01 02 03 Africa Expat Wives Club: I can't remember the last time it rained...and the trials of working freelance 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

I can't remember the last time it rained...and the trials of working freelance

 Okay, obviously I do remember the big November rains, and possibly a shower at around Christmas time - but since then it has been Dry, Dry, Dry here in Nairobi.  Everyday is unfailingly sunny - clear blue skies.  I keep looking at the weather forecast and only find a week's worth of round orange suns in a row.  I'm not complaining.  It's heaven, but I do notice that the once green grass is starting to crisp up.  The leaves of our potted yucca plant have been blasted yellow by fierce sunshine.  And water is beginning to be a vague concern - as is usual for this time of year.  We've had to order a few water trucks since the City Council supply has dried up.


It's exam week this week for our eldest daughter.  She's only 11 but somehow the build-up has been seriously heavy going this time.  Kids are under so much pressure these days.  The school tries to strike a medium, suggesting: 'start revising over Christmas' and 'don't overdo it - yawning children do not perform well in exams'.  Peer pressure is as much about parents as it is children.  The result - we seem to have been focused on these bloomin' exams for months, whether we like it or not.

Admittedly, I'm not very good at 'revision guidance' either.  Yesterday I found my daughter faithfully re-creating her already beautifully executed diagrams from her science book (she loves drawing)- with a lot of painstaking colouring-in.  The Tiger mother in me flipped - 'Colouring in?! WHAAT? How about trying to just read through the book and absorbing some of the facts!' 

She'll be itching to leave home in just over a year's time - but I'm still not sure we'll be willing to let her go - poor thing!


"I write when I'm inspired, and I see to it that I'm inspired at 9:00 every morning."
Peter De Vries
At the moment I am supposed to be 'working'.  Freelance.  I didn't realise how much 'talking about work' and correspondance/meetings for 'lining up work' would be involved before actually DOING any work. 

For instance - we talked about me taking a train trip to Mombasa for a travel mag.  I did my research and got very stressed (last time I went on the train it was delayed for 5 hours).  Then the day before I was due to leave, the trip got cancelled - apparently the Mombasa/Nairobi train will not be taking passengers for the foreseeable future while repairs/upgrading are carried out on the carriages.  Phew. 

Other 'leads' seem, stubbornly, to prefer being 'in the pipeline' than actually bearing fruit.  Contracts look promising enough for me to feel stressed - about the prospect of being stressed and inundated... hopefully..sometime in the foreseeable future - but best not to bank on it yet.  Meanwhile, I'm still trying to figure out how many years it's going to take me to pay back the cost of the work permit.  As you can appreciate - at the moment this is difficult.

So, not wanting to waste time, last week I sent the Tiger Mother article to The Telegraph Weekend - "We did Tiger Mothers last Saturday so won't be covering it again for some time."   Duh (their Tiger Mothers story was posted online just after I sent my email).  Piqued, I stick the article on my blog instead.

I had an enjoyable time ordering snazzy business cards from uk.moo.com - however, not sure if they will ever reach me in Nairobi via conventional post (cost of DHL was prohibitive).   So I only ordered 50 cards and console myself with the fact that it's unlikely that anyone will be interested in lifting them from our postbox en route (as has happened with children's birthday presents etc in the past).


I've also been having fun familiarising myself with the local printer's shop.....

First of all I took a flash drive in there and it got infected with a horrible virus.  It was a very clever virus actually, some dodgy files appear on your flash disk named 'porn' and 'sexy' (please believe me! - none of my friends did - they just laughed in my face) - I didn't notice this until I got home, then when I did put said flash disc into my computer, anything I Googled took me straight to an advertising website. Word documents disappeared. Everything was unravelling.  When I worked out that this was a virus (with the help of a v. patient and also indignant husband who swore blind that he was not responsible for the 'porn' infection), then confronted the print shop (why on earth would I have anything saying porn or sexy on my flash disc I ask you?!) - the shop assistant admitted they had a problem - and that they'd had other complaints.  They swore that they'd finally call in a technician 'with a powerful anti-virus' to deal with the problem.

The second time I went into the same print shop (it took a couple of weeks to get over the first experience), I asked for 2 documents to be printed out and bound.  Admittedly they were quite big documents (100 pages each).

"Colour or black and white?" the lady asked.
"Um, oh let's go for colour." I said blithely. "Why not?  It would be nicer."

I went back an hour later.

"Not finished yet."  They said.
"The printer is very slow."

I go home.  Went back two hours later.

"Well that will cost you around 100 pounds." they said. (Okay not quite - but 10,800 shillings!! Gasp!)


"Well, if you'd asked for black and white it would have been more like 25 pounds."

"So why didn't you say that in the first place?!"  I choke.

"You didn't ask." (She's right - I didn't).

I learn that many customers don't think to ask the price and don't particularly mind paying.  I notice a pile of x1,000 USAID documents piling up on another desk. 

"I guess USAID didn't ask." I say.  (Apparently they did, and they negotiated a small discount.)

"Why aren't your prices clearly displayed anywhere?" I counter - still in shock.. now getting bolshy...

"We don't do that - we don't want our competitors knowing what we charge."

I'm in that fug - a red mist - that I know will be impossible to get out of here without blowing a fuse at some point - but deep down you know it won't help - so I do my best to keep cool.  Focus - deal with problem in hand.... 

(It reminds me of a situation that I often find myself in Nairobi.  You  are at the till and suddenly get asked to pay more for an item than the price tag shows.  The shop assistant tells you, 'sorry, we got the pricing wrong - but if the computer says it costs more - that's that' -  You find yourself thinking nostalgically of Trading Standards back home; how selling something for more than it's advertised price is ....illegal - and then you give up - because there's no point in arguing, you are not so principled that you are able to hand the item back so you hand-over the cash - and leave the shop feeling robbed of a bargain.)

So - back to the printer's.  That's all my profits wiped from the first commission in one fail swoop.  Trying to negotiate the price down after the 'fait accompli' was no joke.  I don't (quite) lose my temper, but swear that I'll never go back to that shop.  However, inevitably I probably will go back (if I'm not banned) because it's convenient and who I am trying to kid - I'll get over it.

I do actually have a couple of commissions to get on with now, but as you can see I'm procrastinating as usual.  One is an article (at my suggestion) describing the highs and lows of working freelance - I thought that was apt - goodness knows I could do with researching the subject. 

- I don't think that I'm going to be very good at this. 

Note to self no 1. Go and buy printer cartridges.

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