Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Daughter one (8 years) is this year supposed to be dressing up as a 'fairy tale' character but has decided she wants to be a water fairy (in a long blue silky dress that we do not have as yet- she wants me to make one). I had thought that wearing one of the million fairy dresses that we already have in various sizes for dressing up at home might do, but my daughter will have none of it. She wants a long, blue, silky dress and her hair just so.
Daughter two (five years) has a halloween party at school on Friday and wants to be a pirate. She is a bit of a tomboy so I am not surprised at her choice but unfortunately there is a distinct lack of boy costumes in this house so I need to start from scratch here.
Daughter three (three years) is also going to the halloween party and wants to be a fairy, even though I have a perfect witch's outfit in her size with a show stopping (if I say so myself) tall pointy fabric black hat that I made years ago. I suppose I should be grateful that we have so many fairy dresses so she should be easy but then she keeps changing her mind and says every five minutes; 'actually I want to be a pirate too.'
The latter two daughters are also going to the fairy tale party, but I can't even bring myself to discuss a second set of fancy dress outfits with them..
My question is, how does a parent/mother control the urge to impose your own ideas on your children, thus stifling their own (obviously less good) ones? (I am just joking but you know what I mean?)
Daughter one has to choose some kind of animal/living thing to properly research for a 'show and tell' later in the term. I brilliantly suggested a jellyfish because she has just been stung by one so has good first hand experience! She can show off the jellyfish mark on her neck she still has from our Tanzanian half term holiday and it might be interesting and a bit different to talk to the other kids about stinging and tentacles etc. She, however, wants to do a cheetah or a leopard which no doubt others in her class will choose too (we are in Africa after all). Yawn.
Also, I might add that trying to encourage daughter one in her weekly homework of constructing spelling sentences or a story around a list of twelve spelling words is absolute agony for me. It's so tempting to stick my oar in and rattle off my own ideas;
'The boy POKED his sister then BROKE her arm, she almost CHOKED' . Isn't that good?
Even my husband finds it tricky not to take over on this homework assignment.
My daughters are still young, so I feel I must find a solution to this problem somehow or risk years of conflict ahead.
It's hard to butt out when the alternative might be committing yourself to laborious hours on the sewing machine. Buying childrens fancy dress costumes is not an option here and I am far too disorganised to buy fabric and deligate to a local tailor. Help - I am far too bossy!!
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Johnny’s girlfriend is Lara, a blonde haired PA who works in the Square Mile and Will is with Annabel who is studying History of Art at St Andrews. The girls face their trip to Africa with some trepidation. Their boyfriends are vague when asked whether there will be flush loos while on safari or a power point in which to plug their hairdryers.
Gillian, Johnny’s mother, welcomes the boys who have been friends since they were babies with a fond embrace and an indulgent smile. She then looks the girls up and down appraisingly and wonders why on earth the boys can’t find nice, suitable Kenyan girlfriends (for instance the Davies’ daughter, Acacia, who is now gainfully employed counting Rhinos in Lewa Downs). The girlfriends are preoccupied with trying to wipe clods of red mud gathered from the driveway off their designer shoes. Lara has a swathe of mud across the back of her white jeans that appeared after she clambered down from the antique four wheel drive that transported them from the airport.
The first evening is a jolly affair beginning with rather strong gin and tonics on the veranda at 5pm, rolling late into the night with numerous bottles of red wine consumed by candlelight and a fabulous dinner that appears as if by magic. The Robinsons come over and Will’s dad both delights and terrifies the girls with ‘true’ tales from the African bush.
The following morning Gillian is in business mode from 6am, barking instructions to staff who are frantically packing cool boxes as she works her way through various lists. The girls emerge from their bedroom late in Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses. Will and Johnny who are keeping a low profile mutter; ‘is that what you girls are wearing today?’ and Gillian yells into the dining room, ‘we are leaving in half an hour, prompt,’ which causes the girls to choke on their cereal that is mixed with slightly weird tasting local milk.
After seven hours riding in convoy with the Robinsons in a rattling old land cruiser, the girls are felling shaken, headachy and coated in dust. Stepping out into a scorching barren grove of thorn trees, Lara realises she has brought no suitable shoes. Johnny and Will say that it is family tradition to camp in this same spot every year. Standing uselessly to one side, the girls watch as tents go up and wonder how exactly they will be protected from marauding lions during the night. Lara then steps on a scorpion in her gladiator sandals, is stung and screams in petrified agony. Gillian passes her a bottle of vinegar and tells her that it is not too bad and the pain will pass after twelve hours. At 10pm Annabel is struck down by griping stomach pains. The single loo comprises a thunder box set over a deep hole that Shadrack dug earlier in the afternoon. Necessarily, she makes numerous visits back and forth throughout the night with only the help of a tiny torch, surrounded by the terrifying munching sounds of grazing wild animals, screeching bush babies and the odd cough of lion. Lara moans about the excruciating pain in her foot and neither girl sleeps a wink.
When the girls fail to appear for breakfast which is served on trestle tables under the trees, both Gillian and Mrs Robinson sink Bloody Marys and laugh indiscreetly about ‘useless city girls’. Will and Johnny have evidently lost interest in their escorts and decided to disappear together at dawn on an early morning game drive. ‘Perhaps the boys will have learned their lesson’, Gillian and Mrs Robinson agree. The girls meanwhile, still faced with three more nights in the bush are plotting their escape. Perhaps Shadrack could help?
Thursday, October 23, 2008
'Oh yeah,' rather vaguely, 'hmm, water - no that's not a problem any more. It's fine actually.'
The fact is that having worried and wished for rain it is now bucketing down in Nairobi and has been for quite some time. It rains heavily each night and often in the day time. I feel as terrible as can be about the poor nightwatchmen who have to stay awake all night in horrible conditions. I've been out to restock supplies of umbrellas and wellies for everybody.
The roads are extra chaotic thanks to fresh potholes, slippery mud on the tarmac and numerous unconventional short cuts where bus drivers (and others) create new lanes on all available verges. Accidents on every corner bring traffic to a standstill. Rush hour is crazy.
We have plenty of water, the drains are saturated, I should be planting shrubs and trees in the garden now as it is wet, wet, wet. Weddings, childrens parties, christenings and birthday celebrations are (shock horror) having to be organised indoors or under cover as sunshine cannot be guaranteed for a while. It's all wet dogs, red mud and standing water.
It is rainy season (the short rains), no doubt about it.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
I just caught a bit on the radio this morning that made me smile. The Kiss FM presenter Caroline Matoko was interviewing one of the marathon organisers. After discussing the marathon for a while she threw out the question to the rest of her male crew,
'have you run before?' they answered quick as a flash,
'yes, I have done a lot of running, mainly from tear gas...' another said, 'yes, I have run from theives too and gangs you know the sort of thing.' They were joking and laughing of course...
Since the 'Kreigler report' into the faulty Dec 07 Kenya election mainly focussing on the voting process itself, the 'Waki report' dominated news headlines this weekend. It was enlightening and pointed to the high level organisation of violence that was feared but unconfirmed at the time. To quote the Sunday Standard in brief:
- 'A commission led by Justice Philip Waki talks of a secret meeting in State House to plot revenge attacks on civilians and points at a near collapse of government which post election voilence aggressors exploited.'
- 'Members of the Waki Commission are convinced the Naivasha attacks between Jan 27 and 30 were planned and executed by the proscribed Mungiki with the support of central Kenya politicians and businessmen.'
- 'The team equally accuses ODM (opposition) leaders in the Rift Valley Province.'
- 'The Waki Report will be impossible to implement given perpetrators from ODM and PNU are in Government.'
- 'Last Friday Justice Philip Waki handed chief mediator in Kenya's peace process Kofi Annan a sealed envelope containing names of perpetrators of the voilence.'
- 'The suspects who include minsters, MPs and businessmen will be tried by a special tribunal to be formed before the end of next year'
1. what is poor Kofi Annan expected to do with the envelope - especially as Martha Karua keeps telling him rather impolitely to butt out of Kenyan politics. I guess it can be waved over people in power when they misbehave.
2. what is the likelyhood that anyone will ever go to trial?
Sunday, October 19, 2008
In fact we were spoiled, spoiled, spoiled by our old friends whose children kindly provided non stop entertainment for ours without a single fight breaking out and hosts who seemed to effortlessly roll out endless delicious meals enjoyed while sitting around large recycled dhow wood dining tables. We stayed in their beautiful house in town and their very chic ‘barefoot luxury’ beach house south of Dar that they built stone by stone themselves. A few years ago, only they could see the potential in a few acres of tangled thick bush many miles over the ferry and far from home (I saw it in the early days so I can tell you I missed it, in fact I have to admit that I thought they were mad) – now it is a paradise. Our friends brought prawns and calamari in cool boxes and threaded them onto palm fronds to barbeque. We collected shells and lounged in the bath temperature shallows of the deserted beach by day and later lit a fire and watched the moon rise. There was no electricity at the house so at night we gazed at the stars. Our friends managed to produce cold drinks and enough food and water for all ten of us for three nights on the trot in forty degree heat. Thank you, thank you!
Another best bit was the time for chatting with an old friend. Do you think clothes made of local African fabrics (kanga, kitenge) work for expats? Answer: yes for children, yes if you are in your twenties, yes if you have a complexion that can carry off very bold colours and patterns. We shopped in the depths of a local African market out near the airport, Ilala, in search of Indian kangas with softer colours and flowers. I used to go there with a baby strapped to my front in a sling and sweat it out as I browsed through fabrics piled on trestle tables and second hand clothes. We went to Kariakoo and spent hours digging out dinner plates that looked like Emma Bridgewater’s multi-spot dots but cost relatively nothing.
We drove past our old house lots of times and I noticed how much the new occupiers had done to the garden (it was in shameful neglect when we left thanks to my criminal lack of interest at the time) but that for some reason they had taken out the lime trees at the back. Most of Dar was the same and the changes I noticed in the area we used to live were positive ones like better shops or roads that had finally changed from dirt to tarmac. We haggled for Zanzibar benches on the side of the road (don’t ask how we are going to get them to Nairobi) and couldn’t chose because, frankly, we had so little else to concern ourselves with. I visited the Tingatinga painting workshop to order painted fish and children’s name boards. We all swam in the sea and ate pizza at the yacht club where hundreds of mums and babies and children frolicked happily looking tanned and relaxed.
My daughter’s first observations when we arrived were; ‘people are sweeping the roads here, they never, ever do that in Nairobi.’ and ‘the traffic lights actually work!’
There’s something about the light in Dar es Salaam, the blue sea and the palm trees that makes it all seem like a dream as soon as you step off the plane and get back home. Of course I remember living there with the frustrations of power cuts that were all the more painful because of such dripping humidity and heat, trying to shop and rush about doing chores in that heat with sweat trickling down the back of your legs. Nothing ever really dried on the washing line. I remembered about the sugar ants everywhere (you have to keep the sugar in the fridge otherwise it's alive with them) – they even run up your legs, down your arms and into your underwear and of course the invisible mosquitoes.
Our eldest daughter had a memorable close encounter with a vicious jelly fish but she’s now proud of her impressive war wound (our host was wonderfully prepared with first aid for such an incident and thankfully no weeing on the sting was necessary). Our daughter recovered quickly and now has the perfect back to school show and tell, ‘this is where a jelly fish wrapped itself around my neck in Tanzania!’
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Kenyans pretend they don't like Akon because he said he would come and play live in concert in Nairobi last year, the tickets were sold out - but then he changed his mind and didn't come. Everyone here was gutted. Kiss FM still play his songs 24/7 but always say before hand 'we're not sure we really like this guy'. My daughters call him 'Acorn'. He's shot into such super stardom levels now, releasing 'collabos' with Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, that it's pretty clear he will never come to Kenya now, so won't get a chance to redeem himself.
We are off to Dar es Salaam to stay with friends for half term (poor them - five more mouths to feed!) - but we are so excited. I can't wait because we lived in Dar for 4 years and I haven't been back for five, so can't wait for old memories to come flooding back and to see loads of changes and say boringly , 'when we lived here......x y z'
will try to keep up the blogging, but can't promise for the next few days...
Monday, October 06, 2008
Charles’s son, Jared has been a fantastic success but now the onus is on him to send money saved from his salary back to the village to his old father and the rest of the family. It’s a shame because Jared has a girlfriend a life ahead of him but he is shackled to his family. When Charles phoned me on my mobile at the weekend he was telling tales of family members being sick, no money for food his son having let him down in an overall desperate state of affairs. This was not the first time I had received a message like this. (I notice he never tries my husband’s number). He asked me to send money urgently via MPesa, (a new effective method of transferring money across the country from mobile phone to mobile phone, or from ATM machines). I’m afraid that knowing Charles well I said ‘no sorry’. I spoke to his son the next day who said he has indeed been sending money home on a regular basis. The problem is that every time he gives anything to his dad for clothes or food it is spent on beer. His dad even got a job as a security guard up in the village but lost it quickly for being drunk.
This business of family members in town having financial responsibility for those who stay back in the village affects Kenyans (Tanzanians and Ugandans) across the board. There was a very amusingly written but tragic article written in The Standard’s ‘Crazy Monday’ supplement today entitled, ‘Slaves of handout culture’. There was a double page spread of anecdotes from city dwellers that fear going home because they are always being stung for money by family, clansmen, villagers and childhood friends. Here’s a taste of some of them:
Richard, a banker says he saw a counsellor after developing depression,
‘It may sound unreal, but I used to spend half of my salary on relatives and villagers who claimed that they had contributed to my success in life’ he continued, ‘about 10 villagers used to wait for me at the shopping centre and demand money to buy brew. Then at the home, about five uncles would ask for their children’s school fees and other expenses.’
His doctor has advised visiting his elderly parents less often.
Another who works in Nakuru says whenever he visits his home village he hears shouts of ‘Sukari! Sukari! Sukari! (sugar). ‘One of them recently held me by the collar, demanding to know why I had never bought her a kilo of sugar.’
Laban, who works as a waiter, suffers because his father has told everyone back home that he is the manager of a top hotel and has even started directing unemployed people from the village to Laban’s place of work in search of cash. At his cousin’s funeral recently Laban overheard his mother saying:
‘Tell Laban to give you money for bread, meat and do not forget money for the x15 suits for the burial.’
Others complained of extended family members coming to town to camp out at their homes waiting for handouts. When they are refused people turn nasty, saying that their relative is mean spirited and does not value family. Some even threaten to cast evil spells or bewitch those who won’t tow the line. Most city dwellers bring money home when possible but then find that villagers upcountry often expect much more. They won’t listen when the perceived ‘rich’ friend or relative argues that they have their own wives and children to support.
Nixon, a Nairobi computer engineer who had just got his new job four months ago and was saving for household items found an aunt had sent her two sons to ask for college fees from him,
‘I was shocked to find my nephews waiting for me. After I cooked supper they told me they wanted sh 60,000 (£500) for their fees.’
Another trick is to organise what Kenyans call a ‘harambee’ (fundraiser) and make an employed city dweller ‘guest of honour’ so they feel compelled to attend or at the very least contribute.
In Europe with the high property prices and tertiary education, you are more likely to find parents today giving handouts to their grown up children who still struggle financially (statistics have been reported recently UK papers), whereas in Africa the tradition of handouts from the earning population to the rural unemployed creates a vicious cycle of poverty. Those who could succeed are held back or pressurized into corruption in order to meet high expectations back home.
Friday, October 03, 2008
David and Lizzie go home on annual leave every summer but having lived overseas for some years now they find it increasingly difficult to adjust to the developed world.
While Lizzie dashes up and down high streets of English market towns, David can be found in the nearest Starbucks café taking the waiter to task over the bill of £11.50 for a cappuccino and three chocolate chip cookies. The children have taken their shoes off again and are running rings around the coffee shop tables, leapfrogging customers as their father takes no notice. They have been in there for over one hour. Lizzie finally shows up feeling frazzled and laden with bulging bags from M&S, Next, Gap and Karen Millen. It is drizzling.
“I couldn’t find a sleeveless, zip up fleece or any short, thigh length shorts for you darling. Apparently they are no longer in fashion.” She tells her husband who depends on his wife masterminding his annual wardrobe update. He frowns as he pulls out of various bags garments that are peppered with pockets, zips and visible logos.
“Acacia!” Lizzie cries as she spots her three year old daughter wandering out of the café unaccompanied.
They shamble out of Starbucks into the rain with not a waterproof between them.
On return to the car the family are dismayed to find a parking ticket. Not sure what on earth to do with it, they ask themselves while looking up and down the street,
“Were we were supposed to pay? I didn’t see a parking sign?”
They then strap the children into rather less than road legal car seats that they hope no policeman will pull them up on.
“Why do we have to have seatbelts?” the children whine, “and why do we have to always go in such a tiny car!”
Relieved to have negotiated out of the town centre having only driven down a one way street the wrong way once, they head to the out of town supermarket. David concentrates hard on the smooth tarmac ahead as cars speed past with no fear of potholes or wildlife hazards to slow them down. Windscreen wipers at full speed in the slow lane, he is momentarily blinded by the spray from a passing lorry. He never ceases to be amazed that vehicles that indicating do in fact follow through by changing lanes or turning in the correct direction.
‘Careful! That bus might pull out!’ shouts Lizzie,
‘No Darling, this is England remember’ counters David.
The children are squabbling in the back as a result of the sugar high. David and Lizzie have a policy whilst on holiday to allow the children as many sweets as they like on the basis that they rarely get them at home. Their mouths are sticky, hands and feet filthy. Acacia’s shoes are off again.
David has sent Taro off to get a shopping trolley but he comes back empty handed saying that they are all chained together and refuse to pull apart. The children disperse amongst the aisles playing hide and seek. After shopping, Lizzie stands at the check out gazing into space for some time before realising that it is she who is supposed to be packing the bags. David splutters over the £150 bill for a few electric toothbrushes, bottles of sun cream and ‘Any-way-up’ cups.
David’s trip to head office the day before had been a disaster. He was stopped at the barrier at Victoria Station for holding the wrong type of ticket that he had mistakenly taken from the vending machine and then refused entry onto a red double-decker bus for not possessing an ‘Oyster Card’. Then when he wanted to buy few new music cds he was told by a spotty youth in HMV that his credit card was refused. Back home Lizzie’s parents are increasinly exasperated by their house being taken over by thousands of shopping bags, marauding grandchildren and to add to their woes, persistent muddy footprints all over the pale green fitted carpets.
Only five more days and the looming dread of the West End production of Lion King to go before finally getting home….