Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The End

Well, here we are! The last week of classes and my very last post! I feel relieved and sad at the same time. I have enjoyed writing my posts and looked forward every week to see your comments to them. And you HAD no choice but to read and comment to my sick jokes or there would’ve been no grade :-) But with the pressure of 17 hours it has been a bit of a challenge to stay on top of my writing every single week.

I have been in this class with some of you guys since August of 2009! I have read most of your papers. I have cried over some and laughed over the other. I have made 2 pretty good friends here and I hope to be able to take more classes with them in the future. I know for sure that I will have one of them in my summer class and I plan to harass him till he quits it :-)

This class has been one of my favorite classes and it really helped me develop as a writer. I would love to keep writing here but unfortunately with everything that goes on in my life it is just not possible. This summer I am taking two writing intensive classes so all of my energy will be directed towards them! So this is my very last post on this blog.

I want to end this post by saying how much I appreciate all of your kind comments and that it was a privilege to take this class with you! I hope all of you have a wonderful summer and I want to wish you the best of luck in your future classes. You are most welcome to email me any time you want or you can also find me on Facebook.

Fare well! До-побачення!

Thursday, May 6, 2010


This has been one of the most hectic weeks of my life. I have been running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Losing 5 days last week due to sickness was not much help either. And next week is promising to be just as hectic. But the end is near and my reward for hard work will be a trip with my family to the African island of Zanzibar! Visiting Zanzibar has been my dream for many years now but we have never had enough money to actually go there. This year we finally have enough and so, Zanzibar, here I come!

You guys are probably wondering where in the world is Zanzibar? Well, it is a beautiful island about 30 miles of off the Tanzanian mainland. Zanzibar is where Africa and Middle East meet! The cultures have fused together to create a wonderful and unique flavor. The things I want to see the most are some amazing old carved doors. They are located in the old part of the city, the Stone Town. I have heard so much of them and it will be wonderful to finally see them. Zanzibar is also famous for the vide variety of spices, the most famous of them being cloves. The Stone Town market is full of all sorts of spices and other neat things to buy. My kids are excited about the beaches and being able to see century old turtles. Unfortunately not all of Zanzibar’s history is sweet and colorful. Many years ago it was used as a base for Arab slave traders. Heaven knows how many poor souls have gone through the island on their way into a life of pain and despair.

Another good thing about this trip is that I will get to spend a couple days with my Afrikaner friend Karlien! Karlien used to live in Malawi and we were the best of friends. She is a lot like me only with an Afrikaans accent! We used to get together and plan how we were going to kill off our husbands for insurance purposes. Right now Karlien lives in Dar-es-Salam. I have not seen her in years and it will be absolutely wonderful to see how she is and how her girls, Anna-Mart and Karon, are doing. I’m sure we will not sleep that night, talking long into the night about everything and nothing.

And I should not forget to mention the actual trip itself! Instead of flying we are going to drive all the way from Zomba, Malawi, to Dar-es-Salam! In Malawi we will take the lake shore route and it will be so picturesque! Then I will get to see my second African country! Ah, I just can’t wait :-)

American men v Ukrainian men

I know my paper sounds like Matthew Liberty’s “Old Cow v New Cow.” It’s just lately I have had to deal with Ukrainian men again and I have remembered why I did not want anything to do with them! About a month ago I got a phone call from my step-dad to come to Ukraine and sell my house because he does not want to mess with it anymore. The request came so suddenly that I really did not know how to answer. It’s not like I live in the next town over; I am in the middle of nowhere in Africa! You just do not jump in a car and you are there! On top of everything else, I’m a mother, wife and a full time student. I can’t just drop my life as it is and be on the next plane to Ukraine! But my dad’s favorite saying is “Sluhay syuda!” which means, “You listen to me, you ignorant fool, and get over here!”

So now I am trying to get everything taken care from here so I can just go, sign the papers, get the money, and leave. Since my house is actually one half of a duplex, the most reasonable thing would be to sell it to the guy who lives in the second half. I try to call Sergey, this potential buyer, over and over to see if he wants it. Finally I get through and tell him how much I want for it. His reaction? “Dollars?” No, Soviet rubles! Of course I want US dollars! Only later on, Lena, my sister, told me that it was his way of saying that I want too much for that house. Now his “thinking it over time” is up and I am trying to get a hold of him again to see whether he will take it or if I should go to a real estate agent. Every time his phone rings a couple of times it starts to make busy signal all of a sudden. I started getting this nagging feeling that he is putting me off and does not want to talk. Why? Ukrainian men are very proud and it would kill them to tell a woman that they cannot afford to buy something. Ohhh! I forgot all about that little nuance. So, I’m giving him till Sunday to decide. If he still will not answer his phone, the house is going to the agent! I’m in no mood to play these cross-cultural games!

You may wonder, “Why did she name this blog ‘American men v Ukrainian men’?” I know, there are a lot of not overly nice men in America and I have had the displeasure of meeting several of them on occasion. But yet those American men do not hold a candle to the arrogance and “know it all” attitude of men in Ukraine and Russia. Let me present Putin as my example! The guy is your typical embodiment of a Slav male who never smiles and gets drunk just about every single day! Two of my sisters married such “jewels” that get drunk every pay day and then beat them severely if they dare to ask what they will do now that there is no money to buy food! And if they do not feel man enough, they beat their children as well! I know that there are some really nice men in Ukraine as well but somehow they are lost in the shadow of the really bad ones.

I would like to end this rant by letting you ladies cherish your American men because you could have been married to something that crawled from under a rock in Ukraine!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Board meeting

You guys are hearing from the freshly elected chair of Sir Harry Johnston’s Board of Governors. When I told the news to my already famous friend Alex, she said, “What? You did not feel like you had enough to do already?” Ah, the sarcasm! You can’t take that away from my girl :-) The truth of the matter is that I really am not excited about this new post. Due to the circumstances I will have to chair the board, hopefully without too much griping, for a month until the next Annual General Meeting when the new chair will be elected. Only a month! I think I can make it. Our next board meeting is next week and it is something I’m already dreading. Most of our board meetings go in this manner:

I drive to Stephen Christie’s house and we go on together in either his or my car. Stephen is from Scotland and is just as loud and obnoxious as I am. What? Did you guys think I was nice? I will have to burst that bubble! ;-) Anyway, we usually are 5 to 10 minutes early and Stephen starts with the Eastern European jokes and wraps it up with some American ones to make sure that he covered all the bases. Men are like children-- so easily amused! Then the meeting starts! I will spare you all the gory details of it because I will lose you. Let’s just put it this way: since I got internet on my phone I have been able to do an incredible amount of emailing in those meetings. And if I get all caught up and the meeting is still going, I move on to texts. But this time I will have to pay attention to it since I am chairing it and all. I will try to keep everyone down to the minimum words possible and maybe, just maybe, the meeting will be over in just 3 hours instead of our usual 4! In the end after everyone has said enough we go home tired and hungry because the board meeting happens at such an hour that we have not had a chance to have dinner at home and the tea and coffee served just whets our appetites.

So, from the sound of it, would any of you like to come to Malawi and serve under my sturdy leadership? Since a lot of board members are leaving we have several positions open and you guys are welcome to join in! Only remember! Stalin was my close relative! :-)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Malaria Blues

Well, as we say in Russian, this weekend went коту под хвост! On Saturday morning I woke up with my body aching and a mild fever. Since I had those very same symptoms just 4 months before I knew exactly what it was, good old malaria! Oh, how I dread having it! For those of you who have never had it, having malaria is the same feeling as when you survive being put through a meat grinder. The pain is unbelievable! You hurt all over and on the first day you shiver uncontrollably as a 39C (102.2F) degree fever is raging through your body. Next comes the sweats. I mean, buckets of it. I would sit on the sofa watching TV and could feel sweat just pouring down my back. I know, this is gross but it still does not hold a candle to one of my classmate’s rather graphic descriptions of what happens to him after a meal at Chilino’s! ;-) Then there is also the problem of keeping the food down and how do you get better if you can’t eat? Ah, such a pain!

People make a big deal about AIDS in African but hardly anyone mentions malaria. Malaria seems to be making a strong reappearance because it is getting resistant to a lot of the anti-malarial drugs and because of climate change. Nearly 1,000,000 people die from malaria a year. About 3,000 children die from malaria every day in Africa; that is about 1 child every 30 seconds. Pregnant mothers and their unborn children are especially at risk. Because of malaria mothers can suffer from anemia and their children can be born with low birth weight and even die in the womb. The figure of victims of malaria is so much higher than AIDS! These senseless deaths could be averted with just a simple mosquito net. But so many Africans are too poor to be able to buy these nets. There are organizations that try to provide free mosquito nets to Africans. My son’s school several months ago participated in Swim Against Malaria that raised money to help impoverished people buy mosquito nets.

I am happy to tell you that now I am much better due to the modern malaria cure available in Malawi. And now I am struggling to catch up with all my school work. I am leaving you with another song by Scott Gray Productions, Malaria Blues:

Malaria Blues

Woke up one morning with an aching head
I didn’t want to get out of my bed
It felt like a virus could’ve been a flu
Maybe I just drank too much of that brew
Or could it be, I’ve got malaria blues.

Suddenly my temperature started to rise
I could hardly believe my eyes
I looked at my thermometer, it said 45C (113F)
I didn’t think I was going to survive
Could it be, I’ve got malaria blues

Then I started to shiver and shake
All of my joints beginning to ache
My body was burning, my fever was high
I thought I was gonna die
Could it be, I’ve got malaria blues

I went to Doctor Hubbard and said, Help me please!
I think I’ve got the malaria disease
I’m sick as a dog, I don’t feel too well,
Maybe I’m dead and already in hell
Could it be, I’ve got malaria blues

The Doctor said we gonna do the test
To see if you got the malaria pest
Results came back, I’ve got +4 (very serious case of malaria)
That’s when I knew for sure
The Doctor said, You’ve got malaria blues

I said, Doctor help me please
Cause I’m down on my knees
I’ve got malaria disease
I feel like I’m gonna die
Please, don’t let me die

A couple of Fancidar, a jab of Quinine
Other manqualas (meds) that I’ve never seen
Arinate, Mathlequine, pain killers galore (all different brands of malaria medicines)
A course of Doxicycline just to be sure
All because, I’ve got malaria blues

When I got home I went straight to bed
I took my manquala like the Doctor had said
Lying in bed, just tossing and turning
My fever was high and my body was burning
All because, I’ve got malaria blues

I lay there for five full days
Confessing all my sins and my evil ways
It’s a terrible thing to be so ill
So don’t forget to take your malaria pill
Or you will get, malaria blues
It’s a terrible thing, malaria blues.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Internet: good or bad?

I am so sick and tired of all these men primarily from Middle East trying to be my “friends” on Skype and wanting “nothing more than to chat.” Yeah, right! I am getting on average from 2 to 3 Skype invitations a day. Some simply say “Hello. Can you add me to your contacts list?” But some are as brazen as, “Hi honey! How are you?” The last comment got a rather rude reply from me. One evening I got so fed up with it all that I asked one Pakistani guy, “How in the word did you find me?” I think he was so stunned with my blunt rebuttal that he confessed that he picked my name at random because it looked nice!

Please, I don’t want you to think that I think of myself as “all that” and never talk to anyone of the opposite sex. I have several friends like that and we talk on daily basis. Of course those friends did not come out of cyber space; they are people I knew for a long time or I met them from MSSU. One example I will give you is Michael Rea. Yes Mike, it is you ;-) I met Michael last semester in English 101 when I “bled” his first paper. I felt so bad when I had to edit his paper and thought, “Now he will hate me and the sight of my name!” Well, this semester we ended up taking 3 classes together! Being so far away from MSSU it is nice to have someone to gripe about genetics in Biology and Dr. Evil’s tests. We text each other almost every day about classes, kids, and life in general.

But not all internet chats are that innocent! While looking for some information on internet infidelity for this post I stumbled on an article of different signs that one’s spouse cheats. The sad thing about that article is that at the very bottom there’s an ad with a scantily dressed woman looking very seductive and words on top saying, “Life is short. Have an affair.” There is also a link to a site where one can go and look for people who want to have these affairs. Internet affairs are on the rise right now, crossing geographical boundaries and giving a certain anonymity to people and at same time allowing them to say and do things they would never do in person. One statistics site states that “Cybersex” is just as addictive as crack cocaine! It is said that 80% of all marriages will struggle with the temptation of infidelity. No longer do people have to leave home to have an affair; they can just stay in their bedroom or an office to do it.

Internet is not an evil thing. It is a wonderful invention that enables me to go to MSSU all the way from Malawi, Africa. I am able to get the latest news, movies, book, and music. I can talk to my family and friends and have online study dates with my classmates. But like anything else that is good it can be become bad in the wrong hands. It is for every person to decide what to do with it and whether or not to answer the “friendship” invitation. I can just tell you, if you want to chat with me on Skype, make sure you have your name with it or I will block you in a heartbeat! :-)

Cell phones in Africa

Boy, was I mad at 4 am on Friday morning! I mean, you could light a match off of me! As I was taking Dr. Evil’s test, which is a hard thing on its own, my phone started ringing over and over! Why didn’t I turn it off? Well, it was 4 am! Who would expect a phone call at 4 am? After I was done I went to see who was calling. I had 10 missed calls and 3 texts saying, “Please, call such and such a number.” I could not wait for the guy to call me back so I could give him a piece of my mind! So as soon as my phone started ringing again I snatched it up but the guy hung up. Why? Let me tell you something about Malawi, or Africa in general, and cell phones!

You will not believe it, but it seems like everyone in Malawi has a phone! Why? Well, a person can buy a phone for about $10 and, Voila, they are in touch with the world! But are they really? The units, phone minutes, are really expensive here and not everyone can afford them. In fact, I can call the United States and “flap my jaw” with a friend for 10 cents a minute via Global Phone but the cost to call Alex, who is 10 miles away from me, on Zain is 15 cents a minute! So what’s a poor Malawian to do when he wants to make a phone call? Flash! “Flashing” is an African invention that involves calling someone and making their phone ring once. That person then will have your phone number and the idea is that he or she will call you back! This flashing sometimes overloads the network causing it to fail. My husband gets these phone calls every day and he always calls back because those may be work related! But not Era, uh-uh! My philosophy is that once you buy the phone, buy the units! I especially don’t want to be flashed by a wrong number! I have had these people flash me over and over and then realize they have the wrong number. Sometimes when they get a hold of you, they just simply do not believe that you are not the person they want to talk to! There were some funny instances where I got a love letter by mistake :-) Thank goodness my husband is not a jealous type or I would be in trouble! But then he got one too! :-)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Beep, Beep..Odi!

This week my family and I made a trip to Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. You see, my kids’ passports are about to expire and we had to renew them. The US embassy requires that both of the parents as well as the kids who will have their passport renewed need to be present for this. We really do not like to travel so far and put our kids’ lives in danger, and let me tell you why it is so!

Our trip to Lilongwe went without any major scares on the road but the return trip was a whole different story. My husband and I took turns driving for it is a 5 hour trip and is very stressful for one person to drive all the way. So, Mark was driving and leaving me to work on my Algebra homework. The kids were quiet and the sound of BBC World radio was like a white noise in the car. I was completely engrossed in my task. All of a sudden Mark yelled, “HOLD ON!” I looked up in time to see a semi-truck heading straight for us! It happened so quick that all I could do was scream! The driver of the truck finally saw us and swerved back into his own lane. I guess what shook me up so bad was that I was jerked out of my own little world back to the harsh reality that I was about to meet my Maker.

The second incident happened about two hours later while I was driving. Mark was dozing and Erik and Dana were singing along with the Owl City’s Fireflies. We were about an hour away from home and I was really happy to finally be so close to home. The oncoming traffic was heavy and slow. Then this idiot of a minibus driver decided to pass all of the 5 cars on the road, not caring if I was in his lane or not. Thank goodness, there was a nice wide shoulder, something that is very rare in Malawi, and most importantly, no people on that shoulder. My sudden escape to the shoulder startled Mark out of his sleep and he said, “You can’t even close your eyes on this road!”

We were lucky enough to escape with our lives from two really close calls but so many people are not so lucky. Seems like every single day I hear of a minibus accident. People here drive like mad not caring about the people they are shuttling from town to town. If you would like to read up more on Malawi and safety tips while traveling here, please, follow this link.

To end this post on a lighter and more funny note, I would like to give you the lyrics to a hilarious song by Scott Gray Productions, Beep, beep, Odi! Odi in Chichewa means “can I come in?”, or in case of this song, “let me through.” I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do! :-)

Beep, Beep, Odi!

My name is Efraim and I own this mini bus
Pay your money, jump aboard, there’s room for all of us,
I haven’t got a license, I don’t know how to drive,
Say a little prayer and hope you survive.

I just go, Beep, beep, Odi! Sindifuna ngozi! (Move! I don’t want an accident!)
I just go, Beep, beep, Odi! Sindifuna ngozi!
In Lilongwe town I am king of the road,
I am the driver who takes maximum load,
This bus is licensed to seat only ten,
But I can put that much and that much again.

I just go, Beep, beep, Odi! Sindifuna ngozi!
I just go, Beep, beep, Odi! Sindifuna ngozi!

I’m licensed to carry all kind of things,
I take whatever my passenger brings,
I take ufa (corn meal), and mangos, and chickens, and rice,
I even take fish when it doesn’t smell nice.

I just go, Beep, beep, Odi! Sindifuna ngozi!
I just go, Beep, beep, Odi! Sindifuna ngozi!

The rules of the road don’t apply to me,
I am a minibus driver you see,
I go where I like and I stop anywhere,
Azungus (whites) get mad but I don’t care.

I just go, Beep, beep, Odi! Sindifuna ngozi!
I just go, Beep, beep, Odi! Sindifuna ngozi!

From Lilongwe to Blantyre I drive very fast,
In all of my years of driving I have never yet been passed,
If I’m overtaking and there’s an oncoming truck,
I never panic, I don’t give a Beep, beep.

I just go, Beep, beep, Odi! Sindifuna ngozi!
I just go, Beep, beep, Odi! Sindifuna ngozi!

The other day on the way to the lake,
Down the Golomoti I ran out of brake,
I must admit I got one … of a fright,
When I turned around all my passengers were white.

I just go, Beep, beep, Odi! Sindifuna ngozi!
I just go, Beep, beep, Odi! Sindifuna ngozi!

One day I hope to have a big race
Me in my … Toyota Hiace,
Against Michael Schumacher in his Ferrari,
Racing around the roads of Malawi.

Beep-beep-beep, beep-beep-beep, (screeching of the brakes and a sound of a crash,) “Ahhh, Bwana, Ngozi!” (Ah boss, an accident!)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Oh, what a week!

Oh, what a week I have had! I am writing this post on a Sunday night with the lights merrily flickering and the purr of generator floating in from the outside! Why such a loving description? Because I do have electricity and I am happy! I guess the ESCOM people read my last post and decided to show me what real power outages are! This week the power went out every single morning and almost every single night. I pointed out to Mark today that it is a sad state one is in when the silver lining on the cloud of black outs is the availability of gas for sale to put in generator! I had several tests to take this week and to be on a safe side, each time I would plug my internet router into the power inverter I bought for just such an occasion. The little contraption runs from a regular car battery and converts DC power into 220V of AC. I have been known on several occasions to take my test on my laptop by the light of a kerosene lamp! :-)

The week started with a really intense power surge that looked like a nuclear explosion. Our lights became so bright that it was like looking directly at the sun. In our house alone we lost 2 surge protectors, my microwave/convection oven and my wonderful washing machine! That immediately set me off on a hunt for a new washing machine. I am a bit overstating the “hunt” part because there is only one sufficiently equipped store in the whole country that is conveniently located in only 30 miles from us. It is a South African store called Game and is our Wal-Mart’s malnourished distant cousin. But before I could go and get my new baby I had to get the money for it first. Because of the high rate of check fraud the store does not take checks and one has to pay cash. To make matters worse, we were about to embark on a 4 day holiday and the banks would be closed that whole time! After a drive to Zomba, I had the needed cash and was ready to go to the store on the Good Friday. Usually most of the stores are open on public holidays and just simply close at 1 pm. Well, I think Game got the word of me coming and decided to close that day but yet be open on the actual Easter Sunday! Boy, was I in the mood on the way home! I have to pay about $6 a gallon for diesel here and it physically hurts to fill my car! But the next day I finally succeeded and now I have a brand new washing machine! Ahhhh, at last! Whoever said that it is not a good idea to buy your wife an appliance for her birthday or anniversary has obviously not lived in Africa! ;-) I was as excited about that little thing as I would have been over a diamond ring! (Now you guys who read this post! Your wives do not live in Africa so do not try this at home! :-)

Sorry about this bit of a rant! I just had to get it all off my chest and now I feel a whole lot better, even if this may put you in depression! Thank you reading :-)

My journey to America

Today I will tell you about my journey to become an American. Please, grab a box of tissue and make yourself comfortable. It’s a long sorry and you may laugh till you cry! Several people asked me about how I became an American so I decided to write my story down in order that those of you who were lucky enough to be born in America or to American parents will count your blessings.

Most of you already know that I was born in Ukraine while it was still one of the fifteen republics of the Soviet Union. When I met Mark, Ukraine had only been independent for only 5 years and everything was still pretty much Soviet. When we decided to get married we had to jump through all kinds of hoops just for me to become Mrs. Thiesen, but that is another story and would make another post on its own.

After that entire nightmare was over we finally started my visa process so I could come to the States with Mark. First of all I had to gather documents that proved that my real father was really deceased, get fingerprinted, be tested for AIDS and TB, and get these funny looking pictures where my face is turned about 450. At that time the US Embassy in Ukraine did not process immigrant visa applications and all the documents were sent to the Embassy in Poland so I had to go there in person for my interview. We had to wait for months until we finally got word that I was to appear for my interview on December 5, 1996. We had to travel on a train for 25 hours to Warsaw in order to be there. We came for my appointment hours early just to make sure I would not be late. When my name was finally called from a window an elderly gentleman “chit chatted” with me for about 30 minutes asking regular nonchalant questions, the sort of questions one would ask to be polite. Somehow through those questions he figured out that I was saying the truth and told me to come back at 4 pm to pick up my visa. Again we were the first people in the room. One by one people were called and got their visas, but no one called my name. Finally fifteen minutes before the Embassy was to close for the day my name was called and I was presented with my visa. Mark and I decided to sit down and just make sure everything was in order. As we scanned through all the information we noticed that in the box for Nationality it said “Polish.” We had to go back and knock on the already closed window and show them the mistake that was made. The lady really did not want to mess with us because it was time for her to go home but she had no choice in the matter. She told us we needed a new 450 picture that could be done across the street. By that point I just started crying. The stress of the past few months was just too much to handle and I was not even sure I wanted to go to America to begin with! We finally got the second picture that just looked terrible, and gave it back to the clerk. After about 10 more minutes my new visa was ready. We decided to just look it over to be sure and low and behold, under Marital Status they put “single.” Mark was furious and went back to the window pounding with his fist. The lady was really ticked off at us at that point and said not to worry because that type of visa is given to married people only! :-) Duh! So why put “single?”

I would lie that it was the only “glitch” on our way to my Americanization. Another one worth mentioning came about 3 years after we were married and I had to apply for my permanent green card. I’m sure most of you don’t even know that the green card is fully know as the Alien Registration Card and with my initials of ET (Era, short for Irina, Thiesen) I got a ton of laughs on that one! And, the “green card” is actually pink!!! Anyway, again we had to fill a bunch of useless forms with questions like “Have you ever knowingly been a prostitute?” What person with half a brain would say “Yes?” Then we had to get all sorts of documents proving that we had a joint checking account, credit card, and house mortgage. The process was started in the Dallas, TX, INS. That place was so full every single day that we had to leave our house at 3 am so we could have a fighting chance to get indoors. If you got there at 5, you were out of luck! One day while were waiting in line a guard came out, said something in Spanish and went back in. Since all I know in Spanish is “Holla” and Mark even less than that, we just looked at one another having no idea what just happened. In the end with the help of Senator Phil Gram I was able to get my permanent green card that stated that I was from Uzbekistan! :-)

Now I am an American and have been for years. I am so glad I don’t have to go through all that immigration junk again and mess with some really “bright” people. And I cherish my passport as my greatest accomplishment and treasure!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Carole meets Malawi

Like I’ve said in one of my posts, I love “fresh meat” in Malawi! There is nothing like watching one’s reactions to things I have to deal with on daily basis! Today I will talk about Carole, a lady who came to visit us with her husband from Richmond, Virginia. Carole came to Malawi last year and was one of the unwilling participants in my “rat prank.” I will just combine both of her Malawi experiences in one post.

First of all I need to tell you that roads in Malawi are just absolutely terrible! Not only do I have to avoid people but also animals and potholes the size of the Grand Canyon! When someone comes in from Mozambique they think our roads are great, but for your average American they are pretty bad. Carole was one of the Americans who thought they were the worst thing she has ever seen. At one point she told me not to hit so many bumps because she was going to bite off her tongue to which I commented, “I bet Eddie (Carole’s husband) will be happy if that happens!” One has to be an aggressive driver in Malawi or not get out on the road to begin with! I am one of those drivers with a hint of “road rage.” I don’t let people cut in front of me and just bud in if no one will let me in. I drive an SUV, so my motto is that I am bigger than anyone and therefore I have the right of way! Last year on the way to the lake poor Carole was about to have a heart attack and felt we were going to hit every single person on the road. When we finally got there she dipped her feet in water and relaxed, thankful that she was off the road and safe. As she was sitting there enjoying peace and tranquility, Eddie came up and told her about the Bilharzia parasite and that it was going to work its way up her toenails and into her kidneys. As you can imagine, that comment brought Carole’s sense of peace to a grinding halt!

Yesterday I took Carole to Blantyre to get some Malawi wood carvings. While there she decided to treat me to lunch. She took me out to eat at this charming place called Mega Bite. The tables were set outside and it looked lovely. When our food was brought to us we started eating. As soon as we tried to cut the meat we realized that our table was really wobbly and that one of us would have to cut her meat while the other one held the table in place, so we took turns eating. Carole looked like a killer in horror movies sawing at the tough T-bone in front of her. At one point she said, “I think I’m finding some tender spots around the bone!” A bit later she really contemplated eating it like “King Henry or Beowulf!” For dessert we ordered ourselves iced coffee with ice cream. Carole decided that she did not have enough ice cream in her coffee and asked me if we could ask for more. I told her that she could always try! She went off to the main counter and came back about 5 minutes later holding an ice cream cone and mad! She said that when she asked the guy at the counter if she could have some ice cream in a bowl he said NO! “I do not sell ice cream in a bowl and you have to buy it in a cone!” She tried to argue with him but he just gave her a cone in the end. She said, “Did he think I was going to eat the bowl as well?”

At the end of our day Carole asked me how I cope with Malawi inefficiency and having to argue over everything. I told her that I used to get frustrated and mad. After a few years I came to realize that getting mad was not getting me anywhere so I started “going with the flow” and laughing as opposed to crying. Ranting works as well. And the best solution by far is going home every 2 years for 5 months! ;-)

ESCOM- Electricity Seldom Comes Or Most likely never!

So, my spring break started with a bang! Or more like a power outage that I had to live with all weekend long! But since I did not have anything due and had the mother of all migraines, I was OK with it and did not let it upset me too much. We have a generator and so if we get into a dire need, we can always power that monster up and everything will be OK. But burned by the latest fuel shortages Mark was hesitant to get the thing going until I told him I was getting high on the kerosene lamp fumes and soon will be addicted to them to the point of having withdrawal symptoms once the power came back on.

All jokes aside, I am fed up with all the power cuts. The last week before spring break the power would go out every single morning and I would have to get my kids ready in the dark with the kerosene lamps going. There were a couple of times when I was talking to my classmates in Live Messenger and was interrupted due to the cuts. One classmate even thought that I got offended at something he said because I forgot to warn him that I may vanish at any given time. Why do these power cuts happen? ESCOM is to blame!!! ESCOM is Malawi’s one and only electric company that just does not “cut the mustard” when it comes to providing regular and reliable service. I mean, even their website does not work so I had to use an alternative link for you to follow! A few months back the company was sued for the logo they display “Power all day, every day!” because no one ever has it! A few months back the Chief Executive of ESCOM was fired on corruption charges and mismanagement of funds. This week I’ve learned that the EU donated 5.8 billions of Malawi Kwacha to help fight poverty in Malawi and to boost electricity production. I hope the money will go to its intended destination and not to line the pockets of people at the top. ESCOM equipment is falling apart and at present 2 of the 4 main generators are out of order! Some things ESCOM is unable to control, things like people stealing the oil needed to lubricate the power transformer. They use the oil to fry potatoes and sell to the public. There is also the theft of electrical wires to make intricate bracelets to sell as souvenirs to tourists.

I do hope that in the near future we will be able to enjoy a steady supply with no interruption. For it to happen the ESCOM executives need to stop lining their pockets with the profits and try to repair some of the equipment with those funds. And people of Malawi need to realize that they are only hurting themselves when they vandalize the important electrical equipment needed to bring power to their homes and huts!

If any of you who are related to ESCOM are reading this, please, don’t cut my power supply! One day you may do it in the middle of my taking Dr. Evil’s exam and he allows us to reset it one time only!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Alex Series

Yes, today I will talk about my Canadian friend Alex! The girl is hilarious and gives me a lot to laugh about! She makes me laugh every single time I get together with her and today I decided to share some of those laughs with you.

Last week started for poor Alex in a pretty rough way. On Saturday night she was at birthday party with an 80s theme. She dressed appropriately and looked, as she mildly put it, “as a hooker.” As she was walking down the people’s drive she slipped and fell in an awkward way dislocating and breaking her ankle and a part of her lower leg. She did not want to be taken to the Zomba Central Hospital because if you are not dead when you’ve arrived there they will make sure that is corrected! So she was taken to a Canadian couple who work with the Dignitas aid agency and are doctors. Because she was in such bad shape they did not want to take her out of the car and decided to put her ankle back into place right there. Alex said that Jose Shull got in the car behind her, Helen Jones, Alex’s boss, was holding Alex’s leg in place, and Michael Shull was working on her foot. She said it made her think that she was giving birth to a baby in the car! After Michael finished with her foot he said that that type of procedure is usually done while people are put under. Alex’s comment to that was, “And you are telling me this NOW?”

By the time I came to see her in the hospital she already had had her surgery and had a cast on. She was in a pretty good humor and was back to her cheerful self. One of her comments made me roll. She said, “I only broke my foot but it feels as if I had a baby since seems like everyone has seen me naked!” She was griping about her British doctor whom she could not understand, and neither could I for that matter, and his “Is everything cheekary-doo?” comments. When I noticed that she had this stocking on her good leg and I asked her what it was for. She answered, “Well, it’s like one of the nurses so elegantly put it, it’s cause I’m fat!” As you can imagine, I doubled over laughing. I really tried not to laugh but it was bubbling over. So she said, “Well, I would get mad but I will let you get away with it since you are not exactly size 6 yourself!“

Alex is married to this really nice and quiet guy Andre, who is 4 months older that her. Both he and Alex are 29. But whenever people meet him for the first time they think that he is in his teens. I made the same mistake. One day my mother-in-law asked me who was the boy with Alex? While Alex was in the hospital she had people ask her if Andre was her uncle, brother, and--my favorite comment-- son! She was furious and demanded to know if she really looks so old! I told her that the beauty of being married to an older man is that there is no way he will be mistaken for a son! In fact, the wife may be mistaken for a daughter, but that is for him to deal with! :-)

We kept laughing late into the night over some things we have in common and would not be funny to you. One thing I know is that I will really miss her when she leaves at the end of June. One bad part about life in Malawi is that people come and go. They always say that they will write but it never really happens. I miss my loud and obnoxious Alex already because she is so much like me, just as loud and obnoxious! :-) As her quiet Dutch husband Andre said one day, “Are you sure you two are not related?”

FIFA World Cup

This is the first time in soccer’s history that the FIFA World Cup is going to be held on the continent of Africa. This will take place in the Republic of South Africa in the summer of 2010! Average Africans do not see it as being hosted only by South Africa but by the whole African continent. They are very optimistic that with the World Cup coming to African soil that Africa could win its first ever World Cup. They are hosting to win. The World Cup is promising to be the world’s biggest sports event ever. All of the African participating teams have started setting their sights on the cup even though most of them know that they do not have the type of team to lift the world cup. They still are hoping to at least get to the semi finals of the competition, which will be the first time an African team will reach that stage in the senior competition.

The rest of Africa is hoping that South Africa will put up a spectacular tournament that will meet FIFA standards and so pave the way for other African countries to be considered to be granted hosting rights for the world cup in the future. If South Africa does not get it right, it might take a long time for FIFA to consider another African country as a host. If South Africa fails, the whole of Africa fails! So how is South Africa preparing for the World Cup? People from all over the world will arrive in Johannesburg to cheer for their favorite team. It is estimated that 450,000 visitors will come to the month long tournament. Johannesburg has the highest crime rate in the world! What is President Jacob Zuma doing to curb the high crime to make these visitors feel safe? For years the former president Thabo Mbeki denied that South Africa had a crime problem and said that “only racists perceived crime as a problem and that poverty forced South Africans to beg, rob and murder!” Seems like Mr. Zuma is really trying to make Johannesburg as safe as possible for he has increased the police budget by 10% and hired more officers.

The excitement is in the air for Africa! It is her time to shine and show off her beauty. I do hope that everything goes well and another African country will be considered as a host country soon!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oh, stupidity, thy name is “ignorance!”

The world is full of stupid people that I believe were put on this planet to make us laugh. As a friend of mine, Leo, said, “There is no lifeguard in the gene pool!” The other day my friends and I were talking about different stories that happened to them while talking to stupid people.

The first story comes from my friend Tamsin who was born and raised in Malawi. She told me that when she first went to England to attend college people would always ask her, “Where are you from?” Tamsin would always politely answer that it was Malawi, which is located in southern Africa. But once those people heard the words “Southern” and “Africa” mentioned together, they would immediately think about the Republic of South Africa which is known in short as South Africa. Without fail they would ask her, “So, what do you think of apartheid?” Tamsin again would patiently tell them that she was not from South Africa but from Malawi, which is located in the southern part of Africa, but it was like beating her head against a brick wall for they never got her. After being asked the same question year after year, Tamsin snapped and answered one day, “I think it’s GREAT!!!” just to see their jaw hit the floor. Her comment to me was that if they were stupid enough to think that Malawi was South Africa then they deserved to think that she believed in apartheid!

The second story comes from my friend Benjamin, who was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. Because of the line of work he is in he has to travel from country to country and meet a lot of people. You would not believe this, but there were cases of people actually trying to see if he was painted black! One story he told me just topped them all! One day he met some lady from Norway who asked him, “I heard that people in Africa live on top of trees since there are no buildings in Africa!” Having a good sense of humor Benjamin relied, “Yes they do! In fact, the ambassador from Norway to Nigeria lives on the next tree top over from my own tree!” Do you know what the lady answered? “Oh, I can’t believe he has adjusted so well!”

And the last story is my very own one. As most of you already know, I was born and raised in Ukraine. On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant blew up, causing massive ecological devastation to the whole world. I was 6 years old when it happened and lived about 150 miles south from the town where the accident happened. My region was not affected because the winds were blowing to the north. When I tell people I am from Ukraine some ask about Chernobyl. I used to joke a few of them that because of it I now glow green in the dark! ;-) But I had to stop, because some actually believed me!

It does not matter where you are in the world. You will always be able to come across some really “bright” people that will ask you the world’s stupidest questions! Do not disregard them unkindly! Just have fun!!! :-)

Piracy- not only on the high seas!

When you hear the word “pirate” what is the first image that comes to your mind? Is it the dashing Johnny Depp? Or is it an old bearded man with a parrot on his shoulder going, “Arrrgh! Yar scurvy rascals!” Or do you think of Somali pirates half way around the world trying to hijack some vessel? How about a regular man or a woman you see every day? Someone you will sit next to in a movie theater or someone who is sitting next to you at a desk in the MSSU classroom. They are the ones I am talking about, the internet pirates who illegally download movies, e-books, and songs every single day!

It is estimated that on average millions of videos are downloaded illegally on a daily basis! But not only are they stolen by people downloading them from “free” sites, but there are other ways to steal! Between 2003 and 2008 a total of 185 movies were nominated for Oscars and 182 of them were “leaked” out on the internet. What is alarming is that 143 of them are the “Screener” copies that were leaked to uploaders by industry insiders. In 2006 it was estimated that the US alone lost $1.3 billion and a total of $6.1 billion was lost world wide. You may think, So how does that affect me? The movie industry has to return its funds one way or another! How will they do it? By increasing the price of a movie ticket for the average movie goer! You may not encounter the temptation of buying one of those pirated movies but I have to deal with that temptation every single day. I have dozens of men with illegal movies from China trying to sell them to me for next to nothing and, I have to admit, it is tempting! I may not have enough patience to wait for Avatar to be released on DVD and then wait a whole week for it to be downloaded with my slow internet.

And what of music and e-books? Music piracy is by far the oldest form of digital piracy, with the sites advertising free music popping up all over the net. It is so incredibly easy to download a song or two for free and think, “Who am I hurting by getting this song? It’s only a song!” But one study shows that global music piracy costs the music industry $12.5 billion in losses every year! Although downloading songs from home seems like nothing it is equal to one going inside a store and stealing a CD!

With the invention of Kindle one is able to buy e-books from all over the world. Statistics show that there are 3,386 downloads per day from 105 different countries! But at the same time Kindle with its PDF format opened doors for e-book piracy.

All of these statistics show how easy it is to take advantage of the free world we live in nowadays. The internet has made it possible for people like me, who live all the way in Africa, to take classes online and earn their bachelor’s degree without having to set a foot on campus one time! But it also made it easy for the others to steal someone’s hard work. How would the man or a woman who just downloaded a song for free feel if someone came into their house and took away the things they got with their own hard earned money? Would they also think whom did I hurt?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


What do you think of when you first hear word “cholera”? One usually thinks of this deadly disease as being in some faraway place and if a person does not travel there, he or she will not get it. For me, cholera is a reality! My husband informed me the other day that we have a cholera outbreak right here in Thondwe. Every single rainy season there is a cholera outbreak in the townships mainly because of bad sewer systems. Heavy rains come and wash human and animal waste into water ways that later on will be used by people to draw drinking water.

What is cholera? In a nonscientific way of describing it is severe dehydration of the body that can lead to death. The Vibrio cholera bacterium enters a human body usually through the drinking water and contaminated food and reaps havoc on the inside. The main symptom is diarrhea. In some cases if not treated, cholera can lead to death within 4 hours if not treated properly. Statistics show that in Zimbabwe this year alone 3,000 died from cholera. It is difficult at times to calculate the actual numbers of death and the sites of the outbreak because of inadequate monitoring.

The first thing I did after hearing the news was sit down with my children and tell them about the sickness and warn them about drinking water anywhere but home. I also told them to make sure they wash their hands. You may wonder: Don’t they wash their hands to begin with? They do but the reality of things is that their Malawian friend may bring them a mango and my kids will eat it on the spot without giving the washing of their hands or the mango a second thought. So how can I prevent cholera without having to “shadow my kids” all the time? Since people can contract cholera from feces infested water all I need to do is stack up on plenty of rehydration salts and make sure that my children drink pure water!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Are you brave enough?

So, I have been studying for my Accounting test today all day long! Reading brain numbing things like Contra Asset and Accounting Cycle can really put one on edge even if there is no test to begin with! By the time I was ready to take my test, low and behold, my internet went out!!! Yeah! You can only imagine how I feel after spending so much time on getting ready for a test that just will not happen! So, I decided to use this time wisely and write my post.

As I was thinking what to write this week, my last week’s experience with the new Sir Harry Johnston teachers came to my mind. I absolutely love” fresh meat” in Africa for my practical jokes, but unfortunately Phil and Jo Wright have been to Africa before and I was not able to pull off my rat stunt. Oh, what shame! Plus, since Phil and Jo were under the impression that they were in the presence of a respectable board member, I decided to tone myself down a bit and act according to the role. I even drove at the appropriate speed limit, did not hit anyone on the way, and got mad at another driver only once! But for me, trying to act serious did not last too long. Once Stephen Christie, another board member and a friend of mine who likes to pick on me and I like to pick on in turn, arrived, my self control left the building. Within minutes Stephen and I were at each other’s throat being downright brutal. I can only imagine what the Wrights thought of our board. As for what they thought of me, well, Phil asked me later on that evening if I have always been mad (crazy!)

But as practical jokes go, I did luck out the day before Phil and Jo left. I was able to get my hands on a nice size sheep’s heart for my Biology lab and had Phil hold it in his lap in the car on our way home. But I actually did not go straight home that day but had to go and hunt down diesel, which is hard to find again in Malawi. So poor Phil got to hold the heart in his lap for about 20 miles before we got home. At home I cut the thing open and could not wait to invite him to see “my open and bleeding heart!” He took it like a real champ and looked at the heart without cringing. When the Wrights were on their way to the airport Phil said that one thing he did not expect to see on his trip to Malawi was an open heart :-)

Well, some of you guys have been reading my blog for 2 semesters now and I would like to ask you a question. After reading stories of me scaring the living daylights out of some poor Scottish girls with a rat kebab and now making sure some poor unsuspecting teachers, who did not even have a chance to sign their work contract at that point, got to see the open sheep’s heart, let me ask you this: Are you brave enough to come and visit me?

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Last week I got an amazing piece of news, I have another sister! You guys may wonder: How in the world would she not know that she has a sister? Well, my family is as complicated as a soap opera on a weekday afternoon. I am not talking about my family in terms of my husband and children; I am talking about the family that was started in the time way before I was born.

My father was one of those handsome and really charming men that women can’t help but fall for. And boy, did they fall for him! He married his fist wife Lyudmila and had two little girls by her, Elena and Natalia. My father was not a strong believer in being loyal to his wife and fathered another little girl, Oksana, with a woman he got drunk with at a party one day. He blamed his rotten luck for fathering only girls on his women and was sure that the right woman would give him a son. Finally he divorced his wife and met my mom and thus Irina—that’s me--came along as the last known Ivanova girl.

Because of the way we came into this world we were not allowed to keep in touch. After my father’s death Lyudmila and my mom lived in a duplex and, as you can imagine in a situation like that, hated each other with passion. They would fight over the silliest of reasons and rejoice in the other’s misfortune. I was not allowed to talk to Elena and Natalia. One of my earliest memories is looking at my sisters through a chain link fence as if we were in jail. I spent the first 7 years of my life with my grandparents in a village; when I came back, Elena was 18 and out of the house, Natalia was 16 and finishing up her school. We still were not allowed to communicate. Poor Oksana had to live with her mother and two brothers who were perpetually drunk. She was not the healthiest of kids because her mom was drunk a lot during the pregnancy. As I grew older and felt really miserable as an only child I wanted to find my sisters but out of respect for my mother I did not.

In July of 2008 my mom passed away suddenly. When I went back to Ukraine for the funeral I decided that I was free at last to see if I could find my half-sisters. The first one I enquired about was Oksana for she is only a year older than I am. That is when I learned that she had passed away. I was really sad to hear the news but it only fueled my resolve to find the other two sisters. I was able to find Elena online and she put me in touch with Natalia. Right now Elena lives in Germany with her almost 17 year old absolutely handsome son Valentin. She is working as an accountant in an electric and gas firm. She has had a hard life of drugs and abuse from her husband but overcame it all and is doing just fine. Natalia cannot have children and is in a relationship with a man who is a drunk and every so often is violent towards her.

The news I heard last Thursday made me ecstatic with joy. Elena’s mom met Oksana on a street by sheer chance. She saw this girl that just somehow looked familiar and came up to her, and there she was! Alive and well! It turns out Oksana was in Russia and came back to Ukraine only 2 years prior to this meeting. The rumor that she was dead was spread by a malicious neighbor of ours who did not want Oksana to get my aunt’s house as inheritance. Elena called me as soon as she heard the news. Unfortunately Oksana’s life has not been much different in terms of luck as the life of my other two sisters. She married young to a drunkard and had her son when she was 17. When her little boy was 3 years old she left him alone with her husband. The husband decided he wanted to go out and left his son alone in the house with the gas burners on. To spare you all the gory details, Oksana’s son died that day. Finally she had had enough of her husband and married another one, but not much better than the first one. He also beats her when he gets drunk and drinks up all their money, forcing his family to live in near poverty. But one good thing that Oksana does have is a 4 year old girl Valeria, who is absolutely adorable.

When I look at my sisters, I am so glad that I have them. In the last two years I went from being an only child to coming from a family of 4 sisters. At the same time I feel so guilty because I married a wonderful man who is a Christian and would never deliberately hurt me. I say “deliberately” because I know he will hurt me from time to time as I will him just because of our human nature. But I know he will never get drunk out of his mind and beat me senseless. I was blessed to have two perfect children and never had to experience the grief of losing a child. I have not met my sisters face to face since I’ve become an adult and cannot wait when I can get together with them and get to know them much better.

Monday, February 15, 2010

“Are those yars?”

I really had no idea what to write about today in my second post. Life has been pretty good here lately with my power on, almost all the time, and my internet working, almost all the time! ;-) Absolutely nothing to rant about! What a shame!

Then we decided to go to Blantyre, a big city that is about 30 miles away from us, yesterday to celebrate the Valentine’s Day. Since we do not get to go there very often I took the opportunity to get some groceries I cannot get in Zomba. Big mistake to do it with two kids!!! Erik and Dana acted as if they were kept in a dark barn and it was their first time out! First of all I sent Mark to get some cash for me out of an ATM. Because the Malawi Kwacha exchange rate is so high, K150 to $1, we get a whole wad of cash. So taking out $300 looks like a ransom pay off! Then Mark tried to stuff all that cash into his pants pocket, but without a whole lot of success. When Erik saw all the cash he just said, “WOW!”

Then it was time to do the actual shopping. We went in the stores and they were stuffed with people to the fullest capacity. I think all of Blantyre was there. My kids just went wild. Everything they saw they wanted! Erik wanted a kite and Dana wanted a dolly. I don’t mind getting toys for my kids but in Malawi they are junk and cost an arm and a leg! A tiny Polly Pocket is $10! I tried to ignore my kids’ pleas for the toys and at the same time not to run over other customers in the store while trying to get from point A to point B through the crowded aisles. Eventually I got so fed up with all the whining that I gave in and got the stuff they both wanted. Finally we left the store with Erik and Dana extremely excited about the things they got and me in shock from the inflation!

Overall, my kids do behave in stores and if I am firm enough, they will stop begging. They have never thrown a temper tantrum because I refused to get this or that and never screamed and fought uncontrollably. For my kids shopping is an event!!! But as I started writing this story I remembered something my Canadian friend Alex told me that happened to her one day. Alex has 3 little girls; Laura 6, Talia 5, and Ezera 3. I know, the poor thing! One day when Ezera was a baby, Alex took all 3 of her girls to a store with her. At one point the two older girls started fighting and the baby started crying. So there she was, pushing a cart full of screaming kids. Out of nowhere a woman came up to her and said, “Are those yars?” At first Alex did not quite get what “those” mean until in dawned on her that the woman was referring to her girls. Being the sarcastic thing that she is Alex answered, “Let’s stop and think here for a minute! Would I be pushing a cart full of screaming children down an aisle in a store if they were not mine?”

Latest from the Lonely Hearts:
“A young man aged 26, without any attachments to his life is looking for a “sugar mum” to start a relationship with. The lady should be working or doing business. Those interested should email him at mum.sugar@yahoo.com” Ohhhh, if I only had time, I could have so much fun :-)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

“I just want to die!”

“I just want to die!” Those are the words that were going through Natasha’s* mind when she was held in captivity as a sex slave for over a year in Germany. She came to Germany because she saw an advertisement in a Ukrainian paper that young women were needed to work in a shoe factory. At that point Natasha was a 27-year-old single mother whose husband had left her without any means of support. Ukraine was going through some tough economic times and jobs were scarce. She saw this advertisement and it was like the light at the end of a tunnel. Little did she know that it would be the worst nightmare of her life! She left her 2-year-old son with her mom and set out in hopes of a dream. When she got to Germany, her passport was taken away and she was put into a brothel where an endless string of men would visit her night after night.

Sadly, her story is not all that uncommon. When you watch movies like Taken you think, “Nah, something like this will never happen to me or to my loved ones!” But it does! Statistics show that around “two million women and children are held in sexual servitude worldwide.” Desperate parents sell their own children for a mere $30! What would make a parent take such a drastic step? It does not matter whether the child is male of female; little girls as young as 10 work in karaoke brothels and little boys become “lady-boys.” Every minute two children somewhere are prepared to become sex workers. Most of the examples of sex slavery are from poor countries like Romania, Bulgaria, my native Ukraine, Russia, Indonesia, Philippines, and so on. The easier travel across borders has made it easy for such a gritty business to flourish! But if you think that something like that would only happen anywhere else but America, think again! The documentary Cargo, Innocence Lost tells the story of the sex slave industry operating in Texas.

How do these women and children cope with lives like that? Some go insane, some drink themselves to death, and some use coping mechanisms to survive. Natasha, for example, kept a detailed diary of her life as a sex slaves addressed to her little son. She was lucky because some man took pity on her and paid off her “debt” associated with her coming to Germany. She was able to go back to Ukraine and rejoin her little son and family. But that is only one “happy ending” among the millions of really horrible ones.

*Natasha is one of the most common names in Ukraine and Russia.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Undressing Infidelity

Last spring I read Undressing Infidelity; Why Do Women Cheat by Diane Shader Smith. Why? I find books on family and relationships fascinating. Unfortunately the book did not provide the answers to that particular question. It just gave some examples of extra-marital affairs. But it did raise a question in my mind, Why do women cheat? One does not really give a second thought to husbands that cheat. Like my grandma Swanigan said, “They can’t help it! They are men!” Although some facts show that women are less likely to cheat than men statistics show that the number of cheating women now equals the number of cheating men.

So why do wives cheat? You would not believe how many hits I got when I Googled cheating wives! Hundreds of thousands! There was one site that provided three reasons why women cheat. According to this site one of the reasons why wives cheat is from the lack of attention from their husbands. After a while a husband does not look at his wife the same way he used to and she becomes “the next best thing to football.” It makes me think of an old Ukrainian joke where a wife would do this and that to change her appearance and her husband would never notice. Then one day she put on a gas mask just to see if he would notice and he just looked at her and said, “Did you pluck your eyebrows again?” Then when a stranger notices her beauty and complements her, she feels sexy and desirable once more. She blossoms from receiving the emotional attention she is craving so much and is not getting at home any more. So, reason number one: attention and emotional feedback.

The second reason wives cheat is to have a revenge on their cheating husbands. “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned!” You do not want to mess with an angry woman! I have seen some hilarious videos on U-Tube where women spill paint on the guy’s beloved car, smash it all to bits, or throw all of his electronic possessions out a second story window! By cheating on her husband a woman feels that she has proved to him that she too can play that game! As for me, if I ever find out that my husband is cheating on me, I will not seek revenge. I will just sic his mom on him!

The third reason is simply for the thrill of it! It usually happens to the women in their forties who feel like their life is almost over and they have not even “lived” it yet! Shows like Sex and the City demonstrate to them the sexual freedom they can have. Each new affair gives the new excitement of a conquest. Do you remember those first dates with your loved one? The fluttering of butterflies in your stomach each time you saw him, your heart beating wildly just from the sight of his name, wanting to be with him every second of the day and missing him the minute he left. Well, thrill seeking women strive on that very feeling. They live for the thrill of the emotional high these relationships give them. But the newness of the feeling wears off and they move on to a next conquest. These women have no intention of leaving their husband. They just need a little more excitement in their lives. For that very reason they will most likely pick a married man for he will give all of this excitement without any strings attached.

How depressing it is to read all the statistics of cheating wives who do not think of the consequences their fling will cost them. Sadly, most of the cheating wives would never dream about cheating on their husbands before it actually happened. They are just caught up in the heat of a moment and the next thing they know, the affair has happened. There are tons of sites online that can help one find someone to cheat with and give advice on how to have an affair without being caught. I do hope that at least some of these women will stop and think of all the hurt and pain they will cause to their loved ones if they follow through with the affair.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Dr. Evil and Mr. Hyde!

You are probably thinking right now, “It’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!” I used Dr Evil for a purpose. I want to talk about one of my professors this semester and that is the name I gave him. It is not because he is mean-- He is in fact a really nice guy with a great sense of humor-- but rather because of something he wrote in his class syllabus. Some of my classmates are in the same class with me and will know exactly whom I am talking about.

His syllabus is one of the longest and at the same time funniest I have ever read! In fact I’ve enjoyed it so much that I let my friends read it for fun! Today I had two of my friends, Tamsin and Karen, come over for a cup of coffee and homemade sticky buns. After a while I took out the syllabus, already ragged looking from all the handling, and started going over my favorite parts. My friends have a healthy sense of humor and enjoyed it just as much as I did. But there was one part that made us double over with laughter. It was under “Request for Quiz Reset.” It reads, “If you lost your internet connection during a quiz, contact your internet provider and find out why. You are paying for reliable service. Make them do their job.” It was a sore subject to Karen for she was 1 hour late in coming because she was waiting for someone to show up and fix her internet that’s been down for 10 days now.

What we found particularly funny is that in Malawi you can never get any answers! You can never get to the bottom of a problem. If our power goes out and you call ESCOM, our electric company, to tell them that we don’t have it, they will say, “Are you sure you don’t have it?” Hello! I’m over here with the kerosene lamps going! Sure I’m sure! If you call the internet company and ask them what is going on, the answer would be, “I don’t know! I’m not the one!” That particular comment made Tamsin remember something one of her friends told her one day.

This friend was trying to get a hold of a guy in some company. He called the place and asked for this man. He got a reply, “He is not on his seat!” Meaning, he is not at his desk. The friend kept calling and calling day after day getting the same exact answer every single time. Finally he got fed up and yelled at the person who was answering the phone,

“What do you mean, not on his seat? Where is he then? I have been calling for a week now!”

The man answered, “At a funeral.”

Friend, “Whose funeral?”

The man, “His own!”

In reply to Dr. Evil’s advice on how to handle the internet provider, here is what I will do! I will go to Burco, my internet provider, and read them that very paragraph and then time their laughter so that I can report back to my teacher!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Freedom of religion?

This week it took me a while to figure out what I will write about. I toyed with this and that idea but nothing substantial would materialize. Then I saw something on the news that caught my attention. It was a story on the burqa ban in France. The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, states that the “burqa is not a religious problem, it is a problem of the dignity of women. It is a symbol of subservience, of submission.” Let me explain to you what a burqa is. The Burqa is the traditional dress for a Muslim woman that covers her body completely. There is see-through mesh that goes over the eyes so the wearer is able to see. The ban raised a question in my mind, do the French have a right to ban burqas or let women wear them?

Are all Muslim women who wear burqas forced to do so or do some of them do it for their own religious reasons? I have a lot of Muslim friends here and not all of them wear burqas. In fact, only one does. Why? Several years ago she was really ill and almost died. During that time she prayed a lot and was healed. She believes that Allah saved her. She believes that by wearing a burqa she is showing her faith and submission to God. Would it be fair to her if the Malawi government all of a sudden decided to ban it?

At the same time burqas can pose a threat. Various crimes and bank robberies around the world have been committed with people hiding their identity behind this Muslim dress. Terrorists have been able to hide loads of explosives under that same dress. And on a lighter note, I heard of an incident of a woman’s lover coming to her house dressed in burqa to hide his identity from the woman’s husband! Some of the purposes that the burqa has been used for are terrifying and some are downright hilarious, but the fact is still the same, how can we be sure what is under the dress?

I believe in freedom of religion. After all, it is one of the principles on which America was founded upon! No one is telling me not to wear my cross! Why should they have to give up their religious dress? But at the same time I get nervous at the airport when I see a “person” pass me by covered head to toe. In today’s day and age some sacrifices should be made. Who’s to know that a person under the burqa is who she claims to be and not a terrorist man with a bomb strapped around his waist? Can these women show their faith by simply covering their head with a scarf and leaving their faces visible? I guess it is for the Muslims to decide for themselves. But if I were to move to a country that dictates strict dress codes, I would abide by the law of the land!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Malawi’s Lonely Hearts

One of my favorite past times in Malawi is to get the weekend edition of The Daily Times and read the Lonely Hearts section. No, I am not looking for romance, but I do love to read them just for fun! You see, the wording of these posts is at times so hilarious that I end up crying from laughter! Today I will include some of the prime examples from the section for you to enjoy as well!

“I am a mature male of 29 years of age, working and I am seriously looking for an older mature woman with whom I can have a serious and discrete affair.”
Hmmm, would you consider me being 30 as “an older?”

“A 24-year-old and single male is looking for a beautiful caring lady of between 18 and 24 years of age, preferably a nurse or any other medical profession.”
Is he sick and needs someone to take care of him?

“I am a 29 year-old caring, loving, warm hearted, trust worthy and generous male, looking for a woman who is working, independent, driving and drinking…”
Is he planning on taking out life insurance on her?

“A 25 year-old-woman single woman with 2 children is looking for a good, trustworthy, caring man who should be a mild drunk….”
What does a “mild drunk” mean?

I know that there are some really lonely people out there who just want to find a companion to spend their life with and they put their heart and soul into these posts. But the way they do it is just too much at times! I don’t know who the editor of The Daily Times is but he makes sure I am not sorry each time I buy its weekend edition! My husband suggested that I send this post to him, but if he will start paying closer attention to his work, what will I read? :-)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Epidural-right or wrong?

One day the subject of using epidurals came up when I was talking to a friend of mine. The difference in our opinions set off an argument. As a woman who had delivered two kids using epidurals, I was completely for it. As a man, my friend believes that a woman is built for child bearing and should do it without the presence of drugs! In his opinion a baby should not suffer the presence of drugs “just because a woman does not want to suffer a bit of discomfort!” As you can imagine, that last comment was like waving a red flag in front of a bull! When I first found out that we will have to do this type of assignment in our class I knew exactly what I was going to write about. Is it ok to use an epidural to ease a woman’s pain and does it harm the baby?

I went online and started searching for my answers. At first I looked up sites that were pro-epidural. I found one site that talked about the rights and wrongs of epidurals. Of course the major benefit of an epidural is the painless delivery a mother can have while still be involved in the whole process. During the time of long and strenuous labor it can help a mother to relax and rest and in some cases speed up the labor process that was held down by labor anxiety. It can actually be prescribed for mothers with pregnancy related hypertension like myself to bring their blood pressure down; one of the side-effects of epidurals like other anesthetics is lower blood pressure. But with all the sites I read there was no mention of how it was beneficial to a baby.

Next I looked up the anti-epidural views. There were a lot of stories of things going wrong with a mother because the epidural is injected into a woman’s spine. They talked about side-effects like shivering, fever, back pain, bruising of the back, and many more. But most of the stories were about mothers who did not want to have epidural because they “wanted to be in control of their bodies.” Some of these sites mentioned in passing that the epidural can slow the baby’s heart down and increase its body temperature, which may give doctors the wrong impression that the baby has an infection.

Finally I started looking at sites that talked about the effect an epidural had on the babies themselves. It seems that there is a common belief that the epidural drug will not get to the baby. It is not the case! Anything that the mother takes, medications, drugs, or alcohol, will get into baby’s blood stream. Although no major side-effects due to use of epidural were reported, research shows that some of the babies have been reported to have cried more, had trouble latching on to the breast, and if they did succeed in latching on, did not remain so for long.

Doing the research for this post made me read more about epidurals than I really wanted to. It was very interesting to see that the baby’s well being was one of the last things on the minds of most pro and con epidural writers. As for me, I have 2 children who were born with the use of epidurals and both are perfect health wise. I had complications with both of my pregnancies long before the labor pains began. I honestly don’t know whether it is better to give birth with all the pain and agony or have an epidural. The sites I looked at just made me believe that it is up to each woman to decide alone or with her partner. As for me, if I were to have another baby right now, I would still go for epidural and my husband would be 100% for that decision!

Monday, January 25, 2010

TIA-This Is Africa!

Alright! Finally I can rant and you will HAVE to read it! ;-)

I decided that before I post my serious post I will tell you some of the frustrating but at the same time funny things I had to deal with last week.

My Week One of classes kicked off with my internet going down for two and a half days! Meanwhile my classes could not wait and I had comments to post in some of them. So, I embarked on an “internet hunt!” I called friend after friend and no one had internet. One of them said that his probably worked but he had no way of telling because his power had been out all day long! Finally I got one friend with dial up and decided since I did not have to take a test I could try my luck with it! It took me 30 minutes to get to the “User Login” page!!! About that time my other friend called to tell me that his power and internet were up and running so I better come fast before they disappeared again. I ran there like a scalded dog and finally posted my comments!

Another story took place in a bank I have been doing business at for the last 6 years! Every month when I come in to cash the Mission’s check for the staff salaries, the bank makes me wait about 30 minutes to check my identity as if it’s the first time they have ever seen me! On Friday I was standing there, waiting for them to finish up with their check and the branch manager came up to greet me, “Hello Mrs. Thiesen!” Why in the world am I going through this identity check every single month when everyone there knows me by face and name?

Banking here is something to behold! The other day my husband went to see a friend of his who is also working on his doctorate. This friend printed one of the chapters for Mark to show him what he was working on. When Mark offered to pay for the paper the friend laughed and showed him the back of the pages on which the chapter was printed. He printed it on the back of bank statements! Then he told Mark a story of how his bank would not send him his monthly statements. One day this friend went to see the manager and told him that he really needed his statements! So, for the next 15 months he got 1 bank statement every single day! One can actually follow his financial history on the back of this printed out chapter!

Don’t get me wrong, I love living in Africa but at times it really tests my sanity. Things like those described above seem petty and unimportant but when they build up, they can drive one up the wall! From time to time I get together with my friends and we nag, rant, and complain about things here. We usually end up laughing insanely at the situations we find ourselves and at the end of these “sessions” feel much better. There is a line from a movie “Blood Diamond” that was used every time something went wrong. TIA- This Is Africa! :-)