Friday, October 23, 2009


Yes, people, we are off! We are all going to Nairobi in the morning (with Nana and Ata -Andrea's parents) and heading straight from the airport to the bush for staying in fancy tent camps and fancy lodges. Game drives twice a day, with a break for lunch and a little lie-down. We head back into Mombasa Friday for two nights in the Serena beach fancy hotel to enjoy the Indian Ocean and fresh seafood. Then very early Sunday the 1st we'll be back in the airport heading home.

Hope everyone else's weeks are great.

Go Vikes!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thank Goodness

The workers have all been paid!

Our extra security guards will stay through sometime in November, at Senora's expense.

Interestingly, Senora sent us a nice text message saying thanks for the help and glad it all worked out well! Strange, but that's par for the course, I guess.

In other news, Zoe is so incredibly excited her Nana and Ata are here, she's been about crazy. Nearly non-stop giggling and being with them as much as possible for every moment. It's really adorable. No shy rediscovery time at all: just hugs and kisses and giggles from "go".

Thanks to all the people who went shopping for us; all the stuff arrived (thanks again to our pack mules) perfectly. It's been like Christmas around here. Zoe got some new (and old) books, Kix cereal, and a Dorothy costume (with Toto) she already loves. Andrea got her birthday present of a swanky new telephoto lens, as well as brown rice, and "Wings" on DVD (the first Academy Award winner for Best Picture of 1927), and I got some mountain biking books, new iPod earbuds, quinoa, and a GPS. What fun.

Today we'll take a walk around the neighborhood so Andrea's folks can see our landmarks. Maybe a trip to the pool if the weather holds out. Good times.

Friday, October 9, 2009

At Last

Senora and Andrea's boss signed a contract today!  The finance department is working on payment to the workers, probably will take a few days.  The end is near!  

In other news, Andrea's parents arrive tomorrow for a month's visit.  Should be fun.  Zoe's thrilled.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Labor Disputes III: News From the Legal World

For any of you still interested in our long, awful story, thanks for hanging in there.

As we last saw our heroes, they were impatiently waiting for the recommendations of the Rwandan attorney on how to proceed with our living situation.  It took several days more than we expected to hear back, but he eventually advised that it was going to be very difficult for Andrea's work to get a satisfactory outcome on the insurance claim. 

Apparently policies like this one have been very successful for this sort of thing in the past, but they must be written very precisely and carefully, and this one was not.  So the effect was that the company would get back a portion of the payments, but only at a much later date (the end of the year maybe? I don't remember).  And it would likely take a lot of effort from work and from the attorney to produce that limited satisfaction.  So Andrea's boss conceded that it would be best to work with the house as it is, and to do our best to control the terms of the settlement.

So Andrea's boss, Irene, and her immediate boss Elise, the attorney, Andrea, and Senora all met at work to discuss how to move on with the agreement.  The goals: get the workers paid, and the minimum house improvements remaining completed, and get her to pay for the added security guard at the house ($300 / month approximately).  Senora was characteristically unreasonable and rude, insisting that she has been cheated.  She is of the opinion that she should be paid the remaining of the first year's rent immediately because we have taken possession.  She regards the complaints of the work not being done satisfactorily as unimportant, stating that we can just finish those things.  She also regards the security problems with the workers as not really her problem.  She states that we should pay her the entire amount and trust that she will pay the workers what they are owed, rather than work paying them directly to assure she doesn't just skip town with the dough.  And lastly she doesn't really think she should pay for the extra guards.

So this impasse has been going steady for a few weeks now, as negotiations continue to gradually progress.  Senora continues to be extremely unreasonable, and quite delusional about what she has done and what she is owed.  She is rude to the workers and guards, and to all the Rwandan staff at Andrea's office.  Quite a woman.  Quite a different woman from the one we got to know over nearly daily visits as we were checking the place out and eventually checking on the early progress.   We don't know if she was already just as crazy -and we just didn't see it- or if this has progressed since we've known her.  I think she'll be healthy again if she can just get back to Spain where her son is, and where she has a real home and a busy art studio.  She doesn't realize how much she is hindering this end goal from happening by her paranoid persecutory behavior (as well as the drinking).  

In spite of all this conflict, she is still very civil to Andrea and tells the others during these meetings that she likes us and knows we care about the house.  And in spite of all this drama we have continued to unpack and to try to establish this as our home.

One frustrating side effect to all the battling is that we can't progress on any improvements to the place, as it's officially undecided who's paying for them or performing them until all the contracts are signed.  So we have one shower that works well some of the time, and one that is unusable.  We have shelves in the pantry that can't really be filled with anything heavy until we get them reinforced.  Same for the kitchen cabinets.  We have cupboards in the garage / bike shop / man cave that could be hung on walls but are just sitting in stacks.  And so on.  Relatively these are little things, but we've been here for months, and just want our house to be our house.

So this brings us up to date.  We are awaiting signatures from all the senior parties confirming the Big Deal can go through.  Perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow.  If today, then we should be able to expect a worker payday attended by Andrea's work and by Senora early next week.  And then the work?  Whenever the contractors are not too busy with other things.  

Next Chapter:  A small post saying it's all done?  And then, only talk of more interesting parts of life.

PS: with a great deal of consternation, we have a slightly higher speed of internet, so I expect photos to start appearing on the blog again soon.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Hey People,

When you read a new post, I'd appreciate it if you would leave a little comment by clicking on the "Comment" section down at the bottom of the post.  It is really helpful to have a little feedback.  By all means let me know if you like it, but even more so, tell me if I can improve it.

By the way, I know the previous two posts are overlong.  Sorry.  I'm trying to work on economy of words.  Just not trying very hard, I guess.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Our Quest

Many of you already know that Andrea and I have a pet project. In 1998, when the American Film Institute published a list of the 100 greatest American films in history, we somehow read about the list (100 Years ... 100 Movies). We looked it over and realized that we had seen many already. Then out of curiosity we pulled up a list of all the Academy Award Best Picture winners to compare them. For some reason we made a decision to educate ourselves in the history of film a little by watching all the movies from both lists.

Turns out this was not a small thing we were undertaking. For one thing, there were more than 160 films on both lists. Then a new Academy Awards is held every spring, and they always have another damn Best Picture. Then, the AFI updated their list in 2008 with some changes. Bastards. So it has ended up being nearly 190-odd films.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? Well, it's no Trail of Tears, but it isn't easy either. First of all, we like to watch movies in general, and so that means that we don't always feel like putting in a dark artistic vision from the '30s. Sometimes we want to watch something new or something a little idiotic and fun. And we don't naturally want to watch a few movies every single week of the year. And not every movie stacks up so well through the years.

This is especially true of many of the Oscar winners. The AFI 100 has the benefit of hindsight, in that they get to decide after the movies are old which ones are great. But the Oscars are often a popularity contest (Titanic? Really?).

So we started with the most recent films that we had not already seen, and started working backwards, with the immediate goal of trying to see all the films off both lists since our births. Since we're kind of movie buffs, this didn't take too long. But we started to notice on both lists that some of the films seemed so dated, even corny at times.

The French Connection
really stood out for us in this respect. I don't mean to say it's not a great film; it really is. Its use of the anti-hero of Popeye Doyle, who roughs up informants and makes acquaintances with pimps and drug dealers in order to stay in touch with the underworld was extremely innovative for 1971. And there was a really long, really intense car chase scene that turned action films on their ears. William Friedkin apparently put cameras in cars and just filmed while driving through the streets of New York like maniacs, without closing roads or getting police permission at all. Gonzo filmmaking, and likely the most intense chase scene to date. Not the first but the first of such complexity.

However, from the eyes of people looking back 30 years on it, The French Connection seems a little dated. Rogue cops have been done a million times since then (L.A. Confidential, The Bad Lieutenant), and to greater extremes. Starsky and Hutch badly copied the cops-criminal informants relationship only a few years later, and so it seems quaint. And chase scenes have become a staple for action movies. Lord knows The Dukes of Hazzard would have been a three-minute show every week without the chase scenes. And they've been done a lot better since then (Ronin, The Bourne Identity).

So we realized that we were probably looking at the history of film through the wrong end of the telescope. And we started from the beginning.

It has really turned us around. I can be certain that many of the movies we loved would have seemed dated to us without having an understanding of where they were coming from. Grand Hotel (1931-32), It Happened One Night(1934), and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) really amazed us. But not only these.

It's really been loads of fun, and we've learned a lot. We find we've become absolute devotees of DVD Extra Feature documentaries on the making of the picture. And we've been able to watch actors throughout their careers as well. It's actually turned us on to many other movies that didn't make either list but were from a director or era or genre we enjoyed. For example, we've watched several Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films beyond either list.

Even though, it's sometimes a tough slog. Many great dramas are hard to watch (The Deer Hunter (1978), Birth of a Nation (1915)). Many are very long, and take a long time to get going. And many (especially the Oscars) are just not that enjoyable, even though now we can appreciate why they must have been at the time (Around the World in 80 Days (1956), The Life of Emile Zola (1937)). And one really stands out as being nearly unwatchable: The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). It's really horrible. Charleton Heston stars as the manager of the Ringling Brothers / Barnum & Bailey (could they make that name a little longer?) Circus. He's got a trapeze girl who loves him, a hotshot new French trapeze guy who's after his gal. And the owners are thinking of shutting it down for lack of profitability. And Jimmy Stewart plays a clown who never takes off his makeup. That's it for the plot. Now imagine making nearly all the acting terrible (except for Stewart, of course), and having long breaks in the story to show circus acts. And long pauses to show the amazing process of putting up or taking down a circus. And dramatic voice-overs describing what you are seeing in agonizing over-dramatized detail. I'm sorry but I just don't want to look that closely at circus folk.

It's a lot more difficult to find very old films on DVD or even VHS than the new ones. I don't think this can be stated strongly enough. Without Netflix we really couldn't have done this at all. We've also had some luck at libraries as well, but the first Best Picture winner (Wings (1927)) has proven very elusive for us. Andrea has recently purchased it from Amazon and we should have it in hand next week. We have put a few of the older ones on hold pending availability but are really closing in on this thing.

Last night, we watched Giant (1956), from the same director as A Place in the Sun (1951). I've seen lots of posters of the first, romanticized by James Dean dying days after he filmed his last scene. It was pretty good, and with great performances by Dean, Rock Hudson, and Liz Taylor. But it really is a retread of Cimmaron (1930/31), another multigenerational look at family dynasties building the west out of nothing. By contrast, A Place in the Sun is beautiful and heartbreaking and tense and nearly perfect. Anyway. we finished Giant, and officially finished watching every one of the original AFI 100 list!

We have 6 to go on the 2008 AFI 100 list. We have 3 Best Picture Oscars to go, plus Wings. I think that, after 11 years, we are going to finally be done.

Until February at least.

Labor Disputes II: Over the Fence!

Well, I know you've all been waiting a long while for the next chapter in our sordid saga. Sorry to have kept you so long, but it's just so hard to write about an uncomfortable situation (crisis is much too strong a word) while in the middle of it. It's hard to direct a story arc when I don't know where it ends, you know?

Also, I've been turned off from using the internet a lot, as we supposedly have high-speed internet being installed, and I'm really tired of the slow speed and the stream being cut off. So I've been trying to hold off on our high(er) speed installation, but keep getting stymied with that as well. I paid for the installation on Wednesday, by going to a bank and depositing cash directly into the account of Rwandatel, the internet service provider. Then I went to the Rwandatel office with the deposit receipt. The sales agent told me the service crew would be out the next morning. They showed up at 4:00 without any equipment, to check out the site, supposedly. They took down my phone number (already on the contract), and said they'd be out first thing next morning, as it took 2 hours and it was already 4:00. So I rearranged my few appointments, and spent the day at home (aside from a quick run), waiting for the truck or a phone call. No show, no call. So tomorrow, Rwandatel and I are going to tango. Did I mention that the installation charge is $350? and the monthly fee is about $200? So the four days (and counting) of no service is worth more than $25! We are so going to have a little talk. But I digress. The point is, I've not been too keen on using blogger. But here I am, so let's go.

As I started explaining this to all of you, I told briefly of our little vacation (working for Andrea) to Gisenyi. [see here] It was really great to be out of the home, and away from the stress of seeing the workers, and dealing with Senora for a few days. Then, on our last afternoon there, Andrea got a call from Irene, saying there had been another incident of worker unrest. As the story unfolded for us, we discovered that the workers had again contacted Senora, demanding some pay as they had worked for two months without any and were even hungrier than a few weeks earlier. Once again, she stupidly told them that Andrea's work had not paid her yet, and that they should talk to us or Irene to get paid. Then they showed up angry at the gate. This time the guard was smart enough to not open it, so they jumped over our property wall. Now we do have a security wall, but this is not meant to be a seige-worthy fortress. So it's not shocking that they could collectively pull it off, but it is unnerving, and I'm glad we weren't there for it. Apparently they stayed for awhile to show their anger, before some other security types from work showed up, called the cops, and gave them the boot. The police informed them that if they did this again, they would be arrested. And the told the cobblestone mason that if he didn't show up for work on Monday, he would have a warrant for his arrest. While this was going on, Irene called Senora and told her what was going on, and that she'd better get her fanny down to talk the fellows off the property (or pay them!). The response from Senora was a simple "Just call the police and have them thrown out." Not her problem.

On the drive home the next day Andrea's cell phone rang: it was Senora. She started out a little conciliatory, saying she was sorry it happened. But it very quickly turned to how Andrea's work should have paid her earlier and how she's so worried about her son in Madrid who was in the hospital after knee surgery, and she needed to be paid right away so she could go be by his side. Andrea was very good: measured and calm, but very assertive. She reminded Senora that she would have been home a month earlier if she had finished the work and paid her workers, and that was completely Senora's responsibility, and not anyone else's. Senora was completely delusional, and seems that she thinks she's really being ripped off, and didn't have enough money to do any real work. Andrea reminded her that she has received 9 months' rent in advance already (we're told this is enough money in Rwanda to build a house from the ground up) and that the work is still incomplete. Several times she had to interrupt Senora's delusional protestations to get a word in edgewise, but did not lose her cool. Very impressive.

So the timing of this couldn't have been planned worse. Work was getting ready to give her a big fat check for the completed work, minus the estimated amount to finish the work, supervised/subcontracted by Irene. But a small angry mob jumping over the fence? That put a different spin on things. And the landlady not caring a whit? Well, that did too.

A second security guard was placed on premises at all times, a sort of rent-a-guard from a real professional outfit, with 2-way radios and serious predawn training sessions and roving trucks full of uniformed guys ready to respond at a moment's notice. And Andrea's boss insisted that the whole f***in' deal was off, if we are at the point where we have to worry about personal security. She even suggested we sleep somewhere else for the weekend. The plan was to call the lawyers the following Monday to let them know that we'd like to cash in on the insurance policy we took out with Senora when she was advanced the huge sums. In essence, these policies insure that the work will be done by a certain deadline or they get all their money back.

Andrea and I were heartsick, and really conflicted at this point. On the one hand, we were sick of all this drama and the level of energy it took to keep dealing with it. And of course a little worried about the guys doing it again. Though I must admit that I was not that worried we'd be targeted; they had no reason to hurt us. If they hurt parts of the house before the security squad showed up, it could be repaired. But on the other hand, we had been fighting for this house, and hoping for it for months now. Not to mention that we had just moved nearly all our possessions in, and unpacked more than half. And we just like the place. It's got a good layout for us, a nice garden/yard (though needs a lot of gardening/landscaping yet), and we love the neighborhood. And Zoe's best friend lives just around the block. So for the next several days or so we just felt so ambivalent that we no longer knew what we wanted. I decided that whatever the lawyer worked out or recommended, I would be happy with it. We resolved that Friday night to contact a realtor and go look at properties over the weekend, but we just didn't have the heart. To hedge our bets, we told Zoe that we might not be able to stay in the house.

[Next Chapter: News From the Legal World]