Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Doctors, pains and 3G

Following visit to a rather useless "back doctor" who told me nothing I could not figure out myself I find I am still on and off in pain. Apparently a "pinched sciatic nerve" is (quote doctor) "tricky". As I said, nothing I could not figure out myself.

It has become much better with a mixture of rest and a healthy dosis of exercise but some things makes it raise its rather ugly head. One of them being driving long distances, I did some 730 km yesterday and that was not good at all.

Once we are in 2010 I will find a chiropractor but for now I live with it. More seriously, as I see it, I was diagnosed with high bloodpressure and am now trying to come to terms with that and bring it down. On that issue at least I think I have found a decent doctor and I have good support from the National Blood Transfusion Service as I am a donor. Have also found that a surprisingly large number of friends and colleagues have the same problem.

One good result of that and other medical issues is that I have been thoroughly tested, scanned, looked over and pinched at. Apparently I am, except for high BP, in perfect health.

As our landbased telephone line died a while ago (TelOne are "upgrading" they say) all internet access from home disappeared. Given that Econet wireless now have huge billboards advertising the arrival of 3G internet, "browse from your laptop wherever you are", we got a modem and an activated line.

To start positive: it works. Just about. Most of the time. But if this is "3G" then I hope our landline comes back online soon. I can, just about, receive and send emails. From 2 rooms in one corner of the house. I would call that 0.5G or something. Slower than dial-up by far.

Econet are doing their usual thing: First we advertise, launch and oversubscribe. THEN we get the necessary equipment to deal with the traffic it has created.

And, also as usual, Harare is worst hit. Others living in smaller cities are quite satisfied.

As always: patience is a virtue...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Back from Namibia

Just returned from a week in Windhoek, Namibia. Well, it was more like a week in Safari Hotel and Conference Centre, Windhoek. Got out of there Friday afternoon after a very hectic and ambitious program during the INK4DEV week.

Small is one impression of the City Centre (and that was all I managed) and squeaky clean. Quite a nice place but nothing for the "big city lovers" I think.

Limped around with bad pains in right leg the whole week. Turns out that I have an inflamed sciatic nerve so now on medications since yesterday. Let's hope that is all there is to it and not related to some more serious back problem.

It is raining in Harare (most of Zimbabwe actually) and we are NOT complaining. Nice that things cool down a bit and well needed for gardens and farmers.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Home

Boy does it feel good to be home in Harare... in serious need of "recharging batteries" for next trip. That will be to Windhoek, Namibia, a place I have never visited.

So trying to relax but have tons of things to do.. so not so easy. For me the big news is a new release of Kubuntu, version 9.10, that looks good enough for me to upgrade my own (and other) computer from the 8.04 version I use now. Check it out at Kubuntu

And of course the new Windows 7 is also something I look forward to trying out. From what I hear it is way better than Vista (not difficult...) and might be the version that will make many users to finally abandon XP. And of course then Microsoft does NOT make it possible to upgrade from XP to W7 direct... well not my headache.

Otherwise it is HOT and we are waiting for the rains to start.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Third time lucky

It took 3 attempts... to enter into Mozambique, Niassa province via the Chiponde (Malawi) - Mandimba (Mozambique) borderpost.

Having driven to Lilongwe I managed to get visa with no other problems than the ATMs going on strike in the morning (it had rained...) and the Consulate not opening at 8 am as scheduled. "The man with the keys" had not arrived and staff + visitors patiently waited. After an hour the lady in charge of visas kindly accepted envelopes with applications, passports, money and so on outside the door.

Next day spent a little time in the Malawi SCC office before heading off towards Lake Malawi and the border to Mozambique. Arrived there around 1 pm. No problem on the Malawi side.

Come to the Moz side and enter a very empty border post. Same guy that had so much fun refusing me 2 days ago. "Welcome, you are back. But today is voting day". Yes, and so what? "No crossing the border on voting day".

I have to admit that it was difficult to maintain calm and not start shouting. I stated (truthfully) that I had checked with the consulate in Lilongwe, that my organisation in Lichinga had checked with Immigration and even this borderpost that the border should be business as usual during election day. "No, not for foreigners, only Mozambiquans".

I asked if he seriously thought that the international airport in Maputo was closed to foreigners on this day, he admitted that it was not very likely. But Mandimba was.

What to do? In the age of cellphones: call the office in Lichinga. A flurry of phonecalls to them, to Immigration, to the head of the borderpost and so on. No, the border was closed to foreigners. A couple hours later we had negotiated a compromise. I would get a TIP for the car (import permit) and could sleep in Mandimba next to the border, come at 6 am and get the entry stamp and then continue. The office was making arrangements for accommodation (dodgy guesthouse style).

So I go to the car and ask the soldier manning the boom to open it. "Where is passport stamp?" I tried to explain. No - no stamp no lifting of boom. The Immigration man tried to explain. To no avail. More phone calls - no the army guys are under the Customs authority and there was noone from Customs around. Now what?

It is quite a walk to the "town" and with a suitcase? Or leave suitcase in car at the border? Colleagues now trying to arrange transport from Mandimba to come pick me up.

I had tried to plead with the newly arrived station manager who was now so "irritated" with me that he considered withdrawing his "kind offer".

I asked if I could try the Malawi side again to see if maybe they would allow me back so I could drive the 50 km back to Mangochi and sleep there? Without being refused the "kind offer" if they refused? "Yes, no problem".

Back at Chiponde I hit luck - manning Immigration was an "old friend" I normally chat with when I cross. He shook his head, crossed out the exit stamp. I got my old TIP back and headed for Mangochi. I was angry enough to drive in that manner you hardly remember how you got from A to B.

Now my favorite hotel/lodge was, of course, full. So was the next. At which time I pictured myself driving around looking for lodging the whole evening. Third time lucky, found lodging at Club Makokola. Nice but overpriced.

Slept like a dead person. Up early and back to border... Border very busy and the little round man I have learnt to really despise had no excuse this time, all he could do was to be as slooooow as possible.

Finally arrived Lichinga 4 days later than scheduled...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mozambique borders revisited

Crossing borders in Africa can be an adventure - and really tiresome. Started Sunday morning from Harare heading for Mangochi, Lake Malawi. Had not bothered with applying for visa at Mozambique embassy due to various reasons.

Mistake. BIG mistake. For starters I think Mozambique Immigration are on a go-slow as it
took the guy at Nyamapanda over 1 hour to process my visa. That included starting by counting the various currencies for over 10 minutes. Then looking for the right form, finding the correct receipt book etc etc.

The Malawi border was not much more fun and I arrived late to Lake Malawi, rather tired after 770 km on the road alone.


The following day when I come to Mandimba, Mozambique border to Niassa province, at around 9.30 am or so I am told they can not issue me with a visa at the border... why now, I try to find out. After much deliberating in poor English (my Portuguese is extremely basic), calling in Amisse (one driver from SCC who happened to be nearby), discussing with Andreas (Finance Manger in Lichinga) and on and on it is finally explained that if you have 2 single-entry visas issued at borders you must have the next from an Embassy. A rule noone had heard of. The station Manager is the only guy who can overrule this, albeit at an extra cost. And he is in Malawi... hurrah. So I turn back to start driving to Lilongwe instead in order to get said visa.

Now when I get to the Malawi borderpost I have recently left they refuse to let me back in "as I had not really been anywhere"... they seriously suggested I spend 24 hours in no-mans land! Refused to believe noone on Moz side would issue a visa and so on. After much begging and wringing of hands it took a beer and promise of drinks on the return leg to get back in. By then mentally rather hammered.

Arrived dog tired in Lilongwe last night, slept like a log. This morning start visa process. The ATMs went on strike after a short rain... and the Mozambique Consulate that is supposed to open at 8 am was not open by 9 am. The "man with the keys" had not arrived and staff plus other applicants patiently waited outside the door. Finally the lady in charge of visa applications accepted our forms, photos, passports and money outside the door.

I now finally have a visa (multiple entry...) and ATMs are working so I could pay back the cash I borrowed to pay for it.

Question is: dare I try tomorrow or is Karma and whatever destiny, fate and Gods not on my side this time?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sunday from hell

Some days one should not wake up and/or leave the bed.

The day started EARLY in order to catch the bloody 7.20 flight to Johannesburg and then continue to Maputo. That means waking up around 4.30 - 5 in order to shower, pack the last stuff and get to airport in time.

Only to get to the car and find that it had been broken into and the speakers stolen. Plus a "nice" square hole in our garage "wall". Great start of the day.

Then I get to Johannesburg airport and try to cash my VAT refund cheque from last week's short visit to Southafrica. Only to be told that it will take 8-10 WEEKS to get the cheque ready. Yes you read it - weeks not days.

Then I had a brief moment of panic while boarding because suddenly my passport was missing. How it managed to get to the very very bottom of my bag I don't know. But when I find it is when I realise that my valid visa for Mozambique is in my old passport that was replaced due to running out of pages. At home is that where that passport is. And I do not carry cash enough to pay for an entry visa since I know I carry a valid visa. Hurrah.

So when I arrive in Maputo I met a guardian angel in the shape of a guy called Simon who lent me money to get a visa and then waited for me to get Moz money to pay him back. Simon, wherever you are and if you ever read this - you restored my faith in humankind and the world this day.

Then I take a taxi to the hotel where I was booked. Given the nature of this day of course there was no room in my name, in fact all rooms were booked and no room for me... I managed to get hold of Miguel, the manager of the office I am to visit tomorrow, and we chased around for a hotel room. Eventually we found one. Boy am I going to sleep tonight and hope that tomorrow turns out different.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Really not very happy

Life sometimes. For various reasons we were in Southafrica last weekend and then reclaimed VAT for whatever we shopped. To be reimbursed in O.R Tambo (Johannesburg) airport. Great. The only problem being that when I now went to the VAT refund place here (am at airport in question in other words) I am told it takes 8 - 10 weeks for the refund cheque to be ready... talk about trying to discourage people.

And more headaches: yesterday we had a really nice day at Rocklands, the kids swam in the pool and Mia and I just relaxed. Came home, watched TV and all that. Only to find out when we headed for the airport that thieves had neatly cut a hole in our garage wall, managed to open the Corolla and steal the speakers. So now we have a square hole in the metal fence "wall" and I hate leaving Mia alone with that kind of problems.

Well well, Maputo here we come.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Computers and Mana Pools

Just a comment on the sometimes somewhat weird world that happens to be my profession. As I work on my laptop that has Kubuntu Linux as OS I sometimes need to run various versions of Windows for support reasons. I do this by running something called VirtualBox - an environment where I can run other systems "inside" my Kubuntu main OS. That way I have Windows XP Pro, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Vista installed and can run them without rebooting.

Currently I am testing out next version of Kubuntu Linux, "Karmic Koala", to be released October 2009. And I find it so good that I write this, visit Facebook, chat and check one of my (many...) email lists from within the pre-release of Karmic. So I sort of swap between my main version and the new depending on what I am doing...

Otherwise I am really looking forward to go to Mana Pools next weekend for the annual Game Count. Feel in bad need of a break.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Thoughts on Africa

Interesting article from BBC on Africa and poverty: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8215083.stm
In the same vein Barack Obama has made some statements:
http://tinyurl.com/kr44uc
http://tinyurl.com/l4k75o
A Zimbabwean friend of mine commented "it takes a goffal to call a spade a spade".

Friday, August 21, 2009

Not much to write about

I was actually asked why I have not updated the blog for some time. Well at least that means that it is being read by one person!

I guess the reason is that sometimes life just sort of goes on. The winter in Zimbabwe has been continued awfully cold, good thing we have plenty of firewood after taking down 6 dead trees.

No new house woes except for a TV gone dead. Constant power blackouts and surges are not nice to your electronics, that is something we have learnt the hard way. After much searching we found a guy who said he could fix it. That is now 2 months ago I think and he is at the moment "waiting for spare parts" since 3 weeks or so. I strongly suspect the truth is that it is beyond repair (in Zimbabwe at least) but he doesn't want to admit it.

Good thing that at the time I asked if any Swede leaving the country were selling their TV! One lady called and said she had an old but large and good TV. But she was not selling it until she was leaving in August. I told her to please come back to me as she basically did not ask for any money to talk about.

Last week she called, on Sunday we picked it up. Mia and syster Cynthia had to do all carrying as I was suffering from lumbago. As she had said it is an old Philips TV but large screen, good picture and no faults we have found. Bingo! Moved the "kids TV" back to their bedroom and they have hardly been off Playstation since.

In Zimbabwe the somewhat limping unity government continues amid constant infighting. Maybe it should be called non-unity government? However, most of us still enjoy the slow progress and every small step towards "normalcy" that takes place.

Some things are plain weird though. Like City of Harare insisting on residents paying water bills in areas that have not had city water for the past 2-3 years.. excuse but paying for WHAT now? The idea being that if we do not pay they can not fix the system so we can get water. Hm, never heard that logic before, once water come back will I then get x months of free water?

Same goes for newly introduced system of road tolls on major highways. Most of them are in awful shape yet we are supposed to pay for using them... I have never before heard of paying tolls BEFORE a highway is fixed. From all my experience you either use tax money for maintenance or you let a commercial entity fix the road and that company then charge toll for that.

Another "funny" one - TelOne (only fixed phoneline supplier) announces proudly that they will introduce a new billing and reading system. Cause the existing one is in shambles and have not survived hyperinflation, new currency etc. Fine with me. But they still send skyhigh bills to everyone and insist on full payment without any proof of usage, metering etc. Que? We pay an amount every month that I consider reasonable, no more. They want to cut us off fine go ahead. Have not heard of anyone they have actually cut - they need every dollar and they know it.

My final rant for today: cellphone rates. All 3 providers in Zimbabwe have had their rates approved by referring to "regional rates". Nonsense, in short. Don't know who helped them to establish those rates but they are way higher than neighbouring countries.

Two very simple examples: In Mozambique I have a local "pay as you go" sim-card. When I am there I buy a 4-dollar top-up. I get 100 free sms (local) on that. I hardly ever use the full amount in a week even though I sms to Zimbabwe once or twice a day and make local phonecalls.
In Zambia I also have a local card. I normally buy 2 dollar top-up for a week! No free sms but I can sms to Zimbabwe once or twice daily and make some local calls.
In Zimbabwe it is no problem to spend 5-10 us dollar in less than a week. Only on local calls and sms.
Regional rates my foot.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Citizen Sinclair


As noted in an earlier posting I, by mistake, became citizen of Zimbabwe a while ago. This did not bother me. Until last Friday.

I had just gotten a new passport as the old one was running out of pages (they last around a year with all my zigzaggin around Africa). Then I took the time on Friday to go to Immigration and transfer my residence permit.

An extremely bored-looking woman asked for my ID and then stated that as I was a citizen I could not have a residence permit. My protests that I was not a citizen, it was just that Registrar General had made a mistake, had no impact whatsoever - "you have to sort that out first".

So we started this morning by going back to Registrar General. Lucky I had a copy of my old paper ID and even more lucky a friend of Hellen was on duty. We explained the situation and about 10 minutes later I was no longer a citizen but an "Alien" once more. Passed Immigration and the same, equally bored, woman stamped my new passport without even checking if the old one actually had a residence permit in it.

Now if that had happened in Sweden I can only imagine the headhunt for the person responsible for the original mistake, a certain amount of forms to be filled in etc. Sometimes the rather relaxed attitude towards rules in African countries can be an advantage.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Cold cold cold

Harare and Zimbabwe is experiencing a record cold winter. The Herald (of absolute truth) reports night temperatures down to -12 in parts of the country and that cattle has died!

That is NOT the best time for your geyser to die on you so of course that is what happened. On top of that it seems every good plumber has left Zimbabwe so what we keep finding are the guys who:
  1. Learnt by looking at what someone else did and said "I am sure I can do that" - they are wrong...
  2. Do not know the clock or understand the concept of time. "Morning" means anytime before lunch. If you are lucky because it might also mean "today or possibly tomorrow".
  3. Have no transport and carry 2-3 tools, no ladder, no silk thread etc etc so you have to rush and buy whatever they need
I don't know why we always end up with the Marx Brothers for plumbers. When 2 finally showed up yesterday they fit the above description perfect. It took them around 2 hours to fit a new element and a thermostat.

Once they were gone and water warm enough boy did I soak in a bath. Only to wake up in the night by "strange sounds" from the geyser. Switched it off. This morning switched it back on. An hour or so later the water in it BOILS and the water starts pouring out via the pressure valve! Thank any god noone was outside in the area where the water comes out from the ceiling!!

Switch off geyser. Call oldest Marx Brother (the boss) who promise to come "first thing". He showed up at around 11 am... only to tell it was the wrong type of thermostat. Now why could not the younger Marx Brothers see that BEFORE they installed it??

Otherwise I have a flu and cough, Eric has a flu and cough and Mia is not too well either . And the kids have just "finished" chickenpox.

On the up side: another small step on the road back to normal life in Zimbabwe. We now have paid vehicle insurance in USD and that makes them meaningful! For years any insurance has been completely pointless as hyperinflation rendered any evalution meaningless. You had it just because the law required. We are now looking at once more insure the home, something that will feel really good once it is done.

And we have contracted a company for garden maintenance... we are SICK of employing "gardeners" who either are useless or have x number of family/personal problems. It cost a bit more but so far feels worth every dollar.

2 links to sites with thoughts and pictures re life in Africa, one of them in Swedish though:
http://picasaweb.google.com/ZimbabwePictures
http://www.utangranser-kajsasblogg.se/

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Find for the handy car enthusiast

Found this on the streets of Harare some time ago:



Anyone interested I can find out if this classic Volvo P1800 sportscar is for sale? You DO have to be the handy, fixing mechanic (mad) type though...

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Lichinga notes

Back in Lichinga, Niassa province, Mozambique. A place where very few things work as planned or expected. Internet one of them, terribly unreliable and poor quality. TDM "Bandalarga", more like Bandapico if you ask me, is running a series of TV adverts where people get "blown away" by the high speed internet. Sure. More like that old ad where someone falls asleep in front of the computer waiting for that mail with attachment.

Any way, Tuesday was inauguration of the long awaited fibre optic cable connection coming to Lichinga. Pomp and circumstance, disco music and orchestras, honorable (?) ministers and such the whole day. Internet suddenly working quite well... for 3 days.

Yesterday back to Bandapico, can hardly open gmail interface. Ministers etc back in Maputo I guess.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Zimbabwe status report

A personal such, of course. But despite the obvious problems the Government of National Unity (GNU) is facing and also despite the equally obvious internal "tug of war" inside said GNU (evident by orders and contraorders, sometimes on the same day, ongoing farm invasions,unilateral decisions etc) there is a cautious feeling of optimism in the air.

The shops are almost back to normal (meaning how they were before all headaches started around 2000) and last time we fueled the cars we actually paid with cash! For most of you that is nothing - for us something that has not been possible for more years than I can recall.

And prices are for the third month in a row reported as falling! Yes, many many items are still more costly than they used to be and out of reach for most people but it is moving in the right direction at least.

Also small but nice improvements can be seen, at least in Harare. Traffic lights are being fixed, cleaning and emptying of rubbish here and there, flower sales back in Unity Square and such. As I said - SMALL signs but at least there is a feeling that SOMETHING is happening.

What is absurd at the moment are fees for various services such as phone, city council, electricity, water etc. This is because all govt. agencies are trying to play "catch up" and recover some capital after years of being more or less free. However, that is also slowly being corrected. What is left are things like school fees... I shudder to think what we will be asked to pay next term.

Noone thinks this is going to be an easy ride and there is a very real possibility of failure, no matter what politicians might say in public. One good thing though (strange for outsiders perhaps) is that the rot is now public and out in the open. The absolutely appalling state of the econonomy, the terrible conditions for most govt. departments and other agencies, the enormous needs of support, money and credit lines are now for all to see and not swept under the carpet of silence and weird "our friends in East, Iran and China will help us"-statements/policies.

So I give a careful "thumbs-up" so far. For the one interested in Zimbabwe's economy I found this interesting blog:
http://odettejohnrobertson.blogspot.com/

On a personal note: after years of having a rather flimsy A4-paper as Zimbabwean identification I have now managed to get a "proper" id!!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Albania

Back from a short visit to Albania, some reflections on that country. For starters it was my first visit and I have not been in the Balkan region for over 20 years. Well before they decided (or whatever happened) to disintegrate Yugoslavia into x number of midget states during a terrible war in other words.

For those who know their history Albania was a communist state post second world war, ruled most of that time by Enver Hoxha. It broke away from the Soviet Union infuense though. The "post-Hoxha" time was chaotic and I remember seeing the movie Lamerica mid 90s sometimes, a not very positive movie presenting a country in chaos.

So I was most pleasantly surprised to find this small country (roughly 3 million inhabitants) being fairly "modern" and inhabited by very friendly, helpful and hospitable people. Everyone tries to help, tries to speak English and as a matter of fact I was barely left alone to eat.

Food is a story in itself, mixture of Italian, meditteranian and more robust "farm cooking". I am NOT used to eating 3-4 courses for lunch and felt rather stuffed a lot of the time.

An especially memorable meal was a late lunch by Lake Pogradec on our way back from Korca to Tirana. We stopped at a very empty restaurant (low season) and was treated the best grilled lamb I have ever eaten. Full stop.

That was one day when I simply skipped dinner. Another time I had to leave the better part of a pot of lovely pork suckling baked with potato. Too much food in short - but great food.

It was a bit chilly, I have not been in Europe during that season for many years. And strange - some offices and houses are actually colder inside than it is outside! The office in Korca in particular, brrr.

We (I was with a colleague, P G Skog) found that no meeting was held without coffee "espresso style" and rarely without being served Raki. Maybe to keep the warmth? And most of the time "farm" Raki from someone's relatives rather than from the shop. That includes the acting Director General of NES that the mission was focused on.

Here some Albania photos

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Do I look gullible?

Written 8 March:
Am spending the day at Rome Airport, no fun at all. OK I have a day-room at Hilton Hotel so at least I have somewhere to rest. However: the room is nice and designed and so on but NOTHING comes with it, not even a bottle of water. Or internet access. Tea and coffe, end of story. And the prices for food in their restos are so mad I simply walked over to the airport to get a bite.

Coming fresh from the very friendly Tirana where my room included hi-speed internet it feels a bit weird that the supposedly "first-world" Italy and fancy Hilton can not offer that. Never mind.

Sadly I can never really sleep during daytime unless I am exhausted so I just rest, read and try to relax. My flight for Addis Abeba leaves at 1.15 in the night so I have time on my hands.

I guess I should have gone into Rome as I have never been there but all stories I have heard (and what I have seen so far) have led me to suspect I likely would not have been back on time or without any money left.

Most of the time when I get stopped by police on the road in my various criss-crossing travels of southern or eastern Africa I have no problems and get "let off the hook" quite easily. I have attributed it to a certain easygoing attitude combined with patience but maybe I just look "too daft or gullible" and they sort of feel sorry for me?

This thinking is because 2 times in a couple of hours I was hit on by conmen here at the airport. Guy nr 2 I can not prove (I can not PROVE nr 1 either but if I am wrong I will be more than surprised) however as I walked away from him.

Guy number 1 I meet in the long tunnel from airport to hotel. Conversation goes a something like this:
"Excuse me sir do you speak English" - this in a very to me UK-sounding accent
"yes I do why"?
"Well I have just missed my flight and need to call my brother in UK to ask for help. Would you have 3 Euro to help me make a call"?
"No but you can use my phone"
"Well he has to call me back with a booking number so I want to use one of the payphones that has a number on it"
OK I give the guy a coin I happen to have and even as I walk away from it I suspect it was a con.

That was underlined by the fact that I see the same guy 2 more times in the next hour in the same tunnel... and he is still there when I go for check-in another 5-6 hours later.

Next one gets on me when I am buying something to eat, with one of those almost incomprehensible English dialects. A long story unwinds of how he has driven down from UK and lost everything, now has to wait the whole day at the airport. Had to give taxi driver wedding ring, watch, overcoat. I leave him before I hear the end of the story.

So in other words - do I look like a con target, soft and naive? A question for me to ponder, you don't have to comment or answer.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Italian Experience

There is a movie by that name. There is now also one of those "I will never forget" experiences of my life I will label the same.

It does not happen very often that I get completely mad angry and "blow the top" in public outside the closed circuit of family and friends. Normally I label myself as probably a bit too "timid" and patient. Today's encounter with italians in general and Alitilia specifically however made me completely lose it.

From now on I have no problems understanding why they have not managed to organise a working government since forever, why Napoli is drowning in uncollected garbage and why the Roman Empire collapsed. As well as why Alitalia was bankrupt and noone even wants the leftovers. The answer to all this is "that is not my problem". It is not strange that the Mafia is in control as at least the businesses they control do work - the only thing that really surprises is that there ever was a Roman Empire and that Italy has a strong national soccer team.

These statements are the results of today's experience. I arrive at Rome airport around 5.30 am local time. I have been travelling since around 2-3 pm Saturday using Ethopian Airways and am all but kicking even if everything has worked out and the trip has actually been fine - this far.

The first thing that greets me is what I call "the Maputo experience", meaning there is not a living soul in sight until AFTER you walk through security etc and get all the alarms ringing. Then a sleepy guy shows up and we re-do the exercise.I ask this person for the transfer desk and am told to find "C1".

That no shop or cafe is open on a Sunday morning at this hour I can understand. A completely empty transferdesk I do have a problem with though. OK, I have plenty of time as the connecting flight leaves at 10.15. Or so I think at least.Time passes and around 7 am most shops and caf├ęs have opened. Not the transfer desk though, it is as abandoned as can be. An information desk or such does not exist, all I have is a screen that tells me my gate will be C36. I find another transfer desk that is just as abonded as C1.

OK, I might surf on internet to keep me busy. Right, for starters the "buy internet time"-site works only with Internet Explorer and does not help Macintosh users or users of Firefox, Opera or other alternatives. OK, I have set up a way to use IE just for this kind of situations. Then I am told to put a "future date" for my visa-card. It DOES expire this month but DOES work this month. Not according to the crappy programmer who coded this site. So forget internet.

Somewhere around 7.45 the "wrong" transfer desk is manned. I meet a quiet man who is on the same flight, he works for the Saudi embassy. He has been told to wait 10 minutes. I walk up to the desk with my papers and am told "he does not handle Alitalia, go to C1". My new friend and I walk to C1 that is just as unmanned as before.

So I figure I might do some shopping while waiting - "where is your boardingcard, you can not shop without boardingcard". Catch 22 if I ever saw one.

Around 8.30 we have walked to the gate as we can think of nothing else to try. Unmanned of course. When we get back to C1 it is actually manned - by Qatar Airways. We and other form a long queue, I am no 3 in line. Everyone in the queue is hoping these guys also do Alitalia. When it is my turn I am told "do I look like Alitalia". Let me not tell you what I wanted to say to guy my opionion of what he looked like. Tissue is used in that area - to give you a hint. This is when I lose it and scream to the queue that as we are all Alitalia we are lost and I have been trying for 3.5 hours to find ANYONE Alitalia, the supposed national airline carrier, to give me a boardingcard. Mr Qatar goes mad and bangs the phone in the desk and tries to outstare me and for a while a fist is clearly "just around the corner". I manage to control myself and start walking to the gate as I see no other option. It is now little more than an hour before take-off.

In desperation I grab an airport security guy and ask where the f.ck I can find an Alitalia person. Well, miracles do happen as the lady with him actually works for them. Hallelua. She tells me they have a new transfer desk at "C20".

Great that noone seems to know and nowhere is that information displayed so you can find your way there. C20 is in a new terminal to which you must go by tram. My timid friend, who I think was more than a little bit scared by my outburst, shows up and have been given same info by same lady. Right, we arrive there and for surel 2 ladies are actually dealing with Alitalia transfers. Behind us a queue forms of old C1 friends, some of them now quite desperate not to miss their flights.

Do I even have to say the queue barely moves? One of the ladies is dealing with an old black lady from Nigeria that get so tired she just sits down on the floor. She apparently only speaks Urubu - noone else does. She is on her way to New York and carry a handwritten note stating her daugher will meet her. No address, no name, no phone numbers. Sorting her out took the consorted efforts of all black people around and anyone even remotely suspected connected to Africa. The guy at the other counter need around 20 boardingcards, God only knows where he was heading. A third counter is opened but the man will only deal with one customer at a time and stops serving people when a queue forms. Now that is what I call service...

Finally I get a boardingcard and can proceed to the gate. I now have around 5 minutes instead of hours to shop - is that not excellent business attitude?

It was a relief to arrive in Tirana (a first for me) where people are so friendly and wanting to assist despite poor English that you feel charmed just by their efforts. Only problem up to now you are not left alone to eat as everyone wants to practice their English and make sure you are fine.

Bon giorno - really?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Governments

New year, new governments! Like "everyone else" I watched Obama swearing in and am following the new administration with keen interest.

And finally Zimbabwe seems set to get a government that is "almost elected", supposedly being sworn in today. Though news speak of RG already presented a list way too big for the number of ministries they were allocated. I am not sure that "interesting" is the correct word to use, we can not take another dodgy maneuver now.

I think all of us who live in Zim feel a mixture of relief, hope and suspicion at the same time. Will it really work? Only time can tell, cross all fingers you have!