Who’d have thought that a miniature human weighing just a few kilograms and unable to walk or talk yet, could cause so much fuss!
I’m learning that it’s all very well getting pregnant and moving across continents and playing ‘new house’, but at some point you will be forced to face reality and actually prepare for the arrival of this tiny person in a way that you have never prepared for the arrival of anything else in your whole life.
In the past month I’ve done antenatal classes (where I learned to clean chicken korma from a doll’s bum!); discussed my birthing options (until I’m so confused I’m considering just requesting that I be knocked out until it’s all over); and bought all sorts of mad additions to the house (including the cutest cot you’ve ever seen, a daunting looking bath contraption and a car seat which hubby is currently proudly sporting in the back of his car!). But even all of this has felt a little bit like play-acting… until, one fated sleepless night I decided to read the dreaded baby book. Alien words like ‘transition’ (previously a nice innocuous word suggesting a positive change – a sort of caterpillar to butterfly thing perhaps? Not in this case!), ‘crowning’ (previously associated with gold and diamonds. Not in this case), ‘episiotomy’ (that word should not contain the phonetic of ‘ease’ in any form!)… and as the night wore on the reality that this baby has to come out, one way or the other, set in.
It’s an odd concept to actually face: having to prepare for pain. This is not something we do. Pain is something that’s generally a surprise and warns us something is wrong. There are very few circumstances where you plan for it. I mentioned this to hubby. “Torture?” he suggested, helpfully! …Fantastic!
And the one piece of advice everyone thinks it’s worth offering up…? ‘It’s really important to stay calm.’ HA HA HA.
With this in mind I decided I should really get back into yoga. I am really missing my DVD-assisted guru, Nina, in TZ, plus I thought it might be a good way to meet people. I’m told to bring 2 pillows and head for a local church hall by 10am. At 5 to ten I have two big orange sofa cushions in the back of my car and am desperately searching for a parking space in our new town. I get a bit lost, which results in a late entry just after everyone has said who they are and how pregnant they are. I stumble in, red faced, massive orange cushions in tow (everyone else has little, tasteful, discreet affairs I notice!) and everyone turns to me in unison. “Hi,” I say to the expectant (in more ways than one!) crowd, dropping a pillow onto someone else’s mat space and desperately trying to retrieve it without groping her in my flustered state. “I’m Mel… and I’m late, sorry.” I add pointlessly before plonking myself down, a little too hard for the size of me, in the only remaining space. Needless to say no one spoke to me for the duration and my hopes for some mummy networking were crushed. Oh well, maybe next week, with smaller pillows and better parking planning! Still, the yoga itself was ok.
And what does this weekend have in store? Well an exciting visit to Oxford to visit our hospital and meet our consultant, see the facilities and learn even more about the grueling ordeal ahead! Whoop whoop! Maybe they’ll take some more blood and urine if I’m really lucky!
The upside of all of this, though, is that it is all part of the preparation to actually meet that tiny person. I’m glad I’m being forced to take all these steps or I might never have got myself ready. I’d have happily done 10 months of pregnancy and then gone ‘oh, maybe I should consider the baby at some point!’
I guess my plan is simply to set expectations, of myself and of tiny person, as low as possible. That way I won’t be disappointed, I might just be pleasantly surprised. It’s not that I’m a pessimist, just that so many people share such awful tales of misery, isolation, pain and the occasional psychotic break that saying I plan to get showered and dressed every day is just a step too far, so I’m not saying that.
Managing hubby’s expectations, however, may be something of a different ball game. Even at this stage, he looks at me dragging my enormous self around and exclaims ‘Darling, tomorrow you must do nothing. NOTHING. Just relax.’ But in almost the same breath there are expectations of cleaning, collecting things in town and what we might have for dinner, and on returning from a day in the office there is always the expectation that you have achieved something. And NO, having tea with a friend or undertaking a creative pass time does not count – it falls, apparently, into neither category. It is not physically relaxing nor achieving something that contributes to the house… hmmm. A difficult one, particularly as I know that once baby actually arrives every mum I’ve ever met has told me that the only way to survive is tea with friends and lots of cake! Oh well, I guess it won’t be too difficult to avoid as long no one talks to me at yoga!
So, we’re almost there: 1 set of shipping, 2 dogs, 3 expected visitors, 4 more medical appointments and 5 weeks remain before we might just end up with a baby that hopefully doesn’t go too pear-shaped! I’ll keep you posted ☺
Note: For those of you who signed up to this blog because you were interested in my travels, my photography or my writing, and haven’t the slightest interest in kids don’t worry, I don’t want this to become a parenting blog and I’m not going to stop traveling, taking pictures or writing, but I guess since it’s all about ‘life as me’ some of these life things do have to come into it. And how I manage being a mum and trying to still be me, is bound to be a big part of the next chapter. Bear with me, I’ll try to keep it light and human.
This week is election week in Kenya and it’s hard for any of us who were there last time not to think about the terrible time so many people suffered during the previous election. But I don’t think of the scary moments. What I remember from last time is how furious I was about the many misrepresentations. How the media seemed determined to present the country as a war zone and a slum. Why? Perhaps it’s simply because that’s what people think of when they think of Africa. Let’s give the people what they want they think. But why perpetuate the misunderstandings?
In preparation for this election I have seen ex-students of mine commenting on FaceBook about how frustrating they are finding media footage that insists on showing Nairobi’s slums, not its high rise buildings, beautiful hotels, modern shopping complexes or first world business district.
So it got me thinking… about people’s misplaced expectations of this hugely misunderstood continent. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming to understand it either. Heck, I don’t even think I understand England. But there are some things that are obvious to anyone who has been here, and which provide a great source of TIA Tales humour when they are completely missed by those who have not.
For a start, I recently tried to write a feature for an American travel magazine. “A piece on Safari in the African bush?” they cooed at first. “That sounds exciting!” It all started so well! But then they wanted me to fit their standard feature format – each section was to be no longer than 50 words and must have a picture to go with it. OK, I thought, short attention spans I can handle (sorry to all you US readers who’ve so far read 289 words and don’t fit this stereotype at all!!). Then they gave me the section headers, which included: where to eat – on safari if you don’t eat at your accommodation you’d be moving around the park in the dark which is neither safe nor legal so there are no choices, and evening entertainment – well you might get some Maasai dancing (with a really bad rendition of Jambo Bwana if you’re very unlucky!), but there isn’t exactly a programme of entertainment. If you aren’t happy with listening to the sounds of the bush, looking at the stars and talking then there’s always reading a book I guess! When I tried to explain that these sections didn’t quite fit with the safari experience… they pulled the feature! They just could not conceive of a place without a selection of restaurants and evening entertainment!
Even people who should know better find it hard to really imagine being here though. Take the examiners for the International exams. They’re set by educators in the UK under the remit of the British Curriculum and twice I’ve had major problems. Once in an exam for the youngest students I taught, where the writer described a snow storm – not only had these children never seen snow, but they also have no concept of the weather vocabulary employed to describe it. Here our weather is either ‘hot’ or ‘wet’ there really is very little else, they do not need a thousand extra words (blizzard, flake, flurry, squall, chill etc) to describe the wide and infinitesimal adjustments in the weather!
But the one that really annoyed me, was a SAT paper with a ‘read and respond’ section about the school cafeteria and vending machines. Only one child in the class knew what one was. It simply wasn’t a fair test of their English skills.
Even my friends – you know who you are! – make insane comments about me living here. When I first moved it was things like ‘will there be lions in your garden’ or ‘will you live in a mud hut’ but now it’s a different type of ignorance. It’s things like ‘when do you go back to South Africa?’. I don’t live in South Africa. It’s a six hour flight to SA from where I live, that’s almost as long as it takes from the UK! It’s nothing like SA. Africa is a continent. It is full of countries. SA is a tiny, tiny one. SA is not Africa! It’s not even a tenth of the Southern part of Africa! Oooh, sorry, calm down Mel. Am I ranting!?
You get the idea. The misconceptions are rife. No doubt I could write a part 2 to this later, now that I’ve got onto this train of thought. But the real irony is that I’ve recently understood that these misconceptions work both ways. Many Africans (not those I’ve worked with or taught, but certainly the average guy on the street) think that London is England the same way the Brits perceive South Africa as Africa. They also believe we are swimming in money in spite of the fact that I owe more than many of those same people will ever see in their lives (that’s pretty humbling, what did I spend it on – was it worth it?). They believe we speak in weirdly high voices and will often mimic us. They think we eat strange things, drink too much (probably fair) and value strange things (they’re often right). They say things like ‘just go, that’s a mzungu driving they won’t hit you’ and believe it absolutely.
In a world where we misunderstand each other so much, it is difficult to see how we will ever get it together to ensure a peaceful and unified future. But our differences and our perceptions and the humour we can find in them are also what bring us together.
I gave Suzy, our house help, a lift to town last week and I asked her to put on her seatbelt. She speaks no English so we were talking in Swahili and she looked very surprised. I explained that the police would stop me to fine me if she didn’t so she tried to put it on, but she had never used one before and stuck her head between the two parts. I showed her how and she was so embarrassed and sweet about it, she giggled the whole way into town. I couldn’t help but laugh with her.
I love our differences, as much as I am frustrated by them. I want to be open to learn new things and understand new perspectives, as much as I find it hard to leave my Western perceptions behind sometimes.
I am writing this at Mwanza airport where I have just queued behind a whole series of Tanzanian, Kenyan, Ugandan, and Dutch people – all carrying a selection of apple products… you think Africa is backwards? You might want to see the hardware the average African is carrying around before any judgement is passed!
I think at least 90% of my readers have been here, so you know how I can laugh about something I perceive as crazy one minute, be furious about it the next and then defend it moments later. It’s a bit like your mum – you can say what you like about her but if anyone else dares to say anything you will leap to their defence (not that I ever say anything bad about you mum, and nor does anyone else! Just using mums in general to serve as my analogy!).
The truth is your expectations are re-born every day here. Sometimes it is frustrating, but at times like these it is amazing how people unite. Look at the messages coming from the majority of Kenyans and East Africans. They say ‘we love our country’. They say ‘peace’. Regardless of what happens, the majority stand by that. And I stand with them.