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!