A selection of doors from around the world, some inviting and some less so…
A selection of doors from around the world, some inviting and some less so…
Should you visit elephants in South East Asia?
I’ve been to two as part of pre-arranged tours and both have left me feeling uneasy and uncomfortable. But I think part of this may be because I was spoiled in Africa.
When I went to Nairobi I visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust which rescues, raises and re-introduces back into the wild, African elephants orphaned by poaching and a loss of habitat. The centre is open only an hour a day when groups of animals walk down to be fed, watered and play, with people able to come and watch. The rest of the time the elephants go wandering around the park. It was a really great trip and I took some of my favourite animal photos there. I even had one trunk tickle my feet.
In comparison to that, my two day trip to Kanchanaburi, Thailand included an elephant ride. I was a little unsure about this as I have heard tales about how animals are treated and forced to work, but I went with an open mind. As the others in the group were on a one day trip, I stayed at the elephant centre waiting for them. I watched as elephants loaded with saddles, some wearing chains, were walked up to a platform by their ‘drivers’, knocked gently with sticks to get into place as sweaty tourists clambered on excitedly. Off they went for around 20 minutes, not much shade around the course, dropped off their human loads and were rewarded by bunches of bananas, bits of watermelon and sugar cane bought for them by the thankful and smiling tourists. I bought some fruit and fed some of the elephants before they were loaded with people and taken on another ‘trek’.
A lovely lady adopting a brilliant little boy!
Actually we probably do but that’s not the most pressing part of tomorrow’s adventure.
For the second time I’ve submitted a photo to the Guardian reader’s pictures section and for the second time I’ve been picked for the website. I’ve not been in the top three in the paper yet, but I’ll keep going. If you want to take a look it’s here, the fisherman in the ‘Delight’ topic.
I don’t think my next entry will get picked for ‘Shimmer’, but it’s worth entering to see if it gets in.
Apologies for the lack of updates, I keep meaning to do part two of my Serengeti blog – the Ngorogoro crater calls – but the internet here has been rubbish, I’ve had parent’s evenings and I hosted a party so, I’ve been busy.
It should be on its way, along with one of the best pictures I’ve ever taken (not that tricky) as will another to mark my Dad’s 65th birthday that never was.
Please keep checking back!
Now that I’m entering my final months of this stint in Tanzania there are so many things that I want to do but don’t have the funds for at the moment. I’m almost half way through our Easter holiday and I was hoping to go to Gombe Stream National Park to visit the chimpanzees but the ‘death money’ hasn’t come through, so I’ll se staying in Mwanza. I would love to go white water rafting in Uganda, or to see the gorillas in Rwanda, take the train from Dar es Salaam to Zambia to see Victoria Falls, but it’s not going to happen on this trip. Even if I stayed on for a further year I don’t think I’d have enough cash and time to do all of these things so there’s no point in getting annoyed and feeling like I’ve missed out.
There is plenty that I have done in the 6 months that I’ve actually been here, however. I‘ve been to Zanzibar, to Tanga and Pangani on the Tanzanian Swahili Coast. I have driven through ancient landscapes down to Shinyanga, across to Arusha, seen Mount Kilimanjaro, up across the border into Kenya. I’ve fed giraffes, been tickled by an orphaned elephant, snorkelled in the Indian Ocean, met fishermen and Maasai, been stupidly sunburnt (even in the shade), eaten fresh octopus and fish straight from the ocean. I’ve been to one of the most important archaeological sites in Kenya and watched monkeys play for half an hour. And last weekend I went to the Serengeti.
I think in general I have pretty good instincts but I am pretty crap at acting upon them. I’ll give you a few examples:
I thought I should have left my job at the homeless hostel within about 6 months of starting there. But I thought I would be letting people down or that it might not look good on my CV if I was only in a job for 6 months.
After a year with my ex boyfriend I thought that things weren’t working and that I should leave but various things had led me to think I wasn’t strong enough to cope on my own. So I stayed and he made me miserable and I tried to make him happy but couldn’t. I stayed for 2 years and for that whole time he was cheating on me.
The week before I moved here I went to visit my dad and told him that he needed to start looking after himself because I wasn’t coming back for 2 years and I didn’t want this visit to be the last time I saw my dad alive. He thought I was being ridiculous but we still talked about things like wills and getting his important paperwork sorted out. I don’t know why I said that to him in the glow of a summer afternoon’s sunshine but I just knew somehow that I needed to because my instincts told me he wasn’t well. And two weeks later his doctor’s visit told him he had terminal cancer. Four weeks and 3 days later he was dead and that visit had been the last time I saw my dad alive in any real sense. Of course I saw him for the two days before he died in his hospice bed but by that time he was not really recognisable as my father – the person who told me that I should say ‘May I get down from the table?’ rather than ‘Can I get down from the table?’, the person who would push me on the swing and let me push off his tummy with both feet just to get higher, the person who kept a text message from me saying ‘I love penguins I do’ on his phone for 4 years because it made him giggle.
So I think I know somehow when I need to change things but mostly I’m too afraid to do so because I don’t want to let other people down or disappoint anyone. But I’m 29 now. I don’t want to be living to please others and keeping on to see if it will be alright when I know deep down somewhere that it won’t. And so I’ve come to a decision.
So where was I? Oh yes, a bit hung over. Not intentionally but it happened. And I dealt with it. Just about. Mainly by sitting inside watching stuff, avoiding excessive movement and the sun. Then by writing things for this.
It’s been a busy week by and large. I finished school at 2.15 on Friday, got home picked up my suitcases and by 5.15 I was on a plane for Dar es Salaam and the beginning of my half term birthday holiday adventure.
“Beep de be beep, beep de be beep…” The alarm wouldn’t stop when I hit the button, even though I was pressing very, very hard and willing with all of my might for it to stop. It was 7 o’clock on Saturday morning and we needed to get up to get ferry tickets because that was the day we were going to Zanzibar.
I had been sharing a hot, humid room with a partially functioning air conditioning unit at Mongolia’s house with Vicki. As she went off to clean up in the bathroom, I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep, but failed miserably. Mongolia (An American, real name Joyce, but forever to be known as Mongolia because she lived there and that was what she was introduced as) stumbled into the room to say hello. It was clear that she was still a little hung over if not still drunk. And just wearing a towel. She pointed out that we needed to wake the boys and head across the compound to Emma’s house where the others would be waiting for us. I said I would do it, but Mongolia got there first, scrambling upstairs on all fours and announcing that she knew where at least one of them was. Luckily nothing was flashed during that scramble. I suspected that Phil had perhaps managed to find himself a lady so went into the room to wake James… But instead of finding James it was Phil, his face bleeding, passed out on the bed.
Actually, that’s misleading from the start, sorry. Today’s moderate level of suffering was solely the responsibility of white wine, but I don’t know a song about that, or a film and I’ve got to stick to my theme. Even if rather loosely. I’ll cook prawns in a red wine sauce for dinner in a bit if that makes you feel better. Actually, that’s not true either because it’s nine o’clock and I should be going back to bed soon. I will be eating a blueberry swirl ice cream as I type. Just to keep you updated.
Shall I start again?
Today I think I’ve had my first hangover in about 9 years. I got in from the bar at about 3, woke up at 6 needing the loo (like you need to know) had some water and – probably a mistake – a chocolate orange brownie. I tried to have the sensible bacon sandwiches but that didn’t happen for a good six hours. I’ve been tired, a little bit shaky from too much of a sugar rush and have spent the day very productively in bed watching Elementary and Southland. For those of you who don’t know, Elementary is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes tv series set in New York with Johnny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as Joan Watson his sober companion. It’s not as good as Sherlock but I like it. Southland is a tv series about police in South Central LA. It has Ben McKenzie (AKA Ryan ‘Fists of Fury’ Attwood from the OC) in it and is a better show, but harder to watch when feeling delicate. Another show that has graced my computer screen today is Hart of Dixie, with Rachel Bilson (also OC) but by far the best is Grey’s Anatomy. I love it, it’s trashy, it’s melodramatic, they keep killing off my favourite characters, but I can watch it over and over again whenever I am feeling like crap and it cheers me up. When I run out of new episodes I go back to series 1 and start again…
Sorry, tangent, that happens when I’m eating ice cream.
I’m back at school, I’m tired, I’ve got a cold coming on but otherwise things are good.
After my Christmas trip to Kenya I was quite drained, sunburnt and altogether dreading going back to work. Having a break of a month is not necessarily a good thing for me. (Yes, I know, boo hoo, poor me, I’m sure you would love a month off for Christmas – I’m not bemoaning that, I just recognise that I need more structure than all that time to my own devices.)
“Fresh starts: thanks to the calendar they happen every year —just set your watch to January, our reward for surviving the holiday season is a new year. Bringing on the great tradition of new years resolutions, put your past behind you and start over. It’s hard to resist the chance of a new beginning, a chance to put the problems of last year to bed.”
Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy [2.13]
It’s nearly the end of the year, very soon I will be by a beach overlooking the Indian Ocean and so many things have changed. The Mayans thought the world would end today. They were wrong but for me, this year, a good many things have ended.
The first, in January, was a three year relationship, I thought that we would get married (mainly because he said we would), I thought that we would have children and that I would live in a cottage somewhere in the North East (he said all that too…). Last December I sat at my sister’s and then at my brother’s playing with their children and decided that enough was enough. Enough making do with someone who couldn’t look after himself, enough hoping that if I was supportive and patient that things would pay off and we would be happy. Enough of being afraid that I couldn’t cope on my own without him, despite him dragging me down gradually with him. So I told him that this was it and he agreed.
I clambered into the 4 by 4 and apologised for my bacon sandwich dripping all over the seat. Edward the Dog ran alongside us as we drove down towards the gates, the askari on duty waving me off as if I was leaving for the holiday as nearly everyone else had.
But I wasn’t being driven down Airport Road to catch a flight out of Mwanza, instead we turned left off onto a dirt track that would take us out into the villages and some local rural school. Sheila Murray, a teacher at our school, has set up a charity that promotes links between rural schools in Tanzania and schools in the UK. We were going to see how some of the donations from the UK had been spent.
Yesterday was spent by the beach, eating steak, then at a house overlooking the lake eating Christmas dinner. It was the first time I’ve been out of Mwanza that hasn’t involved getting on a plane to head back to England. A 60th birthday, most of which I spent playing with a one year old – she likes playing with my necklaces particularly.
I watched the rain clouds build and eventually burst over the far away Serengeti, drove through villages with elegant looking women working in fields in full length dresses with children in their arms or on their backs, children driving cattle, a piki piki rider with 3 passengers, a sea eagle perching on a stone in the middle of the lake, brightly coloured kingfishers darting into the water, an otter playing in the waves.
Today has been the first time I’ve truly not liked a Monday.
Normally, they are fine, no hassle. I’ve never really been one of those people that looks forward to the weekend, because I’ve worked shifts since I was 15, so my ‘weekends’ have been all over the shop. But… now that I am teaching on week days with a routine, and feel a bit guilty about going out on ‘school nights’ my weekends have become pretty important.
This weekend involved (as I mentioned on Saturday):
Battling with the bank on Friday, swimming in the school pool, a mammoth curry club – 30 naan breads, two bowls of rice and I think 12 curries between 13 of us:
And all that for the bargain price of about £6 each… Can’t complain about that now can you?
I was so full I couldn’t manage to go to Tilapia (a different bar) afterwards so just went home to bed. Which was for the best really, as Saturday morning was dedicated to working as prompt and back up singer for the secondary production of ‘West Side Story’, followed by a brief nap and a trip to Tunza beach for a hog roast for a 1st birthday party. Not wishing to go along empty handed I made a vanilla and ginger cake with a lemon drizzle, which actually tastes a lot better than it sounds.
The sunset was pretty good, as always:
England beat New Zealand pretty spectacularly in the rugby and I found some evidence that the Tanzanians thought of Iron Man long before Marvel did:
Sunday morning began with a leisurely breakfast at Ryan’s Bay (another hotel/bar). I started off well with avocado, banana and pineapple with orange juice – although I made the mistake of brushing my teeth just before I left for breakfast, so got that unfortunate taste that only comes from the unholy combination of orange and mint toothpaste…
But soon succumbed to the egg, bacon, sausage and pancake option. Let’s not forget the coffee, the coffee is important, as I’ve only had about 4 cups since I arrive here in August, and for someone who does very much enjoy a sneaky mocha frappuccino, that’s quite impressive.
And just so that you have an idea of the hotel overlooking the lake, this is the downstairs area:
I succeeded in getting nearly all my Christmas presents from the Craft Fair held at the Yacht Club (oh dear, I’ve just spent three minutes trying to spell ‘Yacht’, I must be tired). Obviously no pictures of the gifts, as that would spoil things…
So I headed over to Tilapia with some of the flats ladies, to have a drink, watch the boys go wake boarding and have a go with my newly bought mancala board.
I went home to make some lunch, with every intention of heading back for the carol singing (I’d even practised the descants) but had to settle with watching The West Wing, Dead Like Me and In the Loop on the sofa, as I had a fair bit of pain. I did, however, wake at half one in the morning to hear a cacophonous calling of Christmas songs drifting up from one of the flats below. It did take a little while to work out who it might be, but I fell back asleep with a small smile on my face.
So to Monday, today, 3rd of December. Teaching – no problems – lunch duty – all good apart from the bell going missing – West Side Story performance for the Junior School – could have been better – trip to the bank, again, – problems with the cash machine and then…
…And then I was RUN OVER BY A PIKI PIKI (which is a motorbike taxi, in case you were wondering). It’s not a bad accident, I was crossing the road through stationary traffic, looked both ways, as I looked back to the right there it was, I stepped out of the way, he swerved, ran over my foot and clipped my elbow with his mirror. It aches, but is fine.
We went out for dinner at a local place, and the food and service were dreadful – roasted chicken that ended up coming out as all bones with sauce and a tiny bit of meat that was so chewy and rubbery that I couldn’t even cut it with the knife and fork. Cue a long conversation about why I wouldn’t pay for it after the kitchen refused to send something edible in its place. So yes, I’m currently in a pissy mood, which I’ll hopefully snap out of soon, but at least it’s not a case of the Mondays.
(If only the internet would have allowed me to post this on Monday, rather than Tuesday… Oh well!)
And in Mwanza tonight it’s nearly over after two days of parties, decorations and food. Muppet Christmas Carol has just finished and we are now moving onto an episode of Sex and the City as the rain and thunder starts to roll towards us and the night draws on.
Usually I don’t really approve of Christmas starting before December. Each year it does seem to creep forward, earlier and earlier in the year and I get sick of listening to Christmas tunes every time I enter a shop, or listen to the radio or watch TV. But living somewhere that isn’t going to get colder, where Mariah isn’t blaring from every doorway (I love it, but have recently discovered the Lady Antebellum version) means I really don’t mind having a full Christmas weekend over the 24th and 25th of November. Chloe, the PE teacher, suggested having a Christmas meal at our flats as many of us will be heading back to the UK (I might be going to Kenya, I can’t afford to head back again, but that’s for another time) so why not have an early celebration together? It would also serve to spur us on for the last two weeks at school. So we set about planning.
The flats Christmas committee (Chloe and Kerstin) gave out jobs and responsibility – I would host the Christmas Eve party as I have the roof access and biggest sitting room area, make spiced chocolate orange brownies and the sausages wrapped in bacon for Christmas dinner. We would have dinner at mine (space reasons again) and I would play the Queen for an alternative Christmas speech.
So we planned, we plotted, we arranged a secret santa, we made decorations (blue snowflakes, laminated and hung onto the Wilkos fairy lights. Some of the kids in my class made Christmas posters and cards to stick on the wall.
Christmas eve came quicker than anticipated. I strung fairy lights on the stairs up to roof, paper chains were brought in, a party playlist was created and furniture was re-arranged. Balloons with santas and snowmen were strategically placed and straws with paper fruit on were put out waiting for the fresh fruit punch being made in the ground floor flat. Fresh guacamole and houmous was made to be paired with the carrot and cucumber sticks, crisps and tortillas.
The guests began to trickle in and drinking, laughing and childish pranking began. Highlights included ‘pegging’ unsuspecting victims, singing along with some questionable guitar playing, trying to drink a drink from the floor without using hands or sitting down and the invention of swim drinking. A selection of early 90’s pop, recent classics and Christmas tunes filled the soundtrack for the evening, and as the guests drifted away from midnight, the inevitable drunk dancing in the kitchen began. I finally managed to close the door on the last of the party core at 3am and settled into bed, fighting off mosquitos single-handed.
Christmas day began with the cooking of the brownies and clearing away the washing up from the night before. We doubted that some fo the boys would come up with the good for the meal, as they were heading out to a local club, but 3 chickens were cooked, roasties, mash, veg, christmas cake, mango crumble and a spectacular, if slightly sunken, giant yorkshire pudding. The three o’clock deadline came… and went… so we didn’t start eating until about half three, but the logistics of moving various hot plates of food from different flats to feed 14, allows for a bit of flexibility. And if Christmas dinner can’t drag on a little bit then what’s happened to the world?
We ate well, with the ceiling fan off to try to cool down the room whilst a roaring fire was burning on the TV with my stocking (home-made) hanging next to it. In hindsight, three chickens was a bit much, even with Phil in attendance, so the spare chicken and most of the leftovers were donated to our Askaris, whilst Ed, the dog, got the bones. All were happy, full and contented.
A short break to rest our stomachs and open the presents followed, before cracking on with the puddings and a premier screening of the recording of ‘The Locomotion’ dance that had been performed for the Maths teacher’s 63rd birthday. Everyone drifted away taking with them their plates, bowls, tables and chairs, so that when I came back in from messing with my playlist in the kitchen, my flat was almost back to normal.
By rights, tomorrow should be Boxing Day and so we shouldn’t need to go into school, but we must, so we will. In a few days it will be all but forgotten, the only reminders being the Christmas decorations that I’d brought over from England and we will be on a countdown for the real thing. My Christmas plans are not fully established yet, the only firm one is that I’ll not be with my family, which will no doubt be difficult given recent events. But I’m lucky to have people here to share things with and to be entertained by. And I now can’t complain about Christmas starting in November again.
For alternative recounts (eventually) of our Christmas weekend, or other stories of Tanzania, please have a look over the following blogs from my Mwanza chums: