Been a while.

Yes, I know… but please hear me out. The last time I wrote a full-on blog post was when I was going through some transitions.

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Yes, I know… but please hear me out.

The last time I wrote a full-on blog post was when I was going through some transitions.  (I wrote a couple after that, but they were either photo challenges or more like short notifications.)  While I’m still transitioning, I think I’m getting into more of a routine now, enough to write this post.  (Plus, I’m off today.)  What was going on, you ask?  Here you go:

1. At the end of July 2012, my team merged with another team in a new building, not too far from my original building. They told us that due to austerity measures and a more streamlined service, things were better this way.  We were skeptical about it, but glad that we’d still be a team within this new consolidated team; we worked together and got along very well as a team for the over 2 years I was there.  

Sometime between the end of July and October 2012, the director of the new team said there’d be more changes, but never gave any hint about the changes so we could prepare.  So while we knew that extra changes were in the works, no one expected the news on October 1st that our team would be completely deleted.  Individually (and as a team but especially individually), it affected each of us more than we thought it would.  Word got out to the rest of the teams in the borough, and they were just as surprised as us.

Between October and November, we were in limbo.  We had to decide whether we each wanted to remain with the other team… but there were caveats – all the new positions are for unqualified (unlicensed, in U.S. terms) workers, and the pay is lower.  The few positions (maybe 2 or 3?) available for qualified workers were already earmarked.  While that wasn’t explicitly stated, we already knew in our minds what’d happen.  We had to make difficult decisions in a very short time. 

October 31st was our last day as a team.  We’d soon be split up for good.  My supervisor left.  We were officially out of work, even though we had to come to the office daily; we still got paid, but it just wasn’t the same.  I got home that evening and slept for at least 12 hours.  While I put on a brave face at work, every thing clearly took a toll on me (same for my team members).  

While this was going on, I looked elsewhere, in & out of the borough.  I soon realised that I didn’t want any more long-term work, holding cases for months at a time.  Before my supervisor left, she suggested I join a team that, while challenging, has less case-holding responsibility and quick turnover.  I thought about it, it made sense, and I approached the service manager of that particular team on my own.  We met, spoke for 1/2 hour, and I decided to try it.  While we met, I felt a sense of calm wash over me; I knew that I was making the right decision.  A week later, I shadowed a worker on the new team.  The week after that, I met with who would be my new team manager and my new supervisor.  And about a week and a half after that, on December 10th, I started on the new team in my original building – full circle and right where I started when I moved here in the first place.

2. A few days after starting with the new team, I found out that my maternal great-aunt passed away.  She was 85 years old and lived a long life.  However, everything since October 1st took a toll on me so when I found out, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I lost it.  (Also, out of 10 sisters & brothers – my grandmother included – her passing leaves just 2 sisters.  It drove home even more that my maternal descendants are closer to leaving us.)  I couldn’t attend the service, which hurt even more (and is a negative aspect of being an expatriate).  I also thought I wouldn’t get home for Xmas due to financial difficulties (I lucked out 5 days before Xmas). So all of that, coupled with possibly not being with loved ones during the holidays, made the last 3 months of 2012 feel like a whole year.

OH!  I forgot to mention:

  • My dear friend’s brother developed a serious and potentially life-threatening illness.  (It has since been dealt with, and is still being dealt with.)
  • Another friend’s niece was stillborn.
  • My uncle’s grandmother, who raised him some of his life, passed away a few days after my great-aunt died.  (She was either 101 or 102 years old, but it hit him hard.  And when he hurts, I hurt.)

I’m almost sure I’m forgetting a few other terrible things that happened between October 1 and December 31, 2012. So yeah… I wasn’t in the mood to write a damn thing.  I just wanted to be away from this country and with my loved ones.  I posted a few photo challenges on here (which also took lots of energy), but aside from that, I couldn’t do it.

While I’m still observing & learning things on the new team (Rome wasn’t built in a day), and while other changes are afoot throughout the borough (you can thank the government for that), I’m just glad to have a job that’s in very little to no danger.  I’m also glad that I’m usually diligent about things like ensuring my credentials, especially since all qualified workers in my field must be registered as of December 1, 2012 otherwise one cannot work in my field without doing so.  I also learned a little about my rights as a worker and legal resident non-citizen.  And whether I like it or not, trials take forever to go away, but somehow or another they will pass.  

My new work responsibilities are quite time and energy-consuming, which is another reason why I’ve not posted lately.  But I have drafts sitting in my WordPress dashboard, and I hope that I can settle into enough of a routine, with enough energy & time, to blog weekly again.  

10 Things I Hate About You.

I’ll begin with a list of 10 things that I hate about this country. I’d rather start with the bad so as not to give anyone any illusions about being an expatriate.

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If you check(ed) out my last written post, you’ll see that I reached 1 year since my move here.  Looking back at the past year is amazing because it went by so fast.  I’m taking a little time to think about my overall experience here, then put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).  Please bear with me, as it may take at least 2 posts for me to get through this.  I’ll begin with a list of 10 things that I hate about this country.  I’d rather start with the bad so as not to give anyone any illusions about being an expatriate.  I’ve always said from the start that I’d share the full experience, not just the roses & daisies.
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Rude people. 
After my confrontation on the road a few weeks ago, I’m more firm in the belief that this country has some of the rudest people on the planet.  It’s funny because many people back home see this country as prim & proper, uppity & snobbish.  I can say with certainty that that’s not the case.  There are people here who have no scruples, no sense of respect or decency, and they come in all colors & shades & races & ethnicities.  People here will rush past you, bump you & damn near push you to the ground without uttering one “Sorry” or “Excuse me”.  The men have no sense of chivalry – no holding doors, no giving up seats on public transportation, no helping those who are less able (elderly, pregnant, etc.) – and it’s a wonder that women flock to them so much.  What kills me the most about these rude people is their sense of entitlement.  But that’s another rant for another day.
Banking.
I was supposed to open an account with one particular bank before moving.  Because I was so busy with the move, I couldn’t do that until I got here.  (My American colleagues processed their paperwork before moving and they still had problems with the length of time it took to open their accounts.)  This particular bank gave me so much trouble that not only couldn’t I withdraw money when necessary, I had to put my money into someone else’s account until I got my own.  It’s a real pain in the ass to bother someone to withdraw another’s money from one’s own bank account almost every day, especially since the first few weeks had lots of unexpected expenses come up out of nowhere.  I opened an account with a different bank instead; that was also a pain in the ass, but not as bad as the original bank.  Bank processing also takes too long; an account debit can take anywhere from 5-7 business days to clear, possibly longer, and even cash can take a while to clear (unless one goes to the bank face-to-face).  This can make bill paying a real pain in the ass.  This isn’t something I’ll ever get used to.
Taxes
Seriously?  Almost 25% taxes out of people’s paychecks, sometimes more?  Come on now.  (There’s a plus side to this, which I’ll discuss in my next post.)
Driving
Driving on the wrong….. oh sorry, left side of the road is a bit annoying and, at first, nerve-wracking.  One of my American colleagues let me drive her car once.  It was the perfect driving lesson because it was after-work rush hour & getting to her house is like driving through a maze.  But I was so nervous that not only was I gripping the steering wheel, I also don’t remember breathing until we reached her house & got a headache.  Having such narrow roads doesn’t help either because they make me feel claustrophobic.  When it comes to driving, I prefer home, where everything is bigger.
Police
After my confrontation on the road a few weeks ago, I’m more firm in the belief that the police in this country = toy cops.  Rather than rehash my story, I’ll briefly mention a couple of incidents that happened to my colleagues:
– 1 colleague got punched in the face for no reason by a drunkard in broad daylight.  What’d the police do?  Give him a self-defense packet that, aside from a noise-making device, had nothing in it that could help with self-defense.  The man was never caught despite having CCTV almost everywhere country-wide.
– 1 colleague, while waiting for a night bus, saw a man expose himself; there were others at the bus stop (including a child).  I think the man used some racial slurs along with whatever else he said while exposing himself.  The colleague called the police, but nothing happened.
Most of the police force don’t use guns.  I don’t like that.  Which brings me to the next thing…..
Criminal justice system
While the U.S. criminal justice system is by no means perfect, I appreciate it more since moving here.  I prefer law enforcement officers with guns, I prefer stiff penalties for harsh crimes, and I prefer the death penalty for those who truly deserve it.  Here, if a person commits a crime and goes to jail/prison, that person is eligible for parole at or before half of the time finishes.  That’s right… only 1/2.  It’s bad enough that court-imposed time isn’t much anyway, but to only serve 1/2 or less is, in my opinion, a slap in the face for victims & their families.  Here’s a mild example; the harsher examples are. in my opinion, too outrageous to share here.  Only a convicted murderer can get a mandatory life sentence.  And there’s no death penalty.  For more information, HM Prison Service.
Red tape
 Everything here is covered in red tape, better known as bureaucracy.  This form must be filled out & signed, but first you need to fill out & sign that form so that you can fill out & sign the 1st form.  But wait, you have to sign Master Form 1.23456789 & Master Form Part A-2.34567890 to sign those other forms!  Then, when all the forms are signed, it takes damn near forever to get your product or service or etc.  As an example, my laptop crashed 1 month after I bought it.  I brought it back to the store since it was under 1 year warranty, and it took 1 month for it to be fixed & returned.
Social services
Since I work in social services and don’t want to jeopardize my job, I won’t elaborate much on this point.  All I’ll say is that the social service system in this country need to be overhauled & modernized.  In addition, social work here focuses on child protection… but not much else.  This contrasts with the United States, where social work classes/study courses & potential career paths are varied (here’s 1 example).
Benefits
This is what’s called welfare back home, and I’ll use both interchangeably here.  While it’s nice to live in a country that is somewhat socialist (a plus side that I’ll discuss in my next post), the grass isn’t much greener on the other side.  There are some on welfare/benefits who misuse the system with no penalties or fear of punishment, and in my opinion (and the opinions of my diverse colleagues), the United Kingdom government has enabled a sense of self-entitlement & laziness in these people.  {Please note that unlike home, where people of color are (often mistakenly) seen as the culprits in misusing benefits, the culprits here come in all colors & shades & races & ethnicities.  I can’t find a statistics breakdown for this country; I could be searching incorrectly.}  It annoys me even further because I pay heavy taxes here, yet I can’t access any recourse to public funds.  In other words, if I’m injured and can’t work for a period of time, I can’t access unemployment insurance or other benefits since I’m not a United Kingdom citizen even though I pay heavy taxes.  But without using any names, I know someone who is an able-bodied United Kingdom citizen, just had a 2nd child, and refuses to work because benefits take care of everything.  (There are also many European Union citizens who come here & access United Kingdom benefits.)  So basically, I bust my ass working to barely make ends meet, yet my taxes are paying for this person to sit around for most of the day.

Public transportation
 I hate the Tube and avoid it as much as possible.  It’s overcrowded (especially with tourists) & filled with stifling heat.  The buses are annoying sometimes because baby carriages (known here as prams) take up space & contain crying/whining/screaming/hollering babies/infants/toddlers/children-who-are-too-big-to-be-in-carriages.  I’ve turned up my music to drown out noise on many occasions yet still hear crying/whining/screaming/hollering.  And oftentimes, the older children/teenagers & adults are even louder & more obnoxious than the babies/infants/toddlers.  And how could I forget the all-too-common smell that wafts throughout the bus & tells on the many people who haven’t used soap & water every day?  Thank goodness for different over-ground trains (like this & that & these & those) and knowing how to drive.
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There’s more but that’s it for now.  Are there any expatriates that can relate & have a top 10 hates for your current location?
Next post will focus on my top 10 favorite likes about living/working here. Stay tuned.

Another (quick) run-in.

As if what happened yesterday wasn’t enough, I had an urge to run over a little old rude ass lady after work. Check this out…..

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06.08.2011

As if what happened yesterday wasn’t enough, I had an urge to run over a little old rude ass lady after work. 😐 Check this out…..

Still shaken by yesterday, I fought against the urge to stay home again and made my way to work. Although D is the only one who knows the full story, my other co-workers M & R had an inkling about what happened. R even gave me the number to a confidential 24-hour phone/in-person counselling service, as he could tell how much yesterday affected me. M & R respected me enough to not ask me about the incident, which I appreciated because I’m not ready to discuss it any further. I cancelled all scheduled appointments because I knew my mind wasn’t in the right place to engage with people, so my day went fast and before I knew it, it was time to leave work and head to the gym.

I drove to a major intersection, which is notorious for rush hour traffic, and got caught up in the traffic. Before I knew it, the light turned red and I was blocking most of a cross-walk. I couldn’t move because

– I couldn’t reverse since there were too many cars behind me and not enough room and
– I wasn’t trying to get another ticket of any kind for blocking a major intersection

so I stayed where I was, blocking most of the cross-walk. I’d rather block some or all of a cross-walk than block an intersection and/or run a red light. I already got 1 parking ticket within hours of getting the courtesy car; I can’t afford more tickets. 😐

A few people crossed the street despite the blocked cross-walk. If they were annoyed, they didn’t show it and just hustled across the street since traffic lights switch notoriously fast here. Then one person in particular, an old lady, crossed over. But before she got to the other side of the street, she hit the car hood.

*scratch record* *REWIND*

It took me a second to realize what she did. Then it dawned on me…..

This old lady took her hand and hit the hood of the car! No the hell she didn’t!

How rude.
How rude.

If it was any other day, I may have laughed it off or sucked my teeth dismissing her as an old miserable ass bat. But after what happened yesterday, as well as having another headache, I was not in the mood for bullshit from anyone. Plus, other people saw what she did and I couldn’t let that slide. And even worse yet, what made her think she had the right to put her hands on someone else’s property like that? So I rolled the window down and said in front of the pedestrians

Hey! This is a new car, lady! No need for you to do all that, you fucking jerk!

She made believe she didn’t hear me, but I know she did. I was close & loud enough for her to hear it, and the pedestrians heard & watched me say it. The light turned green and I sped off. Being of age doesn’t give a person any & all kinds of privileges.

Rude old jackass.

Within the past 36 hours, the people in this country & those incidents left a very bad taste in my mouth, enough to wanna go home for good. I’m going out-of-town very soon, and although I didn’t know it then, I scheduled going out-of-town at the perfect time. Were it not for the upcoming trip, I’d catch a case if you know what I’m saying.
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Epilogue: The negative feelings have worn off a little. It’s gonna take a while to get the bad taste out of my mouth though. And by the way, if anyone ever says that New Yorkers are rude & nasty, I’ll argue them down and refer them to the United Kingdom. I’m just saying.

Rude old lady.  :-/
Rude old lady. :-/

Run-in.

A few days ago, my job gave me a courtesy car. I got a parking ticket within hours of getting it because I had no idea that I couldn’t park in front of my damn house without a permit. As annoyed as I was about it, nothing that happens with this car will probably top the shit that happened today.

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06.07.2011

And on the other hand, without a gun they can’t get none
But don’t let it be a black and a white one

Fuck The Police by N.W.A. (very graphic lyrics)

A few days ago, my job gave me a courtesy car. I got a parking ticket within hours of getting it because I had no idea that I couldn’t park in front of my damn house without a permit. As annoyed as I was about it, nothing that happens with this car will probably top the shit that happened today.

I left home to get to work and would’ve been on time had this situation not happened.

I turned on the street needed to get to the main street. While driving on the left/wrong side of the road is confusing, it only takes a day or two to get used to it, depending on the driver. (Blog post about my 1st drive on the left/wrong side of the road later.) So I drove and tried getting on the junction that turns into 3 or 4 lanes and goes on the main street. As I did, a van pulled up on the side of me and damn near hits me. The driver honked at me and purposely braked. As a result, I held the horn and honked for a long time (probably over 10-15 seconds). He kept braking on purpose and I kept honking.

Then suddenly, and I didn’t realize this at first, the driver stopped the van. He got out of the car, came up to the car, called me a “fucking cunt” and goodness knows what else, and spat toward me.

You read that correct. He spat towards me. Had he come 1 or 2 steps closer, the spit would’ve landed on me.

I was absolutely furious. I rolled down my window and said “Fuck you! I’m calling the police.”

It just so happened that the driver was pulling into what (I think) is a hardware store just a few feet away from where this happened. I pulled in right next to the van and called the police while he walked into the store as if nothing happened. I can’t remember everything I said, but I do remember describing the driver and giving the license plate number on the back of the van. As I was speaking to the operator, the driver tried to talk/yell at me. I got loud and started crying angry/frustrated tears.

“How fucking DARE YOU spit at me. I’m not from here. You wouldn’t know that because you were too busy fucking spitting at me! Fuck you! How fucking DARE YOU! You don’t fucking spit at me!”

And I just kept talking. Meanwhile, the operator tried telling me to calm down and speak to him, but I wasn’t paying much attention. Also, someone who works in the store tried to come out and get in between us, but I moved away from that person. I wasn’t trying to get physical so there was no point for that person to get in between a goddamn thing. The driver, being the asshole that I’m sure he is on a daily basis, said

“I didn’t spit at you! Where’s the spit?”

I said

“You fucking liar. You didn’t spit at me? You’re a fucking liar. How fucking DARE you.”

The police pulled up and I got off the phone with the operator. One officer spoke with me and at this point, tears were still pouring because I was furious and I felt helpless. If I was home, I’d feel a hell of a lot better standing up for myself, especially since the police at home carry guns while the toy cops here don’t (except certain teams & under certain circumstances). I told him what happened, explaining to him that even if I did cut the van off, I didn’t mean to because I just began driving here a few days ago. In the meantime, another officer attempted to move my car out of the way. (It’s a hybrid and he didn’t know what he was doing, so I moved it myself.) The one officer I spoke with, went over to the driver and spoke to him.

The driver lied.

The officer came back to me after speaking with the driver, who admitted that he cursed at me & called me names but lied and said that he never spat. I said

“Sir, I have no reason to lie. I wouldn’t be sitting here crying in another country, lying about this. I’m telling you, the man is lying. He spat at me.”

The officer looked on the car and said

“Well, I don’t see anything. He must have bad aim. Did any land on you?”

Me: “No sir. But had he come a step closer, it would have.”

I remember the officer asking how long I’d been driving. I said

“Here or in general?”

“Here.”

“Just a few days. My job gave me this courtesy car a few days ago. But I’ve been driving for years, sir.” (Because if I was a shitty driver, that’d justify the driver being a scumbag & calling me a fucking cunt & spitting toward me. Right.) The officer also said that “independent witnesses” and the driver said that I kept honking at him, the driver admitted to cursing at me because I was honking at him, and – here’s the kicker – the store workers said that he’s a regular customer at the store. My response:

“Of course they’re gonna vouch for him! It’s me against them! I’m telling you officer, he’s fucking lying. I don’t care what he says to those people, he’s lying.”

“Was anyone else in the car with you?”

“No sir, I was on my way to work.”

At some point, the officer said that the police wouldn’t do anything about this situation. “We’re just gonna take everyone’s details. I’ve given him a warning. Is that okay?”

“No, but what can I possibly do.”

“How would the police handle this if you were back in the States?”

I was too upset, and trying a bit too hard to hold back extra tears, to give an answer. I just shrugged and said “I don’t know.”

He asked if I needed a ride home because I wasn’t in a good state to drive, and I said no. I was still close to home so it was pointless. Besides, nothing would help anyway. I got in my car, reversed & turned, and the officer went to block traffic so that I could get back on the road.

As I waited for the officer to block, the driver walked to the van, looked at me until he got into the driver’s seat, and smirked at me. I was too upset to say something aloud like “Fuck you” or “Don’t let me see you in the street, scumbag”, but I damn sure said it in my head. When traffic stopped, I told the officer that he was smirking because he knows he was lying about spitting. I drove back to my house, still crying, and parked.

Since I don’t have a parking permit yet, I went around the corner to pay for parking for an hour until/unless I could find a side street with no permit needed. When I came back to the car, a traffic officer was in the process of writing a ticket across the street from the car. I said

“Sir, please don’t tell me that you’re writing a ticket for that white car.”

The motherfucker stared at me for a minute, then asked me not to shout at him. I was visibly upset and (by this time) had a headache, so shouting wouldn’t help with the headache. (In other words, I wasn’t shouting at the motherfucker.) I told him that I wasn’t shouting & wanted to know if he was writing that ticket for my car because I’d just gone around the corner and had proof that I paid for parking. He explained that I had to park right in front of the ticket box and couldn’t park on my street. I was too upset & furious and felt too helpless & disrespected & low to argue with the motherfucker, so I just said “I can’t win. Ever.” and walked to my car with more tears.

I parked in front of the stupid box for about 1/2 hour and cried while trying to gain back some composure. My co-worker D, who I called & spoke with a few times during the situation, called me again and told me to try finding a parking spot on a street with no signs, if I could gain enough composure to drive. I waited a few minutes, drove off, and was lucky enough to find a street near my house where it’s unnecessary to have a parking permit. My American colleague’s husband called me to see what happened (I’d asked D to speak to her at the office) and I cried some more, then I slowly walked back to my street. A walk that’d normally take 2-3 minutes, took 10 minutes because of a mixture of tears, headache, and feeling like shit.

I stayed home for the rest of the day; despite taking a nap, my headache lasted all day and throughout the night. I tried calling family back home, but of course, no one was available. That made me feel abandoned & even more helpless. I was so annoyed that no one was there for me, I decided I didn’t even want to talk about it any more. I didn’t, and still don’t, feel like rehashing the story over again. That’s most of the reason why I’m writing this entry: all of your answers are here.

But it’s never that simple though. The rest of the week hasn’t been all that wonderful either. To be continued in another blog entry…..

Crack & Fairy.

“I’m the one you’re looking for because I’m the one that called”, I said, walking behind the police officer when he walked past me. Police officer, you ask? Why are the police involved in this story?

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“I’m the one you’re looking for because I’m the one that called”, I said, walking behind the police officer when he walked past me.

Police officer, you ask? Why are the police involved in this story? Because despite living a pretty uneventful life, something pops up every once in a while that changes it for a moment.

It was Friday, about 2 weeks ago. I’d been too lazy to make lunch for work, so my co-worker/team member, whom I’ll refer to as D from now on, asked if I wanted anything from outside. I said “You know what? I need to take a walk. I’ve sat in this office all day and I need some fresh air, so lemme walk with you.” She didn’t know what she wanted either and had to buy something in a particular store, so that gave me an excuse to spend more time outside. As I didn’t have to see any kids that day, I spent most of the day doing paperwork, sucking in the stagnant & boring air in the office. Don’t get me wrong, my team members are quite entertaining and we get along pretty well. But it was time for a break.

D and I left the office, walking & talking – I about my quick trip home to tie up some loose ends and take a quick mental break, and she about her weekend plans. We wound up getting something to eat at Subway, which is likely the healthiest choice available (outside of bringing lunch from home and going to the local supermarket) among all the chicken & chips shops, McDonald’s, Burger King & KFC franchises in the ‘hood. D had a craving for something sweet to snack on, so we walked a few doors down to what I call a corner store/bodega in my hometown. She got me a bag of Doritos and was deciding what candy bar to get for herself when the foolishness began.

As we stood at the counter whilst D looked at the candy bars, the store owner’s voice quickly rose as he said “Oi! Put that down!” D is very good at being aware of surroundings because she said “(Spinster), look.” She motioned for me to turn around.

Well what do we have here. A man and a woman came into the store trying to steal. One of the items being stolen was….. wait for it…..

A bottle of fabric softener. Fairy.

Here the hell we go. 😐

He and the woman got caught. I’m not sure what she tried to steal, but whatever it was, she likely dropped it and quickly disappeared out of the store. The store owner repeated the command to return Fairy & what was a Brillo pad (I can’t make this stuff up) and after a few repeats, the man, who we found out was a crackhead (I’ll refer to him as Crack), angrily walked up to the counter and tried being defiant by not giving the stuff back right away. Instead, Crack cursed the owner in Jamaican patois, as if the store owner was stealing from him.

Bumbaclaat blah blah….. Rassclaat blah blah…..

D is watching all of this while I mumbled under my breath: “Sigh. Here we f—ing go. Is all of this really necessary? Does (Crack) really have to be so loud? He needs to give the shit back.” D, ever the quiet observer, was listening to & laughing at what I was saying while keeping an eye on Crack. Then suddenly as I kept mumbling I hear

(Spinster)!!! Move! Watch out!

I turned around and wouldn’t you know it, Crack had grabbed a bottle of wine a few feet away from us, went toward the store counter, and menaced the store owner, going as far as to try to get over the counter to smash him over the head.

She didn’t have to tell me twice. I quickly made my way to the back of the store right along with the other store customers. 😐

I can’t remember much else in the following few seconds because I was dialing 999, but I think a couple of workers in the store attempted to stop the man from going over the counter (they succeeded) and I said “I’m calling the police.” D said “Good idea” while I dialed. I described everything we saw, including Crack’s appearance. The operator gave me a reference code and said “The police will be there in 12 minutes.” 12 minutes seemed quite long, but I said okay. It actually didn’t take that long; a police car arrived less than 5 minutes later.

We didn’t want to wait 12 minutes; however, before we left, D made sure that the store owner was alright. We came to find out that Crack has stolen/attempted stealing from the store many times before and “We’ve beat him many times but he still comes back!”. Yes….. Crack is so wack that he’s had his ass beat in that store before, yet still comes back for more.

What a shame.
"Crack is wack." (What a shame.)

(picture from http://shavarross.com)

When the police car came, we were leaving the store since we thought it’d take 12 minutes. A police officer got out of the car. “I’m the one you’re looking for because I’m the one that called”, I said, walking behind the officer when he walked past me. I briefly ran down what happened, he thanked me, and we walked back to our office.

When we got back I said to my other co-workers “You won’t believe what just happened with us.” We told the story and one of my cheeky co-workers said

Maybe he needed Fairy to cut the crack.

Stick a fork in us because we were done.

Moral of the story: Life happens when you least expect it. Oh, and in the wise words of my aunt J:

Don’t commit any crime in front of me because I’m telling. (That’s right, I “snitch”. I’m not going to jail or prison for anyone.)

Man with a megaphone.

One thing I appreciate about living here is the protests. Protests in this country are a way of life; protests are like breathing – done without even thinking about whether they should do it or not.

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Last week, I was heading out to see one of my kids. I made my way down the steps and saw my colleagues from another team whispering & chuckling. I said “Hey, what’s up?” as I made my way toward the front door. The 3 women chimed in:

“There’s a man out there with a megaphone. He’s basically saying, in a nice & intelligent way, that our (social care) council ain’t shit.”

“He does this every year, at least once per year. He’s been doing this for many years. He’s mad that the council took his children away from him.”

“He sexually abused his children; that’s why social services took them away.”

*record scratch* *REWIND*

I said “He did WHAT???!?!? Why is he out here then, saying that social services isn’t shit? He brought this on himself!”

2 of the women said, “Eh. We’re used to it. But be careful….. He may approach you and talk to you through the megaphone since you’re part of the ‘system’.”

Dammit. That was the last thing I needed. No matter which exit I left through, all exits lead to the main exit….. which is exactly where the man was standing with his megaphone. 😐 While he wasn’t within the gates, being outside of the gates and having to walk through them to get to where I had to go would’ve been a pain in the ass anyway. I don’t drive here, so I couldn’t even escape in a car. So I did what I thought was best:

I laughed at & watched him right along with my colleagues. Childish, I know. But he’s a pedophile. I’ll laugh as much as I want. I’m actually surprised that he’s even walking the streets; he needs life in prison, in my opinion. (The United Kingdom’s justice system is another rant for another day.) He finished a few minutes later and I got a chance to leave the building to see my kid & their family.

Here he is: Father Pedophile.
Here he is: Father Pedophile.

One thing I appreciate about living here is the protests. Protests in this country are a way of life; protests are like breathing – done without even thinking about whether they should do it or not. There are a few people here I’ve talked to that consider the protests somewhat of a nuisance, which is understandable because big protests can have as many as thousands of attendees, blocking businesses & streets & peace/quiet. And sometimes, even under the best circumstances, there are always a few hooligans who fuck up what would’ve been a 100% peaceful protest. But overall based on my conversations, Britons seem used to and/or fine with it.

As an aside: In the above link, it states that there were 250,000 protesters; other estimates place the number at 500,000, which sounds correct to me because of what I’ll call the “protest culture”. I actually caught the tail end of that particular protest while on the way to meet with a new friend for lunch and it was orderly & peaceful; it was later that night that the hooligans (thank goodness there were only a couple hundred out of 500,000) vandalized businesses, started shit with the police & caused arrests. Here’s what I caught pre-hooligans:

Public cuts protest. We're mad as hell and we're not gonna take it anymore! Oi!
Public cuts protest. We're mad as hell and we're not gonna take it anymore! Oi!

Back to the point I’m trying to make. I appreciate the protests here because it shows me that people are willing to fight for their rights. Back at home, aside from an unusual burst of fighting spirit every once in a blue moon that leads to (a) protest(s), such as those in Wisconsin that make me feel like a proud American, protests don’t often happen at home. I think people have gotten apathetic & more survival-focused, which is understandable in this day & age and bottomless pit economy. But at what point do Americans say “We’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore!”, like citizens of the United Kingdom so often do? At what point will Americans tire of the oligarchy?

So while I think it’s despicable & disgusting that a father who sexually abused his children has the unmitigated gall to protest in front of a social services building (or anywhere else for that matter), I can appreciate the overall “protest culture” and fighting spirit that makes Britons as ridiculous as they are prim & proper. Keep using the megaphone, United Kingdom.

P.S. While you’re at it, check out my fellow expatriate Kass’s blog entry on the same subject.

P.P.S. As I type at this very moment, BBC news is reporting a segment about groups of people who are planning to boycott the Royal Wedding. I love it.

Protest within a protest.
Protest within a protest.

Come on over (part I).

A few weeks ago, after working together one evening, J invited me to have dinner at her family’s home.

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“What the hell did I get myself into?” I wondered aloud while preparing to go to J’s house for dinner.

Might as well start from the beginning…..

After working together one evening, J invited me to have dinner at her family’s home. J is a translator/interpreter, and I acquired her services through my job to communicate with a family whose 1st language is French. We worked together before & after my Christmas vacation, and she seems like a nice woman outside of work. I don’t know her age but since she has 5 children, one of whom is in his 20s, I assume that she’s a little older than me. Therefore, I’d not think that she’d invite me to dinner. After all, I’m younger than she is….. Maybe less mature?….. unabashedly American (whether I like it or not)….. not Muslim….. Why have me over for dinner?

So it was surprising that after one of our last visits with the family, she invited me over. We left the home & walked together quietly as usual until we split to head to our respective buses, and before I got a chance to walk off, she said “Would you like to come over for dinner one day?” I was kinda taken aback because it came out of nowhere, but I managed to say something to the effect of

“Wow. Thank you. Sure I’ll come over. Just let me know what your schedule is and let’s take it from there.”

Even though I accepted, the suddenness of it still left my mind boggled. What did she want from me? 😐

2 weeks passed and we set up for me to come over on 03.11.2011. I was looking forward to it….. at first. She’s from Mauritius which, to me, means learning about a new culture and (most important) trying new food. But that good old social anxiety crept up on me as it usually does. (While I’m a private person, I don’t mind sharing my “flaws”, like the social anxiety, with others if it helps others who experience the same things.) I had at least 1 week to mentally prepare myself, but mind over matter doesn’t always work for me. My mind was racing:

What should I wear? They’re Muslim; I don’t want them to think I’m a whore (whatever that means). What if I do or say something wrong? I don’t know these people. What’s their culture like? What if I don’t like the food? Would it be rude to say something about the food if I don’t like it? Okay, I’ll stay for no more than 2 hours and then I’m going home.

“What the hell did I get myself into?” I wondered aloud while preparing to go to J’s house for dinner. Nothing seemed to fit right. I forgot to look up directions to get there. Then I felt hot and changed clothes. Then I felt cold and changed clothes. Then I felt fat and changed clothes. Then I put on make-up and hated it. Then I took off the make-up and hated it. And these damn pimples! I’m too damn old to still be getting pimples! And why does my face have to look like this? And dear god, I’ve gained more weight than I thought. What if my breath stinks? My life is a complete fail. What was I thinking, accepting this invitation? I bet I’ll regret this.

I drove myself bonkers. And made myself late.

Since I was late & didn’t feel like ironing clothes, I decided on a new pair of skinny jeans even though I didn’t want to wear them. I forced myself to re-apply the make-up, checked my breath, put on my new coat & sneakers, and left the house. It was a cold but clear evening and, despite the anxiety, it was nice to get out of the house & see a different part of town. One of my unofficial resolutions for the year is to go out more now that I’m more settled into life in a new country, and anxious or not, I needed to do this. You can’t move forward if you don’t take the 1st step. Since I was running a little late, I high-tailed it to the bus to get to the train station. It was a pretty easy route despite weekend service disruptions. When I got to my destination, I called J to pick me up as planned; since she doesn’t drive, her niece drove while she & her oldest (I think) daughter went along for the ride. I anxiously awaited and wished myself luck.

To be continued…..

My sentiments exactly.
My sentiments exactly.

Disappearing acts.

August 2nd came & went and sure enough, he didn’t return. By this time, we’d already established our work schedules and were too busy to remember. But he never returned.

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Good night, sweetheart, I got to go now
Time won’t permit me to play no more now
But I’ll be back to do another show now
So good night, so long, bye, bye

Chuck Berry – Goodnight, Well It’s Time To Go

Before we left dinner, we exchanged numbers with intentions of meeting up again soon. Most of the people I met began work 4 days later, but 1 person started before me.

E arrived 2 weeks before me and he, too, came here solo. Everyone else has a spouse/partner so it was probably difficult for him. A different agency from ours recruited him, I later found out. Since I sat on one end of the table and he at the other end, we didn’t really talk except to exchange numbers and find out where we’re from. Neither of us knew that the other worked at the same place, nor did either of us know that we were from the same part of the United States until we went our separate ways that night.

I went to work the next day and, sure enough, we ran into each other – E was coming from shadowing a visit, and I was on my way to shadow a visit with one of my new team members. We said hello in passing since we were both in a hurry. It was Friday and even though it was my 1st week, it was still tiring. I was in the latter stages of jet lag, getting used to a new timezone, and beginning a new life. Needless to say, thank goodness it was Friday.

On the way home I sent E a text to say hello and TGIF. He wrote back and asked if I was doing anything over the weekend. I’m not sure about the rest of the weekend, but I definitely didn’t have any plans that day. He said we should hang out, maybe grab something to eat. I was really tired & hot, but I decided to take him up on his offer. I’d already pushed past my social anxiety to attend last night’s dinner; why not push myself a little further and meet up with him?

We decided to meet at a central place, but I was running a bit late. When I got to the tube station to transfer to the next one, the tube I needed to take shut down for some reason. (I learned later that it happens all the damn time. 😐 ) I sent E a text, telling him the situation and that I’d see him in a bit.

I finally got to the place and noticed that he wasn’t there yet. About 30 minutes later, I received a text from him stating that he was on his way to meet me. Then I realized something….. Wait….. Did he leave to meet me at the tube station where I was initially stuck? I sent him a text with that question and sure enough, he’d left the central place to meet me where I got stuck. That was very thoughtful of him, but now I had to go back to where I was before. Sigh.

I sent him a text and said “I’m coming back over there. Don’t move.” I went to the nearest tube station to catch the next one and thank goodness, even with 1 transfer to another tube, everything was running better. I arrived & called him to let him know that I’d arrived. He didn’t answer so I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

For at least 1/2 hour.

Whilst waiting, I sent text messages describing my clothing (black shirt, black slacks, black flip-flops), if he’d forgotten what I looked like. Since this particular tube station is quite large, I also walked around to see if I’d find him, which was unfruitful. I knew something was wrong, so I tried calling E again, but alas….. My phone was out of credit for phone calls and there was nothing open at that time of night to allow for adding credit. I had some loose coins, so I called from a pay phone (the pay phones in London suck, by the way), and wouldn’t you know it….. E didn’t have any credit either because his phone went straight to voice-mail, and the phone operator stated that E wouldn’t receive any notifications until he added credit to his phone.

I used the last bit of credit I had to send E a text message explaining what happened, and I headed back to N’s house. I was a little disappointed but at least I tried. Besides, being tired gave me an excuse to head home.

The next day (Saturday) I had a couple of appointments to view flats. Even though I’d just gotten there and N wasn’t rushing me out of the house, I’ve always hated being a burden to others so I began flat hunting early. During the 2nd appointment, I received a text from E apologizing for last night. He confirmed that he ran out of credit and, since the tube station is so big, couldn’t find me. I called him and we apologized to each other. He then said, “You won’t believe where I am now.” I said, “Where?” He said, “At the airport. I have an emergency back home.” He then told me about having to return home because of a family emergency, as well as the long journey to the airport. One of his co-workers gave him a ride to the airport, which was nice, but she didn’t know where she was going and got lost. This led to him missing his original flight, which led to him spending more money on a brand new plane ticket. At the end of the conversation, he said he’d be back on Tuesday. I told him I’d send him a text message with my e-mail address so that he could contact me and, in turn, I’d tell everyone else. I wished him good luck and said “see you back at the office on Tuesday”.

Tuesday came and went.

By this time, everyone who was at the dinner started working, and I told them the situation. We figured that it was something serious since he hadn’t returned by Tuesday. A week and a half went by; we decided that one of us should find his supervisor to see if he was alright. I found the supervisor, who stated that he wasn’t returning until August 2nd. We were right – we knew it was something serious. Toward the end of the month, I had lunch with my recruiter and told him the situation. Having worked in the business for years, he said

“I’m a cynical bastard. That young man isn’t coming back.” (I love how brutally honest many Britons are.)

I said, “You really think so?” He said, “Listen, I’ve worked in this business long enough to know. When they pull the disappearing act, they’re not coming back, especially if there’s no explanation.”

August 2nd came & went and sure enough, he didn’t return. By this time, we’d already established our work schedules and were too busy to remember. But he never returned.

Epilogue:
After a little investigative work (also known as being nosey), my co-worker’s wife figured out that E likely returned to the United States for his son. Yes….. He has a son that no one knew about. We still don’t know all the facts, but based on the investigative work & finding out that he left a son (and possibly the child’s mother?) there, that was our conclusion. He’s connected with a few of us on Facebook, but mum’s still the word.
______________________________________

Has this ever happened with you? Or better yet, have you done this yourself? Tell us here.

Damn foreigners.

One of the first e-mails I saw was from a newly-hired recruiter at the agency that brought me over here. In it she stated that a new group of Americans just arrived, and she requested my attendance at an informal dinner on Thursday to meet the new recruits.

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It was my 2nd day at the new job (July 6th). Aside from meeting with my supervisor to learn the ropes for the non-computer aspects of the job, lots of reading, and help from my team members, I didn’t do too much. That was fine because there was a LOT of reading – laws & rules & statutes, oh my. 😐 I got to know my team members little by little, in addition to colleagues on other teams somewhat related to my work. Some of them asked lots of questions about home, told me about their visits to the States, and stated their opinions about the many goings-on in the States. These were nice conversation starters because I wouldn’t have initiated conversation.

My work e-mail worked, so I checked it to see if I’d gotten anything. One of the first e-mails I saw was from a newly hired recruiter at the agency that brought me over here. In it she stated that a new group of Americans just arrived, and she requested my attendance at an informal dinner on Thursday to meet the new recruits.

*scratch record*

*REWIND*

What? Meet people? People I’ve never met before? For dinner? For a long period of time?

Why? 😐

For those who know me well (and I’ve mentioned it here a couple of times), I’m an introvert. A proud introvert. For most of my life, people (including family members) made me feel bad about this, saying there was something wrong with me since I’m not a social butterfly. Social interactions, especially for long periods of time, deplete my energy and cause me to withdraw into a cocoon (whether living solo or paired up). It’s my way of recharging (albeit nowhere near as recharged than the average social being). In the past this caused me lots of angst because as a teenager (and like most teenagers), being this way made people misunderstand me even more, which led to a vicious cycle of wanting to please people but not being able to, being angry at the world and hating myself. But now, as an adult, I’ve come to accept the fact that I can’t please everyone and I’ll never be an extrovert. I like that I appreciate one-to-one & small group interactions the most; I prefer more intimate connections with people as opposed to shallow & superficial interactions with tons of people. Besides, bad girls move in silence. πŸ˜‰

So, I was wary of this e-mail but said to myself, “To hell with it. I’ll force myself to go. Maybe these new people aren’t too bad.” But then I remembered something else about myself:

Because of my past travels, I’ve come to avoid most other Americans when travelling. I’m sorry fellow Americans, but some of you make us look bad worldwide. You have that damn A-merry-can Sarah Palin-esque accent, which annoys me to no end. (American accents vary by region, but more often than not, this is the most common accent I’ve heard during my travels.) And your clothes, for the love of whatever deity might exist… Buy some new clothes! Do you have to wear the same tourist outfits – track suits or mountain gear? And don’t get me started on the terrible American-centric Caucasian-centric superiority complex that many of you have, which makes America/Americans look even more stupid in the eyes of the rest of the world. Don’t you realize that we’re seen as a joke across the world? 😐 Hell, it embarrasses me to the point that when people ask me where I’m from, I just mention my city to look better in the eyes of others. 😐

Anyway, I replied “yes” to the e-mail knowing that I’d regret it later. Over the 2 days that preceded the dinner, I thought of every excuse possible to get out of going – I was still jet-lagged, I needed to go to the internet cafe, it was hot outside… whatever it took.

The day came and as much as I tried to convince myself otherwise, I decided to go. This would save me from cooking or buying dinner. I was a little late because although it’s easy to get to London Bridge, the place was hard to find once I got there. A few minutes later I found it, asked for the reserved table and walked over to it.

I had a bad headache and I was hot & grumpy. I said a polite hello and sat down. I sat in the corner seat, deciding that I’d eat & leave within an hour. I didn’t know these people, and they were A-merry-can, which meant that I probably wouldn’t like them anyway (or so I thought). I wasn’t getting up to introduce myself. That’s not what I do. 😐

In the group was a married couple from Texas, a young woman from Texas via Colorado, a man from somewhere in the New York tri-state area, and the 2 women from New Zealand who sat on the other end of the table. I was sitting at the A-merry-can side of the table. Fuck. 😐 I was even more chagrined when I learned that most of them never left the United States until now. (The only thing I’m a snob about is travel.) I said to myself (something to the effect of):

“Christ. These people have never left the country? Here we go. More ignorance and bullshit.”

I ordered my food & drink, hoping for this to end soon. The new recruits knew I got here a couple of weeks before them, so the questions started pouring in:

1. Have you ever been here before? (Yes.)
2. What’s the job like? (I just got here just like all of you. I don’t know.)
3. Where are you staying? (My friend’s house.)

Sigh. And too many other questions. They probably didn’t realize it, but I couldn’t deal with all the social interaction yet I forced myself through it.

After a while, I relaxed a little. I began talking a bit more when the husband in the married couple whispered to me,

“Hey, are there any Black people here?”

Sigh. Why me, whatever deity might be in the sky, WHY?

I said, “Are you kidding me? England has the largest population of Black people in Europe. You really haven’t left the States, have you?”

Him: “No. I didn’t know there were Black people here.”

Sigh, help us all. 😐

I began telling him about the different groups of Black people here, cultural events & activities, and told him something that I don’t think he ever heard before:

“As a Black American, you’re part of a very small elite group. Many Black Americans… hell, many Americans in general… have never left the United States, much less lived in another country. Don’t limit yourself to just ‘Black stuff’. There are too many cultures here for you to do that to yourself. Take advantage of everything that this place has to offer.”

He listened intently, and I think its importance hit him after that statement. I began to feel a little more comfortable, mostly because I was only speaking to him at this point, but also because the group wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. I didn’t leave within an hour like I said I would; we didn’t leave until at least 22.00. We all exchanged phone numbers and I told everyone that I’d see them next week (like me when I arrived, they had 1 week to settle in before beginning work).

I still had a headache, but I was happy that I went. Recruitment staff paid for dinner and everything tastes better when it’s free. πŸ˜‰ I headed home exhausted and although I wasn’t ready to embrace them just yet, I was happy to make a couple of potential connections. I told N about the new folks and she shook her head at their lack of travel experience too, but she was glad that I clarified some things.

One of the new people wound up returning to the States 2 days later (I may explain that in another entry, but don’t hold me to it). The rest of us are still here and our connections are stronger; this is especially so for me & the married couple. They’re great and, as a solo expatriate, I’m glad that they’ve accepted me into their lives.

Until next time, ladies & gentlemen.