Thursday, 2 September 2010

Skirmishes on the borders

Cho has just gone out into the bright September morning with her luggage towards a distant part of the kingdom. It isn't that she's fed up with my ad hoc plumbing while she's trying to work; she's going to a conference, with a sausage sandwich for the train. Fruitcake and I are not jealous though. We have brushed our teeth or licked our fur (as applies) and settled down to wait for the proper plumber, who still hasn't rung.

Before Cho left, and after I had made her sandwich, a toot announced Stan's van in our part of the street. "Not at work yet then?" Stan is in his seventies, silvery, and has Classic FM quietly pumping out something soothing while you browse his very fresh fish. I explained the redundancy because I didn't have the energy to invent some reason for turning up in the back of his van at a time he was well into his working day. I bought plaice and six eggs, and exhuded some optimism.  After all, on a day like today you can't worry about it, can you?

Time is different now. It slips away more easily but there's a feeling you should be doing something. Consequently you make a vast coloured-coded to-do list. You need to keep a balance though, to take the chance of some respite from the skirmishes on the borders of insanity. So when you have put the fish in the fridge, and organised the eggs rather cleverly with the least fresh nearest, you remind yourself what you are missing - or not missing.

I am not missing being told that, despite our team's excellence in inspections, we are not up to the mark with respect to various targets too tedious to list. I am not missing being so busy recording things on disfunctional systems that there is not enough time for planning lessons. I am not missing arriving for work ever hopeful, but wrong, that today I can just get it done. Here is an example from the borders of insanity.

Amaal (let's call her) is Somali. She speaks several languages but her English is not strong yet, so she needs help enrolling , partly because the form is four pages long. Together we do everything we can, and she has all possible supporting documentation. In breaktime we go to the office with the big window (and who knows if there is even a piece of security glass that size left in Somalia). We slide all the paper under the glass. It's like Immigration. The lady looks unhappy. "You've got to go and get it counter-signed in the top left here by your manager." "But my manager said she's sorted it with your manager." "That's what we've been told." To Amaal it must be like being refused admission by a grumpy goldfish. Needless to say we traipse back for yet another signature, my manager sighs wearily, we go back to our lesson, and repeat the process at lunchtime.

I also remember Ayaan, whose auntie dropped dead next to her as she was hit by a ricocheting bullet. One day Ayaan and her children were returning from the fields when they saw militia some way off shooting into their village. There and then they turned and made for Ethiopia. Much later Ayaan found herself in the hall of a hostel in the UK, crying with the cold, trying to get her baby into unfamiliar clothes and a buggy. Her friend had gone out earlier to get sugar, and returned without it because she couldn't recognise it in the shops, and couldn't read. Ayaan vowed to learn good English, which despite the obstructions she did. She now teaches literacy to other Somali women.

So that's what I don't miss. And what I do. Fruitcake is licking his fur again and the morning has gone.

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