Sunday, February 28, 2010

Long Weekend

It seems like only yesterday I was sitting here typing up last week’s blog. Tuesday, meeting day, and we had a pre-meeting meeting and the expected bomb was dropped. Our PYP Co-ordinator has resigned. Then the real staff meeting. I’m now the chair of the Staff Association, which means I have to try and make sense of all the issues raised. It was only Tuesday and I was already wishing the week was over. Wednesday I was in more meetings and out the classroom, working on the school’s new humanities curriculum. Thursday passed in a flash. Have we even had Thursday already? All I can remember about Thursday, was that we went to the Kili Club for some ice cold cider and steak and chips. The club is so cheap, drinks and food for Siobhan and I comes to under $10! One of the few cheap things here. Friday was no school. Some Muslim holiday that is connected to the moon. The school had to try and estimate if the moon would be doing it’s thing on the Thursday or Friday night, some weeks before. They guessed wrongly, but had already declared the Friday a school holiday. You take what you can get.

Talking about taking what you can get, Monday they announced that all cars in Tanzania had to carry fire extinguishers. I had heard this before and remembered that I did have a can of fire extinguisher foam languishing somewhere in the boot of my car. However, the latest news was not only did you have to have a fire extinguisher, but you had to have a special disc on your windscreen stating that you had a fire extinguisher. It had to be displayed next to your third party insurance and licence discs. Obviously, this is just another rip-off scam from a corrupt government to further empty our pockets. God, at the moment I'm so broke I can't even pay attention. The disc to say you have a fire extinguisher in your car costs $20. Cursing under my breath, I handed over the amount to our school transport manager who was taking all our money and collecting the discs from the fire department. It goes without saying that the fire department was just taking the money and handing over the discs, nobody was actually checking to see if we really had a fire extinguisher in the car. I mean, that would be too efficient, wouldn't it?

My daughter who annoys me no end, was playing the same cd over and over again. I had reached the point, where if I heard the Jonas Bothers whiny nasal voices trying to hit the notes one more time, I would scream. And throw the cd out of the window. We had just reached the half-way point to Arusha, a small town called Boma Ngombe, when a uniformed soldier type with an AK47 slung casually over his shoulder stepped into the road and waved me down.

"Jambo," I said pleasantly, smiling into the glare of the sun.

"Hmpf," he sort of snarled and then muttered something in Swahili.

"Sorry, I don't speak Swahili. Can you speak English?"

He shifted the gun so it sat in his hands. "Fire extinguisher. I want to see your fire extinguisher."

I smiled with relief, happy I'd forked out the $20 for a sticker to put on my windscreen saying I had a fire extinguisher. I hadn't quite gotten round to putting it on the window, but it was lying on my back seat. "Hold on," I reached behind for the sticker, "Here's my sticker saying I have a fire extinguisher."

He stroked his gun lovingly. He didn't even look at my $20 sticker. "I want to see your fire extinguisher. Now."

"It's in the boot," I said as I opened the door and hit him in the stomach. He glared and pointed his AK47 at me. "Pole sana," I laughed, which means 'very sorry.' I was starting to feel a little nervous and wondered whether or not to offer him a bribe as that is the way cops and government officials do business here. Triumphantly, I found my fire extinguisher which had rolled behind my tools, and noticed that the can did look a little rusty. I handed it to the soldier, hoping he'd sling his gun over his shoulder again.

"This is no good," he snarled, "You need to buy a new one. Now." He pointed his gun across the road and I saw a cute little red fire engine parked there. "$45, you buy now."

I took a deep breath and gave what I hoped was an authoratitive convincing, charming kind of a smile. "I have a sticker and a fire extinguisher. I don't need another one. I'm not buying it."

The soldier smiled for the first time. "If you don't buy a new fire extinguisher, you are not allowed to drive your car on the road, so park it over there, next to the fire truck."

How can you argue with a man holding an AK47, even if he works for the government? Meekly, I followed him across the road to the red fire truck which had lost some of its cuteness. I paid the $45 and got a spanking new fire extinguisher with another sticker on it, a different one.

I felt compelled to give my two cents worth, even if the man was holding a gun. "This is just a rip-off, another example of the government stealing money from the people."

The soldier laughed out loudly and nodded his head in agreement. "But you see Madam, your fire extinguisher was a foam one. Foam is now illegal. You have to have a dry powder extinguisher. I can show you the regulations, but they're all in Swahili, so I'll have to translate."

"Don't bother," I snarled through my teeth, my friendly demeanour having evaporated like spilled diesel at a gas station.

By the time I got to my car on the other side of the road, the armed soldier had let two Tanzanian drivers go past without checking their fire extinguishers and pulled over another expat driver with a pale skin. I wonder, if some government minister managed to get a job lot of these dry foam fire extinguishers at a cheap price, and is making some money on the side with this new 'regulation.' It seems that only expats are required to have these fire extinguishers. And I have to wonder, if my fire extinguisher is in the boot and my car explodes in ball of flame, will I have time to jump out the car, open my boot and get my fire extinguisher? And if I'm in a head on collision, will I be able to get out of my car to get it? What is the point? In my eight months here I have never seen a burnt out car wreck, so fires are not common. Seriously, this is a crock of shit. But when a guy tells you to do something with an AK pointed at you, you do it.

Saturday, we took a drive with some friends to the Sanya Juu area, to the Light of Africa orphanage. Amazing place, lovely houses for the orphans all built by different universities in the UK. The playground was designed by the architecture students at Bristol University. The kids were pleased to see us, we took some rice as a gift, balloons and bubbles. Some of the kids are so tiny for their age, many have AIDS, are AIDS orphans or have just been abandoned by their parents. Quite a few kids with severe cerebral palsy there. Definitely a worthwhile cause to support. After that we went bundu bashing, illegally entered a game reserve through some dirt track so we didn’t have to pay the $20 per person entry fee, and had a picnic in the middle of nowhere. We’d forgotten to bring picnic blankets and chairs, so we stood around in the heat drinking and eating, decadent things like quiche and banoffee pie. Several Maasai with their herds of cattle passed us. Guess they were also doing a spot of illegal traffic through the park. On the way out we saw a couple of wildebeest and a herd of zebra. Rain looked imminent, Mount Kili was hidden behind very black angry looking clouds, and as the first drops of rain fell to steady the dust, Mount Kili popped out of the clouds showing a fresh fall of snow reaching three quarters of the way down her slopes. I don’t know if it was all the banoffee pie she ate, or a virus, but Siobhan started running from both ends after dinner. Cannot be the delicious mutton curry I made in a potjie, as I didn’t feel ill!

Sunday and the famous Kili Marathon. Why people feel the need to run in the heat is beyond me. It’s very hot at the moment. For the last month or so you see people jogging down our road, training for the marathon, faces etched with pain and exhaustion. Why the hell do they do it? They don’t look like they are enjoying it at all and frankly, seeing them just makes me feel guilty. Someone asked me if I was running. You gotta be kidding me. I have a car, I drive. Jeez! My friend Debbie and I were supposed to be helping with a water point, but in typical Tanzanian fashion, nobody gives us a time or where we are supposed to be. So, we rocked up at 9, the fun run and half marathon was already over, the last remnants of the full marathon were trickling or rather, hobbling in, grimacing with pain. Yeah, obviously having fun. We hung around, borrowed some medals and posed for photos and then left. Oh, Debbie and I took a short cut to the school’s hospitality tent, not really realising that we were walking across the finishing line and were amongst the suffering runners. Well, we did but we didn’t really care. And one of the officials held out a medal for me. I was wearing my Hash t-shirt, so I guess I sort of looked the part as I was hot and sweaty, and although I reached out to accept the medal for completing the half-marathon, in the end I withdrew my hand. It didn’t seem right to accept the medal. Like, I might be thought to have cheated. Although, I did run quite a bit earlier on. Somehow, a big white hen found itself onto my property, and Smokey my dog was having a whale of a time chasing the clucking flapping hen. Of course, it must have looked a sight, with me chasing the dog, the dog chasing the hen, like one of those kid’s stories. Eventually, the dog cornered the hen and they had a stand-off, both standing still staring at each other, and at that point I decided I better leave to fetch Debbie. On my return, no sign of the chicken except a white feather stuck on a bush, so either it escaped or went to heaven in the belly of my dog.

On that note, happy birthday to Jules and Barry in the week ahead and I wish you all a fantastic week. Only 4 weeks left to the Easter holidays!


Cindy xxx

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Parasites in Paradise

The weather seems undecided on whether the rainy season is going to start, or if the temperature will just keep rising until we start to melt. I think I’ve already started to melt, like a huge ice-cream in the summer heat, drip by drip. It’s hard to believe that at this precise moment, there are places in the world where it’s cold and snowy. I’m grateful I’m living with tropical heat, although making a snow-angel in the snow does sound tempting.

Unfortunately, my up and down, but mostly down stomach has started to get to me, and the headaches have become quite stressful. After feeling so rotten on Wednesday, I left school early and nipped over to Doctor Makupa down the road. Blood tests seem to indicate I have a touch of Malaria, but the good doc’s convinced I have a parasitic infestation of Giardia. Now, research on the internet shows that this is a delightful little parasite that resides in fecal matter, which I have obviously consumed through having ice-blocks made from contaminated water, unwashed vegetables or the like. Virtually impossible to pin down the source. The good news, is that I won’t die. The bad news, is that until it’s out of my body I’ll feel crap. Now these little parasites aren’t too keen to leave. After the blood test, the lab techie gave me a little plastic bowl, a kitchen towel and a toothpick and pointed me to the bathroom in the corner. Unsure as to what the role of the kitchen towel and toothpick was, I locked myself in the closet bathroom and attempted to squeeze out something for the lab techie. Unfortunately, hearing the laughter and chatter of the lab techies on the other side of the door put me off my stride and I was unable to perform. Usually, I am able to produce urine samples on demand, but scatological ones were beyond my reach. They took back the little plastic bowl, and instead gave me an old pill bottle with a very small opening and a toothpick and instructed me to fill it in the comfort of my own home. I was perplexed as to how exactly I was going to pop my parcel into a bottle with such a narrow opening, and the function of the toothpick still evaded me. However, as has been happening, straight after dinner my stomach needed a workout and I had to race to the bathroom. I only just made the toilet seat, let alone having time to try and hold the small pill bottle underneath me and aim my fecal matter into the narrow opening. After sorting myself out, I found myself kneeling before the porcelain throne armed with the toothpick, and trying to harpoon the smaller floating bits. I inadvertently discovered what the toothpick was for, when I speared a floater and managed to whisk it straight into the container without messing. Proud of my achievement, I realised that this wasn’t anything anybody else would really appreciate.

Other than that it was another week in paradise. The IB Evaluation team came and went, the one evaluator is at Northside School in Botswana and is going to organise a speaking engagement there for me when I drive down in June. I’m starting to get excited for my big road trip, and after discovering that the new bridge is built between Tanzania and Mozambique, I’ll be returning via Mozambique. Otherwise, things are quite busy at school now I’ve taken on the big inter-schools swimming gala which will be held on the 1st May, and have just been elected as Chairman of the Staff Association. And on top of all that I’m still working like mad on my new book, Not Telling.

I’ve decided to do a book give-away on my Facebook Fan page, so if you haven’t yet become my fan on Facebook, now’s the time to do it. The poster is below.

Otherwise, have a great weekend and new week ahead. Been snowing on Mount Kili but not affecting us down here.



Sunday, February 14, 2010

Welcome to my BookWorld!

There are times in my BookWorld when I feel as if I am finally getting somewhere.  I've managed to start to put my idea of a Book Tour into fruition.  I had this idea, seeing as I'm driving down to Cape Town from Tanzania, I may as well stop at bookshops along the way, and do a sort of an 'African Book Tour.'  The notion sounded rather romantic I thought.  Well, I have finalised my launch of this African Book Tour, it will be held at A Novel Idea in Dar-Es-Salaam on the 30th March 2010.  They are talking about getting in television and newspaper reporters, and while this sounds exciting, I am quite nervous.  I've never done anything quite like this before.  My book signing in Nanjing was small potatoes compared to this and they are treating me slike some kind of a celebrity, which frankly, I find quite frightening, being the quiet and reserved type of person that I am.

No sooner had I fanned my face as it was overheating with excitement from the Dar-Es-Salaam news, than I discovered the most amazing exciting thing ever on  Someone has put up a great review for The Case of Billy B, which I have copied here.
5.0 out of 5 stars I had tears in my eyes, February 13, 2010

By Readers Favorite "Readers Favorite" (Hawesville, KY USA) - See all my reviews

Based on a true story, this is a fictionalized account of one boy`s history of child abuse. Born with a cleft lip, ignored by his mother for the first six months of his life, she walks out on him and his father. His Army father is now faced with the task of raising Billy by himself, trying to keep a roof over their heads, and feeding and taking care of Billy while trying to further his Army career. Finally, realizing there was no other choice, he leaves the service and vows that he and Billy will make it.

The women he goes out with only have one thing on their mind... Marriage. Billy`s dad finally becomes consumed with two things in his life,beside Billy, Sex and Vodka. Unable to hold a job, he is always on the move. Ending up in Michigan, he meets up with a woman who runs a day care center. Infatuated with Chris, she is very abusive toward Billy, becoming a very real threat in their lives. Not only does Billy suffer the abuse of Stella, his father is not much better. Mentally, Billy has withdrawn into himself and has seen and endured more then any child his age should.

One has to read this book with an open mind to see and visualize the sheer torment that this young child endured. Called a freak and a misfit, can there be any help for this struggling father and his son? As he and Billy are continually stalked by Stella, it seems Billy becomes a pawn in the game of survival. Can Chris save himself and provide a stable home for them.

I had tears in my eyes reading this just wanting to hold Billy and show him that there was love in this world and no need for the suffering he was going through. The ending of the book left me with open minded and cries sequel. This book is highly recommended, but be prepared for coarse language and sexual content. The book contains material not suitable for those 17 and under.
Besides all the good The Case of Billy B stuff, I've been working flat out on my new novel, Not Telling and also managed to publish a new hub on Common mistakes make by women during sex, as a follow up to the one I did called Common mistakes made by men during sex.
This week is going to be a busy one as we have our evaluation visit from the IB.  Hope your St Villainstine Day was awesome!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Barking dogs and power cuts

This past week has flown by in the blink of an eye. First it was Monday, and then it was over, and now here I sit on a Saturday morning, woken up by my neighbour’s loud generator , knowing that it means that we have no power. Luckily, I charged my laptop last night while I was waiting for said neighbour’s barking dog to stop. That dog is driving me crazy. Granted, it doesn’t do that yappy thing every night, but when it starts it just can’t seem to be able to stop. Maybe the neighbour has a switch and instead of turning on the generator, he turns on that bloody dog. It’s not a deep booming powerful bark. It’s a high-pitched yappy bark that operates on a level of sound that penetrates your brain. And it’s non-stop. The other night, it barked like that until 5am. I couldn’t sleep and could hear the damn mutt’s bark getting more croaky and high-pitched as the hours ticked by until its throat was obviously so sore from barking continuously, that it stopped. In fact, it was probably still barking, but because it had strained its voice from overuse, it lost its bark. Imagine the dog barking, but no sound coming out. I hope the dog grows those nodules on its voice box that famous singers get. But last night I was tired. I’d just returned from a three day camping trip with 56 ten year olds, had nipped over to a friend’s for a BBQ and was home ready to go to bed for an early night’s sleep at 9pm.  I hadn't slept at all the night before as my room was next to the kitchen and the camp cook decided that the only way he'd be able to feed 80 people pancakes for breakfast, was if he stayed up all night to cook them, so I had him banging around the kitchen all night, and of course, the smell of cooking pancakes wafting through my window...
However, on my return home, it was to find that bloody mongrel across the road having one of its non-stop yappy sessions. No way would I be able to sleep. For some reason, that particular yappy bark seems to carry, and it sounds like it’s right in my garden, which it isn’t as my dog is fast asleep. At eleven pm I was debating whether or not to take that dog out permanently by chopping off its head with a machete, or using my bare hands to strangle the life out of it. Instead, I wandered down to my front gate and shouted extremely loudly for the dog to shut up. Unfortunately, the askari who is supposed to be guarding the house was asleep next to the gate, hadn’t heard me creep up but woke up with a fright when i suddenly started shouting next to his sleeping form which I hadn’t noticed in the dark. I think he might have pissed his pants. The dog stopped for a total of five seconds after I shouted, and then started up with more urgency than before. I am at my wits end as to why it was barking as it was overcast and there wasn’t a moon. Just for the hell of it, i guess, well i might just terminate it, just for the hell of it. So take the infuriating dog with the boom boom boom and African rhythms coming from the Glacier Hotel down the road, sleep was not going to be easy. At half past midnight, I finally staggered to bed and attempted unsuccessfully to sleep. Finally, utter exhaustion set in and I slept dead until the bloody generator. What does he use to run it? Rocket fuel? Why does it have to be so loud? Maybe, he has his blasted dog running on a treadmill to generate the energy to run the thing and the yappy barking was the dog’s protests!

After some school issues that didn’t involve me other than me having to spend a total of seven hours after school in meetings Monday and Tuesday, I went on camp for the rest of the week. We stayed on a farm in West Kilimanjaro. Spectacular views of the plains and the mountain on the way there. I was lucky, my tent had broken poles so I got to sleep inside the guesthouse. A real bed! The first night, we were supposed to be having vegetable curry and chicken curry. I looked at the bony bits of emaciated chicken, and thought great! Can’t wait! Thanks goodness the kitchen at school had forgotten to pack in the curry powder and tomato pastes, so I had to drive around until i came to a big town so I could buy the necessary ingredients, and some potatoes as they’d forgotten to buy those for the BBQ the next night. As I’d taken along my potjie, I bought some pieces of beef ‘steak’ which could have been anything hanging up from a peg on the ceiling, and thought I’d supplement the chicken curry by making a beef potjie. I knew the meat would be as tough as an old boot, so I bought a can of coke and after browning the meat and onions, boiled it in the coke, then let it cook slowly with some veggies for three hours. Oh my God, it was delicious, the meat so tender, unbelievable! I was in charge of dishing up the veggie curry, and discovered that it’s not only my daughter that doesn’t really like vegetable. Next to me was Katy, serving the rice.. She’s the 18 year old sister of a girl in my class who has Down’s Syndrome, and she came along to keep an eye on her sister. She was brilliant, a credit to her family! Anyway, a little Indian girl in my class, only child in her family, treated like a princess, had brought a backpack filled with food for the three days. Her mother had not trusted our cooking, obviously. This of course was banned, bringing your own food and keeping it in your tent, as it’d attract safari ants and the last thing we wanted, was the little princess being chomped by safari ants in the middle of the night. The other teacher from our other campus confiscated her food, which of course up set the princess making her cry and wail and sob and want to call her father and go home and ask, “why, why, why, why can’t I?” over and over again like a stuck record. “Because i said so,” didn’t work with her either, neither did the explanation of why she couldn’t keep a three day’s supply of cooked food unrefrigerated on the ground in her tent. I asked her why she wouldn’t eat our food. She said there was nothing there she liked or could eat. I looked at the sobbing little girl in front of me with an incredulous expression on my face. “What?” I asked, sarcasm dripping from my tongue, “Don’t they have rice in India? Or curry? They don’t have curry in india?” Katy next to me started laughing so much, she dropped the serving spoon in the bowl of rice, but the little princess nodded and said, “Yes they do have curry and rice in India.” She dished up some, enjoyed it and came back for seconds. Later, we did sneak a look inside her backpack and found it contained rice and some kind of a curry, probably vegetable!

Another highlight of the camping trip, was the little down syndrome girl in my class falling in love, with a pretty boy from the other campus. The staff were all relaxing on the veranda, when we were interrupted by a little boy, “Miss Croome, you must come quickly there’s an emergency, Jack can’t leave his tent!” Expecting the worst, my colleague from Arusha jumped up and raced to see what the problem was. When she returned, she couldn’t stop laughing, apparently my little DS girl who is 14 and filled with racing hormones had parked herself outside his tent and was waiting for him to come out so she could kiss him. “I love you Jack!” she shouted from time to time. Jack was terrified. But after a while, he did see the funny side and ignored my little darling’s amorous advances the rest of the trip, as she sat adoringly at his feet or stalked him, following him wherever he went.

My group of kids were the expert group on forestry, and we went up into the forest to see the difference between indigenous forest and the pine plantations. They’re quite clever here, to protect the vast natural forest from being chopped down for firewood, as it serves as an important watershed, they have planted 4500 hectares of pine and cypress forest all along the perimeter, so that that wood is used for logging and timber, and the natural forest is left intact. There are large elephants living in the natural forest who apparently come down from time to time and destroy the potato and carrot farms along the perimeter of the pine forest. We didn’t see any wildlife, although we did hear hyena in the middle of the night, their distinctive, “Woowee, woowee,” giving you cold shivers. But one of the other expert groups went to a game reserve and to see the impact of game reserves on the environment (all high brow stuff for 10 year olds) and they saw game and a recently killed carcass of a wildebeest. The guide with them must have told them it was probably a cheetah who had done the killing. Of course, this is the kind of thing kids will brag about to other groups, especially children in the group who only saw trees! So, one of the kids in my forestry group came up to me that evening, “Miss Cindy, it’s not fair, the game reserve group saw a cheetah killing a cantelope!” I cracked up. I couldn’t help it. The visual in my mind of a vegetarian cheetah pouncing on a melon trying desperately to roll out of the way was too much!   

Apparently, while I was away, Moshi had no power for 24 hours. It came on just before we got home from our camping trip. Sometime in the early hours this morning, it went off again. I have no idea when it will be back on again. So, I might head over to school to see if their generator is on and I can copy this onto my blog. That bloody dog has just started yapping and howling. 9am, should I go and buy a machete?

Siobhan is writing her own songs, and composing music to go along with them on her guitar, making it just as difficult for me to concentrate on my writing as that bloody barking dog does for me, Tony is working hard and enjoying this practicum in the hotel, and Kerri is singing in a jazz bar - here's the link she sent me, so you can listen to her great voice.  She definitely could do something with that voice!  Maybe she can sing with Siobhan like the female version of the Jonas Brothers? 

  Here's the link of Kerri singing in a Chinese jazz club.

(I'd like to credit, Diane Bowe, the most awesomest parent who came along on the camp and was the official photographer, with the photo of the whole group of us and my delicious beef and coke potjie.  The trees I took myself!)