Warning, a mostly technical and probably highly boring post (but there are a couple of pictures at the end)

And… it’s not working.  The last of the computer parts arrived yesterday, so we (ok, mostly MrPloppy, with me looking over his shoulder going “ooh, what’s that wire for?” and occasionally actually being useful when my smaller hands could fit into tight corners his couldn’t reach) spent the afternoon putting it together.  And the build went really well – no major hiccups, no bruises to fingers or egos, everything just worked.  By last night we’d even got as far as installing Windows, which seemed to be working fine… until MrPloppy discovered it had installed to the wrong drive.

See, one of the shiny new things about this computer is that as well as a HUGE hard drive (1 Terrabyte!!!  It feels like only yesterday that a Gigabyte seemed excessively big, and suddenly a whole order of magnitude bigger is just standard) it’s got a solid state drive (SSD), which is kind of like a hard drive, except instead of having a rotating disk like a normal hard drive it’s solid state (yeah, you might have been clued in to that by the name) – in other words, it works kind of like a giant version of a USB stick.  And the big reason for having an SSD is that because they don’t have to spin up, they load data much faster than a traditional drive, so the idea is you put your operating system and all your main software on there and everything works so much faster.  Then you can use your hard drive for just storage and the less important software.

Except we’d got it wrong, and Windows was on the hard drive.  And what should have been a simple operation of reformatting the disks and starting again has taken most of the day, and it’s still not working properly.  We’ve got Windows installed on the SSD where it should be now, but for some weird reason it’s not always recognising the drive properly, and every so often it’s randomly deciding it wants to boot from the hard drive instead, but there’s nothing there for it to boot from, so it has a little sulk and refuses to work.  So there has been much tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth, and mucking around with the BIOS, and opening up the case to switch various ports around (lest you think I know what I’m talking about here, it’s MrPloppy who’s been doing all this, while I sit there giving helpful(-ish) suggestions and occasionally unplugging and plugging things in those aforementioned tight corners).

So, I have a shiny new computer sitting on my desk, which looks very nice but doesn’t actually work.  Which is very frustrating!  So instead of writing this post from my nice new computer as I’d hoped, I’m back on the old laptop 🙁  Oh well, at least I’ve got all my bookmarks on here still…

We did take a break from swearing at the computer for a while, at least – it’s been a gorgeous day, so we went for a walk through the park to a cafe for hot chocolates.  I even managed to release a few books along the way, something I haven’t done for ages.

The park was beautiful in that bare late-winter sort of way:

And we came across an unexpected sight – a bunch of knights practising their sword fighting:

Very strange!

Not much about nothing in particular

I really have nothing to say, but I just stumbled across this amazing site while searching for something completely different, and had to quickly post something just to have the excuse to use one of her gorgeous drop-caps.  So I suppose I should think of something to fill up a paragraph or two to make it worth posting.  Um… life has been busy, but only with the usual work and study (I got my first essay finished and handed in, yay!  Now I’ve just got to work on my project and presentation…) which seems to fill every waking moment.  It’s a good thing I’m still enjoying both so much 🙂  If only the funding would come through to make my temporary job change permanent, it would be perfect.

In exciting news, I almost have a new computer.  MrPloppy ordered the last of the parts yesterday, and hopefully should be able to start building it at the weekend.  It’s going to be shiny and fast and (most importantly) have pretty lights inside.   Not that there’s going to be much point in having an excitingly fast computer seeing as I have no time for gaming at the moment anyway, but at least I’ll have the pretty lights to look at while I type up my project 🙂  And it’s only three months until the end of semester when I’ll have finished all my study for the year… and it’ll be summer so I won’t want to spend all my time sitting inside at a computer…

It’s been a while since I posted a list of recent catches (in fact, a very long while – I just checked my catch email folder, and it goes back to March!), so here’s a round-up:

A lot from the Ireland trip, of course (and yes, I know I still haven’t posted my travel journal – I promise I will eventually):

And a few others:

Right, that’s filled up enough of the page to make the drop-cap look good, so I’d better get back to work.

It worked!

Work in progress (yes, it is as sticky and clumpy and hard to apply delicately as it looks):

Design complete and henna dry, now I’ve just got to wait a couple of hours:

And the end result:

That was after 2.5 hours (I was aiming for 3, but I forgot the number one rule of henna application: go to the toilet first!).  It’s a bit pale, but in theory, now that the pigment is in my skin, it should continue to darken, so should look better by tomorrow night.  I’m quite impressed, considering it’s my first attempt (the one I had done in India was done by a professional).

So now I just need to do the other hand…

Takht e Khina

I managed to get my essay finished (well, a draft, anyway – I’ve emailed it to my lecturer for comment before I hand in a final version), which was lucky because yesterday morning I got a phone call from my ESOL student inviting me to a henna party, the start of the celebrations for her son’s wedding.

The party started about 6 pm, and was of course for women only.  I’m sure to most Westerners the idea of a party with no men (at least none over the age of about 4), no alcohol, and an age range spanning from newborn babies to elderly grandmothers would sound like a dull affair, but Afghan parties are in fact wonderful fun – the women let their hair down (sometimes literally – with no men around nobody cares if their carefully arranged veils slip from their heads), dress in their finest and dance and laugh and talk the night away.

When I arrived my student and her daughter were hidden away with the bride, but an elderly woman I’ve met at other gatherings (she doesn’t speak English, but we manage quite well with smiles and hand gestures) took me in hand and led me into the lounge, which had had all its furniture removed apart from the stereo (playing loud Arabic pop music) and a small couch, which she insisted I sit on (she and all the other women were of course sitting on the floor, but she knew my Kiwi knees wouldn’t be used to sitting cross-legged for hours).

The first hour or so was admittedly a little boring, because so few of the women speak enough English to have more than the most basic “How are you?” type conversation (plus of course I’m shy at the best of times, so I’m not great at sustaining a conversation with people I don’t know well), so I just sat there while the Farsi conversation flowed around me, listening to the music and admiring the beautiful clothes and jewellery of all the women (and feeling seriously under-dressed myself, despite having worn what I’d normally count as nice going out clothes!).  Eventually though there was a fuss out in the hallway, and one of the women told me the bride was coming, and would I mind sitting on the floor for a while?

(Actually, the floor was quite comfortable, padded with several layers of thick Persian rugs, and I discovered my tolerance for sitting cross-legged has definitely improved over the years I’ve worked with my student, because over the rest of the evening I stayed mostly sitting on the floor, and I found I could manage about an hour at a time cross-legged before the pins and needles kicked in and I had to move to another position.)

The bride, dressed in an outfit that, incredibly, managed to outshine all the other women in the room, was led in by my student and her female relatives, and was sat in state on the couch, where she was warmly greeted by a few of the older women (I assume the heads of the various families?).  And then the dancing started.

I should mention that by this time there were probably 50-odd women and children packed into a smallish living room (for those of you who’ve visited my house, it’s probably three-quarters the size of ours), all (except the bride) sitting on the floor.  It was ever so slightly crowded in there!  There was a small open area of floor in the centre, and in that small gap women would take turns dancing, either alone or in twos or threes.  I think I’ve mentioned before how much fun the dancing is at an Afghan function – it’s not about showing off, or about attracting the opposite sex, it’s just about having fun, and entertaining each other.  The dancing is beautiful, but the laughter is even more so.  Those who hadn’t taken their turn were dragged up to have a go, including me – my performance wasn’t any better than the last time I tried, but I had fun anyway 🙂

Through all this the bride was looking bored and a bit sulky.  At first I put it down to being in a room full of strangers (even her mother- and sister-in-law-to-be she’d only met a couple of days ago), or maybe it was just boring sitting there on show while everyone else was having fun, but later I found out it’s a tradition that the bride shouldn’t smile at all during the party – she’s supposed to look like she’s reluctant to marry.  (And I did spot her sneaking a smile a bit later in the evening, sharing a joke with a couple of the younger girls, so the sulkiness obviously was all just an act).

After an hour or so of dancing, the bride was led away, and enough women left the room (to go and sit in other rooms – just about every room in the house was being used as a sitting room!) for long tablecloths to be spread out on the floor for dinner.  Huge platters of rice, plates of naan bread, and dishes of chicken and lamb were brought in, and everyone tucked in.  By this time I wasn’t the only non-Afghani at the party – they’d also invited the woman from Refugee Services who’d helped them arrange the bride’s visa, so we sat together and chatted during dinner.

After the dinner things were cleared away there was more dancing, then the bride returned in an even more fabulous outfit.  By this time it was after 10 pm, and I was starting to think fondly of my bed, but the party was only just getting started, and I had to wait for the henna ceremony, which was heralded by everyone from the other rooms crowding into the main room.  I reckon there must have been about 80 women and children, and by the time everyone was seated there was about a square metre of floor space left for dancing, but it was put to good use.  It just meant if you were sitting at the front you had to keep your toes well tucked under you to avoid being stepped on!

Then the henna was brought it, in an elaborately decorated tray with lit candles stuck in them.  The tray was passed from dancer to dancer, and each danced holding it as the candles burnt down (they obviously have a better source of candles than the typical birthday-cake variety, because I think it took about half an hour or so before the last candle finally sputtered out), while the rest of us clapped along to the music.

Ok, now it’s time for any men reading to close your eyes, and I’ll show the women a photo of the dancing – this is one of the older women dancing with her daughter.  It’s not a fantastic photo, because it was so crowded, and because I was aware I’d be posting it on-line, so was trying to avoid getting too many faces in the shot (because of course some of the women would find it offensive if I was to display somewhere where men might see it a photo of them in a women-only environment – I’ve blurred out the two faces that are visible for that reason).  Gives you a bit of an idea, anyway.

Right, you can open your eyes again now guys 🙂

Once the candles were gone, the tray was laid in front of the bride, and each of the women took a dab of henna and rubbed it into the bride’s palm (which got very messy very quickly, as you can imagine, so she had a helper to wipe it clean again every so often).  The first seven women to do so were my student’s daughter and her friends, because tradition says if a single young woman is one of the first seven to apply henna to the bride she will soon find herself a good husband (very similar to our tradition with throwing the bouquet, really, and caused the same sort of giggling and joking among the girls), then everyone else took their turn, some of the older women pressing gifts of money into the bride’s hand along with the henna.

By this time it was nearing midnight, so I made my goodbyes and left, but not before my elderly friend had run off and found me a small packet of henna to take home with me, so I can decorate my own hands ready for the wedding on Sunday (yes, this party was just part 1 – there’s an equally long reception on Sunday night to attend… getting up for work on Monday morning is going to be fun!).  I had my hands hennaed when I was in India many years ago, so luckily I know how to do it (and that it takes a couple of hours for the dye to sink in, during which time you can’t touch anything – think I might have to put a DVD on…)  So that’s my project for this afternoon.  If the finished product looks ok (not sure how artistic I’ll be able to be doing my right hand!) I’ll post photos later.

Another Mt TBR

This could be why I’ve got no life at the moment:

I’ve taken the day off work to attempt to get an essay written, and that’s the reading pile I’ve accumulated for it (the books, though they look impressive, are not the biggest bit – most of them I’m only using one chapter from – it’s the pile of journal articles stacked beside them that have taken me weeks to read through!).

Right, better get back to it.  Got to somehow combine all that amassed knowledge into some sort of coherent argument and try and add some original thought of my own…