Lost in translation

Working through translators are par for the course in this job. Even our here in Angola where my Portuguese is slowly slowly improving, if it’s a particularly important matter where we really can’t have any confusion I will use a translator (the extent of my vocabulary is somewhat limited!)

Even so, occasionally what we are saying, no matter how clear we try to be, something’s get ‘lost in translation’.

I was having a good belly laugh with one of my colleagues yesterday about our experiences…

She was speaking with a supervisor about the amount of work he was doing. She thought he had taken on more than he could cope with and so told him he had ‘bitten off more than he could chew’. He said ok but looked quite dejected.

She returned a week later around lunchtime and found him not eating. Now in Cambodia when food is up for grabs, it generally disappears fairly quickly but no matter how much she offered he continue to refuse the food.

When she eventually managed to extract the reason why, she established that the week before her translator had translated ‘bitten off more than you chew’ to be “she thinks you eat too much” and so ever since the poor bloke had been starving himself!

.     You have to wonder how red painted sticks can cause SUCH confusion!

In Mozambique my colleague was on a money saving campaign and was trying to find ways to cut costs. We mark our minefields with red painted sticks and he recognised that a lot of paint was being used painting the entire stick when really painting the top would suffice.

Through his translator, he instructed his supervisors to just paint the top half of the stick from now on….or so he thought!

He returned to the minefields the following week to see several deminers NOT demining and instead they were methodically scrapping all the paint off the bottom half of marking sticks. When he asked why the supervisor replied that the previous week he had given the strict instruction that from now on “all minefields are only allowed to have half painted sticks”!

Occasionally if we are clearing minefields on a site which had been the scene of heavy fighting during the war we find bones of a soldier who succumbed to his death on the battlefield. A colleague had been on such a minefield one day and given that these bones have been there for such a long time and any family long since gone, it is impossible to locate any relatives to remove the bones.

So she instructed her supervisor to inform the local police before conducting a small ceremony and burying the bones.

Returning a few weeks later she asked, through her translator, whether the supervisor had conducted the ceremony for the ‘skeleton’. The supervisor looked confused so she asked; did you tell the police about the ‘skeleton’? He again looked confused but said yes, he had spoken to the police about the site.

She persisted and asked ‘well did you buy some rice and coca cola to give as an offering to the skeleton before it was buried?’ He looked even more confused so she went to the site of the bones, they were gone so she assumed her instruction had been followed.

It wasn’t until later in the day when her translator asked if she could show him a skeleton because he hadn’t seen one before! Now it was she who looked confused. She asked him to clarify and established that her translator thought a ‘skeleton’ was a type of landmine and so had actually been asking the supervisor ‘did he do a ceremony with rice for a landmine?’ and ‘did he inform the police before he buried the landmine?’ Etc…

No wonder the poor supervisor looked thoroughly confused!

I must remember to not use colloquial sayings when I speak through translators…I dread to think how ‘never judge a book by its cover’ and ‘if life deals you lemons make lemonade’ might end up being translated!


A pig stamping in mud and a curly stick with a flower

So how was YOUR weekend?

What a weekend I’ve just had. Talk about random!

Saturday was a typical working day, busy but we only work until lunchtime so not too bad normally. I have been so snowed under this week that I’ve not had time for any decent exercise so I was desperate to do something, anything on Saturday afternoon.

It was looking likely and I was literally heading out the door with my trainers on and ipod in hand when my colleague approached me looking a little bit anxious and quite pale.

She told me one of our guard dogs had just bitten a woman who was not sitting on the pavement outside our gate attracting an ever increasing mob of Angolans shouting all sorts about our savage mutt.

We patched the woman up and took her to hospital for a check over but to cut a long story short I spent my Saturday afternoon in a crazy casualty department – and I tell you, you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen Angolan casualty on a Saturday afternoon!

I stood there for hours looking slightly ridiculous in my running kit next to a crying woman who I’ve never met trying to reassure her in my best Portuguese whilst explain to some rather uninterested nurses what had happened – no mean feat when you don’t know the Portuguese words for ‘leg’ or ‘bitten’ so my explanation probably ended up sounding something like “lady walking, dog, here, bleeding, please look and help”.

By the time I had taken her home it was dark so I gave up on my exercise and went to bed!

.             Mmmm tasty! I meant to save this for Easter Sunday but my                    .               willpower disappeared after my very random Saturday

Sunday was the polar opposite – I had just received a parcel from home and had saved opening it until my day off so I spent my day listening to the awesome new Elbow album (thanks Pops), eating Cadbury’s chocolate (thanks Mum!) while I rummaged around searching for sellotape to stick my Goddaughter’s ace picture on my bedroom wall (thanks Looby!)

   Looby’s picture of a pig stamping in mud and a curly stick with a flower…!

It is unbelievable how little things like getting letters from home can mean such a big deal out here. I felt really quite homesick by Sunday night – but thankful that Saturday had been an anomaly….what little did I know!

Sunday night – phone call from the minefield – a driver had been seriously stung by a scorpion and was being evacuated to hospital…

Ah, so it would seem SUNDAY was the anomaly I thought to myself as the chaotic drama which is my life returned with a vengeance.

At least there’s no time for Sunday night blues in this job!

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”!

The town built from shipping containers!

It’s not a huge surprise I suppose considering that I am in a port town but it really does look rather odd. Houses, offices, shops…all in some shape or form an adapted shipping container!

I’m in Lobito, Benguela province. The landscape and energy zapping heat is unbelievably similar to my old Moz location in Tete except for Lobito is on the Angolan coast.

It feels an absolute world away from the other provinces I have been zipping around during my minefields visits. Winding down the hillside into Lobito town it strangely looks exactly how I would imagine Israel or Jordan to look.

Instead of usual dark red African soil brick houses, houses here are the colour of Mediterranean sand.


Dotted across the landscape, they are precariously perched on the side of the hill looking like the slightest gust of wind would send them toppling down into the sea below.



Even the local church is balanced on the edge of a cliff!

As you enter the town however life reverts from my imagined Middle East back to Africa…bustling minibus stands, street side clothes sellers, women carrying immense loads on their heads – usually with a baby strapped to their back!

We arrived at the compound yesterday after a long and dusty journey and lo-and-behold our compound is made out of….yes you’ve guessed it…shipping containers, just like the rest of the town. I was immediately convinced that without a doubt this is HALO’s most obscure compound.

We actually took the place over years ago from another charity and to be fair the shipping container concept was theirs.

The office block is 2 containers with their sides chopped out and a roof and floor between them to create 3 offices.

My sleeping accommodation is this container with plywood partitions creating ‘bijou’ sleeping quarters.

The kitchen is another roofed space between 2 containers, the radio room another container with the huge end doors welded shut and a window and door cut in to its side and the generator housing…yes you’ve guessed it – a container with the side chopped off!

It’s actually a very creative use of shipping containers.

And obviously being just that little bit more quirky than any other compound I have seen – I LOVE it!

Family fortunes

Every Christmas (post present opening, Christmas dinner and afternoon nap) we have a tradition to meet up with another family. We have all grown up together and each year, alternating between our 2 houses, the routine remains the same – more presents, lots of chocolate then GAMES!

One of the ‘kids’ (we are now all grown ups but still refer to ourselves as the adults and the kids) is a big fan of playing games…you know who you are Soph!

As the designated ‘game selector’ she has come up with some legendary options in past years – the humming game probably remaining king of them all in the hilarity stakes.

This year we played Family Fortunes, a version of the 1980’s TV show.

Why am I telling you this…? It’s because today’s blog comes in the form of Family Fortunes!

So “if I asked 100 people to name something to do to keep yourself entertained with no electricity and on a rainy day in a  very remote town in northern Sri Lanka?”….our survey said…..

1.       Read a book – definitely the number 1 answer!

2.       Cook some food (only if you have a gas cooker)

3.       Write your blog (offline of course because no power = no internet)

4.       Sleep

5.       Listen to music (until laptop / speaker / ipod batteries run out)

Answers for which you would most certainly NOT get points for…

1.       Surf the internet

2.       Watch TV

3.       Go for a walk (when it rains it RAINS here)

4.       Bake a cake (I might have a gas cooker but the oven part is electric!)

If you’ve got any bright ideas, answers on a postcard please!

Hungry, grumpy or thirsty? Define ‘Resolution’

This is my new paperweight – a souvenir from my top new years mini-break in Devon. All I can say is you will never appreciate the value of a paperweight until you live in a hot country and your office fan creates perpetual wind tunnel.
On returning to Sri Lanka I discovered it is obligatory to shake hands and wish everyone you meet ‘a Happy New Year’.
During one of these handshaking moment I was chatting with one of my staff and asked them what their New Year’s resolution was. They replied ‘what’s resolution’  and it got me thinking.
According to dictionary.com it means “a resolve or determination: to make a firm resolution to do something”.

So why then do we spend the first few days, weeks, months (or mere hours in the case of some…you know who you are!) existing on lettuce leaves, being grumpy from nicotine withdrawal, craving a barrel load of Merlot or dragging ourselves to the gym on wet and windy winter nights?
All in the name of ‘New Years Resolutions’.
So this year I decided instead of GIVING something up that I would ‘resolve’ to TAKE something up! After all you can never have too many party tricks up your sleeve…
Step 1; decide on something I want to take up
Step 2; figure out which of these things is realistic living in the wilds of  Sri Lanka!
Step 3; thank the Lord for the internet.
Last year I decided I was watching far much crap on the TV, 1000 channels and not a single good programme – other than Lie to Me which I really got quite hooked on – so I starting teaching myself the mouth organ (ref back to step 3 above). I can now perform a passable rendition of Billie Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ . This year I resolve to get better.
Becoming a better cook is a toughie with no decent supermarket in town and I would like to learn to ride a motorbike with more confidence than my currently wobbly attempts but the rainy season is not really allowing for that right now.
However fear not, the list goes on (from the realistic to the down right dreaming)…
Learn to touch type / play guitar/ ride a horse / snowboard / salsa dance
Improve my general knowledge.
Learn (and be able to recall on demand) a couple of decent jokes!
(Re-) learn how to do a backwards crab down a wall.
OK so this year my new years resolutions are not the norm (although it obviously helps that I don’t smoke, I actually rather enjoy exercising and I was reliably informed by a doctor friend that red wine is good for you!) so I guess you could call it my bucket list instead!
What are your resolutions for 2011?
p.s I think the actual reason they are called new year’s resolutions might be because sticking to them takes a heap of ‘resolve’….?

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!


Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 6,500 times in 2010. That’s about 16 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 29 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 102 posts. There were 157 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 255mb. That’s about 3 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was August 25th.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were women-on-the-road.com ytravelblog.com, mail.yahoo.com, and blogcatalog.com.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


All about me


A night in Cape Town jail


Landmines & life
1 comment


1 become 72


Here comes the bride…
1 comment


All in all a jolly fun year of blogging…so in to 2011 we go (I bet you carry on writing 2010 when you write the date until at least March!)…

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;

Freaky frogs

A few perverted frogs have taken up residence in my bathroom and sit croaking away as I have my evening shower…it’s a little unnerving wondering whether one of these slimy blighters is going to make a leap for my head mid scrub! I even found one having a soak in the bottom of my toilet last night.

See if you can spot 2 of my freaky frogs…

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The joys of living in the jungle of the tropics!!

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At least they are toilet trained…