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

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