The sun has been shining, I’ve been filing in applications and getting some bunting made, so what better to do than make some biscuits? Recently I’ve been baking chocolate cookies, but I’m a bit bored of them, so had a little trawl through the cupboard and decided to get going with some oats and golden syrup.
I got a bit hooked on Chai Latte in Australia last year and have been looking for some over here for ages. I managed to get Chai tea bags in M&S but have just found the latte powder in Sainsburys – it’s the Drink Me Chai.
Well I like to experiment with my cooking and so I thought I’d adapt a cake recipe to add it in.
There are days,
There are days when your life clouds over
and the world gets so dark
that all at once you can’t tell night from day.
There are times
when your heart cries ‘this isn’t happening’
but the truth is cold and real
and I know this storm won’t go away
‘It’s her or me’ from Miss Saigon, by Boublil and Schonberg
I’ve been quiet on here for the last few months. I know some people have dropped by to see if anything has been written and I have tried to, but it’s been a difficult end to the year.
Not many people know, but I’ve been off sick from work for 2 and a bit months. Mental health issues are still quite taboo in our society and I don’t really understand why. It’s something that can affect anybody and yet still it’s not something we feel confident talking about. I have depression, which I think is something that I’ve been battling with for a decade and it’s dreadful. This bout has definitely been the worse of the lot. A stressful job, moving to a new area, not having much if a social life, various things that have happened in the past, lack of money all building together until I essentially cracked. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t go outside without having a panic attack and I couldn’t go to work. It’s such a difficult thing to describe. I get frustrated with myself because I can’t physically do things that I want or need to do. I can’t get out of bed. I can’t speak to people. I don’t have any outward physical manifestation of this, there is just this mental block, a cloud, a haze that won’t let me through. Then I spend time arguing with myself in my head – you know what you need to do, just get up, just get up, just move yourself, just stop wallowing in self pity and get up and do something. But it’s no good. There is some chemical imbalance at the moment. There is something just stopping me whether I want to or not. Ruby Wax says it better than me, so here she is:
Today I spent £20. It seems extravagant, especially considering my accommodation for 6 nights is costing me about £11, but I think it was worth it.
You may agree when you consider that I’ve had lessons, 6 meals of tasty and that it’s kept me off the streets and out of the sun (mostly). I had Thai cooking lessons with Baan Thai Cooking.
I didn’t intend to go to Spain ever, but I was dragged along to Valencia, Barcelona and then to Madrid by an ex boyfriend and I’m so glad that I was.
In Valencia I first tried deep fried baby octopus, pulpo, in Madrid I had a beautiful platter of cheeses, seafood and cured meats and in Barcelona I had an amazing paella.
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:
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.