One night in Bangkok (so far)


‘Bangkok, Oriental setting
And the city don’t know that the city is getting’  Chess

It probably does actually.  The original lyrics are about a chess game between Russia and America at the height of the cold war.  That’s far more dramatic than the sleepy arrival of an increasingly pink English person.

It’s my first day here, it’s 20 past eight and soon I’ll be heading back to bed.  I hadn’t managed to sleep much on the flights, I got maybe two hours altogether. So there was a long taxi ride, got dropped off on the wrong road, so had a little wonder around the busy streets asking bemused looking Thai people to direct me to the right road.  Eventually I got here, had a sleep, a shower and then went off for a walk around the city.

I dozed off on the plane watching Philidelphia (Jet Airlines has a Denzel Washington special video list) and this was what greeted me as I woke up.

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Further along this was the sunrise:

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Obviously there’s a lot of political unrest at the moment.  There are protests, elections being disrupted, people being hot, so I am quite wary as a lone female traveller, but not really any more so than I would anywhere else. One guy was trying to encourage me to go with him to the tourist information as he would get some money from the government for taking me, but the tourist information is near the parliament where it’s all going on, so I politely told him no.

I took a walk to the river, got some street food – two skewers of unidentified meatballs and two of barbequed squid with a spicy dipping sauce in a plastic bag.  It was really tasty, but not great if you don’t like spicy food.  But then if you don’t like spicy food, maybe you shouldn’t come to Thailand.

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I bought my ticket for the boat and waited on the floating pontoon.  There I met 4 English girls on their own adventure – Fiona, Lily, Kate and Laura (Sorry if Laura’s not actually called Laura.  Really should have written things down!)

Lily has eagle eyes and spotted someone who may or not be famous.  He is.  I took a sneaky picture, as you do, then he and his friends headed our way and he got chatting.  He’s been bitten by a lizard and suggested making sure that we head to a decent elephant place when we go north.  And because it’s what I do, I got myself a picture.  So here you might recognise Dominic Monaghan from Lord of the Rings and Lost.  I’ll ignore the fact that I look like a beetroot.  I’m acclimatizing.

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The sun was setting s the boat headed down the river so no great pictures yet, but I’m going to take it again tomorrow morning on my way to the Siam Museum, The Grand Palace, the Emerald Buddha et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

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It’s wrong to wish on space hardware…


We’ve had power cuts. Power cuts, as you will imagine, are a pain in the arse. We switch, in the evenings, to a noisy generator so we have to switch off water heaters, ovens and fridges. I’ve had to cook five pieces of chicken and all my bacon to save it from going off and bin a bag of squid that was beyond redemption. But, I’ve had a good reason to cook paella and tonight I’ve made some sort of spicy chicken and tomato stew that should be interesting for tomorrow’s lunch. (Have since eaten it and it was alright, nothing to write home about… oh, hang on…)
Power cuts have also meant that the lights on the neighbouring buildings have been out, so I’ve been out on our roof, watching the stars. With no light pollution getting in the way and balmy, cloud free nights there have been millions of stars on show. The Milky Way has carved its way through the sky above our flats; I’ve spotted Orion and Taurus. The rest of the constellations are alien to me at the moment, I keep looking for the North Star which has always been a constant, but it’s no longer in my line of sight. I’ll learn the new ones, but it does feel odd when gazing at the sky to not see the familiar shapes above you.
There have been shooting stars though. I saw 9 over two nights, with bats swooping past my head. They are strangely reassuring.
I’ve been out a bit; I went to a party at a house overlooking the lake. I’m sure it’s a spectacular view in the daytime, but is a bit lost on me at night time. Saturday, I spent the day pottering about the house and watching TV after buying fabric to have some dresses made. I’ve got three wrap around dresses on the way and I’ve picked up 5 pieces of African material – one, turquoise with a tree design, is hanging over my mosquito net, another is over the back of my sofa and I’m deciding what to do with the other two. They are a complete bargain, all my material, which combined is probably around 50m has cost me 60,000TSh which is roughly £24. Sunday, I re-coloured my hair, I’m back to a dark red/plum colour, although before long it will fade back to a light auburn, but that’s the price you pay for going blonde for 4 months I suppose. The evening was spent at Isamilo Lodge at a 63rd birthday party complete with a 60s quiz and 100 track playlist from the 60s-80s.
Monday, involved a trip to Tunza Beach for an hour’s yoga session as the sunset. I’ve not had a yoga class for about 12 years, so I’m quite out of practise, but it was very relaxing with the sound of the waves, the music and the gradually fading light. The sunsets over the lake are spectacular and as dusk starts to fall, flocks of birds fly across the yellow, pink and orange sky. I came home very aware of the stomach muscles that I have that have fallen into misuse.
The after school hours of Tuesday and Wednesday have involved parents’ evenings, my first as a teacher, and have been relatively pain free. A couple of parent’s haven’t liked what I’ve had to say, but they need to know the things their children need to work on.
We are having a fake Christmas at the weekend: Saturday is our first roof party and I have a marvellous playlist ready on the iPod, Sunday we have a Christmas dinner to cook. I’ve got my stocking and Christmas decorations out ready and will be putting the fairy lights on the steps to the roof. We will make some fresh fruit juice for cocktails, complete with straws with paper fruit and mini umbrellas.
I’m still not fully settled back. On Sunday afternoon they buried my Dad and Gaggy’s ashes and I’ve not really heard from people how it went. I tried texting but couldn’t get through. I didn’t feel right being here. I keep thinking of the part in ‘Little Women’ (yes, back to that again) where Jo says that she loves her home but is so fretful that she can’t stand to be there. I felt like that in England, I’m feeling like that in Tanzania. But not always. The key must be to re-programme myself to stop thinking of how much things cost in pounds, what time it is in England, get back into the swing of work, plan how I’m going to spend my weekends and my Christmas holiday that starts in just over a fortnight… Try and sleep. Try and learn the new stars over my head. Try and let my old life go a bit more because I’m not going back there for a while.

I don’t want to change the world, I’m not looking for an new England…

And I am sunburnt


One week back and I’m still not sleeping properly, although over the last couple of days that has really been my own fault. What’s been going on then? Let’s take a quick look…

Wednesday: I had a really shitty day, no better way to describe it really, and I was in a bit of a foul mood.  Not sure why, nothing really happened to make me feel that way, probably just lack of sleep and the feeling that I don’t know what I’m doing again.  I got an email from one of my friends telling me that he too had had a shitty day, although his language was somewhat stronger.  I think moaning to each other probably helped.  But I did get to work with my Junior school choir and they have improved since the first time I met with them.  And I started writing a book.  I’ve done 6 pages and probably will never get any further with it, but I had a first line I liked and thought I’d get on and see how much I could write from that.

Thursday: Better – I had music with all of year 3 and then two lessons with year 7, a bit of possibly bad news from home that is being investigated further, but some more emails from people and entertaining photos.

Friday: Getting through the day, working on the class assembly (it’s next Friday and should be interesting) and off to a birthday party on the roof top bar of a local hotel.  After a few drinks and playing games – If you had £2000 in your hand right now would you snog Pat Butcher? Etc. – we were off to Rock Bottom, Mwanza’s current premier night club – a better one will apparently re-open after Christmas.  Loud bass, neon lights, a large screen playing music videos, smoke machines and local men and women grinding up against you it was a lot of fun.  I got home at 3amish, made a phone call to England and got to sleep in the middle of a storm with rain splashing in through my half closed windows*…

*Yes I did try to close them but they are on slats and have a rusty metal mechanism that didn’t want to work, and when you’ve drunk a bit of whisky you don’t want to be messing with that sort of thing too much.

Saturday: Alarm went off at quarter to 6, slept through, woke at 7.07 and jumped out of bed, had time to get dressed, clean my teeth and pick up a banana before heading off to school to help with the swimming gala.  Since I was meant to leave at 7.15, I didn’t have enough time to put on my sunblock.  This may have proven to be a mistake.  All the same, I got to school with Chloe, ate a slightly expensive breakfast of omelette and banana, and waiting for instructions of what to do to help.  The rain started shortly after we were in position to be helpful (my job was keeping track of swimming hats) but thankfully didn’t last long.  My main input into the day was to help sort out the sound desk so that the commentator’s microphone would work.  I managed to re-wire a cable, get all the inputs into the right channels and sort out the bass problem.  It seems that my module of music tech 9 years ago wasn’t entirely unsuccessful, but I’m sure that they could have managed it without me eventually.

I watched some really good swimming and started to feel a bit warm as the sun had emerged and there was a bit of a glare from the pool. I put on my factor 50 and felt quite smug that I had covered up in time before the burn set in. I was, in fact wrong and obviously didn’t apply the sunscreen well enough as today I have a nice red streak down my nose, a clear line of colour on my feet and most prominent and, for everyone else it seems, entertaining are the two red wings that are now across my boobs a bit. I wasn’t wearing anything particularly revealing, but my top must have slipped once or twice in the sun and I now have a chest like a zoom lolly. And no, I’m not putting a picture of the burn on here, or anywhere.

Here, however, are some of the pictures I took at the Gala:

I left in the afternoon and headed to the hotel by the lake for a drink and a look around the craft fair.  There was Tanzanite on show, I would really like some, but I just don’t have the money for it right now, so I’ll just have to gaze upon it longingly…  I did, however, buy a lovely chunky silver ring which may be a present for someone but for now is all mine.  Lunch at the Yacht Club, watching flocks of with birds flying against the cloudy grey sky and a monitor lizard lazily crawling towards the shore.

The day wore on with rugby matches, more drinks back at the hotel and an invitation to go out in a boat on a lake at 1 o’clock this morning.

And so now it’s Sunday, I woke up with cramp in one leg, which is normally a sign of drinking too much, I’ve been writing in hieroglyphs, laminating days, dates and months and starting to plan next week’s work. I’ve still got that nagging feeling that I don’t know what I’m doing and that sometime soon they’ll decide that they need to send me back, but I suppose that’s just because I’ve been away and haven’t got into the swing of things yet.

And after all, tomorrow is another day…

Things.


Somewhere in my flat, a bat is hiding. It was crouching (presumably) behind our toilet when it was disturbed by my flatmate. She screamed and it flew somewhere in our flat.  I wasn’t, unfortunately, an eye witness to this event, I was downstairs eating chips with the other ladies of our flats.  But I can picture it quite vividly.  And now, we’re not entirely sure where it might be.

I’ve sewn my mosquito net to the frame a little bit more so that the middle isn’t hanging down so low that it’s claustrophobic and I’ve strung up the fairy lights I brought back from Wilkinsons.  Add into the mix my new bedding (Primark obviously) and it’s really quite cosy now.

I’ve stuck up some new pictures on my wall – I saw a fair few people when I was in England – and I’ve baked bread and chocolate orange brownies.  I’ve managed to decode my DVD player so that I can play my region 1 DVDs including Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Much Ado About Nothing (which I have watched again, it was needed.)

I’ve almost caught up with my class and I’ve begun planning an assembly.  I’ve taught two year 7 music classes and tomorrow I have year 8.  In the evening is a birthday party and at the weekend an international swimming gala.

I’ve been welcomed back, bought food and tea.  I’ve been given a replacement fridge for the one that broke whilst I was away and I’ve sworn mercilessly at my printer for not recognising the ink I bought for it. I’ve been bitten by mosquitos and something mysterious that has either bitten or stung my hand, but they aren’t as painful as last time.

I’ve almost got used to the noise, the early mornings, the inability to sleep, the temperamental internet and the children shouting at me in the street.  Many seem to be fascinated by the fact that my hair is red – I dyed it back from blonde just before Gaggy’s funeral and re-pierced my lip, another source of intrigue for the children.

It’s good to be back.  It’s warm, it’s sticky, it’s noisy, there’s always something happening, but I’m not fully back into it yet.  I feel like I’ve hit the ground running without a chance to pause and take a breath.  I also miss people back home and being able to talk to them whenever I want to.  Two hour time difference is just about manageable, but three seems much further away.  It’s hard to reach people on Skype and to wait for a text message to be replied to.  But I can book in at weekends and I’m probably going to be heading back in the summer.  Lots of things to look forward to both here and there, I just need to get into the right headspace first…

I’ll get there. In the meantime, I’m watching Homeland and going to bed.  Hopefully the bat won’t disturb me as I’m trying to get to sleep.

And I know things now.


I tried writing a diary a few times in my life.  I’m amazingly bad at it.  I begin with the strongest intention of keeping it going to keep a record of my most insightful thoughts so that in years to come I can look back and see how I have developed as a person.  I usually last about a week before I realise that all I write is drivel.

My first diary was half my life ago, as a 14 year old with a crush on Ewan McGregor and Robert Downey Jr. (still love him), pining over a boy that didn’t really notice I existed until a year and a half later when he was very drunk (don’t worry nothing dodgy happened).  I found it a couple of years later and binned it.

My second attempt was at 16 when I had my first boyfriend and was taking my GCSEs.  More absolutely terrible writing – first about how amazing he was (he really wasn’t) then about what an arse he was (very true).  I think I burnt that one when I was 19 and moving to university, before starting a new diary to outline all the amazing, exciting things that moving away from home for the first time would bring. Didn’t keep it up.

Moving to Africa, of course that’s a fantastic time to start another one.  I got quite a few good notebooks from people as leaving presents so that I could keep a record.  As I mentioned earlier in this blog (I do hate that word) I managed a whole line on the first day.  I did fill it in later but I’m not good at writing just for myself, hopefully this is an outline that will be a bit more interesting, writing on a screen is fine, but breaking the first page of a new neat notebook is harder to go back on.  I can delete and re-write without you ever knowing, but ink on a page sticks.  This is actually my second attempt at this post, the first having been wiped by an accidental key stroke, but perhaps that’s an opportunity to think about what I actually want to say, rather than letting things just pour out, unfiltered, without relfection or thought for others.  Having said that, I am slightly distracted, listening to a Tori Amos album that I was first introduced to when I was 14 – Under the Pink – I seem to keep coming back to that number, half my life ago.

I’ve not written in my Africa diary since those first two entries, partly because I was working, getting settled into my class, learning who my children are, not just names but personalities and school histories too, making friends, finding my way around the city I can now call home.  So I was busy, night falls at about seven thirty, then there is planning to do, marking, cards to play, meals to cook, Skype attempts…  I’m settled, I’ve even started singing around the house again (apologies to the neighbouring teachers in our flats) but that’s something I’ve not done for years, because I can only do it when I’m happy.

And two weeks ago I had an email from my sister saying that our Dad is very ill.  They had tried to call me but my English phone is playing up, so there it was in a message, Dad’s cancer is back and has spread.  That’s another reason why I’ve been rubbish at updating this – how do you tell an anonymous audience, probably people who know me from school, university, work, and others who have stumbled upon my ramblings something like this?  Would my family even want people to know?  Sorry if you didn’t but I’ve never been good at keeping things in, when I have with certain thoughts, feelings or actions I’ve usually had problems afterwards.  Perhaps being an open book is a good way to go.

So know after feeling settled, a remarkable lack of culture shock and the sense that I’ve found my way again after years of having put someone else first, I feel somewhat lost and adrift.  I know I have to go home to see my Dad, look after him and eventually deal with the funeral.  I want to do that.  I told him before I left and before I knew he was ill that I didn’t want it to be the last time I saw him.  But I also don’t want to go back.  This is my home know, I have responsibilities, I have a class to teach and I don’t want to leave them without a teacher for weeks on end.  So I’m torn. The school has been really supportive and said I can take whatever time I need and I know the class will be fine without me, but disruption is not ideal for them.  The school isn’t hugely staffed and so I can’t guarantee that the class would have a regular teacher for the whole time I’m away – not to mention the staff singing group I’m setting up, choirs, the school production of West Side Story I’m helping with…

Equally, I want to spend some time with my Dad befroe it’s too late to, I don’t want my brothers and sister to be left doing everything without me.  I don’t want to miss an opportunity to help, in whatever little way I can.  I find myself saying things like ‘Hopefully I won’t be away too long’, which is dreadful because it implies that I want things to go quickly for Dad, but I can’t phrase things right at the moment.  And it’s surprising how quickly I’ve settled back into the regular school routine, given that I know I’m going back to England in half term and don’t know when I’d be coming back.

Sorry, rambling again!  I’m fine really, I’ve accepted it, it’s a sad truth, but my Dad’s dying and there’s nothing we can do to make things better for him really, or for each other.  He seems quite upbeat and he’s getting lots of support. Not sure what else can be said.

And so I know things now, that I hadn’t known before.  Look up the original Sondheim quote.  It’s good for you.

As I walked along that long and winding road


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Our first night we were taken to the Isamilo Lodge to watch the sunset over Lake Victoria, meet some of the new staff and have a curry.  Those of you that know me and my eating habits will know that I’m more of a Chinese person, but I have now discovered Paneer and the Beef Sizzler which are both going to have to be eaten more regularly.

I had three glasses of white wine – considering it was a boxed wine it was really rather nice – and realised I was a bit pissed and very sensibly decided not to write in my new diary.  All I managed was ‘I have arrived in Mwanza’ before deciding that the combination of drunkeness, fountain pen, hand made paper and a mosquito net wasn’t really the way forward I wanted to take.

The next day we were taken on a tour of the school and to a few local shops to get essentials, like galaxy chocolate to put in the freezer.  I made a fish stew for the new French teacher because it was his 40th birthday and he was missing his family.

Our biggest adventure that week was a 10ish km hike up to dancing rocks.  They are so called because legend has it that they dance around at night causing large craters on the top of the hill.  There were many brightly coloured lizards all over the rocks and spindly goats making death defying climbs up the steep hills. The view over the lake is spectacular and I got some good photos of the others as they were relaxing and enjoying the view….

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Unfortunately, I’m not great with heat, or the sun, so was offered an umbrella to shade myself and avoid sunstroke.  As a result of this, all pictures of me on this walk are banned from public view – I can best describe my appearance as a slightly melty raspberry ripple in combat trousers under a grey umbrella.  If any of you want to try and illustrate this yourselves and send it in to me, please feel free…

The walk down was an interesting one, much steeper than the way we came I managed to get my foot wedged under a rock.  As we were discussing freeing me a la 128 hours, the boys lifted the rock, leaving me able to continue my stumbling descent.  More goats, chickens and little villages greeted us as we ambled back towards the town.  One lady was outside her house cooking potato samosas which went down very well with most of the group.

As we walked closer to the town we reached scenes that are recognisable from documentaries at home – groups of children running towards us, wanting their pictures taken and delighted when shown their own images on the tiny screens.  Women carrying bundles and baskets with varying contents on their heads.  To the left up a hill another group of women were singing and dancing behind a screen and I desperately wanted to join in.

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