Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Roughing it

This last weekend was a success. We didn't get rained on (much), we didn't get (too) wet and we didn't get divorced.

Mills and I joined a dozen or so friends for a canoeing and camping weekend in Limburg. For someone who doesn't like water, I've sure spent a lot of time on it in the last year and a half.

The weather forecast was dismal. Rain, thundershowers and chances of sun. Mills and I boarded our canoe, nervously, and set off. In a giant circle. Then we hit a bank. Then we overcorrected and hit the other bank. And then went back to the other side.


By this stage, the other six canoes were well down the river and we were still trying to get ourselves facing the right direction. I helped matters by shouting instructions from the front of the canoe. "Can you actually see that we're heading for a bank? Are you even trying? Hard right damnit, paddle! Mills! What's your problem, goddamnit. You are useless!"

Mills did his bit by not hitting me on the back of the head with an oar.

Once I realised that, no matter how much I willed it, I could not steer from the front, we settled into a fairly strong rowing pattern. It was a great test of character for me to let this go. Huge. The women in my family are a) highly competitive b) massive control freaks.

Fortunately we soon found the current and we had the wind at our backs, so things got pretty cushy. We put the oars across our knees and had a casual drift downstream. We even had our water-proof ponchos at the ready when a brief thunderstorm struck.

Speaking of water-proof... the recommendation was made that valuables were placed in plastic bags to ensure that they stayed dry. I decided to put my valuables in a plastic bag, in my camping bag, in the van which was driving most of our stuff to the camp site. Others chose to put their stuff into a dry-bag made specifically for camping purposes. They put this bag into one canoe. More to come on that.
The international ferry between Belgium and the Netherlands.

We made it to the camp site without (too much) incident, although there was the inevitable race for the finish. Mills and I would've won, but we were disqualified for overshooting the pier. We were just going that fast. Paddling back upstream to the end point, into the wind, was not such a fun way to end the day.

Setting up camp on the Belgium side of the river, I was not entirely convinced whether we were camping, or squatting. There were no ablution facilities, and we could either camp in a field of cows(patts), or practically on top of the canoe storage area. Slightly dodgy, but anyway, set up camp we did. We found a little tavern to abuse their toilet facilities and did our best to avoid the ubiquitous stinging nettle in our camp site.

The Dutch have a wonderful product, called Kant en Klaar BBQ sets. Three euros a pop, they are compact, portable and trashable mini-barbeque sets. They come complete with fire container, wire grid, charcoal and firelighters.

Braaing... Dutch style.

Handy it may be, but it ain't no braai, and it certainly didn't pack enough heat to defrost the solidly frozen burger patties. Our Scandinavian companions decided to combat this problem by putting the (frozen) burgers in to cook with the baked beans. It was nasty. Despite their protestations (they ate it by the spoonful - COLD - the next morning), I have to say it tasted like dog food. And yes, I can know for sure because I once tried my dog's food, which (unlike the hamburger concoction) was actually nourishing.

Despite the optimistic weather forecasts, we were pleasantly surprised with a beautifully clear evening. The Europeans marvelled at the beauty of the visible stars. It wasn't karoo desert quality, but hey we could see more than five, so I enjoyed it too.

I think the best part of the camping trip was that it didn't rain. Not much anyway. And it certainly didn't rain over night. The next morning (after squatting for a pee on top of stinging nettle - it's like a bloody electric shock to the tender bits), we set off downriver again. And again, I put my valuables in the plastic bag, in the camping bag, in the van.

Unfortunately, the couple tasked with transporting the valuable-laden dry-bag on the river soon established that the dry bag does not handle being submerged very well. Their dog decided to jump ship when the rapids got a bit too rapid. Canoe + rapid rapids + panicky dog = wet couple and very wet valuables. Although not known for its white river rafting facilities, the Maas river took a particularly quick decline across a few short metres and it was a few precious seconds before the dry(wet)-bag was located. It was too late. The tally was as follows:
5 Blackberries. Destroyed.
3 Phones. Destroyed.
2 Wallets. Sodden.
1 Camera. Soaking.
1 80G Ipod. Ruined.
4 sets of car keys...
...it was a fairly tense moment when it came to starting the cars after that. That would've been an expensive taxi trip home!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Oh, say can you see...

Today was scary. I woke up before my alarm and there was no chance of going back to sleep. Today was the day. D-Day.

I was going to apply for a holiday visa to the US.

The run up to this momentous occassion was nerve-wracking. First a phone call to book an appointment. None of this "Hi, my name is Suzie-Jo and how may I be of service on this zippy-zappy-happy day" shit. The US consulate answers their non-immigrant visa query line thusly: "credit card number."

You see, you're charged 15 smackaroony-Euros before you can even say your name. And if your visa application is not successful (she types while touching wood with crossed fingers), you have to pay another 15 smackaroonies to book another appointment - if you want to try again.

Anyway, so appointment booked. Now I just need to gather the generic visa application supporting documents. I've done this before.

Letter of employment. Check.
Bank statements (printed and stamped by bank, nice touch). Check.
Proof of residence. Check.
Copies of everything. Check. Check. Check.
Application document, printed and signed. Check.
Very specific US visa photos (both ears showing, no teeth visible, exactly one half inch between head and border. NO white borders). CHECK.

Now, bearing in mind that Nelson Mandela has only recently been removed from the US terrorist threat list, and I don't even have a Nobel Prize issued in this century or the last, I was nervous. Being South African, I too could be viewed as a security threat. I didn't want to leave anything to chance.

So it was that I had printed my planned route to the Consulate. I also had alternative routes in case a bus driver had a seizure or a train got derailed. I had gone over the possible trick questions and answers. The phone call to book the appointment alone had left me nervous, how intimidating was the actual visa application going to be?

I arrived almost an hour early for my appointment. I removed the battery from my phone (as instructed) and made sure not to pack my penknife, kitchen cutlery or any other sharp objects in my bag. I left my fire extinguisher and mace spray at home, but my plastic ballerina shoes still set off the security scanner (huh?).

I got to the till and fanned out my documentation. I handed across passport, application, residence permit and photo. I waited for the questioning.

Stamp, stamp. Stamp. Scrawl.
"Xxx Employment Agency, huh? You're a good person to know."
Huh? Sorry? Do you want to see my letter of employment?
"No. So what sort of jobs do you recruit?"
Um, internationals and expats. Do you want a job? You've got my details.. *sly wink*
Stamp. Sign.
"Your visa has been approved, you will receive it by registered post in 3-4 days."

But don't you want my suggested itinery, or my specifically printed bank statements? Where's the part where you question me about my terrorist intentions and previous illegal activities? What kind of a visa service are you running here?

Every single person at the embassy was nothing but polite, friendly and efficient. I'm still a little bit thrown. Where's the catch? Well, besides the fact that I don't actually have my passport back yet... I think I'll finally relax once I've got that back in my grubby little paws.

Cross your thumbs and hold your toes that it comes back soon, because I hate being separated from my precious (both worthless and priceless) SA passport.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

How to win friends and influence people - 2

For those of you who missed the first instalment (where were you last month?), please read it here.

Right, now that we're all caught up, let's proceed onto Step Four, when meeting another group of new people...

Get ready to leave home. Remember to pack lipstick, adjust earings, add fresh spray of deodorant, apply cream to hands. Dry skin is the sign of a girlfriend who does not care for her appearance. Go to the loo beforehand. Also remember to pack spare tampons, it being that time of the month and all. Stay on top of your game, think of all eventualities.

Walk with boyfriend to pick up boyfriend's new colleague from hotel. Smile, make social chit-chat. Shine as expat partner. Walk through busy shopping streets and city centre to join other colleagues at restaurant. Meet other colleague's family and in-laws. Shining. Exemplary social skills.

Half an hour after meeting all these new people, realise that unzipped fly is gaping and you have just walked through town and met a range of new acquaintances, flashing your panties to anyone who cared to notice.

Step Four: Make sure to leave a lasting first impression. People who prioritise minor details such as gaping fly zips are easily forgotten.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Orania and lemons

First, Let's talk nutrition. You know you're supposed to eat five fruit and veg a day? You do, right. It's common knowledge, except maybe for the fat kids in the US. It's not their fault, they can't hear advice over the desperate beating of their labouring hearts.

Everyone knows it, but not everyone does it. I don't, but I know I should. Do colourful jelly beans count? They're raspberry and spring onion flavoured. Or something.

Anywho, it's not common knowledge in the Netherlands. In fact, they've only recently started campaigns to get cloggies eating any fruit and veg at all (no, patat does NOT count. Neither does mayo).

The nutritional authorities have started off slowly... easing the nation into the idea of two fruit a day. Just a gentle two. Don't want to shock the system too much. Broodje, kroket, patat met saus remain the staple diet, but you should be getting your two "stukjes" fruit as well, mmmkay.

An overweight colleague was recently advised by a personal nutritionist that she should eat five a day. "FIVE!" she exclaimed, stretching her fingers in front of my face to demonstrate exactly how insane her consultant was. "Not two... but five stukje every day!"

Yes, that's what the rest of the health-conscious world has been told to aim for. For quite a while now. Just FYI.

Anywho, it's not that the cloggies really need it. They may be a big nation by build, but they are not particularly overweight. It's all the cycling in strong wind and rain. They can eat patat and crap like that because they burn it off on the way home. Bastardos.


In other news, lookie what I found...

That's right kids, it's a monument to me: The Twisted Koeksuster.

At this stage, I would like to take a moment to thank my parents, my friends, the ballerinas and of course my long-suffering boyfriend, without all of whom I would never have had the courage to start the bold course of blogging about my extremely exciting day-to-day life.

Unfortunately, I couldn't be there for the unveiling... as it happened five years ago, and in Orania. What a pity.

A monument to the lekker twisted treat. Novel.

This pic lead me to the Orania website... Interesting. And mildly amusing.

"Orania is not an impulse, but a reply is a weakness and strength at the same time. A weakness because people tend to react more easily and quickly on impulse, even if it means jumping from the frying pan into the fire. A strength because a well thought-out answer stands the test of time much better and proves its value over a period of time.

But what is the question to which Orania wants to be the answer? To know this, is to know why Orania continues to grow, albeit slowly... For that reason different perspectives are offered around the questions the Afrikaner is facing. By rejecting some [blacks - Ed] and accepting others [whites- Ed], it also clearly indicates what kind of answer Orania wants to be."

What the fuck does that all mean? It's very profound. Maybe if I joined the Kaalvoet Woman's Group (ligit name for the active women's organisation in Orania. Their best known effort? Their omage to me, I mean twisted koeksisters), I would have a better understanding.

Maybe I'm being unfair. I don't know these gentle folk (with an "extensive display of firearms" in their local museum), so I shouldn't pass judgment. But I'm still gonna. Cos I think it's funny. Sorry, but those home schooled kids stand the same chance of sanity as Josef Fritzl's inbred lot (maybe less, cos Fritzl's kids have seen the light. Literally).

I think they have a nice website though, for what that counts.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Losing grip

Seven. The number of glasses I have broken in our home, this year.

I think it was five or six last year, but I can't rightly recall. When we moved into this little abode, we had so many drinking glasses we couldn't keep them all in one place. Now the remaining 6 (only two matching) look rather pathetic on their assigned shelf.

On Friday night, I dropped one with such skill (in the lounge) that we are still finding shards of rose-coloured glass as far a field as the bedroom.

But please don't think I'm a messy clutz. Well... not always. I recently managed to break a glass so cleanly that a very neat circle, about a centimetre deep, simply formed around the rim and then seperated from the base. Precision, like a glass cutter.

I think what amazes me the most, is that I'm not a clutz when it comes to someone else dropping something. Then I have the reflexes of a mongoose, and am likely to catch the spilled object without stopping to think.

When I drop something, however, I do one of two things:
  1. All available limbs spasm into action at the same time, inevitably resulting in me kicking/elbowing/headbutting the falling object with further force into the floor.
  2. Or my brain shuts down completely, switches into drool mode and I do nothing until the final plate has stopped spinning.

Both equally (in)effective.

At work, last week, I did not break a glass. Hoorah. But I did manage to drop a glass from the top of a flight of stairs, sending it clunking all the way down to the bottom, without breaking. Fortunately our stairs (that I have not fallen down - yet) are carpetted, which is what saved this particular glass. But it did make a splendid noise and got everyone's attention.

I'm not even sure how I did it. I was carrying two glasses - one in either hand. How hard can it be? I'm twenty-sss--omething, and I'm pretty sure I've got nursery school reports commending my fine motor coordination. I know I have two fully-functioning opposable thumbs. Why can't I hold onto things?

Grip, damnit. Grip!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


At 23.45 last night (well, tonight, seeing as I am now up), our crazy and inconsiderate neighbour upstairs decided it would now be appropriate to start cleaning their floor (our ceiling).

Words cannot describe how much I hate them for waking me up with their household chores. At least twice a week they scrape some sort of brush or metal object across their floor. Think about nails scraping down a chalk board, then reproduce that noise across every square inch of the ceiling. They are very thorough. This noise is annoying enough at 8pm on a week night, but when it wakes you up at midnight... then I think I could have just cause to plead mitigating circumstances in court.

I eventually gave up on trying to ignore the noise (previous experience shows that bashing a broomstick on the ceiling doesn't work, neither does actually going upstairs and telling them about the noise), so now I'm trying to think of ways for them to slowly, painfully - but most importantly, QUIETLY - curl up and die.
  1. Personal favourite - choking on the amonia fumes. Could claim it was a by-product of obsessive cleaning.
  2. Attacked by an unexpected swarm of African bees (unfortunately not the quietest option, but could still be satisfactory).
  3. This option will require more effort than the other two, but could result in a mental home: getting hold of their landline and then calling them at irregular hours... putting down the phone as I hear them reaching it upstairs.
  4. (or 3a.) Getting hold of their landline and then listing them as contact for as many items as possible on http://www.marktplaats.nl/, stating that they only speak Swahili and therefore need to be spoken to very, very slowly.
  5. I am tempted to list falling off the balcony as one option, but that would just be in sick distaste. So scrap that.
  6. Hypertension (revenge for what they give me).

Any other suggestions welcome. Creative juices are slow, so I'm sticking with option 1 as my favourite choice for now.

Saturday, August 02, 2008


Did you know that average temperatures in the Netherlands have risen by almost 2 degrees in the last hundred years? That's faster than the average global warming registered across Europe. This, and the rising water levels, will no doubt have adverse affects on the low-lying Cloggies, but let me tell you a secret... come a little bit closer, children...

... the Netherlands is just AWESOME in summer. And I don't mean summer as in "the months between spring and autumn", but rather summer as in those few days where the wind dies down briefly and it doesn't rain for 48 straight hours. When the temps rise to 25 degrees or above, which (if the average temp stats are right) is going to happen more and more frequently. Throw in the long summer evenings (the sun only sets as late as 10.30pm), and you've got yourself a wonderful recipe for bliss.

I think I can categorically state that cycling around The Hague in this weather is one of the best feelings of contentment that you are ever likely to experience. Couple this with the fact that it's been school holidays, and the working hours become known as 'Komkommertijd' (rough translation: very quiet and unproductive because you can't get anything done due to lack of work force).

It's almost impossible to get any service during July and August as shops, restaurants and service providers all go on holiday. Generally for an entire month. No replacements or skeleton staff, simply pop a sign on the door and close up for a few weeks (don't even bother with an exact date: "we should reopen around the beginning of September.." will suffice). Our GP just changed his outgoing voice message - stating how long he would be away and leaving a number to contact a hospital in his absense. How do you think this would sit in South Africa?

Frustrations over the service industry aside, komkommertijd is probably my best time of year in the Netherlands. It's similar to staying in Joburg over Christmas and New Year. What a pleasure.

Unfortunately, these factors of maximum temperatures and minimal people only combine perfectly for a few all-too-short weeks, and then it'll be back to dodging gaggles of spotty teens on their way to school. Until then, let me reiterate: summer in the Netherlands is just... sublime.