International Women’s Day

Today is the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day

Ma…’3 kids under the age of five‘ I think has been uttered on more than one ocassion round the dinner table (even if your abandonment of two of those three in John Lewis did result in a life long fear of lifts). An impressive feat nonetheless and I think you’ve turned us out ok, don’t you?

Sisters…happily married, successful careers, places to call home and beautiful babies (or baby-on-the-way). Need I say more!

Ankles…your own boss! You have worked hard to get there, you deserve all the success you are achieving.

Girlfriends…if the future of the human race was left up to me we would be en route to extinction. Your bravery (and love of rugrats) is keeping us on track.

Aunty Mo – the coolest nun going and a fantastic advice giver.

Ladies – you, amongst many other women in my life, are all an inspiration to me!

Happy International Women’s Day!

As for me…I have been on the move yet again and have arrived for Women’s Day in Luanda, the Angolan capital. As it is happily coinciding with Angolan Carnival the town is alive with music, masked children and lots of dancing on the streets.

After hours and hours in a hot dusty landrover we arrived at the office accommodation to find a filthy bathroom, most lightbulbs missing and not a drop of water to qunch our parched mouths! So I am spending Women’s Day scrubbing the bathroom before I can have a shower….well you know what they say “A woman’s work is never done”!

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Weird and wacky English laws

Today’s blog is a bit of a random one….

Having recently had a conversation about British traditions and the dying breed of the eccentric English gentleman I was trying to recall an old English law – something about shooting a Welshman in Chester but only on certain days of the year??

Apparently this ye olde law is one of many and every few years the Law Commission dig through the Statute book to add the archaic ones to the Repeal Bill. These are some of the slightly more obscure and wacky continue to elude the Commission’s digging…

– In Liverpool, it is illegal for a woman to be topless in public unless they are a clerk in a tropical fish store.

– Since 1313 Member’s of Parliament must not enter the House of Commons wearing a full coat of armour.

– It is unlawful to impersonate an Chelsea pensioner.

– The head of any dead whale found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the King, and the tail of the Queen – should she need bones for her corset.

– It is illegal for taxi cab drivers to carry rabid dogs or corpses and by law they must ask all passengers if they have small pox or the plague.

– Any person found breaking a boiled egg at the sharp end will be sentenced to 24 hours in the village stocks.

– It could be regarded an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British king or queen’s image upside-down

– With the exception of carrots, most goods may not be sold on Sunday.

And two English laws which wouldn’t stand a chance in Jaffna…

1. It is illegal to be a drunk in possession of a cow.

2. No cows may be driven down the roadway between 10 AM and 7 PM unless there is prior approval from the Commissioner of Police.

And just for the record…

The old English law is “In Chester you can only shoot a Welsh person with a bow and arrow inside the city walls and after midnight”….

and…the eccentric English gentlemen DOES still exist in my part of the world in the shape of my frightfully smart speaking, cigar smoking, moustache wearing, absolute legend of a colleague;

The real victims of war

S was 18 when he was made homeless by the civil war.

His story is a sad but common one on the far most northern tip of this island. The war has ended now but the end to the fighting is just the beginning for the innocent civilians caught up in the last 25 years of conflict.

I work with S, he is one of my field officers – and a darn good one at that!

His family have lived on the northern coast of Jaffna for generations, with their small family home surrounded by palm trees and fertile land on which they grew onions, chillis and potatoes. His father had a good job working as a security guard.

In October 1990 life changed dramatically for the family. The war had been underway for more than 5 years but with little direct effect on S and his neighbours. The Indian army had briefly evacuated his neighbourhood in 1983 but after 3 months they were allowed to return home and their house was fairly unscathed. Life continued as normal.

It was not until October of 1990 when leaflets were dropped by military helicopter and a message was put out on local radio stating that some specified areas were to be immediately evacuated by all civilians, that it became clear that the war had just arrived on their doorstep.

Some left immediately, others decided to wait it out and see if the claims that the fighting was edging closer were true.

S and his family waited.

At 4.30am a final warning to leave was issued and a final drop of orders by helicopter. At 6am the army arrived.

They had captured the area and from now on this was a civilian no-go area. Then the firing started as the enemy approached in attack. S, his mother, father, brother and sister fled for their lives – with no time to collect their belongings they left behind all their belongings. With just the clothes on their backs they took refuge at a relatives house several miles away.

Little did they realise for some of the family that would be the last time they would ever see their home.

For the next 20 years, S and his family were forced to rent a house to live in, all their belongings had been left behind and when their neighbourhood became a military zone his father had not even been allowed to enter for his job.

S managed to get a job as a security guard in the main town but because he was earning 6000 rupees a month (about $50) he was above the Government threshold for war compensation. Slowly slowly they bought new furniture and clothes. They literally had to start their lives from scratch.

It was 20 years after this October fleeing when I met S and he told me his story. We were about to be the first demining agency allowed into the area where S’s house was. S was coming with us. It would be the first time in 20 years he had seen his childhood home.

What he found was heartbreaking. The roof was gone, the walls peppered with bullet holes. He told me the house had probably been ransacked for anything of value soon after they left. His sister’s gold jewellery would have been one of the first things to go.

The well was damaged beyond repair and there a tree  growing through his bedroom floor.

I asked S if once the area was eventually handed back to civilians whether he would return to the family home and he said yes probably but first the Government needs to make sure there are schools, businesses and land for agriculture.

Those who have already returned claim to have a miserable existence with the current complete lack of infrastructure.

I asked what about his parents, sister and brother. He told me his siblings have lives elsewhere now and wouldn’t want to return.

And his parents? They died in 1997, seven years after they were forcibly removed from their home. They never got the chance to return.

The former bathroom…only the toilet (far right in picture) left in tact

Doing it for the girls

A few links of Misshelen in print, doing it for the girls…

Clearing Landmines – an interview with “Women on the Road”

Landmines & Life – on the website Women’s Adventure Magazine

(Actually also on this website is the story of a very interesting lady Moving Mountains)

It’s a real honour being both interviewed and having a story published on sites which lets face it are back to back with true adventurers and explorers. Make a cup of tea, sit back and have a browse…

And while we’re on the subject of Misshelen in print…HALO has just launched its new website which includes some of my case studies from Sri Lanka and Mozambique…brings back some happy African memories reading the Mozambique ones!

The curious incident of the vanishing padlock

Sorting through the sheer volume of keys with no apparent home that were dotted about my office has been on the ‘to do’ list of doom since I arrived here.

After years and years of various expatriates traipsing through this programme, each of them losing keys and changing locks, I kid you not about 101  million keys were gathering dust on my arrival. I found them everywhere, every time I opened a drawer – oh, another set of unlabelled keys, open a cupboard…keys!

My incredibly meticulous administrator (poor sod) got lumped with the mammoth task of quite literally going from door to door, padlock to padlock, landrover to landrover working out which key worked where, or in fact if it worked anywhere at all.

The guy deserves a medal.

He finished today after several days of trying and testing plus a couple of locked doors to which we thought we had the key then realised we actually didn’t (the carpenter has now been dispatched to pick said locks!!).

I now have a sack full of unloved and completely useless keys, plus 3 keys which appear to open about 10 different padlocks plus spare keys for my office (more useful than you realise bearing in mind the number of times the expat office door has had to be kicked open)

…plus I now know that to get into and start some of my 35 year old landrover ambulances all you need is a hairclip and some elbow grease. Good to know!

So the vanishing padlock…

During the big search and find of keys and corresponding locks, one storage container was approached. It had 2 padlocks, we had 1 key. We put it down to poor admin and wrote off the 2nd padlock. Today we found a key (a stray one found under a plant pot or such like) and it looked suspiciously like it would fit the 2nd padlock.

The container was approached to test it’s fit – a bit like Cinderella’s glass slipper – and the oddest thing had happened…

Overnight the 2nd padlock had been mysteriously removed (so obviously someone had a key for it) and a new padlock had been applied in its place. A padlock to which I obviously had no spare!

I gathered the troops and hot debate then ensued as to where the original padlock had mysteriously disappeared to and where on earth the new padlock had appeared from.

Needless to say the entire motley crew denied all knowledge.

“Someone must have put it there” I wailed.

But no, apparently the magic padlock fairies came in the night, sneaked past the guards, replaced the padlock and flew away!

How very odd.

I concluded that there was obviously something very important or very valuable being hidden in there. It started to feel decidedly exciting…

So I smashed the padlock off (that’s the kind of thing you get to do when you are the boss!) and opened the door eagerly anticipating masses of gold, diamonds and other shiny marvels…instead we found a rather musty smelling container with various bits of old, broken and rusting spare parts off one of our big diggers!

Absolutely confident I would never EVER get to the bottom of the curious vanishing padlock, I left the motley crew to a heated debate as to where the padlock had come from, who put it there, where was the original padlock…etc etc…it’s now after dark but they love a good debate so much it wouldn’t surprise me if they were all still there!

Save the world…write a blog


Starting my blog has opened my eyes to just how many bloggers there are in the big wide world…quite alot it would seem…and many putting my little contribution to the blogging world to shame!

I keep an eye on a few of the humanitarian blog sites…some professionals, others amateurs like myself posting their news and photos for family back home…

Tales from the hood … is quite an amusing blog from a slightly cynical (sometimes quite justifiable so) humanitarian aid worker. His site also has a multitude of links to other good blogs.

A Humourless Lot …another aid worker who writes about aid logistics. The title of his blog is a quote ascribed to Alexander the Great “My logisticians are a humourless lot…”

There are MANY incredible humanitarian photographers who sites I eye with ‘talent-envy’… my friend Chris is one supreme example.

During my brief stint of London living I did an evening philosophy course and since then dip in and out of Philosophy Bites.

And just to keep my wanderlust topped up… The Adventure Blog!

One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night

I’ve just finished reading a book called “One fine day in the middle of the night” and now I can’t get an old poem out of my head I remember from my childhood.

It’s an author unknown “nonsense poem”…read it and you’ll see why!

One fine day in the middle of the night,

Two dead boys got up to fight,

Back to back they faced each other,

Drew their swords and shot each other,

One was blind and the other couldn’t see

So they chose a dummy for a referee.

A blind man went to see fair play,

A dumb man went to shout “hooray!”

A paralysed donkey passing by,

Kicked the blind man in the eye,

Knocked him through a nine inch wall,

Into a dry ditch and drowned them all,

A deaf policeman heard the noise,

And came to arrest the two dead boys,

If you don’t believe this story’s true,

Ask the blind man he saw it too!

Love is honey, life is jelly

Tuk tuk, rickshaw, bajaj, auto, 3 wheeler…

Call them what you like but anyone who has visited Asia will have probably spent a fair amount of time being jostled about in the back of one of these things whilst being driven at the speed of light, dodging traffic (just) and being gassed out by exhaust fumes.

Out here in Sri Lanka it never fails to make me smile when I read the little ditties pasted to the back of these little beasts…sometimes I wonder if their owners actually understand what they’ve had proudly painted onto their pride and joy!

Here are some of the best…

1. Don’t follow me

2. Jesus alive God bless you

3. Love would never leave us alone

4. We have got a life to live

5. Thunder bold driver

but the best yet and by far my absolute favourite…

LOVE IS HONEY, LIFE IS JELLY!!

I thought I didn’t like…

…coconut water. It’s the cloudy water you get in young green coconuts. You find it being sold all over Asia with the top sliced off and a straw jammed into it.

I’m not sure why I thought I didn’t like it.

Maybe it’s one of those things I THOUGHT I didn’t like even though I hadn’t tried it or maybe I had a bad ‘coconut water’ experience once…you know, one of those  deep dark memories from your childhood!

Do you know what I mean?

A few years ago whenever I was asked (pre-dinner party for example) “Is there anything you don’t eat?” my only reply was “well i’m not too keen on apricot jam”.

Why…?

Because when I was a youngster we went on a family holiday to a gîte in France. Mum made crepes which were meant to be topped with apricot jam. The crepes were slightly (!) charred so I opted for just the jam….and LOTS of it. Then felt sick for days!

Hence the bad memory…even though I hadn’t tried it again since the crepe event!

The same with peanut butter…pureed peanuts…urgh! The sheer thought of it made me feel rather queer!

A friend doesn’t like pineapple because his mum piled it onto pizzas when he was a child…bad memories!

Big sis won’t go near sultanas because of games of ‘pile the sultanas on the toy train’ which we played as little girls. The train carriages were loaded up with sultana ‘cargo’ which she greedily over indulged in as the train chugged round the little train track!

So what’s your ‘no go’ food or drink?

(and no, vodka, gin or whisky don’t count simply because you knocked back 10 too many as a 14 year old getting blotto for the first time!)

Well here’s a thought for the day….GIVE YOUR “NO-GO’ A GO!

I like apricots, I like jam so I tried apricot jam again after all these years and no great surprise – I like apricot jam!

A friend left some peanut butter at my house, I thought I’d try it to see what all the fuss was about… it’s actually jolly tasty!

And today I was obliged to drink some freshly cut off the tree coconut water. It was offered in hospitality and as with many cultures it’s rude to refuse. So I drank it and actually quite enjoyed it!

My no-go list just became extinct!

So go on…. give your no-go one last try…I DARE you!

Incorrect use of indicators!!

A phrase shrieked at volume to any pour soul unlucky enough to be stuck in a car with me after dark. But SO true!

Basically over here in Moz as soon as the sun goes down – as elsewhere in the rest of the world – car headlights are switched on. No problem.

Cars over here – as elsewhere in the world – have indicators to ‘indicate’ to other drivers. No problem.

However…for some absolutely inexplicable reason, which can only be explained by the phrase uttered with alarming regularity out here TIA (This Is Africa), drivers over here have an inability to correctly use them…

BIG problem.

This is how indicators are used in Moz to ‘indicate’;

1) when about to turn left or right – correct.

2) outside indicator on to inform the driver behind you that a car is coming in the opposite direction and therefore you should not attempt to overtake – INCORRECT!

3) inside indicator on to inform said driver he may now overtake as the coast is clear in the opposite direction – INCORRECT!

4)…and this gets the biggest shriek…to inform the driver coming in the opposite direction where the outside of your car is!!

I am absolutely not kidding here!! It’s to inform perfectly sighted, perfectly able, perfectly intelligent drivers where the outside of the oncoming car is!! Bear in mind here cars out here are not some special design where the headlight is not placed…oh yes…on the outer edge of the car…oh yes….right next to your indicator!

ARGHHHHHHH!!!

I’ve stopped driving after sundown!

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