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.