Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Imprecision air

Dear dear Precision Air,
I am very pleased to see that you were recently awarded "Most Respected Company in Tanzania". You must be very proud of yourselves and very pleased that you all got your mothers to vote. I can't imagine how you could have won this honour if it weren't for that. I know you say that "Our business focus is geared at the principle that quick, comfortable and reliable service is the best way to serve the customers. Through this customer-focused approach, many have become part of the Precisionair family." but do you really actually believe this?? And do we HAVE to become part of the Precision Air family? I would also like to point out that if you are called something it doesn't automatically MEAN that you are that something. You cannot rest on laurels that have not yet been earned. I may be called Patience, for example, but that does not necessarily mean that I am. And you may be called Precision Air......

For example. I am due to fly on your most reputable airline on Sunday to attend my sisters wedding which I am veryvery excited about. However I heard from a friend that tried to fly that route that you have cancelled your early morning flights from Kilimanjaro to Nairobi which means that I would miss my connecting flight to Johannesburg. I wonder, were you planning to tell me this?

I went in to your lovely high ceilinged busy office yesterday (just a tip, maybe if you'd like things to go a little smoother you could have more than one salesperson at their desk at a time - I mean there are 12 desks there. Just a suggestion, far be it from me to tell you how to do your job. Anyhow I went into your office yesterday, and the day before and the day before that and have spoken to you on numerous occasions before this and in the space of a week I have been told:

1) Your flights are all fine, running to schedule
2) Your outbound flights are fine, but your return flights have been cancelled
3) Your flights are fine
4) Your outbound flights have been cancelled, your return flights are fine
5) Your outbound flight is fine, your husband's is not. Your return flights have been cancelled

Now please, PLEASE, would you mind being just a little bit more precise and tell me exactly which one it is? I'd so hate to miss my sister's wedding.

Thank you so much and congratulations once more on your award,

Oh and PS - just in case you try and bump me off your flight as you did to my pregnant friend who had the doctors letter I've got the doctor to fill out the special form of yours that says I am in no way offensive to other passengers (smell, appearance, conduct) and am only 5 months pregnant and hope I won't give birth on your plane. I really really hope not

Maybe then we'd HAVE to be part of the Precision Air family...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I would like to be in Hong Kong right now

I was surprised by how much I loved Hong Kong. Husband lived there for a few years as an early teenager and was keen for me to see it. So we went there as part of our honeymoon. I thought that having grown up in the bush, with nary a cement building in sight, out in the wide open spaces I'd find Hong Kong claustrophobic, smelly, busy and just too much. But au contraire! I L.O.V.E.D it! Granted we were only there a week or so but I found it both small community and big city. Surprisingly green. Old and new. Agh I can't explain it properly but I loved it. And I feel like being there for a couple of days now. But I can't so instead some pictures.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Wriggling Thinglette

22 and a half week tummy

I have avoided talking about my pregnancy on this blog because I assumed it would bore the pants off everyone. And possibly I'm right but some people have been asking me for pictures and info and details so I shall break the silence.





Also terrified and wide-eyed and dry-mouthed but mostly just plain excited. I keep thinking my tummy can't possibly get any bigger but of course it can and will. I'm only just past half way. I am going to DOUBLE in size in fact! I sometimes forget that I have a large sack of potato peels attached to my front and try to squeeze into spaces I'd normally have no trouble with and then get stuck.

I'm loving having an uncomplicated wardrobe where only 4 things fit me. Today that is. Most days I get cross that I've got nothing to wear. But it DOES mean I can go shopping. Which I like. I'm also finding trying on little tops from my wardrobe really hilarious. Wait I'm going to go and take a picture so you can see what I mean.....

See? Ridiculous!

Somebody came up to me the other day and said "How are you feeling? How long do you have to go?" And I so very nearly kept a straight face and said "I'm sorry, I don't know what you're talking about." But chickened out at the last minute!

Anyway, went to Nairobi a few weeks ago for scans and check ups and all is well. People kept saying beforehand, "oh the scan is great, you get to see the baby for the first time, it's so exciting, so overwhelming, you're going to cry. It's so emotional. Tweet tweet" In actual fact it was quite the opposite. We were rushed and had to cram in so many other unexpected check ups before we drove back the next day. So we're sitting in the waiting room - first come first serve (with all sorts of people with broken legs and arms and collar bones waiting to see the x-ray people. All looking rather in pain) and I mention to Husband how awful it would be if they found a defect and what hard decisions we'd have to make. Husband went green and stayed that way throughout the scan. We were called in eventually and the scan guy (scanographer? ultrasounder?) was obviously really busy and harassed. He was very thorough though and thats the main thing. It was almost like "okay - two arms - check. Two legs - check. Head - check. Heartbeat, yip. Intestines and stomach and all insides inside - check. Fingers, toes - check" You get the idea. Bam, bam, bam, yip, off you go. "Baby bigger than normal but that's good. You don't want to know the sex? okay, fine. All's well. NEXT!"

Oh and it WRIGGLES! At first it felt like popcorn popping in my tummy but now its all out kicking and tumbling. And when I need a wee it kicks my bladder which I think is a bit rude and inconsiderate, don't you? I'm told that'll get worse too and soon it will be like Animal playing the drums in there.

Anyway, bla bla. There you have it. Baby blog over.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Memories of Malawi

I loved boarding school. Okay, the first term was rather bewildering having come straight from home-school in the bush into boarding school. I was a bit like a dazzled nocturnal bushbaby with big eyes staring at the lights of an oncoming truck. But my long-suffering older sister was there for me and I probably leaned on her much heavier than I should have. Like dragging her out of prep* on my first night and sobbing unstoppably for hours (although I suppose it got her out of prep). And coming into her dorm late at night, after lights out to cry on her pillow. But she never said anything bad and was a true angel to me. And after that first term I settled in, made best friends and had a great time. It was a very mixed school in Malawi, girls, boys and almost every nationality and religion you can think of. And as is the way with children, everyone knuckled down and made friends and enemies with people not because of their religion or creed but because of who said what to whom and who was teachers pet and who was cool and who was not. And while I became friends with Malawians, Mauritians, Greeks, Sikhs, Muslims and agnostics (not that we classed them this way) the Malawi beyond our school gates was not so liberal.

Anyway, this is the promised post about the Banda regime in Malawi not about my boring boarding school experiences. Although for me they kindov go hand in hand since that was my only real experience and understanding of it. I don't remember all the nitty gritty and I'm certainly not going to make this a balanced historical essay. No siree. So. A very basic and very incomplete history of that period as I know it:

Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, after studying to be a doctor, and practicing medicine for 40 odd years in America, the UK and Ghana came back to Malawi to become its first president in 1964. In 1970 he declared himself Life President. His Excellency the Life President Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda. The 33 years he was in power Malawi was not so much a one-party state as a one-man state. He ruled for three decades until, in the early 1990’s a series of student demonstrations and riots among other factors, resulted in him losing his grip on power. In 1993/4 elections were held and he was ousted.

You don't really understand the deep political ins and outs of a country when you're a kid - at least I didn't. I suppose you just accept what you can and can't do in the wider world and carry on as normal. Or maybe I was just never that political. I mean of course we thought a lot of the rules were ridiculous although we were always VERY careful of what we said. The obvious on the surface stuff was there but I don’t think I understood the deep complexities of the people going missing, the freak ‘road accidents’ that killed opponents, the control of the press, the spies, the nepotism.

What I understood was the basics rules of living in Malawi at that time:

You could NOT, on pain of being arrested, PI'd, thrown into jail and possibly killed
1) Throw coins on the ground
2) Tear money
3) Have long hair (as a man. It got cut off at the border crossings if it was below the collar)
4) Wear shorts as a woman. Skirts below the knee only.
5) Be in possession of any magazines with any vaguely bad pictures in. As in showing any flesh. Well any magazine actually. I saw a Newsweek once in a shop on the lake - the first magazine I'd ever seen in Malawi. It had a picture on the cover of an athlete (I forget who) wearing cycling shorts. And the censorship people had taken a black marker and blocked out her legs. On every single magazine. Some books, too were banned and people put on trial for possession of books including Orwell's Animal farm.
6) Say anything bad about the president obviously

1) Sing the national anthem before each and every school play
2) Have the censorship board in to censor our school plays
3) Wear long skirts, the women, have short hair, the men
4) All our coursework was written on paper that had the Malawi Crest on the bottom and said "This is the property of the Malawi government"
5) Take your hat off when entering a public building (and all public buildings had to have a picture of Banda on the wall)
6) Our school was on the way to the airport, so every time he drove past in his massive convoy we all had to go and stand in the hot sun on the side of the road clapping and cheering, waiting for his convoy to pass. It usually took 3 or 4 hours but meant we missed some lessons. And we’d catch a flash glimpse of him in his smart car waving his whisk at the crowds. The bit I loved best was the police blue-flashing-lights motorcycles. The first 2 times it was fun. The next 20 just plain boring

There was no TV and obviously only state owned newspapers and radio.

You often heard stories, whispers really, of people going missing. I befriended a girl at school who was sharp and bright and wonderful. She became more and more withdrawn and eventually left school, I never knew what became of her but she confided just before she left, whispered to me on the sports field that her father had been arrested and thrown in jail for speaking out against the president.

Sometimes we’d drive past groups of the Malawi Young Pioneers – the paramilitary wing of the government – training and they looked really scary. And there really were so many spies. You had to be so careful.

In retrospect I suppose Malawi in those days was always very….hushed I suppose is the right word. Very look-over-your-shoulder-don’t-say-what-you-mean. We used to cross over the border from higgledy piggeldy haphazard Zambia and as soon as we drove into Malawi a sort of cushioned calm came over the car. The roads were perfect, you’d stop at the Kandodo Supermarket and buy delicious Malawi made biscuits that smelt of puppy’s breath (that’s a good thing!) and Malawi made sodas. There was certainly industry. After the massive shortages we had in Zambia it was like opening a window into a hot stuffy room and letting in the cool breeze. But on that breeze you could smell a certain fear; a fake nervous smile that hides apprehension. I was always fascinated that a country so poor and so very densely populated could be so quiet and ordered. It seemed that even the massive refugee camps that we’d pass on the road – rambling, crammed, bursting at the seams with Mozambiquan refugees, set into that barren denuded landscape - were somehow ordered and down trodden. But I suppose that’s a refugee camp for you and they had a whole bunch of other problems.

I remember the riots in 1992, the year I left school. There was a certain cold thrill about it. Literally a ripple you could feel under the surface – a small earthquake that was rapidly gaining strength. There was fear in the air certainly (and yes, if I remember correctly some people were killed) but there was also something unstoppable about it, the earthquake gaining power. And an incredulous, “oh my goodness this is really happening, we can really do this. We have options, we have choices” kind of vibe. A brow beaten, bullied child finally realizing that he can stand up to his father. Walk out. Walk away. Start a new life.

Oh there’s so much. My brain is a little fuzzy today but starting to percolate some stories from school. So maybe this will have to be a part one of a series… If you can bear it!

*prep - an hour, two? of enforced homework time in the evenings

Saturday, March 7, 2009

My neighbourhood

We're moving soon. In April probably. I'm reeeeaaallly excited. We've been in this neighbourhood for just over a year and have enjoyed living here, all in all. But it's behind a wall and I just can't get used to that. Its also in a gunshot-every-night kinda area and we live right next to the most unsociable church you will ever find. Now I wouldn't mind if it was lovely church singing and quaint church bells every Sunday but it is as far from that as you can get. Fire and Brimstone preaching (through a megaphone). Terrible terrible karaoke type singing (through a megaphone) and crazy tongue-speak that sounds like cats and chilli in a blender booming out as loud as non-stop thunder. And now they seem to have purchased one of those terrible tinny Chinese xylophone things that they somehow manage to crank up really really really loud. The last straw. It wouldn't matter SO much if we could drown it out with our own music but the power cuts are so frequent that our music doesn't work and they have a bloody generator. And this is not just on Sunday. Its on most days, certainly all weekend and every Friday night from dusk until dawn. Here it is - looks pretty innocuous doesn't it. Don't be fooled! Oh and we drove past yesterday and they were only preaching to about 6 people.

But all in all its a cool neighbourhood to live in. The road is a bit of a bugger but not unbearable

At the bottom of the road is a hub of activity. You can buy most things there. There are hardware stores, a little market (which is also the bus stop), charcoal sellers. Damn, didn't get a picture of the butchers. A tiny white building with legs hanging in the open hatch. Cow legs that is,

A hair cutting parlour

And my favourite, the video place. I think they show movies here and write up the movie schedule on chalk on the side.

We have some funny neighbours

And some pretty trees

And when we drive to town we drive through some coffee plantations

But we're moving up to where the air is fresh, where the mountain is visible, and where the view is most spectacular. To Ngorobob Hill where the neighbours are our best friends. Hurrah.


Oh and every day we see SOMEthing that makes us smile and jump up and down and chuckle and clap our hands together in glee no? An "A'int life grand" moment? Mine yesterday was, at the only traffic lights in town, a goat, waiting at the zebra crossing for the lights to change to cross over the road. In with a big group of people but not actually WITH anyone. Hahaha. We advised it to run for the hills before it was made into nyama choma and it seemed to heed our advice and made a beeline for Mt Meru. Good luck Bwana Mbuzi.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Martyr's day

The third of March is Martyr's Day in Malawi. It is etched in my brain. We were terrified of it. It is a day to commemorate the lives of 40 people who were killed during an uprising against the Federation in 1959. All we knew as schoolkids under the Banda regime in Malawi was that we weren't allowed to do ANYTHING on that day. School closed. They certainly didn't want the responsibility of keeping 300 boarders locked up in their dorms for the day. They sent us all off on half term.

My parents would usually drive up from Zambia to take us out of school and we would go to the lake. Which was great. Except we weren't allowed to do anything. On Martyr's day you had to stay indoors and mourn. No going outside. No listening to the radio. Nothing. They had spies walking the beach. I swear. The dining room at our house on the lake was separate from our bedroom - like about 50metres away and we had to dash outside to go and eat. I was always terrified of getting caught being outside.. And NO laughing! I am a laugher. And a loud one. It was torture! One guy was caught washing his car and got sent to prison for a year. Imagine, getting released one year later, on Martyr's day again and dancing a little jig outside the prison for being let out. Excuse me sir, you showed joy, back inside for another year you go. Hahaha

The Banda regime in Malawi. Ah, another post, another time

Monday, March 2, 2009


I am sitting at home patiently waiting for some inspiration to pass my way.

Eating powdered milk and staring vacantly out the window.

Hoping that maybe if I started writing SOMETHING down on this here blog, inspiration and cunning, witty, beautiful words would sprout forth.


It appears not.

Ah well, maybe later.