Tales & images from life as me…

Posts tagged “Tanzania

what makes a home?


In the non-literal sense, I’ve been building a home from the ground up these past two months and it’s got me thinking… which parts are actually important?

It all started with finding the property – and that’s definitely part of it, feeling safe and protected from the elements, being in a location that suits who you are. It’s certainly practical, but it’s hardly the critical ingredient. I think I’ve proven I can live just about anywhere over the years – I’ve done studio flats, student housing, my dark little Kenyan bungalow, and our great big place in TZ, a 26 bed dorm in Sydney, a tent which I moved throughout Southern Africa and all sorts in between! The walls and the location don’t make it home.

Step 2 was buying some basics and unpacking my suitcase, borrowing some things, and beginning to personalise the place, but the fact is it was empty until Damien arrived.

As soon as he landed and joined in the process the whole thing came alive and we shopped and we cooked and we discussed, and there is no question that good helping of love makes home considerably more, well… homely! But I’ll return to that later. For us, the next step was more practical – the arrival of our shipping container.

As we unpacked we unleashed great splashes of our old life together into our new one. The pieces sat a little incongruously together initially, but are slowly starting to meld. The unloading of ‘stuff’ marked an interesting transition for me. Some of it I had missed, or really meant something to me – often the old things or the keepsakes – but a lot of it felt overwhelming. This was partly because our tiny house here in the UK represents around a tenth of the space we had in our old house in Mwanza (!) so there were practical elements to consider, but also I was shocked by how metaphorically cluttered everything suddenly felt. Did we need all this stuff? How did we collect so much? I realised I’d been enjoying sense of freedom at having only ‘the basics’ until all this arrived and, whilst I was very happy to be reunited with personal items and see our beautiful Zanzibar furniture again, it felt rather like eating a MacDonald’s – all good fun but somehow artery clogging, slowing you down.

Since then we’ve sorted through the boxes and found homes for what we wanted to see every day, put several (ok around 40!) boxes into storage and found a balance for our new home. But I have vowed to shed anything I don’t use every six months or so.

Next step… the dogs! I’m the first to vouch for the fact that pets are part of a home (though I’m more of a cat or goldfish sort of a girl) and my husband was so excited about their arrival that no one could deny it’s part our home-building process (in fact, the night before I was kept in hospital for observation, potentially about to give birth, and you should have seen how torn he was – see my baby born or go to collect the dogs at Heathrow?!?! Really?!). It was no mean feat to get them here but now they are very much ‘at home’: Treading muddy prints through the house, taking up what little floor space we have with their beds and bowls and spreading short blonde hairs into every nook and cranny!

What’s ironic is that I’m sure I can feel how much they are missing Africa and it’s making me miss it even more instead of making me feel more settled. It must be a shocking transition for them arriving in the UK for the first time in their lives without any comprehension of what just happened when they were loaded into boxes and put on three different flights! And now it’s different smells, no open doors so they can wander as they please, no lizards or hyrax to play with, or askaris, different food, different weather, different rules. I can’t help but empathise a little.

Anyway, so we have the roof over our heads, we have each other, our stuff and our pets, but is it home? Not quite, somehow. It’s pretty great, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, we have so much and we have just left a home where people have so little. But it doesn’t feel real yet. It’s like the set for a play. We are, of course, awaiting the arrival of our baby any day now, but even that doesn’t quite feel real yet (despite the size of my stomach and the ache in my back and hips!). So what will actually make this a home for us, and for our son? It’s so strange to be creating a home for a whole new person, one whose personality is not shaped. I wonder what he’ll make of it all; which parts he’ll come to love, which items he’ll treasure (from the teddy he’ll choose as his favourite in his childhood, to the family heirlooms he’ll hang onto in his adulthood). What other ingredients must we add to make a foundation for him to grow?

I think perhaps it’s partly about shared memories – our house is a bit of a blank canvas right now. It definitely helped when my dad put our wedding photos up on the wall, but now we need to start making new memories here. And I think it’s a little about traditions – how your family does things, from Sunday roast to Christmas Day, cements your little unit and reflects your values. And the repetition of a family tradition makes it comfortable, and memorable too. We’ll have to decide how we do things, how we blend the traditions of our two families and of our multiple cultures to make it all work. I haven’t cooked a roast here yet, come to think of it, perhaps that’s a place to start. And as for Christmases, we are already starting to have our own unique little pattern of Italian, Scottish, English and African influences. No doubt I can add an Easter egg hunt and birthday treats and dog walks and movie nights and bonfire night parties and all those little adventures that we loved in our childhoods.

All that will take some time I guess. As will the other crucial element – people. Of course, I have my fantastic husband and best friend. In fact, I’ve just been blubbing over the movie The Notebook – not a good one to watch when you’re already emotional and full of hormones! I can’t believe I’ve never seen it before. It actually made me very conscious of the simple truth that home is really just wherever your partner is when it comes down to it and the children have left and the dusk sets in. But right now I’m at an earlier stage in proceedings and we will soon have a baby, so I think there has to be more to it than ‘us’ even if that is at the core of it all.

There’s no question that one of the elements that adds such richness to life is people. Friends and family. I guess it’s the thing that, as ex-pats, made us constantly refer to ‘home’ as the place where we were not (I think I have mentioned before how in England I was always going ‘home’ to Tanzania, in Mwanza my holidays were spent at ‘home’ in England). Home is where our favourite people are, and sadly for us they are scattered everywhere. We miss a lot of people in our lives, and we know that we will see them, but you do need friends who are part of your everyday life and who share in regular slices of your days. So now it’s time to meet some people here and make some new friends. I’m just having a hard time finding ways to this whilst I’m 39 weeks pregnant, can only waddle and feel like a bit of a weird potential-friend stalker! Again, I guess it takes time. I’m also finding it tough that our new friends will never have known me before we were a couple, or even before we were parents. How strange that will be (surely they will only ever know part of me?), and yet it has to happen if we are to settle here properly.

In the past I’ve been more of a ‘home is where my hat is’ sort of a girl, and never needed much to make it so. But here is a whole new stage in life. If home is where the heart is – I’m not sure mine is necessarily here. It maybe under an acacia somewhere on an open plain teaming with wildlife as the sun rises. But my loved ones are here and so my heart is here, and who can fail to feel happy when winter sun catches bare barked trees in silhouette or when someone greets you in your own language in a culture you understand and are accepted in? England has a lot of good parts and we will build a home for the foreseeable future. Perhaps the critical ingredient is time. And love, lots and lots of love.

I’d love to hear your additions to this list of what’s important, perhaps you’ll inspire us or help us find more things to get us settled. As always, thanks for reading.

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Barefoot & Pregnant in the Serengeti


OK so I wasn’t quite barefoot, but we did opt to camp so we were sort of roughing it (with a cook and a driver – so… not that rough!). I figured this would probably be my last safari for quite a while as I am now growing daily, so when the opportunity came up for me and two girlfriends to spend a couple of nights in the bush, I was in, with both feet – bare or otherwise.

We were lucky enough to see plenty of big cat activity,

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though often from quite long distances. Only the lions ventured close (really close it turned out, but I’ll tell you about that in a minute!). I’ll let the pictures do the talking for the most part – just click on any image you’d like to see bigger.

It seemed everyone was having babies. The lions, the elephants…

everyone…

There were plenty of crocs and hippos gathered in tight clusters as the rivers and various pools were almost dried out



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Several were clearly dead, a common scene at this time of year.

And all sorts of other wildlife:


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We stopped at a rickety old Indian Jones bridge and stretched our legs:

Found plenty of buffalo, though very few wildebeest as most have migrated North for the dry season.

And we found a very cool camp site right at the centre of everything. In fact, there was almost a little too much action. Check out the elephant joining us for breakfast!

But to be honest, the main action was actually not visual, it was all communicated in sound… As it grew dark, the camp site came alive.

On our first evening, just as we had finished dinner there was a very calm but sudden gathering of people. It seems to lionesses had chased and killed an impala amongst our tents! On looking up and realising where they’d ended up they scarpered, leaving the kill! The guides were quick to respond, not wanting to risk a midnight return so they took the carcass out to the carpark and calm returned. Until I awoke for my standard 1am pee (it’s 11, 1, 3 and 6 these days!)… at my 10 o’clock were hyenas whooping. They sounded close but not too close. It wasn’t until the rolling throaty roars of the lions went up in response that I realised this was not a great time for a toilet stop. The pride had clearly gathered and they were only a few metres out of the camp site! I ran… tripped on a guy rope, managed to stay upright and giggled as I heard the inhabitants of the unfortunate tent awake to lion roars – “shit, did you hear that!” Oops!

The second night was no better. Again as we were finishing dinner we were told – walk in groups, use your torches, there is a herd of elephants approaching camp! Hmmm. No problem until we were returning from the bathroom block. I stood in the centre of the camp waiting for the other two to catch up and suddenly the trumpeting sound of a very large elephant pierced the night and shook the ground. I’m glad it was dark my face must have been a picture!

That same night, again around 1pm I wake to a full bladder and consider heading out into the cold, but I can hear grass being torn and this time it is right outside our tent! My first thought is elephant. It would make sense and it’s definitely something big. But it could also be buffalo. I weighed my options, popped my head out, straining to see in the darkness, but even though the sound was very close I couldn’t see a thing. Again, I ran!

The following morning, clear hoof prints provide the evidence – a buffalo. A lone one. Never a good thing. Phew.

Another fantastic adventure. Thanks to Sue and Tara my fellow last-minute planners! And thanks to Masumin tours for making it happen at two days’ notice!


Pemba Island


Thanks to two of our good friends, Nina and Pete, here in Mwanza, we spent last weekend enjoying Pemba Island, off the coast of Tanzania (part of the Zanzibar archipelago, as I discovered). They gave the trip to us as an engagement present and it’s taken this long for us to actually get plans together to go! So this week, I thought it only fair to share a few of the details in a typically smug-Facebook-status kind of way!

We were only there for around 48 hours, but it’s amazing the adventures you can have when everything is made available to you.

Our tiny little plane made the hop from Dar es Salaam pretty efficiently, in spite of the pilot claiming he’d never been to Pemba before (it took us a moment to realise he was joking!) and the views were spectacular as we passed tiny spice islands and dive sites.

A short drive revealed the Island to be completely unspoiled and the deepest shades of green you can imagine. Cloves grow all over the place and the whole islands zings with the scent of them. It feels similar to Zanzibar’s main island (which, incidentally, it turns out is not actually called Zanzibar but Unguja, Zanzibar is the name for the whole group of islands – who knew?!) but it’s far less crowded. In fact there are only two main hotels in the entire place!

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It’s a little boat ride to get to our final destination and we hop on happily, enjoying the breeze. The hotel itself, is nestled back into the landscape and can barely be seen, except for the enormously long jetty that marks the spot. Pemba-6Pemba-1-2We are greeted by shoals of flying fish and all seems perfect… until Damien’s iPhone thinks it can fly too and plummets to the bottom of the sea.

Oops. Our skipper barely hesitates before diving between the boat and jetty to rescue the wayward phone, but sadly there is no resuscitating it. There’s only one thing for it – cocktails!

We settle in quickly to our stunning sea view tented room and head out to explore the pool area and plan our activities for the next couple of days.

Dinner is beside the pool and we are accompanied by monkeys and the sounds of bush babies in the rafters.

The following morning we’re up for a boat ride to Mesali Island where there is an incredible snorkeling reef with a strong current. They drop us at one end and we simply float down to a sunbathing spot some way down the beach! The coral and fish are abundant and dramatic ledges and drops make it pretty spectacular. Only one problem… Damien’s been wearing a GoPro camera on his head to record the view, but didn’t manage to attach the right housing for it – the waterproof housing would have been ideal. Day two and electrical item number two is sacrificed!

The afternoon is spent back at the hotel pool and discussing the history of the place with the manager. It seems the hotel is owned by British fashion designer Ellis Flyte who initially wanted to simply build herself a house. She was taken in a boat from Zanzibar to see Pemba, which she had heard talked about as being far less developed, and on the way there was a storm, they were forced to beach the boat for the night… they woke up on the spot where Fundu Lagoon is now built! She had to get approval from the local village first, and when they invited her to visit she quickly realised that she needed to do more than simply build a house. By building a hotel she was able to provide income and training for a large number of the villagers and the award-winning hotel now exists in close harmony with the people of the island.

Watching the sunset at the little bar along the jetty provided us with lively chat with the honeymooners (three sets!) who were all staying at the hotel, all of whom were there for a week and very happy with their travel agents!

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The following morning we woke to a little voice saying “Mr Damien, conditions are perfect!” and we slipped out of bed under a slightly dull sky to get straight onto the hotel boat. We were going in search of the 200-strong pod of dolphins said to frequent the area.

It was about an hour into our trip before we saw them, but suddenly there they were, leaping along in front of the boat. Three or four at first and then fifty or sixty. Babies spun and leapt in the air (they aren’t called Spinners for nothing!) and I snapped ineptly away, far too excited to focus on taking pictures.

Back at the hotel there was time for a big breakfast, some sunbathing and a facial (tough life) before packing our bags and getting back on the boat. It was around this stage that Damien realised his camera had decided Pemba would be it’s final resting place and had joined the iPhone and the GoPro!

But we headed back to a bustling Dar (excitedly preparing for Barrack Obama to visit) with broad smiles and extremely happy memories.

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For those of you who are East African residents I’d highly recommend this place – the residents rates are fantastic and it’s so easily accessible with several companies flying or ferrying guests in. Message me if you’d like the details.


TIA Tales – Stop Police!


(Note the deliberate lack of comma between the two title words!)

As many of you who ‘liked’ my status only a couple of weeks ago on FB (about a policeman threatening to deal with me ‘perpendicularly’!) might have figured out, getting stopped by police is a pretty common thing around here. Whilst I am not here to write about corruption and scary stuff (I prefer to keep my visa!) some of the stories make for hilarious anecdotes in the classic TIA Tales style that you guys have come to know. A couple of recent experiences triggered memories of others, and I couldn’t help but want to bring them all together just for you!

I think my all-time favourite story has to be the time a few of us were coming back in the early hours of the morning from a nightclub in Nakuru, Kenya. It was during the time when the road from Nairobi to Nakuru was still being built, and as we headed out for the evening we had noticed some large rocks strategically placed to divert traffic off the parts they were working on but we didn’t think much of it. There were no signs of course.

So… it’s now around 3am, we have found a random taxi driver who doesn’t exactly know where we live, but there are four of us so we decide it’s not a problem. One of us has had quite a lot to drink so we put him in the front – we’ll call him A!

As we get out of town we find that the road looks nothing like it did. Further work has been done and the stones on the road have beenmoved to create a new diversion through some fields. It’s all over the place and we quickly realise we no longer know how to rejoin the road. The taxi driver is getting stressed and wanting to go back to town. The three of us in the back are insisting he continues on, A is just swaying quietly to himself!

Just at the point where we have all accepted that we are definitely lost and the car has slowed to almost a complete standstill, the darkness is illuminated. Boom. The lights are so bright it’s like daylight and we are all squinting to see what on earth just happened. As our eyes adjust we see silhouettes of headless men (not really, just that we could only see to the height of the car) carrying AK47s go past. At this point the three of us in the back and the taxi driver realise we are in serious danger. A, however… is sick!

He’s sick in a way I have never seen in my whole life. It projectiles onto the windscreen in front of him and the force is so great that it bounces, in a giant splash, back into the car. It is now dripping from the nose and eyelashes of the driver and is all over the three of us (I was directly behind him so was afforded some protection from his seat thank goodness). The smell is incredible. The taxi driver says nothing. He doesn’t even move!

A tumbles out of the car and onto his knees, where he pukes all over the boots of a gun toting man in uniform. We are all holding our breath (fear and the smell make this an instinctive move. A, on the other hand, looks up and manages to croak one word. ‘Malaria’.

I cannot believe they fall for this, but their demeanor changes instantly. They explain that they are protecting the property which we effectively pulled up outside, they don’t consider us a threat (no shit!), they are very sorry for A’s illness and will escort us to the road! Amazing! I would like to say we all breathed a little easier, but the smell was pretty overwhelming.

Our poor taxi driver drove us home without a word, he still had not wiped his face. We paid him all the money we had to get his car cleaned and he left in shocked silence!

So that time the police were brilliant and we loved them and laughed for days over the craziness of the whole event. Other times they have been less brilliant, but equally funny!

I was once stopped for not wearing my seatbelt just outside Nairobi.
“But I am wearing it officer. Look!”
“You are not wearing your seat belt.”
“I am! Look!”
“No.”
“This is ridiculous. I am clearly wearing my seat belt.”
The officer puts his head in through the window and talks so close to my face that I can smell his breath. ”Eh!” he says crossly, “I am the law maker… and you are the law breaker.”
I laugh so hard the policeman doesn’t know what to do and let’s me go!

Actually laughing at a policeman can be a pretty dangerous game. In truth what works best is crying. I learned this from my friend at Greensteds who had taught his young daughter to cry if a policeman looked as though he was going to fine her dad or make them go to the police station. She executed this job perfectly and every time would get a response along these lines:
Policeman to child: “why are you crying?”
Dad: “oh she is afraid of you, she thinks you’ll take her daddy to jail.”
Policeman to child: “Oh no, no. It’s ok. Smile. We are just taking care of business.”
Child: cries harder
Policeman: “Just go!”

I was stopped years later in Mwanza turning the wrong way down a one way street – again no sign posts – and I remembered this tactic (to be honest I was having a crap day and was pretty close to tears anyway!). In fact I applied a combination. “I’m so sorry,” I say, welling up, “I didn’t know. My husband has malaria and I am rushing to get to him.” Instant release!

Of course being able to bend the rules isn’t always a good thing. When we were stopped for overtaking in a restricted area my friend admitted his mistake instantly and agreed that he deserved to pay a fine.
“I have been a policeman for 15 years,” responds the officer proudly. “Today I am training this new recruit.”
“Oh” we say, “well… congratulations.” He nods his acceptance and sends the boy to get the fine book. At this point my friend pulls out his bag to get some money (he’ll need around Tsh60,000 or $40 for the official fine). As he opens his bag a bundle of Tanzanian notes is revealed. “Ah but…” exclaims the officer, clocking the cash. “we are friends. Perhaps we do not need to make a fine…” We offer him Tsh30,000 at which he smiles and waves us on, having effectively just taught his new junior exactly how to go about initiating a bribe without actually asking! We paid the fine and insisted on a receipt on principle, much to his annoyance.

But that takes us into a whole other selection of ‘chini chini’ activities (chini literally means down but the phrase indicates ‘under the counter’ dealings) so I guess I’d better stop there for this week! Please do share if you have amusing tales of being stopped by the police – we’d love to hear them!

I’m off to the bush now on a writing assignment (in fact I’m back at the airport again!) so, no question as to what next week’s update will be about! Until then.


TIA Tales – The magic of the mobile phone


I had to laugh as I sat in the back of a taxi last week listening to the lyrics of a pop song that went like this: ‘I’ll give you my love, my life, my phone.’ Huh?! Apparently this songstress (whom I presumed to be African, but this tune may well be out in Europe too – ?) rates her phone up alongside life and love. Well, it seems she’s not alone.

It is hard not to notice the spread of the mobile phone in Africa. It’s reach is astonishing. In a country where some estimate that 80% of the population is without electricity or running water in their homes, and less than 20% have a bank account – almost 50% of the country owns a mobile phone! (I often wonder where all these phones get charged if there are 30% of the people with a phone but no electricity, but I suppose there are ways around that. Our staff come and charge theirs at our house, for example).

The huge leaps in mobile phone technology have not been missed over here either. In fact it’s created a very odd phenomenon – a sort of technology generation gap.

Before the development of the mobile phone there was really only face-to-face communication. Land lines, though there were some, were invariably very difficult to lay and maintain long distance (not least because the distances required are enormous and the terrains they must cross are not easy). And in towns where distances are shorter the copper wires are worth money and so are frequently stolen. So no land lines.

Plus, most people will never have used a computer, or a laptop, or an iPad. Over the five years I’ve been in Mwanza a few internet cafés have popped up and some schools have computer rooms, but very few and they are very outdated. So, essentially the vast majority of people here have never really had the opportunity to learn computer skills. That means no internet, no social media, no email, no instant world-wide communication which we have all learned to enjoy over the past 20-30 years.

But what has happened instead is that the mobile phone is King. By waiting for technology to reach its current levels, Tanzania is suddenly in a position to play catch up, and it’s doing it pretty fast. Other countries are slowly moving away from the cumbersome desktop computers, Tanzania is in a position to do that in an instant.

Network here is pretty impressive, too – I’ll never forget my brother chatting to Richard Branson (who was a client of his at the time) whilst we sat in the base of the Ngorongoro Crater and a rhino nonchalantly wandered by! Yes, there are bad days when I can’t get a line out or can’t hear anyone, but by and large, for a country this size, it’s not bad. By comparison, when I visit England I often find myself cursing as I drop into a networkless-valley.

And with this network and the rapid sale of phones and SIM cards; new initiatives for roaming between countries; the ability to purchase data bundles at reasonable prices (I can keep my phone in internet for just $20 per month); suddenly half the population can now begin to access 30 years worth of technology development – independent news coverage, FaceBook, Wikipedia… Ok, that’s not entirely true. Of course not everyone will have a ‘smart phone’, some phones are just made for making phone calls and perhaps for waking you up in the morning! Some might be intermediates with the capacity to store music or take photos. But there is a huge market for the smart phones (even the thieves know this- Just as they do around the world!)

There’s nothing cooler than a Maasai in full regalia, with an iPhone to his ear, or nodding to his apple earphones as he appreciates a song! I still reckon that would make one of the coolest ad campaigns ever – I said it first! I must make a point of photographing that when I next get the opportunity – this is all I have right now.
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Actually, I have also loved the people who haven’t seen it all before – what’s not to love about the amazing wide eyes of a person who lets you take a photo on your phone and then gets to see the image on the screen? I recently had a local shoe-maker invite all his friends over to see how I could zoom right into his eye just by moving my fingers on the iphone screen. It’s good to see that sense of wonder. We forget and take this amazing technology for granted. I remember I had exactly the same reaction as my shoe-maker when I first saw my brother’s iPhone 3G back one Christmas (was it as recent as 2008?).

There are some irritations about mobile phones here, though. For example, people will sit in a beautiful quiet place and play their tinny mobile music on the phone speaker as loud as it will go, with no awareness of anyone else. Also the personalized ring tones are much loved here, as is download music or preaching to play instead of a ring tone when you call them. Hearing songs of praise or a church recording when you call – be it Muslim, Christian or whatever – is a little ‘in your face’ I feel. But my pet hates go in order as follows:

3. The annoying message that says ‘jaribu tena badai’ (try again later) when you can’t get a line.

2. People driving on the phone and slowing right down to a snail’s pace, or just swerving all over the road. (It’s banned for a reason in most first world countries, but here the effect it has on drivers is totally incredible!).

1. Kids who SMS in code and then think they can get away with writing everything like that – including their GCSE and A-level exam essays! I’m all for the evolution of language, but you need to know what’s appropriate where!

On the upside, mobiles are changing everything for the youth of Africa. They are better informed, safer (unless they’re driving!), better able to communicate and given a voice as world citizens by this technology. It is amazing to witness this dramatic development. I just hope they do ultimately realise that valuing life and love over their phone is still important!


TIA Tales – nothing ever only takes 5 minutes! – Part 1


Following on from the theme of the weekly shopping taking an unfeasibly long time here, I
began to think about the other jobs that don’t quite go to plan for bizarre and unforeseeable reasons and I realised I have any number of ideal TIA stories along this theme. You’ll notice the title is ‘part 1’, I have no idea what ‘part 2’ might consist of as yet, but I can pretty much guarantee that I will collect stories for it over the coming weeks and months, so it makes sense!

It was when I started in PR that I first heard the saying ‘there’s no such thing as five minute job’, and it was true. Everything always takes longer than you think it will, no matter where you live, especially if you need it done properly. But I never imagined how applicable this statement would be once I moved to Tanzania!

In just the past few weeks the following stories have occurred – rendering a simple task a mammoth mission…

Most recently, we were in Nairobi visiting Damien’s family for his birthday. After a lovely weekend we got up on the Monday morning at 4.30am to get to the airport and make our direct flight to Mwanza. Pretty straightforward, if a little early. When we got there things started to go pear-shaped though. ‘The flight has been cancelled’ we were told.
‘Okaaaaay, so what do we do instead?’
‘You can fly from Nairobi to Zanzibar, Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam, and Dar es Salaam to Mwanza,’ came the smiling reply!
So a three-flight, ten-hour journey to replace our one-flight two-hour journey?… Can we just stay here and catch the direct flight tomorrow?
‘Mmmm maybe, but there’s a good chance they’ll cancel that flight too!’
By the time we got home we could have slept in until 6am and driven home from Nairobi to Mwanza faster!

I invited a mate out for a drink the other night. She only lives down the road. ‘No problem’ she said ‘I’ll see you in five.’ I should have known better. It’s like in a horror film when a character says ‘I’ll just go and check, I’ll be back in a minute, don’t worry!’ – you know they’re doomed!

So I waited a good 20 minutes and then called to see what has happened. ‘Sorry, Mel… I got caught up as I was leaving. My dogs eyes were all red and puffy – I think she’s been spat at by a cobra so I had to get the vet out!” Well, as excuses go it was certainly original! Poor thing never did make it out, but the dog has happily recovered.

Talking of cobras… – we don’t get a lot of them around here, they prefer to stay away from humans, but this month I have two cobra stories. Another friend of mine is busy building a new house. She and her husband were very excited to have reached the stage of installing electrics and plumbing and the ‘fundi’ (see TIA Tales – building work if you aren’t sure what that is!) went up into the roof to get started. ‘I’ll just pop up to take a look’ – famous last words!

He popped back down again pretty fast when he came face to face with a large cobra who’d decided that this was an ideal spot to rest – nice and warm, plenty of bats to eat. The work was delayed for a week while the couple got fumigators in to clear the place! The good news is they’ve finally moved in now and it really is a stunning spot (congratulations guys!)

On the theme of fundis – I had to laugh when a Dar mate What’s App’ed me last week to complain that she had returned to her office, expecting to find the painting work to be almost completed, only to discover her fundi fast asleep on the office sofa!

Back on my own turf, I tried to do a friend – Mr Tito – a favour here in Mwanza a little while ago. My aunt had very generously sent over money to buy a local artist a mattress for his child’s bed and he and I had agreed to go shopping for it. Mr Tito is a lovely man and he was waiting for me when I arrived ten minutes late. We chose the mattress without too much difficulty and managed (with the help of two other guys) to fold it into the back of my tiny car, but part way to our destination my engine died. This has never happened to me before in Mwanza. Mr Tito knows everyone and I soon had a crowd of people around the car advising on different things that could be wrong. Everyone was so kind, they even went and found me water and insisted that I sit while they try to fix it. It was actually very heart-warming. But an hour later it was the MineSite guys who came to rescue me and actually managed to identify the problem – I think I might have been there all day, and then some, otherwise. In the end of course, my five minute favour took 2 hours!

It’s often the way on car trips actually. It’s not as though traffic is really a problem as I only potter in and out of town, but it’s the bizarre police stops (so far I’ve got out of being fined by A/crying B/ insisting that I have left my child at home and need to get back quickly and C/ telling the policeman that I got married last week! Goodness knows where the logic was on that one! It takes a few minutes but often it’s the most irrelevant or random thing that makes them smile and gets you off!); or the sudden riots (there are frequently problems with local vendors and changes in law, or with different religious groups upsetting each other); or having to stop for a huge herd of cows or goats that decide to cross just as you get there; roads destroyed by the rains; a huge lorry doing a 48 point turn – all these things can make a five minute trip take an hour.

Of course power outages don’t help. Especially when they happen just as you’re baking bread and so you have to start all over again, or just as you’ve completed an email or blog but have not clicked save and so you have to start again! You get the idea.

And as for posting these blogs – well they can often take literally hours to upload, especially if I’m including photos. I think the Galapagos one was a 12 hour process (loads of swearing involved in that one).

There really isn’t such a thing as a five minute job here. But, if I’m honest (and if I’m having a positive day!) it actually becomes part of the fun. I love gathering people’s tales of insane frustration over a drink by the lake at the end of the week – they really can be very entertaining! Feel free to share if you have any to add to my collection from 2013 so far!


TIA Tales – a tribute


This week’s blog is a bit different. It’s a story that isn’t really mine to tell – except that it happened just near by, and that my husband saw these riders only a couple of weeks before the accident (in fact, he stopped and asked them if they needed anything and advised them to stay off the main roads). Plus some of our good friends have been involved in trying to secure and help the horses in the aftermath – perhaps they can offer some updates on the story as it stands at a later date.

It is a story of determination, and overcoming obstacles, but ultimately of terrible tragedy. Wrong place, wrong moment. I hope one day I can post a follow up that gives this some rhyme or reason. I hope this changes something positively for someone in the long term. Sadly now it is just a very sad tale.

People are killed here on the roads every day, and nothing changes. I’ve mentioned in my TIA Tales – driving blog post about some of the madness here. And the hospitals here are in a desperate state – the comments about the man’s total lack of care in our main hospital here in Mwanza only serve to reinforce my blog about hospitals from last year. This is a particularly bad accident (though an entire bus load of people were killed not far from the same place last year for similar reasons and very little was said about it), and involves fairly high profile foreign travellers – perhaps it could provoke some discussion at least?

Anyway, I haven’t re-written what another journalist has already constructed very clearly, I’ll just provide the link to his article for you. I just thought I’d pay a tribute and share the tale. Article

I wish Billy all the strength he will need after this and hope he and his two horses have a swift recovery.