Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Not Nutella

It's 7.30am on Tuesday morning and I'm hanging onto the overhead bar on the number fourteen tram with a slightly hysterical and impossible-to-repress smile on my face.

Sapphire's been sick for so long now. Five weeks. Our GP rang the hospital and referred her the day before and yet, after hours of waiting and telling her story to four different doctors, she was sent back home at 10pm. It was -2C as we stood shivering outside on the kerb, waiting for LC to pick us up.

More drugs to take. The final 'experiment' before ..... well, nobody is willing to say what happens if they don't work.

Nine and a half hours later I'm heading back to the hospital with Sapphire's latest stool sample at their request. They disagreed with the two test results obtained from the GP; said that they 'couldn't possibly be right, they've made a mistake.' I was too tired to argue and Sapphire drooped against my shoulder, even more tired. Who cares about the kid when there are numbers of pieces of paper that can be waved about, photocopied and discussed endlessly? Who cares if she's been sick for five weeks - she's not screaming, or pushing her spilled out gizzards back in with her own hands, is she?

A bunch of dodgy-looking beggars get on board at Servette, invariably accompanied by a bad accordion player with a repertoire of only three songs. They all reek of beer, BO and cigarettes and talk loudly in an attempt to intimidate the rest of us into giving a donation when the cup is walked up and down the aisle. Wallets and bags are known to disappear too, so I always grip mine tighter, the zips close to my hands and the inside of my body.

Today however, my blank face is replaced by a smile that gets gets wider, stretching the dry skin around my eyes and no doubt looking both out of place and insane on a workaday foggy morning. Aside from the gypsies, everyone else is dressed in work clothes encased in puffy North face jackets and fur-lined hoods in blacks, greys and browns. I wonder how they'd react if I broke the ear bud-enforced silence with this conversation piece: Am I the only one carrying a fresh poo here today?

The man with the begging cup makes eye contact with me. He gives me a dismissive flick up and down with his eyes. I'd obviously be an easy target if he wanted to bother. Go ahead buddy, I think. Pick my bloody pocket. There's a jar for you in here and it sure as hell ain't Nutella.......

They want Sapphire back at the hospital on Friday to see if the drugs have worked and to study the results that their lab ("It must be done through our laboratory; why has your doctor ordered this from Zurich?) produce. Family, friends and the school teachers ring for updates and there's none yet to give. Sapphire is still in pain, still weak, still poorly. We can't do anything but wait until Friday.

And all I can do right now on the tram is involuntarily chuckle out loud at having arrived at a time in my life when I'm ferrying shit across town in my handbag.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


It's 9am and the corridor outside of her bedroom is dark, so I bend down gingerly to slide a note under her door.

'Sapph, I'm taking Milly out for a walk and a play before she bursts. I have my mobile with me, so call if you need anything. Mum xo'

My knees crack whilst straightening up and BANG I crack the top of my head on her door knob. My anguished screech of 'SHIT' shoots out without thinking and I hear Sapphire stir and call out to me; all my previously silent and considerate creeping around for nothing.

She's still sick and it's no longer a joke or an intriguing 'bug that's going around' or a pleasant opportunity for us to watch every conceivable version of Antiques Road Show, Attic Treasure, Flog It, Road Trip, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, Ask Our Antiques Experts, Bargain Hunters or Nanna Has A Cracked Pot: Is it Worth Anything via the English channels.

The doctor, once pompous, then apologetic is now a combination of stumped and concerned. "The new drugs haven't worked - the bacteria is still there. No wonder you feel so ill, Sapphire." He even shows me the lab reports and the list of antibiotics that have been proven to work against the evil germ lurking in her belly. "This is supposed to work, it's supposed to fix things. Why hasn't it?" That's the question he asks before I do.

He'll be phoning the laboratory tomorrow, as they've now separated the bug and are testing other drugs on it to see if they can destroy it. "If not, it's time for the Diseases Unit in the hospital to help us." For some inexplicable reason, I'm really glad when he says 'us' instead of 'you' - he's now involved and seems to care. This kid ain't faking and needs help.

As we farewell him - yep, come back tomorrow and I'll also call you as soon as I hear again from the lab - I look down at the Sick Certificate he's given me to send to Sapphire's teacher. Instead of the usual ones that say Retourner a l'ecole and a date, this one states: Retourner est indeterminee. Sapphire sees me frown, snatches it from my hand to read what it says and starts to cry.

The mobile had a message for me. I didn't get the admin job via the Australian embassy. It was almost an entry-level role that they interviewed eight of us for. "Was it my bad French?"
"No, yours was as good as everyone else's."
What the? Come on, rally yourself, girl. "Oh. Never mind, I appreciate you considering me----"
"You could easily have done the job - all the panel agreed - but the person we offered it to has more experience than you."

Ah. More experience in being your niece? More experience in ordering lunchtime tables in perfect Francais? More experience in being a mindless wallah? More experience in ...... time to get off this bitter, pointless track and get ready to take the dog for a walk. Milly does several joy jumps before skidding on the parquetry when she sees me reach for my Outdoor Walking Coat - a 75% markdown from the H&M Mens' Section sized Extra Large. I look like a sleeping bag wrapped around a water tank, but damn if it doesn't keep me cosy.

Hopefully another job will turn up that doesn't involve nannying three children under five years or toilet cleaning for 15 francs an hour. A part-time Librarian's Assistant role looked promising until Selection Criteria Number Nine specified 'Must be fluent in both English and French and possess the ability to read and understand Russian, Spanish and Arabic.' All that to type in 'new additions to the library category coding system' for 18 francs an hour?

Swish Swish Swish whispers my jacket as I stride along, fuming. The bloody UN seems deliberately set up to actively prevent trailing spouses from gaining any form of employment. G-level (yes, as in ground, gofer, gormless, grovelling) employment pays less than our weekly grocery (yes, another G word) bill but still requires a high distinction after sitting their official admin skills test, proving I can speak two languages and understand three in the written form, possess an advanced Masters Degree in International Diplomacy or related issues and over eight years working specifically for international organisations.....

Whoah - the leaves are now long dead and dangerously slippery with damp, and I grab at a railing to prevent from falling. The sudden movement shakes the lump in my pocket - Love Chunks' new camera. Further down the hill, Milly sees Malou and surprises him with some attention and play as I stand there staring at the wealth of photo opportunities. Ice-crusted grass. Malou's excited face. Orange leaves. Pink sun rising through grey foggy sky and the cryptic spray painted 'Avatar Rules'on the lowest hanging branch of a nearby oak tree.

Drops splatter my face as Milly returns, giving her ears an extra-thorough flapping to signify that she's sick of Malou and ready to return home.

Sapph's on the sofa, folded up tightly to squash the stomach pain and resting Elmo - her sleeping partner of choice during times of illness or sadness - on her knees. The Outdoor Walking Coat is dropped to the floor as I dash over to hug her. Her hand lightly brushes against the top of my head, still throbbing from the fight with the door knob.

"I'm glad you're with me, Mum," she whispers.

Perhaps this is the right job for me right now.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Three black dogs

My dog is not part of the cool club. Instead we have to walk past them every single morning, me tugging at her lead to calm her down and she trying to rush at the fence and give them all a good telling off.

It's a good thing actually, because the 'off leash' section in the park is a mere 15 metres by 30 metres and is devoid of grass or anything more interesting to sniff at than dusty turds ignored by lazy owners. Instead, we veer off the path well trodden and into the 'forest'.

The 'forest' in reality is a small strip of neglected land between the park and several large apartment blocks but it's dark, dank and full of canine-friendly nooks and crannies to investigate, not to mention a few cats and squirrels to chase amongst the moss, mushrooms and wet leaves. Then, on the other side of the park, there's a huge expanse of grass that I also let Milly run freely on if there are no other dogs about.

Trouble is, there often are other dogs about but I don't spot them until there's a furry clash of meeting bodies and a mutual butt sniff which is then followed by me dashing over to clip Milly back on and apologise for any nip that the other animal received or was about to receive. "Je suis desolee. Mon chien n'aime pas outre chiens."

Luckily for me, this clumsy attempt has resulted in three Swiss humans reverting instantly to English.

It has also buried the popular myth held by most expats in Geneva that Swiss people are stand-offish and unfriendly. Not in my neck of the woods.

The first to revert to English when faced with a pudgy-but-apologetic Australian woman who was still unshowered, morning-breathed and messy-haired was an elderly lady in a burgundy puffer jacket as wide as she was tall, the colour of which set off her purple-hued perm rather nicely. Her big, black, maybe-cross between a Labrador and St Bernard took Milly's less-than-welcoming demeanour in his stride, contenting himself to stand there panting and wait for her approach him when she felt like it.

"His name is Cassius," Madame Burgundy informed me. She jumped in before I could reply. "I'm not a racist, I didn't call him that - it was his name for years before I found him at the ---- " several words of French escaped before the Anglais term arrived "----refuge. Yes, refuge."

It was then I noticed the criss cross scars on his front paws, standing out amongst the high gloss of his fur and shining, friendly eyes. "He was a guard dog for a man who owned a metal yard and had to run and sleep out on the sheets," she said. Through a series of questions, hand movements and guess work, Cassius's seven year life story before the arrival of Madame Burgundy emerged. No love or attention until somebody noticed his bleeding, infected feet and stole him away, hoping he'd find a better owner at the refuge.

"My husband died and I needed something to love. Cassius is everything to me," she said, leaning down to pat his head. Milly allowed me to do it too, taking the opportunity to flip over in the dewy grass and rub her back in the remains of kebab wrapper instead of rush over and attempt a quick nip.

Further on in the park we encountered Malou, the Mr Crazy Caffeine of our neighbourhood, careening around the corner of the copse in a blur. A regular buddy of ours, he too is a mutt; presumably the love child of a greyhound and Jack Russell with a sturdy torso and impossibly skinny legs. He looks like a coke can with four toothpicks stuck underneath it. He'd been found wandering up in the Jura mountains, abandoned. His coat is very flat but black and shiny like a brand new top hat.

"Hello sweetie," I cooed as he jumped up for a greeting. He lost interest the second he clapped his beadies on Milly who was still unaware of his presence as she stared longingly up into the tree that held two cavorting squirrels many metres up.

Malou danced. He pranced and woofed. He ducked and dodged. He cavorted, rushed up and back, sniffed alongside Milly and even nudged her arse in some truly commendable and exhaustive efforts to get her attention. As with Cassius, she was off lead and not inclined to make an attack but was unfortunately intent on studiously ignoring him. At least until he gave up and trotted back over to where his owner was standing, chatting to me.

"I'm so sorry," I said to Malou and then glanced up at his owner in case he felt offended on his beast's behalf. "You'd have won me over with your smooth moves and agility."

Love Chunks was once in the park jogging when I was busy talking to Malou's master. We don't know each other's names, just our dogs' (which tends to be standard social etiquette for four legged walkers the world over), but I did know that Malou enjoyed cross country cavorting when his owner was training for triathlons.

When I got home, LC said, "You know, you shouldn't just talk to any old bloke in the park you know. You've got to be safe, have your wits about you." The fact that Malou's master was good looking, fit and young wouldn't have had anything to do with his concern...?

This thought warmed me as we walked through the grass this morning, me grateful for my wellington boots as they crunched the ice now coating the fallen leaves.

Milly stopped, one of her front paws raised: a sign that she'd spotted something surprising. Strangely enough, it was another dog, not something she'd normally consider lifting a paw up for. I'd seen them in the distance on many other occasions and mentally considered the lady as Classic Genevois: designer coat, expensive fringed ugg boots, perfectly lightened hair and impeccable make up - not a bad effort for 7:30am.

I felt like lifting up one of my own legs in surprise because Milly's tail was wagging and she trotted forwards towards Black Dog Number Three. This one was as large as Cassius but slimmer in frame and shaggier in coat - a twist of liquorice wearing a flokati floor rug perhaps.

"Bonjour madame." Genevois Gentlelady smiled at my greeting and answered in English. Even those two words - spoken in what I assumed was a pretty decent French accent - betrayed not only my foreignness but also my ignorance.

"This is Bernard," she said, as he flopped on the grass beside her. As she walked, he walked; when she stopped, he flopped. Milly sniffed his seated butt cautiously but appreciatively. That was something new for her.

"What sort of breed is he?" Eyes like burnt caramel, fur softer than a kitten's and a mouth that truly widened into a smile the second he was touched. Something pretty special no doubt.

"Nobody knows....." I stroked his ears with my left hand and Milly's with my right to allow the conversation to continue without generating any jealousy or impromptu fighting.

"He is now two years old and I adopted him when he was only twelve moins - no - months - old. He had been through a terrible time."

It was nearly eight o'clock when she had finished, kissing the top of Bernard's head in a loving form of punctuation. Her change of movement had him up on his feet instantly, ready to move when she did.

She gently lifted up his tail. "You see here - it's a bit personal, yes? - under his tail, by his anus? They had burned him with cigarettes there."

And that's when I found myself holding hands with a woman I'd only met twenty minutes earlier and whose name I didn't know.

Three black dogs. Giving joy and deserving joy.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wooden Spoon

He’s an intelligent man because he’s not only a doctor running a busy clinic but easily switches from speaking French to German to English depending on what patient he is talking to.

Consider though, that English is the most common first or second language here in Switzerland and you may understand how the hot flush of anger and shame slapped me on Friday when he spoke to me in a packed waiting room. “Now you do realise that if we don’t find anything in Sapphire’s stool sample then it’s all in her mind, don’t you?”

My legs wobbled and my eyes stung, rendering me witless and mute. He continued, slightly louder this time, assuming that I was a bit stupid.

“You need to TALK to her. Is she happy at school? Does she have friends? REALLY TALK TO HER.”

I nodded and got out of there as fast as I could, almost forgetting to hand over the bag of freshly-made excrement for the nurse to send off to the lab for testing.

He means well, the pompous git. He’s obviously seen more of life and the extremes of human nature – let alone anatomy – than I have, but the words stung. For two weeks Sapphire has endured vomiting, nausea, blinding headaches, dizziness, lack of appetite and crippling stomach pains. She’s missed school for most of that time due to being unable to stand up for very long or concentrate.

Her blood test results showed that her body was fighting a major infection and she was given four different kinds of medication to take. All the packets and instructions were in French, German and Italian. The pharmacist saw my confusion, took pity on me and printed the dosage instructions in English. I felt like pulling his head over the counter towards me and planting a big wet one.

The vomiting and diarrhoea stopped by the end of week one, but not the pain, disorientation, weakness and exhaustion. The second blood test showed that she’d gotten over the infection.

She was sent to have her face x-rayed, as her sinuses were swollen. The scans showed no polyps or problems but a prescribed nasal spray has made the passages clearer. Her eyes were checked and the optician advised that her glasses – made in 2009 – were too strong for her. New lenses are ready for collection tomorrow.

Walking to radiation clinic across from the train station, we stopped every five metres or so to let Sapphire take a breath and fold herself over to somehow squash away her stomach pain. Inside, the clinic was festooned with prints, paintings and sculptures of nudes. "How is a three foot sketch of a man's willy supposed to make me relax, Mum?" Cheeky monkey.

“You ‘ave made pee pee already,” Scan Man huffed.

“Er yes. We weren’t aware that she needed to have a full----“

“Come back in ‘alf an ‘our. Drink much, so that you have much pee pee but don’t go pee pee.”

Sapphire’s lip drooped in self pity ten minutes later when a bucket-sized mug of gingerbread-spiced latte was placed in front of her. “Come on love, you’ll enjoy this. Coffee’s a diuretic, so you’ll be back with---“ my fingers formed the international quotation sign “-----loads of pee pee for Scan Man.”

She giggled. “Shoosh mum, do we need all of Starbucks to know?” I stood up, put my hands on my hips and played the ham. “Why yes, we do, actually. Everyone should know that---““SIDDOWN MUM,” she laughed. “Oh damn, I’ve spilled it down my front....”

Back home, the phone call came. No discernible stomach issues and the appendix is fine.

I do know Sapphire. I do.

I know that she’s very ill and that her headaches and stomach pains are real, not faked or psychologically manifested. I do. It worries and scares me a little to see how listless and unwell she is. I believe her. I trust her. I know her.

.... don’t I?

Do I have to go back inside, sit alongside her snoozing figure in our bed and ask, “Is there anything that you’re worried about? Is there anything you’re not telling us? Is there anything making you unhappy?”

She sat up, reaching for my hand to comfort me instead of the other way around. “I’d rather be at school than here with you. No offence.”

None taken. I kiss her soft forehead and leave her to snooze.

Love Chunks gets back home from his two week odyssey in Canada and Mexico and finds a 43 year old, a twelve year old and a furry seven year old waiting for him at the door, all smiles.Sapphire’s still in her dressing gown but happy to see him. Milly is pensive – will the return of Alpha Male mean that Alpha Female won’t devote as much attention to her? Besides, she’d just endured having her teeth cleaned, with now-crusty bits of white toothpaste clinging to the hairs on her chin. I just want to breathe in his warmth, scent and strength.

The weekend sees Sapphire improve slowly but still always doubled over in agony immediately after eating anything.

I send her to school today. She’s eager to go despite having a throbbing headache and wondering if she’ll cope with the smell, noise and food on offer at the school cafeteria at lunchtime.

When Milly and I get back from our walk, the phone rings. It’s the doctor’s nurse. “We have found some bacteria in Sapphire’s sample. The doctor wants to see her today after school and he will have some medicine ready for you.”

Her English is halting, so my questions about what is it, will it get better, what sort of medicine and how long will have to wait until this afternoon. I put on my favourite playlist and run like the wind on my treadmill, singing out loud to every song. I don’t wish any misfortune for my daughter, but I am relieved that they found something. I do know her.

Roger emails me. He’s flying back to Australia for a conference tomorrow. Is there anything I’d like him to bring back from home?

The smell of burnt rubber fills the room as I think hard. For months I’ve moaned about things I miss but this morning all I can think of is a wooden spoon. No shop in Geneva sells them, so it’s little wonder they don’t make cake here.

“I’ll bring you three,” he says, noting how the traditional last prize item in Oz is my number one choice here. “Perhaps you can give one to Sapphire’s doctor.”

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Edition Nineteen - Word Verification Explanations

It's been ages since I've compiled a list of word verifications or 'captchas' that I've had to type in to comment on other blogs and a few have popped up that are just asking - nay, begging - for an official definition. Besides, my brain needs to think about something other than translating the German instructions on Sapphire's nausea reduction tablets, coordinating Nafeesa's school and hospital transit routes and explaining to Milly that I'm not responsible for the driving rain that is preventing us from having a long walk.

Are you ready?

Redinneo - the meal produced from desperation - usually late on a Thursday evening - that combines two incompatible leftovers such as spaghetti bolognese and pumpkin curry. These optimistic blendings rarely convince the family that it's nouveau cuisine or even a successful pairing; more like a bad interpretation of shepherd's pie.
"I'm hungry, Mum. What's for tea?"
"Uuuhmmm...... how about some redinneo?"
(silence). "I'm not really that hungry, actually...."

Prent - The person who chooses the '8 items or less' checkout when they clearly have more than fifteen. They are invariably inconsiderate, selfish and extremely ugly. In short, a Prent.

Flads - Overly-confident marketing campaigns that utterly fail to catch on. Examples of flads in recent times include any non-animated movie starring Angelina Jolie, citrus-coloured clothing, The Prince of Persia action figures, carbonated milkshakes and Gordon Ramsey's restaurants in Australia.

Zoole - a pet in a backyard swimming pool. Large dogs such as labradors are often zooles in summer time thanks to being hurled in by adults sloshing with too much sparkling shiraz or kids wanting to see their much-loved Rufus or Honey frenziedly paddling. Humans who are also having a dip risk having the flesh scraped off their ribs by canine claws if a zoole desperately keen to reach the steps and get the hell out of the water happens to be thrashing alongside.

Gathy - the annoying draught that only you notice. Most common in old cars, doctors' waiting rooms, so-called bus 'shelters' and the homes of those annoying people who never put their heating on even when your snot has frozen. "Cold? It's not cold - let's open another window; we need some fresh air in here!"

Fornicka - sexual intercourse performed on kitchen counter tops. Presumably for ease of cleaning afterwards.

Poveva - the first world struggle of the well-paid living in a country with a stratospheric cost of living. Examples include Geneva, Oslo, Zurich, New York, Tokyo and London. Budget blow-outs mean that households used to eating meat suddenly find tinned lentils, quark and macaroni make filling-but-failing replacements and rent day sees the bank account looking more scoured than Lindsay Lohan's nostrils after a court hearing.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Where’s Eric?

Saturday morning, 8am.

Milly is straining on the lead, dying for a leash-less run around in the park after two days of non-stop rain and only quick visits downstairs for relieving herself.

Sapphire has been left at home, fitfully sleeping, with her mobile resting on her pillow. Mine is in the pocket of my polar fleece and I finger it nervously, hoping that I’m not a terrible mother for leaving her to give a dog forty five minutes of my undivided attention.

Nafeesa’s grandmother arrives from Lebanon today, the lucky recipient of the laughingly-titled ‘fast track’ visa application on compassionate grounds. Yep, only three weeks: how very thoughtful of them to rush it through for a child without an able parent or family..... Nanna will need help though as she’s eighty one, doesn’t drive, is in a strange country and speaks mostly Arabic.

We’ll all pitch in of course and I know that Nafeesa is greatly looking forward to living in her own home again, where things are familiar and the comforting routines can recommence. This past week, she’s been at her friend Paige’s place. Sapphire’s been too ill for us to have her at ours and, well, she’s made it clear that we’re, um, not who she wants to stay with, despite the wishes of her mother and mother’s best friend. Still, if she wants a week of late nights, junk food and sporadic visits to hospital but is having some fun, who can deny her that when she’s endured several weeks of stress?

Love Chunks is in Canada running a conference and workshop; stopping only to head to the airport, bypass the US and do the same thing for another week in Mexico.

I think back to my birthday, two days ago. Sapphire’s blood test showed that her body was definitely struggling with a major illness, but that her major organs (liver, etc) were functioning normally. Her temperature had finally lowered, but the headaches, diarrhoea, nausea, exhaustion and wrenching stomach pains had not.

“Sorry about ruining it, Mum,” she whimpered, head in my lap as I stroked her forehead. “I got up when you were in the shower and your cards and presents are on the lounge.”

She had sewed me a bag for my latest knitting project and alongside it was a golden chocolate Lindt bear. “Look inside the bag, Mum,” she urged, sitting up slowly, the morning light showing too pale a complexion and dark circles under her eyes.

A beautiful hand-made card with sentiments inside that brought me to tears. “No Mum, look in the bag.” Inside was a framed magazine advertisement pulled from a magazine of the month and year of my birth – November 1968. Nestle’s chocolate – Born in Switzerland, their secret is now being shared with you. “I found it on ebay and when we were at Jumbo’s I put the frame in with the ones you had bought and hoped that you wouldn’t notice. Dad did framed it when you were on your treadmill.” Yes, my other present, which arrived a week ago.

More tears from me as I rushed back to the other lounge and cuddled her. She’s twelve now and yet I still automatically breathe in her hair and am instantly reminded of her as a newly-bathed baby. “Mum, you’re not supposed to cry on your birthday,” Sapphire laughs.

Love Chunks writes me an email with a message so simple and beautiful that I’ve read it every time I’ve logged on since. The rest of the day is spent knitting as Sapphire watches the motley collection of Antiques Road Trip shows we’ve recorded, running an ongoing guessing game on how much each item will fetch at auction. The TV is regularly paused for her to recover from a painful stomach spasm or to dash to the toilet and my worry is masked by the rude jokes I make to try and get her to smile. “Everything is about farts and poos with you, Mum,” she says in a not-very disapproving tone.

Two days later and Milly and I are about to walk into the park. A quick glance shows that there are no other dogs nearby for her to scare off, so I bend down to unsnap her lead.

Putta putta putta putta – one of the ubiquitous mini-bikes has screeched to a halt on the opposite side of the street, the driver calling out to me in French.

“Parlez vous Anglais?”

“Yes,” he says with relief. “There was a bakery here...” he gestures to the shop behind him whose windows are papered white, “ you know where it is now?”

Being an inexplicable magnet for direction seekers, I actually do know. “Here, it’s around the corner, where we’re heading. It’s only been open for two days, very fancy now. Follow me.”

He nods in agreement, driving on the left hand side of the road as he does so, breaking the law. It’s 8am on a foggy Saturday morning, who’s going to notice?

The police, that’s who. Out of nowhere a heavily armoured van pulls up alongside us, six serious faces peering through the dark windows that are now slowly rolling down.


No French this time; I think my ‘Oh My God’ has given them a clue.

“Do you know where Eric’s bakery has moved to?”

Half an hour later, with a muddy but happy dog I’m still laughing as I walk back home, knowing that Sapphire will get a kick of out this story when I see her.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Together, let’s control your waste

It’s a funny thing, being the ‘Trailing Spouse’ with supposedly nothing to do but luxuriate in the cultural splendour and luxuries of a foreign country. I assumed I’d be writing steadily, giving you all updates (whether you wanted them or not) on life for the Locketts in Geneva with the clockwork regularity and frequency that the Swiss are famed for.

Trouble is, pesky things get in the way such as poor Yasmin’s stroke, Nafeesa needing a guardian/hospital transfer/temporary mother/dietician/entertainment consultant/laundress, a long-scheduled trip to Basel, Love Chunks’ seven-day-a-week workload before his departure to Mexico, a job application and astonishingly violent case of diarrhoea, headache, vomiting and fever suffered by Sapphire.

Nafeesa has decided not to come back and stay with us since our return from Basel. She’s instead selected a friend who exhibits Queen Bee-like tendencies and is, at this moment, favouring young Nafeesa instead of snubbing her. Yasmin is making slow progress in hospital, but her hand gripped mine and she said – no yelled“NO!” – when I explained that Nafeesa wanted to stay at Queen Bee’s until her grandmother (Yasmin’s mother) arrived from Lebanon.

But how do I force a child – not mine – to stay in my home? Especially when that child has already lost one parent and now spends hours every day with her remaining, seriously-ill one? When she can elect if and when she answers her telephone and obviously wants to have some fun down-time with a flaky friend?

Trouble is, Queen Bee’s mother is just as flaky. She’s assured all of us on the official Guardian List*** that she’s fine not only with Nafeesa staying but also tackling the daily transfers to hospital, staying with her during the visit and bringing her back home. In reality, she’s ‘too tired’ or ‘too busy’ or ‘thinks it’s too late’ or ‘too far’ and I’ve been getting the calls – ‘Can you pick me up?’

Is it wrong for me to gently explain to Nafeesa that if she chooses Queen Bee, then she has to accept the full ramifications of that choice? That I have a sick child, a job application, a husband who is working seven days a week in the lead up to two international meetings that he’s solely responsible for and even though we have a car, I’m still too scared to drive it across town in peak hour traffic only to pay around CHF45 to park it in a dark alleyway a kilometre away from the hospital where beggars and druggies like to congregate?

Beautiful, historic, friendly Basel was bliss for three days. LC stayed back to work work work; Nafeesa was granted her request to stay at Queen Bee’s and Sapphire got me to herself again. She’d been overlooked and neglected for the past couple of weeks and her acceptance and understanding of this made me both proud and relieved.

In Basel, we laughed. We imagined that the ‘Together, let’s control your waste’ sticker placed above the bog roll holder in the hotel bathroom would generate a pair of hands eager to pat down or squash our ‘waste’ instead of the well-intentioned but incorrectly-written homily about saving water, reusing bath towels and recycling paper.

We allowed ourselves a naughty giggle at the entrance to the Kunstmusuem and after an hour of room after room of 15th C religious art, Sapphire said, “Not ANOTHER gruesome picture of Jesus on the cross and a nude woman. It’s just an old fashioned excuse for porn and violence!”

Instead we ventured into the early 20th C and I saw the very Paul Klee painting I’d studied way, waaay back in year twelve. Sapphire loved it too and as I leaned forward to point out a detail – WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP – we were momentarily deafened and my shoulder was tapped by the security guard who had bravely left the Mondrians alone and dashed into our room. “Madam you’re too close. No more than 30 centimetres please.”

Discoveries included the best Asian food in Switzerland at a restaurant recommended by a hotel staffer who admitted that she hated the place ‘because it’s too spicy and the vegetables are raw,’ the best macarons in the world at Sprungli in the Marktplazt and that bags of hot roasted chestnuts, despite being avidly eaten by the locals, “Taste like big chickpeas, only much less interesting,” according to Sapphire. And me. All in a glorious location that involved a lot of walking arm in arm and saying, “Oh will you look at that? It’s so lovely!”

The phone started ringing five minutes after we got back home. “Queen Bee’s Mum was wondering if you’d mind picking me up as she’s feeling a bit tired today and she knows that you don’t have a job and have free time?” *Sigh* On paper, yes. In reality: LC’s got the car because he’s currently living at work; Sapphire is starting to feel sick; the house is covered in orange dog fur and the bathroom stinks like a pipe has been blocked with sewage from 1980 and there’s a single tub of yoghurt in the fridge and only a nanna cart and my legs to do anything to change that.....

Love Chunks flew out to Mexico City yesterday, exhausted before it even commenced. Dinners, museum visits, workshops, presentations and a press conference. “Geez I hope they make you all pose wearing sombreros and ponchos like the APEC summits.” The last thing I saw was him rolling his eyes before the lift doors closed.

By bedtime, Sapphire was curled up into a tight ball of agony. By midnight she was boiling hot, throwing up and crying. At 1am she was stuck on the toilet with diarrhoea but also grabbing at her aching head. She was delirious at 3am. “Take these off of me – they’re crawling up my legs and the texture is killing me!” By 5am it was all of it combined, my reassuring patter hopefully not betraying my shaky hands as I stroked her forehead.

Nafeesa’s returning to our place tonight; I’m taking Sapphire to the doctor later this morning and not for the first time I’m glad that I don’t have an official ‘job’ here yet.

*** Compiled by Yasmin’s best friend H and Netherlands-based brother N, it lists all of our names, addresses, emails, contact numbers and who is doing what on what days. Not only for our collective benefits, but also to satisfy the hospital social worker that Nafeesa is being cared for appropriately, to assure Yasmin not to worry but concentrate on getting better and the rather tardy visa-bureaucrats in Lebanon.