Monday, 15 March 2010

March 2010 part 1

March pt1- more bad news, more tough times

Barely had my family returned from attending my Grandma’s funeral in the Isle of Man then my family had more bad news. My dad got a call that his father wasn’t very well and he had to rush down to Nottingham. After a lot of trips to and from Nottingham over the course of a week, my Poppa suddenly deteriorated and died.
Again, this had been incredibly difficult and there isn’t much I can really say about it that I didn’t already write about my grandma. It is really tough to be away at times like this not only from a selfish side of things of being away but also not being there to support your family. Either event would have been difficult for all of us but both events coming in such quick succession have made it especially tough.
It’s going to be very strange in a slightly different way when I get back to my grandma’s death as instead of going to Nottingham and him not being there, I’m not sure I’ll even go to Nottingham as he was virtually the only person I really knew there (my auntie moved elsewhere a few years ago). So in a way, it’s hard for me to even understand he’s gone. Whereas with my grandma, I will still see my granddad and have those reminders that she’s gone, with Poppa I won’t have that. it feels like a very odd closing of a chapter for the family and he will be missed. Once again, I won’t be going home for the funeral which is tough and once again I am grateful to my family and those around me.

February 2010

February- very tough
The truth is, February included a trip to Bali to meet and greet new volunteers in my position as volunteer representative (something of a significant event as they were the first new volunteers we’d had in a year) and a variety of other events but in reality, February was really about one thing for me.
I was in Kupang working on the new database for the hospital with Sam as well as trying to hand over a load of immigration documents. I suddenly, out of the blue I got a call from my dad, now it’s not uncommon for him to call me to give me an update as to how rovers have got on, but this was quite early on Sunday morning (UK time) which was unusual. Anyway, he was calling to let me know that my Grandma on my mum’s side had died suddenly at home.
She been in hospital the week before for surgery however she was apparently doing well and a week on there were no signs of infection and she was recovering well so I (and others as well) felt she was out of the woods. She had just gone home from hospital and my mum was in the Isle of Man visiting her. Then suddenly on Saturday night she collapsed and died.
Now I’m not going to pretend this wasn’t incredibly difficult, it has always been my biggest fear about being out here. However, there is one thing that was very important to me, shortly before I left the UK I went to visit my grandparents and they were really enthusiastic for my trip away. This meant a great deal to me as I knew that coming away for two years, meant that they may not be there when I got back. Back in the 60’s they had spent a few years out in Tanzania working on grasslands farming and so they had been very supportive of me coming away.
They have also been great since I came; writing to me and sending me care packages. As I mentioned in my explanatory note, one of my regrets is that I didn’t write to them more often or indeed keep this blog updated as I know she loved hearing about everything that was going on.
Things were especially difficult as I was due to hand over my passport to immigration less than 24hours later for a visa extension. The whole thing was incredibly complex so we had to make a quick decision as to whether or not I would go back (it would have been a bureaucratic nightmare).
In the end, after significant discussions with my family we agreed that I would not come back although not because of the visa scenario (paperwork can always be done somehow) but because we didn’t want to cause any additional stress for the rest of the family of me trying to make it back in time for the funeral, travelling from a small island in Indonesia to a small island in the UK is fraught with potential problems.
It has been immensely tough really but I’ve got through it. It’s very strange to think of coming home and not being able to go and see her and tell her all about my time away.
But I just wanted to say, thank you to everyone around me (although I have no idea who reads this but I mean VSO staff, other volunteers, the hospital in Rote) for being helpful and understanding and to all those people who have sent me messages, called and generally been supportive especially my family who have understood the decision for me not to come back, it has all meant a lot to me.

January no2 2010

January no.2-something interesting actually.....

Half way through writing that immensely dull post for January, I realised that on the last day of January there was one event that was of note but I didn’t want to include it with the rest of those dull things!
On the 31st of January, Anna Joy Parker and Hope Rachel Parker were born. Now as you will see from their surnames they are clearly not my kids so why write about someone elses? Well these are the daughters of my best mate Ben who I grew up with and who in fact I was best man for.
Really, I just wanted to mention it because they are quite close (plus Ben’s mum will give me a good kicking when she sees me if I don’t, I love you really Nadine but you did once give me an ultimatum of ‘you’re not coming into my sons wedding with hair like that!’ so forgive me if I fear you a little at times!) and it was quite significant for me.
Now obviously, when such close friends have kids is weird but I guess in a way this is extra strange for me for a number of reasons. Ben and I grew up there and so it’s very strange to think that when I get back he’ll be a dad, I mean I was stood next to him when he got married (actually, due to a slip of the tongue by the guy doing the marrying, I was dangerously close to being the one being married!) and it’s just strange to think of him being responsible in some way and maybe not heading off to music festivals and alike but staying at home looking after the kids.
It now brings to six the number of kids I’ve missed being born or will miss (off the top of my head, sorry if I’ve missed anyone!) in addition to all sorts of other things. Now I know this sounds really self obsessed (well it is my blog after all, surely the whole notion of a blog is to be self obsessed? If it isn’t you may not want to read any of this blog and I apologise for the misunderstanding) but really it just keeps making me think how things will be different when I get back. I am pretty young for a VSO long term volunteer (I’m not exceptional; I just took a very strange and fortunate route in) so most folks are older than me and I think your life changes a lot in your twenties. Whereas later in life when you are more settled, the things around you become more settled so being away for two years sees fewer changes.
Further to all of that, it’s just strange to think how long I’ve been away now, I mean I left nine months before Sarah (Bens wife) was even pregnant which is weird to think about and by the time I get back, those little girls will already be over six months old! Not to mention other friends babies who will be like a year or 18months old, so strange. In fact, two friends weren’t even ‘seeing’ each other when I left and now I think the first time I’ll see them when I’m back will be their wedding! (I should point out for legal reasons, that is in no way shape or form linked to pregnancy! Just a ‘weird things about being away connection) So weird.

So anyway, congratulations to the parker clan and all my other friends who have had/awaiting babies (Steve and Hariet, Jacqui and Jim, Becki and Chris, Debs and Lachy and anyone else I’ve missed!), well done, you’ve all suitably freaked me out! and to all the rest of you who are due to be married or I’ve already missed it!

Looking back, it’s quite amazing how I’ve managed to spin it so that massive events in my friends’ lives suddenly become all about me, it’s an incredible skill......

January 2010

January- An incredibly dull post about Rain, Photos/skype, Rain, mould, harassment by a financial institution, Rain, cruise ships and Rain

Firstly, this is just general, some months ago Rote’s internet connection (singular) was ungraded and we have evolved past the worlds slowest dialup to the world of what is branded ‘speedy’ internet here in Indonesia. This means that I can now webchat with people on skype and even use a webcam. So if anyone wants to talk to me (that isn’t a desperate plea!), just let me know and we can arrange a time for me to travel down to the internet place for a chat and it’s free for you (although I have to pay for the internet time but it’s pretty cheap). You will also have notice the addition of photos to the blog, unfortunately I still have problems actually logging into my blog here but it’s now a fast enough connection for me to send photos and entries to my mum who uploads them for me.
So I returned from my holiday to be greeted by mould and rain. I had been away for nearly 3 weeks (a few days in Kupang for police and work then about two weeks kicking back in Bali) and it is a simple fact of life that no matter what you do, if you leave your house untended for so long due to the high level of humidity at this time of year, everything even things like shoes will become mouldy. So the first few days are spent cleaning and washing. Washing clothes was incredibly difficult as I arrived the day before a very long and heavy rainstorm.
Essentially, that was most of my January; it was spent hiding in my room from storms. I have to walk along a balcony to get in and out of my room which for most of the year is great however during storms, it means I tend to sit in my room watching DVDs. One of the things that Ba’a really lacks is sheltered areas in which to commune. If you just want to ‘hang out’ there isn’t really anywhere to go aside from places to eat (who can eat all the time?) and peoples’ houses and as most people live with extended family and that can be a bit intense. If you think about most cities in England there are all sorts of places you can go and things you can do when it’s raining, not in Ba’a
SO not really much to report in January to be honest, I’m sure you don’t want just a list of stuff I watched and what I thought of it all?
One major battle I had in January was with a certain financial institution (I don’t want to mention who as this is the public domain but you can see what a slow month it is that this is just about all I can think of). When I was in Bali I picked up my mail from the office which is my address for official mail (things get ‘lost’ on the way to Rote). I had a number of letters that had arrived the week before from the said company which were postdated some time in October.
Now as someone who is overseas I am able to suspend payments and I already had a large argument with them just after I arrived (or rather my mum did as my proxy) because before I left I sent them evidence that I was going to be away which they denied all knowledge of. Now, despite me send them an official letter as evidence (twice, they lost the first one) I was legitimately going to be away for TWO YEARS, they decided they wanted a 12 month ‘reassessment of my overseas status’ which is annoying. The really stupid part is that I already told them post takes far far too long to get to Indonesia (if it arrives at all) so to send it to my home address, my e-mail address or indeed to call me and they do have all of this contact information.
So as I open my mail that they sent me that took about two months to arrive what do I find? I find one letter demanding my reassessment within a month of them sending me the letter and then a subsequent one informing me I missed their one month deadline and they now want to enforce all sorts of penalties and that I should sign and return the included form with evidence of my status ASAP and if there are any issues I should ring them. A few things:
1) Why, after I told them post takes so long, would they still snail mail me forms? Especially as they have all my other information and why ask for my e-mail address if they won’t use it?
2) Why set a one month deadline when I’ve told them post often takes two months or so to arrive?
3) Why do they not understand that even if I fill in their form and return it ASAP then post takes about the same period of time to get to England as it does from England?
4) Why must they reassess when they clearly have evidence that I have a two year job?
5) Why can’t I e-mail them? Phoning them and being on hold for 45 minutes (the period of time they put me on hold before I came away, apparently Wednesday 11am was a particularly busy time for them, why?) is annoying when in England but here would most likely cost me two days allowance.
I’m sorry, I know this is an incredibly dull post but just it really wound me up! Hopefully I have now sorted out the wretched thing and a pox on them all.
January also saw the arrival of two cruise ships within a week of each other full of tourists getting out to have a wander around Ba’a. Now I would encourage anyone to visit Rote, it is a wonderful, beautiful place, however organising a visit for people for several hours, I would probably think some of the beautiful beaches somewhere may be a little more appropriate? Anyway, they came, they wandered, they left and the whole thing was somewhat underwhelming for everyone here and I suspect the tourists. I felt sorry for the people in Ba’a who were organising the welcoming committee, they put so much effort in organising so much only to have heavy rain on the day which made it difficult.
I personally was hoping the boats would be full of beautiful young heiresses to fortunes, who were taking a break from their PhDs to go on a cruise. Instead it appeared to be a gaggle of older folks from England. I don’t really know why I expected anything else however despite this is was quite a disappointment to me.
Seriously, from the hype it got on the island, I was expecting some great things to write about and instead you have a post so dull I’m not even sure I would read it, a very dull and dreary month...

Top 5 driving tips

Top 5 driving tips for bali

Over the christmas period, I had a holiday in Bali and a large part of it was spent driving round the island. Now I’ve done plenty of driving in Indonesia however it turns out, going round sleepy old Rote on a motorbike is quite a different experience to driving a car all around Bali so I thought I’d share some wisdom with any volunteers thinking of driving a car round Bali:

1) When there is a single, unbroken, white line in the middle of the road and a sign depicting overtaking with a large red line through it: that means absolutely no overtaking..... that is of course unless you really want to in which case that is okay.

2) Overtaking manoeuvres should only be done when you can see the road ahead is clear, blind corners and hills you can’t see over the top of are excellent places to do so. If a car does come the other way mid-manoeuvre, remember you can always swerve back into the correct lane regardless of if there is already a car there so long as you hit your horn hard enough.

3) When using full be headlights, always be aware of the potential of dazzling other drivers. To ensure you achieve this, they are best used when facing oncoming traffic. Remember, your headlights can reflect into drivers’ eyes in their rear view mirror or wing mirrors so always be sure to have those lights on when behind someone.

4) Remember that the dividing line in the middle of the road dividing the two lanes is simply a guide and is not intended to be taken literally; the best driving position is to ensure you straddle this.

5) It is important that you should always leave a safe stopping distance between you and the car in front, especially if it has been raining. The reason for this is so that people can overtake you and swerve in front of you into this space, presumably because where they are going is far more important than where you are trying to get to.

If you can’t remember all of these, just stick with “when in doubt, hit your horn!”

December 2009

December- A bizarre injury, the impact of being overly competitive on a small island, my brush with the law and a near death experience (okay the last is just an exaggeration but I felt awful, does that count?)
Well in December, I decided that it would be good for my health if I started playing football, this it turns out was a mistake. There is a regular afternoon game on the pitch next to my house which i decided as would start playing in again as a number of my local friends play there. Now I should explain, I went into the ‘game’ (a glorified kick around on a pitch that is more dust than grass) carrying an injury which was sustained in the most hair raising circumstances imaginable.... doing my washing.
A few days before, I had been washing my clothes in my flat and managed to slice my hand. Now, washing your clothes here is no fun whatsoever, it has to be done entirely by hand unless you have the luxury of having someone else do it, which I can’t really afford. Anyway, I was hanging it out on the large drying rack on the balcony of the penthouse. As I lifted the drying rack to move it, my wet hand slipped and a jagged piece of metal that is usefully attached to the rack, slide across my hand. This left me with a 3 inch long (thats about 8cm for the metric amongst you) deep scratch across my palm which bled considerably (I now have the scar to show it’s severity). There is a point to all of this.
Anyway, I was playing football trying to bring organisation to the defence which isn’t easy, players here have never seen a game except on TV so tend to be tactically naive which normally involves holding a defensive line which is about 10yrds into the opposition half (for the metric amongst you that’s about nine metres and for those who don’t understand football, that’s a bad way to play unless you have a defender who is quicker than Usane Bolt, and for those who don’t know who he is, he’s a very fast sprinter but it poses the bigger question of what do you do with your lives if you don’t watch sport? ). Anyway, back to the point, I was playing with my hand taped up. I went up for a corner and managed to get in front of my man and lept like a salmon and was about to slam a header into the goal when I was unceremoniously sent flying by an opposition player, landing on the hard ground, ripping off the dressing and causing more than a little discomfort (it hurt!).
Needless to say, I was not happy about this because the guy had no intention to play the ball and was taunting me. Now if anyone has ever seen me play football (or indeed watch football, or play any sport) you will know that I don’t tend to keep my feelings to myself in such a situation so things were said and there were some dirty looks, raised voices and a bit of ‘squaring up’ but nothing really to take too much notice of before I decided to remove myself from the pitch to cool off a bit. AT the end, we both apologised, shook hands (well we would have but mine was bleeding) and went home. I didn’t think anything more about the whole thing until a few days later.
Now this is the point of this entire tale, I went out to eat the following night and someone asked me about me arguing with someone whilst playing football, I explained it was nothing, that it’s was fine and finished, that it wasn’t a big deal and that we’d both apologise. Anyway, by the time I went to the shop opposite my house the following day, I was asked if it was true I’d got into a physical fight with the other player and that I really didn’t like the guy! In the following days I was asked by a great number of people about the ‘physical fight’ and was even asked if I had punched him by a variety of people when I went to eat or into shops. So the moral of this story would be; be really careful if you a noticeable person playing football in a small Indonesian town, minor events can be wildly exaggerated! I’m sure that is a lesson that so many of you will find useful at some point in the future...
By mid December I was heading off to Bali for Christmas. I was staying a few days in Kupang to do some work with Sam (okay getting him to help me with some work) and then a trip to the police station for some administrative stuff then off to Bali for a holiday. The police station visit is part of VSO’s new agreement with the government, we have to now all register for a sort of a police registration at a regional level whereas previously we just had to register at the local level. Another volunteer had got theirs a few weeks before and it was a 45 minute, in/out sort of task so I wandered along to the police station with my bundle of documents and a full days plans lined up for afterwards, it turned out it was not that simple.
Having filled out all the paperwork in triplicate and submitted the photocopies of various letters and documents, I sat there expecting to be given the green light and carry on my day. instead the officer took out a book and flicked through it before stopping on a paged and showing it two me. Now I will admit that my Indonesian isn’t great but do have the ability to be able to read “a fine of 5million rupiah (about £350 but on my income it’d be over two months wages) and/or up to two years in prison for both the individual and their sponsor”. It turns out, I had missed my window of opportunity to do this by some eight and a half months and they didn’t seem to share the viewpoint of ‘better late than never’....
SO what followed were a number of slightly worried phonecalls between myself and VSO! Eventually the police agreed that they would meet with VSO as we weren’t in the wrong, it was all to do with it being a new agreement with lack of communication between agencies and it was all very complex but was eventually sorted but it did mean my programme manager had to fly out to Kupang at short notice which didn’t make me popular in the office! Apparently it was just a different policeman to the one the previous vol had seen who was more familiar with the technicalities.
So after that stress, I headed off to Bali for a well deserved break. Truth be told, I was in need of the holiday and more than anything, the anonymity. Don’t get me wrong, I love Rote and I love NTT as a whole, but it is quite intense in a lot of ways, as the only white guy in the town and as far as I know, the only white guy to have worked long term in the town, you are constantly watched and observed and talked to. You sort of live your life under a microscope in a lot of ways. So it’s nice to disappear to Bali and just not have people stare as much as they are far more used to having white folks around although it does mean you have to put up with a huge volume of holiday makers, which can be a little tedious at times. I have no problem in general with tourists it’s just Bali is to Australians what the Costa del Sol is to the English. Need I say more?

It was a really nice holiday filled with a lot of not much! eating western food, hanging out with folks, generally just having a nice relaxing time. That is aside from climbing a volcano! It’s called Gungung Agung (spelling?) Now climbing a volcano sounds like great fun but if you ever choose to do it, here is some useful information
1) don’t turn up in the town that you are starting from at 10pm if you have to get up to leave to walk up the volcano 2am, sleep beforehand is useful
2) make sure you have food already bought to eat, not many places are open at 10pm in a small village and even fewer are open at 2am and like sleep, food is a good idea beforehand.
3) Volcanoes (well this one anyway) are steep all the way up, there are no plateaus or flat bits on which to rest and resting on a slope is itself tiring.
4) Do not pick a day when there is a religious ceremony happening on a religiously significant volcano, although interesting it is somewhat demoralising two blokes overtaking you as you feel like death who have no shoes but are carry a goat/cow/other animals up for sacrifices at the top.
5) Don’t forget when you get to the top and admire the fantastic views and you say things like “wow that was hard but worth is for such a spectacular view of the entire island” that you still have to walk all the way back, which strangely enough is the same distance and the same steepness. I’m not saying it wasn’t worth it, but just remember you’re in reality only half way through your journey and the sun is on its way up making the walk back down sweatier.
6) Make sure when you park your car that you do it in a spot which will not be blocked in by people coming to the huge ceremony at the temple. Otherwise, you will return to your vehicle after a gruelling 9 hours only to discover you have to wait another 2 hours before you can shower and eat because you’ve been blocked in!

Also went to a couple of other places in Bali around the island. It’s nice to get out and actually see some of Bali, when I stayed there for language school, it was almost entirely in the hustle and bustle of Denpasar. But it really is a beautiful island however there weren’t too many funny tales! I did recently write a top 5 tips for driving in bali though for our volunteer magazine which I will post separately (so any of my volunteer friends can skip past it!).
New years eve was a bit of a damp squib to be honest, there was a bomb threat against Bali so VSO said we should all stay away from places with fun parties! Not only that, I was exhausted after the volcano (started at 2am on the last day of 2009) so wasn’t exactly rock and roll exciting!
2009 ending was a little strange in a way for two reasons for me, firstly it was the only year of my life when I did not spend one second in the UK which is kind of weird. The second reason is that now when people ask me when my contract here finishes, I have to say ‘later this year’ instead of ‘next year’, bit scary really....

November 2009 supplementary

Supplimentary- Oops I forgot an interesting tale from November!

I just realised, that I made a mistake when I said nothing interesting happened in November, there was one thing but it shows you what a slow month it was that the one thing there was, I actually forgot.
I was in my penthouse indulging in an activity which takes up approximately 80% of my free time, washing my clothes when suddenly I hear a very loud ‘thud, thud, thud’ noise. Now normally, living right by the seas front, this is just a particularly decrepit fishing boat with diesel engine circa 1915 making it’s away across the bay, until I realised it was a small helicopter.
‘The penthouse’ where I stay is the tallest building in all of Ba’a by some way so as I looking out I saw the helicopter come right over the town and then hover over the town. Now Rote doesn’t exactly have a great deal of air traffic and although in England you get the occasional police helicopter flying over your house (how close depends on the level of criminal activity you indulge in) however in eighteen months on the island, that is the first and only time I have seen a helicopter here.
Suddenly from its hovering position, and I am really not exaggerating when I say this, it started heading straight for the penthouse. I was, I will admit desperately thinking whether something had happened that I hadn’t heard about and the embassy was evacuating me or more worryingly, if it was packed with commandos who would abseil onto my balcony and mercilessly shoot me (I have a paranoid , self obsessed and overactive imagination). In the end, it actually swooped over my house close enough that had I been so inclined, I could have thrown a stone at it as it passed by before landing on the football pitch next to my house.

Unfortunately, my relief at not being assassinated, evacuated or victim of a suicide attack by an insane helicopter pilot was short lived as the football pitch is incredibly dusty (we were waiting for rain to actually re-grow some sort of grass on it) and the spinning helicopter blades whipped up a sand cloud which quickly engulfed my washing.
This felt especially unfair as I’d already panicked as it passed so close it had already almost blown half my washing off the drying stand. Thankfully I had pegged it down due to some advice given to me many years ago by a family member who’d said ‘John, always remember; if you’re living on a small tropical island and a group of commandos comes to assassinate you in a helicopter, always make sure your washing is pegged down otherwise it’ll be blown away by the force of the rotor blades’, which turned out to be sound advice....
Anyway, having cursed at my now dust covered washing, I went down to the football pitch to find out some answers (the question was more ‘why is there a helicopter here?’ rather than ‘why did you cover my washing in dust’) as to did half the town.
It turned out there had been some sort of scuffle between a military bloke and a police man and some big wig had to come to mediate. I personally thought that spending a great deal of money flying by helicopter seemed a little excessive when he could have waited 16 hours and come by ferry. Or if he didn’t want to wait until then at least just jump on a military boat and come that way, it would most likely have been as quick and considerably cheaper to the tax payer.

It was also a little strange that they flew and landed right in the centre of town (30-45 minutes drive to the police and military headquarters or the governor’s office in one of which the meeting took place) having gone across the entire town not to mention that they had flown past the ‘airport’ ( a mere 5 minutes drive from said locations) and indeed any of the countless huge fields and open spaces right next to those possible meeting locations. Strange really, I mean it’s almost as if the individual wanted lots of people to see how important he was arriving in his expensive helicopter, although I would never make such an accusation....
I should say, I have just deleted about a page of self righteous ranting from this entry because I decided that there are things that may be better unsaid in the public domain.