March 2006

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The Adventure Begins

Despite feeling pretty feeble, I’m leaving again to Niger (Central Africa). As usual, I’ll try to keep you informed about my exploits through the comments. If I make it to the internet café trough the 70°C heat. I hope you all appreciate what efforts I make to keep you lot entertained!

The camera will accompany me, so if you all behave well during my absence I will show you some nice pictures. Although it’s also very possible that it will turn to a puddle of molten plastic before I can take a single shot. How about some nice pictures of Niger by night? It’s supposed to cool down to a mere 30°C then.

Law And Order

Antwerp has a brand new Court of Justice, the old building just apparently couldn’t handle all the crime that happens in the city. Today, she-who-doesn’t-want-to-put-out-the-garbage-because-she-claims-she’d-throw-up was invited to a drink in honour of the festive opening of the Lawyers’ Dressing Room (she’s a lawyer herself).

I asked her when the drink in honour of the festive opening of the toilets would take place.

Next week there will be a diner party to the festive opening of the broom cupboard, the King and Queen will cut the ribbon.

Zombie From Outer Space

Today I will mainly be a wreck, as I was yesterday and during the weekend and Friday. I know it’s fashionable to say your busybusybusy, but let’s say I’m very fashionable at the moment. I have to finish a working version of my database by Friday and a four-year development programme together with my colleague by the end of April. The wedding is getting ever closer and after finding our house we now have to get a loan and start the registration procedure.

I’m so tired I’m feeling all whoppy and woozy in my head, it feels like the inside of a Dyson vacuum cleaner. And to top it all off I’ve got a serious case of diarrhoea. No matter how busy it is on the streets or in the train stations, there’s a triangle behind me five meters deep and four meters wide where no-one dears to tread for fear of being gassed. When I passed the European Commission building last week during the European Summit, I almost got arrested on suspicion of planning a terrorist gas attack.

So I’m going to see the doctor this afternoon, I hope I get better before I leave for Niger on Friday. It’s the hot season now, which means it’s somewhere between 45° and 55°C in the shade. The way I’m feeling at the moment, I won’t be able to cope with that. I’ll turn to pudding the moment I set foot on the tarmac.

Mission Impossible

Something had happened on the Brussels subway system yesterday morning. I don’t know what but there weren’t any trains for about fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes during morning rush hour is a long time, so when I arrived on the platform it was stacked with people. While I was waiting other people arrived and they had to cue on the stairs and beyond. When the first train finally did arrive, people couldn’t get off the train because there was no more room left on the platform. I had to wait for the third train before I could finally climb on, together with a bunch of bloody tourists who went to visit the European Parliament. They were totally oblivious to the fact that it was rush hour and that people wanted to get off at the next stops. So a couple of commuters couldn’t get out in time and had to wait until the bloody tourists left the train three stops further.

In the evening, the subway was working fine. I left an hour later from work after finishing a subroutine of the database I’m making (I must tell you about that one time, it is sooooo interesting). But my 18.25 train to Antwerp was late, announced with a probable delay of five minutes. Ten minutes later, and still no train in sight. Another one came, the local train that also stops in Antwerp, after halting every three minutes and five kilometres, whenever the train driver spots a group of people and/or bovines. So since my train could arrive any minute, I decided to let that one go without me.

Of course, my train never came. But no problem, another train to Antwerp was about to arrive. Except that the announcer announced the announcement that the train had a probable delay of ten minutes. Note how they always use the word ‘probable’, which more often than not means ‘probably not’ or ‘much more than’. By the time this train had arrived, I almost wasn’t capable to board it, since my body was half frozen.

So it was with an exact (not probable) delay of an hour that I arrived in Antwerp Central Station. Naturally, I had forgotten my mobile phone that day, so no way to inform my loved one about my troubles and whereabouts.

I descended towards the subway station underneath Central Station, where I discovered that all trams (Antwerp’s subway system is a bit more modest than Brussels’, it’s more of an underground tram than a real subway) were blocked. A defect tramcar blocked the tunnels, so we had to wait until it was removed. After then minutes, we saw it pass by, pulled along by a maintenance tram. When my tram finally did arrive, one of its doors stopped just in front of me. It didn’t open and only then did I notice the sticker saying that these doors were out of order.

I was too tired to get into a superhuman rage, tearing the tram apart and bashing my fists trough the subway station’s walls until it collapsed and the whole Central Station above it. A moment later, I was all happy again, thanks to the guy standing next to me who smelled so much of alcohol that I got drunk on the spot.

So all’s well that ends well.

Duck

I’ve spent my whole Sunday printing wedding invitations, signing them, putting them into envelopes, writing the addresses on the envelopes, making mistakes, opening the envelopes again, cursing and so on and on and on. My hands are covered with nasty stinging paper cuts, which drives me crazy.

I told my loved one: “this is definitely the last time I’m marrying you”.

Here is the picture I mentioned in an earlier post that I took for the invitations.

Aren't they cute? I will play the one on the left.

Bart Is In The House

Just another Saturday: I stood up, had breakfast, took a bath, exchanged bodily fluids, bought a house…

Yes, that’s right. In what is probably the world speed record ‘House Buying’, we found ourselves a house. We saw it on a website and it was top ranked on our to-see-list. We saw it yesterday, together with a lot of other couples. When we left, we were eyeing each other, wondering who would decide first to buy it. It was a bit over our budget, but we decided we would be very sorry afterwards if we didn’t buy it. There was little chance that we would find a house this big with a garden for that price. Although we did feel a bit uncomfortable because it was the first and only house we saw. So this morning we rang the company that sold the house, and told them we wanted to buy it. Around noon we were the proud owners of a new house! Total time: less than 24 hours and less than two weeks after our current landlord told us we had to move out by the end of the year.

It has oodles of space, with no less than five bedrooms. A garden in front and a garden in the back, not very wide (about 5 meters) but long. This means we can finally have barbecue parties this summer! The living room is a bit cramped, there’s no central heating and the kitchen and bathroom will have to be replaced over time. But it was in very good condition and we can occupy it immediately without any problem. Over the years, we’ll be able to gradually improve it, so there’s much DIY fun ahead.

Oh, and it has a wine cellar, although I do suspect that the people whom we bought it from will not leave the fine collection of bottles there when they move out.

Horse Bumping

I can barely sit today, because of yesterday’s horse riding lesson. You see, we decided to do a ‘Pas de Deux’ (dressage) at our wedding because most of our friends and family never saw us ride a horse. The problem was that we only had one horse to do our Pas de Deux, and it would look a bit stupid if I ran along Julia, my fiancée’s horse.

Luckily, the manager of the horse-riding centre found us a second horse that belongs to a girl that is much too busy studying and who lets other people ride her horse instead. This horse, which I shall call Irene (I change the names to protect the innocent) is also a mare and is quite a nice looking horse. But we didn’t get along all at once, in fact our first encounter was close to a disaster. I felt like drifting on the ocean with a sailing boat without a rudder. I couldn’t take a decent curve, hell I couldn’t even make her walk straight for more than four meters. When I finally did manage to control her, it took me so much effort that I seriously doubted my approach. On top of that, my hands were covered with blisters from pulling the reigns. The second time I rode her started of badly too, both our horses got frightened by a very menacing heap of rubbish lying in one corner of the riding hall. Even she-who-hamsters-the-blankets-at-night had serious troubles getting this horse to do what she wanted, despite having many more years of riding experience than I have. At that moment I had serious doubts about our Pas de Deux, I can tell you.

But then we made some serious progress. I was able to steer, break, change gear and all. Even better, I succeeded in making her walk and trot sideways, gallop at a decent speed and take a few steps backwards without ending at the other side of the hall.

However, Irene is sensitive in the back, and to protect herself she pushes it away. Like you would flex your spine to the front and pull your shoulders back. This makes things worse, because it makes her back tense with no muscles to take the impact of me going up and down. Hence my hurting bottom. I succeeded in reversing this, so she got more comfortable and much easier to ride. But then she slows down to much and when I urge her forward she gets all tensed up again. So I have to search a bit and work with her until she understands that she has to keep flexible and relaxed while at the same time keeping a decent speed.

The improvement was remarkable, but yesterday it was as if she had forgotten everything we’d been working on. It was our second attempt at doing a Pas de Deux. It’s not as easy as it looks, because you have to go slower and faster during the movements, depending on whether you’re on the inside of a curve or on the outside. And because of this Irene got all tensed up again and was hard as a rock. After an hour I couldn’t feel my back anymore, while I did feel Irene’s back like a hammer hitting my dangly bits. The teacher was pleased with our progress, but I was not. Still, two more months to practice. Minus two weeks when I’m off to Niger again. No reason to despair whatsoever.

1000th Visitor

Sound the trumpets! Let the drums roll! Play that funky music!

 

Be.Bartlog has officially welcomed it’s 1000th visitor, 186 days after the official launch of this weblog on September the 9th last year. It’s been already five months since I first posted here, full of nerves and wondering if I’d get any readers at all. You see, I didn’t advertise this site to the usual targets of first time weblogs, i.e. your own friends and family. In fact, apart from my lovely fiancée, none of my friends or family know about this blog. I wanted to make it on my own. Either people would be interested in my wild adventures, or no-one would give a damn and they wouldn’t stay out of mere politeness.

And behold, my flock of followers is growing at a steady (but slow) pace.

So who are you? Let me just for once stop talking about myself and hand over the microphone to the people out there.

Most of you are Belgian, although there is a serious bias here since I visit the blog at least once a day to check if it’s looking all right. Surprisingly, my biggest fans and most regular visitors are living in Sweden, followed by the Canadians and Danes. And right they are, what better way to get trough those long winter evenings than by surfing to a great, funny, high-quality, intellectual yet modest blog?

A lack of decent beer in their own country drove a lot of readers from the Netherlands to this fine Belgian refuge, so a warm ‘Welkom’ there. The rest of Western Europe follows them before we come to the more exotic destinations (not that Canada isn’t exotic of course). As always, New Zealanders and Australians are bickering amongst themselves for the next place. Other interesting places in the list include Japan, Columbia, Taiwan, Romania, Brazil, Estonia and many others. This blog is also under scrutiny by NATO, so don’t mess around with me, I’ve got powerful friends here.

Apart from the information your browsers kindly provided me, what else can I say about you? Well, you’re a shy bunch of people, that’s for sure! You hardly ever use the comments to discuss my posts. I would like to give special credit to my friend Zoe, who single-handedly tried to get things going by posting over and over again, only to find herself shouting in the desert. Big hugs to you Zed, and that’s enough of that. She’s just won a Bloggie for the Best European Weblog for the second year in a row, so I can’t give too much praise or her ego will explode.

Anyway, back to you lot. Promise you’ll write! But most importantly, do keep reading. And thank you once again for visiting.

Richer Than I Thought

We went to the bank on Friday, to see if we could knock some money out of their pockets. Instead of the traditional stockings over our head and a Kalashnikov in each hand, we decided to go for a more subtle approach. So I shaved and put on a clean shirt. Yes I know, the things people do for money…

We didn’t have high expectations, given the fact that I work in the humanitarian sector for a humanitarian wage, while she-who-refuses-to-taste-even-my-most-delicious-fish-recipes only just finished her internship and isn’t yet making big lawyer bucks (or Euros). But the bank saw it differently and to our big surprise, we are quite cash-worthy.

This means we can look for different kinds of houses. Instead of looking for dumps that we need to renovate for twenty years before we can safely drop into a seat without the fear of dropping right trough the floor boards, we can now look for houses with real walls and floors and ceilings and even some electricity. Maybe even a decent heating, although I must not allow myself to get carried away too much.

In the mean time, it’s clear that the dream house with room for a horse is way out of our possibilities. It’s not just the price but also the fact that Belgium is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, which means that ground prices are high and plots of land are small. Especially in the area between Antwerp and Brussels it’s difficult to find something with the tinniest of gardens. I noticed that the people who sell the houses frequently mix up the concepts of ‘garden’ and ‘flower pot barely large enough to grow a single twig’.

Anyway, we selected the first three houses to visit, so I’ll make some appointments tomorrow. So afterwards, we can all have a good laugh about the shacks we've seen. I’ll keep you informed.

Developing Countries and Photos

As promised, the photos I took in Burundi. Well, some of them.

Sunset over Lake TanganyikaSunset over Lake Tanganyika

I have this passion for palm trees, I just think they're beautiful. Nothing says 'tropics' like palm trees.

A pot of gold was waiting for me at the end of this rainbow. A pint of beer to be precise.

View over Lake TanganyikaView over Lake Tanganyika

A heard a strange sound, which came from these fishermen slapping on the water surface with their paddle. They were either allergic to fish, or they tried to lure them with the sound.

To prove that I did work, a picture of a wood shop project at a child centre we visited where children living on the streets of Bujumbura get vocational training.

At the centre they also had the traditional Burundese drums I mentioned in an earlier post. Can you imagine balancing these huge things on your head and slamming them with all your might?

A child waiting for the nurse to see him.

The pharmacy of 'Nouvelle Espérance', an organisation that gives medical and psycho-social assistance to people with HIV or AIDS. You wouldn't believe how many pills you have to take when you're infected by the virus that causes AIDS.

More work: Emma - the daugther of my colleague - and I designed and built this beautiful 'chateau' with lush green garden AND luxury terrace. The towers are my work.

My colleague's eldest son, dressed for 'Carnaval'. He was not amused when I told him he looked uglier without the mask.

A typical local dwelling. For ants that is.

Homeless

The trip back home was long and tedious. Two hours waiting at Bujumbura airport, an hour and a half flight to Nairobi, a ten hour wait there and an eleven hour flight back to Belgium via Entebbe (where we had to wait for another hour). In total a twenty-four hour trip with ladies barfing next to me (twice) and the sound of hundreds of pieces of shit flushing down the toilet just behind my seat. Oh joy!

When I finally did arrive, there was a big surprise waiting for me. In the evening our landlord came over to make an announcement. We have to leave our apartment by the end of the year. Oh joy!

As if we don’t have enough to do this year with the wedding and all, we’ll also have to start looking for a new place to live. This is a serious bummer, as the old Greek philosophers used to say, because we had hoped that we could stay in this ridiculously cheap and enormously large apartment for another two to three years. This way, we could quietly look for another place while saving enough money to get a loan for more money. Houses don’t come cheap here. Instead, our brand new ship of marriage is swept into the first rapids with this big challenge. We’ll have to find a place AND secure a loan in the next nine months. Oh triple joy!

Apart from the time frame, I do look forward to buying something, although it’s very possible that we’ll get stuck on the financial part alone. On the other hand, she-who-makes-ridiculous-claims-that-I-snore-while-I-sleep set out some pretty high standards for our future dwelling. It should have room for at least one horse and a horse van/truck while at the same time be affordable but not in the sense that it is a complete ruin. It should be good enough to live in without any major refurbishing and it shouldn’t be too far away from a train station so I can get to work easily, or from a major road so she can get to work easily. There are loads of houses/old farms available, but not in the vicinity of the big cities where we work. Most houses around here tend to be expensive and small, so no room for a horse.

Actually, I don’t dare to tell her that because I’m afraid that the horse has a higher priority in her eyes than me, myself and I. On the positive side you, dear reader, will have a lot to read about in 2006, you lucky lot. This weblog is starting to get more plot twists than the average episode of The Bold And The Beautiful Neighbours Of The Flying E.R. At Eastenders’.

Next week my girlfriend will inexplicably burst out in tears and confess that she used to be a hairy Georgian drug lord named Dimjitrij before she had the sex transplant to get out of the hands of corrupt former KGB leaders.

The Sound Of Africa

Yes, I'm still alive, although a bit overcooked. We went for a walk across town on Sunday, and despite sun cream and a hat I got severe sunburns in my neck and on my legs. Needless to say I didn't catch much sleep the last couple of nights.

We did see one of Burundi's best tourist attractions: a drum band. It was a group of about 15 drummers that played on huge carved wooden drums. The combined sound vibrated through my whole body while I watched them do some spectacular stunts in between. They make incredible jumps in a stunning competition. A very memorable moment was when they lifted their heavy instruments - the drums - on their head and marched around in a combined balancing and musical act. It was surely a sight I'll never forget. Sadly I didn't dare to bring my camera during the walk because of the many pickpockets and robberies here, so I don't have any pictures. I did manage to take a photo of such drums when I visited an organisation yesterday.

The day after tomorrow I'm leaving again, with some sadness because I do like this country. It will be a long trip, and I'll have to wait for ten hours in Nairobi airport.