Thursday, July 21, 2011

Enjoying our Sweden vacation

My mom’s house is situated in a small community in the farmlands of southern Sweden. Right behind her house is a small forest with a biking path that if you follow it past some houses leads to a small playground. There’s a store, a pizza place, a bank and a public tennis court next to a soccer field. It is the ideal place to spend a few summer weeks away from Beirut.

Our first morning in Sweden the boys and I went for a long walk along the old railroad tracks. The sun was shining from a blue sky, and the beauty of the lush, deep dark green trees and fields, along with the sounds and sweet smell of clean nature, was almost overwhelming. We picked wild raspberries and cherries and ate, admired the beautiful wild flowers, saw butterflies, snails, birds and other little creatures, and enjoyed just being. August and William said it was the best morning they had had in a very long time, and Abraham was bubbling with a strain of joyful comments.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer travels at last

After a lot of work, beach time and some illness, I finally found myself zipping up our bags, all packed up for our trip to Sweden. The only flight available to us was a 3 am departure from Beirut, with an early morning stopover in Prague. We left for the airport sometime after midnight, not having slept since the night before. All went well, and the boys fell asleep almost immediately as soon as we got on the plane to Prague – in fact, they slept the entire flight. I managed to sleep a little – I think. I used to be able to sleep sitting up like that, but now… Maybe I’m too big to get comfortable? It was unpleasant to say the least. When we got to Prague I couldn’t wake Abraham up and I had to carry him off the plane and through the airport. The older boys were sleepy but very good and great helpers. We only had about 40 minutes until our next flight, and because of all the passport and security checks at Prague airport, that’s barely enough time.

When William passed through the security check it started beeping and a police officer came up to search him. When he was standing there with his arms out, the police officer padding him all over, William burst out with a smile on his face , “Oh nice. Free Czech massage!!” After only an hour or two of sleep at 6:30 am, he could still crack me up.

Our second flight was short and we got all our bags fairly quickly. Then we took a train to cross over to Sweden (a five minute train ride cost 20 Euro!), where my mom picked us up and took us home. I don’t usually nap, only under very special circumstances, but I guess this qualified because I had a little sleep in the early afternoon with Abraham. We spent this day in a jet-lagged haze eating the Swedish treats we had missed so, and catching up with family.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Can't stop thinking about Greece...

This article by Therese Larsson, SvD, is simply too great not to share with all you non-Swedish speakers out there. Since I can’t do my official translation work for the moment, and since it’s much easier for me to translate from Swedish into English anyways, I just have to do it.

"It is close to mind-numbing. Have you, like I, rolled your eyes when hearing that i.e. Greek radio talk show hosts or hairdressers have had such physically difficult careers that the HAVE TO retire at the age of 50? Were you’re surprised to hear that doctors, lawyers, and other executives in Greece in principle don’t pay taxes at all? In this case you should continue reading right about now, because there are much worse examples of behaviors contributing to the Greek crisis.
I thought I had heard everything, but the German newspaper Handelsblatt put together a list this week of Greek work regulations, some so generous you can barely believe it. Of course, in true German manner, the paper has valid references to all their claims. Here are a few of the highlights:
• The ride to and from work by bus drivers in Athens counts as work hours and whoever makes it to work in time gets a bonus of 310 Euros.
• Message boys at the various ministries gets a bonus of 290 Euros a month – for carrying files and folders.
• In several state-owned companies the employers receive and bonus for using the copy machine, and whoever can use a computer gets a bonus – here as well, whoever can make it to work in time gets an extra reward.
• Judges gets extra money if they treat an errand fast.
•At the ministry of culture, some employees get extra money for clothing.
And here are my two personal favorites:
• At the partially privatized phone company OTE you can recieve 25 Euros a month for ”warming up of service car.” According to Handelsblatt the union said Monday that the bonus has been renounced, however the employees now demand that the bonus is reinstated.
• The state-owned railroad company gives their drivers (who earn up to 7000 Euros a month) a bonus for each kilometer that they drive. They also receive over 5 000 Euros extra each year for washing their hands (25 percent of all train personnel receives this).
One can only hope that these bonuses disappear with the savings package that was delivered earlier this week."

Prof. Husband returns home from yet another philosophy conference

Professor Husband comes home tonight after a five-day conference in Istanbul. Since he’s rarely ever gone (only a couple of hour/day tops), it’s a big deal in our house. I think it’s a nice thing to be apart once in a while, but in the mind of the boys, there’s something very wrong in the universe while he’s gone and until he’s back.

It seems most disasters happen while Courtney is away as well. There’s always a computer or [enter your preference here] crisis or someone getting sick. This time, I couldn’t get my work program going, and Abraham spent 24 hours puking, meaning I got exactly 0 work done. I always make these grand plans for what I’m going to do while Courtney’s away (this time I was going to finish a big translation job, ha ha!), but then end up just muddling around, keeping the kids occupied, dressed and fed, and continuously wishing he’d come back to help me solve all the problems and keep me company.

I don’t wish he wouldn’t have gone though, because I’m desperate for some exciting stories about the conference, his friends, conversations, impressions and whatever else he’ll be telling me about.

I guess the ultimate thrill is the thought of him being here soon to solve all our problems, bring exciting conversation and thoughts into the house, and rejoining our everyday life. And then there’s nothing so wonderful as some physical affection after a few days apart, is there?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Death in the community

Last week we received some bad news. An acquaintance – a friend – of ours during our years in Cairo, was killed during a visit in Baghdad, leaving a wife and three children, the youngest not even eight, behind. He was in Iraq for work when his convoy was attacked and he was killed.

The foreign hired faculty of The American University in Cairo is a fairly large group but nonetheless quite close. The university is family-oriented and trips are frequently arranged for faculty members and their families. During our three years we basically got to see most major things that Egypt has to offer this way; from Siwa Oasis and Mount Sinai, to the Giza pyramids and the Red Sea Monasteries. The group we traveled with was usually the same, and the people were also the people we or our friends hung out with at the playground/pool/social club. The man that was killed was not one of our closest friends but part of our extended group. He and his family were part of our community and… you know; like us.

I felt sorrow when I heard about his death, sympathy for his family, and naturally, a little bit of fear. He was a great man, an inspiring scholar, a perfect father and husband, and a wonderful part of our community. I can’t imagine what his wife and children are going through - to be honest, I hope I never have to - but I sympathize and pray that the family can recover, return to their extended family soon, and get a lot of help from people around them. Naturally, thoughts such as “What would I do if this happened to me? How would I react?” appeared, because I identify with the family. This could happen to anyone in our community, really. I’ve always been aware of the risks of living in this part of the world, but never really scared or worried. Although I can’t say this event triggered any of these, I have to admit it made me think a little.

We're going to Sweden this summer!

Amidst all the chaos and budgetary trouble, we concluded that whatever has or will happen, we can’t live through another year in Lebanon without a break. We need to see some family and a western… anything. We need to be able to order school books and other necessities. Since the US is out of the question budget-wise, and since we always have a great time in Sweden, we purchased tickets to fly to Copenhagen. The boys and I leave right after mid-July, and Courtney will follow when his summer classes are done. We will stay just past Ramadan, missing the entire event this year. As soon as we get back, it will be time to move. Yes, I know; crazy!!

Work struggle

Although it’s always a bit of a struggle to find sufficient time and more important peace in this house to do the translation jobs I’ve been taking on, I’m enjoying the work. That is, I’m enjoying the translating itself. What has made the entire venture a struggle is the software scheme that surrounds the business of translating. It is based on extortion, really. Almost all jobs require translation in a specific program, SDL Trados, and it costs a fortune. There’s no competition, no way around it, no alternative programs or methods. If you want these jobs, you have to use Trados. The program costs $895!

I’m sure that using a translation memory speeds up the work significantly, and that using a termbase helps companies with consistency and improves the quality of their publications. But for someone like me, who has time but no money, this system is excluding.

So far I’ve managed to get by, by using the company’s so generously offered 30-day trial period. It has caused me a lot of trouble though, and I’ve spent significantly more time on trying to set things up, install, uninstall, download, transfer, etc. than I have spent translating. This week I was in the middle of a big job when a couple of days ago my trial version expired. So I had to download a new trial version to a different computer and transfer all the files. Turns out the new SDL Trados’ trial version doesn’t contain the old Trados version though, and that the files I’ve been working with are useless in my new trial version. The downloading part is very complicated because of our horrible, horrible internet situation (it requires me to stay up at night, for one, because that’s the only time I can even attempt such a download, and it takes time), and with this additional complication, along with some other problems, I’ve had to turn to my commissioner for help. Again.

Soon, after I’ve got paid for those first jobs I’ve done, I will be able to buy SDL Trados. As much as it hurts to have to spend such a huge chunk of money on a program that is so clearly over-prized, I don’t think I have a choice. And it’s kind of an investment, right? I just hope my contractor’s patience doesn’t run out before then.