Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Catch me a Colobus

Letter duly delivered this morning. Mr B spent the day awaiting the summons..... it's now 9 pm so probably safe to say that final resolution has not been achieved today.

However, this did leave us free to enjoy a lovely day and treat the Wicked Uncle to some local wildlife. Spent half the day with our friend H, she of the fantastic directions to her house in the middle of the forest. Coffee, swim in the pool, walk through the forest to see Colobus and Sykes monkeys, lunch outside, and then a tropical deluge. While the rest of us waited out the rain while indulging in tea and mince pies in the living room, Kitty and her friend O decided to strip off and dance naked in the rain and then sail plastic lorries down the racing stream in the drain. What a wonderful life!

Leaving H to her packing for a trip to Kenya tomorrow, we headed up the road a short way to Mount Meru Game Lodge for some Tangawize (ginger beer) and a look at the wildlife in the sanctuary - Eland, Zebra, Crowned Cranes, Saddle-billed and Yellow-billed storks, hadadas and sacred ibis, helmeted guineafowl, porcupines etc. And then home.

Oh, and the Mancub spent a good part of the day wearing a large leaf on his head... we used them for umbrellas during a brief shower on our Colobus walk and he grew so attached to his that he insisted on wearing it from then on....

Monday, 28 December 2009

And on we go...

The saga continues - yet another meeting to finally resolve the issue today, and yet another to do the same tomorrow... Sunday saw quite a lot more printing of documents and things in time for me to take everything to the lawyers in the evening and talk through my life history. It was actually quite satisfying to have finally printed out a nearly complete list of my publications - I certainly didn't just knock them out over the weekend! And today I had yet another interrogation, this time by the combined taskforce convened to deal with the issue from all the various parties (interested or uninterested as the case may be). After I did my bit the lawyer went in and used all my publications and papers to convince them I really am a scientist and might actually have some purpose in being here beyond being a British spy and we were sent away to come back later when a decision had been made. So off we trotted to the law offices to sort out accounts and such like, only to be called straght back in for a decision. Wow! Dynamism!

Or then again, not - the decision turned out to be that we were obviously guilty so we had to write a letter asking for clemency, deliver it tomorrow morning by 9am and we'd get a final answer later in the day. So, the next final meeting will be some time tomorrow. Hopefully not just after I get out to the friends we'll be visiting 40mins east of here... The lawyer expects this to be the end of it - but can't promise it - but thinks it might well also be the end of my binoculars, GPS and notebook... We shall see - it's certainly preferable to see them destroyed but me going free than some of the alternatives that have been banded around. And hopefully the insurance would cover replacements this time - not sure what I'd have to put on the claim form though...

Otherwise, Sunday evening's highlight was a visit from Sister S, a lovely Irish nun who confessed to having several habits and one of the best connected people in Arusha who has been extremely helpful in the last few weeks. And today the rest of the family took the Wicked Uncle out to Lake Duluti (of the overgrown millipede and lizard fame) for the afternoon. And despite making him carry the mancub under low trees and over large boulders there seemed to have been too many people around before them and they report no exiting wildlife sightings. So let's hope there are monkeys to be seen tomorrow...

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Christmas and Boxing Day fun!

As reported, Christmas was a fun day - Wicked Uncle arrived, coffee was drank fast, Church was done only slight late and then pancakes in Christmases for lunch followed by various presents (some exhibited below) and skype calls to relations elsewhere. Very much the modern way of joining in Christmas across the continents (just was well the time zones aren't too different!). Eventually tired children were packed off to bed and an adult Christmas dinner (of what turned out to be a prawn and mango curry in coconut milk in honour of the tropicality of the situation. We did have the Christmas pudding though - and concluded we need to order some vegetable suet for next year...) enjoyed. Boxing Day was also fun, with ;pot luck' leftover lunch at friends down in the swampy side of town. I spent rather too long (and all their ink - it's amazing how much I have produced over the last few years when you print it all out together...) printing my papers and documents, etc., but enjoyed the lunch and then, after the ink ran out, joined in the tour of the farm - the Mancub liked the cows, I preferred the Diderick cuckoo... And then we all played obligatory post lunch Boxing Day cricket on the lawn. Between us I think the Wicked Uncle and I were definitely the most expensive bowlers...

Friday, 25 December 2009

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas to you all! We've been having a fun day, collecting Uncle J from the airport, making it back just in time for Church, and spending the rest of the day lounging around watching a butterfly (Kitty in one of her presents) flitting about the house and a biker (the Mancub) doing repeated circuits of living room - kitchen - hall - living room on his new red pikipiki (motorbike). Kids now in bed, having failed to eat almost anything for tea. We had pancakes for Christmas lunch and Mr B is now concocting some sort of prawn - coconut - mango - chili thing for our dinner.

Photos to follow, maybe tomorrow.

Love and Peace to all.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Resident's permit!

Yes, I have it!

It was issued at the main immigration office in Dar and should help things on Monday, so I'm very grateful to the very helpful people at the Conservation Resource Centre who not only organised it (and even turned up to help me during my interrogation at immigration) but got it on a plane from Dar, collected it for the airline office and delivered it to the door this evening - even though the office closed yesterday.

Yesterday I did get some more information on quite why things were being taken so seriously - it turns out that we really were in a rather sensitive area even though there are no fences, no signs and plenty of Maasai grazing their cattle...).

Anyway, I've actually managed a whole day at home today,  having fun putting hooks in walls, fitting mosquito nets in the spare room and reading the Mancub lots of stories. Mama spent the morning discovering what was left in the few shops that remain open, so we do have food for Christmas now. She even got a lady by the side of the track to sew together some of he spare curtain material into some rather funky African themed stockings too - all for 2000TSh (~£1). And we ended up having brief visits from an awful lot of people this evening, which was great too. Certainly a good way to get Kitty even more excited about Christmas. Not sure the Mancub quite realises what's happening yet... And I've just confirmed that the Wicked Uncle's flight is boarding, so we'll be seeing him in the morning - hurrah! And just in case the internet cuts out again tomorrow, here's wishing everyone a very Happy Christmas indeed.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Fun, Furniture and Frustration...

So another day, another meeting, another postponed decision. Back again on Monday and meanwhile a huge pile of paperwork to be printed off (at the house of our long-suffering and angelic neighbour L - she of the groceries, Christmas tree delivering, childminding, police-chiding...) Mr B has to somehow prove that he really genuinely is interested in birds and is who he says he is by producing all his contracts, scientific papers etc going back as far as possible. (It should also prove to our Lawyer that he really isn't just the 20 years old he apparently looks!)

The more pleasant happenings included a trip for me and the kids out to our friends who live in the middle of a forest on the lower slopes of Mount Meru (directions from the last time we went). We arrived to find H in the midst of about a dozen children, mostly from nearby houses hidden in the trees, all rolling out biscuit dough for Christmas biscuits. She used to be a teacher and ran her own preschool for a few years which might explain why she looked completely invigorated and loving it, whereas I would be tearing my hair out. We had an action-packed, extremely messy, noisy and creative morning baking and decorating biscuits and creating Christmas cards and decorations, with various breaks for trampolining, snacks and Tweenies. The kids and I snuck off for a while to use the pool, the Mancub tempted in by a plastic tractor we decided would probably survive a dunking, and we chased it round the pool, sunk it and watched it slowly rise towards us and pop out, and sang Chitty chitty tractor.

This afternoon was yet another frustrating local experience. Our dining table and chairs, coffee table and bedside tables were due to be delivered yesterday. So yesterday I went to the fundi (about 30 mins from here) to find the dining table considerably narrower than agreed and the chairs not ready. The next plan was for them to be delivered today (finished and widened), with someone guiding the way to our house. Our friendly taxi driver was commissioned with the task but somehow our communication was faulty yet again and he didn't go. When I realised this the kids and I gave up on our trip to the shops, piled back in the car and drove off to arrange delivery, hanging around for the arrival of a pick-up and then some complicated stacking and packing. When all was finally ready, the pick up guy drove off ahead of us, quite fast. This surprised me somewhat since he didn't know the way to our house and the whole point of us being there was to show him the way. So we dutifully followed, assuming he would pull over somewhere for us to overtake. But we got all the way home without seeing him again.

When we eventually managed to phone around and get a number for him, it turned out that he had gone for petrol. It would perhaps have been helpful to warn me that this was the plan. Fortunately Mr B was still in town and could take over the guiding role, helpfully getting a lift back in the process as the Landrover is being mended.....again.

And so, another day. But we do now have a lovely golden dining table with matching chairs, a matching coffee table and even bedside tables with drawers. It's beginning to look quite civilized here don't you know. Unfortunately in the process of (not) guiding the furniture back, we missed our opportunity to pick up the remaining curtains, so it's not quite as civilized as it could have been. I'm hoping they are still open tomorrow. And the supermarket too... fishfingers for Christmas lunch anyone?

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

National Security Threat

Once again I reported to the police station for a meeting that would see a decision on what to do with me. And once again I came away having to go back tomorrow for a decision... It seems as though once again the wheels have turned and we're back at the National Security Threat level. None of this was relayed directly to me, of course - it all comes from friendly policemen who happen to have been in the right meetings and are willing to chat quietly outside the office... Yesterday's meeting was postponed because the team visiting the location where we were found to see what was at these location had not got back in time. This morning a meeting happened where they apparently reported back - and concluded that my GPS is full of passwords and codes that can only be associated with terrorist activities. As I know there are no passwords or other secret codes and the only marked locations are right on a public road I can only conclude that they didn't know how to use it. Which is pretty annoying as I'd tried to give them the manual several times but was assured they had 'experts' and needed no help.  Still, on the basis of this discovery they were apparently discussing options for charges under anti-terrorism legislation. So they had us finger-printed and mug shots taken with nice name and case boards under us and then asked lots of useful things about where I was born, what tribe I am (that one stumped them), etc. And then they got all excited when they discovered I actually own the car I was driving - some decided this was actually a crime itself as visitors can't own cars. Others decided that there probably wasn't any such law (my lawyer confirms this). But they all agreed it was highly suspicious behaviour: how could I possibly have arrived in the country only 10 weeks ago and had time to find, buy and transfer ownership of a car? [To be honest, I can see their point - the amount of paper-work involved in car ownership is extraordinary. After yesterday's paper chasing I think we are now completely legal, but you can barely see out the window for stickers - one for insurance, one for registration, one for roadworthyness, one from the fire service to say we've got a good fire extinguisher and, rather surprisingly, one (the most expensive) simply because it's a big car...]

So, no decision was reached and we were told to report again tomorrow for the final decision. At one point I was almost expecting us to be sent back to the cells... The lawyer accompanying us today (an associate of the Big Man himself - free advertising for him here, very highly recommended if you ever find yourself in trouble in Tanzania...) thought it was all getting silly again and so tomorrow morning his chief has promissed to drop in on the police again and see what can be done. Given how effectively he got things moving when he came to release us last Monday I still have quite a lot of faith in his abilities to sort things out. So, indeed, do the local police (rather than regional, who are now dealing with things) who I dropped in on as a condition of bail after the meeting - the detective there is very concerned that I get away with no record as he really wants me to stay and do the research I'm here for and he was suggesting very strongly that Mr Mawalla comes down himself to sort things out.

So, the lawyers are still confident it can all be over very soon. Obviously this is also what I want and I do still believe it can happen. But it's not much fun, the constant round and round of "oh dear, you are in trouble now ... well, actually it looks like there's not a problem here ... oh dear you're really in trouble now ..." can certainly affect your nerves. In fact, it was probably this uncertainty and constant hope followed by nothing, more than anything that affected me last weekend. And for me at least it is definitely the up and down, rather than either one individually that gets to me. I've been assured by lots of knowledgeable people that it will never come to prison, but during my stay chez polici I didn't know that at all. And it turns out that when faced with the possibility of a long jail term (actually, I'd no idea how long was possible since I've never been charged with anything) it wasn't captivity - or even the labour that often goes with it here - that bothered me at all, it was more the distress I knew would be caused to the family in all sorts of ways. But the "right your off now ... oh, actually we can't let you go just yet", that bothered me much more. I'm told that such uncertainty and constant change is all part of the strategy to get what is wanted from you (be that information, money or whatever). So being able to remain somehow untouched by the hopes and failures is definitely an ability that is worth aiming for. I suspect I'm rather more suited to it than many, but I'm still far from stoic at times! Anyway, enough self-examination for one evening. More exciting things for today are also happening, as Mama is out singing carols by candle-light (accompanied by Kitty). They also created some super-yummy mince pies today, with the home made mincemeat. Mmmmm. And G our ever helpful ascari cum fundi fixed up the spare bed so it's all ready to welcome our first guest on Friday morning - hurrah! And hopefully many more will also be able to make use of it in time - let's just keep hoping everything ends happily tomorrow!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Plumbing, sofas and gingerbread

Thought I'd better post today. Another couple of days of silence and we'd have great aunts wondering if Mr B was back in custody.

In fact, he had a less than exciting day attended a meeting to resolve things, that didn't end up happening and therefore didn't resolve anything... same time again tomorrow! Also chasing round town trying to get more paperwork for the Landrover, hose pipe (needed by the plumbing fundi apparently), an outdoor broom, a large hook....

Meanwhile the kids and I stayed in to supervise sofa repairs/re-covering parts, two fundis in competition after the one we had given up on turned up as well as the new one, a visit from the landlord to supervise fundi no. 2 and tell me off for wasting money on useless lawyers and tell the sofa repairers that they jolly well better not scratch the floor tiles....

Kitty embarked on a craft project involving the creation of a green card frog door sign, the Mancub was stung by treading on a bee, again, cried hard for a while and then insisted on running around barefoot outside, again, limping. We tried to feed a very shy tortoise the leftover salad from lunch, caught an intersting moth for daddy, and shared yesterdays gingerbread creations with our housekeeper, landlord and fundi. And finally I discovered the Mancub 'helping' E, one of our Askaris, to wash the Suzuki. It's always nice to have a clean car, but the resultant lake on the drive always results in two very wet and muddy children. At least it was the end of the afternoon this time.

Tomorrow's activity - trying to find a present for the Mancub. What chance of a ride-on tractor and trailer do you think?!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Christmas preparations...

Still no further arrests or other excitement. In fact, I didn't even have to sign in for bail this morning and consequently I don't think I've left the house and garden! We've even been busy trying to make things feel like home and try and get in the Christmas festive feel. Better late than never I guess. On the home front Mama  reported sofa arrivals yesterday, but today you can even see them in photos and it really does make the place feel a little less than camping! Alright, they might have their issues (and I do hope some of these can be fixed on Monday), but I still find it amazing what can be run up in a tiny shack by the side of the road in less than a week for what to us is astonishingly good value: about £350 for these... The mancub is also enjoying a donations from a neighbour.
Other important items in the picture on the right include my lovely birthda picture on the chimney, and for anyone who's wondering what our house looks like the open door at the back is the kitchen, the one that looks closed is the corridor to the bedrooms and behind the chimney is the dining area and other rooms. All very large...

But the real highlight of the day (other than liberation for my big sister too, of course) was the afternoon, when we had friends around (in fact, the same ones that Kitty and the Mancub were dumped with for most of last weekend...) to test drive the sofas. And halfway through L arrived with a huge Christmas tree on the roof of her car! It took a little trimming and pruning and is definitely not regulation shape, but after the littlies were in bed we managed to get the tree to fit in the room and standing up, all ready for decoration in the morning. Amazingly, it's a conifer with a fantastic christmassy smell!  And the spare parts Kitty and I will try and put into a wreath tomorrow, using the skills learnt at a workshop in Aberdeen last year.

So inspired was Mama by this that she then followed on by making a Christmas pudding and is currently making her own mincemeat too. I have a feeling the pudding might end up a little like the first one we created after getting married that was similarly made only a week before due - we still managed to get most of a bottle of brandy in it, but only as far as the top inch, so there were some rather variable bites!

Ho ho ho...

Friday, 18 December 2009

Decorations and furnishings

Sorry, no exciting news of arrests or suspected espionage today. (Please tune out now unless you're interested in home furnishings).

Lots of shopping instead, after some expenses finally got paid and we have spending power again! Sofas arrived, complete with two holes in the fabric after pretty poor packing for delivery (i.e. lets chuck them in the back of this truck and drive up a very bumpy track). These have now been mended... i.e. we now have two spiders webs made of THICK BLACK YARN on the back of one of the sofas. Meanwhile, Mr B discovered that the fabric was actually coming apart where it has been pulled too tight into some completely unneccessary and uncomfortable (decorative?) seams running along the seats... so we have someone coming to sort that out on Monday...nothing, it seems, is ever simple.

Meanwhile, final curtains are being made, sheets are being re-made (this time with parallel sides....) and a very smart wooden frame supporting a floor-length mosquito net has been erected over our bed to replace the bell shaped one that dangled low over our faces and had to be tucked in.

The children and I also visited our neighbour L, definitely an angel in disguise, who has lent us hosts of Christmas decorations, a beautiful wooden rocking elephant, some duplo, a toy bus with passengers and a toy garage complete with ramps, traffic lights that really change colour and, joy of joys, a postbox with 'letters' you can post in it. The Mancub is sleeping with the bus tonight. I felt slightly bad taking her Christmas decorations until I saw her house.... 30 different nativity scenes will probably keep her going without missing the things she has lent us.

Crime and punishment

I haven't yet decided if the system here is more like Dickens or Pratchet. Certainly, the workings have some elements of both - but also a rather unique Tanzanian element. Our ever friendly taxi-driver (who escorted me from the station after signing on for bail this morning to the mechanic where the landrover finally appeared working again, and who also very kindly brought W and I food on Friday night when I called from the station before they took my phone away) tells me the problem is that I'm not Tanzanian like him. He says it's simply a matter of bribes - people look at me and think "ah ha! Rich mzungu = School fees!" But are then scared to ask me for bribe for exactly the same reason: "what if this mzungu doesn't 'understand' and shops me?". Apparently, if I was Tanzanian, they'd just ask up front for something smaller and that would have been the end of it. I'm not sure how our insurance company would take to the idea of re-imbursing large sums paid in brown envelopes! It certainly feels as though something was lacking in today's events though.

Firstly, I checked in for bail at 9 and was told that instead of waiting around for the meeting at 10, I should probably just get on with life and I'd be told tomorrow what happened and if I was needed I'd be given a call and told to turn up. The my lawyer said we would be needed for a meeting at 1.30 at immigration. So after collecting the landrover and a bed (yes, we now have a spare bed. No mattress yet, and still need to borrow a spanner to assemble the bed, but it's progress!), I had a brief lunch and zoomed back to immigration. At 2.15 I was admitted to the office of the officer in charge and told to wait. We sat. They took a photos of us. We sat. They asked us to wait outside and said we'd all go to a meeting at the police office together soon. We waited. A butterfly arrived and sat by the plastic Christmas tree. We sat. Out came the officer, hurried past us and out of the building. In came another officer and told us the original man was too busy, so we'd be going with him for a meeting at 3 - DON'T BE LATE! He was also extremely friendly and said althoguh he was junior to the person who has been causing all the grief he'd been in all the meetings and was in charge now, and said off the record that he thought there would soon be no problems at all (good news indeed!). So we went to the police station. We moved to the regional police station. We were ushered into an office. And we sat. And waited. And someone else came to join us. We sat some more. Eventually, at about 4 the regional police person turned up, got angry with the lawyer and told us to wait outside. We sat some more. We were called in again, and some rapid Swahili was spoken. We were asked to leave. And that was it. Until Monday, apparently...

The good news is that everyone seems agreed that the Army (who turned up 2 hrs late to the meeting this afternoon - one of the reasons nothing was decided apparently) has no further interest. They sent an expert who looked at my binoculars, decided they were, indeed, binoculars, looked at the notebook and fieldguide, decided they probably weren't terrorist materiel either, looked at the gps and decided it hadn't been anywhere I'd not told them about so closed the case. This is good news, as our lawyer says a tresspass case can't be brought by anyone but the landowner, so the police ought to automatically drop things now. But the officer today was apparently making grand statements about how the police have to be law enforcers even if the injured party isn't interested, etc., etc. And promptly postponed any decision until Monday, leaving ample time for unofficial discussions to take place behind the scenes...

I'm just glad we have so many friends with influence - and a very good lawyer. Things might be dragging on a bit, but that's nothing compared to those with no connections. W tells me that whilst he was in lockup he met street children who'd been picked up two weeks previously who had done nothing but be on the streets at night and therefore hadn't been charged with any crimes and consequently no-one knew they were even there. Not a nice way to live. To end on a positive note - everyone, from the lawyer, the police detective and the immigration officer seems to think things are going to end well for us, they just need to decide on a way out that saves everyone's pride. So in the mean time it's an inconvenience, but at least most people are positive. We will see. And one day soon I'll try and gather some more interesting reflections on what it's like to be locked up for an unknown length of time to post here. Meanwhile we're just starting to get on with life again, trusting that we will be allowed to live it. Sofas should be ready tomorrow!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


Okay, time for a  more lighthearted post methinks! I've been saving this one up for a while, but a visit from a new member of our security firm today has made it definitely the day for this one.

There are some great names abounding out here. Names for people, shops, bars, even Daladalas (the fleet of local 'buses' aka brightly decorated and vastly overcrowded ford transit vans and similar)

Here are some of my favourites.

People we have met recently:
  • Godson (we know two of these)
  • Godlisten (both these get abbreviated to Goddy)
  • Kingdom
  • Filimon
  • Malachi
  • Charity
  • Bombo
  • Celestine (a very large, heavy set guy involved in security)
  • Abrogast
  • Happiness (several)
and my favourite so far, today's addition:
  • Deo Gratias
  • Happy shop
  • Alex shop (just round the corner)
  • New Conclusion bar
  • Emma Safaris
  • Jubilation
  • Jesus is Lord (and many variations on this theme)
  • Black Idea
  • No limits
  • Donald
and my favourite:
  • Cupcake
and many more we have laughed about at the time and promptly forgotton.

We've had a relatively normal, quiet day today. Mr B checked in for bail and later took the car back to the fundi (car mechanic), got it fixed again, starting driving home, had it stall on him and make horrible noises, turned around and crept back to the fundi, and came home in a taxi. The Mancub went with him on the second trip and enjoyed being in the BIG CAR, looking in engines and coming back in a TAXI CAR. I was actually able to make a start on tidying up the accumulated clutter of the last several days without a little shadow demanding cuddles and books.

Tomorrow, apparently, there will be a MEETING and things will be decided. We await the verdict, meanwhile not really planning much beyond the next few days.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

From Brave Mancub to Tearful Clingon

It's been a manic and stressful few days (see previous post). Our friends and our church family have been absolutely amazing, and I'm not sure where Mr B would be now if it weren't for others organising things or finding out information on our behalf.

I have managed to be around for the kids waking up, and got them changed, dressed, breakfasted, toothbrushed and armed with nappies and toys. And then I have unceremoniously dumped them with people who were aquaintances and who are now firm friends. Most days I have managed to make it back to lunch with them. I have put the Mancub down for his nap, in various places, but have not been there when he woke. I have collected kids, in a rush, driven them home, arriving at normal toothbrushing and bed time, found them food, brushed teeth, sort of washed them and put them in bed. And I have answered and made dozens of calls and texts at the same time. I have got them, finally, to bed, and then set about preparing for the next day: getting together breakfast things, water, tissues, baby wipes (no water at the police station), paracetamol (no sleep at the police station) for Mr B and W, and setting out breakfast things, nappy bags and toys so that we can manage a quick get away the next morning, all while making and answering dozens of calls and texts. And then I have collapsed into bed, trying to sleep.

I was really trying to keep things as normal as possible for the kids, being around at the important times, and our friends were absolutely fantastic, taking the kids or staying here with them, playing, changing nappies, and sometimes bringing groceries. But since Mr B had had all his things, including phone, confiscated, the only way he could find out anything, contact anyone, hear the news (and eat and drink) was if I was there. And when I brought food they let W out of the lockup for a blessed while to eat, so we tried to make meals last a loooong time! (I also sometimes ended up locked in with him for a few hours) We also ended up feeding various other people who were put in the same cupboard room at various points, including a couple of street children who I belive had committed the terrible crime of having nowhere to go.

Obviously things were not normal enough for the Mancub. Kitty is slightly fragile, but mainly due to a string of late nights I think. The Mancub has developed major separation anxiety. This morning he sobbed when I said I was off to brush my teeth. When I took him with me he sobbed because he wanted all his cars (the orange car, yellow car, wooden car, yellow bus, red fire-engine, blue train, red train, big soft car and wooden zebra, which seems to be an honorary vehicle). When I said he could bring the cars he sobbed because he couldn't carry them all, so I had to help and I ended up sitting on the toilet seat with a Mancub on my lap clutching an armload of toys while brushing my teeth. After that I decided that my plans for well overdue grocery shopping and other tasks would have to be shelved for the day, so we sat down on the floor with him on my lap to read some tractor books. The first time he dropped a car he slid off my knee to get it, then panicked and scrabled quickly back on. The second time he dropped it he streeeeetched to get it without getting off my knee. He forgot for some periods during the morning, and danced around the room very happily with my mobile phone, testing out all the ring tones at one point, and he was VERY happy when Mr B appeared back from reporting for bail (see picture), but sobbed if I tried to go to the kitchen to make tea, or to the loo. He sobbed and cried "cuddle Mamma" for an hour at nap time, despite lots of reassurance, before finally falling asleep.

I was close to tears quite a few times over the last few days, but managed to keep going - there was too much to do and I didn't want to upset the kids, or Mr B. But my clingy boy was too much for me today and I cried quietly into his hair while he squeezed himself firmly onto my lap once more this morning, and again while he sobbed himself to sleep. Forget curtains, forget groceries, forget the miriad of other things that had seemed so important last week for creating a comfortable home and preparing for Christmas, I think I'm going to be at home for a few days.


Little swift, palm swift, yellow-vented bulbul, pied crow. And I think that's about it. The sum total of my observations over four days in the local jail... So radio slence has been maintained for a few days, following what might be described as a rather bad day that just got worse and worse on Friday! I set off on Friday morning to meet a possible field assistant nice and early, but after a brief fuel stop was pulled over by the police (a fairly routine event hereabouts). And this time they decided I needed a special sticker because I can fit more than 7 people in the car. Never heard of it before, but he was very insistent. Eventually I agreed I'd go and pick my person up and then return to him to go to the police station and pay whatever fine it might be (apparently a standard 20000 TSh for this sort of thing). I met W and turned around back to town, only to discover no policeman to be seen. So we headed back out and off to a nice busy area where we could try things out, drover safely past the army barrack and hopped out to see if W knew any birds. (He didn't really...) And on to another point a few hundred yards further on, where we were soon aprehended by the army. Oh dear. So they took us to the barracks and interviewed us - what are you doing on army land, why do you have a GPS, where is your camera? Etc. After a little while they decided to take us to the police station in the nearby town and after one false start we got there. Meanwhile I managed eventually to get hold of our neighbour who happens to be a retired army colonel. I persuaded the captain in charge of us to chat to the colonel and as the police officer was also telling them there was no problem, no offence, they took us back down to the barracks. Here the captain, being very friendly said we should take a couple of his soldiers to immigration in town and ask them to write us a letter that would mean if we wanted to come back there wouldn't be any future problem.

On arrival at immigration, however, the officer would have none of it and wouldn't listen to anyone, just wanted to make his point. We collected my passport and at that point he told me he was going to take me to the police in Arusha because I had been doing research without having a valid permit and I would be locked up until they decided what to do with me. So began my stay with the police. Not all that comfortable for me, but much worse for poor W who after the first night was taken to the lock-up with everyone else (total prisoner count on Sunday evening was 120, all in a room aout the size of our living room... Standing room only), whilst our landlord had arranged for me to be kept in an old office with just a few others (well, up to 13, but at least we had about 10 x 4 feet of space...). Thanks to the help of many people from the Church and elsewhere (I even met the honoury British consul on Sunday!), lots of people were working very hard to find out what was going on, as no-one could really believe we were being kept there - the police were trying to bail us on Saturday, but the word was that immigration were not letting us go, whilst they were saying we were a national security threat and a taskforce had been set up to deal with things at far higher levels, so although they would like to let us go it just wasn't possible, the army were saying it wasn't a problem for them, etc., etc. Eventually, we got sorted with a very good lawyer and on Monday he managed to threaten enough people that we were finally bailed at about 5pm... You probably don't want all the details of the previous very days - suffice to say I was treated well enough, Mama was able to come and feed W and I at regular intervals and keep us posted with activities elsewhere, but after four days without water to wash in, and only a hard chair to sleep in, I was not looking my best when finally released (though Kitty thought I might want to keep the beard...):

Nothing is finally resolved, and W and I had to report to the police at 8 this morning, and will have to check in again at 9 tomorrow and Thursday. But the general feeling seems to be that the police are ready to drop the charge they have, of criminal tresspass, because (a) we weren't on land owned by the army anyway and (b) you can't accidently tresspass, it must be intentional and there's no way they can prove we intend this anyway (especially as everyone now believes that we didn't!). But immigration are causing a much bigger fuss (though somewhat less after they recieved a copy of my research permit yesterday morning). So we'll wait and see - hopefully the meeting on Thursday will be the end of everything (the laywer expects this), but I still do need the resident's permit or we have to leave anyway... (and it's definitely preferable to leave than be sent to jail - though this seems impossible now) So, we will see. I must say, it's nice to be free! Now we have to pick up all the things that have been undone over the last few days...

Thursday, 10 December 2009


The house is full of artists at the moment, fine and performing it seems. Mama B is currently being watched by Kitty performing Ahmal and has been singing around the house much to the Mancub's excitment. Not sure how it's going as they're not back yet, but no doubt a full report in time. (Hopefully better than Kitty's Christmas performance that I think we drew something of a veil over after bottling out halfway through...) The Mancub and Kitty have both been producing works of art at home though (the Mancub is definitely exploring punctilism - or whatever it's called, I'm a scientist you know...). You can probably guess who is responsible for what (though one of the Mancub's has been slightly edited by his sister - including around the edges with scissors it seems...). And obviously Kitty is keen attribution is made whereever due anyway!

I promised they'd go up, so here they are. If I ever feel inspired myself I'll make sure my contribution is also registered... Meanwhile I'm trying to work out how to get the University to pay my friendly mechanic for fixing up the landrover nicely. It will not only let me get back into the bush tomorrow, but will hopefully mean we're fine for a safari over the Christmas period - Serengeti here we come (sorry Wicked Uncle, we decided for you... Just trying to find an affordable way to do it..)!!!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Birthday party

This morning's activity included ordering a dining table and chairs, a coffee table and 4 bedside tables, all to be made by a local fundi, by 22nd Dec.

Having got that sorted, this afternoon's rather cheaper activity was Kitty's first birthday party here. A classmate turned 5 and much fun was had by all in their enormous garden, with cake, crisps, paddling pool, swings, sandpit, treasure-hunt and finally some sort of wurst and potato salad (yes, German friends). The Mancub forwent his nap to join in with gusto (except the paddling pool which was deemed too cold). Parents seem to stay at these things, so I had a nice time getting to know some of the other school mums (and Dad) and consuming coffee and cake.

All in all a nice change from shopping, sorting and fixing!

And Mama didn't hear the exciting news that it looks like a paper I've helped with about Koalas and the trees they like to eat has just been accepted for publication too. So I think that surely qualifies me as a mammalogist. Excellent!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Mancub alive and well

Just a brief note today to say that the Mancub woke up in fine fettle and whatever it was yesterday seems to have passed quickly, gracas a Deus. Other than that, little to report, unless you are particularly interested in the purchase of lightbulbs, sheets, towels, quilts (largely from the second hand textile market), tape measure, screwdriver, rawl plugs.... 

Oh, and we also had our first skype session with lovely footage of baby R and family. Thanks guys! Come on all you closet skypers...

Sunday, 6 December 2009


Well, it's Sunday night after an action-packed weekend of socialising. On Saturday I failed to rehearse for the Christmas 'Opera' I am performing in next week. The rehearsal time had been changed but no one had informed me so I arrived just as everyone else was leaving and just as the rest of the family were sitting down to a nice lunch at home. I probably haven't mentioned this star-studded performance yet but I have been delighted to get straight into some good singing. Arusha Community Church, where we seem to have washed up, is putting on 2 performances of Amahl and the Night Visitors this week  - a one act Christmas 'opera' about an overnight stop of the 3 Kings on their way to visit the new-born King. I get to be a shepherd (i.e.chorus). There is also a carol service on 22nd December so yet more singing - hurrah!

Anyway, after returning home for a quick sandwich, we headed out to our first social engagement of the weekend: an afternoon at the home of one of Kitty's classmates. The two of them had seemed to get on well at school (they are known as the two talkative ones...) and they had a wonderful afternoon together, playing very happily with very little input from the grownups for about 6 hours. The family turned out to live in the middle of the forest on the lower slopes of Mount Meru. The directions went something like:

Drive out to Usa (about 40 mins from us, mostly on 'good' road although with some lethal speed bumps)
Turn left at the sign for the Dik Dik hotel and carry on that road (aka very bumpy dirt track) for some way
Turn right at the sign for the hotel
Follow that road downhill and through the river
After a long sweeping bend you get to a series of Y juntions.
Go L, L, R, R, L
And you'll get to our 'garage'

During the L, L, R, R, L, which was in dense forest along a track that was basically two parallel lines of bare earth amidst the vegetation, we did debate one potential Y juntion but decided it wasn't really a track...

To give them credit, we did get there first time.

(It was vaguely reminiscent of the directions we had in Tarangire National Park, which involved turning left at the sand river, just past the Baobab tree with the broken branch.)

Anyway, despite our musings along the way, the journey did turn out to be extremely worthwhile. It was a beautiful (or "funny posh" according to Kitty) house in an amazing location, with a friendly family, pool with a bar onside, BBQ laid on for dinner and Hornbils and Owls in the garden.... As Kitty commented when we were leaving and our hosts politely said "do come again":  "yes we will and we'll stay in the guest house next time!" We returned in the dark, dodging cats and dogs and inebrietated locals (and uninebriated locals) and taking over an hour to wend our way home.

Today we had a worrying start to the day when the Mancub had a revolting nappy and suddenly flagged at church, coming over all cold and clammy, miserable and tired and falling asleep in my arms after a bit of wailing. We came home early and put him to bed. He was no better or worse after a nap so we headed out for our late lunch engagement with a friends who have also arrived recently and have just moved into their own house. I'm not sure if it was the paracetamol or the turkey dinner that did it, but he perked up and had a lovely time after a while, running barefoot through the freshly dug vegetable beds and shoving his cars under the nose of the long-suffering totoise "toitoi see car!" He was still rather clammy at bedtime but remaining cheerful, so here's hoping and praying for a short-lived thing.

Oh, and we tried out the oven this morning with one batch of chocolate raisin jumbles successfully baked, enough for a box for us and a box to take as an offering this afternoon. Now we're really settled in!

I failed to get any decent photos of the weekend's activities, but here are a few from last week, before the move. The Mancub is definitely into books these days, even when they don't have tractors in, but tame Elands you can feed are good too.


Friday, 4 December 2009

Technological wizardry...

After another full day of conferencing I got home in time to send children to bed, eat something and check out whether our new in house internet connection is quick enough to cope with Skype. And it looks like it might be - we've got a full 33kb/sec here, fully 10 x the speed we've had previously. Now all we need it to find out who among our friends and relatives are also on Skype and we'll be off! Provided you're not in the US, of course, and suffering from a complete time-zone missmatch... We even have a camera to provide pictures, but that might be pushing it too far...  If you want my user name just let me know.

Today's excitement from Mama B has been succeeding in fixing various leaks and holes - we now seem to have hot water everywhere, which I'm sure visitors will appreciate. Just a matter of turning the right tap it seems. Whilst I managed to hook up with quite a few more people I wanted to collar before the end of the conference on my mission to make sure we have invitations to every protected area in the country... It looks like my first jolly will have to be some time in January, when I'll team up with a nocturnal primate expert (well, really THE nocturnal primate expert...) and we'll train a few local people on birds to look for and bush babies to listen for and sample some random locations beyond the west side of Serengeti in a very nice sounding private nature reserve (with the most exclusive lodge I've ever heard of - 1600 US$ per night I'm told (though we'll be but in the consultant's accommodation...)). It's tough, but someone has to do it. Oh, and it sound slike our nocturnal garden chitterer is likely to only be a fruit bat, but there's a chance of tree hyrax so I hould get a spotlight... Bit of a mad social weekend ahead, but hopefully lots of fun for all (and maybe even a little furniture ordering on the side. We're looking forward to the time we have a sofa to relax on...).

So, hope we can speak to some of you soon. Let us know your Skype names!

Thursday, 3 December 2009


I've been busy abandoning Mama and the littlies for the last couple of days attending the biennial TAWIRI (Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute - the national body that coordinates research - and research permits) Conference. I was actually here for the last one, two years ago, so there are a few familiar faces this time around. And I thought I might briefly reflect on some of the more interesting topics that have been discussed so far - it's interesting to compare the programme with that of, say the British Ecological Society annual meeting. Certainly a lot more of the programme is concerned with basic natural history than anything else really - mostly because things are so unknown out here. So I sat though a rather nicly illustrated talk on the basic ecology of a newly discovered species of monkey (actualy a new genus), with a population numbering around 1100 individuals. And you don't usually get that sort of thing in the UK. There's also a whole load of people who seem to like pestering primates of one form or another - chimpanzees being the main target, but lots of others too. I just find it rather hard to believe that following habituated (i.e. tame) monkeys around for years at a time gives us great insights into anything much, but that's probably my prejudices.

Much more interesting (and challenging) has been the series of talks on human / wildlife conflict. I remember introducing someone who worked on "problem species" for DEFRA to a Kenyan who worked on Elephant problems at a UK conference once. The converstation ran something along the lines of
"so what problems do you have here?",
"well, we mainly work on controlling pest species",
"oh, so do you have big pest species here too?",
"well, some things are big problems yes"
"And do they also bother the people?"
"Certianly farmers get upset about things sometimes"
"But do they get hurt too - I mean in my area 2 people were trampled whilst protecting their farm for elephants last year"
"Oh, no, nothing like that really..."
"what about other dangerous wildlife, our farmers worry aout lions and things too?"
"err, no, nothing like that either I guess... We're more interested in aphids..."

There really aren't the same issues in the UK! So it was all a bit depressing to hear talk after talk about elephant problems and how to solve them (we've got some pretty good ideas, but it seems surprisingly difficult to persuade people to do things like plant chilli crops around their farms - there's surely some interesting study in perceptions of risk to undertake there), or talks on lion spearing and poisoning: sure the lions come off much worse (180 killed in 3 years around Tarangire NP), but that's still tough for the 10 people eaten in the same period. These are real problems and good to see some first attempts at a scientific approach to studying them. Lots more to do, though - I just hope it won't be too late for some of the areas.

And on the other hand some extremely encouraging talks on how it can go right sometimes: I loved the talk about how the Grumeti Game Reserve (one of the buffer zones for Serengeti NP, and a hunting concession) was taken over in 2003 by an individual with a real vision for conservation. They now busy the hunting quotas and pay the permit fees, but don't hunt anything and run the region as a rather exclusive extension of the NP. When they started in 2003 the resident wildife was almost non-existent after decades of poaching and unsustainable hunting. Since then, with strongly enforced anti-poaching and a range of community initiatives the wildlife populations have increased massively - at least doubling for all resident species, and 10-fold increases for some. Sure, some must be immigration from areas nearby where poaching is ongoing, but an economic and environmental success none the less (and I got myself an invitation to go and give a talk to the guides on what birds to be looking out for to be most useful...).

Overall, there's a great diversity of research going on around Tanzania. Much of it could be made more exciting and internationally interesting without too much difficulty - that's where the lack of training shows I think - and a real mix of big problems, but sparks of hope too. And a great crowd of (mostly Tanzanians) who really care for the wildlife around them. I'm looking forward to visiting lots of them around the country in the next few years!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Chocolate lorry!

How did they know? The people somewhere in Germany who made the advent calender we bought at our favourite cafe here. Kitty of course bagged the first door and was rewarded yesterday morning with a chocolate bell. The Mancub, grudgingly allowed the fruits of this morning's door-opening, received a chocolate lorry carrying a pile of chocolate sand. Now everytime he sees our bed (where the great advent event takes place - not altogether wisely as Mr B now has a fetching brown pattern on his nice white pillowcase) he says "coclat lowwy!" with great relish. What will it be on the fourth? A tractor? Steam train? Motorbike? I'm all anticipation.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Home Sweet Home

Kitty in bed construction mode...

But where are the drawers?

Very happy with completed bed!

We're here, at home, in our huge and empty new house. The kids are asleep, each in their own room for the first time since we arrived. And we even have internet, albeit only in the study, which currently has no desk/table or curtains. So here I am, surrounded by all the boxes of bits that haven't found a home yet, sitting on one of our 5 folding canvas chairs and all lit up like a museum exhibit for anyone who wants to peer through the glass. The background music floating through the mozzie screen consists of crickets chirping, dogs barking, the rather garrulous neighbours and the occaisional pad pad of tonight's Askari doing his rounds.

Mr B popped out half an hour ago to check that E - the new askari - had actually arrived for his first night on the job. He came back in rather sheepishly to report that, well, yes there is a black man out there in the dark... and it could well be E...or anyone else for that matter!

A busy day all round. We loaded the landrover up inside and on top (the cot) this morning and Mr B drove it up while I dropped Kitty at school and picked up J - our new housekeeper. She will find her own way here tomorrow but it seemed easier to collect her today than give complicated directions in Swahili. After unloading, Mr B headed off with a long list of errands including obtaining an internet connection and an arrangement with a security firm, buying a gas bottle for the stove, organising the paperwork for the transfer of ownership of our cars, commissioning the spare bed and mosquito net frames for that and our bed, commissioning the actual mosquito nets, registering for the conference he's attending for the rest of the week, collecting Kitty from school, buying fruit and veg and phone cards, getting spare keys cut (none of which turn out to fit...) Amazingly he achieved them all, despite provocative comments from the various aquaintances he met who all thought him very callous to be 'relaxing in town' while I was slaving here to set up house.

Meanwhile I put up lots of curtains, with the help of the Mancub who was particularly fascinated by the curtain hooks. (I suspect we'll be finding them in various nooks and crannies around the place for months) J cleaned lots of cupboards, floors and bathroom fittings and washed all the new crockery and cutlery. She worked very diligently, albeit not quite as I would have expected. Over the next days and weeks I'm going to have to explain a few pointers for effective cleaning (not exactly my own strongpoint!) but I'm going to have to work on my Swahili too as some of today's requests were clearly misunderstood! We unpack and sorted and stored and made beds and even put up an alphabet poster and Peter Rabbit frieze in the Mancub's room. Kitty has some stickaround Disney Princesses (HER choice, needless to say) which we brought all the way from B&Q in Aberdeen and which will go up tomorrow after school.

So, all in all, a very productive and satisfying day. It will be nice to get a proper dining table and chairs and some sofas to relax on, but we managed to eat a proper meal, cooked in our new pans on our new stove and eaten off what will become a desk while sitting on what will become some outdoor chairs. A far sight more civilized than our first night in our flat in Dunbar almost 8 years ago when we ate off a minute inlaid occasional table bought in the Souk in Damascus whilst perched precariously on two folding camping stools some prescient person had selected as a wedding present. We thought of that flat - the first home we owned - over dinner as we gazed around our new living-dining room and concluded that it could encompass the whole Dunbar flat quite easily with a couple of extra box rooms thrown in for good measure.

So, plenty of room for overseas visitors. Our first arrives on Christmas morning and we have more booked in for February and April, but we are keen to have more! Book now to avoid disappointment.