m not) having not been able to find anything suitable on the net (probably some unfinalised ‘plan’ sitting on some presidential desk!). I hate not being able to locate references. In the meantime I had written to respond to the WHO request for a ‘state of the art’ list of PPE that they can go against when asked by donors as to what to purchase (saves donors using their own procurement methods and getting the wrong equipment – as had been seen in Azerbaijan). So I was little working bee indeed.

Saturday was rather a let down. In the morning, the lovely Irish lass went home – her aunt was in hospital with a stroke, so she changed her ticket forward 24hours. But I didn’t see her at breakfast, because I had a meeting with a World Bank agriculture guy who had been in Armenia for our presentation and wanted catching up. It was good to chat to him, and he ended up sending me his (confidential) field report from his Azeri trip. So I went into the office with the team leader – without my computer (foolishly). Eventually, I was so bored, that I strung chairs together, stretched out and had a nap. Five hours later, I’d had absolutely enough of being unproductive and doing NOTHING – so I suggested I return to the hotel where my computer was, and continued writing my report. Turns out they were just leaving anyway (conversations in different languages), as our team leader had decided to remain: and wanted to move into an apartment so as not to pay the extortionate US$100/day at the hotel (comes out of our per diem).

So they dropped me off at the top of our street (FREEDOM!! I got to walk 25m on my own!!! Ooooh!) and we arranged to do dinner at 7ish. Then at 7ish, I got a knock on my door. The team leader and translator were just going to say cheerio, since they needed to move the team leader into his apartment tonight.

Oh. Right. Well, bye then!

And that was it, ladies and gentlemen. I stayed on until 1:30, went to the airport, headed home via Vienna (misread my boarding pass in Vienna and ended up missing my flight…) on a business class flight (we like those a LOT).

Will wax on about my return to Prague in due course…but for now…I’m off to pack for a 6 day trip to London baby, YEAH!
posted by Nomes @ Wednesday, February 15, 2006   4 comments
So, by now, you're all excited aren't you?
Thursday, 9 February 2006
Those of you who read the news, or follow the FAO website ought to be at any rate. Am not sure where we go from here. Team leader is pretty keen for us to leave, however, I'm trying to provide as much assistance to WHO Copenhagen as possible.

See, the problem with any epizootic disease, particularly emerging diseases, are that people fall through the cracks. No matter HOW often people say that the Min of Agriculture and the Min of Health are working together; no matter how many links exist between the FAO, OIE and WHO websites, there are STILL things that need to be taken care of.

For instance, I'm trying to make sure that the Vet Services here are using and providing maximum protective equipment to the people who are going to be involved in the stamping out of AI. These people will come into contact with a LOT of the virus, and therefore are at maximum risk of exposure and infection. The animal lot are worried about how they're technically going to kill the birds, with regards to techniques and disposal etc. The health guys are worried about the general population and bird owner. But few people are actually worried about things like 'stress' due to heat (it's hot in those sheds, even hotter if you're wearing respirators/goggles/impermeable aprons/coveralls/gumboots/heavy duty rubber gloves etc. or the stress of putting down thousands of birds, requesting that farmers for whom the birds are their livelihood pass them over to you so that you can put them in a bag, gas them, and then bury them - when they're seemingly healthy! That's a hard job. And they reckon they're gonna train people 'when' they need to have peopel available. They're gonna mobilise protective equipment 'when' and 'where' it's needed.

I'm sorry, but training of large numbers of people should've already started, and the equipment should have been procured and distributed already.

Rant over. Forgive me. The other team called me this evening, and I was too scared that it might be Copenhagen so I picked it up. Now I'm down to 270Kc on my phone again. Hopefully, will get home on Sunday to top it up myself - and pay the gorgeous Karo back (she topped it up for me the other day - ain't she great...can we have a round of applause for my #1 fan from the CR please?), but am trying desperately to conserve it anyway. So I was very terse with Maarten (along the lines of, "Hi honey. what do you want?", "Hi Nomes, well, I was just wondering....*pause*...", "What? I've got limited credit so spit it out..." etc. Poor dude. But he sensibly sent me sms back. So much better/cheaper/concise.

Who thought i'd ever be advocating brevity huh?

Love to you all, and if there's an almost dead thing flapping on your doorstep, um, please don't touch it! (good advice at the best of times, I guess)
posted by Nomes @ Thursday, February 09, 2006   1 comments
-3 days - and counting...
Wednesday, 8 February 2006
Sheesh - you mention the JFA (think of the letters after each of those...I am SUCH a cryptographer) once, and the whole blog thing crumbles.

So the JFA story? Well...there we were, doing the rounds of the infectious disease ward of one hospital (totally empty, waiting for AI patients, in a very overreactive yet underprepared manner) with our friend who wears the neoprene black high heeled ankle boots (ARGH) with flesh coloured tights, and the silky lab coat (wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong) and we returned back to her office for the ubiquitous 3L of tea (today I felt the button on my trousers go, I've drank THAT much damned tea [it has nothing to do with last nights Baklava, oh no!]). Anyway, as we walked into the anteroom before getting to her office, a man suddenly stood. He had been sitting in the very straight-backed manner of all persons-who-have-done-pack-marches and stood in a very threatening yet 'at ease' manner. I'm not sure why it was threatening: the hawkeyed glare he gave us? The narrow bit of face we could see? The width across his shoulders? Who knows.

What I did notice (of course) was that he was wearing the absolute latest in trends: military coat (gorgeous in grey: so versatile) complete with epaulettes (braiding pays!). Peculiar bulge over one hip though - obviously intended when the material was cut, as it didn't distort button alignment in the slightest. Accesories included a chapka, Russian MVD winter issue combat boots with fur lining, over grey trousers. I was in awe - he deserved to be part of the YSL runway collection. Just before I ran over and hugged him for following the fashion trends yet managing to not look like a fashion victim...it occurred to me: he might actually be real.

So I refrained. :) Aren't you impressed with my restraint. JT (the french lab expert) and I looked at one another and raised eyebrows. Once we were inside our hosts room, he leaned over and whispered, "JFA?". I lifted my tea to my lips to avoid giggling.

JT and I saw things from the same perspective (probably becasue we were both non-medics and lab-trained). While he was claiming every word as etymologically stemming from French, ("go on then, claim Pic-bloody-nic!", "....", "yeah, thought not!") he also told me a little bit about the politics in France. APparently, most people don't even bother voting these days, having lost confidence in their politicians. But the truly amazing fact that I didn't know (so I only started watching the news with intent last year okay?) was that darling Chirac (of the 'shaking hands with A presidents' fame) has been prosecuted for many things (NINE times?!?!?) and were it not for the presidency, he'd be in jail. President or jailbird...I'd be hard pushed to decide too! The state pays for your meals and accomodation whichever way you think of it... So...as far as french words go, i'm gonna say that 'politics' must've originated there too.

As you LBR will surely attest, I don't ONLY take photos of 'sights' that you can see in any guide book/internet site (for the skint amongst us), but I try to take photos of things that pique my interest or tickly my funny bone. Which is why I was gutted I hadn't been quicker with my camera en route to B from visiting Ba the other day. We passed a car, to which was attached a trailer. On top of the car, inside the car back seat, inside the car boot, and overflowing the trailer were bags of carrots. 'WOW!,' I thought to myself, 'Thems be a LOT of carrots.'. Not much of a great story, I'll grant you. However, the car in front of that one was similiarly 'well-packed'.......with cabbages. If they'd collided (okay - that wasn't the funny bit, besides, in my mind it was non-fatal!), there'd be a HUGE amount of coleslaw all over the road. "Road Closed by Coleslaw" "Coleslaw Breaks Economy" "Coleslaw Calamity" and other headlines spinning on newspapers in my mind. Sorry for the lack of photos.

But I think the funniest thing I've seen is a place called "Nemo kindergarten", complete with a picture of the cute clown-fish. Now, maybe I'm wrong, but in the original animation picture, didn't Nemo GO MISSING!?!?!??! Wasn't he scooped up and put in a tank with a scarred and hardened criminal (albeit, one with a heart)? Would you put your kids in that kindergarten? They need marketing help out here; Nis??
posted by Nomes @ Wednesday, February 08, 2006   2 comments
I need a shoulder...RIGHT NOW
Saturday, 4 February 2006
But in lieu of a REAL person, I'm gonna sob all over the keyboard of this computer, the computer with the OFFICIALLY SLOWEST INTERNET CONNECTION IN THE WORLD (not just in B). Back here for a few hours before we fly to N - the autonomous region of A (look it up). ANd I have a few things to get off my chest.

Okay, so we all know that I'm a completely unreasonable demanding bitch, I'll grant that. But...when the internet guy won't come to the hotel at 8pm after I've spent the last 5 hours bouncing over a bloody awful road without a sports bra on, and the reception doesn't CALL to TELL me that he won't be coming to fix the F'ing server for the umpteenth F'ing time, and I stay WAITING in my room for him, I get a little riled.

I also get a little riled when I arrive in a godawful hellhole of a place, where we supposedly have rooms booked, to find that I'm sleeping in the same (smallest) double bed (in the world) with a colleague in a room without a functioning bathroom. Oh. And cockroaches. *shudder*

In fact, the only thing that makes me feel a little better (or worse - depending) is having my plight put entirely into perspective by visiting a refugee camp for internally displaced persons. Oh My God. How can I possibly turn my shoe obsession into something worthwhile for these people, who are absolutely delighted to be living in the kind of conditions that would make most pigs look like monarchs. The mud!!! The lack of running water! And the happiness for roofs. I cried (what a ninny) in the car, and had to make it look like I had something in my eye (got into that whole 'are you okay?' 'yes, I have something in my eye' 'here, let me look' 'er, no thanks, I'll just cry it out...really...it works better...' conversation of the awkwardly lachrymentally overdeveloped) because no one else seemed at all affected.

These people are soooooo proud of their 'dwellings' (to use the cold, impersonal WHO term - though shacks is far more accurate). They are glad that they have a roof over their head while their homes flood with the torrential rain, turning the ground they sleep on into a quagmire (really - I wondered what the incidence of drownings were). They're smiling to have visitors who want to take photos to show colleagues (because really, taking photos for a scrapbook is simply sickening) who couldn't be there since they were touring the hospital. The kids are delighted to have someone to babble to, even if that someone cannot understand, and wears a pair of borrowed shoes that cost more than the kids have for food in a year.

And I'm worried about an internet connection. *sob*

What can I DO???? How do I turn something I love (shoes) which is meaningless and empty (unless they're the pair on my feet) which I DO actually know, into something that helps these people aim higher. That gives them the awareness that they don't have to live/sleep/eat in mud. That they can play with toys other than the rusted shells of cannibalised Lada's, tempting fate with tetanus on an hourly basis (no vaccinations in this part of the world). And have YOU ever seen someone pulling a stick on a piece of string, as you or I might walk a dog?

I think I just had my heart broken.

But back to me: I've discovered why being single really f'ing sucks. Or rather, having no power of attorney or 'someone back home' really sucks. My mobile phone ran out of credit today - because the WHO spent 45mins on a call with me (they couldn't get hold of anyone else in the team) thereby chewing up the remaining E60 that I put on my phone before I left with roaming fees (am gonna have to change to a post-paid account methinks!). Anyway, I thought that darling brother R might be able to help out, and gave him the appropriate numbers and passwords to get into my internet banking to top up my mobile - with sufficient obscurity to protect from unwanted entry. Seems I was overly obscure. PErhaps he didn't know how to spell Memnoch's name. Whichever the reason, we're now both completely locked out until I call with the contract number that I got when I joined the bank. THe one that's in a folder, somewhere in my house - the keys for which are in my bag, in my hotel room here.

*scream*

Screw this mission lark. I'm heartbroken, cold, hungry, tired, dirty, (no shower, and dear god almighty, the 'toilets'...that's a whole 'nother entry) and I wanna go home.
posted by Nomes @ Saturday, February 04, 2006   2 comments
Day whatever, in addition...
Thursday, 2 February 2006
Kudos goes to our dear translator: the emergency preparedness guy. This afternoon, at a meeting of 10 of 'their' people and our 5 (crammed into a room, but you coudl tell they'd pulled out all of the stops - their hospitality was almost tearjerking), our poor translator managed to retain a (mostly) straight face at the following exchange:

Guy at end of table: [look at Nomes, talk to translator and smile] hewofewofuyw80yufhwueohfuow (imprecise stenographer was jamming sweet things into her mouth at the time...and begs forgiveness)
Nomes: finish mouthful, look expectantly at translator, expect a question
Translator: [blush a little bit and smile bashfully]He says you're really beautiful.
Nomes: [inwardly groan with acute embarrassment, smile] Spossiba.

Awwwwwwww!
posted by Nomes @ Thursday, February 02, 2006   1 comments
Day +5 or +6?! Can't recall...they're blurring...
ER. Welcome to the reader from the CDC (I think). Hi. Um...this probably ISN'T the place to find out about the GOARN network, and nor am I likely to be the next Joe McC or Laurie G - *all praise the two virus hunters* - but if you want to know what it's REALLY like doing an assessment mission for GOARN, then stop on by, have a read and DON'T ever tell your boss about me! (unless you want to hire me and have me write for the in-house travel magazine "things not to do in "!!)

Yes folks, I'm afraid I'm doing it again. In a bout of self-appriciation (really!! you people have SUCH filthy minds (Cheryl!)! I actually meant on the internet...not manipulatorily!) I checked my blogstats.

Ominously, my site has been removed from the googlesearch results page that landed the aforementioned CDC person here (they searched for GOARN) so I'm wondering exactly when the internet/freedom of speech/publication people are gonna tap on my door - or whether who will be told off because of my big trap. *bites quicks of nails* I do hope not.

Embarrassingly, someone in Australia found my site from the search "Naomi wine blee" on google. *wince* At least I'm consistent - right?

Crazily (yes, they're all going to start with adjectives), I've got 'blogshares' now too! These seem to have a value of "B$1,275.00" but I don't really know what that means in real money (i.e. pairs of shoes).

Congratulatorily (okay, so I'll admit, this adjective thing was a daft idea), someone in the UK typed in 'nomes+blog+prague'. Well done Dr/Mr/Mrs/Miss 'thinking inside the box'.

But in actual statistical news, I've now got a BLR or LBR (depending on which version of Mums' naming habits you want...) that extends to 76!!! That's crazy. You guys visited 222 times in January. Talk about pressure to peform *suddenly goes shy*.

Tak, more about what you raelly wanted to hear about. *shyness clearly not lasting long* Notes in my phone tell me to discuss:

Driving is a calisthenics workout in B. Though there are officially (according to the stripes on the ground) three lanes on the road, there are always at least 5 cars driving, more or less in parallel, on that stretch of road. Lada's obviously don't have indicators, and though we've done our UN security training, our cars don't necessarily always have seatbelts. The act of remaining upright in the backseat requires some very well-trained core muscles. Those will, alongside with quadriceps, be worked extra hard during the mad dash between swerving cars in the middle of a roundabout, preventing you from landing in the lap of your terribly polite colleague or translator. It's just as well though, as it's the only exercise I'm getting here (other than walking the 5 floors to my room - we're not allowed to take the lift if the hotel hasn't got a generator)!!!!! We're dropped off and picked up in door to door fashion - and then we sit down in meetings that last (sometimes) 2.5hours, while we drink about 7L of tea (more on that in a moment) and eat a tonne of honey in 'local sweets'. Yummy indeed, but hardly what you need when you're sitting on your ever-expanding arse all day.

As for the tea: *embarrassing story approaching* Okay, I'm gonna finally admit something: I have never squatted to pee. Never. Not even behind a bush while completely wasted. Not between teh swung open doors of a car on the side of the road. NEVER. I considered this an outstanding acheivement and thought I pretty much deserved a 'lifetime committment to the preservation of clean trouser cuffs' award for 'amazing bladder volume containment'. Anyway, that moment of glory (I had prepared a speech and everything...) aside, I figured I was doing quite well, especially when my sister-cousin (yes, everything in this family DOES sound quite incestuous) gave me a she-wee for Christmas (I can tell I'm losing readers at an alarming rate here). Now, the instructions advise that you 'test' this in the shower (and then rapidly assure that urine is sterile - which I already knew).

So.

Those of you who are still reading this (it's like a last will and testament, I'm fairly sure I'm never going to see you after writing this...hence my lack of shame) will now know that I did test it. And to my suprise it did work - well, in fact. My SC gave it to me for when I was on a mission, with nowhere to pee (I think she actually said 'surrounded by naked and adorned men from an African Hill tribe') and had a full bladder (she's had three children...she knows something I don't...). I thought it was an inspired Christmas pressie.

But I totally forgot to pack it in my 'mission bag' (torch, tablets: antidiarrhoeal, water cleaning, paracetamol, pill, swiss-army card (ta LB), earplugs, insect repellent, razor blade, 8hr cream, stilettos). *sigh* So here I was, bladder 'full to uncomfortably bursting' after 7L of tea (with lemon, served in glasses on saucers) in the MOH building of B.

Although scheduled to go straight to another meeting, I boldly requested directions to the loo. I followed them. I saw the loo, made an expression that probably said, "how can this be the MOH...if the loo looks like that..." then looked at the other one and made another expression, "but I don't squat..." and left. My female compatriot went...and my admiration grew as much as my bladder did.

After the NEXT meeting (an additional three glasses of tea...) and an increased measure of acute discomfort in the 'belly' region, I decided that enough was enough. I once again requested the loo (therefore, probably indicating to the boys that I had the runs...at this point, I didn't care!) and after much cursing, giggling and trouser rolling, accepted the fact that I wouldn't be getting any awards for 'not squatting' anytime soon. *sigh*

Thank god we're not eating much. :)

And, it means that my female colleague and I have developed a code too; if one of us goes to the loo and says, 'oooh, you should check out the mosaic/painting/architecture/landscape/crack in the wall' upon our return, it means 'the loo is clean, and you mightn't have to roll your trousers to your knees just to go'.

That, my darlings, is all for this day (though I have other things in my phone to write about - not least of which are "KGB agents and cross-purposes" - but I think I'll allow your imaginations to run wild on that combination for a little while). Tomorrow morning, we're off to the field (at long bloody last) to see how things really work (not just hear about how they're supposed to work from the upper echelons of government). We'll be back briefly on Saturday night - so provided the internet hasn't 'broken' again in that time, I'll quickly update you. Photos are having to wait for comments etc because that seems to be what 'breaks' the hotel server. Be patient my darlings, it's not a virtue I have, so you must all have it for me.
posted by Nomes @ Thursday, February 02, 2006   1 comments
Day +4 - Ethical considerations of the job!
Wednesday, 1 February 2006
It’s really annoying not having an internet connection. For a moment and a half, I was ‘live’ and it was wonderful. Then my overuse spilled the server, and now we’re back offline. This makes it extraordinarily difficult to update the blog and keep in touch with people. I hope you’re not all too disappointed.

Responsibility’s a really complex issue. Some have said I have a responsibility for what people think/feel when they read my writing. With that, I fervently disagree. However, I’m really really really disgusted with the behaviour here of *whisper* the Americans (sorry Brett). USAID is an organisation I know nothing about. However, apparently, they send people all around the world, to assess situations and needs, and then attempt to match needs with skills and train (in particular) ‘local people’. This, apparently, provides ‘empowerment’.

So, in a particular case, USAID personnel may have examined an organisation, and found special people within that organisation who could benefit from a bit of technical training held in an (typically) American institution out of the ‘local’ country. All very altruistic – or so it seems.

What they have neglected to consider are the risks of sending people who are trained in specific techniques (let’s say, for instance, virus isolation!), back to an environment in which those techniques are dangerous – if not lethal. It’s not just irresponsible, it’s downright negligent! What if that labworker becomes ill? Then the only person in the country who can carry out a procedure is incapable of carrying out that procedure!! Risk analysts would go spare. I’m not one, and I’m simmering with anger.

‘Diplomats’ have pissed me off today too (ooh…I must be due my period!!). I’m not renowned for my ability to ‘shut the hell up’ in situations. I’ve been known to land people (usually myself, but on occasion, I’ve taken others down too) in ‘it’ by speaking my mind. However, I’d really like to believe that when I speak my mind, I’m speaking up because I see inefficiencies and the potential for future conflict or issues that can be warded off early, with sufficient communication and preparation.

So, when the US Embassy decides that they don’t want to ASSIST the other international agencies in the area, and CERTAINLY don’t want to assist the people who have INVITED those international agencies to the area (visa applications can be declined), and instead want to take over processes themselves, THAT pisses me off. This afternoon, we had a ‘diplomat’ stand up and basically tell a room full of International Organisation staff (including NGO’s and UN organisations such as WHO etc.) that the system put in place was crap and never going to work. This is a system that has been set up via correct and appropriate channels, which will undoubtedly face stumbling blocks initially as people have to reconsider their routines, but will run for free. So starting an ad hoc system for a few special cases that will cost the government an inordinate amount of money just because the US Embassy staff think ‘it should be done our way’ is SOOOOOO arrogant, it made me want to hit the paunchy-matt-damon-lookalike-in-his-abercrombie-and-fitch-navy-bloody-suit this afternoon. FUCK OFF!

ARGH.

However, obviously, our team leader is also handing me sufficient rope to hang myself. We were initially under the impression that we would be signing into a teleconference organised by Geneva (okay, I admit it, there’s a certain frisson that runs through my mind when I say that: Geneva….oooh! I’m not sure whether it’s because of the who or the chocolate though…) at 1900hours local time.

But once we’d finished our frustrating meeting at the UNICEF office, we were informed that the schedule had changed and we were no longer expected to sign in. Fine: we returned to our hotel rooms after a wee meeting in the 2nd Floor majlis. At the end of the meeting I asked the others in the team if my current note taking was what they were also doing: I’ve kept REALLY detailed notes about everything that anyone has told us to this point (which is why I know that 2000 x’s was inflated to 3000 x’s in one day, and 600 y’s was significantly reduced to ‘a few y’s’ in the same time frame…it’s good to have this understanding of what people are telling you) complete with bulleted ‘highlights’ and ‘recommendations’ divided into short-term and mid-term.

So…I think KK was a little taken aback (so far, with one day down, it was 6 pages long!). He told us that he wants a two page summary from us including recommendations the Monday after we get back from our mission (I aim to give mine to him before I leave…I know I won’t have the motivation once I’m at home) – certainly no later than Tuesday – for him to collate and prepare for Copenhagen on Friday.

I was banished to my room to wait for the IT guy. About 15mins later, I got a call on my mobile, from *shudder* Geneva.
“Hello Naomi. Are the team from A going to be joining this teleconference?”
“Um…that’ll be the one that started 10mins ago? We were informed that we weren’t required!!”
“There must have been a misunderstanding. Could you please organise for at least one team member to dial in to this number…”
“Sure, I’ll get in touch with KK and he’ll probably speak on the behalf of the, however, I’ll offer our apologies now. See you soon.”. EEK. I hastily called KK in his room. He said,
“You do it Naomi; what I know, you know.”
“Er…*!!!!* Okay then, I’ll call you afterwards and let you know how it went. Ciao.”

EEEK! So, I’m very grateful I took such exhaustive notes as it meant I could demonstrate all the (mis)information we’d been provided with thus far, our joint impressions (biased to mine perhaps a little) and inform them of our future plans to visit the field (local regions), other organisations and attempt to find ‘the truth’. In about 20mins. I’m not sure whether it was because I covered so much ground, or whether it was because I talked for so long, but Geneva had absolutely no questions for me, and only one recommendation. I was a little bit smug to hear the other team (also on the same conference) receive about 5 instructions to ‘remind people that…’ and ‘check that…’ etc. Anyway, I’m telling myself it was because I was so thorough (not just because they were all as bored of my voice as my throat was dry), so don’t burst my bubble just yet.

I’m not sure how the others in the team saw this (when I met up with them; 10mins late, to go out for a quick drink), I am fairly certain one person doesn’t give a toss (the French guy), and the Irish lass seemed fine with it (it’s just crappy administration after all), but yeah, I felt like I’d been given sufficient rope to hang us all.

Corruption? Live and kicking over here. To the point where one member of the other team said, “How did they afford to do that?” to which I responded, “the person in charge is an extremely dynamic person.”

And now I just hope no one ever calls me dynamic. *grin*

Oh – and I’m also very glad that I’ve developed a resistance to vodka. At the most gorgeous luncheon banquet (was feeling very ‘dynamic’ afterwards!), we were encouraged to try the vodka. Everyone else turned down (come on guys, we’re going to a bloody aid agency meeting after this, you’re gonna be SORRY you resisted…) the offer, but I said, “hit me!”. I knew those years at bars with Lira would pay off one day. Now the guy who took us out to lunch is my best mate: we drank half a hip flask in about 20mins. I won’t pretend that it made the taste of the fish (um, heavy metal anyone?) any better, but at least I received (yet) another marriage proposal out of it. *sigh* Remind me to wear a wedding ring on future missions – it’s just safer (this was the third time in as many hours I’d been asked if I was single, and the guys in the office were falling over themselves to be my ‘special informer’). It wouldn’t be so bad if the rest of the mission team didn’t find it so damned amusing. Grrr!
posted by Nomes @ Wednesday, February 01, 2006   2 comments
Day +3 - Meetings begin
Things I’ve learnt from today’s meetings.

1. Do not answer the phone in the middle of someone saying how grateful they are that you are hosting them – no matter what.
2. Do not wear a tailored labcoat in a silky material – especially if you have wide hips
3. Do not wear flesh coloured tights and stiletto ankle boots in a neoprene material. (because I hadn’t figured this one out already)
4. Do not wear gigantic flashy stone rings.
5. Especially do not do all of the above things at the same time.
6. Change the ring tone on your mobile phone to something more sombre than ‘the Macarena’ so that when it rings, you retain your well-developed aura of gravitas.
7. Stop collecting telephones when you have two on your desk. Do not aim to beat today’s record of five.
8. If you want to portray a busy person, do not leave the television on in your office – not even to BBC World, and especially not if ’10 things I hate about you’ is currently screening.
9. Return all gifts of ‘desk sets’ no matter how much you desire a piece of walnut veneer on your desk, you will only lose one of the pens, the rotating globe will get stuck on New Zealand, and the clock will lose time.
10. If you want pity – remove all evidence of a computer from your desk, and install a fax machine (and 5 phones – ONLY temporarily and ONLY if international visitors with large funds are arriving).
a. But if you do this: make sure to remove the television, DVD player and stereo.
11. Do not keep 15 sharpened pencils in your pen containers (lead upwards) – as it gives the impression that you have nothing to do other than sharpen your pencils.
12. Ask if your visitors would like tea: do not just assume. Some may rather drink horse urine than their fourth cup of unsweetened, unmilkened tea.
13. If your personal assistant brings in sweets or biscuits, proffer them to your guests who are all too polite to make a move even though they are starving.
14. Do not wring your hands - you look nervous.
15. Get rid of all photos of you with the president, the presidents son, the past president, the predecessor of your job (are you gloating?), a Nobel Prize winner, an actor/singer or Jacques Chirac. They impress no one – not even those who recognise any of the ‘celebrities’. And your aging process will be blindingly evident.
16. Do not keep trophies in a bookshelf – bookshelves are for books (or shoes, in special circumstances).
posted by Nomes @ Wednesday, February 01, 2006   2 comments

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