Tales & images from life as me…

Archive for June, 2012

TIA Tales – safari etiquette


This is one for anyone planning a safari. Lots you are experienced safari-goers, so feel free to add your own hints and tips too.

You see, it’s travel season – The school holidays are upon us; the migration has gathered in the Serengeti; ex-pats’ families are in summer-mode and anticipate visits, and basically many people will be hitting the road.

It just so happens that I’ve done more than my fair share of insanely long journeys recently and, as a result, I think I’ve become rather good at it (if you can be good at just sitting in car/bus/boat/plane – ok not a skill I’d include on my CV, but still!). Anyway, in preparation for the travel madness I thought I’d share some of my safari etiquette ideas in an effort to help you survive your holiday with several of you all in one vehicle for days at a time!

Safari is a pretty unique travel experience and I thought maybe some of these points would strike a chord with you. As far as I’m concerned there should be proper etiquette rules when it comes to beaches (like ‘no flicking your towel near to sunbathers’ – it’s so annoying!) or when carrying an umbrella (like short people have to carry them up high so as to avoid poking people’s eyes out’!) I thought I’d attempt a similar list for the African bush! Be warned, these may be presented in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek style, but they’re also deadly serious as well! (except maybe the khaki one, that’s really up to you!). Here goes:

1. Wash! Cars are airy but you’re in close proximity and no one likes BO!
2. Excessive amounts of khaki are allowed, encouraged and celebrated!
3. Share your goodies (and don’t forget your driver/guide!)
4. View hogging is not on – views are 360 degrees in most safari vehicles and there no best seat since game might appear anywhere, but if you do end up in the prime spot then have a look, get some pics and then offer to move!
5. Loud swearing is perfectly acceptable around tsetsi flies but absolutely banned around large game – in fact volume of any kind is banned in proximity to large game.
6. Which brings me to music – Music is not for game parks, that’s the birds’ job.
7. Never moan when someone wants to stop for a photo, even if it’s of a boring grey bird!
8. If someone is sleeping always wake them up if you spot good game (but not for gazelle or zebra!)
9. It’s perfectly ok, indeed often necessary, to discuss poo on safari!
10. On that subject – toilet breaks: help each other out and watch for game whilst one person is doing their business. Also, please either bring toilet roll back with you or at least bury it.
11. Mosquito spray should always be sprayed outside the vehicle or room and away from anyone eating!
12. Trying to get a suntan on safari is not cool – bikinis are for beaches, after your safari!
13. Telling other cars where to find the good game is good safari karma.
14. Begging your guide to find one particular type of animal is bad safari karma.
15. Be patient! Guides can’t instruct game where to be; if you want guarantees go to a zoo. Enjoy the landscape, the space, the sounds and smells and don’t be afraid to ask plenty of questions if things are a bit quiet.
16. Don’t ever leave any litter, of any sort, anywhere except in a bin.
17. You are not safe! Don’t get too close, don’t wander around, listen to the guide – these animals are wild! (May sound silly, but you’d be amazed at some of the stories!)
18. Enjoy every minute!

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The Waiting


As an English teacher I had loved the swirling joy of words and their impact on the children in my classes. I had especially thrilled at the transition from ‘I hate reading’ or ‘Oh no not poetry!’ to ‘What are we doing today Miss? Can we do some more…’. Pure magic.

But when I was asked what I really wanted to do, if I could do absolutely anything in the world, I was surprised to hear myself say ‘I’d write.’

I didn’t know what it would be about, but the idea thrilled me and somehow it took hold. So, as many of you know, I stopped teaching, said some very sad goodbyes and decided to at least ‘have a go’.

It isn’t easy, in fact in some ways it’s harder doing it full-time than squeezing writing in around a job – there’s just more pressure I suppose, you’re somehow expected to produce more and get noticed faster! Honestly, it was completely miserable some days, but I don’t want to talk about that here. I think all writers could spend volumes talking about that part and I’m trying to stay positive. No. I wanted to write about the one thing no one ever mentioned – on all the forums, in the ‘how to write’ books, when I spoke to other people in the industry – no one ever mentioned… the waiting.

We are told to build a name for ourselves by any means possible. Perhaps you begin with short story competitions. You find the inspiration, splurge the words onto the page, stroke it, hone it, perfect it, maybe even bravely show someone, and then you send it off… And wait.

Perhaps you start a blog, post some snippets of your day, your work, images from your life. You upload carefully… And wait.

Why not make some money as the book slowly develops? Crafted pitches for feature/article ideas are e-mailed to editors, and what follows? That’s right… you wait!

Enter an online forum for feedback and reviews on your early novel chapters – brilliant idea! The biography is completed, a blurb entered, chapters uploaded. You’ve done your reviews, the points are in the bank, there’s nothing else to do… but wait.

And then there are the agents and the publishers. That’s waiting on a whole other level!

Plus there are the nibbles, now they’re dreadful. Perhaps an editor responds with some initial interest requesting a little more information, so – being a lowly freelancer – you scrabble about getting everything together as instantly as possible. And guess what follows? Oh yes indeed, more waiting!

And what makes the waiting a million times worse is the dark and dreadful presence of The Nothing. There is endless potential for The Nothing to get writers. You see, it seems entirely accepted that as a mere wannabe, you should wait. If you nag or chase or follow up too much they get cross and just ignore you. It is simple expected that you will wait until they deign to contact you. And of course a good chunk of the time that may very well be never. No one needs to worry that writers will ever get big headed – believe me, every single day you are given a great big helping of humble pie. There’s really Nothing worse! The lack of response just leaves you hanging, wondering if you were close or miles away, or if you even registered on their day at all.

And then, just when you think you are worthless and all your efforts are mere pretention, you have killed your babies (a writer’s term not to be taken literally – it means cutting out chunks of text) and tried to please everyone whilst very effectively pleasing no one… there it is… out of The Nothing, comes – Something.

This week it’s been an article commission, last month it was getting placed in the Top Ten Final on YouWriteOn. Whatever it is, it’s that little ray of hope that keeps you going. The problem is that every time you get one you think it’s all alright now. You’ve made it. It’s a done deal! Haven’t you heard of me? No?

Oh, that’s right, it’s just another step along the way. There is more work, and more waiting to be done.

At first I was disappointed, but then I realized something. If every step feels as great as the ones so far have when I finally get up thm, and if every step pushes me as hard as the last few months’ worth have, then perhaps it’s pretty fantastic after all. And in between the waiting, I will work – just to fill the time, you know!


TIA Tales – communication


TIA Tales – Communication

As much as we try to communicate here – learning each other’s languages and being as clear as you can – the mix of different accents and different languages and cultures can cause all kinds of bizarre situations.

I know I mentioned before the story of my friend who was convinced her security guard had been in prison for ten years, when actually he had worked there (much to her relief!).

More recently – another friend of mine recently told her very lovely house worker (who has pretty great English) that she was leaving some mince in the sink to ‘thaw out’. She went out for the day with her husband and on the way back they fell to discussions of the burgers they would make when they got back. They were really looking forward to them and quite hungry by the time they got into the house but could not find the find anywhere. When they asked the house worker she responded ‘I did what you asked, I thaw out.’ – They found it in the bin. Throw out, being just too close to ‘thaw out’ in sound when you have a Tanzanian (or in my friend’s case, Aussie) accent. Shame!

I also mentioned in ‘learning the lingo’ that spelling is a pretty loose thing here, as long as you communicate your intended meaning in Swahili it doesn’t really matter, it’s primarily a spoken language in its origin so it makes sense – of course in English that isn’t quite the case. I’ve recently seen some cracking spelling errors to add to my catalogue of those mentioned so far. Here are a few favourite, recently spotted signs: ‘Stationary photocopying’ (ha ha, is there any other kind!?), ‘The best educasion you can get’ (oh dear!), ‘Byoutiful dulery’ (pretty far from the original!), ‘Come buisness class on the exacutive bus’ (hmm!).

But it’s not really about Tanzanians and English, what’s no doubt far more amusing is the English speakers learning Swahili. It’s not just about the words, you see, but also the flow, the order, the combinations, prefixes, suffixes and the cultural influences which are intertwined. I won’t go into it all here but did want to mention two little details.

First, the phrase ‘Pole sana’ – I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned it before to be honest. It quickly becomes something of a catch phrase around here. It means ‘very sorry’ and since there is often a lot to apologise for you hear it a lot! The important thing is how it is said. If said slowly, with a sincere expression it really does mean sorry and might be used if you are struggling with something or fall down, hurt yourself etc, but it is more commonly uttered as a throwaway comment accompanied by a shrug. Literal translation – ‘I couldn’t give a toss’. Or there’s the slightly sarcastic version, with a harsher tone that translates ‘shut up and get on with it’ and often comes out sounding more like ‘pole f#@!ing sana!’ (Or as we like to say PFS!). So I think I’ve mastered that one now.

The other thing that you quickly learn here is the greetings. There are literally about fifty options and each one requires a different response. It is not polite not to use at least one and commonly several are used. So your conversation might go a little something like this:

I give you respect.

I accept it, and to you.

How is your morning?

Good thank you. And yours?

Good. And how is your work?

Good. And yours?

Good. And how is your house?

Good. And your children?

I don’t have any.

What!? No children? But you are old. It is time for children now mama!

(This is generally the point where I extract myself!)

I was talking to a medical volunteer not so long ago and she mentioned that when she first started at the local hospital if there was an emergency she would go into her usual commanding tone and demand scalpels and all the dr stuff (think scene from ER but in an almost empty room that’s not that clean with nurses who just stare and don’t do anything else!). She said she couldn’t work out why they wouldn’t help and then discovered they all thought she was incredibly rude as she had not greeted anyone and was issuing orders! Now, no matter imminent death is, she comes into the room and asks each person how they are and what’s going on before demanding the right tools for the job!

So we have to watch our manners. We also have to be aware of our gestures. Even these can mean different things here. For example a low patting gesture here means slow down (no idea what it might mean anywhere else!), whilst the right hand bounced flat against the top of the left fist… well, try it. It’s definitely rude in England! Here it simply means ‘we’re full’ (eg if you want to park in that car park or hop on that bus).

A right indicator, whilst you might be forgiven for thinking it informs you that the car is going to turn right (it’s hardly ever used for that purpose!) will be telling you not to overtake as something is coming. And the double flash we use in England to let people go in front of us here means ‘get out of the bloody way I’m coming through’ – I learned that one the hard way!

Apparently a red light in Mwanza also means different things – to motorbikes and bicycles it means ‘no problem just go’ and to cars if it’s just turned red it means ‘go as fast as you can before your way is blocked by people coming the other way’ and then later it’s treated as a mere give way sign – brilliant!

So communication can be confusing. I guess it’s the same whenever you move out of your own culture. But I’m getting there. I actually managed to tell someone off in Swahili the other day – I was very proud of myself when a stream of Swahili came out and I achieved an apology. ‘Pole sana’, said the guy! Hmmm.


Quick update


Quick update

Apologies for being so quiet – I’ve been in the bush! In the wilds of Selous to be precise – the world’s largest game reserve (about the size of Belgium!) with the Rufiji River running through it. There will be pics and stories but I can’t say too much just yet as I’m writing articles about it for a few magazines. A big thank you to Authentic Tanzania and Selous Great Water Lodge for an amazing trip though.

In the mean time, I just wanted to update you guys on that online writers’ forum thing I was part of – I think I explained that the top 10 varied every day, depending on people reading and rating the early chapters of your book, and then they took an average from the month and printed an overall top ten on the 1st June. If you make the top 10 you win feedback from Random House or Orion publishers (pretty valuable for a new writer)… I made number 4! Very excited. Will report in on what they say next month. Thanks for all the messages and support guys.

Tonight I’m off to Geita with the Mosquitoes – we’re doing a gig in a gold mine! Then the next adventures include all kinds of Indian wedding antics (love it, can’t wait), lots and lots of articles to write, getting on with the book, a trip to Nairobi and then the UK for most of July (yay!). A busy few months so posts will be a tad irregular, but I’m still here! Expect a TIA Tale very soon.

As always, thanks for reading. Melissa