Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Dust angel

Have a look at our friend's blog for a lovely photo of Kitty making dust angels.

And you can see some of the more interesting things I learnt at the ATBC / SCB conference a couple of weeks ago over here on the safari blog...

Monday, 27 June 2011

Catch up photo time

A few photos from recent weeks that have been waiting for a chance to get on-line!

End of term presentations

"Graduation" for Kitty, as she heads to a new school in September.

Some of the friends she'll miss from her class

A bit of babysitting

And finally, some improvised holiday fun - rolling down the step slide.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

All quiet on the southern front

Greetings fellow earthlings, and apologies for the overlong radio silence. Please be assured we are all alive and well and not incarcerated in any buildings, goverment-related or other. It's just been a bit of a busy fortnight!

Mr B was taking part in a conference the week before last. It was, conveniently, here in Arusha. A friend of his from Dar es Salaam, and his wife, were also participating. One way or another, their two girls, aged 6 and 4, ended up spending lots of time with us during the week. They are delighful girls and got on wonderfully with our kids, but what with end of term activities and everything it was quite busy!

 We had a meal out with the whole family on the tuesday, invited them here for a meal on the wednsesday, ended up hosting them overnight on the thursday and the we all headed off to Tarangire National Park on the friday, after a Music Makers session and some catch-up work for Mr B. Just before leaving the house on friday I discovered that th three plant biologists (from the conference) we were meeting up with in Tarangire were coming back with us to spend the night on the saturday (and then on the saturday I discovered that they and Mr B would all be out at Arusha National Park all day Sunday and then staying another night). Lovely people. Nice to get to know them, but all in all rather busy (and obviously our marital communications systems were severely malunctioning). It's also interesting touring a National Park with three committed plant ecologists. Lions in the riverbed? Ahh, who needs to see them - lets go the other way to check out the grasses.... Fortunately we passed a cheetah en route (which they consented to stop for) and the camp was full of elephants on saturday morning, so the kids and I did get a bit of a wildlife fix.

this little one was very excited, running between the other, more sedate, groups of grazing elephants, with it's legs, tail and ears flapping wildly!

view from our tent
With three people in the car with a passion for fire experiments, it transpired that a visit to the current (planned and orchestrated by management) fire in the Park was neccessary. When I commented that the fire was heading towards us, fast, Mr B said gleefully that that was the precise reason for choosing that particular spot - this way we could get a really good look...

this seemed quite close enough to me...

At this point my slightly strangled tone of hysteria finally convince the men it was time to move on.

A wee, tree, coffee and gingerbread stop to recover. How many people can you fit in a Baobab?
Mobile jungle gym? One of a landrovers many uses. Opening beer bottles is another...
Last week Mr B was teaching a course on 'R'  - a statistical program useful, amongst other things, for analysing ecological data. Teaching all day, then revising plans for the next day in the evening, so another busy week. And the kids and I were doing 'animal' week - the first of our themed weeks for the holidays... We investigated the Art Gallery for pictures/sculptures of reptiles and invertebrates (there are LOTS of lions and leopards), touched baby crocodiles at the snake park (and rode camels), played with a friend's pet rabbits and chicks, checked out the tortoises of varying sizes at the German Boma and popped into the pet shop (yes - there is one and we found it!)

So, an eventful couple of weeks. What with us all being in the UK in April, then Mr B being away most of May, returning only to frantically write his course, then attend the conference, then run the course, he hasn't been responding to many emails, for which he apologises. He will be back at the desk tomorrow and for the next several weeks, so do try agan if you need to!

p.s. we've also just had a lovely lazy weekend to get to know each other again. I decided that the kids needed time to re-bond with their father, so I generously stayed in bed till 10.45 on saturday to allow them the time and space they required. Self-sacrificial - that's me alright.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Moving day...

Except we're not! Finally our current landlord came around yesterday to negotiate directly after hearing that the tenant he had lined up to move in is being thrown out of his current house by the landlord for wrecking the place, and having heard from one of our guards who came with the house and is a relative of our landlord, that he wouldn't work for this person. So after an hour or so of delicate negotiations (including my having to explain that to my mind negotiation meant both parties having to be willing to compromise...) and a brisk house inspection we have an agreement that should keep us here until we finally leave the country. We're paying more (probably more than we should), but on the other hand we avoid all the hassle of moving and although we saw a number of houses that would work, our current house is definitely nicer. So, after all the angst and hassle we're still here, though a bit poorer... Anyway, still got a course to write, so I'll get back to it.

Monday, 6 June 2011

what could possibly go wrong ...just did

Another day, another abandoned house move, another headache and another box of belgian chocolates brought back as a potential gift but opened and consumed myself as a result of despair.

4 people, 3 of them our own Askaris (guards) have told us we should ON NO ACCOUNT CONSIDER MOVING TO THE HOUSE that we had been planning to move into on Friday. One Askari said he wouldn't work there, another said he'd only work there if there were 3 askaris on duty each night. Apparently people dread having to pass that way at night because of the robberies and assault... and apparently the house has been empty for over a year (not that the previous tenants, who had been there a year, just moved out). So, possibly we've been lied to by yet another landlord. I know I should be grateful to find this out now, rather than after we've moved in and paid 6 months rent in advance (standard here). I AM grateful, really, but that feeling is overlaid by a stronger one of OH NO, NOT AGAIN. PLEASE NO!

Result, I feel like I'm running out of time, energy (and potential houses). We have to be out of here by 15th June - 9 days time. Mr B is taking part in a conference here in Arusha all next week and teaching a course the following week. The two houses we've taken...and then rejected, were the only 2 of the ones I saw a few weeks ago that seemed both suitable and affordable. And I feel too dispirited to do more than put the kettle on and eat far more chocolate than is good for my health and curse the fact that we're out of tonic again.

Fairy Godmothers? Send them our way! Friends with beautiful houses who suddenly need to leave the country for 10 months and are looking for trustworthy house-sitters? Send them our way too! Large quantities of cash? Well I wouldn't say no. Lie detecting equipment for use when meeting potential landlords? Definitely. More chocolate? Oh well, go on then...

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Moving House

Well, we hope we're all set to move house on friday. The particular house we are moving to has changed over the weekend, as we discovered that the landlord whose tenants we were about to become had unceremoniously kicked out the previous tenants two months before the end of their contract in order to make room for us (at a higher rent) and lied to us, assuring us that they had been going to leave at the end of May all along....

Didn't sound like the sort of action to be encouraged (or the sort of Landlord to take on) so, as of yesterday afternoon we have a verbal agreement on a different house! Also just down the road. Rather less exciting garden and titchy kitchen, but an extra bedroom so Mr B can have his home office and the children can have separate rooms. And in rather a better state of repair and decoration.

Busy making plans for moving - get the men with their monster wheelbarrows and the friends with large cars and nothing better to do on a friday morning, hope the Landlord fixes the various little things that need fixing over the next 4 days - and hopefully we'll be installed by next weekend... what could possibly go wrong?!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Red-billed Buffalo-weavers

I sometimes look at the stats that blogger supplies about what people are reading and how they find your blog, and it's been puzzling to me that the most popular page on the blog (by a very clear margin!) is this one about weavers. Most people seem to find it by searching for either white-browed sparrow weaver (obviously a popular species I'll have to revisit), or some variant on "black bird red beak". And they must all be rather disapointed, because there's no picture of a black bird with a red beak for them. I finally took a not too bad picture of a Red-billed Buffalo Weaver back in January, but didn't think to do anything with it as it's not the best. But in order to no longer disappoint quite so many readers, here's the picture you've been waiting for:
Red-billed Buffalo-weaver at Naabi Gate, Serengeti, Jan 2011

And actually, they're quite interesting birds too, though mainly overlooked as they're incredibly common. The most interesting thing about them ecologically, is that they are one of very very few birds to posses a phalliod organ. In fact, the only other one is the White-billed Buffalo-weaver (NB some other birds - notably some ducks and ostrich - do posess pseudi-phalli, but they're not the same as the phalliod organ of a red-billed buffalo-weaver. Honest.). Yup, this blog is finally degenerating into one of those blogs blocked by all sensible filters for discussing (pseudo)-phalli. Interstingly, both males and females have them - but males are much longer, and those male with territories are longer still. Size obviously matters! Unusually for birds, copulations in this species can last several minutes, and the species is very much a polyandrous breeder with both males fathering chicks in the same nest, feeding the young and defending the nest together. In fact, in some nests although there are several territorial males around, it seems that a lot of the time the female sneaks off and finds non-territorial males to father young too. So it follows that there's a lot of competition among males to be fathers, even though genetics tells us that the cooperating territorial males sharing a female are at least sometimes related. What the phalliod organ actually does isn't entirely clear - it's not the route for sperm to flow through - but apparently it needs stimulation before females can be inseminated by the male, and they're the only birds to experience anything that looks rather like an orgasm, so we think it must be related. Somehow.  Interesting things huh? In fact, it goes on - they've got some remarkably evolved sperm too - but that's probably enough for now... Amazing how the dullest of birds often have the most unusual mating habits... Still, hopefully people searching for these terms in the future won't be quite so disappointed now?

And actually, it's useful for me to write all this down, as it was one of the stories I was telling the guides on the training session last week, and we've just started a new blog that is (hopefully) going to house all the science and stories we talked about  (I'll pop this there in time) - and a whole lot more too - over here. We've called it safari-ecology and hope it's going to get lots of stuff of interest to guides and other visitors to East Africa. I've even put the answer to my big sister's question about exactly how doves drink over there, on this post... So, if you want more science and savannah things that's probably the place to start looking...

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Learning Space

What HAVE I been doing with myself since Easter when the Mancub started going to nursery at Kitty's school 3 mornings a week?

Paying bills, shopping, re-discovering my swahili learn-at-home course... but also largely putting together a website for the kids's school - The Learning Space. It still has a few technical kinks and issues to iron out, but if you'd like to find out a bit about this amazing school, please do have a look. And for a lovely photo each of Kitty and the Mancub, see the Recent Activities page. Some families, like ours, are fortunate enough to be able to pay the school fees in full. Others, particulaly local families, sacrifice a huge proportion of their income on the fees but also need topping up by sponsors. Interested? Find out more.

Shameless plugging, but I really do think it's a very special place. The Mancub will carry on their after the long holidays bu sadly Kitty has outgrown it and will be moving to St Constantine's International School. I'm hoping she'll be inspired by being in a school with lots of older children too, seeing the things that they can do(or to put it more bluntly, I think she would benefit from not being a big fish in a small pond any more!)

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

School Fun day

Today was fun day at school where we all got to join in for part of the morning doing various sporty type activities. Pictures speaking louder than words, here they are...

Meanwhile Mr B has been getting to grips with emails again, and thinking about the next course I'm running in a few weeks time - this time on statistics. I looked over the registration list today - it's a course that's been advertised alongside the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation and the African chapter of the Scoiety for COnservation Biology's big meeting. So I was expecting a pan-african contingent of student ecologists - all very good. But I new see I have two registered from the "Office of the Chief Government Statistician" down in Dar, which will make for some interesting differences. How can I make things relevant to those studying Bonobos and those more interested in developing retail price indices and measures of national growth. Hmmm...

There was also a rather interesting bug turned up at funday - at first I thought it must have come off a fancy skirt...