Guest blogging

“Guest blogging can be a really nerve-wracking experience, but one you shouldn’t shy away from” was the first line I read!

Never one to refuse the challenge Misshelen is now officially a guest blogger!

ytravel invites other writers and travellers to guest blog on their website.

So time a take a tea break and have a look at my contribution…

Mozambique festival

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!

I’m on the move

I’m leaving Mozambique!

After 18 very happy months here I’m being moved to our Sri Lanka program so today I handed over my phone, said my goodbyes and ate some tooth rottingly over sweet cake with my fantastic team of guys, patted my dog farewell and took the (delayed, bumpy, chaotic) flight out of Chim for one last time.

I’ve got mixed feelings about my move although not having had much time to think about it up until now. In fact yesterday was a manic day of handover of work and last minute report writing randomly mixed with meeting my first ‘traditional medicine man (check out his headgear)!

My feeling is that it’s time to leave the job but not time to leave Africa.

Before I arrived everyone told ‘Africa gets under your skin’. ‘No’ I retorted, ‘not me’….

but it would appear they were maybe, ever so slightly, rather annoyingly RIGHT!

I have a funny feeling I might be back to this awesome continent at some point in the future but in the meantime it’s back to Asia for me!

I’m not 100% what my job will be, something similar to my role here…”same same but different” so to speak.

WATCH THIS SPACE…

Daddy would be proud

Well Pops, it looks like I’ve entered the construction industry!

The news of severe flooding in Mozambique maybe hasn’t reached the outside world but we’ve had more than our fair share of rain over here recently (ironically after months of drought!) and not only is my the salmon shack in a serious state of disrepair but I now have rivers running through several of my minefield camps, leaking tents and seriously soggy deminers!

More annoyingly access to some of our minefields has been completely cut off from river bursting their banks. I never truly understood how a ‘flash flood’ could literally wash away everything in its path in a matter of minutes. I always wondered whether it really was possible for rain to come down in such force in such volume. I now confirm it IS possible!

At the end of each month we all come out of the field and have a few days admin. The demining teams go home for a rest and the support staff get on with maintaining vehicles, servicing detectors, repairing equipment and refilling paramedic kits. This month exiting one of our minefields was proving a little ‘problematic’ due to the fact a previously dry river bed which we used to drive across no problem, now has several feet of fast flowing water racing through it.

After a bit of um-ing and arh-ing, head scratching and something resembling a bad joke along the lines of ‘how many supervisors does it take to get a landrover across a river…’ we decided we would have to build a bridg. So we did just that!

First you buy as many sandbags (empty rice sacks will do) as you can get your hands on, then find yourself some unemployed folk who want to earn some cash to fill the sandbags with sand  

Then you take off your socks and shoes, roll up your trousers and start wading through the river dragging the filled bags across to create with 2 raised ‘tyre-tracks’ to drive across.

 

I made my (rather grumpy) bunch of deminers hand carry all the expensive equipment across just in case the bridge didn’t quite hold and I not only had to explain to HQ why my landrover was washed 2 kms downstream but also why it had been filled with $1000’s of kit at the time (not that I didn’t have UTTER faith in my bridge building expertise of course!).

Then slowly, slowly we inched across the bridge – or rather my driver drove and I stood on the other side of the river signalling him left a bit, right a bit to keep his tyre’s on the tracks.

I would have a photo of this last part but as he reached my side of the river he got rather excited about making it over safely, slammed on the accelerator and I ended up leaping into a bush to escape being run over by a rather relieved driver!

A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step

Remember Felix?

Last week I returned to Felix’s village with a gift for him…a pair of children’s crutches.

We had arranged for them to be sent from the UK office to replace the worn wooden homemade crutches he had been using since his landmine accident in 2008.

Felix turned up to meet us with his father, after the usual ritual of hello’s and how are you? how are your family? and several handshakes we got down to the business in hand….to hand over Felix’s new crutches!

He had been given a plastic yellow whistle by one of our supervisor’s (we use them in the minefield to signal break times) and he inexplicably stood with it proudly stuck in his mouth until his father whispered for him to take it out and let it hang round his neck on its fluorescent string.

We showed his father how the crutches could be extended in length as Felix grew older and taller then his father tenderly took 1 wooden crutch, laid it on the ground and helped his son feed his left arm down the shaft of the new crutch until his hand came to rest on the handgrip. 

Felix tentatively rested his weight onto his left arm as his father gently replaced his other wooden crutch with his new metal one.

The crutches are probably just a touch too big for him right now but in 6 months time they will fit him perfectly and of course it will take him a bit of time to get used to the difference in how they feel to use but even so he smiled broadly as he took his first tentative steps.

I don’t think for a second that this small gift will transform change this boy’s life. He needs a prosthetic limb. He could probably benefit from physiotherapy. He has a long way to go before life will (if ever) be close to normality.

But as Felix took off down the dirt track to show off his new crutches to his friends an old proverb sprung to mind…”a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”

Homeless & happy

The 3 amigos…crocodile hunter, landmine clearer and semi-pro fisherman!

Living over here as an expatriate I meet many people who have no home.

I don’t mean homeless people, I mean expats who come from expat parents…born in Africa…left a country after independence or because a war started and have been on the move ever since.

It’s not like they flit from one place to the next as refugees, they live, work and settle…albeit temporarily…in which ever country they are in at that time but you ask where is home and they just chuckle and say ‘nowhere really’.

 Now I know some people think I’m flighty, some think I will never settle, some think I will never be happy in one place. Always on the move, an eternal gypsy! But one thing I am sure about when I am asked where is home I don’t hesitate for a second.

 Home is home…I just happen to be living away from there at the moment!

 This weekend was a friend’s 30th. I am at the preferred of my 2 locations in Moz – up at the lake – and so his birthday was to be spent having a camping / braai / chilled party at another friends lodge.

 I had had one heck of a week at work, colleagues who are just not pulling their weight, confusion and chaos deploying to the field, crashed cars, problems with kit…the list goes on.

 However on Saturday afternoon I met up with my pals to head off for this party. It seemed as if everyone had had as hassled a week as me. However we packed the coolboxes and launched the boat (we live on a lake so boats are the generally accepted number 1 choice of transportation!).  

With the cold beers open as we sped through the stunning gorge out into the open water we all agreed that no matter how much you think you are literally on the cusp of being broken by this ‘challenging’ country, after 5 mins on the beautiful expanse of the lake your entire attitude changes and life doesn’t seem quite so bad at all!

 Skipper ‘misshelen’

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view from the helm!

 

The evening spent was spent in good company, chewing the fat and with many celebratory toasts and speeches to the birthday boy. Waking up after a welcome long nights sleep to a truly stunning view of the lake, we cooked up a genuine South African breakfast (left over steak and potatoes, fried eggs etc) and headed off to visit the next door neighbours farm…a crocodile farm!

 

Hundreds and hundreds of handbags in the making Mum!

  

     

 Then it was back on the boats for everyone to head home.

As we jumped into the boats we noticed 2 baby crocs in the shallows. They must have just recently hatched and were basking in the sunshine. Our hosts were worried they had chosen their jetty as their home and would grow up to terrorise their many pet dogs so asked us to ‘relocate’ them on our journey back.  

We took them with us and finding a suitably nice looking rocky bay released our prehistoric looking friends into their new abode.

 

Caroline relocates the baby crocs!

       

  

After a worryingly dry rainy season, the rains have been coming slowly but surely and mini-waterfalls now spurt from many of the cracks and crevices of the gorge walls. Speeding past one we begged the skipper to stop and off we jumped to cool off for a while…taking our four-legged friend with us!

 

 

He’s only little so needed a bit of help climbing the waterfall

 

Later in the evening showered, changed and eating supper with Monday morning on the horizon, I sat there thinking how lucky I am that Sunday night blues really don’t exist in my world…we spend weekends just like this one having adventures before heading back to jobs we love…and I think I got some insight into why these eternal expats are happy to live the life that they do.

Cheap as chips

Everytime anyone (me included) drives out to a minefield you invariably get someone running behind the car frantically waving and shouting to catch your attention as you drive out of the compound gates.

 It’s inevitably for 1 reason only – so they can put in their ‘order’ (either that or you’ve got a flat tyre!)

Let me explain…

The majority of the fruit, veg, fish, meat and the like you buy at the markets here is farmed by the rural guys out in the countryside then walked, cycled or driven into town to be sold at the markets…at a premium price obviously to make it worth their while!

If however you happen to be out in the bush where these goodies are all grown you can, shall we say, cut out the middle man and get absolute delights for a bargain price (plus your shopping tends to be in significantly better shape having not spent several hours in the back of an overloaded pickup truck or being bounced around on a bicycle being brought into town

(I swear I have seen maybe 30 chickens hanging off bicycle handlebars squawking to high heaven and goats strapped to the back of bicycles bleating pathetically resigned to their sad fate).

Depending on which minefield you are going to will depend on your shopping list. So head out west to one of our minefields next to a dam and requests for fresh fish come in abundance. Head south east and its pineapples, south west and its mangoes and bananas. Head north and I guarantee you will get a request to buy a goat!

My request list this week;

2 freshly caught bream…£1

2 medium mangos…20 pence

10 bananas…15 pence

1 big pineapple…20 pence

5 oranges…10 pence

(just for the record a live goat will cost you about £15).

Stuck in the office last week I popped out to the supermarket and bought 1 apple…60 pence!! (the only fruit NOT cheap out here but sometimes you just REALLY REALLY want an apple)

Now am back out in the bush where life becomes…well…back to basics

 

This is how we pay salaries

 

 

This is how we commute to work

 

This ‘office’ is how I cope with staring at a laptop screen all day!!!

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!

You look fat

I SWEAR it’s a compliment over here! And the first words to tumble out of the mouth of my Mozambican accountant. It means you look well or you look healthy…but even so!

After a nice long break back home for Christmas and a journey back to Mozambique something akin to Planes, Trains and Automobiles thanks to the British snow, I have swapped my minus 3 degrees for plus 30 degrees.

 Snow in England looks picturesque but makes getting anywhere quite a challenge!

Mum and I slip and slide to the shops!

Everyone needs a break once in a while to recharge the batteries and simply switch off from work mode but now I’m back and raring to go.

I wondered to myself on my journey back what this year has in store for me.

2009 was quite a learning curve year, not just work wise but on the culture front too!

I was educated by my Mozambique colleagues on the finer points of what life is REALLY like in Mozambique…not surprisingly it’s not all seafood and scuba diving!

Stories from the slightly scary of being forced into hiding in the reeds of the riverbank every single night for several years during the war through to the slightly surreal of having an audience will you consummate your marriage on your wedding night peppered my working day!

And without a shadow of a doubt I have laughed til I’ve cried from some of the single funniest one liners from my ops manager!

The oddities which once made me wonder whether I was mad moving here have now become the norm (and are actually quite fun!)…I am confident in the pitch black of an evening powercut I could locate torches, candles, matches within 30 seconds, could rustle you up at least a 2 course meal to be enjoyed by candlelight, we could watch a DVD movie and I would certainly have enough water stored for you to have a nice bucket wash!

In fact during one night time powercut, the laptop battery having run out, having finished my last decent book, it being too late to go out and take refuge at a friends house and at 8.30 was too early even for me to go to bed, that I managed to paint half decent looking butterflies on my wall (by the light of my trusty head torch)!

Let me explain…it’s impossible to get decent pictures out here! Ah ha…no problem for Misshelen…take one paintbrush, a pot of paint, sanddown and repaint a reclaimed window frame et voila!!

Oh yes, how different life is out here!

Every person has a story to tell and I learned last year that no matter how busy life gets it’s worth taking the time to stop and listen to their tales – I fully intend to practice what I preach in 2010!

 As for 2010; I’m going to be an aunty again, I’ve a couple of new year’s resolutions which i’m trying to keep and I think the big bosses might have a move in store for me…but other than that who knows what’s ahead…?!

 Happy new year to everyone!

Let me know what your new year’s resolutions are…

       …..have you broken any yet??!! 

                                 Never too old to build a snowman!

Our HR department ‘bush-style’

The last few weeks we have been recruiting and training new demining teams. We try to recruit locally wherever possible so this recruitment drive was very much based out in the bush!

Once we have our teams it’s time for some HR admin…this is how we do contract signing in the bush…

Man sits down, ask his name, he says a weird and wonderful name like Viola Mesa (roughly translated from local language to Portuguese to English this is Violin Table). Ask how to spell it in local language, he doesn’t know so write phonetically.

Ask if he is single or married, he says married. Legally married? Does he have a ‘wife’ or a ‘woman’? (There is a difference! Over here men sometimes ‘take a wife’ so they might never legally marry the women they spend their lives with but they will consider themselves married and refer to their partner as their wife. We need to know which one it is for insurance and the like).

It’s particularly confusing as the word for woman is mulher, there is no word for wife so they use mulher!

Complete all his details like his address…normally along the lines of the white house next to the big tree in so and so village.

Ask him if he can read. If yes he reads his contract, if no we read it to him.

Ask him if  he can he write, if yes he writes his name to sign his contract. If no we smear his finger with ink and press his fingerprint onto the bottom of the contract.

All of this is done sitting at our good old plastic table and chairs, in the shade of a huge mango tree, weighting down contracts from blowing away in the breeze with rocks plucked off the ground next to us, with me dashing off every few minutes to print another contract from my dusty old printer stashed in the back of my landrover and being powered off the car battery!

It’s HR but for sure not as we know it in England!

                                Contract signing ‘bush-style’

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