Monday, January 27, 2014

By way of contrast.

SO remember that blog post I just wrote yesterday? The lovely thing with pretty words that goes on and on about what I love about this place and how amazing it is?  Well… sure glad I wrote it yesterday, because today? Today I needed a good reminder why the heck I am here.

This morning I felt just about every emotion that is entirely opposite to the emotions felt while writing yesterday’s post.  When people say this place really can make you a little bi-polar?? It’s absolutely true.

Let me tell you about my morning.

It started off with me hitting the snooze button one too many times, which is dangerous with roommates and the morning getting-ready dance is pretty well orchestrated so as everyone gets enough bathroom time.  

The bathroom started to flood during my shower. This is not an uncommon occurrence, as we have a vacuum system for drainage (think airplane toilets complete with the very loud suctioning noise) and during peak shower times it just can’t keep up. 

Breakfast was disappointing… though I will not ever publicly complain about the food, I do miss being able to stock my own kitchen with whatever I want and being able to eat whatever in the mornings.

I had a meeting in town at 10am with a local rather-important-person.  I had made this appointment several days ago and spent quite some time typing up a full page of topics that needed discussing during this meeting.  I also booked out my car early (we have a set number of ships vehicles that can be reserved for business or personal use) so as to make sure I got one of the Toyotas.

Let me interject my morning story by telling you a bit about the cars. We have a fleet that can be categorized into four different levels.  The old Land Rovers are many, many years old, little to no AC, they are usually the dirtiest and just feel the clunkiest, the clutch is very stiff and the engine runs very loudly glub-glub-glubing down the street.  Then we have the newer Landies which are easier to shift, the AC usually works, and they are mildly more comfortable.  Then we have the new Toyotas which were just purchased less than a year ago, they purr like a kitten when you start them up and the clutch and gear shifts are so smooth it’s almost like driving a car, and the AC always works amazingly well.  VIP – there are two really nice Toyotas reserved for VIP and manager use but they are wider than the rest of the vehicles and I’m pretty frightened of putting a big scratch down the side so try to avoid them.

Okay, so now that the car explanation is out of the way, you can probably see why I sign out Toyotas early – they are the easiest to drive and the AC works!  Well, this morning, it was not to be. I got to reception only to find out that my reserved car had been taken out of service and I got stuck with one of the oldest Landies.  Swell. (Yes, I groaned and moaned and made a face, then told myself to suck it up and move on.)

Well, such is life, so I get into my old Landie with my translator (who I don’t really need but kind of like having around. His name is Francis and he’s like my little brother, he shows me shortcuts through traffic, corrects my French mistakes, and got me out of a sticky situation with a police officer one time… so he’s a good guy to have around).  Traffic seems exceptionally bad but I think to myself every time I’m stuck it seems exceptionally bad so maybe it isn’t exceptional and I should just start calling it usual… but I digress.  Sitting in Pointe Noire traffic with no air flow and no air conditioning isn’t fun.

We made it to our destination at exactly 10am.  This would never happen in the States as back there I am always at least fifteen minutes early to any meeting. Neurotic maybe. But here, it’s okay, because I’m guaranteed to have to wait in the outer office of this person for at least twenty minutes.   Its normal here, it’s cultural, and I’m totally prepared to sit in that office for about twenty minutes before seeing the person I’ve come to see.

An hour and forty-five minutes later I am still sitting in the outer office, and I’m fuming mad.  But not mad enough to leave because I don’t want to repeat this charade the next day and this meeting is actually really important.  And not really mad enough to throw a fit, because it’s at least a hundred and ten degrees where we are sitting and I’m about to pass out.  This is when I remembered with a cynical chuckle the happy pretty how-I-love-this-life blog post yesterday and I found myself thinking about how much I dislike this place, this cultural thing that makes it okay to make someone wait on an appointment for over an hour, this heat, this lack of a proper bathroom to at least try and mop up some of the sweat pooling in various and somewhat unfortunate places… this misery I’ve willingly chosen to participate in.

The meeting went fine once we finally got in but by this time I’m absolutely starving and need a bathroom and thought I would have long since been back on the ship, so I was likely a bit less sunshine-and-roses than my usual self. I was also really really glad to have a translator with me because my French began to fail me… blame the heat, I guess.

So finally we’re done and we go climb back into the old Landie and glub-glub-glub our way to the gas station, as when the tank gets ½ full we’re required to make the stop and today I drew the short straw.  Normally I don’t mind getting gas but again with the traffic, it took about thirty minutes to go a mile and a half.

Once I got to the gas station we had to wait in line for diesel, and there was of course only one attendant, so we’re sitting in this oven of a vehicle in the blazing noonday sun in the tropics.  Once we finally get up to where we can get our diesel, I can not, for the life of me, get the gas cap off the old Landie. (Incidentally, the Toyota gas caps are very easy to remove).  Usually when this happens I bat my eyelashes at the male attendant and he comes in and saves the day and takes it off for me.  But not today. Today (of course) the attendant was a woman, who looked at it and said, “I’m not doing it, you do it!” Awesome. So after some more finagling, trying to remember what the combination is of turning, pushing in, and pressure is, I get the thing open, only to find my hands suddenly covered in diesel as the pressure is released. 

Awesome. 

We get the fuel we need and carry on, sitting in traffic once again to return to the ship, and realize there is no way we will make it back before lunch is over. 

So at this point, try to imagine with me – I’m not moving in traffic in a Landie that is at least two hundred degrees with no AC, being cursed and honked at by other drivers because (gasp!) I try to drive like a normal sane driver (I can’t even begin to talk about the insanity of driving here) an am nearly hit about four times and frustrated to tears as I creep through an intersection that could easily be assisted by something as simple as a stop sign (and subsequent enforcement of said stop sign).  I’m sitting in a pool of sweat. I’m tired,  I need a bathroom, I’m absolutely ravenous, my mascara is literally melting right off my face, and I smell like diesel fuel.  (And I’m dehydrated and feel a headache coming on – a totally rookie mistake, though, no grace for that one. I know better than to go anywhere without a water bottle…)

Are you surprised I was questioning my calling and my sanity in that moment?  I confess the words “I hate this place” actually went through my head.

But they never escaped my lips, as they aren’t true.  Reality is, this morning isn’t really out of the ordinary, and I would never dream of complaining about these things except for the irony of yesterday’s blog post, and by way of contrast, todays.  Because goodness and joy really can be found in every situation. I really am grateful I have a car to drive and don’t have to take a local taxi, no matter how hot it is it is.  (And two hundred degrees might be a minor exaggeration.)  I’m grateful we even get breakfast and lunch served to us, and my missing lunch gave me a great reason to “have” to take my translator out to lunch, which was an enjoyable experience for us both.  I’m grateful I have running water and cleaning up the flooded bathroom isn’t really that big of a deal, and my roommates are pretty much awesome and we are good about giving grace to each other in bathroom collisions and the like.

So at the end of the day I can look back, roll my eyes and chuckle, and look forward with anticipation to whatever tomorrow brings.  It’s never boring, that’s for sure. 

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