Tuesday, 31 August 2010


Well, nothing much is happening at the moment, but the things that keep me happy are watching the signs that seasons are changing. In the last week we've seen (or rather, heard) the first European Bee-eaters flying over, and a Barn Swallow zipped south - definitely migrants from the north. And all the pools and streams we visit at the moment have returning waders too. It's still some months before the mass return of small birds - they time their arrival to the short rains in November - but it's a sure sign that the seasons are changing up north... My wheatear student has been reporting the departure of wheatears from Greenland in the last few weeks, so I know there's movement through the UK now.

And here too the seasons are changing (and right now the bush babies are calling in the garden. Noisy critters...). I confess that the seasons in Arusha are not quite what I was expecting - we're in the middle of the dry season now, but pretty much since the rains ended (rather late) in early June it's been overcast in the mornings (usually burning off later, mind) and cold. Admittedly, not Aberdeen biting, raw, near-arctic cold, but cold enough to need a jumper (at least when you're sitting at a computer inside all day). And it's been breezy too - strong winds from the east, whipping up the increasing piles of dust on the roads. But just recently, in the last couple of weeks, we've enjoyed a few bright sunny mornings again and the temperature has been rising once more. And the Jacarandas are starting to flower again - beautiful purple blooms appearing on bare trees all across town. Just as they were when we arrived here nearly a year ago: it's nice to see the seasons coming around again. (And it will be nice to get back into proper warm weather again in a week or two - bring on those oppressive blue skies again!)

Anyway, nothing more to report than the gradual processes of nature, but that does make me very happy it's worth reporting anyway! If you happen to live to the north of us, do point out the direction to any passing birds. We want them back!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Birds and books

It's been a busy week. Kitty started her new school on wednesday, which is really lovely. There are 13 children in the class, a mixture of local village kids and fee-paying kids. There are two other girls she was friends with from her last school, which is nice. The teaching is in English and swahili, with translation either way when neccessary (especially now at the start of the year with new kids in the class). Her main teacher was a very well respected teacher in the International School here for many years, who wanted to do something different and set up this new school.

So, school is great... but it is a LOT of time in the car for me. Minimum 30 mins each way makes for a minimum of 2 hours in the car each day for drop off and pick up, and it's mostly more like 35-40 mins, getting up to an hour to get home one morning. However, there is no closer decent school (the early years school she was in last year is only from 2-5) The only alternative would have been put her into one of the bigger (and more expensive) international schools, which are just as far out but do provide a bus service, so I would do less driving but she would spend longer in transit on a bus. Am praying for another family to move next to us and choose to send their kids there so we can lift share..... it's always possible!

Books are more and more popular in our house at the moment. The Mancub insists on taking some in his cot at rest/nap time now, just like Kitty does, and can be heard loudly 'reading' them. He's mostly memorised his current favourites - the Gruffalo and the Gruffalo's child. And for the last week or so we've been reading lots of books to him between 6.20 and breakfast time.... Kitty's reading has progressed from the Peter and Jane level of  "Run Pat, Pat get the ball!" a few months ago to reading almost fluently through the Cat in the Hat and various other books now. She's really enjoying it!

Today, after church, we decided it was high time to get out of the house for a proper walk again - it seems like it's been ages. So we headed out to a new spot for us, recommended by a friend. It was lovely! A dry river bed at the bottom of a small gorge, with vegetation to bash through, rocks and fallen trees to scale, mysterious almost tunnel-like pathways and lots of nice woodland birds!

Some days I can really appreciate living here.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Four parties and a funeral

Hello strangers. Realised we haven't blogged for a week and maybe it was time to move on from the hating...

This week has been probably the most social since we arrived.

Thursday - a leaving do - one of Kitty's classmates and her family returning to Germany

Friday am - Music Makers - chaotic mass of pre-schoolers and mothers singing, dancing and dropping baby-mush on the sofas - hmmmm

Friday afternoon - spent in pool at friend's house

Friday evening - birthday meal out - same friend- ladies night  - fantastic seafood and cocktails

Saturday pm - funeral - the husband of a dear friend - 80 years old, ill and no surprise - an amazing man who loved and served God and the Masaai people in extraordinary ways for over 50 years - over 1000 people attended a beautiful, if rather lenghthy, occasion

Saturday evening - birthday party - both of us out, courtesy of good friend babysitting. More cocktails and tasty nibbles

Sunday - church followed by big social BBQ out at a friend's place in the coutryside - baby goats to cuddle being a highlight

A mass of activity punctuated by the oven fundi finally managing to ressurect the oven after 2.5 weeks of trying, a new plumbing fundi appering and replacing the last fundi's sterling work (half a black plastic bag tied around a leaking joint) with, wonder of modern technology, some silicone sealant, and also sorting the bath out so that it doesn't flood the whole bathroom every time it is empty.

The most exciting event of the weekend was probably the neighbours cutting down yet another tree 3 feet from our house with an extraordinary disregard for safety precautions or even plain know-how. It toppled over our roof, fortunately being stopped short by the one remaining tree they hadn't yet cut down. And so it hung, precariously for an hour or two, while we had our lunch at the far end of the garden, banned the kids from the house and tentatively started evacuating precious possessions (we couldn't find many). They finally enlisted a tractor and managed to pull it back over onto their plot, which was a great relief, if something of an anticlimax.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Things I hate about living here

Okay, the perceptive among you may already have guaged the tone of this blog. Feel free to tune out now because today I'm giving in to the urge to moan, carp, forget my blessings and have a rant about all the things that get me down. I've been struggling on and off with depression for the last few weeks and there's nothing like a good self-pitying moan to make you feel better....

So, these are a few of my (least) favourite things about living here:
  • raindrops on roses
  • Every single day, at some point, or many, someone yells "Mzungu" (white person) at me
  • At least once a week, often several, I am asked for money, mostly by strangers.
  • We are in the 'rich' minority here, something I'm still getting used to, so I struggle with guilt if I don't give but often end up feeling scammed sometimes if I do. 
  • I don't want to live in a social ghetto of white, well-educated, relatively prosperous people, but I find it hard to get below the surface in conversations with local people. Life is so very very different that it's hard to find common interests, even topics of conversation 
  • Public libraries, or the lack of them. 
  • Public parks, ditto
  • It's impossible to be anonymous or alone. I yearn for a solitary walk in the countryside, or even a stroll through town with everyone ignoring me. There are people EVERYWHERE. And everyone wants to say hello, practice their English, sell you onions or have a giggle at having dared to say "good morning" to the white person. Sometimes I don't want to be sociable but it is rude here not to engage in a series of greetings. 
  • Not having any privacy even in my own garden. Neighbours peer through the gaps in the hedge, yell greetings, ask if they can come over, start telling me their medical problems.  I'm reading a book to my 2 year old in my own garden. B***** Off!
  • 'Justice' and 'Law' giving you pretty much no protection from anyone with a modicum of power who feels like giving you a hard time.
  • Having to hassle tradesmen repeatedly, for days or weeks, before they return and finish the job they started. And then them managing to damage something else in the process of finally fixing the first problem (Okay Tia, maybe this isn't exclusively a Tanzanian thing!)
  • Having to wait sooooo long for everything, or return several times because no one can be bothered enough to text/call to say, actually it's not ready yet even though we said it would be.
  • Bribery and Corruption everywhere. Policemen in uniform openly offering to reduce my speeding fine (driving along the highway at 110 k/hour I came round a corner, saw a 30 sign and was unable to reduce my speed to 30 by the time I reached it) if I didn't want a receipt, i.e. if the money went straight into his pocket. Having to insist repeatedly that I pay the full fine and he use the receipt book.
  • General levels of brutality. Knowing that many of my neighbours are beaten by their husbands, and the kids that come and play are beaten by their parents (I was lectured in a shop by the shop manager about the fact that we whites have discipline problems with our kids because we don't follow God' express command to beat them regularly. I was only trying to buy some hooks and a screwdriver... Hearing the child next door, under 2, being screamed at repeatedly and crying frequently and not knowing what is happening and whether/how to intervene. Knowing that I will never shout "thief" if someone steals my wallet or phone since I learnt that, if I do, there's a very real likelihood that the thief will be promptly apprehended by a mob of passers-by who will pin his arms down with an old tire and set him alight. 
Right now I would happily return to life in the UK, but I know there are aspects of life here that I would really miss. Friends we've made here. Safaris, Beach trips. Someone else doing the cleaning and washing up, regular sunshine, bananas that really taste of bananas, a big house, an international circle of aquaintances. Some days I worry that I will now be disatisfied wherever I live. Perhaps it't better never to move and to accept life where you are as the norm? I vote for heads in the sand myself.

Saturday, 14 August 2010


The beach was great. The kids loved it. For me, it was supremely relaxing, which was just what I needed. Mr B saw some nice birds, including 2 lifers (new species he'd never seen before) - Mangrove Kingfisher and Mouse-coloured sunbird - and coped well with the beach focus, sneaking off now and again to explore the local bush. One day we need to go back with time to relax at the beach and have a couple of days at Amani Nature Reserve too. It was tatalizingly near but not near enough for a reasonable day trip with kids in tow. The Usumbara Mountains we passed looked like they would make a fun destination too.

It is a 7 hour journey each way, so we had 4 full days at the beach with a day's travelling at either end. We took the Suzuki this time, which was lovely - faster, air con, no overheating engine, hear yourself speak and no great clouds of dust swirling aroud inside. And we stayed at the lovely Mkoma Bay Luxury Tented Lodge, just outside Pangani, having managed to land a very good deal. We had two days of sun, a morning of rain followed by grey, and then grey breaking into sunshine again on the last day. It was mostly a very pleasant temperature, much cooler and less humid than our february trip.

So... we played on the beach

and in the sea

and in some mangroves

and in a kayak

and in the pool

and on a boat heading up the Pangani river

and with the dogs

All in all, a lot of fun, the only downside really being the mosquitos which came out in force on the evening of day 3 and ate us all in the night, despite our nets. The following night we went on a killing spree swatting over 70 inside the tent before braving the bedsheets.

So, to finish off we have a mystery bone for you all to identify.... Even Mr B is stumped, so you could suggest anything.... This was sitting in the Lodge reception area, having apparently been found and left there by a guest.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Off to the beach!

Having been saying we'll take the children to the beach since they're not going to UK, a last minute decision prompted by a surprisingly good deal advertised to residents sees us heading off tomorrow morning until Saturday for the beach. We'll be staying at Mkoma Bay tented lodge (we always like en suite tents!), which is just up the beach from the cottage we stayed in last time. Hopefully no dogs on heat nearby though... And we get fed... I'd be surprised if immigration can find us there, but the lawyers know we're going to be out of town anyway! So, hopefully lots of exciting things to report when we get back - just got to survive the long car journeys there and back with excited children. It will be nice to be looked after for a bit... So, don't worry, we're having fun!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

From le Carre to Neighbours

This afternoon and evening has felt more like a soap opera than a spy novel. Nothing to report on the immigration issue today, thankfully, but by 6.00 pm we were sitting round the dining table trying to eat, hold ice onto my wrist after a splash of hot oil jumped out of the pan while I was cooking, cuddle and comfort an increasingly sad and sorry Mancub who was moaning in pain, wanting to pee every five minutes and developing a high temperature, trying to contact our doctor neighbour but repeatedly getting the 'please try again later' message, and fielding calls in swahili from the oven fundi who was supposed to come yesterday, then again this morning, and finally (after a number of increasingly heckly phone calls from me) made it up to our neighbourhood this evening but couldn't find the house. Mr B ended up going out to search for him twice before he finally made it.

It is now 8 our time and in the last two hours we finally managed to contact the doctor, have him visit, diagnose cystitis and prescribe an antibiotic, nip down to the hospital pharmacy to collect it, get home to administer it, get two kids fed and to bed, and finally track down the fundi and have him rip the heart out of our oven and disappear to town with it on his pikipiki (motorbike) promising to come back tomorrow (hmmm!)

Phew! A million thanks go to Dr E who very willingly, as always, stopped by our house on his way home from the hospital to examine the Mancub. Can't imagine having had to lug him, at his bedtime and after several nights of poor sleep and days of poor or no napping, down to the drop-in clinic at the hospital, with its several-hour long waits to see someone, who doesn't always turn out to be a qualified doctor.

Now, I'm going to text round cancelling Music Makers tomorrow morning, have my tea, try again to phone my Mum - Happy Birthday Mum!  and perhaps collapse on the sofa with some chocolate and another episode of Doc Martin.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The plot thickens...

Well, the plot does thicken, but I'm afraid I can't tell you much about it. Today's meeting and related phone calls between lawyers and immigration people have uncovered a whole new layer of underhand bluffing and double bluffing. It's really starting to resemble a le Carre novel. Can't tell you the details just yet, and to be honest, given how little honesty we have met with, we might actually be on the receiving end of a triple bluff and it could all be yet more lies. Who can we trust?

However, the ball seems to be out of our court for a while, and we're hoping for a few days without meetings/visits/threats while the various powers that be try to sort themselves out.

Meanwhile the kids and I have been spending some holiday money on toys. The Mancub is now the proud owner of his first bicycle (green) while Kitty chose a hula hoop (no, not a slightly chewy tunnel shaped crisp - that would have been rather ungenerous). I chose a pack of Uno which Kitty and I now play avidly every time the Mancub naps. She won for the first time today, so was very happy.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

On the run...

It's been an interesting week or so. My trip to Manyara Ranch was great: he new tented camp was pretty empty, so the manager and I managed to head out birding most of the time, taking his largegun with us. It was great to be able to wander at will through the bush and along the river bed during the day, and drive around at night too - mammal highlight being a fantastic leopard we followed as it stalked spring hares and sniffed at Impala for 45mins one night (but there were some pretty huge eles too, always nice on foot...). Avian highlights were my first Tanzanian Painted Snipe and just the huge diversity - 180 species in 3 days and no doubt lots more to find yet. And I found some weavers, so that's a good excuse to return as well. I'm hoping I might just be able to negotiate a campsite for us and friends on the corner of the estate (it is 35,000ha...) so others can enjoy it all too. Though I've not got a big gun so won't be talking you for walks on my own...

Anyway, got back from that and we got stuck into preparations for a party on Sunday afternoon, havong invited about 30 folk for 'high tea' - bread all risen, ingredients at the ready. And then the oven died. Ooops. And the fridge died too, so warm drinks all round... And on Sunday morning the washing machine started leaking too. Great! Still, I banished myself with cake ingredients and newly risen bread to a friend's house to make use of the oven on Sunday afternoon and we were nearly ready when people started to arrive! And a great party was had by all...

Then things got a bit surreal yesterday. I have a small problem with the landrover - nothing new there - so had arranged to take it to the fundi and headed down. Quick look at it - the oil light is coming on when the engine is warm and idle, but not when driving, etc. and the fundi diagnosed a faulty switch. Easy. 10,000TSh later, new switch purchansed and fitted. Same problem. Hmmm... Check new switch and discover it's not the same as the original. Swap with nearby landrover of same vintage and problem seems solved, so an expedition to find an available one was mounted. After 30mins this was not looking so hopeful and Mama B was due out for lunch so I abandoned the car and headed for home in a cab. Getting a call from Mama B just 200m from the house to say that two Immigration officers had arrived and were wanting to see me. So instead of heading home I paid off the cab, hid around the corner and called the lawyers. "What's going on?" I ask, "No idea," I'm told, "but don't go home!". So sneaking off to the nearby lodge I call Mama B and tell her to tell them I'll be late back, whilst we plan activities... And happily, they leave, saying I'm to go to the office as soon as I'm back. So I then head back to the house, happily bumping into friends who spotted my lurking suspiciously on my phone in the shrubbery near the lodge and offered help. So they look after the kids, whilst Mama B goes off for her lunch and I head down to the lawyer's office to scheme and plot, before heading to the immigration office, picking my car up en route. (Which, after about 1km of being fine, starts the old "oil light on when idle" nonsense again. So not the switch then. Answers on the back of a postcard please!) Get to immigration and have the usual shouts, threats and general misinformation from the usual guy: apparently he'd sent people to arrest me for still being in the country and I'm a wanted man again. (Hurrah!) In fact, the conversation was a classic. Opening lines:

"Hello Mr B"
"Hello, how are you?"
"We were around at your house this morning and were told you were fixing your car."
"Yes, that's right. And I came here now because you were asking to see me."
"What are you doing these days"
"Well, today, I'm fixing my car"
"Why's that?"
"It's not working properly: it's a landrover."
"Hmmm... Fixing your car... Very suspicious..."

Really, it's true and you couldn't make it up! Etc., etc.

Anyway, much shouting later - his point being, it seems, that he thinks I was supposed to leave the country, despite the fact he wouldn't stamp our passports... and the usual guy decided to haul us off to the head of immigration in Arusha to confirm with him that he'd be arresting me again (interestingly, something that as we've seen before, he has total authority to do on his own, so he was obviously more worried this time than before!). So off he went for a discussion with the big boss. And then, 20mins later he sneaks out and says we can go, but please come back tomorrow...

Which is good, because it gave us time to call the head of immigration in Dar and get him to call them off. So today instead of turning up at immigration as asked, a call came to him from as high as they come to say the case is no longer his problem, and leave me alone... But only at about 4 this afternoon, so I spent the day hiding first in the lodge (I thought I should have been playing the part, sitting proped up by the poolside bar with a panama hat and the whole Graham Greene outfit, but actually just had my laptop and lots of data to enter...) and then at useful friend's house, to avoid being home if we'd had another unfriendly call... Life on the run, huh? Still, the end result being I'm told to come with the lawyers again tomorrow morning with the local team now aware that the bigger issue is no longer in their hands and that the head office is watching what they do very closely. Given that that is true, it seems likely to be a waste of everyone's time again (like the whole of yesterday...), but there you go...

Exciting times once again!