Life of Bear

Final Days of Dar

Final Days
Outwit, outplay, outlast

Well, even though it seems like it, the whole experience to Dar es Salaam was not ALL bad.

I have started receiving emails from delegates who complimented me on the “serene” atmosphere of the conference (clearly having all the conference organisers sweating buckets and breathing red in the face is classified as serene in Dar..) and the general overall consensus is the conference was a success, despite our shipment being pilfered, the rats stealing delegate’s food off their plates  (ok, I made that one up….) and the general unavoidable mishaps. I think my mind may have blocked it all out and now I only remember the good things, kind of like PTSD…

Good times included the discovery that I actually like beer. I never have before. But when in Dar, there was not much else to drink… and man, did I need an alcoholic beverage! So I have sampled my fair share of Tusker and Kilimanjaro beer (available in 500ml; no ice). Pretty good. Nice to have a whole new range of beverages to sample..

I also got to spend time with my assistant Charlotte, who has been interning here in SA for 8 months. She leaves next week and I am really going to miss her. She had such a positive impact on our office and was lots of fun – in Dar, the night the conference ended, we raced into the hotel pool in the middle of the night and jumped in with all our clothes! Just because 😉

We also spent a long, lazy afternoon in the warm Indian Ocean looking for shells. The tide goes out so far that you can walk out for a kilometre and still not get deeper than your knees. But it was a great experience – sitting in the warm (like bathwater) blue, tropical water for over 2 hours, looking for shells on the seabed and allowing our minds to decompress the experience of the past stressful week. We all ended up finding sand-dollars and cowries, which should I have the energy one day, I will make into a bracelet.

Saturday night saw the whole conference team getting completely plastered on local beer at the hotel beach party, subsequently hijacking the DJ box with our own conference AV equipment and showing Charlotte how to lang-arm-sokkie-sokkie to classic SA hits like my-rooi-rok-bokkie! All the South African’s in the hotel came out of the hotel for a bit of a local jol! It was a pretty surreal experience to be rocking out to Bryan Adam’s “Summer of 69” right on the beach, the sand between my toes and looking up unfamiliar stars (skyline is very different from here at night).

Sunday saw our departure from Dar, but not before a quick trip to the marine park by boat for a few hours of snorkelling. Again, warm, clear blue water, palm trees, hammocks – two dolphins even made an appear to round off the truly stereotypical  island paradise!  We spent the morning on a deserted , protected island and snorkelled amongst some of the most beautiful and colourful fish I have ever seen in my life. It was a lovely ending to a very stressful experience!

And most importantly, I also got to see a place that was different to my home and appreciate how lekker South Africa and our people really are! After being bombarded by rude African delegates, harassed at the Dar airport by officials that clearly just wanted to upset the blonde bird, offering my passport at SA border control was the best experience of my life. Guys, SA has its moments for sure, but wow I live in a great country – with people who are friendly (most of them); with a strong cultural heritage that is unmatched and who just emit such a positive feeling it’s hard to contain!

Pretty much my feelings for SA are summed up in this moment I experienced at the OR Thambo Vida E…

After 9 days of putting up with (what I felt) was solid, rude, aggressive and unfriendly African behaviour, I wearily trudged to Vida E while waiting for my flight to board. I was standing at the counter, about to place my order when the barista shot me the most amazing smile and asked me where I was coming/going. Lord, the first friendly stranger in days! He listened to my whole palaver with hysterics, got the whole Vida Team to sing a special African song to me and then made my latte with a little cinnamon heart in the foam and gave me an extra Lindt chocolate.  I was actually so emotional I burst into tears.

That is why I love South Africa. The people. Ya, some of the suck and spoil it for the rest of us, but I can safely say that after spending 9 days, away from home, with 738 people from different African countries – there is no place like my home 😉 and no, wearing a cowboy hat does NOT make you feel like Jeff Probst and it will NOT make the African survivor experience any better.

Glad to be back (and also to have hot water)

Love bear



The exciting lives of conference organisers… (not quite the same as bee keepers)

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal right then (sorry, watched a Jim Carey movie last night… hence the 90’s movie theme reference. For more about this, you can read yesteryday’s blog here).

Some of you know that for the past 3 months I have been embroiled in a battle of wills – I have working with a very difficult client – the Princess of Nigeria. Yup. Royalty. You got it. And you have NO IDEA what it’s like.

This is proven to be a very trying experience (“trying” is a polite work for f*cked up). Apart from the language barrier, the time difference (read; 4am phone calls on Sunday mornings to talk about the speakers????????) and the general “African” way of doing business (i.e. why would anyone bother to  respond to an email saying that they are ACTUALLY coming, I don’t know). I can safely say that I have resorted to my usual stress-handling mechanism – and have successfully managed to pull 90% of the hair out of my left eyebrow. (sigh).

Wow. This has pretty much been the most frustrating experience of my entire life. It was the FIRST time as my new role as Programme Director and I was landed with this (usually I am just Assistant Programme Director – for this conference, I was on my own). This woman was bat-sh*t crazy. She used to just SHOW UP at the office unannounced in a cloud of horrific perfume and carrying bags from Nigeria that she wanted me to store (mildly suspicious but OK, she’s taken them away now). She also once arrived at my desk, gave me two envelopes and asked me to “hang onto to them for safe keeping” – inside each envelope was USD 30,000 ! That’s USD 60,000 people – that’s about R800,000 in CASH, lying next to my lemon yogurt and my naartijie on my desk. That’s a like a flat. Wow.  (Sadly, like the bags, she’s also taken that cash away now [and no tip?? WTF man])

So hopefully this has painted the image of what working for this woman was like. Now imagine… 300 African VIP people at a conference in Somerset West (possibly the most white place in South Africa I guess – not sure what they were trying to say..) The past 3 days have been pure torture (eye-brow picking upped its game to 100%).  I don’t think WORD has the capacity for me to list all the exciting developments that occurred at this conference.. but I will try.

Most exciting I think was the attendance of Mrs Jacob Zuma, First Lady of South Africa (his 2nd wife, the young one). She was carrying a R70,000 Louie Vuiton handbag for the first 20mins and the preceded to swop different handbags every plenary session (to match her outfit). She was actually pretty nice (she said personally “thank you” to me and my boss!)

We were also graced with all the Ministers of Health; (one who preceded to sing the most beautiful acoustic version of Nkosi Sikele African I have EVER heard – seriously guys, imagine 300 actual African people (who speak African languages) singing our national anthem with no music – it was so beautiful I actually cried into my clipboard. Then remembered how much they all pissed me off and stopped).

What was amazing to see was the entourage of all the parliamentarians (read: all I saw was my tax money walking around in little hundred rand bills). Also, the ENTIRE South African Police Service was there – and not on the streets fighting crime apparently. They also were shockingly unhelpful apparently too – I walked through their metal-detectors and xray machines (accidently) with my pink leatherman knife in my handbag about 20 times and they did not notice (I almost feel compelled to write an email to the police and tell them!! Quite worrying. Maybe the let me through because it was pink and I am blonde)

They also had this creepy white guy (the only one might I add) who followed them around looking after them (Not unlike the Prime Ministers gay Aid in Little Britain).

The worst thing that the First Ladies (there were others from other countries and various queens and princesses as well) was arrive over 2 hours late nearly everyday and on one day, they arrived late and missed a presentation that they wanted to hear. So you know what they did = they actually made me ask the speaker if he would say the EXACT same presentation again for 40mins – RIGHT after 300 people had ALREADY heard him! It was so embarrassing (for them and for me!) Over 300 people had to listen to the exact same 40min speech because the “first ladies wanted to hear it.” Wow. Shocking right.

But the BEST experience was the food. Wow. Never in my life. Tea time would come and within 20secs, tea for 300 people had been demolished SOLEY by the ANC Woman’s Youth League (about 20 strong). I actually saw them place donuts in their handbags people. We had to order more food because they were really just out of control.

So ya, I am back home and alive and truly exhausted with a bald eyebrow. Definitely need to have some pre-conference drinks.

Although the conference was on SABC news this morning and last night; as well as a whole special session on CNN for an hour next month. I made sure to throw myself in on the action so look out for me on TV !

Now you all know what I do to earn some bucks while I wait for this blogging for a living to pay off!