Stuck on my body, on my body, like a tattoo


I am fascinated by body art in many forms.  In 6th form for my Sociology A Level my main project looked into why people chose to dye their hair, get piercings, tattoos and body modifications. I’ve been dying my hair since I was 12, got the top of my ear pierced at the same time, nose pierced at 15, ears at 18, which is also when I first bleached a section of my hair and used a non natural looking colour.  I got my lip pierced for the first time when I was 25, took it out because I was told by a school I didn’t get a job with them because I had piercings. I re-pierced it after Dad died and dyed my hair back from gingery blonde to dark auburn as I already had a job in a school then.

 

I don’t yet have a tattoo. I was very, very tempted to get one in Asia, but I’ve not been able to get my Hep B booster, so I thought I’d better not. My main problem, however, is that I’m too indecisive.  There are things that I’d like as a tattoo but I’m not sure I’ll still like in however many years.  Maybe I should just bite the bullet and get something done.

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Response: A Teacher’s Tale


I just read this on my friend’s facebook status and decided that from the other side of the world I should write about it.  As usual, this will be a stream of consciousness so hopefully will make sense! 

 

“So… Some of you will be aware that, between Acting jobs, I work as a Supply Teacher. This past week I’ve been back at a school I regularly work in – no names – teaching a variety of subjects. Wednesday it was PE. Now, PE is a strange one to cover because the kids are not used to me being in anything but a suit and tie however, at least when I teach PE they get to have a practical lesson rather than just sit in a classroom.

“Lesson 3 was a Yr11 (5th year in old money!) lesson in which a number of boys were playing football. Still more boys had “not got kit” (for which they were not reprimanded at all!) but spent the lesson leaning against a wall. At one point, noticing movement out of the corner of my eye, I turned to see the non-participants clustered over at the fence (a tall steel affair with a spiked top – to keep the paedos out! …or, in truth, to keep the kids IN!) One of the boys – a ruddy-cheeked, pretty-boy – had climbed up the fence and as I watched, hawked a great mouthful of phlegm which he then spat at a woman walking past!

“As you can imagine, she was disgusted – as was I! I ushered the boys away from the fence and apologized profusely to the woman – who spoke no English – while the boys jeered and made racist remarks! On taking them “in” I spoke to the Head of PE who had me point out the spitter, who – to my face – refuted the accusation with “He’s a fucking liar, Sir!”
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Empty chairs at empty tables


Today is my last (half) day at school.  The work has come down from the walls, the trays are emptied, the bags gone from the hooks outside the classroom.  I’m counting up pencils, pens, folders, rulers and writing notes on the children for the next teacher, next year.

I’m taking back ribbons and crepe paper to the store room, adding up house points and finding things once lost behind dusty cupboards.

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And a girl ought to celebrate what passes by…


Since coming back from Zanzibar I have been feeling, on the most part, so much better. I sank into a quite deep depressive episode since Dad’s death, Christmas and returning to work in January. So much so that when I looked over the planning for the last half term, although I vaguely remember teaching what was written in those sheets, I don’t fully remember reading them.

It’s so easy to fall into a cycle of getting up, going to work, going home, eating, watching a bit of TV and heading to bed again ready to do it all over again the next day. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last few months. I’ve been living in this amazing place and I’ve been neglecting to take it in. I’ve been teaching some lovely small humans who will, for better or worse, remember me for years to come. And I’m afraid that perhaps I’ve not been doing a very good job for them, but I am now determined to do better for them. My flatmate has moved out to a village near Mwanza, so now, for the first time in my adult life I will be living on my own – although not fully as I always leave my door open and anyone can wander up if they wish – and so this is a time when I could possibly slide back down again and become a total hermit.

There have been a few things that have begun to help me pull myself out of this slump. One was finding the blogs from my myspace and seeing how excited I was to be starting my masters. That was halted because I didn’t get the job I wanted and I’ve been holding onto that disappointment for far too long now, it’s almost been 7 years. It’s time to let it go.

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13 Going on 30


Today is the 22nd, so it’s one month until my birthday and 13 months until my 30th.  Which I am looking forward to.  And which people think is very odd.  Apparently you shouldn’t look forward to turning 30, but I don’t see the point in dreading it.  It’s an inevitability and it’s not as if I can stop it.   I’ve never felt my age.  When I was 16 I wasn’t hanging out in the park drinking booze from a bottle hidden in the bag whilst sitting on the tyre swing over the bark flooring. (How was that bark meant to be good to fall on?  It got mouldy, it gave you splinters, it got stuck in your tights, it was rubbish, although granted better than falling on concrete.  Ok, I’ll just carry on now…) At 16 I was in at least 6 choirs including Brackley Jubilee Choir and Bicester Choral and Operatic Society and I brought the average age of singers down to about 40ish.  I went on holidays with my Mum’s Morris team, Owlswick Morris.  They were great fun and yes, I am that cool, I’m a Morris baby and proud of it.

When I was about 18 I did do something a teenager is meant to do, I went to Gatecrasher Summer Sound System – it was an all night club with various tents pitched on Turweston Aerodrome.  My Dad’s friend was running the security for the event and popped by to see if any of his kids would like to go, so my sister and I each said “Yes please!” and found ourselves being walking through the security office with 4 free passes.  I took my friends Ben, Chris and Liam and we had a great time.  The main things I remember are wearing combat trousers, a black vest top with a dragon on, my hair in two messy buns (yes, I was heavily influenced by the style of All Saints, I’m not going to apologise for that, it could have been worse) drinking Smirnoff Ice from plastic bottles, blue, pink and purple lights in the Happy Hardcore tent, water dripping on us from the ceiling from the condensation, a pretty rugby boy snogging me and walking home at 6 in the morning with the boys (probably mostly Ben and Liam) nicking the signs from the car park and throwing them in the hedge.  If you were one of those people in 2002 who couldn’t find their car that quiet Sunday morning then I apologise, but it was really funny at the time.

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Edges are blurring all around


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.)

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A day out with TaT Africa


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.

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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…

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.

Leaving on a jetplane


Two weeks ago I arrived in Mwanza.

I had spent two weeks visiting family and friends, didn’t get to see all of them unfortunately, but still managed a fair few.

My flight from Heathrow was leaving at 19.20, Mum wanted to be there in plenty of time so after bacon sandwiches with my sister, niece and nephew, we set of at 11am.  That should have given us a fair bit of time, but there was a large accident on the M40.  At this point we realised we had no map so called my step-dad for an alternative route, which actually took us an hour and looped us back to where we began again.  Mum found a garage that sold a map of the whole country, not just Milton Keynes or Oxford and we made our way down arriving at 2pm.

Unfortuntely we couldn’t check in my bags until 4.30ish so we stopped for a cheapish 3 course lunch and waited for check in to open.  The night before I had packed and repacked my bags hoping to get them all within the allowed 23kg weight and when we finally got them through to the conveyor belt with built in scales it seemed I had managed to get them about right.  I had left behind most of my teaching books, and I realised later most of my clothes, but who needs them anyway?  I gave Mum a hug and we both managed not to cry as I went through security.

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Because I had tried not to put too many valuables in my hold luggage, my hand luggage was packed with a computer, two hard drives, a jewellery box, torch (not sure why) and spare clothes.  It didn’t make it through the scanner and had to be searched by a Portuguese security man who said it was just because it was so full that it looked dodgy on the scan.  He asked if I minded him searching it then kept apologising when he pulled out pairs of spare pants (clean of course).  With that over I set off through the terminal to meet another new teacher, Suzie.  She said she would wait by Accessorize and I said I was wearing a spotty top.  We managed to find each other within 2 minutes, which was rather handy.

Over the course of the next few hours waiting to board the plane we found a few more new teachers and watched as the storm I had spotted when I arrived moved closer and closer, eventually enveloping the airport.  It was only after we had boarded the plane that the pilot announced that we would be delayed for take off by one and a half to two hours.  Not too much of a problem – I played peepo with the small child in the seat in front.

I didn’t sleep much on the plane.  It got too hot, but I watched ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ which has confirmed my belief that I should be Judi Dench when I grow up.  Or Bill Nighy.  Either would be fine.

When we arrived at Dar es Salaam I managed to take a couple of pictures of the Indian Ocean from the window of the plane…

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and then waited in a gaggle of people for my entry visa.  I was sat at the back of the plane whereas all the others were up the front together and so I met the others we collected on the way.  We now consisted of Suzie, Emma, Emma, Vicki, Phil and Joe.  As we gathered our mountainous luggage, went through the next section of security and queued for an age to check in for our connecting flight we met Sandy and Vlad – Sandy is teaching art and Vlad is a pilot – and Stephan the new French teacher.  We had some minor hassles with weight limits and language barriers, but soon we were sitting waiting for our flight to Mwanza that was delayed by two hours.  Not a problem.  Time to get chatting, have a drink and eat chips with hot sauce.

 

Eventually our plane came and we were flying again, this time with complementary cake and a brochure outlining Mwanza’s night life options.  When we arrived we were greeted by a selection of the school staff and driven to our new homes.

 

Limbo


I’ve started my anti-malarials.  So far, no side effects, which is good, but they are likely to make me feel nauseous, more sensitive to the sun and all sorts of other fun things.  So essentially I’m moving to the sun and taking medication that will turn me into a vampire. 

I’ve nearly packed – two suitcases of clothes, books, toiletries, dvds, shoes, staplers, staples, snap cards, hand blender, etc. and one more to fill with vitamin tablets, sunblock, stationary and pictures.  Little gifts that have come from my chims at work – Hello! – are going in there too.  I think I may have to repack some clothes to pad it out a little and take some of the rattling about out of it.

We’re leaving at 12 tomorrow for my 19.20 flight, better to be there waiting than in a queue on the M25 waiting.  Not sure how my mum is doing with all this going on, she’s storing all my stuff and driving me down, but my little brother is already trying to claim the dvd collection. Git. He’ll soon find that I’m actually taking all the good ones with me and leaving the empty cases for him to cry over.

It’s been less stressful, the irritating ex *finally* gave me some money today, so that’s my US dollars sorted.  Family members have also donated some so I now have a waterproof jacket, batteries for my torch for when the power cuts out and 6 bottles of sunblock.  Ta very much to them.

Not sure how I’m feeling about things at the moment, I think I just need things to be done now.  I’ve visited people, but not enough of them, I’m missing a festival that I’ve been going to since I picked up my GCSE results 12 years ago – Towersey Village Festival if you’re interested, it’s good, go next year if you can – and I’m feeling like I’m in limbo.

The next one of these I’ll write I’ll probably be sunburnt. I’ve got some Aloe Vera so don’t worry.

How did we get there from here.


This year has been somewhat of a trial.  I qualified as a teacher last June and although I applied for a few full time teaching positions I wasn’t keen to take one on immediately.  The PGCE has been one of the most difficult years of my life – as I’d been warned – but this hadn’t been helped by having a turbulent personal life.  I probably should have taken the hint when I was dumped on my first day at university, but after a few weeks we worked things out knowing that things weren’t going to last forever.  I’d found out that I’d been cheated on, I lived 250 miles away from my family, most of my university friends had moved away and I’d drifted out of touch with others because of three years of anti-social shift work.

I spent 9 months getting up at 6am, going to university or school, working solidly until 10pm, letting myself watch a couple of TV shows and then off to bed at midnight.  I worked nearly every weekend and holiday between September and June.  My boyfriend was by no means perfect but was someone who I could mostly rely on to keep me going.  By the time I came round to applying for jobs I was burnt out and unhappy at home.  I’m not saying any of this because I want to portray myself as a martyr, many others were in the same boat with difficult circumstances, but just to give a sense that it’s an exhausting thing to do.  Grey’s Anatomy and Community were my lifelines and may well continue to be.

Luckily, during that time I did have my part time job as a careers adviser that kept me in touch with other people, gave me an escape from the simmering tensions at home and gave me some spending money.  After a couple of unsuccessful interviews I decided to sign up for teaching agencies and stay with my current job until a teaching position came up.  When September came there was not a lot of supply so I opted to go full time again with the careers advice. 

By December I’d still not had any supply work and I’d come to the realisation that my relationship was pretty much over after nearly 3 years.  It was something that I’d known for a long time, but hadn’t been brave enough to voice, mainly because I didn’t think I could manage financially without his support and also because I’ve never been on my own before.  I’m 28, I’m the third of five children and in the last 9 years since starting my first degree I’ve lived with 16 people.  I’m not really used to my own company. 

Making the decision to end things was actually quite liberating.  Although we continued living together in a one bedroom flat for about 6 months, he’s been on a lot of night shifts so I’ve had more time to myself. Had I not spent the last couple of years mostly being miserable then I probably wouldn’t have developed the confidence to apply outside the UK.  I probably also wouldn’t have discovered that the lyrics to the Umbongo song fit pretty well to the tune of Rolling in the Deep (try it) or remembered that my Heather Small impression isn’t too bad.

It starts.


My phone pinged its ‘message’ tone (craftily stolen from the postman in Don’t Be a Menace..) alerting me to an email. Expecting another update from the Trainline pointing out how amazingly expensive it would be to visit my family, or Travelodge highlighting that they are the only hotel chain I can afford, I sighed and checked the inbox. Instead of these, I found an email from one of the schools I’d applied to at ten to midnight two days before saying that they were very interested in taking my application further and would I like to set up a Skype interview?

Now I’d never used Skype before, but on that Thursday I had two interviews – the first with Mwanza, the second with Valencia.  I hastily tidied the section of room behind me that could be viewed by the camera and waited for the bing to let me know they were calling.  To be honest, I needn’t have bothered ‘cleaning’ as the connection was crackling and I sounded like a robot so we had to scrap the video and then the phone conversation and just resort to land lines instead.  The interview with Valencia was a bit more successful with a stop start video thing going on, but when I was asked if I would accept the job I tentatively said yes, thinking I’d really rather go to Africa.

Thinking back, the bad line may have been a result of the triple storm that hit Newcastle that night, our entrance hall was quite flooded but I’m on the third floor so all good.  I would hear from both on Friday, so I had to keep myself busy.  I bought a book and finished it that day – Private London if you’re interested – I went for Jack Daniels shrimp for the first time in about 4 years and I sat in the bath, avoiding my phone.  When I decided I would venture out, influenced highly by the shrivelling of my feet I found the message – ‘you came across extremely well and we would like to offer you the job’ from the Tanzanian school.

I can’t deny it, I actually gave a smallish squeal and then my feet did what my younger brother refers to as ‘happy feet’.  I did want to accept straight away but thought I should probably ring my mum first to warn her that I was leaving the continent for two years and would she like to look after some of my stuff please?  So I emailed back ‘yes please’, probably a fraction more elegant, but not much, and started sending out over excited text messages.