Turbulence. (#Algiers #Algeria)

Finally. It was time to go.

I booked this flight about 6 months before departure. Accommodation sorted. At least 1 tour sorted. Basic foundation was already set.

But since this is me we’re talking about, nothing goes smoothly. So of course, bulls*** started just a few hours before my flight. Money, of course, because why not. But I wouldn’t let it deter me. It’d been almost 2 years since my last proper vacation (and I still have to finish those blog posts from that trip… so ashamed of myself.). Yes, there have been a few short jaunts in between, but nothing as long and far away as this. So no matter what, I was leaving. I needed a break from work, from life.

From New York City to Paris, France; a 5 hour layover there; then from Paris to Algiers, Algeria. I know that going through customs in a different country is annoying, but it’s to be expected everywhere and I deal with it. However, I wasn’t expecting to be interrogated by Algerian police.

You read correctly. I was interrogated by Algerian police.

I handed over all of my travel documents at the customs desk and thought that all was well, until I was told to “hold on for a moment”. I knew that some bulls*** was bound to happen because again, that’s just my luck.

Here we f***ing go…

Along with being exhausted, tired/sleepy from limited sleep, and in some pain, I was also angry and kinda scared. My French language skills are very limited, despite my attempts to practice before I left for this trip, and I don’t have any Arabic language skills. So while an officer was telling me that I’d be fine, my face clearly showed that I knew otherwise.

(As an aside, it “helped” a bit that another American woman – a government worker at that! – was also being interrogated. She said to me, “This is terrible, isn’t it?” I nodded with a scowl on my face.)

They opted to interrogate me outside of the officers’ quarters. A female officer who spoke English interpreted & translated for her fellow officers, and asked surprisingly specific questions about why I was in Algeria, what I do for a living, who I see and the age range of the population, etc. ad nauseam. Thank goodness, I didn’t have any reason to lie and was also smart enough to have access to certain things on my mobile phone to prove myself.

TIP: if your mobile phone allows, store your most important documents on something like Google Drive, and make those documents available offline while traveling. It may make a big difference for you in case of emergency.

After what seemed like forever, they let me go. One of the officers hailed a taxi for me and I went to my hotel. But alas, as is my luck, there was more turbulence ahead.

To be continued…

Staying put.

In the words of the Prophet, “It is finished.”

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In the words of the Prophet, “It is finished.”

Everything they've done since August has led up to this.
Everything they’ve done since August has led up to this.

(PLEASE NOTE: I’m using the picture to make my point, not for any religious purposes.)

After giving this some thought recently, and after reviewing the requirements for a work visa application, I’ve decided to stop looking for employment opportunities in the United Kingdom.

The visa application website requires potential applicants to qualify for a certain amount of points before moving forward. I hadn’t looked at it since 2010, so I didn’t remember what the requirements were. I took the preliminary test to see if I could go ahead with the application, and I met each requirement… except the sponsorship part. Therefore, I couldn’t go ahead with the application.

I don’t think it’s too difficult to get sponsorship in my profession from employers over there. What is difficult, however, is finding a reputable recruiter/recruiting agency to find a decent employer willing to offer sponsorship. Unfortunately, my experiences over the past few months led me to believe that most recruiters/recruiting agencies over there are shady. They’ve shat on me from the start, making shoddy promises and displaying a major lack of professionalism. Here are 2 examples of their “professionalism”:

Hi (Spinster),

I am looking to see if i can find a worksponser for you in London, will keep you posted ASAP

Regards

Recruiter Name

(P.S. I copied/pasted the e-mail exactly how the recruiter sent it to me.)

(P.P.S. The e-mail subject was “.” Yes… a period – that thing with which we end sentences.

)

Another one never spelled my government name correctly and used smiley faces in e-mail correspondence. (And no, it wasn’t a woman.)

I got so fed up with recruiting agencies over there, I decided to change the settings on 1 employment website such that recruiters can no longer contact me. I also changed the settings on another employment website such that neither my former employer nor another shady employer – which flaked out on me 3 times – can ever contact me again. If I work over there again, it’ll be on my terms and to hell with recruiters/recruiting agencies overall.

I’m also still experiencing the negative effects of what the former employer did to me. Now don’t get me wrong… overall, my time living in the United Kingdom was alright, but the last few months of my time there – along with my current challenges – left a really bad taste in my mouth. I try not to let those months color my whole view of the country, but I admit that it’s very difficult.

Will I live/work there – or any other country outside of the United States – ever again? I don’t know. After this experience, I don’t think I want to expatriate again. (I’ll always love travelling, though – that’ll never change.) But I’m not 100% certain about this, so who knows what the future holds. I’ve applied & looked for jobs all over so I’ll go wherever the money is. And if that means leaving the country again to get back on my feet, then so be it… even if – since I know that expatriation isn’t all cupcakes & roses – I go kicking & screaming for 1-3 years. However, I’d prefer getting my life back on track here, not in another country.

When I returned to the States, the ticket was round-trip because it was cheaper than a one-way ticket, and I scheduled to return sometime in Spring 2014. I plan on changing the ticket date to later this year. (Hopefully my life will be drastically different by then.) If I still feel a certain way about the country (and it is possible that I may feel the same way in the future), I’ll cancel the ticket altogether. But I think it’d be good to see a few of my old colleagues and a couple of friends, so I’ll likely just change the date instead of cancelling altogether.

There’s a lot more, but I’m going to end here. I don’t want to pass on my doom & gloom to anyone reading this, and many things are better left unsaid (until later?). It ain’t over until the fat lady sings. I’m fat, but I’m not singing… yet.

(WARNING: the following song has curses and derogatory words)

I will not lose…

Related posts:
Home (bitter)sweet home.
https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/home-bittersweet-home/

Hard knock life. https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/hard-knock-life/

This sounds familiar. https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/this-sounds-familiar/

Reset my life. https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/reset-my-life/

Jobseeker(s). https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/12/04/jobseekers/

Some things change… https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/some-things-change/

Limbo. https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/limbo/

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.  

Happy holidays.

By the time you read this, I’ll be in transit to the United States. I usually book my ticket well in advance but this time, I couldn’t so I thought I wouldn’t get to visit. But for some reason, I wasn’t worried. I just felt that I’d be able to find a reasonably priced ticket, even though it’d be a few days before my desired departure date. Sure enough, I bought my ticket 5 days ago and the price exceeded my expectations.

With the transitions I’m dealing with now (if I feel so inclined, I’ll write a post about some of it in the not-so-far future), I needed this visit and I’m thankful that I found an affordable ticket on such short notice. I’ll be gone until mid-January, and hopefully this visit will ease the challenges these transitions give me, giving me refreshed eyes, mind, heart & spirit.

I may write a post at home, who knows. But if I don’t, surely you’ll understand. For those of you who blog, I hope that you’ll take a break too. You deserve it.

Happy holidays, whether you celebrate or not, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Santa Claus.

Keep calm and drink tea. Happy holidays.
Keep calm and drink tea. Happy holidays.

Bom dia: Lisbon, Portugal – last day.

Alas… it was time to return to England. The last day was pretty uneventful – wandered around the city center/square, bought a few souvenirs, got something to eat, and did some people watching.

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04.09.2012

Alas… it was time to return to England. The last day was pretty uneventful – wandered around the city center/square, bought a few souvenirs, got something to eat, and did some people watching. Check below.

Last glimpse from the window.
Last glimpse from the window.

I happened upon an old bakery also. I bought a couple of souvenirs there to give to family members (raspberry & strawberry jams).

Confeitaria Nacional.
Confeitaria Nacional.

Mine.
Mine.

My lunch wasn’t that special, but I made sure to try out a Portuguese franchise under the circumstances.

Companhia das Sandes.
Companhia das Sandes.

People went about their day as I ate.

And so did the birds.

Soon, it was time to go to the airport to return to dreary ass England. I enjoyed myself and want to visit again in the future. (I also need to restart Portuguese lessons.)

Until we meet again, Lisbon.
Until we meet again, Lisbon.
Oh look. Welcome back. :-/
Oh look. Welcome back. :-/

Epilogue:
Of course, as is my luck when I travel, returning to England wasn’t without a glitch. There was a flight delay for some time and, and a result, trains already stopped running by the time we landed. I had to take a bus home, and didn’t get in until well after 1:00 a.m. Never a dull moment. 😐

While I’ve not seen Uzi and my roommate since the trip, we’ve managed to stay in touch from time to time. I’ve seen the host at another gathering, and he’s alright. I hope/plan to travel with this Meetup group again in the near future. Stay tuned.

Related link(s):
Start from the beginning of the trip (and click through at the end of each post). https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/bomdia_lisbon-day1/

Time off & out.

I’ve not been home since Xmas and I’m well overdue for a visit home.

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I’ve not been home since Xmas and I’m well overdue for a visit home. I miss my close family members, friends, hugs & kisses. So by the time you read this, I’ll be on my way home. I’ll have a post or two scheduled for you during my time off; otherwise, I’ll be back to blogging later this month. Until later.

Take off.
Take off.

Related post: 2nd home sweet home.

Short commercial break: Trayvon Martin.

This isn’t a 100% travel- or expatriate-related post, but it’s important enough for me to stray away from those topics for a second.

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https://twitter.com/#!/spinstercompass/status/181834199068721152

(written March 17, 2012)

Trayvon Martin.

This isn’t a 100% travel- or expatriate-related post, but it’s important enough for me to stray away from those topics a bit. As an expatriate, it’s important to me to keep abreast of current events in my home country. The following story is also one of the reasons why I left the United States and, therefore, somewhat relates to my expatriate experiences. I’m going to keep this post short because Trayvon Martin’s story infuriates me to no end, and I refuse to read or listen to anything about it until this cold-blooded racist asshole killer gets locked up. However, I wanted to give this story another platform so that it can reach all corners of the earth if possible.

When I first heard about this, I read that the scumbag killed an innocent & unarmed Black American 17-year-old named Trayvon Martin because he looked suspicious in the neighborhood… even though his father lives in said neighborhood. I checked to see if this boy had any criminal history because sometimes, people protest certain things even though the person involved was less than savory while alive, but of course this boy has no criminal history whatsoever. Then I read that when police searched the 17 year old’s body, they found a bag of Skittles & a can of iced tea – no weapons whatsoever. (I guess that Skittles & iced tea are really fucking lethal weapons that either I didn’t know about or described as such in state or federal legislation since I moved over here, unbeknownst to me.) Then I read that this scumbag is still walking the streets 1 month after he gunned down this innocent & unarmed Black American boy who went to the corner store to buy his little brother some candy & something to drink. As a matter-of-fact, this scumbag just started college courses to study criminal justice!

Who looks more dangerous?
Who looks more dangerous?

Now do you understand why this infuriates me? Now do you see why I refuse to read or listen to anything about this until this scumbag gets locked up & sentenced to no less than 25 years to life?

I’ve said enough; I feel the fury & rage again so I’ll end here.

Please, I beg of you, sign this Change petition. While I’m not listening to or reading about this unless real justice gets served, I suggest that you read more/do your research about this senseless & needless killing on your own. And if you feel so moved, raise hell about this case. One way that you can do that is by calling Sanford (Florida) Police Department’s Bill Lee at (407) 688-5070 (overseas – 001 407 688 5070). Tell Bill Lee to arrest George Zimmerman, the scumbag who killed this boy for no valid reason. Call Bill Lee until he can’t take it anymore. As for me, I’ll repeat this one more time:

I refuse to read or listen to anything about it until this cold-blooded racist asshole killer gets brought to justice. I don’t want to hear anything less than 25 years to life. Anything less is unacceptable.

UPDATE: Over 1,000,000 signatures. GREAT!!! 🙂 http://www.wesh.com/r/30738229/detail.html Keep on signing, keep on calling, keep on raising hell.

New York Times op-ed piece http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/17/opinion/blow-the-curious-case-of-trayvon-martin.html?_r=1&src=tp&smid=fb-share
I’m not the only one blogging this. http://showedupandshowedout.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/trayvon-martin/
Witnesses to his death heard his cries before he got shot http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/03/15/2696446/trayvon-martin-case.html
Audio – 911 call http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmnqKotpSD0
Change.org petition to arrest this scumbag killer http://www.change.org/trayvon
MoveOn.org petition to arrest this scumbag killer http://www.moveon.org/r?r=272971&id=37516-14438746-KyhaBix&t=2

Customer service.

One of the best inventions known to man is online grocery shopping. As someone who has a hectic job, no car (yet) or energy sometimes, this is a (lazy/tired/exhausted/working) woman’s dream come true. So once I got settled into my own flat, I took full advantage. I pick up items from the big-box versions of (online & non-online) stores when basic items run out or I need something quick, but most is online.

Most people in the United Kingdom get paid only once per month, so we’re careful with grocery shopping. While I don’t have a family to feed, I make sure that I have enough cash to buy food along with paying annoying bills. So I was quite annoyed a few months ago when I missed my grocery delivery from a certain store because of its terrible customer service.

I’d just been paid and, as usual, placed my grocery order. I thought that everything was fine until I received a text message from the grocery store (something to the effect of)

Please contact customer service as soon as possible at (phone number), otherwise today’s order is canceled.

Again, I don’t have a family to feed, but I have to eat just like everyone else. So even though I was on public transportation and hate talking on the phone in public, food is important so I called back. The customer service representation, a woman, said “We’re having trouble getting your payment for your order.” I said

Alright. I’m on my way to work, so I’ll go to the bank and see what’s going on because I know that the money is there. I’ll call back afterwards; maybe there’s an issue at the bank.

So instead of going to the office, I went to the bank first. After waiting in the queue for a few minutes (rare), the bank teller (known as “cashier” in the United Kingdom) was ready for me. I explained the situation, she checked my account and said

Everything’s fine. You have more than enough to cover the order.

I said

Would you mind if I called (grocery store) in front of you to see what happens? For some reason, my order isn’t going through.

There were very few people in the bank (rare) so she let me go ahead.

I called customer service & spoke with a different representative. I explained the situation, requesting that he attempt the order again. He tried it and the order didn’t go through. He said (something to the effect of)

It’s isn’t going through. You don’t have enough money, so you need to go to your bank and see what’s going on.

I said

Sir, I’m in the bank now standing in front of a cashier who already checked my account, and there’s more than enough to cover the order. Please try again.

He tried again and said

It’s not going through. You don’t have enough money. It’s not a problem on (grocery store’s) end.

I repeated myself again and added

It has to be on your end. I’m telling you, the cashier is showing me the computer screen with my account information as we speak and there is more than enough to cover it. You can even speak to her if you’d like.

(By this time, she was speaking loud enough for him to hear that the account is fine and that it has to be on [grocery store’s] end and not the bank’s end.)

He stated that it wasn’t necessary because it was the bank’s fault and “the bank needs to fix the problem, not (grocery store).” I asked to speak with a manager or supervisor, and he said that no one was available (liar).

By this time I was late for work, annoyed & hungry since I didn’t have breakfast, and pissed that I wouldn’t have groceries because my refrigerator was close to bare. I also had a strict exercise schedule after work so if I had to go to the store myself, it threw a wrench into my after-work plans. So I let him have it nice & loud. (That’s also the day that I realized the strength of my New York City accent and boy, did it come out that day.) I can’t remember every word, but it went something like this:

I’ve lived here for a year. I’ve ordered groceries from this store ever since I moved here. I’ve given you my business each month without fail, and this is how you wanna treat me? I told you for the hundredth time that I’m in the bank in front of a cashier and the money is there, I asked you to let me speak with a supervisor and you said no, and you refuse to bend. You refuse to consider that (grocery store) have the issue, not me. So you know what? Cancel my order and my account. I’ve had it. You’ve lost another customer.

He said “Okay.” and I hung up on him. Friggin’ jerk.

I thanked the teller, apologized for being loud in the bank (she understood), and went to work. I told my co-workers what happened and while they found it amusing, they also found it annoying. I didn’t know that customer service in this country was so… lacking.

Coming from the United States, I’m used to better customer service overall; some representatives even brown-nose when it’s unnecessary. I salute good customer service representatives because I know the nonsense they have to deal with – rude & downright disgusting customers, terrible pay, sometimes no health or vacation benefits & terrible bosses/employers. I’ve worked in customer service as a teller & in other capacities and know how bad it is. I’ve walked away from a few customers in the past – didn’t wanna catch a case. 😐

So, I “get” it. Customer service isn’t the best job to work in. Been there, done that, the customer is not always right. I also understand, having been to European countries, that Europe’s overall culture isn’t into customer service that brown-noses like the U.S. But no matter the country, representatives should offer a level of service such that the customer is helped as much as possible. That level of service is lacking here overall; even native Britons complain about it. (I’ve heard that France is worse.)

I doubt that it’ll ever change and that’s fine. I don’t have to like it but I’m used to it. I’ve written this rant for wanna-be expatriates and/or travelers: no country is perfect, including so-called First World countries. You’ll run into annoyances like this sometimes. You don’t have to totally assimilate into the adopted country’s culture, but understand that some things are standard & may never change. Figure out ways to deal or return to your home country.

Epilogue: I e-mailed a complaint to the store. A woman e-mailed me and her response was utter garbage – no apology for her colleague, no request to stay with the store, no offers to make me reconsider leaving the store – nothing. That evening, I skipped the gym and went food shopping at another store. I order online from the new store instead & haven’t had any issues since. I also found out that the former store is a Wal-Mart affiliate. Now it all makes sense. 😐

Does anyone have any annoying customer service stories? What’s customer service like in your adopted country? Do you prefer customer service in your home country, or is it better in your adopted country?

Home (sweet home).

Happy holidays.
Happy holidays.

It’s that time again…

I’m heading home for a little more than a fortnight and will be on a plane by the time you get this. I’ve got a couple of posts scheduled to keep you reading whilst I’m away, so please stay tuned.

This time will be a little different, though. This will be my 2nd Xmas at my 1st home while working in my 2nd home. Many of my insights are the same, but there are some that are definitely different. I don’t know how these new insights will affect my time back home, but I’m anticipating the outcomes once I return to my 2nd home. Here are a few of my new insights:

– My friendship group has gotten smaller. It comes with the territory of being an expatriate. Rather than mourning the losses, I’m gonna try appreciating the ones who are still around.

– My definition of friendship has changed. It’s hard to explain and, therefore, I’ll test things out while I’m home.

– My definition of family has changed. A wise friend told her husband that “there is a difference between family and relatives”. That’s one of the best insights I’ve had this year and goes with my edited version – “blood is not (always) thicker than water”. Contrary to popular belief, one can choose one’s family, and that’s powerful.

I almost stayed here for Xmas for financial reasons. But I decided to break away from the usual Spinster and take care of my Self first. I can’t control everything, so I’m allowing the universe to take its course for once. I wanted to go home, so I made choices to make it happen, and I think that that’s what the universe wanted. I’m looking forward to seeing my loved ones & getting some rest/recovering from jet-lag because things are hectic at work & I haven’t had a proper vacation since June. With so much vacation time in Europe, that’s a long time to go without self-care and time off. Perfect timing from the universe.

I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and happy holidays, no matter what you celebrate (or don’t). To those of you traveling, I wish you a safe journey to your destination(s) and a wonderful time when you get there. Be mindful/careful and have fun. Relax, take a chill pill… whatever you do, just enjoy.