Monthly Archives: May 2010

Dancing in the rain

Trooper’s surprise birthday party saw 18 kids huddled in a stable waiting for the birthday girl to arrive on horseback. The surprise nearly knocked her off her horse but the joy on her face could not be wiped off all day. The day saw quad bikes speeding through the gardens and mud tracks while us adults waited with baited breath and stomachs in mouths for something to go wrong. The day heard the laughter and glee of 18 kids as they ate cake, tucked into snacks, ran amok and danced in the rain. There are few things as fabulous as dancing in the rain without a care in the world. Yes, they were covered in mud and damp for the remainder of the day. But wasn’t it worth it?

The birthday girl has been welcomed to her teens in true style, with the love of friends and plenty of fun in the mud. I am happy to report that the surprise went off without a hitch and was deemed a huge success by all.

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It is a straight road from Graduation to Zebras.

We are facing a mini whirlwind of events in the world of 3limes.

This morning the graduating class at our school marched through the entire campus and past every student, from the wee 2 year olds to the weary and so-over-it 17 year olds, to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance. They were showered with tossed roses and applauded for their achievements. Even the most hardened cynic could not fail to be moved. I am especially pleased since it was I who brought this procession idea, having enjoyed it so much at my last school in Trinidad. It is a worthy tradition that gives the little younger ones pause for thought and dose of honour and the graduates respect and lashings of pride.

Tonight I will attend the Graduation ceremony where I will sit and remember the festivities of last year. The last Graduation I attended took place on my very last night in Trinidad and I sat through it in a daze of tears and pre-emptive nostalgia.  I sensed I was sitting in a movie that  I had already seen; it was an out of body experience and the heightened emotional state caused both by the sheer quantity of goodbyes and the tearful but fabulous party afterwards formed a psychedelic imprint on my memory. This Grad will not be in any way emotional, I don’t even teach any of the students but instead will be a precursor and perhaps even excuse for the 70’s party I am attending afterwards. Then tomorrow morning I will peel myself off my bed and prepare for Trooper’s surprise party. She still has no idea and I hope it stays that way. I must confess I am failing as a domestic goddess as her cake will be purchased for the first time in her life. But how can I bake without revealing the surprise? Tricky.

Next week I will attempt to prepare my classes for exams but I think their unusual attire might prove a mite distracting both for them and me. It is Spirit week and for three days teenagers will come to school dressed as movie stars, wearing crazy wigs or boxers around their necks and finally even in their pyjamas. Do I need to dye my hair orange too? Will my pyjamas be revealed for all and sundry? Luckily the amusements will only last three days and shortly after I will be skidaddling off on a Mini Break.

This time next week I plan to be horse riding with Zebras.

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I have a teenager.

I have a teenager.

Thirteen years ago today I gave birth to Trooper. When I went into the hospital in Winnipeg it was the tail end of a cold and strange spring that will forever be remembered for the devastating Red River flooding. When I came out 4 days later it was scorching hot and summer had arrived. Such are the weather patterns of the prairies.  She was born on her due date and has been punctual and exact ever since. She always wants to be ahead, and constantly appears older and more mature than her years. She stood up alone at 6 months and took her first steps at 9 months. By the time she was 11 months she was dancing like a tiny midget on the dance floor of a Chinese restaurant during mother’s day.

She came home from hospital in a bright orange 1973 Volkswagen Beetle named Lolly. 10 minutes after arriving at our apartment I burst into tears, flooded with a storm of hormones and frankly tired and in pain from a difficult caesarean. I was also petrified. Handsome Husband and I were 28 and 30. Did we have a clue what to do with a tiny helpless infant? No. Luckily for us she was easy from the start and we enjoyed the Winnipeg summer days by frequently plonking her into her car seat and under the table at our favourite outside cafe. At 4 weeks she was on a plane heading to my sister’s wedding and the travel bug must have infected her since she has found airport, planes and travel trouble free and fun ever since.

She is loved by everyone who meets her, with her infectious giggle and her cheeky smile. I cannot believe that 13 years have passed since those confusing and thrilling hours in the hospital. She is too big to fit into my arms now but she is always welcome to try. I am immensely proud of her beauty and spirit, both inside and out.

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Party marathon. ( my sort.)

Oh what a weekend.

I ruined a perfectly pretty pedicure by wearing closed shoes and dancing up a storm. I think at one point I may have stepped on a dog and caused a dog fight.  The night was gentle and starry at first, the martinis flowed, the food arrived, the music got higher and things became rather interesting. There were silent dialogues flowing above our heads and beneath the table all evening long; there was verbal sparring easily confused with foreplay, there were tears, recriminations, flirting and dirty dancing. Oh what a night.

The next day beckoned and with it a BBQ. Characters were tossed and delivered into a beautiful garden overlooking the city. If you tilted your body to the left next to one of their trees you could even see the lake. I met new comers to Kampala, people who were leaving, old timers who had seen it all; I met travellers, actors, the beautiful and the dammed. Food was divine, so was the wine and without a glance at a watch a midday lunch ended at 10pm. There was gentle chat, laughter and garden games. Then stolen cigarettes and cocktails as it grew dark; it was a very happy day.

Sunday and our stamina looked weak. We were operating on less hours of sleep than we needed and through our veins flowed more wine than blood, but we did it again. Another BBQ, this one more tame but a social activity never-the- less that was celebrating the achievements of one friend. It was a totally different crowd, no scary unspoken drama, just a lovely dinner.

Coming back to school feels like a rest.

Next weekend? Surprise birthday party for one 13 year old.

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The Tug of Apron Strings

The times are a changing.

I work with adolescents and I live with an adolescent. Trooper will be 13 in less than a week and she is turning into a woman before my very eyes. I can see her moving gently away from me with her secrets, her ideas, her hidden stories; until she creeps back for the occasional cuddle or late night chat.

She has changed her facebook status. It now reads: “In a relationship.”  Putting that up for the world to see was an heady moment for her and one she waited for. She didn’t want to go first, he had to make the statement public before her, but just seeing it up there is a rite of passage that I never had. So now she enters a new era of scorching heartbreak and searing joy. I can no more wrap her in cotton wool and smuggle her into my bed than protect her. She must tread this path alone but know that I am beside her all the way and always on her side.

A good friend who goes way back into the nether reaches of my past just signed up her daughter for kindergarten and I am sure she is feeling the tug of apron strings as her sweet baby will soon proudly don her backpack and head for the gates. We go through so many steps as parents, each one a tiny goodbye as the strings pull back and forth like a struggling and stubborn fish not wanting to be caught.

To a Daughter Leaving Home

When I taught you

at eight to ride

a bicycle, loping along

beside you

as you wobbled away

on two round wheels,

my own mouth rounding

in surprise when you pulled

ahead down the curved

path of the park,

I kept waiting

for the thud

of your crash as I

sprinted to catch up,

while you grew

smaller, more breakable

with distance,

pumping, pumping

for your life, screaming

with laughter,

the hair flapping

behind you like a

handkerchief waving

goodbye.

Linda Paston (b.1932)

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Living in a mini United Nations with maple syrup and Masai Warriors.

Poor 3limes has seen the brunt of my negative energy recently. I cannot display roses and smiles when living here is not always so; however this week things seem a little rosier.

So this little fish tried yoga and this little fish did indeed bite. The class did not feel anything like exercise despite the fact that my body was stretched and pulled more than it has ever been. Unlike those painful minutes on the treadmill wondering how much longer I would need to endure the pain and boredom, I never once wanted the class to end. There were moments when it hurt and I sweated and felt my heart beat, something that doesn’t often happen in my day to day life between shoebox and school, but it was enjoyable and felt so so good.

Plus the class is run by a most extraordinary woman with a wise, open and gentle presence and her home was up high on a hill with a view and a lush garden. There were candles and flowers and everything was quiet and peaceful and calm. I can’t wait to go back.

This morning Primary celebrated International day with a parade of nations around the big field. I have no idea why secondary was not included in this amazing event, but if I have anything to do with it, they will be there next year.

Despite missing the parade most of my students came dressed in a spectacular array of traditional costumes or bearing the colours of their flag. Within the four walls of my classroom I have been transported to India, Egypt, Kenya, Lebanon and Afghanistan. Football shirts from Ireland, England and Scotland have been displayed and one or two Masai warriors came by to say hello. International day reminds us all of the great advantage of teaching and attending an International School. My daughters and my students have friends from all over the world. Each day they live life within a mini United Nations and they are taught acceptance and tolerance at every turn. Most importantly we are all educated, constantly about what each country has to offer and how no custom, practice, costume or food is better than any other. It is an education in the very best way.

Trooper, Princess and I came to school covered in red and white from tip to toe, proud of our Canadian flag. I nearly put on a  pair of blue earrings, just to feel a little British, but then I decided I felt Canadian all the way and proud. ( Habs fan anyone?)

Handsome husband is flipping pancakes in the Canadian tent and has even donated some very precious maple syrup for the event. Everyone is smiling.

This is why we live this crazy life so far from home. It takes days like this to remind me.

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Confessions of a Princess in Africa

Yet another mini vacation opportunity presents itself. We have a long weekend coming up in June and I cannot wait to get out of Kampala, pick up my camera and find something other than musicals, dead dogs and casinos to write about.  A four day weekend is too short to go to Queen Elizabeth Park and although just perfect for Murchison, having been there quite recently, I am eager to try somewhere new. So we need to look within a 4-5 hour radius of Kampala. Sipi Falls is perfect, but again we have done that. Jinja is best left for a simple weekend break and although a flight to Mombassa could work, it is rather expensive.  There is a place called Lake Mburo and whispers have been made about a trip out there.

But.

I am not a camper, I have said this many times before. I thought that camping on the Delta for New Year’s Eve, under a full moon; totally exposed with the thrill of animals nearby was a highlight of my life as far as experiences goes. But it was an exception, and certainly not the beginning of any love affair between me and a tent.  However we have very good friends who are very serious campers. They have all the kit, including means of cooking and washing and living in the great outdoors unaided by any luxury and they want us to become campers too.

So tell me. Why can’t I just bite the tented bullet and sleep in a tent, feel mucky, eat food cooked and later washed up over a campfire?  If the world is divided into those that camp and those that do not (and in my opinion I see two very distinct groups amongst the people I know) then I am in the latter group and this is not something I can change. You really need to love the experience and while I respect and even admire those that embrace the tenting life, I just don’t get it.  I find it uncomfortable. This goes deeper than it seems and I cannot suddenly slip on a new skin and become something I am not.  Is there any shame in admitting that I am a bit Princess along with my inner Trooper?

One of my friends said, “But it is so comfortable! Just like camping in Canada with on site showers!”

I replied that I had never camped in Canada. With the greatest respect, we come from different worlds.

So we now have a quandary as our 4 day break swiftly approaches and I am being regarded as a stubborn and odd bird. I am looked at despairingly, as a spoilt girl who ought to know and do better.

I must mention that both Princess and Trooper simply adore camping. Perhaps that is the clue. I never once camped as a child and perhaps it is now too late?

Perhaps they can sleep in a tent while I flourish in a Lodge?

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Feet in the mud, full throttle, crunch time.

So one ping pong day leads to another and if I don’t write about it and try to make sense of it all then where does the day lead? My weeks fly by so fast; this year, the most difficult year of my life; is nearly over. The year started last June when I left Trinidad and it will end in a few months when Year 1 comes to a close here in Uganda.

I miss my old life.  Not just the people and the school, my job, our sweet dog, my house;  I also miss living by the sea. At the same time I miss my life in Montreal; my friends, the independence of my own car and a house that spilled onto a sidewalk in the middle of town, where I could walk and meet people and do everything I needed to do within a 2km radius. But I cannot dwell on the past. No, I must look forward and look down at my own two feet walking in Kampala mud.

So let’s attack the present shall we?

Princess is terribly sad to see the end of Maria and the singing nuns. Goodbye, farewell. She says that she wishes it would go on forever and not have to end.  I think she fancies the idea of being an actress as a job, where you actually get paid to go onto the stage every single night.

“For how long?” she asked.

“Normally around 6 months and then they change the cast. Sometimes if you are on a break from making movies or are particularly famous they might do an 8 week run.”

“ Oh I like the 8 week one and and the movie idea much better,” she decided.

Princess  had a date with her 10 year old boyfriend on Saturday night.  Ideally they wished to be dropped off at a restaurant all alone for a couple of hours and then picked up and brought home once it was over. I didn’t fancy the idea of two ten year olds in a restaurant alone and neither did his parents. So the big sisters went along to supervise from a distance. They were given  strict instructions to sit at the “other end of the restaurant.”

I feel like saying Oy vey. What lies in my future when dates are starting at 10?

It is seriously cute though.

Trooper is about to turn 13. “’Nuff said.”

Handsome husband, now that his days featuring in The Sound of Music Meets The Pink Panther are over is going to be looking for a new hobby. I am thinking a sport. Something with rackets.

I am full throttle, missiles launching, speeding towards the end of term. I have the nightmare prospect of completing the Yearbook.  (When will I ever learn to say no?)  I have 120 kids who need to be ready to take an exam and then I need to be ready to mark 120 exams with only 2 days spare to write 120 reports.  I am remembering those days when I used to spend hours drinking Star-bucks and pushing a swing.  Fond memories.

But luckily before we get to that crunch time when teachers all over the world start to snap and look frazzled, we have a long weekend. Music to my ears. I am busy planning a get-away which is a good thing because I think I need something other than school and musicals to write about. And don’t you miss pictures? I do. My camera has only be used these past few weeks to snap yearbook photos of administrative staff lined up looking grim and young athletes throwing themselves over high poles.

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Confession time. I am not one of those.

EXERCISE.

I don’t like it. My favorite form of exercise is lying on a hammock, reading a book.  Leaving the hammock with an enthusiastic stretch and going to mix a Mohito is a great activity. I love walking,especially in a city where you can walk and look and barely notice that you are moving; but parks are good too. I just hate exercise simply for the sake of exercise. Gyms and classes where sweaty bodies jiggle in unison are the worst. I have tried Yoga    ( um, about 15 years ago) and really enjoyed that but it tends to involve time and the usurping of the one family car, ergo, Beauty.

But here it is: confession time. I ran 100 metres of the teacher race at the athletics day and my hip hurt for a scary number of days afterwards. 100 metres! That is not a lot. Trooper came up to afterwards, all sympathy and condescending smile and said:

“Oh don’t worry, not that many people laughed.”

I am out of shape and it is not good. I just want to go out for a walk and not meet a lot of cows and some dare devil Boda drivers. I am surrounded by people who exercise like manic people. There are hacks and bike rides and 10K runs and triathlons; there are yoga retreats and after school squash games and staff soccer games. There is even a super intense Masters Swim Program. Who are these people and why can’t I be like them? They are a different breed and I look at them with some curiosity, akin to Gorilla Trekking perhaps. They never jiggle when they walk, in fact they are all toned in all the right places. I have seen the calf muscles, there is a healthy bulge.

So what to do. There is no point sitting around wishing I was back in Montreal with my dog and those glorious long walks on the mountain. Yet I am doing a lot of that.

Next week I am being kidnapped and taken to a secret and very “zen” location to try a Yoga class. Let’s see what happens. Maybe this little fish will bite.

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A very cross day in a room full of ping pong balls.

Get ready because I am going to have a full on TEACHER MOAN. Now normally I love my job, really I do. In fact I think I am rather good at it and I have an excellent rapport with teenagers. Most days it all works. But when it is bad it is really awful and today was one of those days. Teenage boys are like pingpong balls. They cannot sit still for very long and even in the middle of a test they can suddenly jump up and knock over a chair or run to me with a hopeless question. So once the test is over, there is nothing else that can be achieved for the rest of the class. My job is simply to contain them until the bell goes and pity the poor girls. I had one young chap today who decided to put his bag on the floor under his desk and rest his pretty head down until the bell went. Clever, I thought, as it was hard to see him under there and when I did finally spot him I was ready to lose it.

One of the spelling words today was Ballistic and I was close to giving them an actual definition. They didn’t like me and I sure as hell didn’t like them. A thin, blue eyed boy who has a little “Another Country” about him; he is very beautiful in a way that is not appreciated by girls now but will be much later; decided to argue with me over whether or not he had correctly answered a question. The answer he had given was stunningly brilliant. Something that displayed such intelligence that could suitably fit into higher education, but in showing off his extraordinary ability to infer religious hyprocrisy in Romeo and Juliet, he had not actually answered the question. He flounced off with a melodramatic turn of his head and said “ Don’t cross me Ms Chesler.”

He then wrote a note on the top of his paper that read “ I cannot lie. So I cannot say I am wrong. But I also cannot say that you are right either.”

I value this boy’s intelligence I wish he would ask further questions instead of just assuming he is right and knows it all.  I need someone out there to save me from the more parochial of topics. I always teach to the higher level and expect the others to catch up. But there are days when this backfires like a giant slap on the face. My test was hard but they still should have done better. Now I know that the majority of boys, all throughout my classes had been thinking about breasts. Maybe, most practically, even about mine.

I stomped into the car at the end of the day and sat crossly all the way home.  I hate it when it doesn’t work.

I teach 6 classes and I am amazed at how each group holds their own shape and character. Each class has between 17 and 21 students. One class is wild. The kids have huge personalities and are the sports stars of the grade. They are very vibrant and passionate, often turning between tears and fury in a day. This class was recently, by all the other exhausted teachers, given a Merit book to encourage some new and calmer behavior. Once they received 50 merits, they would be given a free dress day. This wild class also happens to be my form room and on a wednesday when I have them for a double in the afternoon I always get a headache. Today they got their 50 merits. It only took them close to 3 weeks! So a crazy free dress is ahead.

There is another class that is my clever class.  It is as if someone poured the greatest concentration of brains into one room. That is it. I love them am so sad that the majority will be leaving next year for boarding school. Trooper is in that class. ( Yes, maybe I should write about teaching my own daughter at some point.)

A school is like a mini world. It is a microcosm of politics and love stories and gossip and drama. There is heartbreak and joy, sadness and jest all under one roof and often in one day. Today was a hard one and my patience wore thin. Sometimes I need to remember that they are so so young and not so wise.

Best moment of the day. Repeating this line to my Year 8 ( Grade 7 class ) and they just loved it. The little romantics.

“I mean, that my heart unto yours in knit,

So that but one heart we can make of it.”

( Midsummer’s Night Dream.)

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