A room of my own

I’m writing to you live(-ish) from….drumroll…my very own office! In our new house! Yay!! (yes, over-use of exclamation points, but I thought it deserved the extra excitement).

For some people becoming consultant or working from home is a conscious choice. Fed up with the 9-5, they choose to give it a go, working from home, being their own boss. Making that step is huge, but it seems to me that most people don’t enter into the choice lightly, and do a lot of thinking about how they will make it work for them. I, however, sort of unintentionally fell into self-employment. All I knew for sure when I left Liberia was that the stress of 12+ hour days everyday, not  having a real home to unpack in, constantly needing to make new friends as your good ones moved onto different assignments – it just was NOT fun anymore. I had to leave my job or lose my sanity (and health). I didn’t give a ton of thought to what I was going to do when I got to South Africa – I had some vague ideas, but didn’t really have the brainpower for the first few months to really do any really thinking.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when it dawned on me that I’ve actually become a freelance consultant. And that somehow I have more work than I want. I know enough not to take that for granted – it’s a fickle world, freelancing. But it does feel nice to have a few clients who seem quite happy (dare I say impressed) with my work, including my former employer.  I’m still not 100% sure what to call myself, though I guess I would say freelance writer – very tentatively, however, because a) my assignments involve writing plus all the random things the client wants help with and b) it just feels odd to call myself a writer.

All that is a long segue into the main topic of this post – my new office. In our last little cottage space was at a premium. I mean, it wasn’t NY apartment size, but for two people who are home an awful lot (and all their ‘gear’) it was a bit tight. Nick and I shared a lovely little office, but the nature of his work is that he can be off quite a bit during the week. And likewise, the nature of my work is such that I don’t really have any set hours, just crazy deadlines for writing projects. And Nick, when he is off, spends a lot of time on his computer, doing research, teaching himself new things or, of course, playing computer games (he’s a nerd at heart). Now, to Nick’s credit, he tried. He really really did. And in fact I couldn’t have asked for a better office-mate. And believe me, I’ve had some crazies. But when I’m deep into ‘proposaling’ or hitting a deadline, I just need quiet. Space to think. I get stressed, and then easily distracted, then cranky…not a good combo. I also find that having my office just steps from the bedroom, kitchen, and other nice distractions is tricky.

But in our new house we have PLENTY of space. Maybe it just feels that way because we have no furniture. Anyway, as of today I officially have my own office, with a door and everything! In our new, fabulous house we have a long, skinny room on the side of the yard with tiled floors and a window opening onto the garden. I’m not sure what the original builders intended for it, but the real estate agent told us it would be the perfect place for our live-in nanny when we have kids (yes, I live in South Africa, things are a bit different than the US). We didn’t really know what to do with it, but after unsuccessfully trying out my office in the front bedroom for a few weeks in the middle of a hectic deadline (only realizing midway through that the room actually didn’t have a door,) I decided that the room out back would be perfect for my office. Nick agreed. So he helped me move everything out here after my crazy deadline was over last night, and this afternoon I’ve gotten to spend my first time here writing.

It needs some work – first off, we have to do something to hide all the ‘storage’ (read=junk) that we’ve piled at the other end of the room. And I need to make it a bit more homey, get some bookshelves, a rug, lamps, etc. There’s a chunk missing from the ceiling cornice, and now that it started raining I hear a loud dripping sound that I think (hope) is outside and which could make me have to run inside for the bathroom every five minutes. But (can I say this again?) – it’s my own office! I love it. Ipod speakers are set up. Internet connection seems to be working well. Computer is struggling by on its’ last legs. I guess that’s all I need! I must say, I’m pretty darn lucky to have this space.

…everything works out


It’s been a strange few weeks.

I rushed off to Liberia at the last minute for an urgent assignment. Then…nothing. It seems to always be a case of hurry up and wait here. The request for proposals I was meant to be working on wasn’t released until the end of my 2nd week here. While I had plenty to do, it certainly wasn’t the emergency that they had led me to believe. Oh well!

It was surreal being back. I’ve been gone just about 1½ years, and I was amazed at how little had changed. Yet so much had changed. After having come and gone from here so many times over the last 5 years, it feels a bit like coming home. And in this case, IRC was the crazy family you sometimes wish you weren’t related to, but love just the same.

I left Liberia in a haze of frustration and exhaustion. My two years here were…well, let’s just say challenging. Although I’d had some good times, I was ready to never set foot in the place again for a variety of reasons. So it was a pleasant surprise when I walked into the IRC office that first morning. So many familiar, smiling faces greeted me, and plenty of new ones as well. In many ways I felt like I was welcomed back as part of the team as if I’d only been gone on R&R for a few weeks. It was nice to be back in a country where I know how things work, or rather where I know how they don’t work. it makes things so much easier.

I gorged myself on Lebanese food while I was here – I ate so much moutabal that I nearly turned into a giant eggplant myself. I think I managed to get my fill, though, so I can survive awhile back in SA where Lebanese food doesn’t seem to exist. I also had plenty tuna sashimi salad from Royal sushi…yum. Who knew the stuff my sushi dreams were made of would be found in Monrovia?? And sundowners and drinks on the beach are pretty idyllic here – I’ve yet to find the same sort of unpretentious, chilled out beach spots in Cape Town. It was great catching up with old friends and meeting new ones – fun colleagues, feisty little Liberian kitties at my apartment building, random friends of friends to chat to over drinks. I had forgotten how easy in some ways it is to live in an expat community like Liberia – everyone is constantly coming in and out, and everyone ‘gets’ what you do, so you quite easily find common ground to bond over. I found myself feeling quite proud of my life choices, though – I got more than one jealous comments about my house and Cape Town and just getting out of the madness of development for awhile.

Some things seem to be inching forward in the country – new buildings going up, banks opening and ATMs, roads being repaired in town – and others seem to have gone in reverse – the roads up country and UN drive, ATMs that don’t work, driving skills, corruption. So I guess if you do the math the place is the same. It’s a bit like the seasons here – you build, repair, make progress during the dry season, and much of the work that you’ve done is washed away or damaged in the heavy rains. But it was good to see the signs of progress and stability.

I’ve ended up being here for nearly a month in all. More than enough time in my book! But who knows, I may have the chance to go back sooner than I think. And at the end, I’m pretty happy to have come back – I needed to exorcise some demons and remember why I actually liked working in Liberia. The best thing a friend told me on this trip about Liberia sums up the place to a tee – ‘In Liberia nothing works, but everything works out’.


On the road again

So, I’m on the road again. After MUCH hemming and hawing, IRC finally gave me the go ahead this afternoon at 2pm to leave. On a flight at 7pm. Talk about last minute.

I’ll be back in my old stomping grounds, Liberia, which I’m simultaneously looking forward to and dreading. My last few months there were less than plesant, and I won’t have Nick there to keep me sane – but I did have some good times, and I hope I won’t be there long enough for the place to really get under my skin. Plus I get to see some good friends and former colleagues, which is nice.

Of course, timing couldn’t have been worse. When I originally agreed to the assignment a month ago I told them I had to be back by the 1st to move. Unfortunately everything was delayed, so now poor Nick has to move into our new house (!) by himself. I packed as much as humanly possible, but feel really badly. I’m super bummed I’m not going to be around!

Anyways, it’s time for flight #2 of 3. The lovely midnight flight from joburg to nairobi. OR Tambo is the place to be this time of night…Here’s to hoping my window seat isn’t comandeered, that I win the armrest war and that I can actually get some sleep.

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SA Music – The Arrows

Check out The Arrows song Lovesick. I can’t get it out of my head – not exactly sure why, it’s just catchy. It just makes me want to sing along – not pretty, I admit. It’s MUCH better when I’m not drowning them out! I especially love the synth action mid-song – a little Jamiroquoi-esque. Another Durban band, they have been in the US touring over the Summer. I’m looking forward to seeing them back here in SA during our Summer – I haven’t really heard many of their other tunes, but they could be fun live.


Lucy the parrot

Lucy hasn’t been feeling very well lately. Her eye was a bit cloudy, so we took her to the vet a couple of times who put her on medicine for it, but it didn’t get better. Meanwhile, she was sleeping more than usual, had little energy and didn’t want to eat. We decided to bring her to an eye specialist just to get it checked out, assuming that the infection was causing all the other issues too.

Unfortunately, he didn’t give us very good news. It seems like little Lucy has what is known as Feline Infectious Peritonitis – Nick could only remember it because he thought that might be what was making her sit on our shoulders like a little parrot! All jokes aside, FIP is a mutation of the very common coronavirus – most likely she got it from her mother before we ever met her. It is incredibly hard to diagnose, since it presents with all sorts of different symptoms, but the vets say they are about 99.9% sure it is what she has. The worst part is that it is pretty much always fatal, especially in kittens her age and size.

We don’t know at all how long we have with her. The vets assume she doesn’t have the acute form, since she would probably already have died from it, but even the chronic form probably doesn’t give her much time. She is going to go on a course of steroids to help prolong and improve her life, but again it doesn’t give us any guarantees. We’re trying to stay positive and focus on the fact that she has had a very happy 6 months living with us, and that she has made out lives richer for being in it. But the truth is both Nick and I are heartbroken at the thought of having to lose another little kitten. She is more than just a pet, she is part of our family. I’m trying to enjoy however much time we have left with her and not focus on the future, but it’s not easy.

Music Monday – Farrel Purkiss

Normally being stuck in gridlock traffic just blocks from my house does not make me smile. Quite the opposite, in fact. But today I was actually a bit sad when the traffic started to break up and cars began to move.

Farryl Purkiss’ live acoustic set on the radio was the reason I was smiling.  Oddly, I first ‘discovered’ him in a similar way – driving through the mountains on the way back to the city the local station was playing this fabulous live studio set. I had no idea who the it was, and couldn’t quite catch his name, but I managed to hear the name of one of the songs I particularly liked called Monkey’s Wedding (for all you non-South Africans reading  monkey’s weddings are a sun showers). I forgot all about it until I saw the lineup for the Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts, which included the odd name I couldn’t make out from the radio. We saw him in concert, and his music was as rich and intricate as I’d remembered. Sitting out in that beautiful venue surrounded by the mountains and listening to his tunes on a beautiful summer evening was pretty amazing.

Purkiss is a Durban boy, South Africa’s East Coast, and the beachy, laid back, surfer vibe that the area is known for is evident in his music. He has been around in South Africa for awhile, and apparently has been featured commercially overseas quite a bit  lately. On the show today he was talking about an Audi campaign he did in the UK  covering a Bob Dylan song, and he also had a song featured on Private Practice recently. But although his studio tracks are good, I really love his acoustic sets where he just jams out on stage by himself.

Here are a couple of songs – you can check out more on his MySpace page...hope it’ll make you smile too!

Monkey’s Wedding https://jlgeib.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/06-monkeys-wedding.m4a
A Million Grains of Sand

International House Hunters, Cape Town Edition

I was starting to feel a little like I was starring in a Cape Town edition of my Mom’s favorite TV show, International House Hunters. Despite the fact that we don’t actually get HGTV, we did manage to follow the plot pretty well – we’ve recently moved to the country, don’t know much about the real estate market, our real estate agent found us three houses to view, and we made a decision to buy one of those! Though that wasn’t at all how we had seen it play out in our heads…

Since we didn’t know much about buying a house in South Africa, we used SA Homebuyers. A few days after we contacted them, our agent contacted us to show us a few properties. On that Friday we saw one that had all we wanted in terms of bedrooms, garden space (when they say garden here it doesn’t necessarily mean it has flowers…it can just be grass or a pool, basically what we call a yard), but it was a bit odd in that there seemed to be a second house tacked on to the first that you arrived at through a narrow, galley-like kitchen. The second was a ‘cottage’ just down the street where we are now – it seemed like it would be a great place if you were willing to do some major rehab, but it was a bit daunting to us first-time home buyers. We managed to see a third property on Saturday – this one wasn’t even on the market yet! We literally walked in and were sold. It has a really great open plan living room/kitchen/dining room area, two bedrooms downstairs plus an addition of a master bedroom upstairs, not to mention three baths. It has a big garden but it looks pretty low maintenance, has a back patio PLUS a deck off the upstairs bedroom. The best part might be the gorgeous mountain views from the bedroom deck – SO nice, or maybe that the living space is north facing so gets great light.  It is located in pretty much the same neighborhood we are in now, which we love. We’d expected we would have to look for quite some time to find something we loved in our price range, so we weren’t prepared – at first we thought we should hold off and look some more, but the more we thought about we realized we wouldn’t be able to find anything comparable. So we called up our guy, and said we wanted to make an offer. That was on Sunday.

After a tense few days of negotiations (how do they always manage to do it in just an hour on HGTV?!) our offer was finally accepted on Wednesday! It all happened so fast – I almost couldn’t believe we’d just bought a house! Well, in reality we hadn’t – they do things a bit backward here, so rather than being pre-approved for a loan of a certain amount, you can only apply once you’ve agreed to buy a place…so it took us another couple of very tense weeks to jump through all those hoops. Many of the banks didn’t want to give us the loan because I am a foreigner and apparently too much of a risk, or because I don’t have a credit rating here (well, duh – we just moved and plus they won’t give me a credit card here…). I’d given up hope of being able to finance this great house, when we found out today that luckily our own bank saw the sense of giving us the loan. So now we’re officially homeowners!!

I’ve added in a few pics we took – since the place wasn’t really on the market, the owners were nice enough to let us take some to share with you all, so pardon the laundry.

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