Monthly Archives: April 2011

From one Kingdom to another: A tale of Princesses and looking for a wedding in the desert.

When they said over 2 billion people worldwide watched the Royal Wedding they were probably right. In any case 4 of those people were in Bahrain and the hunt to find a place to see the big event was a little stressful. Handsome Husband has a very inferior cable service at present, one that shows horror movies, Arabic music videos and a lot of sport. I feared they would not broadcast the Nuptials and even if they did I could not fathom watching then with an Arabic voice over. I am the only Brit in my family and like many I can remember clearly sitting cross-legged on my Granny’s floor watching Charles and Di tie their knot 30 years ago. I like a bot of pomp and ceremony and no one does it like the British.

We have been living under a proverbial rock here in Kampala with no TV, no newspapers nor magazines and my daughters hardly knew what the wedding was let alone who was getting married, why there was a fuss and who cared. When Trooper pointed to the lady in yellow, once we found a place to watch, and asked “so if she is the Queen does that mean she is William’s grandmother?”, I knew they needed an education.

My sister was attending a large garden party, had even painted her nails pillar box red for the occasion and meanwhile we were in danger of missing the whole thing so I decided to make some calls. Some of the hotels and fancy restaurants were offering a viewing with brunch but at a cost of nearly $100 for 4 we decided to look elsewhere. The British Embassy were diverting all calls to an emergency only number, and while I thought this was an emergency, they might not. Then I called The British Club. Yes they were having an event, a party even and no we could not go. Why ever not? Well we are not members and should we wish to enter we would need to come with a member who could “vouch for our behaviour.” I am not joking. And this after I told them that we were prospective members. Perhaps not now.

Then I called a club called The Dilman. Yes we were welcome to come in and watch, and it would only cost us a day visitors’ fee of $45 for the family. Steep but we were running out of options and the wedding was two hours off.  So we decided to go  and after getting hopelessly lost on the way there, hitting desert at one point and finally asking some police men at a road block, we found it.

You may think me a snob if I describe the clientele, so I won’t. Suffice to say that these were not Brits I had ever met in England. These were the ones who were chargrilled red from too many beers pool side, were overly thrilled to be out of Slough and into Bahrain, were stuffing their faces with fat cakes from the buffet table and let their kids drop food all over the floor. Have I painted a picture? Anyway we saw the wedding, it was sort of surreal to watch it in a large circa 1971 cafeteria on a tiny island in the Gulf with the residents of Eastenders, but watch it we did. And it was fabulous. Really it was. Perfick.

Now Trooper and Princess know all about Princesses and Princes and Balcony kisses and golden carriages. They had visited Westminster Abbey just this past summer and Buckingham Palace and they recognized both. They were most impressed by the tiny bridesmaid and the amazing choir. But they both came to the conclusion that they wouldn’t like to be a princess, one bit. Too many cameras, too many chances for things to go very wrong, too much stress.

But they have started to think about weddings.

My Princess is absolutely going for the horse drawn carriage.

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Filed under I have two girls

Hello Bahrain

I am in Bahrain, land of turquoise seas, long smooth highways, giant posters of the King,, men in white dresses, women black as crows, shiny shops, large malls, soft beaches, high glitz, desert sands and fast cars. I am constantly amazed by my surreal life; I visit here for 10 days, a place that could not be more opposite than Kampala and then I must return to my former life for 55 days. I am here to chose a house, a school, to look, see and learn and yet I must still go back to the pot holed roads of Kampala and the African skies before I can really call Bahrain home. So I am living an in between existence this week and it feels most odd.

I wonder how I will feel when Africa is no longer mine, and I see no green nor hear no birds. Will I settle in quickly to this island that feels both modern and ancient all at once? I look out of the window as we speed along highways and bridges and imagine how it will be see wealth rather than poverty as my daily view.

Yesterday we went to a large shiny mall. It was the ultimate Great Shiny West experience and standing before 35 choices of red lipstick I froze. This was too much choice. I didn’t know what to do. The palace of cold marble, glossy metal and smooth escalators was overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong; I will be happy to live mere minutes from anything I could possibly need; it will just take some getting used to. I am sure one frustration will be passed onto another.

Everybody smiles and says they love living here. Men drink coffee or juice alone, women glide in their back robes with inches of sparkle peeping out, the make up is thick, the girth is often wide, the children splash and laugh and shout, the life of the carefree.

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Filed under Great Big Shiny West

Easter eggs and Dodo brains

We are nearly there: The flight takes off tomorrow afternoon and before long we will be one family again, in the same place, sharing the same hug. I love the closure of end of term: asking where everybody is going, hearing the exciting travel plans. One friend is going to run the Two Oceans Run in Cape Town; another is going Gorilla Trekking, another to a wedding on the beach, another welcoming family and showing off Uganda. And we are going to see where our new life will be and put some footprints in Bahraini sand.

I promise to take my camera and bring back some photos to share.

Just for the fun of the things and because it is the end of term and there is that wonderful feeling of my desk looking a bit tidier than usual I thought we should have a little visit with the search engines.  How are you all ending up here chez 3limes?

peeing chimps

Those people who are planning on spending some time chimp trekking in Kibale might just experience the joy of being peed on by a chimp. For the very lucky folk, the chimps come down off the trees and sit quietly in a circle picking lice out of each other’s hair. But for us we had the special joy of craning our necks way high to stare at dark shadows in the tree tops and enjoying the spectacularly frequent splashes of pee. They pee, a lot and all the time. The amount is akin to having a large bucket dropped from a great height over and over again.

tree that spread her roots by the river is?

I think you are the same poetic lovely who searched for twisted tree roots. I think we should meet, hug trees, lay down by the roots and have a picnic. I picture a large willow tree that leans precariously yet determinedly towards a running brook. The water is dappled with broken sun light, the poet Rupert Brooke has flung himself upon a field nearby and is tousling his lover’s mane in his bare, strong hands.

dodo brain

That would be me. I am the one who owns the dodo brain, so welcome, come in and take a look. The evidence is clear. I very nearly forgot my niece’s birthday today thinking the 21st is a date more apt for a birthday than the 20th, though after 11 years I should have known. I slipped up and forgot it was my class assembly and only found out an hour before we were due to go on stage. I owed them a lot of chocolate after that performance. I lost my passport while all the time it was sitting on a book beside my bed, I went out for dinner last night with my bag and wallet, phone and lipstick and not one cent of money. I pride myself on holding it all together and keeping my memory intact. But recently the hard drive has been full up there and things have been leaking out. See now, I can hardly remember all the other mistakes I have made and I am sure there are plenty. So if you were looking for the brain belonging to the long deceased Dodo bird then you might want to go to google images. Here it is all dodo brains and worry.

Ta ta for now, holiday people. Enjoy those Easter eggs. We have Neuhaus eggs in our fridge which is a treat from the Great Shiny West and one that exceeds excitement.  In the land where chocolate tastes of sour milk even a Cadbury cream egg would have made us jump but Neuhaus? A box of delightfully wrapped coloured mini eggs?

Too much fun.

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Filed under Family Stuff, Great Big Shiny West, Uganda

Wrapping friends up into a soft soft ball.

Reading the FT yesterday morning, as I am wont to do on my Saturdays, I read this article by Susie Boyt, a columnist I follow closely and enjoy immensely. There are people we read in the press that we falsely believe we know by virtue of reading their online persona each week. But I feel certain if Susie and I met for tea at Fortnum’s’ we’d have plenty to talk about. The staff would be tapping their heels and waiting by the doors to close and we’d still be chatting about the length of dresses, fluffy cakes, life changing books and the essence of what makes a good friend.

Today she writes about friendship and her words rang a true bell. I am one of those people for whom friends are on the A list, the cake rather than the icing. Friends for me sit in the very centre of my life rather than dancing around the periphery. One of the tragedies of an expat existence is that you are always far from friends, dear ones, with whom you would like a daily existence, a regular phone chat, a weekly coffee rather than a day or two every year or two.

The hardship of being so far from friends in one thing but the other sadness wells from the fact of having to say goodbye to new and wonderful friendships so frequently. With each move, I say “No.” I will not join my heart to another, I will not fall in love with a new friend, I will not get too close. And then, because we are human, we do. And then comes another goodbye. But with each move there are less goodbyes, once bitten twice shy. I am wary of too much love, these days.

This summer I will be going home to Canada after a break of two years. I will be, once again, with my sisterhood, but I am carving up time into portions to spend with them. Is this the way to live friendship?  Have a choice? They have all got their lives, they are busy and here I fly in, swoop down into their lives from my life far away and demand time with them, while I can only afford a day or two.

Like oil and water the true friends float up to the surface and make each moment one to cherish. But I keep collecting these wonderful friends and if I were to make a friendship map of the world they would be scattered like chicken pox scars on a child’s back.

I have had friends leave me, like a scorned lover and it hurts as much as ending a love affair would. There are 5 times in my life that I have been dropped like hot coal into the fire, and each time it is because I have inadvertently hurt someone too sensitive to have perspective. I argue with myself that these were never true friends, that I was mistaken, had it wrong, all along. If they would end our friendship over a silly slight, what were they to me? Still it hurts, because I never knew.

We collect people as we go through our chapters, and the more moves we make the more we collect, carefully, wrap in the softest of memories and carry in our pockets. Sometimes I long for my white picket fence and my friend round the corner, always there, living with me my days and me with hers.

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Filed under Sisterhood

Kampala and the sisterhood

Kampala. I love it green, and raining, the water mirrors the day. We are slowly coming to an end, a term is ending and a break is nigh. We are hopping on a jet plane and heading to Bahrain to explore and see and find and learn. We will find a house, a school, maybe a job. We will start the slow move from one life to another as we imagine where we’ll be next year. No rain, just dry, no green, just desert, no children carrying water and majestic woman wearing bananas atop their heads, something new and different instead.

The Parrots and Hammerheads call to one another in the tree outside my window and I wonder what the sounds of the future will be. Will a call to prayer take over the bird calls?

I had a night or two recently that were different, one an evening of French folk, chic with their perfectly placed scarf, chain or glasses, the kisses and laughter better in French. There was good taste in the air with language and culture tying threads around the crowd.

Another a night of girls; talking, musing, wondering, hoping. I was the oldest, the only one married, the one who was meant to have some wisdom tucked between the folds of experience. We talked by candlelight of choice, hope and compromise and I sensed real friendship, the kind girls have whether they are 13 or 32.

And I thought of my sisterhood and how I miss it. One or two nights a year is not enough. Then I thought of all the wonderful women I have fallen in love with and then had to leave. I could never survive the highs and lows without the women. I build walls around my heart and say “no more!” And then I do it all again, the love, the wistful nights wishing we could all live happily in a commune of wine and candlelight.

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Give you my sweet soul dreams

 

There is some music that follows you through different chapters. Or some music that when you hear it is sharply poignant of a particular time.

Recently I have been listening to one of my favorite all time albums, Goodbye Jumbo by World Party. It takes me back to a time, to a place soft with the taste of regret wrapped in hope and now it is following me again, like a warm hand keeping me safe.

 

I have had a strange time of it lately, too strange to wrap words around and yet too strange to write about anything else. There are times in life when everything changes, or tilts, and life and the way you see things is never the same again. The older you get, the more moments like this you have and yet they are so very few. Giving birth, losing a parent, having an accident, these are events that somehow shift you internally and leave things unbalanced for a time, as if the pinball machine has tilted and is not yet right.  And I wonder as I walk the aisles of the grocery store, how many other people who appear normal on the outside have tiny fissures cracking on the inside. But through it all comes a taste of change, of the chrysalis unravelling and something new being born.

 

And so my sweet soul dreams follow me in the car, tipping over sloping hills, catching the golden light as it bounces on the lush green. Kampala is sexy green at the moment, fertile and fecund land, mulched earth and dripping wet gigantic leaves. Everything is sprouting, growing and changing.

 

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Escaping Camp Hormone

It has been a troubling week in Camp Hormone, the gossip mongers have been hurtful, the facebook chat rooms full. There are weeks when I have my overdose of teens, living with one at home and a multitude at work. They are strange and worrisome creatures and there is no handbook, just trial and error, a lot of patience and masses of consistency and consequence.

But I cannot discuss Camp Hormone here; my gag order is in full effect so instead I will tell you about my other life. Do I have another one? Yes, I found it on Saturday night dancing to Salsa in uncomfortable high heels with no Tequila. (I was driving and being sensible. Always sensible.)  I find myself going out so much more now that I am high heeled up and single (well single and married, if that makes any sense at all.) I went out five nights in a row which is a record, really. I am not sure I have not that this decade, though it is only 3 months old.

This past week I have attended an Irish themed dinner party, complete with very interesting Irish folk and a superb Baileys and Mint Chocolate Chip Ice-cream milkshake, a Murder Mystery Dinner where I was given the role of Brash and Aggressive American ( no risk of type casting there then) and featured a divine Pear Martini, a decadent Indian meal, a girls’ night out under the stars, a birthday dinner with my girls and a heavenly molten chocolate dessert, a tea party with pink champagne instead of tea and a hilarious one year old who cleaned the chocolate cake off everyone’s plate and the afore mentioned salsa dancing.  The dancing was fun and long overdue and I was having a great time dancing with the bodacious Latino ladies until a pile of my students walked in and balked.

Nothing like a 17 year old at 1:00 am on a Saturday night to make you feel old.

Camp Hormone. Can’t escape the inmates.

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Filed under Teenagers

Cases from the Uganda Strange Files.

What have I seen recently?

1. An owl perched on a ledge above the school Bursar’s office. It was asleep but I swear it was still staring at me. It was just fast asleep staring. It was beautiful, all tucked up into itself, furry and tempting to touch. The Ugandans were concerned as apparently an owl is an omen of death. However those of us who do not believe in owl omens were transfixed.

2.  A moth. I killed it, I confess, as it was eating my curtains. I kid you not, within 5 minutes a whole troop of ants appeared out of nowhere, surrounded the dead moth, picked it up and carried it away. Okay I confess I disturbed the parade of the dead moth about half way across the room as it was attracting more ants and it was starting to be ugly. So I swept ants and dead moth into the bin. I hope they are all happy.

3. A police man stopped my car at a security check, opened up the most obvious place I would keep a bomb, the glove compartment, and then proceeded to ask me to buy him lunch.

4. A deluge. It rained so much one night that I literally had to drive through a brand new lake in the morning. The girls asked me to drive “really fast and make a huge splash” but I, always the sensible one, and mindful of the condition of the car I will need to sell really soon, erred on the side of caution and drove really slowly. The water still covered all four tires. Crazy rain. By 4.30pm it was gone.

5. My fridge had been broken for 2 weeks, only staying cold intermittently. I had no idea how to go about fixing a fridge. There is no yellow pages here, no handy number to call. What is a girl with spoilt milk to do? Driving home from the grocery store with Trooper we realized we were just behind a blue pickup truck with the words Mr. Chilly painted in white along the back. Below was the number clearly written for ease of viewing.

“Call it!” I instructed Trooper, trying not to sound as excited as a person who just saw her favourite and much coveted Prada boots on sale.

She did. He stopped to answer the phone. I pulled up alongside his truck, waved frantically at him while he was answering my call.

“Do you fix fridges” I asked in exactly the same tone I would use to ask “are those boots really only $399 and in my size?”

He answered yes. I asked if he was busy right now and he said no.

So he followed me home and fixed my fridge. Easy peasy.

And that is the tale of how I picked up Mr. Chilly on the way home.

TIA.

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Twisted tree roots and water child carry

This is not going to be a full look at the search engines, we will save that for another time when we need a lot of cheering up. But two things did catch my eye today, more for their poetic imagery and tone than anything else.

twisted tree roots

Now I can only imagine what led you to type this. You woke up feeling a little out of sorts; you looked outside and saw only concrete, steel and traffic. You could imagine the noise of the city while you were quietly sealed up behind the window and you suddenly longed for a walk in a forest, a park, a place where nature’s knotty membranes would speak to you more than the man made rush outside. It is disconcerting to feel so apart from our surroundings, a sense of not belonging, a disjointed oxymoron.

When you want to run your hands over nature’s knotty membranes

And not the salty city metal bars

When you prefer the shade of an ancient tree

over the plaster of another man’s house

when you prefer the rain soaked dark earth

to the slippery slick concrete

when you search for solace in twisted tree roots.

So for you there is this:

water child carry

I love the idea of a water child, some small innocent nymph like creature with webbed toes and effervescent skin. My imagination is running circles around this one.

Water child carry me

to your hidden world

of whispering reeds

dancing to the silent  aqueous tune

water child carry our drenched thoughts

down deeper into your deep blue bath

But I think you mean the water a child carries, every day, on her back, her shoulders and sometimes on her head. The community of children who walk and fetch and carry water every evening from the broken pipe down the hill to the shack she calls a home.

For you there is this:

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Filed under pen and paper, Photography

The tale of my birthday cake

Funny story. Regular readers of 3limes might be familiar with the quintessential Uganda Cake story. It was a sober warning to many not to trust a cake that comes from the hands of a Ugandan Patisserie, no, far better to bake your own. Well as I mentioned just yesterday my sweet girls had made me a chocolate cheese cake, showed it to me at breakfast time and then we  spent most of the day in anticipation of the wonderful after school treat that was to come.

Princess carefully sliced three portions, placed them on plates and solemnly carried them to the dining room table. They looked at each other with shifty eyes, one of them shrugged; I think I heard a “shhh”.

Then we took a bite and the truth was out, the cat was out of the bag, the jig was up, the spell was broken.

“This tastes like onion.” I said, trying not to sound too surprised.

“The texture is lovely, the chocolate so smooth and yummy but after the first hit of cocoa on the tongue something is wrong.” I said, trying to sound intrigued.

Turns out there was quite a story behind the cake.

In order to make the cheese cake they had to ask Sarah our amazing beyond words house keeper to buy cream cheese for them while they were at school. Princess handed over her pocket money and off Sarah went, to four different shops (this is Kampala) on four different bodas and finally found some. Only the cream cheese she found was cream cheese with onions and chives. Sarah, not being familiar with chocolate cheesecake, let alone the hummingbird cafe Chocolate cheesecake, had no idea what cream cheese even was.

The girls immediately saw the problem but were too embarrassed to tell Sarah that she had erred in her choice of cream cheese, since she has gone to so much trouble. So they made it anyway. Two thirds regular cream cheese (that we already had in the fridge) and one third onion and chives.

And let me tell you: chocolate might go well with chilli, orange, or even rosemary, so I hear, but it does not marry well with the sharp sour taste of onion.

We need to wait until Sarah takes her day off on Saturday before we can toss it in the bin.

Handsome Husband laughed. “Looks like you got Ugandan Birthday Cake too!’

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Filed under Family Stuff, Might be funny