Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Now only an afternoon leaver's party for the 6 year olds today (I am providing jellies and cooked sausages), a school play, a final assembly and speech day, handing out of teacher's presents, receiving of reports and two birthday parties to go! Then, after getting things straight at home, off to England!!
Monday, June 29, 2009
My friend who lives in Dar es Salaam says that everybody there shudders when there is any mention of Nairobi.
'It's the terrible crime that I could not live with' they say.
She arrives at our house shaking in her boots, but after two days decides that it is absolute heaven here and she is ready to pack her bags and move to Kenya asap. The beautiful gardens, the shops, the wonderful people - she loves it! Ironically we had a bad break-in (after a few previous attempts too) when living in Dar es Salaam so the past 6 years of living in Nairobi has felt like a much safer existence for us (touch wood!).
Refreshingly, South African friends think that living in Nairobi is a walk in the park compared to the senseless killing in places like Jo'burg.
'They shoot you dead in front of your kids, just to get your mobile phone down there - I love Nairobi. It's much better.'
I think that the trouble is, there is a misconception that foreigners might be particularly targeted here in Kenya, when in fact the opposite is the case. Foreigners can generally afford very good security, dogs etc. they are usually pretty safe - it is the middle class Kenyans and the poor who are far more likely to be victims of crime. Corporate crime is also on the rise.
If you travel on a matatu/bus, you are more at risk as you are likely to be robbed of your pay packet on the way home. Sometimes thugs take over the bus, drive off into the bush and mug everybody on board. Robbing from poorer people is easier.
Our friendly cab driver lost his car in a car jacking incident - it was just an anonymous, untraceable old white Toyota Corolla that you would not think that anybody would particularly want - the tragedy was that it was also his entire livelihood. Raila Odinga's aide got car jacked in Karen last week and was bundled into the boot for hours, that made the news. A bank cashier I met said she was held at gunpoint in her home as they took her TV.
At the moment there are apparently up to 18 car jackings per night in Nairobi. The routine is often the same, there is an obstacle laid in the road (ie rocks or a telegraph pole), you might get stopped in traffic, or you are surrounded when arriving back home at your gate/compound after dark. At gun point, you are put in the boot of your (usually saloon) car and driven around for a few hours, often via the cashpoint so that you can draw your maximum daily allowance to hand over to the villains. Once in a relatively remote spot, you may be let out and they thieves drive away.
Kiss FM are advertising a Group 4 security gadget called 'Porto-track' a portable tracking device that can either locate your car if it is stolen, or be carried on your person for saftety. It is then possible to raise an alarm/call for back up when necessary. One of the DJs said jokingly;
'keep it in the boot of your car, that way, you will have it to hand when you are put in there by car jackers!'
A particularly dodgy place for car jacking is currently the unfinished Nairobi ring road that leads from near the airport to Ngong Road just outside Karen. The first dirt section from Mombasa Road to Langata Road is well policed and usually not a problem, but the second half on the other side of Langata Road, past Kibera and through the forest to Ngong Road is the more dangerous section. You might ask why anyone would take an unfinished dirt road if there was a risk - but if you know Nairobi traffic, you will understand why. I must admit, we have done it a few times.
A friend was driving along the second section a week ago on a Friday evening after work. He took it because Langata Road was utterly jammed. He knew it was risky and for some reason was feeling particularly alert that day (having taken the route lots of times before without a problem). It was not dark, but he was driving into the setting sun so used his sun visor. He said he even switched the radio off to concentrate more, and left his mobile phone ringing rather than answer it. He drove past Kibera, which was fine as usual. he said,
'people are actually very friendly there'
then, as he got into the forest he saw a parked saloon car in the middle of the road. Alarm bells started ringing. He slowed down well ahead to consider whether there was room to pass - sure enough, as he did this, men leapt out from the bushes wielding machetes, rocks and guns. The friend slammed into reverse and went backwards as fast as possible- the men chased him on foot. When he saw they were gaining on him, he slammed back into a forward gear, straight through them (they thew stones but didn't really have time to react) then somehow swerved around the car that was blocking his path and sped away.
A kilometre later a police patrol was passing. Our friend flagged them down and explained what had just happened and where to find the gang. The police were sympathetic and said they would go to investigate, but that that area was a real problem for them to control.
I'm not sure if there is much you can do about Nairobi's crime. My advice would be:
1) don't panic about it, if you worry all the time you will be a miserable wreck - then you might be hit by a bus when on home leave. That would be ironic?!
2) remember that security reports sent round on email from security companies and driving schools are designed to help their businesses, not just scare the living daylights out of you. If you find it upsetting, just stop reading them for a while.
3) remember that you are not necessarily a prime target.
4) lock your car doors, especially when sitting in traffic.
5) if returning home at night make sure the gateway to your compound is well lit and the gate is opened quickly. Phone ahead if this makes it easier.
6) If you are in a hold up situation, do as you are told. Do not resist, do not scream, follow instructions, act dumb not street savvy. Horrible as it is you are most likely to walk away unharmed when the experience is over, having lost your valuables.
7) Remember that people have lived here for more than ten, even twenty years without any incidence of crime affecting them. It is possible that you will be lucky.
Friday, June 26, 2009
It very sad that Michael Jackson has gone (prematurely, in true legend fashion) - but he has been off the scene for so long that it is a strange feeling today. It makes you feel retrospective, almost kind of homesick. His greatest music represents points in my adolescence - 'The girl is mine' I loved when I was about the same age as my eldest daughter is now, rugby club discos at 16 and buying the 'Dangerous' album on double tape at university and loving it - having to justify loving it too cooler goths (though I have to admit it was a bit schmaltzy compared to his previous stuff). His music is so fab for dancing. 'I just can't control my feet' - I was up there every time.
He was brilliant - but I have to admit that he hasn't been played on my ipod much lately.
He was hailed for truely 'crossing over' from black to white, transcending gender - becoming a worldwide mega star - the like of which is apparently a dying breed these days. Ironic then that he was born black then died a white man. I wonder what will happen with his children?
When I expressed an interest in going to the Michael Jackson concert in UK, my husband secretly investigated, but then told me our holiday dates did not fit in with his tour (would never have got tickets anyway). They said on the BBC radio that Google searches on 'Michael Jackson' were in so many billions at one time that they almost jammed the worldwide system - at one point Google apparently suspected foul play - a plot to bring down their search engine.
Coincidentally, the kindergarten school play next week finishes with a finale of 'Heal the World' - very fitting. Our six and three year olds are wandering about the house singing it. MTV has switched into a permanent Michael Jackson tribute with the banner; 'Michael we will never forget you'.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
'It's my birthday!' she announced,
'Party' my husband and I added a little too forcefully, 'not birthday, your birthday party.'
Her face clouded over.
The thinking was that because her birthday will take place during the school summer holidays, (in fact we will be in England at the time) I would throw a party for her and her school friends in advance of the end of term. In expat-land, everybody vacates Nairobi during the 9 week break - some for a long time, others for a shorter time - but anyhow, you can never get everybody together. It's cold, overcast and hard to pin people down in July and August, a sort of nomansland type stretch of time. The thought of 9 weeks entertaining 3 children who are out of school worries me deeply.
Anyway - re the birthday, I was carrying guilt. Last year my daugher simply couldn't understand why she didn't get a party. What happened instead was, we went to a v. stylish, smart, expensive, 'middle class audience dressed in Boden' (see previous post) circus in England on her birthday as a special treat. The problem was that she was ill, sick on the way there - so has somehow erased all that from her mind. What she does know is that she didn't have a party with the Bamboola man and a bouncy castle and friends.
In another stroke of genius, I offered to share the party with my daughter's best friend, who is also born in July and will be away from home on her birthday. Now we will have 2 cakes and party guests will be compelled to bring two presents. This just adds to the confusion.
My daughter's friend said in the car yesterday,
'Amber (a mutual friend) says she won't come to my party, but she is coming to yours' (pointing at my daughter)
'OK,' I interjected, 'but you girls are sharing a party - so Amber's coming to both'...I think I trailed off at the point where my daughter's friend said in a frustrated voice.
'Yes, but Amber says she doesn't want to come to my party!'
My main dilemma is that I have my daughter's lovely birthday presents hidden away in a high cupboard and don't know when to give them to her? I have out-done myself organisationally speaking because, among other things, I carried a Sylvanian Families Caravan in its box back from England last April (at that point we were planning to be in Nairobi in July - so would have all been straightforward). Now I certainly don't intend to hump her bulky present back to England again for her to open there and lose all the tiny pieces in various relatives houses. In the world of long haul flying, rental cars and luggage allowances etc. that would be madness.
So do I let her believe it is her birthday today - give her all the presents or what? We are all confused??!! What a muddle.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
- A forum would mean that readers can exchange information and chat. Readers might be planning to move here (i.e. to East Africa or Kenya) from overseas - desperately looking for help on cost of living, food, accomodation, schools, doctors, jobs - you name it.
- You might just be thinking of holidaying or travelling in East Africa and looking for tips?
- Desperate expat housewives all around the world might want to share stories about living overseas - a fish out of water. New arrivals here might want to ask about how to handle malarial mosquitos or control sugar ants.
- I get lots of comments from Kenyans currently living overseas who read this blog in order to keep up with what's going 'back home', albeit from a slightly skewed expat housewife point of view.
- Others who once lived in East Africa some time ago say they read this blog because it brings back memories - I would like to hear more of these stories.
- Perhaps you are reintegrating after an expat experience and finding it hard (can't imagine what that's like myself? Would love to know!).
N.b. taking part in the forum does not require you to be any of the below:
a) in Africa
c) an expat
Please do take part if you feel like it - that way it becomes a bit of fun!
I am not in the least bit technical or computer minded but have somehow I have managed to set up a forum already (in 3 easy steps - a bit like setting up this blog). You will have to be patient with me for a while and maybe check the site later in the week when it is properly up and running.
the address? http://africaexpatwivesclub.forumotion.com/
Let's see what happens ...
Saturday, June 20, 2009
In an uncharacteristic fit of enthusiasm, I bought some 'as close to Farrow and Ball stylish beigy, greeny, lizard' colour as I could find in the 'Crown Paints' range. Also some sandpaper, a stripper thingy, paints, white spirit etc. etc. I then did that thing that people do when they live here - I delegated the job to our gardener. For a week or so, dedicated stripping took place followed by careful painting at the heat of the day to speed up the drying process.
By the end they looked wonderfully smart.
This afternoon my husband drove his Rhino Charge car (huge, 4 wheel drive beast) straight into our smart gates. The result was a mangle of metal - tear jerking. His excuse 'I had no brakes - I had no where to go'.
I was secretly glad the gates were shut - if they had been open he would have sped out onto the road (down hill), possibly across oncoming traffic and into a stone wall. Did I say that my husband's godson (12) and his brother (11) was hanging off the back of the rhino charge car at the time? They looked white.
I didn't say anything - we all felt mildly in shock. I thought that new gates were in order. It was a mess.
My husband, being him, called in back up (a small army of fundis) and spent all afternoon welding the mangled wreck back together. We now have spot welded, bent, twisted gates hanging back up sort of crooked- but they are there in situ. Crisis (almost) averted.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
We were not deterred until on the way to the cinema we saw a dead body lying by a smashed bicycle and a burnt-out bus, which didn't bode well for our evening, especially as we were in search of light entertainment. Armed police were guarding the roadside scene.
Arriving just in time for the 'main feature', we sat through the film which was too long and full of 40 somethings trying to suspend our disbelief that they were 30 somethings (ie Jennifer Anniston, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly), all caught up in teenaged type relationships angst.
I don't know if it was just the super huge screen, but they all looked old - their faces were 12 foot high and yes, there were wrinkles - even noticeable on Jen who reportedly spends $20,000 per month on her appearance. It all became clear when I read in the final credits that Drew Barrymore co-produced the movie - she must be living in a parallel universe where 40 is the new 20.
I felt much the same watching Mama Mia with Meryl Streep and Julie Walters bouncing on a bed aged sixty, pretending to be in their late 40s. Call me ageist but I would have far rather watched a film about the pretty Sophie and left out the bit with her aged aunts and uncles/mums and dads (or whatever). It would have been hugely more enjoyable to have watched Sophie dancing and singing with her youthful boyfriend in Corfu than hear Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth make strangled crooning sounds with shirts undone to their naval and Meryl Streep in her dungarees with lanky locks (16/61) - a mental image which I sadly cannot rid from my mind.
There are lots of lovely, young actors and actresses - lets give them a sporting chance! After all movies are supposed to be about escapism?! Models know their shelf life - lets have a bit of turn over in these female leads.
I don't mind watching the Cameron Diaz et al on the big screen, but just beg that they are cast in age appropriate roles. Sadly, in spite of their best efforts, these actresses (Demi Moore) and singers (Madonna) do not hold the secret of eternal youth. Watching them with surround sound on mega huge cinema screens with enhanced imaging just reminds us all of the dreaded slippery slope. Tick Tock.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Anyway, I admit I do read the mag (desperate for reading fodder in Africa but would never hand over money for it) and in the June issue I hit upon an article entitled ‘An inconvenient Truth’ by Helen Kirwin-Taylor. She wrote a page on ‘moral disengagement’ with reference to fiddling expenses, political smear campaigns, Bernard Madoff and the like – and the fact that we can all slip into committing the same crimes albeit on a smaller scale. One point she made grated and sparked another Expat Wife style diatribe I’m afraid,
‘A report by Harvard Business School suggests that moral disengagement is not just the prerogative of Nazi prison guards. Every time we buy a pair of jeans made in sweatshops (which would once have made us ill). We are – morally speaking – teetering on the edge.’
The raging debate on sweatshops seems to me to be akin to the favourite bugbear topic of mine ‘food miles’. Sweatshops have been an unsavoury reality since the rise of globalisation but I’m afraid I really don’t see why you should feel guilty buying cheap clothes from sweatshops, and here’s why...
It’s funny how, during a recession, the moral high ground takes a bit of a beating because, frankly, no one can afford to keep it up. As sales of expensive local/organic foods from farmer’s markets tapers off let’s hope that shoppers are returning to the purchase of ‘cheaper’ Kenyan beans (better for Africa who, let’s face it, needs all the help it can get at the best of times).
Living in a developing country for ten years gives you an altered perspective to those who live in the West whether you like it or not. The disparity of wealth here is crystal clear. There are constant reminders and no escaping it. A friend’s employee gardener died of AIDS recently. She helped sort out his personal possessions that were left at her house for his grieving widow; a broken mirror, an old comb, some dirty overalls, a plastic bag with chapattis inside. Scales fall from your eyes as you witness hand to mouth living in such difficult circumstances, that you would never have believed could exist in the 21st century, but that is how it is. Fact.
I won’t aggravate everybody by saying I am blatantly in favour or sweatshops, – but just want to point out that it is hardly a cut and dry topic. I don't agree with unfair working hours, contact with harmful substances. low wages, lack of health and safety but in developing countries working in sweatshops offers a way out of the following;- starvation, back breaking subsistence farming, unemployment, stone breaking, rubbish picking, street hustling or prostitution - to name but a few unsavoury alternatives that are sources of employment for millions here.
Often foreign owned companies pay substantially higher wages than locally owned firms. Of course I don’t condone child labour when that issue rears its ugly head, but isn't earning a wage better than child prostitution, rubbish picking or death? Sadly, you only need to look about you in Africa to see that school is not a viable option for all children – I only wish it was. The day of the African child (16th June 2009) estimated that 38 million children of school going age are out of school in Africa.
It’s easy to get on a high horse and say;
‘Oh, but it should be like this in Africa; schooling for all and everybody earning a higher minimum wage – otherwise it’s not fair or just.’
OK, yes, in an ideal world I agree, but the fact is that if a global company can offer a source of reliable employment in the tricky environment of a developing country, overcoming inherent problems of bureaucracy and corruption, then surely the perceived 'sweatshop' is better than no job being available at all?
Below, I am shamelessly taking an extract used in another blog ‘The Economist’s View’.
In Praise of the Maligned Sweatshop, by Nicholas D. Kristof: Africa desperately needs Western help in the form of schools, clinics and sweatshops. Oops, don't spill your coffee. We in the West mostly despise sweatshops as exploiters of the poor, while the poor themselves tend to see sweatshops as opportunities. ...
On a street here in the capital of Namibia, ... I spoke to a group of young men who were trying to get hired as day labourers on construction sites. "I come here every day," said Naftal Shaanika, a 20-year-old. "I actually find work only about once a week."
Mr. Shaanika and the other young men noted that the construction jobs were dangerous and arduous, and that they would vastly prefer steady jobs in, yes, sweatshops. Sure, sweatshop work is tedious, gruelling and sometimes dangerous. But overall, sewing clothes is considerably less dangerous or arduous — or sweaty — than most alternatives in poor countries.
Well-meaning American university students regularly campaign against sweatshops. But instead, anyone who cares about fighting poverty should campaign in favour of sweatshops, demanding that companies set up factories in Africa. ... [T]hat would fight poverty far more effectively than any foreign aid program. ...
The problem is that it's still costly to manufacture in Africa. The headaches ... include red tape, corruption, political instability, unreliable electricity and ports, and an inexperienced labour force... The anti-sweatshop movement isn't a prime obstacle, but it's one more reason not to manufacture in Africa. ...
So companies like Nike, itself once a target of sweatshop critics, tend not to have highly labour-intensive factories in the very poorest countries, but rather more capital-intensive factories ... in better-off nations like Malaysia or Indonesia. And the real losers are the world's poorest people.
Some of those who campaign against sweatshops respond ... by noting that they aren't against factories in Africa, but only demand a "living wage" in them. ... One problem ... is that it already isn't profitable to pay respectable salaries, and so any pressure to raise them becomes one more reason to avoid Africa altogether. ...
I would say DON’T feel guilty about buying clothes from sweatshops – but DO feel guilty if you discard the item thoughtlessly without getting any wear out of them. DON’T buy too many clothes, and if you have to buy then DO recycle them (never just bin them).
This way, your hardly worn clothes may end up in Africa’s mitumba (second hand) markets. The mitumba trade is a major, job providing industry here, making fashionable clothes affordable to the masses when forty years ago, many people in East Africa had to go without clothes at all. Oh, it’s all just such a far cry from the pages of Tatler isn’t it?!
Friday, June 12, 2009
What I set out to do in this blog is dispel the myth that (I would argue) exists overseas, of an expat life in Africa being some kind of gilded, over privileged existence. UK journalists STILL can't help throwing in the phrase 'Happy Valley', in anything they write on Kenya. I believe that there is still the widely held conception that for expats; living in Kenya is all about wonderful safaris, lounging on beaches and following your heart then finding your destiny. Nobody talks about supermarket shopping or the fact that your bins are sorted through every week or there is a man who sleeps on the grass every night outside our house.... Popular novels such as 'I dreamed of Africa' and 'Call of the Wild', plus TV programs like 'Big Cat Diary' perpetuate this myth. It is pure escapism.
An acquaintance argued that outside Kenya 'people love reading all this stuff - romance, big skies and the bush etc.' and would rather not know about the nitty gritty - but I don't really see any humour in that. So what I am trying to do here is redress the balance and with any luck, make one or two people smile.
At the very least, a picture of an (albeit mundane) expat story, but grounded in reality is of more use to people moving here from overseas than romantic novels. They need to know about schools, doctors and dentists not just beautiful holidays that they might be able to take if they can ever afford it. In addition, I would like to cheer up those in often rain soaked England who are facing the harsh realities of the economic crisis - and say 'running away to somewhere hot is nice - but it's not necessarily all it's cracked up to be.'
I love getting feedback from Kenyans living overseas who say they like reading this blog. Kenyan students I met recently were also mildly interested in understanding what makes the expats living in their country tick. To them, the expats they saw about the place were a mystery and I fear, not very well thought of.
BTW - On something totally different - Uhuru Kenyatta's Budget was announced yesterday - it was well received, a crowd pleaser as far as I can tell. One of the most talked about changes was a ban on big 'gas guzzling' cars for MPs - but otherwise Government employees came out smiling with a better deal for them and no much feared requirement for them to begin to pay their taxes. Next we have to wait and see what happens re: implimentation.
Also, Kofi Annan has given another deadline for Kenya pull it's finger out and set up a local tribunal in order to try those central characters responsible for inciting mass violence following the Dec 2007 election. Unless a tribunal is set up by August, Annan will pass his secret 'envelope of names', given to him after the Waki Report was conducted, to The Hague ICC. This news only made the back page of the Standard today. It seems that any kind of scandal here is easily swept under the carpet in the hopes that the general public will forgive and if not, forget.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
‘How wonderful!’ they reply full of awe.
At this point I smile and say, ‘yes it is!’ rather smugly, but to be honest the truth is rather different for a town loving person like me. Once used to spending free time indulging myself in pastimes such as shopping, selecting nice outfits to wear and arranging whole weekends around meeting friends at restaurants or pubs, I find that living in Africa is stretching my comfort zone.
The thing is; my sense of adventure is buried so deep within me as to be undetectable. I hate camping and even find picnics hard work.
While old Kenya hands make nothing of throwing a gas stove, a tent and a sheepskin rug into the back of the ‘Landy’ for a camping trip and torment me by looking agonisingly relaxed and in control, I am sent into spasms of nervous angst. The prospect of being away from home comforts terrifies me. Swatting flies, treading on thorns, squatting behind bushes and being plunged into inescapable heat is not something I relish. Horrible lists begin to take shape before my eyes, as the preparation required seems enormous. I hate making lists.
In addition, I know, from reluctant experience that for me camping in Africa involves thorns, lack of shade, intolerable heat, an uncomfortable, sleep deprived night spent amongst wild animals, nuisance baboons and tiny ants that get into everything. Sometimes even snakes and scorpions to boot.
Rather than seeing camping as a challenge, arriving at an unspecific location many hours from home to stay in a place without running water or bathroom facilities has seen me lock myself in the car with air conditioning blasting for some time, belligerently refusing to get out. When my husband sighs and says, ‘isn’t this a beautiful spot?’ My reaction is to think of more suitable words like, ‘hell’.
It was just as bad when we lived at the coast. An inexperienced sailor, at weekends I was required to feign bravado before heading out onto the shark infested Indian Ocean in a flimsy Laser, making for some distant sand bar that only reveals itself at low tide. Sunburned and traumatised after being nearly mown down by the daily Zanzibar ferry, I swore to myself ‘never again’. We even joined the ‘Hash House Harriers’, an expat running club, in a desperate attempt to make friends and found ourselves wheezing through six kilometre runs cross country at dusk, sweltering in nearly one hundred percent humidity. For more than a few years I felt homesick for not just family but the changing seasons back home.
When I read or hear about the experiences of early settlers in East Africa I feel rather humbled. Elspeth Huxley’s mother and father reacted against what they called ‘encroaching civilisation’ after years of living in Thika, by moving to the wild foothills of Mount Kenya to escape crossing paths with other dreaded people. In their place I would have been delightedly laying on tea for newcomers, pathetically grateful for company. Karen Blixen managed her coffee farm single handed and had to ride two hours to the centre of Nairobi in the early 1900s. Isolated expatriate families working for the colonial government and stationed out in ‘the bush’, would have needed a heavy dose of adventurous spirit to face the hardships of living far from doctors, shops and communications. Many were dogged by ill health for their whole lives.
A lady I met recently told me she was sent with her husband to a heavily Masai area, Kajiado, down near the Tanzanian border.
‘I was living in a rather dull grey stone house with corrugated iron roof and windows with no glass. For two years, from dawn til dusk I had a crowd of curious Masai circling the house, staring in at me.’
I also met an intrepid German lady who lives on the edge of the Ngorogoro Crater. She arrived in the 1970s with her farming husband and in order to set up home was compelled to learn butchery, grow all her vegetables, milk cows, make butter and experiment with making furniture (after overseeing the building of her own house). She was grateful to have had a post second world war handbook to give her practical tips at the time.
Another friend’s great grandparents left England and worked as doctors on the baking shores of Lake Turkana in the late 19th century. It seems incredible that they survived and their descendants are living here still.
Since moving to Africa and while certainly privileged to be here, I have had to familiarise myself with long drop loos, potholed roads, what goes on under the bonnet of four wheel drive vehicles, mango worms (grubs that bury themselves under your skin), doses of dysentery, sunburn, jellyfish stings and dehydration. While I cannot deny the backdrop is undeniably breathtaking and there are many wonderful things about living here, life in Africa is not always as hopelessly romantic as it seems. However, faced with 9 weeks of summer holidays with three stir crazy kids, I have a feeling desperation will drive us to find that camping rears its ugly head at some point!
Monday, June 08, 2009
It's June and the school calendar is hotting up. Today I was handed ten metres of brightly coloured fabric to fashion into multicoloured ribbons on elastic - there was no warning that this was coming... but I smiled sweetly nonetheless. How on earth did it get out that I have a sewing machine?
I also find myself preparing all sorts of material for my 9 year old daughter's LAMDA exam -sticking printed out bits on manilla paper and attempting to help her sum up the story: 'My Tudor Queen, Diary of Eva de Puebla 1501-1513' into a 2 minute synopsis (it strictly must not exceed 2 minutes). - harder than you might think considering the number of historic figures who die or get married during that period. I am wondering why on earth I paid for this little extra exam/challenge - they should be paying me!
We have birthday parties popping up all over the place (no least our own childrens parties to arrange - one down yesterday), plus leaving parties/lunches for mums who are moving on in late June/early July to pastures new/new countries - as expats generally do. It's unsettling.
The middle daughter is in a highly competative interschools football tournament on Friday. She is 6 years old. I think that they should put the parents on the pitch instead. I can't wait until she is in a class with more than 8 pupils and she can gracefully bow out of football in favour of more girly pursuits. Watching her take part in the last match from the sidelines, standing stock still as if lost in a very absorbing dream was fairly agonising, especially as her fellow boy piers were giving it their all (amidst their parents cheering). When she was subbed out, my daughter cried with bitter disappointment. Trying not to be too much of a pushy parent, I asked her what went wrong. She said,
'But Mummy, it was so hot - I just didn't feel like it.'
Today that same daughter has her induction to her new school. She is the only one from her kindergarten going in september. I need to pull out some clean clothes out of a drawer for her, brush her hair then push her off to find some new friends - fingers tightly crossed behind my back.
The end of the school year always means change....and lots of pulling of weight of parents. It's all school plays, sports, parent teacher meetings, tests - notification of school fees going up from September. On the upside, at least the dreaded common entrance is now over for those bigger kids who can now kick back and look forward to a long summer before changing schools. The thought of preparing our children those exams strikes fear into my heart already, especially as I have been eavesdropping random words like 'extra tuition' spoken by more experienced parents on the school play ground recently - can't wait until its our turn!! Will certainly be getting my knickers in a twist.
For Mums like me, living through your kids vicariously is seriously hard work! Phew!
Friday, June 05, 2009
I have heard that pirates’ powerful outboard motors are sourced in Kenya. Plus Kenyan security companies are being asked to handle the ‘cash in transit’ facilitating the deliver of ransom money to the hoodlums, in return for a generous percentage of the millions. Afterwards, the pirates' ill gotten gains are being funnelled through the Kenyan economy as Somalis invest in properties here in an attempt to launder their money and for want of investment opportunities in Somalia.
Listening to BBC world service on the radio yesterday I hit upon an interesting report. A Dutch shipping line representative was talking openly about paying a ransom to pirates in return for his ship and crew. There were recorded discussions between a pirate negotiator, the shipping agent and also the security company who were hired to deliver the money. The process took some 60 days of negotiation.
Few (if any?) other shipping organisations have been willing to admit to the payment of a ransom in return for their ships. However, the Dutchman explained that he was speaking out because he felt that the pirates are more organised than the shipping industry and it was time for a change.
He said that in spite of differences between various gangs; the pirates do get together, forming a sort of council. They discuss where there might be common problems within their illegal trade and they also discuss strategy, which makes them a powerful force to tackle. Apparently ship owners have not come together like this and there is a distinct lack of dialogue going on. Each time a higher ransom is paid for one ship; it raises the bar for all the others. The failure to open lines of communication in the legitimate sea trade means that the pirates are laughing all the way to the bank.
And the bank, it seems, is situated in Kenya. Somali pirates are choosing to invest their money in Kenya due to the fact that the economy here is relatively strong. The Eastleigh area of Nairobi has long been known as ‘Little Mogadishu’ as it is full of Somalis who have chosen to settle in Kenya. Now money is pouring in through this community and wealthy pirates are known to be buying shopping centres, hotels and apartment blocks here. An interesting newspaper article about one such newly rich, retired pirate who now lives in Nairobi can be found by clicking on the link below:
So while the whole world collectively frowns on piracy, it may be worth Kenya keeping its head down and mouth shut. Having millions of used American dollars filtering into the economy here is no bad thing - in fact it's good for business, especially while the rest of the world struggles desperately to keep its head above water. I would guess that some businesses in Kenya are very much, but very privately, pro piracy and hoping that long may it continue! I even saw a matatu with the word 'PIRATES' emblazoned over its windscreen.
Thursday, June 04, 2009
I had my first facial the other day (persuaded by a friend) and wondered why the hell I was paying for someone to squeeze my spots when I was perfectly capable of doing this myself at home. My other friend said her mother in law had a facial every week of her life (she is now in her 80s) and consequently has wrinkle free skin, smooth as a baby's bottom. I can attest to this as I have met her. I walked out of the spa with pricey vitamin A, C and E cream, plus pore refiner and cleanser. Am I a mug?
A group of my forty plus year old friends have been doing stints on the catwalk for fashion designer friends locally, getting their knickers in a twist about hair, make-up and being thin enough. One or two people I know of, have had botox, but in my circles that is seen as going a little too far.
I looked on the Nakumatt shelf at the skin care section and was bewildered by a whole new language in anti-ageing: deep purifying, contour perfector, pore tightening, collagen filler, deep control, age re-perfect, de-crinkling, rehydrating, anti cellulite draining, illuminating, renewing, zooming mark corrector, you name it. Help. Didn't buy anything.
My friends and I find ourselves talking about ageing all the time. One friend said,
‘I saw myself in the mirror at yoga and thought I actually looked quite good, that is until I realised that I was hanging upside down!’
Another is concerned about her jowls,
‘But when I have a tan, these deep lines stay horribly white!’
Another is considering an eye lift,
‘I had never thought about it before, but you see, when I do this,’ she said pulling up the skin around her forehead, ‘it looks so much better!!’
I think I need to get a job to keep sane and pay the school fees. - but first, the work permit......
Top 10 Packing tips for the beach:
1. Sun hat with a wide brim, sunglasses, sun cream. At least factor 30
2. Long, loose, light coloured cotton trousers and tops for evenings. Remember; dark colours always attract mosquitoes.
3. Kikoys or sarongs. To wear with swim suits, bikinis, vest tops.
4. An old shirt or t-shirt - that you don’t mind wearing in the water to avoid sunburn i.e. when snorkelling.
5. Shoes for walking on the Reef. Sea urchin spines do penetrate through ‘crocs’, an old pair of trainers is better.
6. Flip flops and or sandals - for when it is so hot that you can’t bear to squeeze on shoes!
7. A sealed container to keep any food or snacks protected from tiny sugar ants that appear from nowhere.
8. Mosquito repellent. A spray or roll-on is best. Those containing a high percentage of Deet often remove the dye from your shoes, transferring it onto your skin.
9. Mosquito/bug spray. A quick spray under the net at dusk will ensure an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
10. Treated mosquito net. If you do not want to carry a net, it is worth carrying a very effective net treatment tablet (locally available) and small spray bottle for treating your hotel net yourself, thus ensuring that malarial mosquitoes steer clear.
No need to pack anything as warm as jeans or wool jumpers – you just won’t wear them.
Top 10 Packing tips for the bush:
1. Wide brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen (as before)
2. Warmer clothes for chilly evenings, such as a woollen jumper and jeans. You are likely to find yourself sitting out of doors by a fire pit at dusk or after dinner.
3. Kikoy, wrap or scarf - for cool mornings and evenings on game drives.
4. Binoculars and camera.
5. Long, light weight trousers or shorts for daytime. Do pack layers of clothing that can easily be removed or added throughout the day.
6. Trainers or walking shoes. Be sure to step gingerly over trails of biting safari ants and beware of thorns hidden in grass under trees and bushes!
7. Mosquito repellent.
8. Wet wipes and or tissues for cleaning dust off hands or face and for impromptu toilet stops in the bush!
9. Torch. Always invaluable on safari.
10. Guide books or reference books with a relevant wildlife section. Identifying animals and birds can add a lot to the fun to your safari.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Meanwhile, I unsportingly stayed home with the kids. Monday was a bank holiday and our lovely ayahs disappeared on Saturday morning in a flash for the long weekend, leaving me in charge for once - it was terrifying! I did the cinema, water slides, friends over for lunch, pizza restaurant, play centre - you name it, in an attempt to pass the time.
My husband had been on the Rhino Charge - a world class off road event that takes place 'somewhere' in the Kenyan bush each year - always a secret location until the actual weekend itself. The event has been running for twenty years and has now raised enough money to complete the fencing of the Aberdare rain forest, Nairobi's water catchment area. The fence keeps animals from destroying farmers land and stops people encroaching into the forest reserve.
Somehow the Rhino Charge competition is addictive. Over the past six years the car that stands in our drive has morphed from a standard long wheel based landrover pickup, to a monster on huge wheels and Unimog axles - and not without some considerable sweat. Weekends of 'tinkering' in the garage have become standard. The run up to the Rhino Charge is always high stress as modifications to the car are completed.
Each team has a driver, navigator and four runners. The idea is to reach thirteen checkpoints hidden in the bush within ten hours, in the shortest possible distance. Each team mate has a map and a GPS each. This means driving down ravines, across river beds, through the bush, in as straight line as possible - like a rhino charging. In all there are around sixty cars competing and each one has to raise as much money as possible for the charity. International journalists attend along with thousands of spectators. One team of rich American tourists this year asked a safari guide to organise them a car and enter them into the event. Teams from overseas also come along. Car 39 raised just shy of 3,000,000 Kenya shillings (27,000 UK pounds).
The event itself seemed to run like a Hollywood movie for Car 39. Highs and lows such as, a flat tyre (try changing one that is the same as your height), helping others stuck stranded on rocks, the car broke, they lost their brakes, the tool box fell off into the bush, in the end they even left their runners in a race to get to the last guard post - only to drive back later and see them emerging from a dusty sunset holding a very heavy metal tool box 'Jack and Jill' and tool roll under one arm. ''We decided that if we came across the spare tyre we might have decided to leave that one" they said.
Team shirts are highly sought after, as there are so many thousands of spectators who want to pledge allegance to one team. Car 39's T-shirts were a distinctive bright orange. First one that was hanging in camp got swiped by a drunken reprobate who the team kept spotting, grinning in the crowd. Then later a wobbly lady brandishing a bottle of wine asked to trade a t-shirt for her booze. One team mate weakened and said yes, then the lady proceeded to stand next to my husband at prize giving so as to look like part of the team. I said to my husband, "So everyone thought she was your ''Rhino Charge'' wife''. Terrific. I think that I might have to go next year.