Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Snakes, camels, trampolines and friends

Mr B, very jammily, is spending most of this week birdwatching at a brand new safari ranch about an hour and a half from here, who apparently needed someone to compile a bird list for them..... he says he's also looking out for Rufous-tailed weavers, so it's really work.... yes, right!

So, since the children and I are not swanning around Hampshire and Oxfordshire taking in leaving dos, farm parks, swimming pools, legoland, duckponds, sweet shops, swingparks  etc etc we have been making the most of Arusha instead. Or, more specifically, I have been ruthlessly filling our days with activity to try to stave off the inter-sibling bickering and maternal frustration that seems to come from having a whole school holiday day with no fixed plans.

Monday, we had friends over - a new family in town, mission partners from Australia with three kids aged 1-4. Lovely family. We're off to see their place tomorrow. Amazingly, the kids played really nicely and the mums actually managed quite a lot of conversation uninterrupted by the constant need to interject "share nicely! Take turns! Stop snatching!" etc

Tuesday playgroup was cancelled due to illness on the part of this weeks host, so we quickly rustled up an alternative plan and invited lots of other mums/dads and kids to This n That for coffee, trampolining, swinging, tortoise persecuting etc.

Today we took in Granny's worst nightmare - the snake park! About 45 minutes drive away, we won't be going too frequently, but given that I paid 50p for me and the kids went free it was pretty good value! Snakews galore, mostly venemous ones (this is also the place to go for antivenin if you get bitten), crocs big and tiny, tortoises and a few rehabilitating owls and raptors for good measure. There was a Masaai museum with reconstructed bomas and scenes from Masaai life, thrown in for free (we whisked the kids fairly quickly past the circumscision bit, narrowly avoiding questions). And we had camel rides. Two is fact. The kids would have gone on repeatedly had I let them (but that bit wasn't included in the price!) Having watched the camels about their business for a few minutes before the ride, the Mancub then requested the "weeing, dribblin camel", which quickly became the weeing, dribblin, pooing camel. What more could you want from a morning out?

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Consolation prizes

If not a trip to UK, then at least there is lots of fun to be had in Tanzania. As advertised, we headed down to a new tented camp Kirurumu Under Canvas near Tarangire on Friday afternoon (via a few minor errands including, any recent visitors will be pleased to hear, picking up some screws to finally fix the floppy visors in the landrover with screws and elastic bands. No more will your view disappear each time we hit a bump!). We arrived with enough time for a short walk with regulation Maasai, with a few eles in the camp and a little more wildlife in the bush around. Then on Saturday we hit the park proper. It's the dry season again:

Which means the wildebeest and zebra have finished their holidays and are back in Tarangire

It also means the grass is getting eaten down and it's much easier to spot everything else too: we manged three cheetahs and a pair of lions who'd just settled down for a snooze having killed a buffalo overnight. Friends we bumped into had seen lots too - it's nice to meet friendly faces when negotiating fords, etc.!
And there's always nice other wildlife in Tarangire too - who needs the big five anyway?

As we were in for a day trip we went for the full day drive and headed further south than Mama and the littlies had been before - down to Silale Swamp where the elephants were congregating - a quick scan from the picnic site had well over 100 in view at once. And happily there were only one or two tsetses all day - great!

A long day in the car for some though...

And in the evening we headed on out to Maramboi Camp, arriving in time for an evening dip in the pool.
And meal related silliness (to counteract the fact we got occassional moans all day about not doing things that the kids liked...)

Today we had a nice long breakfast, then took a walk through the herds of wildebeest, Thompson's gazelle and zebra (taking the weekend mammal list to 20 species - you'd be doing well to make that in the UK...)

 down to Lake Manyara for a spot of birdwatching.

and generally enjoying being out walking in wonderful places (and on crunchy soda encrusted mud, with pelican and flamingo feathers to play with...) and assorted natural history. Prize for the identifier of the mystery natural history object clutched here by Kitty: something had obviously dug up several of these hollow clay balls and broken them open. But what are they? Hmmm...

Finally, a gratuitous giraffe photo for the two big fans:
All in all and excellent weekend. And great to see Tarangire filling up with beasts again - it's a fantastic place! Haven't totted it up yet, but the bird list must be somewhere around 150 too, so very respectable. Tanzania is great, come and enjoy it with us!

PS I think my guess was right - no word from anyone on Friday, despite texting and calling, so no further news about what the army think of us...

Friday, 23 July 2010

Chocolate and elephants

Nice consolation prizes for not being on a flight to the UK today. Chocolate and a nice card brought by a friend to Music Makers today, and a weekend safari. We've decided to head off this afternoon and enjoy ourselves at two lodges we've not been to before, with a day in Tarangire National Park tomorrow and then a relaxing day on the southern shore of Lake Manyara on Sunday, at a lodge with a pool and where you can head out for a walk amongst zebras and wilderbeest apparently. Sounds nice.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Local wildlife

Bedtime conversation with the Mancub:

"Lions out dere Mama, make noise in dark"
"Lions? Which lions?"
"Five lions? Where? In our garden?"
"Let (yes)"
"Do you know, there aren't ANY lions in Arusha"
"There are lots of dogs. They make noise in the dark. Woof woof woof. Do you hear them sometimes?"
"Dey in ar house?"
"Dey in ar garden?"
"No, they're in the gardens of some of the other people"
"Oooooh...... any zebras coming in ar house?"
"No, no zebras coming in"
"Any green sea turtles coming in?"
"No, no green sea turtles"
"Any water buffalo?"
"No, no water buffalo. In fact, no animals come in our house"

Makes a change from monsters I suppose.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Keeping busy

Keeping busy inviting people over for meals, heading out to playgroup, friends houses, lodge playgrounds, walks through the shambas, baking, arty crafy stuff (very soggy saturday kept us in), general brumming round the house etc.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Mozart in Africa

Was feeling rather tired and low this afternoon. Having to give up our trip to the UK, coping with two lively children through a church service with no sunday school or creche for the nth week in a row, the Mancub, unusually, crying for an hour instead of falling asleep for his nap (we gave up in the end). Maybe they all contributed.

Anyway, decided to go ahead as planned and take Kitty to a concert by the students of the Music Dept of Makumira University College. Very glad we went. According to their website, the aim of the 3-year B.A. in Music "is to train music teachers that can build up and preserve the African music heritage in schools and communities and to train church musicians that can raise the standard of music in the Tanzanian church, using both African and Western musical traditions." This concert was part of their performance practice.

So, we started with a traditional gathering call on the drums... all 22 of them. Powerful and exhilerating stuff! We moved through Spanish and Italian guitar pieces, Purcell's Trumpet Tune and a trio for Piano, Violin and Cello to "Redemption Song" by Bob Marley, arranged for Violin and Guitars, a jazzy version of the famous "My favourite things", also on guitar, and some full choral pieces including an Argentinian song and African-American gospel. On the way we enjoyed some traditional dances from various parts of Tanzania and a Finnish folk dance performed by the children of the University Staff (guided by a Finnish volunteer!) Perhaps the most novel were the song "Panis Angelicus, by C. Franck, sung by a lady in full traditional costume - beaded head-dress and all, and a quintet from Mozart's Opera "Cosi fan Tutte", where the suspicious young men were pretending to depart for war (complete with Masaai spears and shields) in order to test the faithfulness of their beloveds.

Definitely something to lift the spirits!

Saturday, 17 July 2010

No rest (holiday) for the wicked...

Sounds like holidays will be in Tanzania this year. I finally got through to the lawyers yesterday afternoon to check on what was going on and try and find out what the meeting on Tuesday had achieved. Apparently, nothing concrete. The situation is now that the head of the Army is asking to see the original reports of the 'incident' and will then decide if he is happy to write something saying they have no further interest in the case and are happy for me to remain in Tanzania, etc. But he won't write anything that contradicts any of those original reports, and at the time of the meeting didn't know what was in them. So he's been given until Friday (after the flights depart) to get the reports and write (or not) a supportive letter to immigration. The lawyers tell me it could go two ways - he could write something positive and all will be well very soon. Or he might not and then we're stuck and might have to leave. We could still formally appeal (as everything is being done informally at the moment), but if the army won't write a supportive letter now then they would be unlikely to as part of a formal process, so the advice I have is that we'd likely end up being deported anyway. Of course, my money is for the Friday deadline to pass with absolutely no word from the army at all...

But still, it looks for now as though there's no chance of anyone leaving the country just yet. Which is a bit of a disappointment of course - and we now to have to work out how to balance things with the trips I've already agreed to do over the next few weeks but not abandoning the family too much. Anyone fancy a last minute holiday in Tanzania?!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

One week to go

All other things being equal, this time next week I would be putting the finishing touches to the packing for an early start tomorrow, heading to the airport to fly back to the UK for a month with the kids.

It still remains possible, in theory at least, that this is what I will be doing. But with just one week to go after a saga of over 7 months so far, it doesn't look desperately likely. Frustratingly, even our own lawyers seem reluctant to answer our texts or phone back when they are out of meetings etc, so that we can't even guage how far the whole thing has progressed and whether it is nearly there or still has major steps to go. Apparently this is entirely normal for Tanzanian lawyers - there is no need to keep clients informed of progress.

So, what are we up to here? Playing at the Coffee Lodge (peaceful grounds and a good playground, with coffee and milkshakes on hand), creating a large underwater picture comprising corals, sea urchins and tropical fish etc all created and stuck onto a big piece of blue card, baking (bread, scones, gingerbread, millionaires' shortbread), trying to pull each others arms off (Kitty and the Mancub invented this game this morning, and since they were actually both happily playing it together I left them to get on with it), being kittens, wandering around the neighbourhood admiring tractors, tiny chicks, muddy ditches, pikipikis (motorbikes) etc, reading books, having friends over.... the usual school holiday fare I suppose. Also watching David Attenborough, 25 years younger, having borrowed the Living Planet series.

And getting cold. All you brits out there, it's your turn to be smug. We are sitting around in the evenings with our jumpers on and wrapped in blankets. Today's tractor sighting turned out to be delivering a huge trailer load of firewood to a friend and neighbour. I'm insisting on the kids wearing socks in the house, on the cold tiled or concret floors. And I retreated under the bedclothes to study swahili today as it was too cold on the sofa. Hmmm, bring back the warmth please.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Camping again!

Feeling much more positive today after a lovely weekend away camping. It felt so good to drive out of Arusha and into the bush - I could feel myself relaxing! We headed south to a beautiful sand river we drove down once before, thinking that camping in a large sandpit might keep the kids happy and entertained some of the time without us having to do much! This river only has water in occasionally, after heavy rain, and although only about 55km south of Arusha, it hasn't rained there for months (and it was also considerably warmer - nice!), so no worries about being flooded out in the middle of the night!

We invited a friend to come with us, and he invited his brother and Dad (also friends of ours) and a nice young lady (whom he seemed rather attached to). We also invited along a old friend from Aberdeen who has just moved out to Arusha for work. So, we set off on friday afternoon and had a lovely time by ourselves, and then enjoyed company when they all turned up on saturday lunchtime to join us for the second night.

It was nice to be somewhere with plenty of small wildlife and loads of birds, but not feel the need to keep the kids within a couple of metres of us at all times, like in some of the National Parks. There were almost certainly no lions around and definitely no buffalo or elephants. We heard hyena in the evening and a cough that could have been a leopard but was probably a smaller cat (we found tracks of a smaller cat) but all we saw mammal-wise were monkeys, squirrels and a small herd of Grants gazelle's (well, and goats and cows!)

So, without wittering on too much more, here are some photos.

The BIG sandpit. In the background you can see our car and camp.
we hoped no one would mind us camping here so smoothed the way with a bottle of tangawize (ginger beer)

Saturday morning exploration

Friends arrive!
They bring a guitar...

and bubbles...
and marshmallows!
On Sunday morning, after a rather early start, thanks to the Mancub, we packed up camp and set off further down the sand river to see if the temporary wetland we visited in May still had any water (and birds) in it.

You can have a lot of fun in a landrover (or landcruiser - this is our friend's car in the pictures)

The wetland had shrunk hugely but there were still a few patches of open water and plenty of reedbed. Between arriving there at 10.30 and leaving after lunch, we had tallied up 100 bird species, so not bad really! Perhaps most impressive were the swirling clouds of Red-billed Quelea, that plague of farmers across Africa, which wheeled around and around with a huge rush of noise, occasionally settling thousands-strong in a small acacia.

So, after a final picnic lunch...

we headed back up the sand river and home, everyone and everything covered in a thick layer of brown dust.

And they all lived happily ever after.

(Well, I hope so anyway)

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Trying to remain calm

I almost posted a blog last night called 1000 things I hate about this place. But then I decided that a blog full of vitriol and sarcasm was probably not the kindest gift to the world at large. I'm increasingly finding it hard to calmly accept the many frustrations of life here, especially as so many of them are completely unneccesary. Simply a case of lack of consideration, competence or honesty. Yesterday morning Mr B spent 2 hours in town, and the kids and I rescheduled our plans, so that we could get to a bank to pick up money and then deliver Mr B to the garage to pick up his car and pay for the work, which, we had been told, was now complete. Except that it turns out it wasn't... So why? Why was he told it was ready when it wasn't? Was there any logic to that at all? I don't know.

The thing that is really getting me down is that it is now 16 days till the kids and I are booked on a flight to the UK for 4 weeks of R&R, visiting friends and family including a new neice and new baby of best friend, enjoying 'civilization' and great British treats like real sweetie shops, heated swimming pools, walks in the English countryside and, for me, 4 days free of the duties of motherhood, singing with old University friends..... except that at the moment we cannot go, and unless the inexorable process of re-instating Mr B's work permit and then getting the correct stamps on our passports manages to happen in the next 15 days, we will not be going.

I have days when all I want to do is jump up and down and scream and curse everything Tanzanian (okay, to be completely honest, I have had times when I have just about done that).... Except that, when I think about it, I realise that everyone else here has to deal with the same frustrations, and many Tanzanians have to deal with so much more. What is a couple of wasted hours driving round town compared to not having anything to feed your kids today? What is missing out on a welcome break back home compared to being dragged before the police by a relative who has beaten up your kids and now claims that you were the one at fault, knowing that the whole long and sorry process you are now in for has little to do with justice and truth and far more to do with who knows who and who is paying whom (one of my Tanzanian friends is going through this at the moment). In reality, of course, we lead an immensely priveleged existence here. It doesn't protect us from all the big and little hassles of life, but whatever else is happening, we do have a spacious and comfortable home to come back to, cupboards stocked with food and a family untroubled by disease, unemployment or abuse.

Reminder to self - next time you are about to leap about and curse, count your blessings and try to restore normal blood pressure.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

prizes, parties and picnics

The last few days have been busy and, mostly, lots of fun. On friday, while the Mancub and I ran music makers, Mr B took Kitty to Speech Day at the BIG school to collect her prize for highest achiever in her class. No pictures taken at the time as Kitty was clinging too tightly to him, but here is one back home with her prize book.

After a quick lunch, rest and change, the kids and I headed out to Usa for a 3-year old's birthday party. I don't think I've ever seen quite so many kids at a party for one quite so young, but they certainly had the space for it, and lots of fun was had by all.

I later discovered them both inside, mesmerised first by Wimbledon, and then the Brazil - Holland world cup game.

Today, on the spur of the moment, we invited ourselves over to the house of a friend so that he could show us a nice walk up a hill he'd told us about. A lovely walk, beautiful views both of Mount Meru and down below, warm sunshine, nice company, special birds and a hastily thrown together picnic, only partially marred by almost continual whinging from one small person.

A highlight for the adults was an excellent view of some Hartlaub's Turacos (blue, green, red and white large birds) and a colobus leaping about. The kids enjoyed the dust.

That bit about the Jesus's disciples shaking the dust off their sandals on leaving an unwelcoming village makes so much more sense now. We tried to take the Mancubs sandals and socks off carefully and still covered E's verandah with grot.

And tomorrow night promises an evening out for two, thanks to the lovely L who has offered to babysit. This country may have its frustrations, but there are some wonderful people here.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Frustrating day...

It's been a bit of one of those days today. And Mama B has gone out for a girlie's night out so I'm left having to moan to the world instead... It started yesterday really, when we had some last minute visitors over for a meal (which was very nice - especially as one of them is newly relocated from Aberdeen and so was good to catch up with here) and just as we were getting sorted with them, the lawyers phoned about passport related things. From what I was gathering on the phone it sounded as though on the one hand it would be a really big problem to let Mama B and the littlies travel back to UK in a few weeks time, but on the other hand it would make life much simpler if I were to leave the country for a few weeks after all. Hmmm. Given that the phone kept cutting anyway, I arranged to go over and meet this morning.

I'd also arranged to drop the landrover at the fundi to have a few rattles and a recurrent oil leak looked at before we headed off for the weekend. So, I headed down to the fundi first thing this morning, only to have the verdict passed that the oil leak (in fact, more of an oil spurt - each time the engine turned over a little puff of oil would shoot out the dipstick tube - not so good...) was probably related to the cracked piston ring I've been aware of for several months now but been putting off fixing until we know we're here long term - as it only really makes sense to doa  full engine overhaul. Which, although much cheaper here than it would be in the UK - I've been quoted $1000 - is still not cheap and quite a hassle. Still, the verdict was that if I kept driving, even if I keep pouring oil in the top it risks doing some s rious damage to the engine. So there was little choice really - but as the mechanic wasn't sure quite what he'd find when he opened up the engine, he couldn't give me a complete quote at that point, so asked me to come back after lunch to see what had been discovered.

Anyway, from the fundi Mama B picked me up and we headed on to the lawyer's offices, where happily they have a playground that she amd the Mancub could play on whilst I went round and round and round trying to make sense of what I was being told and trying to explain what I had understood. To cut a very long story short, it seems that although we have a valid resident's permit which does entitle us to live in Tanzania legally, we also need a visa in our passport that lets us in and out of the country. That would normally be fine - but legally, to get the visa stamped in the passport, you need to show both the resident's permit and the letter of employment - in my case, the research permit. And I don't have one of those. In fact, legally, it seems no-one should ever be in the position that we are in - without the research permit, I really shouldn't have a resident's permit and we shouldnt' be in Tanzania. But we do still have the resident's permit as a consequence of the lawyers calling in some favours with some friendly officials at Immigration in Dar. But that places us in a sort of semi-legal limbo. Now this will all be resolved when (and I'm assured there's no 'if' left) I get the research permit back -but the head of immigration we're dealing with (who's already working in a very grey area of his juristiction) is out of the office again and not back until the weekend. And when he does get back, it's still not clear to anyone if that will be it - end of all problems - or if it will keep dragging on again. In theory, no-one sees any reason why it shouldn't be over on MOnday - but no-one has seen any reason for several weeks now... And in the mean time, unless we can persuade someone else to stamp the visa in our passports in a decidedly irregular manner (and don't forget, this is Tanzania, so anything is possible), the definite recommendation after seeing where my worries came from is that no-one leaves the country unless we have the visa or at least an official letter authorising re-entry. Which may or may not be possible in the next few days. As I say, very frustrating indeed.

Anyway, after all that we turned up for the last it of Kitty's leaving school assembly and a bit of bouncing on a bouncy castle, a quick lunch and I headed back down to the fundi to see my poor car with engine in mid-phases of dismemberment. Very sad... But quite interesting none the less - not so often you see all these bits and pieces that you know are in the engine... And the good news was that no serious damage (beyond the obvious, it needs reboring, new pistons and all the rest of a good overhaul...) had been done. The bad news was that I didn't have enough cash on me to pay for the spares, so had to run home to collect bank cards, on to the bank to withdraw as much money as possible, to the spares place to buy the things, realising that I was still 14000TSh short (about £7...) and then finally persuading them to let me bring the remaining cash tomorrow (given that I'd given them 1,000,000TSh already it would have been a bit tough not to let me off the last 1%...). And then back to the fundi's with all the parts. So I'll return tomorrow to see how they're getting on putting all the pieces back together again. At least I'm assured by friends (a) that the engine will be good as new afterwards and should easily do another 150000kms before it needs anything else serious and (b) that the selling on value will reflect the good-as-new engine when we do have to sell it on when we leave here. So I should get most of the money back anyway... Still, it's going to make our plans for a last minute camping trip this weekend a little more challenging. We'll see - Kitty is very keen, as our several new friends if they can borrow camping stuff too...

All in all a bit of a frustrating day. At least the bouncing paper didn't bounce today as well from it's fifth resubmission attempt!