Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas in Pangani

The decomposing gecko filled with maggots was worse than anybody could ever have imagined. About ten days after the gecko incident, when I should have been enjoying the start of our Christmas holidays, I was struck by a major catastrophe. An event so shocking, so terribly unfortunate, that it could have completely ruined my festive season. Luckily, I had Pangani and my friends visiting from China to lift my spirits.

Arden and Andrei and their two boys – Kostya and Sasha, arrived on the Monday. Thursday, they headed up Kilimanjaro. Arden and the boys only went up 4000m, as the boys are only nine they aren’t allowed to go any higher. I fetched them on Saturday afternoon. I never realised how steep the road was to the Kilimanjaro Park. But, my car battled up manfully. The assistant guide, who’d come down the mountain with Arden and the boys, took the prepaid park card from me and went back up to the admin block at the park, to pay for their extra night’s stay up the mountain. Unfortunately, he typed in the postal code instead of the password, not once, but three times. So, the bank blocked the card. Drat! An hour and a half later, I managed to persuade the park officials to let Arden and the boys leave the park as I was coming back to fetch Andrei on the Monday. Andrei was summiting Kilimanjaro the Sunday morning. They kept the blocked park card as security.

Sunday morning and we were up bright and early, ready to go to Maji Moto the hot springs at Chemke. A secret spot not written about in any guide book. Last year, a drunken female student tourist went skinny dipping in the middle of the night and was taken by a crocodile. Obviously, not a good idea to swim there at night, so completely sober, and in broad daylight, Arden, all the kids and myself, managed to find our way to the magic pool. We did get lost, stopped a random guy on his bike to ask him the way, and it just so turned out that he was the manager of the pool even though he was kilometres away when we accidentally stumbled upon him. Our luck in bumping into him so far away from the pool in the middle of nowhere when we were lost, seemed like a sign that I was overcoming the bad karma from the dead disgusting gecko. Things were looking up. An amazing day, that hot pool is definitely something special. Small fish chomped on our dry skin as we lazed in the perfectly heated pool. We left to head home, stopped off for a bite at a local restaurant, and were completely unaware of what we would find when we arrived home.

Someone had broken into my house whilst we were at the hot pool! They removed the fly screen on the window at exactly the spot where I access the internet with my laptop! The laptop could not be seen from the window or door! The conclusion one reaches, is that whoever broke in, had known that that’s where I work on my laptop. So, they removed the fly screen, and one of the glass shutters in the window, then used a long stick to poke through the narrow gap and drag my laptop, rechargeable battery charger, bag with digital camera and video camera, laptop bag with my yellow fever certificate, classroom keys and both my portable hard drives – with all my 10 years worth of music on it. A major blow! All my photos from my travels in China were on my portable hard drives, all my cd’s that I had copied onto the hard drive so that I didn’t have to ship two big boxes filled with cd’s. I gave them all away before I left China, as soon as I had copied them. And of course, all my notes and manuscript for my new book, The Case of Billy B, that I’d been revising and doing the final edit and formatting. Disaster! Both the police and askari (security guard) believe that the culprit knew the house and the property, and is in all likelihood the guy who had pretended to be a guide and diddled me out of $100. That gecko sure was bad news! I felt dead inside. Violated. Distraught. All our photos taken in Tanzania and in Cape Town. Gone. My life memories. Words cannot describe the feeling I felt. I think the shock hasn’t quite set in. I thought I’d been so clever to back up everything this time on portable hard drives, as twice before in China I’d lost all my work, documents, music, photos when they’d stolen my laptops. I don’t know when I’ll be able to afford to buy another laptop. But then, at least I have my life and we weren’t harmed and we weren’t there when it happened. There is always good in everything.

Andrei, with his guide and team of porters descended from the summit. He set a record in reaching the summit from the last camp. The altitude sickness only effected him slightly. He is an animal. Whereas Arden was struggling to walk for two days after her descent, Andrei had us take him straight to the Marangu Hotel where he had stashed his bike, and he cycled all 30km back to Moshi, then went for a 2km swim in the school pool. Unbelievable! Tuesday, we were all up bright and early and headed out to Pangani. Andrei, The Animal, decided he wanted to cycle 120km of the way to Pangani. This is just a day after his descent from Kilimanjaro. He left several hours before us, and we met him along the way. We stopped off at a little local pub/restaurant for lunch. Beef and rice turned out to be liver and rice, which was okay in my book, but not for some of the others. At Muheza, we took the shortcut to Pangani, which was 42km on a narrow windy dirt road. Once again, it wasn’t the matter of just turning off and heading straight. The road forks and you have to decide which fork to take each time. I made the executive decision to always head left as that was the side the coast was, even though we couldn’t see it. The decision proved to be correct. I was stopped once for driving 68km in a 30km area, and luckily was given a spot fine of $20, which went straight into the policeman’s pocket seeing as he didn’t give me a receipt. Obviously an early Christmas present! After what seemed like hours of narrowly missing bicycles carrying baskets of mangoes, goats, chicken, stray children, endless palm trees, we finally spotted the sea and within 5 minutes we found the road to our hideaway. The house Ernest Hemmingway had once stayed in. Totally cool. We’d been warned that the house was very basic, but it turned out to be much better than we’d expected. The boys pitched the tents, us three old ladies dragged the beds onto the huge veranda and put up our mosquito nets, ready for our first night in Pangani. It was far too hot to sleep inside the house, and the veranda, with it’s awesome view of the Indian Ocean and sound of rolling waves was definitely a prime spot. The nets protected us from the swarms of bugs which descended on our nets every night. The flying cockroaches were a little gross.

The beach at Pangani was virtually deserted, just a few visitors from the ultra-exclusive luxury tented lodge next door that charges $110 per person per day! I was only paying $12 a day for the house which had better views! It was a perfect setting, one in which helped me to relax and come to terms with my burglary and what I’d lost. Tony and Siobhan’s cell phones were on the coffee table and also stolen, dragged off the table with a stick and pulled towards the window. But enough about my burglary. I cooked all our meals on a fire, barbecuing meat and making delectable potjies in my black cast iron cooking pot. I impressed even myself. Arden and I headed into the town which was quite dilapidated but quaint at the same time, and bought fresh fish and langoustines. The langoustines were huge. More like crayfish and we paid $8 for four. The next day, we went back and bought nine for $15. Delicious! Grilled on the barbecue, awesome. Andrei went crazy and besides eating his share of the tails, ate the contents of all nine heads and bodies! He went running every morning and did his laps in the sea, and then pull ups on the rafters! Unfortunately, it didn’t inspire any of us to become fitter and copy him. It was just too hot. Swimming, tanning, reading, chatting, cooking, exploring. The days flew past. Initially we had planned to stay until the 28th December, then catch an Arab dhow across to Zanzibar. But, we heard that Zanzibar had no power for two weeks and they reckoned probably two weeks more. Someone had accidentally severed the undersea power cable, and when they tried to fix it, they accidentally blew up the repaired part. Typical. But we were having so much fun with Andrei and Arden, that we decided to return with them and go on safari together. So, the 30th December we are heading to the Ngorongoro Crater where the wildlife viewing is supposed to be spectacular. They leave Tanzania on the 1st January to head back to China and we are going to miss them terribly. But at least, we can send back Kerri’s gifts with them!

We went on a dhow to Sand Island, a sand bar in the middle of the ocean surrounded by coral reefs. Great snorkelling and swimming in water so warm, you almost don’t believe it’s in an ocean. Of course, the sun block wasn’t enough and we all got burnt to a crisp! Then, we went exploring Pangani’s sordid past – it was a big centre of the slave trade. The old slave prison is still in use as Pangani’s prison, the slave depot is crumbling away and being overgrown by vegetation. Nobody wants to be reminded of the slave trade that made the now sleepy town a bustling port a century ago. The warehouse where the slaves were kept while waiting for the dhows to carry them away to far off lands is still there, and large blocks in the river show where the jetty once was, where young men and women chained together once walked to an uncertain future. We saw the Boma, built by a crazy sultan who believed that if you buried live slaves in the foundations, the building would be more secure and stand forever. But most of all, we saw happy friendly smiling people, eager to help and sell you their wares. Pangani was a dream holiday. It reminded me of my childhood summer holidays, packing the car with groceries and things we needed for roughing it at the coast. Christmas was special. I made a barbecue, cooked potatoes for a potato salad on an open fire, and custard for our Christmas pudding. Tony wore a santa hat and acted as the Christmas fairy, handing the gifts out from under the little plastic made in China tree, I’d bought in Arusha a couple of weeks ago. Andrei cycled the 340km back to Moshi!

One thing I realised, is that people can create their own misery. You can choose whether or not to see the negative or positive in anything. We had someone with us who hates Africa and all she could see was the negative in everything. However, the beauty of the surroundings and great company did not let her reprimanding looks, caustic comments or sour expression ruin our holiday. We had a ball. We loved Pangani! When your children turn to you and say, this was one of the best holidays ever, you know that it was good. Pangani was exceptional. Who cares about my lost electronic goods. They can be replaced. But the memories from this amazing holiday, will endure forever. Maybe, some of Hemmingway rubbed off on me after all.   You can check out some of our great photos from this trip on wish you all a successful and happy 2010!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Frustration Station

Twelve midday arrived and I had my running shoes on, ready to sprint out of the door. Holidays. Thank God for them. One of the best inventions ever. Fried, frazzled, frustrated, jeez, we all need a holiday. It's been a long, long term. We're plain worn out. And for those who think teachers have it easy because we get school holidays? We need them. Plain and simple. Sanity breaks are desperately needed. The alleged rapist skeddaddled with my $100. I doubt I'll get it back. But then, he also skedaddled with a pair of hiking boots, wet weather jacket and backpack belonging to the school, so I don't feel lonely. Merry Christmas Mister Alleged Rapist. See, I'm a nice person.
The past weekend was sports weekend and Tony was ecstatic he managed to get in a game of rugby.  Siobhan was in the winning junior girls' netball team.
TanzaniaMonday and everything that can go wrong went wrong. Actually, it couldn't have been that bad as I've already forgotten all that went wrong, only that it was one of the most frustrating days I've had since I arrived in . Amazing how quickly we forget what it was that frustrated us so completely. All I remember, was that I was very frustrated. One of the things was, that my friends from China, Andrei and Arden and their two boys were delayed for three hours on the runway in Bangkok, so they missed their connecting flight in Nairobi. So instead of arriving in the morning they arrived at night. The good thing was, was that the airline arranged visas and a luxury hotel for them to camp out in for the day in Nairobi.
Luckily, the school's real Kilimanjaro guide, arranged for some other guides to take them up the mountain, so the day was saved. But there were a few nail-biting moments for me. So, if you are planning a hike up to the summit of Mt Kili, give me a shout and I'll arrange it for you. It is quite pricey though as the park fews are quite dear. You'll be looking at just under $1000 all told, including tips. You have a guide, porter and cook going up with you, so you won't feel lonely on that big pile of rocks.
Andrei is an animal. Yesterday morning, he was up at 5am (as he is every mmorning)and ran for two hours, came home had a cup of coffee and a shower, hopped on his bike and cycled to Marangu which is an hour by car away, the last 10km being up a steep hill, and then waited for his family to join him to climb the mountain. As I said, an absolute animal. Not human at all. How he does it, I have no idea but I get tired just watching him. Arden and the two boys were initially going with him just until the first hut, then were going to return today, but she texted me saying that it was so fabulously awesome, that they were going to go on today until the next hut and return tomorrow (Saturday). What a relief that they are loving it, after all the drama!

It was so great seeing them again and getting our parcel of TV series from Kerri. I miss her so much and wish she could have been smuggled over in one of their suitcases.
Wednesday and Tony went with Andrei and Arden and their boys to the Arusha National park. Luckily, his ranger course from last year paid off as he was able to identify many of the animals. All Andrei wanted to see apparently, were flamingoes. Which he did. Thousands upon thousands of them. When Tony pointed out impala and kudu, Andrei said, "Ah, that's just deer!" No Andrei, no deer in Africa! Then of course, ANDREI insisted of getting out the vehicle to get closer shots of herds of buffalo. Tony told him to stay in the car as the buffalo were wild and dangerous. Andrei's comment, "I eat buffalo for breakfast!" Maybe that's how he could run and cycle before climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Anyway, a tour guide with his landy filled with tourists arrived and told Andrei and Arden and the boys that they face huge fines leaving their vehicle. So apparently, still clicking madly with their cameras, they slowly inched back to my car. The next thing was Andrei hanging out the window by the skin of his foreskin, trying to take photos of the perfect wildlife shot. Arden and the boys are back tomorrow. Andrei should summit tomorrow night, and then will be back on Monday. he's never been 5800m before, so here's hoping that the altitude doesn't get to him.
Tuesday, we head off to Pangani on the coast, so I might not be able to get on the internet over there. I've just have my phone connected to the internet, but whether it'll work, only God knows. Andrei, surprisingly enough, is planning on cycling as far as he can to Pangani. It is 400km away, so we've agreed, he can leave two hours before us, and where ever we encounter him along the way, that's where we'll pick him up. He's not too haapy, but has agreed to reach a compromise. We did promise he can cycle the last bit to Pangani though. Men. Do they ever grow up!
Hopefully, I'll send a last Christmas email before we leave.
Have a simply fantabulous weekend! And, if you're traveling, do it safely. It still doesn't feel as if Christmas is upon us. Although, I did succumb and buy a small plastic Christmas tree when I was in Arusha yesterday.
love you lots!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

When a gecko drops on your shoulder

Is it an omen that bad luck is headed your way?
I am a naturally superstitous person. I believe in signs to show you if good luck or bad luck is headed your way. If you are thinking of taking a trip and all of a sudden keep seeing posters advertising airlines, then I take that as a sign that I am meant to take the trip. Granted, I have on occasion misread signs and maybe manipulated them so that I could do what I wanted to do. Those instances have always ended in disaster. Never manipulate a sign. I never walk under ladders, step on cracks and become agitated when a black cat crosses my path. When I hear an owl hoot at night, I wonder who's ill and who's going to die and it affects my sleep. I'm not paranoid or weird, well, I don't think so. So, when a gecko fell on my shoulder, I had to wonder if it was some kind of a sign.
The dog was scratching at the door. It was past her dinner time. I slid back the bolt and pushed open the door as I always did, to get her silver food bowl outside. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to warn me of the horror that was to come. Then I saw it drop out of the corner of my eye and then felt it. A gecko dropped from the top of the doorframe onto my shoulder, and as I jumped backwards and screamed loudly, it bounced off my shoulder and onto the floor which was nicely decorated with dog's muddy paw prints. We do seem to be having a bit of a rainy season the last few weeks. Maybe that's why we've had regular electricity. I waited for the gecko to roll over and run off to hide in a crack somewhere. But it lay there, looking like a rubber toy. Being a curious person, I knelt down to look at the gecko and was immediately hit by the putrifying smell of decomposition. The gecko had already proceded to decompose. It was very dead, no more, already headed off to a higher world where everything is bright and beautiful. When feeding the dog in the morning, the gecko must have stupidly been hiding in the doorframe, and when I closed the door, I gave it a mortal wound in its belly. The gecko's little intestines were exposed, and a closer look showed that they were moving. Was the poor creature still alive, I wondered, and then a maggot fell out. Maggots burst from the unfortunate gecko like candy from a pinyata. It had to be one of the grossest things I had ever seen. Even grosser than the sight of a hundred Cape Vulture tearing apart a bloated dead donkey on the side of the road. On a slightly smaller scale of course. I frantically called my son, reminded him repeatedly that as he was eighteen he was now officially a man, and ordered him to remove the offending object, the decomposing beast. And then it hit me. Was this a sign? Was a dead decomposing gecko filled with maggots dropping onto my shoulder a sign of something bad to come?
I approached Thursday with a good deal of tepidation, expecting something bad to happen at any moment. Nothing did. Maybe a dead decomposing maggot-infested gecko dropping onto your shoulder was not a bad sign after all? Thursday proved to be an exceptionally good day. However, the gecko effect had yet to arrive. As Friday loomed, I had a sense of forboding. I couldn't believe that there would be no run-off effects from the dead gecko. Something bad had to happen. And, it did. Straight after school, my son casually joked that the man who lived in the cottage in the bottom of my garden had been arrested for attempted rape. My jaw dropped. That man, was supposed to be taking my friends up Mount Kilimanjaro on Thursday! I had already paid him a $100 deposit! How was he going to take them if he was in jail? It was the gecko I thought, feeling rather venomous myself. The gecko had brought this bad luck. It's falling on my shoulder was a bad omen after all.
I did some investigation. My neighbor was a fraud. He was not a licenced guide, would not have been able to take my friends up, and as Mount Kilimanjaro is quite treacherous as every year climbers succumb to altitude sickness and join that gecko in a higher place, an inexperienced non-guide guide could have been a disaster. I had never questioned him as I took all he'd said on face-value. I believed him. Gullability has always been a problem of mine. Now, left with the problem of my friends arriving Monday, and expecting to head up the big rock on Thursday, I started to feel anxious. I contacted someone who worked with me whom I knew definitely was a guide, and he's speaking to some guide friends and hopefully my friends will get sorted out. It does seem like the $100 I paid on their behalf has gone. The neighbor had asked me for the deposit saying that it was the busy season and he needed the money to put down as a deposit on the overnight huts. Another lie. He owed the sport's coach money, and interestingly enough repaid his loan the same day I paid the deposit. Was I ripped off? Probably. Have I ever been scammed and conned before by unscrupulous people I had blindly believed. Absolutely. It's what led me to write my self-help book, Fear, Phobias and Frozen Feet. Yet, here it has happened again.
I have to ask, is it me? Do I have to stop trusting people and believing what they say? Must I become suspicious of every word that emanates from their lucious lips? That's not me. I am like a dog. Trusting, loyal, faithful. Step on my tail and I bite. I put all the blame on the gecko. That sad decomposing maggot-infested gecko, who put his life on the line when he hid on my doorframe when I closed the door. But then, maybe the gecko actually did me a service. He gave his life to protect my friends that might have met their demise on a treacherous mountain with an inexperienced guide. That poor gecko, is actually a hero. Now, I must find out if I can grab that guy's furniture, store it in my garage, hold it hostage until I get my $100 back!
And the coolest thing! The house we're going to be staying in at Pangani once belonged to Ernest Hemmingway! I hope some of his writing genius will be rubbed off onto me!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

As the holidaze approach

Hard to believe but true, just over a week and we have our December break here! I can't wait! Arden and Andrei and their twin boys, friends from China, are coming to visit the holiday. And with Tony here, I've got a full house. Arden's a vegetarian and I'm trying to think what I can cook for her on her first night here next Monday. As an avid carnivore, it's hard for me to be creative and think veggie. Any ideas, comments and suggestions on what I can cook for here would be welcome!

Public holiday here today! Independence day, so am enjoying not going into work. Need to make another cup of coffee and some breakfast though!

Tony has already settled in, Siobhan did well in her report, so bring on the holidays! Next week Thursday, the day before school closes, I'm off to Arusha for the day to plan our class camp at West Kilimanjaro with my colleagues in Arusha. We'll be going to 3rd and 4th Feb. I'm hoping there won't be too much hiking, I don't own suitable hiking attire! Well, that's my excuse anyway!

So, have to start seriously thinking about our holiday and doing some finer planning. I've booked our school house at Pangani on the coast, for only $15 a night. Problem is, I have to figure out how to get Andrei and Arden there as we won't all fit in my car, and how to get them back to catch their flight on the 1st January, as I plan on staying at the beach for another week! Gotta soak up that sun. Mind you, been raining every afternoon. It's our mini rainy season which is good, as it's provided water for the hydro-electric scheme here which means the last couple of weeks we've hardly had any power cuts.

Have sausage orders so need to get onto that now, and finish proofing my second draft of The Case of Billy B. I have an agent interested in taking me on. Hold thumbs that it works out!

A big sports weekend coming up, with schools from Dar-es-Salaam and Arusha coming this weekend, so I'll be a little flat out helping!

Have a great weekend, well, it's almost here!



Saturday, December 5, 2009

Things to look forward to

Isn't it amazing how we break up the humdrums of our lives with things we look forward to? Holidays, birthdays, a special evening out...something small which will break the endless routine of sleeping, eating and going to work, with the weekend the punctuation at the end of our work week sentence. Although some of us find ourselves working weekends as well!

Lately, I've had quite a lot to look forward to, and this has made time speed by as if I'm caught up in some kind of a time-storm. The 50 000 words in 30 days challenge from NaNoWriMo, the completion of the first draft of The Case of Billy B, the performances this past week of our school production of Cats, and the arrival tonight of my son Tony at 7pm. Next week Wednesday the 9th December is a public holiday, then the weekend is a big sports weekend with schools coming from Arusha and Dar-es-salaam. On the 14th some friends from China arrive for a visit, then I have a day off school on the 17th December to plan our class camp on West Kili with my counterparts on the Arusha Campus, then school finishes on the 18th December, then off to the coast on the 22nd December, then Christmas...Oh my goodness, all these milestones to make time go quickly.

The school's production of Cats was simply astoundingly outstanding! The talent of the kids was amazing, we had limited resources to use, no costumes made, limited quantities of stage-paint, but you wouldn't have said so watching the performance! The creativity to make something out of nothing went from costumes to the set design. I was so proud of my class, they did an excellent job with Mr Mistoferlees, but even more so was I proud of Siobhan. She has definitely inherited her stage presence and love of performing from my Mom. I don't think that it's just because she's my daughter, but she stood out from the crowd, her voice was sweet, powerful and pure, and you could see from her facial expressions and movements, she was really into her part. My baby, I am so proud of you, even though your daily singing of songs from Cats sung at the top of your voice while I was trying to concentrate and focus on writing The Case of Billy B drove me scatty.

I'm not sure about any of you, but I still count sleeps. last night, was the last sleep before Tony arrives. I haven't seen him since the end of July this year. Now, that might not seem much, but he is only 18. Hopefully, he'll remember to claim his luggage after the domestic flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg, before checking it in for his international flight to Kenya. I always used to do that stuff now he has to be independent. Can I let go and trust him to manage?

I just wish that Kerri could come and visit as well. It's hard when your kids grow up and leave home and become independent. It's like, your role on this planet is over.

Anyway, have to go and buy some things, see if my fisherman's pants I ordered from a local tailor is finished and buy some meat to make more sausage.



Sunday, November 29, 2009

Just get up and brush yourself off

Why is it that sometimes everything just seems to get you down? I came back from India all excited, I'd survived another plane trip, proof that I'd conquered my fear of flying, and then sank into a depression. Every little thing that I'd normally ignore, irritated and frustrated the hell out of me. There were many times this past week, when I was ready to load up my car with our stuff and just start driving to the Malawi border, heading back down to Cape Town.

In retrospect, it could be as a result of a very long term. I'm just feeling a little burnt-out, brain-dead. Friday was a holiday at school so we had a nice long weekend. I thought I'd head into school anyway, and do my planning for my new unit of inquiry. The internet was so slow at school, it was taking 40-50 minutes to load a page. The server kept crashing and I could find no sign of the past planners I was supposed to use as a base for my new one. My co-ordinator who had promised faithfully to come in and help me plan the unit, was a no-show. It was time to pack up the car and drive into the sunset. I was so mad with frustration at not being able to get anything done, that I went straight home and made it my mission to finish The Case of Billy B.

So, if I look back and reflect on what could be a nightmarish week workwise, I can feel proud and satisfied that I completed the NaNoWriMo challenge of writing 50 000 words in 30 days. Yesterday, I finally finished my first draft of The Case of Billy B and now the editing starts. The serious editing and revising. I should have started that already, but as it's such a big job, I've been procrastinating. Siobhan had a sleepover last night and the blasted girls were banging things, breaking glasses and giggling until 5am when in frustration I got up and washed the dishes and had a cup of coffee. No sleep for me last night, so no wonder I'm not in an editing mood. "Sorry," Siobhan sang as I stomped down the stairs at 5am. "Too late for sorry," I snapped back, wondering how I can punish her for keeping me awake all night.

It was a good day to finish my first draft though, as the 28th November is my late grandmother, Winifred Ada Vine's birthday. My grandmother meant the world too me, and although she's been gone sixteen years, I still miss her so much.

Instead of editing this morning, I collected all the ripe tomatoes from my garden and started making a tomato chutney. Which reminds me, I'd better go and give it a stir. I promise when I'm finished that, I'll get stuck into my work even though it is Sunday. I just feel so shattered, so tired. Those damn girls!

So I guess what I'm wanting to say, is when you feel down, just get up and brush yourself off. And remember, as it says in the Bible, "This too shall pass."

Have a great week ahead!



Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Never assume anything

This past weekend I traveled to Mumbai for a workshop. As is typical, it wasn't without a few hassles. Tuesday I emailed the tour operator in India to confirm that they would be fetching me from the airport in Mumbai on Thursday at 4.30am. They replied saying that they had not received any reservations from me at all. I patiently explained that the documentation was faxed to them the end of September, and the wire transfer was done on the 7th October. Their response was that they wondered where the money had come from. One would assume they'd try and find out where the money had come from. But no, never assume. There is a good chance that the principal of my school forgot to fax them the reservation as we are in the wopwops and that kind of thing happens regularly here. But, I decided to play it differently, insisting that it was faxed, was the travel agents screw up and I'd be reporting their inefficiency to the IBO who were running the workshop. It worked, they met me at the airport apologising profusely and put me up in a luxury boutique hotel in the de luxe suite for the same price as the standard room in a 3 star hotel I was originally supposed to stay in.
I had assumed that I was going to have a horrible flight as I was flying with Ethiopian Airlines, and all I could think of was that twenty years ago Bob Geldorf had to do that whole Live Aid thing to raise money as the whole of Ethiopia was starving to death. If they were all dying 20 years ago, how did they manage to train pilots. Okay, sometimes my brain is a little random. But, it was a wrong assumption of mine, as not only was it one of the smoothest flights ever there and back, their food was good and service excellent. I'll definitely fly Ethiopian again.
As NaNoWriMo draws to an end, I'm pleased to say that I'll have done the 50 000 words. I'm also nearly finished with The Case of Billy B. Last two chapters and then the editing. Today I designed the front cover and got permission from the drama teacher at school to use her son on the cover. Now I have the cover I feel spurred on to get the book done. I don't think it'll be out by Christmas, but definitely in January sometime. I'm really proud of this book and think that my writing has improved a lot. The characters have more depth.
Tony arrives next weekend on the 5th December, and I'm trying to think how I can educate him that money doesn't grow on trees.
Okay, back to my writing now! Oh, as usual, the food in India was delicious and I spent a sunset on the beach at Juhu and had masala dosa for the first time!
Have a great rest of the week. Just Wednesday teaching for me, Thursday is parent conferences and Friday a public holiday.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Writing until the cows come home

Why NaNoWriMo where the challenge is to write 50 000 words in a month is in the same month as report writing, I'll never know. I think the gods must be angry or something. But, I'm giving it a go and trying to write a minimum of 1000 words a day on The Case of Billy B. The report writing, I've done a little bit here and there, came up with a great bank of comments that I can cut and paste from, but it still takes time, time I'd rather be spending on getting The Case of Billy B completed. Writing this book has been a challenge, and I've had to dig really deep to be able to do it. Luckily, Charlies Campbell in the US has been helping me to Americanize everything. (Note my use of a z instead of a s) The book is set in America, and it is really difficult setting a story in a place you've never visited. So, if you're feeling generous, send me a ticket to the US!

Procrastination. My first draft of my reports are due tomorrow. I'd promised myself that I'd spend all day Saturday doing them. Saturday has come and gone. However, I did manage 1700 more words on The Case of Billy B, and I did go into school and prepare some worksheets, homework sheets etc, for the relief teacher when I'm in India. I fly to India on Wednesday for a workshop on The Exhibition. So, this morning when I woke, I told myself, at 9am sharp I start on my reports. And here I am, blogging. Mind you, it is only 8.05am! I still have 55 minutes left to do my blogs and hubs and whatever else I can think of, to delay the start of my report writing. The sad thing, is that once I start I'll fly through it. I know that, so why don't I just do it, why do I keep putting it off? Sometimes, there is no logic in our actions.
The heat is increasing and I love it. I feel sorry for all my friends in China who are getting ready for an icy winter. I'm definitely a sunshine person. The hotter, the better. I've booked for us to stay in the school house at Pangani for Christmas, only costs $15 a night and is right on the beach. 4 Weeks holiday, what bliss! Tony is coming for Christmas and I'm looking forward to seeing him. I'm hoping that by that time, I'll be on revising and editing The Case of Billy B, and getting it ready to go off to the publishers. As I finish each couple of chapters, I send them off to Charlie Campbell in the States, and to Rob Stark in London. Both give me suggestions which I haven't looked at yet. When I come to the editing, I'll look through their corrections and suggestions and revise, revise, revise. Goodness, I must be besotted with writing. How did I move from having a blissful holiday on the beach to talk about editing? It's the reports. They've screwed with my brain.
Last weekend, the MYP Coordinator here got married to her long-time Canadian friend. They secretly did the church thing, but the Geography teacher decided to let out the secret and organised a surprise traditional Tanzanian wedding for them. We all met at her house which is next door to Jaimala's, the MYP Coordinator, and waited for the special wedding band to arrive. They were late, which is typical in Tanzania, everything works at African time. Their vehicle broke down at the entrance to the school campus. Eventually, they sorted it out and they arrived, their wind instruments blaring, playing the same jazzy number over and over again. They don't appear to have a large repertoire of tunes to play. Traditionally here, the musicians sit on the back of a modified pick up truck, and lead the wedding procession through the town. After dancing around to the same tune over and over again, we all climbed into our vehicles and made a convoy behind the musicians. The tradition is, that you drive round each roundabout in the town three times, which we did. The music teacher had gotten a lift in my car, and decided to jump out every time we slowed down, sprint to the car in front and jump in there, and repeat that until he got to the front car where the wine was kept. He'd fill his paper cup, and sprint back from car to car until he eventually worked his way back to mine. By that stage, most of his wine was already finished. I'm not sure if he drank it or spilt it in his mad dashes!
8.25am, getting closer to my 9am report start. Internet has just been lost, hopefully I'll be able to reconnect otherwise I won't be able to focus on the reports. I know myself, I'll be wondering about the internet and cursing it all the time, instead of coming up with good comments about the kids in my class.
Talking about cute comments, on Friday, one kid told me his brother had got his 'independix' out. But still, after 23 years of teaching, I'm tired of it. I feel a bit washed out, brain dead. I think I'd like to become a child psychologist and work with abused children. But then, I'm too old to change careers. Maybe, after a 4 week holiday I'll feel a bit more refreshed.
Well, let's drink a toast to next weekend in India! I have one day of shopping and have to try and find stage make-up and costumes for the school's production of Cats. Siobhan's in it! It's on the 3rd and 4th of December. Tony will just miss it, as he arrives on the 5th!
Have a wonderful week ahead! Hmmm, awesome view of Kilimanjaro as I look out my window. Looks like it snowed up there last night. The glaciers seem wider. By the way, I have updated my website There's now a page where you can buy my books directly from Amazon. Fear, Phobias and Frozen Feet has been revised and reprinted and is now available on Amazon, together with Stop the world, I need to pee! So, if you're looking to buy gifts for the holidays or stock up on reading matter for yourself, buy my books!
Cindy xxx

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sunday, October 25, 2009

NaNoWriMo is around the corner

Last year I stumpled upon NaNoWriMo when I was surfing the net. With all good intentions, I gave it a go. The challenge is, to write 50 000 words in the month of November. Easier said than done. Last year, I found out about NaNoWriMo the second week of November, and thought, it's a bit late but will have a go anyway. The result, I only got to 20 something thousand words. School reports dug into my writing time and stifled my creativity.

Well, this year I am more relaxed, and after my many battles with the ants feel that I am fighting fit. Ready to write, ready for action. My goal is slightly different in that I am about half way through The Case of Billy B. I reckon I need about 50 000 words to finish it, and that's what I'll be doing for NaNoWriMo - finishing The Case of Billy B. Makes sense, doesn't it, to kill two birds with one stone?

So, for all you would be writers out there, go to and sign up. If you complete your 50 000 words in 30 day challenge, you get a free proof copy of your novel with free shipping to anywhere in the world from Createspace. After the 3oth November, you have about 6 months to edit and rework your scribblings and submit it to Createspace, and then you can sell your book on Amazon. So, my friends, get cracking, get writing and sign up!

Besides NaNoWriMo, I'm back at school, holiday ended. The good news is that we've had continuous power since Wednesday morning. Hold thumbs it continues! Been raining every night the last week, so my vegetable garden is getting well watered. I hope my baby carrots are reaching adulthood! Yesterday, Patricia (my neighbour the DP coordinator) and I drove the 80km through to Arusha to do some grocery shopping. Spent way too much money, might have to put my car's service on hold for another month. When I grow up, I want to have enough money to go shopping and have my car serviced!

Have a great week ahead!



Saturday, October 17, 2009

Things we take for granted

Life moves on at a steady pace. You wake up, go to work, go home, cook, go to bed, you wake up...and so it continues, day in and day out. What breaks the tedium of daily life, are the little unexpected things that happen each day. Things you never planned on, or previously gave much thought to as you took them for granted. Things like power, the internet, water, services, directions. We are used to flicking a switch, turning on a tap, getting in a fundi (expert) and the problem is sorted. Things here are very different. Sometimes it's funny, other times just pure irritation.

Take for example, the problems with my oven. I like to cook, create in the kitchen. However, this has been a little bit of a problem as I haven't managed to get my oven working properly. The first time I tried to use it, we couldn't get the gas to stop making its shhhhhh noise as it continued to come through the pipe making the kitchen smell like a gas tank. When I fiddled with the knob, it came off in my hand and a big dollop of blue tack fell on the floor. Now, I might not be very technically minded, but I do know that blue tack is not a good choice of repair material for an oven that gets hot. The fundi came to repair it and I was promised that it would work properly. But, whereas before only the grill worked, now only the bottom oven worked. I called in the fundi again and it was supposed to work. The week before last, after a long day at school I decided to make pizza for dinner. I prepared the bases, grated the cheese, and thirteen matches later, the grill would still not let itself be lit. By that time I was seething. I was not in a happy place. When I turned the oven switch off, I heard the shhhhh sound. Gas was coming out after it had been turned of! Siobhan quickly lit a match, we opened the oven and moved the match around like a magic wand. The bottom oven ignited with the oven switched off. Desperately, we moved the oven switch around to try and turn off the gas. Another huge dollop of blue tack fell onto the floor and the knob remained in my hand, loose, no longer a part of the oven. I was so mad that all the fundi had done was just stick it on with more blue tack, that I went to bed at 7.30pm. The story doesn't end here. I wrote a long letter of complaint to the head of campus, the fundi got called in and he said that my oven was so old it was irrepairable and he had told them that many times, but the maintenance manager at school kept telling him to try and fix it anyway. Mister Chucky, the school purchasing man who is in charge of maintenance while the maintenance manager is on leave, appeared at my classroom door. "We have brand new ovens in the storeroom, so we'll take away your old one because the fundi says its dead." I gave him a grim smile of thanks. If they had a new one in the store, why the hell did they keep trying to resurrect my broken one? But, the story still does not end. My new oven is half electric, half gas which I much prefer. I hate baking with gas. It has two gas hobs, two electric hobs and an electric oven. The fundi installed the new oven, and connected the gas. However, he did not connect the electric part, so now I have gone from four gas hobs to only two, and still no oven! I happened to mention the fact that I still have no oven last week, and the maintenance manager said, "Oh, I must organise an electric fundi to go out to connect it." If I never mentioned it, it would probably have never happened. But, that was four days ago, and the electric fundi still hasn't come. So, I still don't have an oven. My gas ran out yesterday. Payday is only on Tuesday, so I guess we'll be having BBQs in the meantime. I guess, at least we have food, some people don't have that.

We have many power cuts and not having a generator does make it a challenge. Without power, there is no internet, Siobhan struggles to do her homework by candlelight, and I can't fill my sausage orders as I now have an electric sausage machine. So, the next time you flick on a switch and you have instant light, think of us. Actually, I'm thinking of buying a rechargable battery-powered light. We definitely need to do something, because usually when there's no power, we just go to bed and there is only so much sleep you can have. I have finally given in and invested in a small TV. There's no point in Siobhan having a Wii if she can't play it. Of course, one does rely on power for that to work. Which brings me to water. To get water into our tank so we can have water in the bathroom to shower with, we need to pump it. When there is no power, the gardener can't pump the water, and the result is, no shower when you are hot and sweaty. No power also means you can't turn on your hot water cylinder to heat up the water, so even if yu had water in the tank, it would be cold. To save on electricity charges, we turn on the hot water cylinder only an hour before we plan on having a shower or a bath. I am becoming quite frugal in my old age. It could be something to do with paying for a child to study at hotel school.

Last Friday, my gardener, Kabelo, called me over to the garage when I got home. "Look Cindy, ducky, ducky," he said pointing at the garage. He opened the door and there was a large black duck with a red thingie above his beak, pooping. "No want ducky," I said in my best Swahili. Kabelo laughed and said, "No, ducky not for you, ducky for me." "But I don't want a ducky by my house," I replied, wrinkling up my nose in distaste. Kabelo smiled and I had a feeling I knew what was coming. "My ducky, my house. Friend give me ducky, but no money. My mother dead last week so no work. Want ducky. Friend give me ducky, but I give friend TSH 15 000. Cindy give me TSH 15 000." I sighed. Kabelo loves tapping me and my neighbour, Patricia, for money. He always has a valid reason. She's started to write down the dates and the amounts we give him in a little book. Lord knows why, as we'll never see the money again. By the way, TSH 15 000 is the same as US$15. I'm such a walk over. Like, I can really afford to just give away $15. So, I bought my gardener a duck.

We're coming to the end of our week's holiday. Most staff have gone to the coast or on safaris somewhere. We elected to stay at home and just veg out. Actually, I've managed to get quite a lot done in my latest book, The Case of Billy B. We also managed to download (well, the school principal downloaded for me as he has unlimited internet) and watch the whole of Season 5 of Grey's Anatomy. Oh my God, it was so emotional, I reckon I cried in every episode. Last weekend they had the rugby sevens here, with teams from all over Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda competing. Kenyan teams came frst and second. I sold homemade boerewors rolls. The rugby was quite good, although the guys playing were quite small and light. I hear that the kenyan sevens side is supposed to be quite good.

On Wednesday, Siobhan and I decided to treat ourselves with a day out. About 40km from Moshi is a hot springs called Chemke. The Swahili for hot springs is 'maji ya moto'. Yeah, it does sound a bit Japanese, doesn't it? Of course, when people give you directions, they are never as simple as they sound. The diploma English teacher, Alistair, said, "Drive on the Arusha road to Boma, turn onto the dirt road next to Mr Price and go straight." For the South Africans who read my blog, Mr Price is not that fantastic clothing chain, but rather a chain of seedy supermarkets selling items way past their sell-by dates. Well, we found Boma, we found Mr Price, the dirt road was harder to find as it is literally, a dirt road, easy to not see. Thereafter we became explorers of the ilk of David Livingstone. The road was not straight. It branched every couple of 100 metres or so, and we had to make conscious decisions about which branch to take. Something a bit, like the road less traveled. Can't remember offhand who wrote that poem, was it Robert Frost? Often, we took the road with the most tyre tread marks, thinking that as it was a popular choice, it must be the right way, but it wasn't. Sometimes the flat straight road, easy to navigate was the wrong road. The right way was the one where you had to drive over boulders and trenches so that your car was at a dangerous angle. We asked for help all along the route, and I became very good with my 'maji ya moto.' Eventually, we came to an oasis of palm trees after driving through a dry landscape dotted with boaobab trees, thorn trees, tiny cement houses, cows, goats, and Masai herdsmen. When we saw the hot springs, all the frustrations of the past week vanished instantly. The peace of the place hit you instantly. The pool, with it's warm water was so clear, you could see the bottom even though it was so deep you couldn't dive down there. As we floated and swam around in the pool, it was like years dropped off. I swear it is the fountain of youth. It was truly a magical place, worth all the hassle to get there. Strangely enough, not many locals in Moshi know about the pool. It doesn't feature in either the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide. It's a secret place, magical, mysterious. And then we came home and picked huge bunches of baby carrots from the garden, which were delicious.

So yeah, despite some of the frustrations, life is good. My blood pressure has gone to its normal 110/80, despite running out of the blood pressure meds a few weeks after getting here. I think that China didn't agree with me, health-wise, and Tanzania is so much better for me. Mind you, been struggling with chronic hayfever the last few days. All the greenery and pollen! But at the end of the day, we have to be satisfied with the small things, and not take it all for granted!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Never say that the ants have gone

Who the hell was Murphy anyway?
Never say the ants have gone
One would have thought that by my grand old age, I’d know how the world works. One would assume that I’d know all about Murphy and his ruddy laws. But, a wise old man once said, never assume as it makes an ass of u and me. Quite clever that, and probably quite true. I announced to the world that my problem with ants was solved. The blighters were gone. Vanished, forever removed from my home. This was obviously a misconception on my part. The ants has just temporarily gone on vacation. Obviously, the messenger ant read my missive about the ant problem being solved, alerted his cheery general, who then sent scouts to inform the ant CEO, that I was gloating at their demise. The ants were recalled from their holiday at the coast. They were lined up in squadrons, regiments even, of every possible type of ant on this planet, and dispatched forthwith to my humble abode. They arrived unheralded and unannounced on Saturday afternoon. They approached from many different directions. The big black ants with fat obese bodies, managed to squeeze their way through the gap between bath and tap, and congregated in their hordes around the edge of my bath tub. Others decided to use their bodies to make pretty ring patterns on my toilet seat. A few stragglers wandered around lost and left out on the bathroom floor. But not to be outdone, the medium sized black ants, twelve abreast, marched in formation along the wall from outside to congregate on my kitchen sink. A few squadrons ended up on my kitchen bench top, and still others practised their camouflage techniques, to blend in with the black beads Siobhan had accidentally dropped on the floor and neglected to pick up. Then, there were the little brown ants. The poor cousins, the ones that come out of the holes in the woodwork, who marched solemnly along the door frame to hold union meetings on the margarine tub, and feast on the droplets of Fanta Siobhan messed on the counter top. The ants were back! With a vengeance! But, quicker than a prostitute slips on a condom, I opened the cupboard where aerosol cans of ant spray stood at the ready, and I went ape. Completely wild, spraying everything that moved, including Siobhan who was trying to beat a hasty retreat out of the kitchen. And so began the Pink Pather’s theme tune, “Dead-ant, dead-ant, dead-ant dead-ant dead-ant.” Rambo had nothing on me. I swept from room to room with my weapon of ant destruction, until like Agent Orange, I too was consumed by the vilest of tastes in my mouth, my nose streaming from the poison, and I had to stop. The moral of the story is: “Never say that the ants have gone.” That is tempting fate and we don’t want that, do we?
Weddings, yes, there are some people who still want to get married. Weddings in Tanzania are completely different to anything you have ever witnessed before. The first wedding I inadvertently dropped into, I was completely taken aback and not too sure what was happening. You see, I was driving into town, and getting ready to go around the circle, when a long column of cars covered in ribbons and flowers and followed by a pick up truck filled with cutely dressed men in waistcoats and bow ties playing saxophones, trumpets and anything else you blow, beat me to the circle. Then, while I sat impatiently waiting, sitting spellbound in my car, the cars drove round and round the circle while the blow musician men played jazz-sounding music. The lead car stopped, I must add – on the circle, and a bride in a bridal gown befitting a member of the royal family hopped out with her groom in tow with his black tuxedo fitting snugly on his muscular butt. A photographer hopped out of another car and followed closely behind the loving couple, avoided tripping over the marigolds in the flower beds and snapped happily away as the couple posed – on the circle. Africa definitely has a vibrancy unrivalled in many ways. Since then we have seen many weddings, not always on the circle, but always accompanied by the fanfare from the pick up truck filled with horn-blowing musicians.
We are quite spoilt here with game parks in such close proximity to where we live. Sunday, all new teachers were taken to the ArushaNational Park on the side of MountMweru, the second largest mountain in Tanzania. We went on the back of the school’s truck which is used especially for non-existent roads. I made the mistake of sitting at the back of the truck on the back seat. Never sit at the back of a truck when you know you’ll be driving through potholes a fraction smaller than the super bowl. Many times we went over a bump and I literally left my seat and jumped about 20cm into the air. Despite my ample buttocks and extra padding, the landing was never soft. I discovered that I had a coccyx and that if you land hard on it, it shoots pains up your spine. Another discovery, was that the muscles holding my head onto my body are not as developed as they should be. My head bobbled like a baby’s mobile in the breeze. Muscles I never knew existed are aching. Luckily, I avoided bumping my head on the bar perfectly positioned at head-height at the back of the truck. Others were not so lucky. Some were walking around school today in a semi-comatose state, but that could have been the celebrating our safe return afterwards. We did drive past a cement truck that had overturned completely. There was no sign of what he’d hit to make him spin completely upside down. It was like he was trying to do a stunt which had back-fired. But, back to the animals. Lakes filled with pink flamingos, large herds of buffalo, zebra, duikers, water buck, giraffe munching thorn bushes wherever we went – I’ve never seen so many giraffe, vervet monkeys, hornbills, crowned cranes, black eagles, colobus monkeys and warthog running everywhere. Thick tropical jungle, grass plains, lakes, waterholes and a volcanic crater and the cherry on top – a lone hippo out of the water mowing the grass on the side of one of the lakes.
Man, Africa is a blast! Last week, a traffic cop stopped me and asked me for my driver’s licence. I have to admit, I’ve been a little remiss in filling in my driver’s licence application and paying the bribe to get it issued to me without being present. To make matters worse, my South African driver’s licence was in my other wallet which was at home. I gulped nervously, imagining a huge fine or bribe coming my way, and said with a watery grin, “Jambo, nzuri?” Which is Swahili for hello, how are you. Lesson one, always practise the little Swahili you have, it melts the hearts of those in authority. The cop smiled, and asked again for my driver’s licence. I replied that I’d accidentally left it at home. He then laughed and asked me if I thought I was a good driver. Obviously I said yes, and he indicated that I could go because I was a good driver. Phew! But, the minute I got home I put my licence into the wallet I use over here. No use in tempting fate. Like I did with the ants.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Life in the slow lane

Life meanders along slowly. Another day, another dollar. A little frustration, a big frustration. All punctuated by your interactions with fellow humans. The commas are the humorous interludes that join everything together and keeps you sane. Well, sort of. I mean really, how sane is sane? Is it not just a matter of somebody’s perception?
The internet woes continue. I have realised that there is no way that I’ll be able to market my books online. Not from here, at any rate. Not until the promised fibre optic cable arrives in Moshi. Apparently, it’s in Dar. However, knowing how things work in Africa, instead of getting cheaper and faster, I reckon it’ll probably get more expensive. Somebody will be wanting to make a mint out of the better service. Finally, after nearly seven weeks, we managed to get internet at home. That proved to be an uphill battle, as we had to rely on the school secretary to arrange everything. While she is a sweetheart, she is not the most efficient, and organised of people and has a tendency to see no rush in getting things done. For a start, she lost our application forms for the internet and neglected to communicate this to Patricia and myself. Patricia being my next door neighbour and the school’s Diploma Coordinator, who is also convinced I got the better house and garden. She is right though, although I keep telling her they are the same to make her feel better. Patricia is struggling to adapt to our African ways of doing things, having a sense of urgency that nobody understands here. As a result, she can be very negative at times which I have dubbed being in the ‘Patricia Zone.’ So, if ever we get frustrated, we say we are in the ‘Patricia Zone.’ She finds that highly amusing, but I digress. The secretary lost our forms. When we asked her why she never told us, she replied that she was waiting for when we next came to her office to tell us. Jeez, that could have been months! Finally, the fundi (Swahili for expert) arrived, but alas, he was unable to do anything, because for two weeks we had power cuts during the day. Well, we still have power cuts during the day, but at that time the power cuts just so happened to be every time he came to our houses to do the internet. Murphy’s Law. I tried to download an antivirus program, as the one I got with my laptop had expired. No such luck. Downloading anything chomps through your prepaid megabytes, so that you run out of money on your internet before you have downloaded anything. On the positive side, it is about four times faster than the school internet.
The school has open internet time on a Friday between 5 and 10pm, where you can plug in your laptop and upload upgrades for free. All week I waited for Friday, excited that finally I’ll be able to put Skype and an antivirus on my laptop. It’s amazing how such minor things can make you excited. It doesn’t take much, does it? Anyway, I started downloading AVG no problem. It took ages, as the school internet downloads stuff at about 7kb/s which is painfully slow. Two and a half hours later, and I’d downloaded 89% of the antivirus. Then there was a power cut. The three minutes for the school to turn on the generator, meant that I lost everything. There are no words for the anger and frustration I felt. It was like I had wasted two and a half hours of my life. Okay, I did get Skype, but still have no antivirus. Several bad words poured forth from my lips. However, I did get to have a good long chat with the principal, and his house is just off campus but he has the school internet. Unlimited of course, as you do when you are principal. He told me how he downloads all his movies and TV series using BitTorrent. He just sets it all up at 10pm and lets it download all night long. So, he’s promised to download season 5 of Grey’s Anatomy for me and Season 3 of The Tudors. When he’s done with that, I’ll get him to download Bones from series 3 on. It’s amazing, TV series one couldn’t be bothered with before, become the highlight of your life. Something to look forward to and chat excitedly about with anybody else who’s watched them. I’d brought Bones season 2, Grey’s Anatomy Seasons 1-4 and The Tudors Seasons 1 and 2 with me from China. I’d bought them awhile ago, but had never been bothered to watch them. With no TV, Siobhan and I quickly became addicted, racing through the episodes, as even if you have no power, you can watch until the battery goes dead on your laptop.
The power cuts and frequency of them are becoming a bit annoying. Although, there are times when it is exciting, and you feel like you’ve gone back in time and are living in the thirties, something like Out of Africa. It is often difficult for Siobhan to do her homework, because you can only work by candle light for a little while before your eyes start to take strain. I might have to invest in a little generator. I bought a small TV yesterday for Siobhan’s birthday. I’d bought her a Wii in China, and she hasn’t been able to play it since she’s been here. I’m going to wait awhile before getting cable. We’ve also added two puppies to our household, two little sisters, Labrador German Shepherd crosses. I don’t like male dogs because they pee against the car tires and the smell of their hormonal pee is nauseating.
I had my first visitor, Linda, who worked with me in Nanjing and is now working in Khartoum. It was great seeing her again. Poor thing though, she got up the Friday morning at 3am to fly here, only to find that her plane had been cancelled. So, she arrived a day late. Then when she was due to leave here again and fly to Zanzibar, we went to the airport and a gut feeling told me to go inside the airport with her and not just drop her off. A good gut feeling, because her flight did not even appear on the board. When I asked, I was told it would appear later, but I asked around some more and was directed to the Air Tanzania office, who told me that her flight was cancelled, and she should return the next day. Although friendly and apologetic, the Air Tanzania staff did not seem concerned in the slightest about the inconvenience they had caused to Linda and some of the other passengers who had been waiting inside the airport for over two hours. They had forgotten to put up the flight on the board with a cancelled message. Why am I not surprised? Anyway, it give Linda and I the chance to polish off the last remaining bottle of a South African Red.
Because of Eid, last weekend was a long one. We decided to head out to the Marangu Falls, which is on the side of Mount Kilimanjaro. Absolutely spectacular and breathtakingly beautiful. I’m taking my class back there on Thursday for a field trip. We’re doing a unit of inquiry on Explorers, and I’m going to drop them off in groups of 4 accompanied by an adult, with a compass and a grid, and they’re going to have to find their way down to the waterfall, map their route plotting landmarks and their coordinates. Basically, just practise being explorers. Tomorrow, we go on a teacher outing to the Arusha National Park to check out the wildlife. We probably haven’t explored as much as we should have. We have been out to the TPC Sugar Plantations twice for BBQ’s with some South Africans, and to watch some of the trinations rugby games. I’m so proud of my Springboks winning the Trinations! The outdoor life and BBQs with friends does make this an awesome lifestyle. Even with the internet woes and power cuts. I could never live in a place like China again. Mind you, who knows what lies in the future? I’m off to Mumbai in November for a workshop. I think all the humanity over there might be stressful, so many people everywhere, as life here is relatively carefree and unstressed. Like today my stress is, should I buy my meat first before going to the market? Should I have a second cup of coffee? This kind of life is addictive. Like Grey’s Anatomy, Bones and The Tudors. I hope the principal remembers to download the episodes for me!
Otherwise, all is well. Both Siobhan and I have been struck by a particularly virulent strain of flu which swept through the school, decimating numbers. I had 8 kids away from my class on Thursday, and 5 kids away yesterday. I have been soldiering on at school, but Siobhan has spent the last three days at home, sleeping, coughing, blowing her nose and making bead necklaces. Well, I guess that I had better get myself towards myself, feed the puppies, have that coffee, shower and get dressed. I’ll try and update my Facebook with my latest photos. Last time, it wouldn’t upload the photos, the internet is too slow. Mind you, it depends on how many people are using it at school, as that is what slows it down and why it is so much faster at home. Keep an eye out for my Facebook photos, I’ll post the link when I manage to get them on!
And the ants appeared to have left - until last night when they reappeared on my kitchen sink!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Masai and the mystery of the appearing ants.

I have a new ant situation. Every evening, under my wash basin, lie corpses of dead ants. Nobody has sprayed them. There are no live ants around. So, where are these ants coming from? Every day, my housekeeper dutifully sweeps up the ants. When I get home from school, there aren't any dead ants. But, when I go to bed at night and wake up each morning, there are piles of dead ants. The ants have to be coming from somewhere, right? Something has to be killing them. I don't really believe that in the evening when Siobhan and I eat dinner, live ants are marching the corpses of their brothers up the stairs to my bathroom to try and make me feel guilty about the murders I committed a couple of weeks ago. Ants don't do that sort of thing, do they? And so I bring you, the mystery of the appearing ants. Maybe the series of CSI New York I watch every night is starting to affect me.

This week I took my class on a field trip to a Masai Village. I spent a good couple of hours typing it up on my portable hard drive, but for some reason blogger won't let me paste it on here like I've always done. So, I wrote a hub about my visit to the Masai. You can read about it here. I'll be putting the photos from the trip on Facebook as well, although at the moment, it is virtually impossible to upload photos anywhere. I'm not sure if it's internet speed or the bandwidth. It just takes forever. Maybe I must try and make my photos smaller files.

We went to a BBQ Friday evening, and another at the TPC sugar plantation Saturday afternoon. Both times I took sausages, now I have orders up the ying yang. The supermarket in town, Aleems, where I buy my groceries stocks boerewors which he buys in from Kenya at double what I'd sell it for. Now he ants me to supply his shop. He'll even do all the packaging for me, which was my headache part in China. The making of the sausages was simple. The packing of it was time-consuming. However, people have been saying they want to buy directly from me and not Aleems. I have to say, the new electric Kenwood sausage maker I have is so fast, it's only the thorough washing of the meat I have to do beforehand which takes the time!

Tony celebrated his 18th birthday on Friday. His first birthday without me being present. I think it was probably harder for me than for him. Siobhan is flat out busy with schoolwork and babysitting. She charges 10 000 shillings for her services, which is roughly US$10. I've told her to save it for our Christmas holiday. We're going to go to Pangani which is on the coast of Tanzania, just a few hours drive away, and then after a week of lying in the sun, take a dhow across to Zanzibar. A few days in Stone Town, then we're taking a ferry across to Pemba Island, which is a remote island off the coast of Zanzibar. A week lying in the sun there, and then back to Pangani, pick up my car and back home. We have a 4 week Christmas break which is rather nice.

Hopefully, this coming week I'll get my internet at home. I ambled down to the lady at the office on Friday to ask what was happening with my internet, which I was promised over a week ago. She said that after they installed my landline, which was supposed to have been done the same time as the internet, they lost my form. So, she smiled, telling me that I obviously had to fill in a new form. "When were you going to tell me that they'd lost my form?" I asked, trying to keep the impatience out of my voice. "I was waiting for the next time you walked down to my office." I just smiled, it was pointless giving a reply and perhaps explaining that it might be weeks before I next walked down to her office.

Which brings me to our three days without power at home. The electricity supplier has decided that we must all get prepay electricity boxes. Imported from South Africa. However, when they installed them, they only put a little bit of power on, to last us until the next morning, then we have to put more money on the card and recharge the electricity unit. However, when they installed the new prepay boxes, they hadn't yet got round to making the new cards. And, there was no way to put more power into your box without the card. Luckily, it only took them two days to make the cards. The school put on 30 000 shillings to give us a start, and picked up our cards for us. Unfortunately, they didn't indicate which card was mine and which one was the next door neighbour's. I gave both cards to our gardener who had come to school, concerned that there was still no power and he couldn't pump water up to our tank, and asked him to give them to the housekeeper who had access to both properties. Unfortunately, she didn't check the numbers to the meter, so the cards didn't work. She left the card on my table, and obviously, my card on the neighbour's table. Siobhan and I sat in the dark waiting for the neighbour to arrive home after seven, so that we could swop cards and get our power connected. We were determined not to light candles another night.

Other than stomach cramps and a touch of what I suspect is amoebic dysentery, as everybody has been hit by that, I'm okay. Siobhan has been battling a cold and tonsilitis since before we left Cape Town. I keep telling her to go to the nurse at school, but hanging out with friends is more important. Today her throat is so sore and I can see her tonsils are swollen, so think she has reached the antibiotic stage. Hopefully, she'll go and get it sorted tomorrow. Okay, have some homework sheets I need to get organised. Have a great week!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Back to the sausages!

This is definitely my kind of life. You don’t have to dress up here and totter around on stilettos and wear make-up plastered all over your face. The dust will destroy any look you are trying to go for, would stick to the make-up and stilettos will cause you to break a neck walking on the uneven dirt roads. So here, you dress for comfort which is what I’ve always done. It always seemed so out of place in societies where women dress up to the nines and are all out to impress. Me, I could never be bothered to impress anyone. This is me. Take it or leave it. But, when I went to Arusha this weekend, I didn’t only buy an electric mincer/sausage machine. I also bought a handy dandy mirror on a stand. Having no mirror in the house, I had resorted to brushing my hair in the morning by looking at my shadow on the wall. I figured out, if I turned the light on and stared at my shadow on the wall, I could easily see any stray tufts of hair sticking up in strange places at odd angles.
Back to my electric mincer. What an absolute pleasure, so much easier than a hand machine. I still have a big box of sausage casings I bought in China, that went by ship to Cape Town and then flew via KLM to Moshi, Tanzania. I think my sausage skins have travelled more than a lot of people in the world. Bright and early this morning, hardly able to contain my excitement, I headed to the market area on the Dar es salaam road, to track down some pork. I bought a little guide yesterday of Swahili phrases, and practised before hand how to ask for pork. Nyama ya nguruwe. I can do beef and goat as well in Swahili. As most of the little supermarkets in town are owned by Indians, none of them stock pork, and I really needed pork for my sausages. I found the area where they sold the meat. Nothing like most people had ever seen before. Tiny little dark rooms with a serving hatch, door and dead carcass hanging from a hook. No refrigeration at all, just blood splattered floors and walls from long ago kills, and a big wooden tree stump as the chopping board. No meat saws or sharp knives. No aprons or hair covered by a hat. Just a man with a machete, which he wielded with frightening force, splintering bone and sending shards of it in many different directions. I looked at the scene before me and debated whether or not to go ahead and buy the meat. People were queuing up to buy meat. They all looked healthy, so I thought, yeah, let’s give it a go. Be a risk-taker. I ordered 3 kg of pork and asked for it to be without bone, and used sign language and sound effects to explain that I was going to use it to make sausages. No problem, he slashed at the carcass with the machete, chopping it cleanly in half, the bottom half falling on the floor marked with year-old blood stains, and thankfully took down the remaining part still attached to the meat hook for me, which he chopped a huge chunk of boneless meat from. The scale was the old one with weights. I’m sure I’d seen one like that in a museum before. I first asked for mutton and he said I had to buy it from the butchery in town. Very pricey they are, as the mutton is imported from Kenya. He asked if goat would do and I said sure. So, he directed me to another stall that sold only goat meat. Same procedure there, and that guy directed me to another stall that sold beef. I was pleased I’d worn my trainers as I trudged up and down rocky sandy paths.
You’ll be pleased to note that I washed the meat thoroughly and got rid of all the bone fragments and other strange bits, before I minced it, added the boerewors spice and stuffed the casings. Siobhan and I had a BBQ and cooked a small piece of beef, pork and goat steak I’d put aside, as well as my boerewors sausage which was freshly made with all three kinds of meat in it. It was delicious, one of the best I’ve ever made. It’s now four hours later and we still feel healthy, so obviously the meat was okay. Will see how we are in the morning, before I offer any to other people.
We had a bit of an alien invasion on Wednesday night. Siobhan went to her room and there were all these brown things hanging down from her window sill. Closer inspection showed that it was made of sand and white eggs, and fat worms were moving around, waving themselves like tentacles. Very creepy. It definitely looked like a scene from one of the alien movies. I took photos and showed the maintenance guy at school who thought they were some kind of termite trying to set up a colony, which means they must already be living in the wall. Our bedrooms are on the second floor, so tunnelling inside the wall was the only way they could have brought the sand up. Paulo, the maintenance man drilled little holes in the window sill and went crazy with the spray, resulting in Siobhan and I both waking up with chronic hay fever at 4am! I told him he should have put us up in a hotel, and he replied that the inside spray was only poisonous to the insects. The outside poison he’d used was the one very toxic for humans. Charming.
Saturday, I also bought more veggie seeds. We ate some home-grown spinach last week and again tonight and I’m really getting into this home-grown organic vegetable way of life. I’m beginning to feel like a farmer, and I love it! Had a bath this morning to scrub my feet. Unbelievable how filthy they were. Showers don’t clean them properly, especially when you have a shower like ours that gives a slow trickle of about 10 drops a time! We had no power Thursday and Friday night, so no hot water. Power cuts are a way of life here and you get used to it. We have candles handy, and I bought a flashlight in Arusha so that I can find my way to the front door if I get home and there’s no power. Nearly broke my ankle the other night as didn’t see a rock and completely missed the step. Life is definitely never boring.
Finally had my car fixed. It was doing this annoying thing of not starting reliably and sometimes being dead that you couldn’t start it at all. My guess was the starter motor which proved to be right and luckily just needed minor repairs. However, now that that is sorted, I’m struggling a bit to get the car going in the mornings. The engine turns no problems, but it seems to be struggling to make a spark. Eventually, after about 10 minutes if takes. So now I’m thinking, probably the points. Think the gap isn’t right. The poor gardener, Kabelo, washes my car several times a week but it is all in vain. I live down a very bumpy dusty road, and the minute I drive 10m from my gate, the car is already covered in fine red dust.
I’m really loving working at the school, it’s very laid-back and the kids are great. The management here are terrific. The internet is a bit sporadic, and I’m waiting to ‘hopefully’ get internet at home the coming week. The guy who installs things is in no rush, and I might have to fetch him from town. Did I tell you that we live just out of town in the supposedly upmarket area called Shanty Town? Haven’t seen any shanties, so not sure why it’s called that! Oh, and even the local little supermarket down the road has a huge selection of South African wines and bottles of apple cider, so I am in my element! Friday night I went to an Aloha Party run by the student PE teachers from Ireland. I went with the intention of showing my face and staying for half an hour tops, as I needed to be up bright and early to drive the hour and a half to Arusha the next morning. Big mistake. They persuaded me to try their punch which was delicious but lethal. More alcohol in there than anything else. So I tried the sangria which was even better, but made the mistake of eating the fruit. Five big plastic cups of sangria and one of the punch, and I regretted not sticking to coke all the way to Arusha the next day when I drove with a pounding hangover.
Anyway, definitely time for bed. Catchya later, luv you guys!
Love, Cindy xxx

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The march of the army ants

First week of school over, and it’s been great. Some of the new teachers are still struggling to adjust to life in Africa, and they will get there in time. I can already see how they are changing, and beginning to understand that time is not a factor in life here. When the curtain lady says she’ll come measure your curtains at 3pm tomorrow, it might be at 3pm 3 tomorrows away. When the internet man says he’ll be at your house at a certain time on a certain day, it might be that time, that day but the following week. It’s amazing, I’ve lived out of Africa for 10 years, but have quickly adjusted back into African time. If you wait for things to happen, you might have to wait a long time, better to just make them happen yourself.
Last week we went to Arusha which is only about 70km away, to the other campus to meet our counterparts and do some planning. The trucks on the road move at a snail’s pace, and they have all these speed bumps, some quite huge, that even with a 4x4 you have to slow down and crawl over, so it took us over 2 hours to get there. It was much faster coming back, as there weren’t so many trucks. Arusha has far more shops, lots of restaurants, a South African Shoprite supermarket, and I suppose is a little like Shanghai compared to Nanjing. It’s going to be great to go there for a weekend, but I’m pleased I don’t stay there as I’d probably spend a fortune. When one of the American teachers was commenting on how much better Arusha was, so much more civilised, I said that I’m pleased that I live in Moshi as I have something to look forward to each month – a weekend in Arusha. If you live in Arusha, then what do you have to look forward to? Actually, Moshi is not too bad. It’s much smaller, but you can basically get anything you need here, more so than in China. Especially the western foods. So for me in that respect, it’s not a hardship post, as everything is available.
What does make it tough, however, is the lack of internet at home. Yeah, yeah, I’m still waiting for them to come and sort it out. I have a landline but it’s not connected, so it just means someone coming and flicking a switch or something like that. The school has internet only in the staff workroom and it’s so slow, a carrier pigeon will probably reach its destination faster than an email. As most of us are still waiting for the internet at home, it’s not always possible to get on the internet at school as there’s often a queue. So, for those emailing me requesting for personal emails on top of my blog, unfortunately it’s not going to happen until I eventually get internet at home.
Then of course, I have the ants. Large army ant types. The ones that march up your stairs to find a new home in your bathroom. Last Friday afternoon, when I got back from Arusha, my gardener, Kabelo, was waiting for me. “Little dog, little dog,” he said frantically, pulling my arm to follow him behind the house. I immediately thought that someone’s dog had escaped and he’d tied it up in my back yard. Unfortunately, it was not a dog, but a writhing mass of black army ants. “Spray all gone, spray all gone,” Kabelo said waving his arms wildly, “In bathroom, in bathroom!” This was my welcome back from Arusha. Streams of ants, carrying their eggs, all marching up my stairs to make a new nest in my bathroom. I quickly nipped down to the local supermarket a 3 minute drive away, and bought some cans of insect spray, went home and indulged in a spray frenzy, which has given me hayfever. I thought I killed them all. However, Thursday I went to the toilet and happened to glance at the wash basin, which looked like it was covered in black fur. It was totally covered in heaving ants, so that you couldn’t even see the white of the basin. I pulled out a can of spray and completely annihilated the enemy. When I managed to wash most of their dead lifeless bodies down the plug-hole, I noticed that they had succeeded in making their nest in the hole above the plug in the porcelain, so they were actually living inside the washbasin! Persistent little blighters! I sprayed directly into the hole, and like the serial killer that I was, watched them come out of the hole to die. I thought that was that. Ant problem sorted. Last night, Siobhan went into the bathroom, to find the wash basin looking like it was covered in black fur. More ants, more spary. Hope this will be the last for a while. Murder is not really my thing. Although I have absolutely loved watching Bones second series every night. I think it’s better than CSI, and I was devastated when I finished the last episode last night.
Although you can find places selling the pirate Chinese dvds here, you can’t buy the whole series like I did. I think I’ll be starting on Women’s murder Club series next. We still don’t have a TV. I’m not in a rush to get one either. We brought so many movies and TV series over from China, ones I bought ages ago, wanted to watch and never got round to watching, that I first want to catch up on those movies. The PYP Coordinator is from Fiji and a rugby fanatic like myself, so we watch all the rugby together at her house, making bowls of popcorn, and chomping them nervously as we shout at the players on the screen. As if they can really hear us!
There’s a great restaurant in the street next to us called El Rancho. Although the name seems to suggest that they sell Mexican food, they don’t. Strictly Indian, but the most delicious Indian food ever. Siobhan had two girls staying over last night, so we went there. Our 4th visit in two weeks. She’s settled in so well here and appears to be loving it. Usually such a girl when it comes to insects and creepy crawlies, she’s not fussed by the ants, just picks up the can of spray and lets them have it. I have a feeling her American twang is soon going to change to a Princess Diana accent, as her best friend here, who’s mum is with the UN, sounds very Princess Dianaish. The school is putting on a whole school production – Early Childhood to Grade12 diploma, of the musical Cats. It’ll be in the beginning of December, so while I see heaps of work ahead, Siobhan is very excited. She’s practising a few songs for the audition on Wednesday.
Tried to make some sausages yesterday with some beef mince I bought with a little hand machine, but it was quite hard work. It really does need a little bit of pork mince to work properly. Whereas in China, beef was expensive and hard to come by, here it is pork. I still haven’t found pork. Beef is so cheap. 1 kg Beef fillet costs $9. I saw an electric sausage machine in Arusha which I think I’m going to buy. We get a good discount because the owner has kids in our school. I already have people asking me for sausages, and the butchery in Moshi, where I bought my fillet, asked me if I can bring in samples of my sausages as she’d read in my biography on the school website that I make sausages as a hobby. Of course, my scale, vacuum sealer and bags are all in the box sitting in storage that I didn’t send, as the shippers had covered up the M for Moshi with packing tape! I’m still trying to figure out what to do about that, as I am missing the boxes with our linen, summer clothes and kitchen stuff. Oh well, seeing as we’re only going back there next year December, will probably just have to start from scratch again.
I bought a barbecue grid in Arusha and am going to build myself a block barbecue in my back garden. Eventually, I want to build a lapa as well, as it’ll be lovely sitting outside in the garden. I can’t believe how fertile the soil is here. Spinach we planted two weeks ago is already so big! It’s hard to understand how people are starving here, when the soil is so fertile. I think though, that maybe it is just the area where we are. I’m not sure. But everywhere there is an abundance of avocado trees, and the locals don’t eat them! Gosh, if I think how much they charged for a puny little avocado in Nanjing! Here, they virtually give them away as they say it’s animal food. I think that avocado has far more nutritional value than corn, which is a staple here, but I don’t know if that’s true. Just my opinion.
The kids in my class are lovely, and come from the UK, US, Netherlands, India, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Kenya and Ghana. The team I’m working with are very collaborative and lots of fun. Despite internet and ant woes, this has been a good move for us, and I can see why people stay here for years. It’s such a pity Tony has already finished school, as he would have thrived in this sort of set-up. I get one sentence emails from him every few days. The last one saying, “Momsy, am officially out of money, think I did well lasting 2 and a half weeks on R500, so feel proud.” No love Tony or anything. He’s working at The Peninsula Hotel in Sea Point which is 4 or 5 star, and very busy. He’s in the kitchen, and has been doing a few 20 hour shifts, so that’s probably why his money lasted as long as it did. He was too busy working to spend any! He doesn’t get paid for his work though, it’s all part of his training. He just has a few more weeks to go, then he has a two week break, then he starts a ten week theory block. This is definitely making him grow up quickly. He’s met the US rugby team and Springboks, all who stayed at the hotel and he cooked their eggs for breakfast, and one of the Springboks gave him a rugby shirt which he was delighted about.
Have a great week! I’m going to get dressed now, head off to school and hopefully get onto a computer to send this, after which I’m going out exploring with some fellow teachers, checking out some of the markets. Which reminds me. Had better study the town map. For a small town, it’s easy to get lost. As we discovered last weekend when my gas ran out and I had to try and find the gas shop. Thank goodness I have a 4x4, as the roads are well, not really roads! And the view of Mount Kili from Moshi – magical. That old mountain rises above the clouds so majestically, it’s breathtaking.
Luvya all!
Cindy xxx