Why is the grass always greener on the other side?
Well for an ex-pat I think it’s fair to say we swing wildly in a bizarre cycle of brimming joy at where we are and homesick despair, trying to decipher if we are more at home amongst the lush green grasses of the Western world or the yellow sun-drenched swaying ones of the African continent. When I first came here I knew the answer – it was Africa. Now it’s still Africa, but the green green grass of home does seem very… well, green sometimes!
Part of the problem is that as a ‘Western’ child (no I don’t mean the kind with cowboys and Indians!) you are presented with all the spoils of the Western world – and don’t get me wrong I am unendingly thankful for that. I’m not talking about jewelry and smart cars, I’m referring to theatre, art, history, culture, restaurants from all around the globe, fashion, literature, music and multiple events put on for our selection and our entertainment. We are taught to extend aspects of our personalities, to try things, to develop multiple skills. And then we come to Africa.
At first we wonder at the beauty of the simplicity, you even get used to not having access to certain foods, to modern culture. But then suddenly the sheen wears off and
Small niggles can escalate to cabin-fever delusions of a desperate need to get out of Mwanza.
It all started on Sunday where we woke, hungover again, and watched TV… all day. When it got to 6pm and I was determined to try to actually do something with my day I realised there really weren’t any choices. Almost everything we do around here revolves around drinking or television. The only reason I hadn’t noticed that is because I am constantly creating a project of my own – an article, a novel, a craft fair, the charity ball, and before all that a 6th form with lesson plans and marking and a school play, a survival weekend, a fashion show, you name it I’ve done it. This is the first time since I moved here that I’m not doing ten things at once and in the eye of the storm… it’s boring! Because if you don’t make something happen, nothing will happen. I miss there just being things to do.
‘Only boring people get bored’ I used to tell the kids I teach. But actually it can be tough to be self motivate 100% of the time.
Anyway, I just so happened to email a friend who is currently away about all my moans and her response made me smile. Even as I was writing to her I was thinking – I sound like a spoiled ex-pat with no idea about what’s really important. And I did. But I thought it was ok because I was writing to a fellow ex-pat who would understand. What came back was precisely what I needed to hear – I won’t quote her precisely but here were her points – after just a few weeks she had begun to be overwhelmed by the: massive consumerism; sickly advertising; people’s small issues getting blown out of proportion; expectations that she wear the right clothes, have the right gadgets, drive the right car; debt; politics; the weather.
In Mwanza we have great friendships with room for people of all kinds; a lifestyle that means we can sit beside Lake Victoria any evening, pop to the Serengeti when we want to; share our lives with people who will show you every day what is important; travel; grow. But you have to be tough like that African grass if you want to get the best of it.
She’s right of course. We live under the African sun, it’s mango season and it turns out… it’s all good!… I was just coming down with the flu – that’ll always explain a bad attitude!
Now I’m off to visit some mining camps and drive about the country for a couple of days taking photos ☺. Plus I know I’m getting my ‘fix’ pretty soon when I visit the UK for Christmas – no doubt then I’ll be complaining about the cold and the consumerism, blah blah blah. I must just remember that I just like the grass wherever I go and I’m so privileged that I get to try so many different kinds (and not in a weird pot-head kind of way!).
In amongst all the wedding stuff, I’ve been a pretty wayward writer recently. This week’s blog might inspire a few of you – it’s worked for me.
You see, there was a big part of me that had let the doubts take over. I had the perfect excuse – I’m very busy with organizing. But if I’d really wanted to write I could have. I managed to keep doing the articles and meeting deadlines, why not the book?
I don’t know if any other writer feels this way, but I know that if I finish this book I’ll have to show it to someone, if I show it someone I’ll either get rejected or it’ll be published, if it gets published I invite more criticism. The idea of actually finishing a book is terrifying, it opens you up to everyone’s opinion and we all know we can’t please all the people all the time. Plus I have a few style concerns and structural issues I want to work out… So I froze.
This has been termed The Stuck. It’s not a block, I know exactly what happens in my story, I am not blocked, just Stuck.
During my Stuck I went to have a drink with a friend. I wasn’t feeling like going, I was tired and uninspired, but she’s a good friend and I didn’t want to let her down so I got into the sun-baked car and dragged myself down to the lake side and we started to talk.
It all came out, the whole situation, the story, the questions, and when I finished she looked at me and said “where’s your Knowing gone?”
“Huh?!” (that was me!)
“Remember when you wanted to move to Africa? [I’m nodding] Did you worry about How it would happen or did you just know you wanted to go?”
“Well I just decided. I actually don’t remember it being that hard at all. I had two interviews, got one but turned it down and then whilst I was waiting to hear from the second a totally random one – a friend of the first Headmaster – offered me a job in Kenya. Just like that. I hadn’t even applied for a job there! I went!”
“Right! That’s because you had the Knowing. You knew you were going to go and because of the Knowing you let go of the How.”
My clever, clever friend has just drawn back the bolts and let the fresh air in again!
Now I’m not saying I’ve returned to my computer and written the rest of the book, but I have begun again. I am talking to friends with any contacts at all in the publishing industry in case there might be any hope of a conversation to solve my style queries and I’m editing the first 50,000 words I’ve already done. I am going to finish this book and I’m working very hard to build the Knowing that one day this will get published (and probably criticized but I guess I just have to learn to live with that!).
That’s my lesson for the week, but it doesn’t only apply to writing. I hope it helps a few of you too. Don’t do The Stuck! You are never as stuck as you think, there is always a way out even it seems impossible. (Remind me of this in a couple of months please someone!).
I know that really I should be keeping this blog not about my personal life, and I’m pretty sure Damien would prefer it if I didn’t mention him ‘in public’, but then they tell you to write what you know and since I’ve been pretty much wedding obsessed for the past few months it seems only right to tell the tale… in TIA style (and without mentioning Damien too much – oops that’s twice! – well, he is kind of a key part of this particular adventure! Sorry babe!)
I’m going to focus on the day itself, but I think it’s worth mentioning a few of the mountainous molehills we overcame to make the whole thing happen – this is the summary:
To start with, there was the Atilla the Bride insanity scene where Damien sweetly brought back wedding mags from SA and I realised how much had to be done, and freaked! Then the mad series of events it took to get approved to be married not in a church, inter-religiously and outside of the country where we were living (meetings in Kenya, a pre-marital course in Tanzania, papers from four countries, and very nearly a wedding performed by a 90 year old priest who spoke only Italian, Swahili and Kikuyu – he retired before the big day sadly but was a fantastic character!). There was the change of date due to Kenyan elections, the insane trip back to the UK (all wedding focused – 6 months of preparation crammed into 3 weeks – and then I missed my connection on the way back due to a technical fault and the airline lost my bag, complete with wedding dress!). During the UK trip I had my first hen – the barge we were on met with a fallen tree! For those of you who don’t know (I didn’t) barges can’t turn around very easily so we had thought we were stuck – but several men who’d spotted a boat full of sailor-outfitted girls stepped in to rescue us! Phew – we’re only at July! By August the Yellow Fever debacle had begun – dad is apparently too old to have the injection but Tanzania won’t let you into the country without it! I think I had a meltdown round about then and my Mwanza ladies stepped in to help me out. There were blown budgets, work stresses, me getting sick, Damien getting sick, and then a second hen do to blow away the cobwebs! My bridesmaids shopped for bridesmaids shoes in the UK and by the wonders of modern technology I ‘joined’ them. Finally things started to feel as though they might come together… then we realised my pregnant sister wouldn’t fit into her bridesmaid dress! As I’m finally preparing for my family to arrive there is a flood in the house, the cat breaks its foot and rainy season is threatening to destroy everything!!! It really was comic – in fact there might just be a book in it.
But once everyone started arriving (in spite of Yellow Fever certificate inspector man, safari ant attacks and missed flights) we just knew it was all going to be ok, and when the morning of the wedding finally arrived with sunshine streaming through the window and smoked salmon, and scrambled eggs with champagne at the door, accompanied by my sister, Emily, and oldest friend in the world, Alice, I knew it would be perfect.
We spent the morning getting ready and hiding so I didn’t see Damien (or he me), but the rooms we had stayed in the night before had adjoining doors so we could shout good morning and hear the preparations! (and I could have a loud conversation with Alice about ‘not being sure’ whilst giggling like school kids!). I won’t go into all the tedious details but I had beautiful presents from Damien, and amazing hairdressing from Sarah, and Lyndsey was taking photos of me whilst Pete hung out with the boys (and is scarred for life by the talcum powder scene he witnessed – nuff said!). The morning passed pretty slowly, partly because I’d taken my watch off and was constantly asking the time… and then… it was time…
and the sky began to darken!
Suddenly we were being ushered out so as to start the ceremony before the rain came. There were a few snaps in the walled garden and then dad was there and we were off.
note: this arch was designed by us, with lots of help from Gerry and we will always have it in our garden now – cool keepsake huh?! (Thanks Svemily for the great idea!)
I walked down the aisle to ‘Memories of Us’ – a pretty emotional tune, and then Damien finally turned to look at me, our eyes met… But any danger of me getting soppy was quickly eradicated by Damien’s muttering “Pete Johnson, Pete Johnson, Pete Johnson” under his breath. Our poor friend Pete had apparently been selected as Damien’s coping mechanism to avoid him getting too emotional – it began as ‘imagine how much he’ll take the piss if you cry’ and when that wasn’t quite doing the trick it became ‘imagine him naked’ – of course I wasn’t aware of all this at the time but quickly realised afterwards that the most romantic day of my life had featured our good Aussie mate naked in my now-husband’s imagination for most of the day! The good part came later when the speeches began and everyone started getting emotional – they were all using the trick! Luckily Pete took it all in good spirits (mostly vodka I believe!)
Anyway, as we went through the various parts of the ceremony and I took in the little group of faces, the amazing setting and beautiful decorations I was feeling pretty pleased with the past few months’ work. Blessed even.
Then the rain began!!
Everyone else was under a tent but we were right in it. Luckily it wasn’t the full force of Africa, just a bit of wind and a shower (ooh there’s a joke there about Damien!) and a couple of kind folks grabbed umbrellas for us. In Africa a little rain at a wedding is considered a blessing for fertility so everyone was smiling and it didn’t seem to matter at all to our lovely priest who carried on regardless. I did have to laugh though as the band struck up for us to walk out at the end of the ceremony – we had chosen Toto Africa – the first line is ‘I bless the rains down in Africa!’. Brilliant!
From here we abandoned the cocktails around the pool for the safety of the veranda, but we got lucky after that and things dried up, leaving some great skies for the photographs.
We did speeches before dinner so the boys could relax and enjoy the evening – my Dad and Damien made us all cry and then Oli nearly made us wet ourselves laughing… and crying! Damien finally broke and it was hankies all round – even Pete Johnson couldn’t save us now.
Having had three days there our little group had got to know each other pretty well – they’d done masaai picnics, game drives, sundowners with a giant bonfire, a pizza party on the lake, boat trips and museum visits and now it all felt pretty relaxed and easy going as everyone took their seats for dinner, and we grabbed another glass of bubbly and were introduced as Mr & Mrs to our friends and family.
From here it all melted into a beautiful, sparkling fast forward – great dinner, amazing cake, jazz band in the background
and then all to soon it was time for the bit I’d been dreading… the first dance. In this dress? I can’t dance anyway, but the hook at the back of the dress to hold up the train was bust and it was kinda tight on the hips and, well I was pretty concerned! But Maia’s beautiful voice and our song and the smiling faces meant I didn’t even have to think when it actually came to it and pretty quickly everyone was joining in and conga-ing around the lawn as giraffes watched from a safe distance in the bushes.
There were cards and presents and flowers and music and everyone looked beautiful and everything was beautiful and Damien is the best husband ever and – please don’t laugh but – the best day of my life… so far? …I was so ready for it not to be, I knew there was so much that could potentially go wrong and was determined not to mind (after all – TIA), but in the end… yes! I want to do it all again!
Huge thank you’s to everyone so far who has given us pics (especially Pete and Lyndsey – how lucky are we with three professional photographers in the family!). Thanks also to the amazing Kongoni Lodge and all the fabulous staff x