Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in Khartoum

I took this shot of the Sudanese kids, sneaking away from their footy match or practice, looking at us hauling our baskets and plastic bags and coolers down the banks, lsearching for a spot for our barbecue picnic at a sandy beachy spit on Tuti Island on the Nile.

I like the tree branches and twigs set against the sky, the morning sun splashing on the tree trunk, the dune and of course the kids.

I'm happy I'm seeing more of Khartoum, in a different light.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Reflections

It's that time of the year again. It's Christmas! How careless and stupid are we (Opps! I mean am I) letting the year slip through the fingers like sand, disperse into the air with the wind. What have you done with your year this year?

One wise man, or a bumper sticker said that the only constant in life is change. Indeed 2010 for me is a series of changes, major ones in fact. The biggest change happened at work. I was move into a new role with a new team covering new scope back in April. It was more of a managerial gig, something not entirely new but definitely more intense. I was swamped with quite a fair bit of management reporting, workshops, traveling, KPIs and another big bunch of abbreviations. The words on the streets and the office corridors have that I was doing a pretty swell job. (Ahem!) I suppose I can be good at it and I can like it, but I'm not sure if I want it. It's not really my cup of tea. I'm a coffee guy. This short managerial stint made it clear to me. Nonetheless I enjoyed the wonderful opportunity to learn and grow.

Then came the super major move: I was transferred to Khartoum, Sudan. It had been brewing for awhile. The good news, or was it the bad news, finally came early October, that I should be reporting for duty in Khartoum on Oct 1st! It was a hectic time at work then so I only landed in Africa a month later. Another round of new: new place, new environment, new people, new culture, new language, new routine, new work, new role, new (and bigger) responsibility and new (and slightly fatter) paycheck. 2 months in here I'm still settling in, learning as plentiful and as fast as I can while enjoying as much as Khartoum has to offer. The job is managerial in nature but with a heavy focus on technical stuff. I'm walking a fine line trying to balance the management work and the technical tasks. Well, every so often I do tip the scale a little. (OK, maybe a lot.)

Then I bought my own place. Oh finally! Finally I did so, and probably paying too much money for that. But the truth is I was a bit sick of searching and desperate. The location is convenient and the place was nicely done up. I can just haul in my suitcase and move straight in. I always wanted hardwood floor for my pad but this once has Italian tiles instead. Well I'll learn to love them tiles. The rest of the place was done up pretty much to the way I'd get it done anyway. So it saves me the hustle of going through renovation. Mortgage approved and my ass now belongs to the bank. This is the biggest financial commitment of mine to date. It's both exciting and daunting at the same time, if that's even possible, or I'm just delirious.

With the apartment sorted, the pressure, especially from mom is mounting ever so quickly to settle down. That's just next to impossible. Sometime as I go to bed at night I do wish to have someone to share my life but then I wake up confronting the reality that no one take pity on me as yet. Is there something wrong with me? I'm indeed quite a mess at the relationship department, need to have that sorted.

In fact I'm a relationship-challenged person. I'm having trouble maintaining my relationship with my family, the very people who have known me for 34 years and love me unconditionally. Over the years I find the gap between mom and I is widening. Talking to her is so much challenging these days. I just can't figure out why, and that sadden me a great deal. Our mom-son love is overwhelmed by the fact that we both are just as strong-minded, determined and opinionated, just plain stubborn. We just end up agreeing to disagree. Then there's the clash of personality with my bother. Oh that's just awful.

This is something I need work on-being accommodative and appreciating others' perspective. If we still can't see eye-to-eye, at least I should response with a smiley face. That reminds me of BD from my office in KL. He always have this grin stitched on his face and I never saw him raised his voice once for the 8 years I worked with him. No matter how grim the situation is or how irrational the management's request is or how incompetent the colleague is or how bleak the outcome is, he never complained or even uttered a word with the faintest hint negativity, let alone bitch. He just smiles and moves on with it. That's a skill I want to master.

Oh and the art of small-talk. Suggestions anyone?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Silent Night

Christmas this year sort of snuck up on me. Before I knew it, it was only five sleeps to the day. Religiously, I do not celebrate Christmas. Back home, I might go out with friends for a couple of pints and a little merry making. Here in Sudan, a predominantly Moslem society, Christmas is merely another day. There is not the faintest hint of festivity in the air.

So this is Christmas eve, the holy silent night. I stay home by myself, with a scratchy throat, slight throbbing headache, drinking bucket load of ginseng tea in hope of holding back a week-old nagging onset of feverish flu-ish cold.

And a frustratingly excruciating tooth-ache.

Oh joy to the world!

Merry Christmas to me.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Glimpse of Khartoum

Taking photographs is a big thing here in Khartoum, or generally in Sudan. A big not-to-do thing. The cops will be hot on your tails out of nowhere in no time seeing you shooting buildings or bridges in town. It's deemed as spying and a security threat to the nation. Remember: jail time. Jail time in a Sudanese slammer!

So here are shots I took through a window on a bus going through town.

Sandy shoulder of the road, everywhere.

These earth wares dot along the street, holding water. Drink at your own risk.

There is a constant feel of messiness, disrepair and of course dusty-ness in the air.

Constructions are everywhere, progressing and suspended alike.

Quiet street. Public buses are quite popular here. Reliability and punctuality unknown.

Kharouf (Lamb) grazing in town. Why are they not making a run for freedom? For life?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Closest To Baking

Almost 2 months here in Africa, I haven't been cooking much, let alone baking. There is an oven in the kitchen but then there are other baking utensils missing and some of the ingredients are hard to come by here. So there you go, that's my excuse.

The only thing I did here closest to baking is French toast. I had made them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's simple and quick, just lightly beat an egg and add milk and sugar. Dip the bread in the mixture and fry it in a knob butter till golden brown on both sides. I poshed mine up (or trying to) by sprinkling sugar on top of the bread and fried the bread to get to sugar caramelized. It adds a bit of smokiness from the charred bits and a wee light crunch on the bite and a tad more sweetness.
It's kind of my little sweet treat, my sweet escape from the monotony here.

I miss baking.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Tree

5 more sleeps to Christmas. I just realized that.

I heard that they had their tree all done up for this year. I remember the day we decorated the Christmas tree, with the Everyone just so eager to hang the little simple craft work ornaments we made or drape the colorful paper chain onto the tree. We had such a blast decorating, so much laughter and so much mucking around.

That was their first Christmas tree, and boy was I glad and thankful that they shared it with me!

Merry Christmas kids. I miss you lot to bits.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday List

My new assignment in Africa comes with a little perk. It comes in the form of 70/20 arrangement, whereby I would stay and work in Khartoum for 70 days-the on rotation, then go away for holiday for 20 days-the off rotation. So roughly I get 80 days off a year.

Yay! That's a lot of days off.

But hold on a second.

Life in Khartoum is quite dry, just like the weather here. There's not much to do here, for entertainment and leisure, no where to go for a pint after work. (Or I haven't find them as yet.) Working and living in Khartoum for 70 consecutive days can drive one pretty close to the edge, if not off it.

This is my first on rotation. It is coming up to my 60th day here soon. These days all I can think about is my off days. I'm actually making a list of where I'm heading off and what I'm going to do.

I want to go some where beachy. So I'm really looking forward for some island hopping and diving in the picturesque islands along the east coast. The last time I wet diving, it was almost 6 years ago!

Then I think it'd be fun getting back to Phnom Penh, going to the Little Hearts, the orphanage I volunteered last year, hanging out with the kids. And of course, drinking myself silly with the 50 cents a pint beer.

I have a friend in Bangkok that I can bunk in for a week or so. Maybe I'll fly up to Bangkok, not for the shopping, but for a week long of massages: traditional Thai massage, aroma oil massage, foot reflexology massage and yes the naughty ones too.

What about driving up the east coast? Long open road along the beach and through the quaint fishing villages. Driving with windows down, feeling the refreshing sea breeze, smelling the salty air, stopping along the beach, taking pictures.

Reading about street food in Penang island has me toying with the idea of steering up north for a foodie trip, stuffing myself silly and getting fat. Penang is renowned for the street food delights in the region. Yummy! Char kuey tiao, asam laksa, rojak here I come!

I'm back to somewhere beachy. A week up in an island in southern Thailand, reading a book, getting some sun, drinking beer, swimming in the ocean and lounging on the beach, generally doing nothing. Maybe just look up a nudist resort and spend a week there.

Now now hold right there. Nudist resort?!

See what Khartoum has done to me!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Wire Brush

I have dry hair. I always do, as long as I can remember. Dry, and coarse, and hard, and thick. I still recall my family, my mom, my siblings, my aunts and my grandma describing me having wire brush hair when I was a kid.

In fact, I still do.

Truth be told, I tried applying olive oil to my hair, using different shampoos and conditioners on my hair, to soften my mane. But wire brush remained wire brush. That was as far as I would go. So I gave up. I have learned to love and live with my wire brush hair. At least I still have a full head of hair, and still black.

Because of the wire brush, it's almost pointless to style my hair, unless I spend hours lathering up my hair with copious amount of hair gel and wax and whatever form holding hair product. So imagine how ecstatic I was when some hair styling guru came up with this just-roll-out-of-bed-messy hair look. It takes no time in the morning.

But lately my hair is getting drier and coarser, since I arrived in Africa. I have no idea why. Perhaps it's the hard water in Africa, or maybe it's the arid desert air, or possibly the exposure to the dust every time I go outside or very likely the combination of all of the above.

Well, it seems that the wire brush is getting rusty.