It was an odd sort of November 5th and Diwali in Nairobi this year, with all fireworks banned due to possible confusion over security threats and grenade attacks that have been threatened by Al Shabaab since Kenya began its 'incursion' into Somalia to flush the terrorists out.
A strange atmosphere pervades. There was a real worry that the Safari Sevens that took place in Nyayo Stadium last weekend might be a target for attack but fortunately all went smoothly. Somebody summed it up for me yesterday,
"Are you still shopping?" they asked. I was in a large shopping centre (quieter than usual).
"Yes, of course." I said, trying to show some famously British bravado in the face of adversity. "why wouldn't I be?"
"Well, it's okay until it happens" he said, "...if you know what I mean."
To be honest, while the cancellation of fireworks display might have come as a huge disappointment to many children, it was an equally huge relief to plenty of adults, especially those responsible for the pyrotechnic displays.
1. On the upside, cancelling fireworks meant that nobody got killed or maimed at the Karen Club fireworks display, which usually takes lack of health and safety measures to a new level - with small boys throwing firecrackers and lighting their own fireworks willy nilly; toddlers and teenagers alike all disappearing into the poorly lit wooded area, mud, chaos, parents drinking heavily and failing to keep an eye.
2. Our (better policed) school fireworks display was reduced to a 'family fun day' from 1pm-4pm, in aid of charity (Kigulu school in Kibera) and despite fears that the whole thing would be a damp squib without the firework crescendo - it was in fact a great success. The school does normally lay on a 'family fun for charity' organised by the parents association, from 4 until 7pm when the fireworks take place, but this year the whole thing was moved forward in the day so that it included lunch and we were all safely long gone before dark.
Every year I promise myself that I will join the school parent's association (especially since I now have 3 children at the same school) and every year I somehow manage to swerve it. This time I failed to turn up to the first meeting because I didn't read the newsletter, so then managed never to enter the loop of organising anything. I don't like meetings or commitment but have to admit that I do have a bit of a weakness for volunteering on the day. You are generally supposed to just do an hour of volunteering but I'm a bad example. I get very possessive over my 'pitch' and often find it hard to hand over, then walk away saying in loud, martyred tones; "do you know, I was stuck there for two and a half hours!" - but obviously it was only because I wanted to be..and just want everyone to know how marvelous I am.
My all time favourite is the lucky dip where I'll selflessly give hours of my time to collect money and watch little faces light up at each gift and tell the kids to put their rubbish in the bin. There's always a rumour amongst the children that inside the lucky dip is at least one mobile phone (I think there was one once, in the past) - so it's always by far and away the most popular stand.
lemon tart (not mine!)
On the family fun day on Saturday, I arrived feeling ultra sheepish because not only had I omitted to 'sign up' on the PA volunteer sheet but I'd also forgotten to bring my much slaved over Jamie Oliver lemon tart for the PA coffee shop stand. Frustrated and angry at myself, I stood around for a bit, sorely tempted to get back in the car and do the minimum of an hours round trip back home to get the tart. My husband was gainfully employed running his rhino charge car rides (that's a whole other story) and a very efficient rota of teaching staff had been roped in to help. My kids ran off and disappeared with their friends immediately. I felt like a spare wheel.
My fortunes changed when I was distracted by noticing the Head of the PA negotiating with the men who had been hired to turn up with the giant inflatable hamster balls that children could get inside and roll around, also known as 'Zorbs'. She was trying to hand over tickets and sort out a system but it looked like chaos, she was already mobbed by children who angling for the first go while the balls were being inflated.
Zorb in motion
Seeing an opening, I swooped.
"Need any help?" I asked innocently.
The head of the PA was efficient;
"Um, why don't you go and stand over there and get all the children to follow you" she said, "then get them to queue up and group into bunches of five. We want the balls to start over there so that they can roll down the hill."
I took up my position in full sun without a sunhat, but not before first trying (and failing) to steal a stake and ropes queuing system from another, less popular ride (that stallholder was most indignant). Undaunted I strode off to my position like a pied piper with children following and arranged some rounders posts for effect. After I'd got the children into sort of a rough queue that they kept falling out of in boredom, I stood awkwardly at the top of the hill wondering what to do. The hamster balls were still being laboriously inflated - it was taking ages. Undaunted I wrestled the ticketing system and float from the head of the PA's able teenage assistant and started selling advance tickets furiously. The problem was that when I'd sold all the tickets and the first ball turned up, there was a scrum of children all claiming that they were first. Using the numbering on the tickets was also hopeless becuase they all wanted to go with their friends.
"Have you got any kind of system going here?" One dad asked pointedly.
Why anyone would want to climb inside and inflatable ball in the midday sun, then roll down with four friends tumbling on top of them was beyond me, but boy - they kept coming. It soon became clear that we were NOT going to be using the harnesses that were inside the balls. I had to group the children roughly by age mates to prevent crushing, fortunately to some extent they did this themselves. Some protective parents looked concerned. One dad (but only one) pulled out his crying child from the ball and told me that he "didn't think it was really suitable for the younger ones".
Hey ho. Meanwhile, I was having a ball - literally. Yes, I had also forgotten to bring my hat so I was burning up, it was hot, no shade - my own children kept running up to me every five minutes asking for money for other rides and stands and I was getting a little confused between the PA money and my own - but at least I had a job! I was manhandling children in and out of the balls (some quite heavy), getting them to take off their shoes - was given responsibility of holding the odd bag or pair of glasses as they rolled, trying to make sure the balls didn't crush the tree sapling that was in the way and all the while shouting at the top of my voice;
"Look out Below!" as the two children filled balls went hurtling down the hill ready to knock down innocent passers-by. Then,
"Push harder, put your back into it!" when they had to roll it back up again.
I chatted to other kids in the queue while they patiently waited, sold more tickets, counselled smaller ones who had bought tickets but suddenly (and understandably) had second thoughts about getting in, put an emergency call into the chief organiser when I ran low on tickets or high on cash. I was in heaven.
As usual, when a reliever turned up, I wouldn't go - when I did finally hand over, I kept popping back to see if she was okay, only to find that she had implemented a much better queueing and ticketing system than me..I guess I should have simply been grateful that nobody suffered any broken bones.
As I put my feet up in the evening and bit into some lemon tart, I had the warm and noticeably smug feeling wash over me of a good job well done. Roll on next year...ha ha..