Friday, 26 February 2010

Party time!

Not the actual day, and a slight delay on start because (a) this is Africa and (b) friend in transport convoy had a puncture, but here it is! Mama again amazed all by how much effort went into organising things and much fun was had by all (and much pizza by me - the little ones seemed too preoccupied with having fun to help...). First the food, then party crowns (though one you can see here did seem to like her pizza too...)

Then edible necklaces

Followed by fun party games
Not always fully understood by all the participants...

Then the most important cake eating fest (complete with flame-thrower to keep pesky children at bay).

Mine! All mine! Go away little people, I've got it...

And finally a treasure hunt to round things off. All very successful, much happiness and much tiredness. Must be bed time soon...
PS Meanwhile a text from the lawyer suggests he's still in the thick of things at 7.45 this evening but promising an update later. And we're off on safari for a few days again tomorrow, so don't expect more news until Monday at the earlie. And I've just been told that our latest paper (the spirograph) is now available as a preprint online here for those who are dedicated followers!

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Coastal safari

With no further news on the crime and punishment theme it seemed like an opportunity to sort a few photos from the beach trip. So, a few pictoral highlights from two nights in Mkomazi National Park and four on the beach at Pangani.

Mkomazi was incredibly picturesque and had plenty of birds (including one new one for me - red-winged lark. Sorry, no pictures...) but not as full as the other places we've been in terms of mammals. Or visitors for that matter - just one other tourist car in the whole place whilst we were there! So we settled for quality, rather than quantity.

The family of mother plus three large cheetahs cubs was just spectacular - all to ourselves and just sitting on the road next to us, despite noisy children, etc. Wow!

But Caracal is something special - a new mammal for us all. Although it has a massive distribution across Africa, the middle east and into India and is apparently fairly abundant in many places it's extremely rarely seen, so to see this one hunting along the road both evenings was great and certainly justified the trip for us. Babu's camp is also a very nice place to stay if you want to do it in style.

And there were reptilian highlights too (tiny leopard tortoises and huge white-throated savannah monitors), plus Grandma was very brave with a number of invertebrates too, such as this stick insect. Not so brave about the giant millipede I'm afraid (though the mancub had one in each hand very happily...) and we've got a fantastic photo of her expression when it uncurled and started to crawl off her fingers. But she's told me not to post it. So I thought some blackmail might be in order - what am I offered to post it? If you can offer more than she does the world will see a lovely picture...

Then it was straight down the hill (well, several hills really, it's a fairly long way to the coast...) to Pangani and into the sea (that's me in the shade on our own personal beach)...

The coast was, predictably, absolutely roasting and we did little but play in the sea,

cool off with lollies

eat huge fish

and then spend a day on a dhow

sailing via some beautiful reefs for snorkling, to a deserted sand island chock full of the most amazing shells ever (if Kitty ever finishes aranging her collection I'll provide some photos - it was just incredible!).

So, all in all a lovely time for all, tempered only by the extreme heat on the coast and Grandma getting something nasty to come back with (possibly just sunstroke). She seems better now at least (and provided some photos for here too). She even survived a snake in her bed on the last night.... Just waiting for the Mancub's heatrash to subside now and we'll be ready for more adventures... Now it's all systems go for party time tomorrow (Kitty's 5th birthday) and then off again on saturday for adventures in Ngorongoro crater!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

They thought it was all over...

Just bak from a very, very hot and sticky trip to Mkomazi National Park, then the coast for a few days. Lots of fun, not much sleep and lots of heat. More details than that will have to wait until tomorrow, because it's getting late and I'm not ready to sift through 219 photos... We did have lots of fun, and it was only tempered slightly by the delayed start on Thursday by a trip to the police, who told me Immigration were waiting with my passport ready for me. Only to arrive there and be told that they'd just heard that my research permit had been cancelled and so they would be revoking my resident's permit and that I needed to pay rather a lot of money to get a temporary visa whilst they sorted things. At this point we checked with the lawyer what to do and he advised I leave quickly and let him sort things. So I did... It now turns out that someone from immigration had phoned the government department responsible to request that they cancel my research permit, but had been told that they had to put the request in writing before anything would be done. And as far as anyone knows, this hasn't happened yet. So immigration were, again, trying a fast one. But the mess still needs sorting - quite absurd I'm afraid. Still, more news tomorrow I hope.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The number 1 Visitor blog

What a lot to take in during the first 24 hours! Not only the normal things like finding one's way round the kitchen storage space but the 'need to know ' information like how to reply to formalised greetings, deciding one's own greeting name (Bibi Emma?) and possible dangers or difficulties like protecting bags when out and about. Having successfully negotiated 2 large and heavy suitcases from UK to which the only really honest answer to the customs officer question "Is everything in this case yours?"  was "No. My stuff is all in this little knapsack on my back.", it is now rewarding producing things new or long unseen from said cases which are greeted with excitement and enthusiasm. Tomorrow an adventure begins and provided a trip to the authorities does not take all day, we might sight some animals and birds which the writer has only seen behind bars before. (Clue there about the aforementioned authorities! Then, later in the week on to the beach. I must say I'm impressed with what has been achieved  despite the difficulties. The house is lovely, everyone quite at ease with life here, Mama speaks  Swahili very happily to all and sundry and they seem to understand. I'm not at all sure what Mr. B was doing in the office all day but he seemed very busy. There must be some drawbacks. I'll wait and see. Just hope a gekko doesn't fall on my head and run down my arm as one did to Mama this afternoon. It seems like a week here already. Oh, by the way, to whom it really concerns, I did arrive safely!   No further blogging until next Wednesday - hard luck folks!

Monday, 15 February 2010

Alive, well and muddy!

Sorry to all for the long silence. Mr B was away all week with the laptop in tow but failed to be able to access the internet. We are all alive and well!

He had a fantastic week in Grumeti Game Reserve, which I shall leave him to tell you about on another occasion. I had a less exciting but rather tough week on my own with the kids, having had a nasty fall the day before he left (just at home - on wet tiles and holding the Mancub so unable to save myself) and injured my left hip joint. I couldn't walk, sit or even lie down without pain for several days, and climbing into bed, putting my feet up, getting in and out of the car or going up or down steps was excruciating. Fortunately various kind friends delivered strong painkillers, took the Mancub for a few hours and one day brought Kitty home from school for me. I'm much much better now though, just a few twinges every now and again.

By the time it got to the weekend and Mr B was home we were both pretty shattered (for me, read grumpy) so we had a quiet weekend at home, doing very little. Mr B did manage finally to put up the hammock though, so relaxation was had by some and rather precarious hilarity by others.

Oh, and we made chocolate fairy cakes (with very crunchy icing as I only had granulated sugar in the house...)

Today after school we had fun splatter painting and playing with playdough and were just about to gather the swimming things and head to the lodge when the heavens opened with a great deluge. Who needs a swimming pool when you can play in the rain and mud?


Other news and excitement for the day is that Mr B now has his first ever, I believe, pair of prescription sunglasses (!!). Pictures to follow

And of course the biggest excitement of all - Grandma is getting on a plane in 4 hours time to come and visit!

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Lake Duluti revisted

Back when we had only been in Arusha a few weeks we visited Lake Duluti. Since then we've been back once as a family and Mr B did a waterbird survey there a few weeks ago counting ducks. Today we decided to head back and try to make it all round the lake as a family. We had a lovely walk with minimal moaning and a fair number of snack stops (unrelated surely?!) and then lunched at the Serena Mountain Village Lodge. We got to the lake earlyish and so saw a nice variety of wildlife, including nile monitor lizards again, loads of butterflies and another, slightly smaller, giant millipede. We had a nice time relaxing on the front lawn of the lodge with our coffee and chatting to various guests including a biophysics professor from Harvard and his wife, before returning home for a mammoth waffle fest with friends. Altogether a very nice day.


And for Mr B's relations, does this make you think of another little boy about 31 years ago? 


Here's one from yesterday after a short walk back from our friend's house along the dusty track. We decided bath first, dinner later....

nice to be clean, fed, in jimjams and in possession of scarves

p.s. notice two boys with new haircuts?

Friday, 5 February 2010

absence makes the heart grow fonder...

Mr B is going to be away in Grumeti Game Reserve (other side of Serengeti) working from Monday to Friday next week. I hadn't really thought much about it. After all, he's been away before and I can generally cope fine. But, I realised this evening that of course the laptop will also be away. This may not sound a big deal, but we have no other computer (or television) and the laptop is simultaneously our email connection, international phone and skype line, internet access and entertainment system... I'm going to really feel its absence...

Sorry Mr B, I'm sure it will be nice to see you back next Friday too.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Musicmakers and Mama J

Some days I look back over the blogs Mr B and I have written recently and marvel. Can it really be that we are married, live in the same house and share our days?  Our thoughts and focus seem to diverge hugely.

Because, of course, Mr B has neglected to mention any of the most IMPORTANT happenings of the past few days, preferring to dwell instead on birds, other wildlife, mud and complicated statistical models.

On Friday I had my first experience of giving someone the sack. It was not enjoyable but it needed doing (thank you Wicked Uncle for your firm advice, which was subsequently backed up by lots of local friends). On Monday, Mama J started work for us. She is lovely. The house has not been this clean since we moved in and, after an initial briefing, I have barely had to make any suggestions or requests. She is a quiet but cheerful presence in the house and the Mancub has even consented to have a few cuddles with her (any other Tanzanian woman trying to pick him up is met with a loud and insistent "no, no, no, NOOOO!") and she decided off her own bat to create a powerful concoction today to ease Mr B's chest-heaving cough which has plagued him for a few days now. Nothing dodgy mind, just an eye-watering cup of tea complete with lemon juice, honey and a very large quantity of ground ginger. She has tactfully suggested that some of the things in the fridge may be past their best, and given it a thorough clean for good measure. She has even lugged our heavy sofas aside at least twice in three days to give the floor underneath a good scrubbing. I'm fairly sure that I am the only one who has seen  those bits of floor since the sofas moved in with us....

Today's new event was the inauguration of "Music Makers" - a group for parents and toddlers - at our house. The last couple of weeks I have finally felt as though I can focus on things other than MOVING TO TANZANIA, finding furniture, being frustrated with my home help, etc etc. I decided it was time to actually proactively play with the Mancub and think of new things to do with him, as well as dragging him round with me on my errands and occasionally heading to the Blue Heron for coffee and swings. So, amongst other things, we started singing songs with actions. He LOVES them. I have sung the wheels on the bus about 50 times in the last fortnight, and many many others. He's really getting the hang of some of the actions, and adores being a "sleeping bunny" and then waking up and hopping about the room yelling "hop 'ittle nunnies, hop, hop, HOP HOP HOP HOP!" (he's not quite so good at the "and stop" bit....) We used to go to a music group in Aberdeen, and Kitty and I did lots of that sort of thing at various toddler groups at the same age, so I decided to set something up here. Yesterday I went shopping at the second hand market, supermarket and stationary shop and purchased cushions to sit on, scarves to dance with, folders for song sheets, sticky labels for names and extra plastic cups for snack time after singing. Today was the trial run - 6 friends with their assorted children coming at 10 am to test drive the group and offer feedback. Well, that was the theory...

Last night I received messages from three friends who each couldn't make it for one reason or another. So today I got everything set up and ready for 10 am and waited expectantly with Alexander for 3 friends and their assorted children....

At 10.15 I decided to phone two of the friends. One was just running late and the other had mis-remembered the start time, thinking it was 10.30 but promised to be along in 5 minutes. At 10.30 the friend I hadn't phoned turned up. She had been passed the message about the group by her husband who I met on the school delivery run. (Reminder to self - do not entrust messages to husbands...) He had informed her that her two older,  school age, children were invited to a music group in the afternoon. Fortunately she phoned yesterday to confirm, but still somehow came 30 minutes late. Over the next 20 minutes the other two friends arrived, so finally at 10.50, we began!

There was certainly a certain amount of singing, and a small amount of actioning too. There was also a fair amount of small children running around and being forcibly returned to the circle by their mothers. And children fighting over books (I had hidden the toys till later but when I was about to move the bookshelf Mr B assured me that they wouldn't be distracted by that...). And mid-potty-training children weeing on the floor, and children needing their bottle of juice... Sleeping bunnies definitely engaged the attention of 3 of the 5 children, who competed with the energy of their hopping, and a couple of the other songs proved popular. The most successful bit was dancing round the room with assorted diaphanous scarves to some funky African music at the end. Oh, and the tea and lemon cake afterwards. A success? I'm not sure. But I'm going to give it another whirl next week and reserve judgement meanwhile.

I didn't get any photos of the group itself, but here are Kitty, the Mancub and me enjoying  music and scarves before bed time.



Office visitors...

Whilst sitting in my office in Aberdeen I used to get regular knocks on the door and people popping in whilst I was trying oh so hard to think intelligent thoughts. Mostly, they just wanted to know how to do something in R - now they just e-mail me... (You know who you are!) But I still get the odd office visitor:
Yesterday's seemed a much happier colour when returned to a bush...

I also have lots of these Yellow-vented Bulbuls on the window during the day (awful picture, I know - though the Mosquito net, but it was pulling bits of the plant to make a nest nearby.)

And in the evenings you can often see these guys keeping the bugs down...
That's before we start thinking of the things I actually see from the window: there's a Silvery-cheeked Hornbill out there right now... 
But not one of them has ever asked me for R Code! All in all a much better class of visitor I think...

Monday, 1 February 2010

Counting flamingos

Anyone seen my lake?
Yesterday's big adventure (for me at least), was an expedition to help count the flamingos on Lake Manyara, one of the large (32 km long, 6km wide...) soda lakes in the Rift Valley. The area is perhaps best known for the lions that live (apparently) up the trees in the National Park on the western shore, but happily our assignment was less hazardous, doing the north and eastern portion as much as we could. In the end I filled the landrover with eight folk of varying experience and we set off down the road. After a little faffing around trying to find the track to the lake, we got there and drove as far over the shore as we dared. Soda lakes are notorious for having a beautiful dry surface crust hiding imposibly deep mud below... It's an incredibly shallow lake, shelving very, very gently from our side towards the rift escarpment, so the shore can move quite long distances depending on local rainfall, and even the wind direction. When I came out two years ago we saw the lake sloshing about and around 200m 'tides' depending on the prevailing wind. Didn't make it easy when trying to site mistnets along the shore...

Still, looking out from the starting point we could see the lake, so dropped team one off, then drove around the shore a couple of kilometers before parking and setting off ourselves. The plan was that team A would count a couple of kilometers of shore, get to where we's started, head back to the car, drive on past us and so we'd leapfrog our way around the lake. Unfortunately, someone had pulled the plug. Instead of the few hundred metres to the shore that was what we thought we could see, if took over an hour of walking, first across crazy-paved solid mud, then soft, sticky sticky stuff that clung to our shoes (until we decided to take them off...) and then through liquid mud up to our ankles (happily there was a fairly solid base to walk on) until we got to the bird zone. As you can see, there were plenty of bird tracks to see (and the top picture actually has about 4500 little stints in it if you look really hard...). But it was a fantastically muddy experience!

People pay good money sor this sort of soda mud though, so my feet must be fantastically healthy now...

Consequently, we the first "leapfrog" took several hours and we only stopped for a late lunch. Where it was absolutely roasting - a hot wind blowing over everything. You only had to take the bread from the bag and it was developing a toasty crust. Amazing! And think what it was doing to us all day in the sun - I drank 2 litres of water in one go at lunch, plus lots more through the day and still didn't need the toilet until we got home in the evening...

We did find a couple of nests while eating lunch (this one's Fischer's Sparrowlark - not much nest insulation needed here - just a parent to shade the eggs from the sun), and it was great to be eating among herds of wildebeeste, zebra and Thompson's gazelles.

Foolishly, most of us plunged back in after lunch and did another few kilometres, but we scarcely scratched the eastern side. We still need to total the the two groups bird lists not to mention the TANAPA team counding in the national park who I'm sure didn't get out of the ca...), but even the little bit we did was truly awesome: 130,000 Lesser flamingos (no, I don't count them one by one...), 5000 Avocet, 5000 Black-winged Stilt, 5500, Little Stint, 3000 Ruff, etc., etc. The biggest surprise was a flock of 1500 Northern Shoveler, supposedly a rare visitor to these parts... And we counted a pretty significant proportion of the world population of Chestnut-banded Plovers too, which was one of the main targets, so that's good. Very cute they are too.  The last surprise was the bizare choice of this Ostrich to nest right where the water fairly regularly floods:

This particular bit of mud (there's an amazing variety of muds when you start looking) was a real killer - very dry and sharp corners of the cracks, but soft, oozy and sticky just an inch under. Wear shoes and you'll covered in heavy mud unless you can balance on the larger crusts, bare feet and you're soles are shredded. A nasty way to hobble back to the car! And to add insult to injury, the water had receeded another 500m during the time it took us to eat lunch, so we had even further to trudge! Consequently, instead of the civilised return to base by about 7.30, we only made it back to the car as the sun was setting and then had to negotiate getting off the mud-flats, find and then follow a barely visible track back to the road, and then the 2hr drive back... We made it at about 9.50 I think... Still, as on of the others commented, I'm glad I did it. But if we were doing it again next weekend I might have to find an excuse...