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May 18, 2006

If it's home, then what the fuck am I doing here?

I’ve been following the posts from Liz and Nat and Patrick from afar, as in I have sneakily been skim reading them in between blackouts and constant upheaval. I wanted to write something profound with lots of big words all prettily strung together that would make you all think I was smart, but I don’t have time and I’m none too smart neither…

I’m sitting here procrastinating (well, that’s quite big for a word isn’t it?) having to unravel the big bureaucratic ball of string needed to get trucks loaded with food and food into mouths after some low level skirmishes sent people a-packing (ahem, not mentioning any names, but i’ll give you a clue - ‘Grrrrr’). But it’s not because I don’t care, it’s just that I wanted to quickly, quickly say Hip Hip Hooray for Liz and Nat. And Ye-hah for Patrick. I got inspired and weepy-eyed just reading all your posts, and it wasn’t just the recent mosquito bite to my eye ball.

I am so like, totally coming home Perth. You hear that Perth? I’m coming! And when I do I am gonna like, be more pro-active and stuff. And I’m gonna write more and that. And I’m gonna learn to call Patrick ‘Paddy’, because all the other kids do. And I’m gonna be Nat’s assistant and answer her phone with my polite phone voice and we’ll plot plans of greatness over cups of peppermint tea. And I’m gonna get out my old Singer and whip up one-off originals. And I’m gonna take Marty out for pints and learn big words from him (and then use them in my blog site). And I’m gonna seek out all the other people on this site and get to know them, y’know, really get to know them. And I’m gonna make shit happen…. Umm, just as soon as I finish this new six month contract I signed and then y’know, I was going to hang out in Europe for a while and, well after that I thought I might go and get myself some more education in Melbourne….

But after that, seriously, after that Perth, I’m coming home.

Posted by catherine at 11:51 AM | Comments (2)

May 10, 2006

I know it's boring to talk about the weather, but...

I found myself up to my armpits in the freezer. I tried to close the door, but my torso was kind of getting in the way. I had my chin propped up on top of the fridge and was sucking on an ice cube while my lumpy pumpkin soup (that, in the absence of a blender, I had attempted to puree with blows from a coffee mug) simmered away behind me creating more unnecessary heat and sticky armpits in the kitchen. I’d given myself a shower fully clothed, but my dress had now dried starch stiff against my hot little limbs. My eyes were foggy with humidity and I was wondering if was really all that naughty to resort to valium just to find some shut-eye in amongst the hot damp air and the new generation of mosquitoes recently hatched outside my bedroom window.

This place, I decided, was too fucking hot for humans.

Posted by catherine at 1:37 PM | Comments (0)

May 9, 2006

Why I love letters in triplicate

I have a small story. It’s not brave or heroic. You couldn’t use it in a commercial stuck between Neighbours and the Evening News to pull hard-earned goldies from pockets. It’s not what my mum thinks all people who work in developing countries do like vaccinating babies or digging wells (well, actually it kind of is). It’s a small story of a small win.

We were planning to install 300 hand pump tube wells for 300 families. We have the staff to carry this out, we have selected beneficiaries, we have the funds. We also have a commitment and a desire to work through local government to increase sustainability and decrease dependency…… lovely jargon which, had I ever studied International Development 101, I’m sure I would have proudly written three times in the opening paragraph of my first essay.

So the local field staff of the Department of Health are meant to work together with our Water and Sanitation Sector to carry out site selection for the installation of these 300 tube wells. But you know, there’s a lot of extra work going on these days. There’s a lot of NGOs with a lot of projects and a lot of money. And these Health Department Field Staff, they’re real busy. But if you pay them an ‘incentive fee’ of 350 Rupees (AU $5 - about 10% of the total cost of a tube well) then you can have your site selected and tube well installed all before morning tea. But we’re not too keen on paying ‘incentive fees’ and we’re even less happy about paying good old fashioned bribes…

So I go to visit their direct Supervisor, who sends me to visit the District Health Representative, who sends me to visit the Water Board, who sends me to visit the District Health Minister, who sends me to visit the District Health Representative… . I call meetings, I fill out forms in triplicate, I storm offices, I swing my legs in dusty waiting rooms surrounded by stacks of yellowing files that touch the ceiling. I try and appeal to their sense of humanity, I throw tantrums, I try to explain it diplomatically (“… see, the thing is, we just don’t pay bribes…”), I dob on them to other organisations, I get a sunburnt nose walking from one dusty office to the next.

Meanwhile, it’s been two months and 300 families are still out there lugging stupid buckets of water from a well to their house. I get really fucking angry.

Yesterday I went to the Government Agents Office. His title makes him sound like he’s a spy, but he’s the equivalent of a state Premier in Australia only with higher waisted pants and a bell under his desk that he rings for the office boy to come running. I decided I wasn’t leaving his office until I had a good outcome….so I told my staff I would be out for the whole day. I sat in front of his desk the size of a small dance floor and told my story. I suggested that he write a letter stating that we can carry out our own site selection, since the Health Department field staff are so busy. He thinks it’s a good idea and tells me to leave it with him, he’ll get back to me.

I sigh.

How about I draft the letter for you, I tell him. He thinks that’s an even better idea. He’ll get some one to type it up this week, maybe…. He’ll get back to me.

I sigh, a bit louder. Just for a little added drama.

How about you just swivel out of that there chair of yours for a moment, and let me type the letter myself. His moustache goes skywards. Great idea.

So I sit there while he clings to the desk with half an arse cheek, and I draft myself a letter of authorisation on his behalf and have a quiet chuckle as I imagine trying to pull this kind of thing in Carpenters black-suit-polished-shoe-shiny-tie office.

A couple of re-writes and a cup of tea later, I walk out of there with a sweaty grip on my precious letter - signed and stamped by the Government Agent in triplicate (just the way I like ‘em these days, three times the fun!) and we start drilling bore holes for 300 tube wells the next day. And that’s my small win.

Posted by catherine at 3:27 PM | Comments (2)

May 8, 2006

simple pleasures

I have decided to pay less attention to the soldiers and cow shit, the grenades and hawkers, the razor wire and the mangy dogs. Instead I’m going to focus on the little things that make me happy throughout the day.

On Friday I found some black seedless grapes at the market. An absolute first! Black grapes at black market prices - 100 rupees for 100gm - and were warm from sitting in the sun all day. The stall owner rubbed one clean between two grubby little fingers for me to try and I was too polite to refuse, but it was delicious! I bought a whole bag, took them home, left them to chill in the fridge for a few hours, washed them clean and then ate the whole lot by myself on my balcony with sweat running down the back of my legs and music from the temple off in the distance.

Posted by catherine at 9:40 AM | Comments (0)