Tag Archives: driving

Lost and busy in the sandy isle, but walking on sunshine.

I am not sure I have ever been so busy. I barely have time to breath and there is another onslaught of things to mark, to do, to cook, to fold, to find. I don’t remember this happening before.

I am squeezing in a few solid procrastination minutes here away from marking to write this down, dear readers. Since I am so sure that you are interested and wondering how life is going on my sandy isle now that the glow of Berlin is worn and I have just finished week 6 of term 1.

The ground is moving faster than I. It is a giant conveyor belt that is simply zipping along too fast and I fear I might trip. I wake, I run, I return, I sleep.

Princess is being terribly clever and sparkly and brave. She has made it the finals of her school’s IDOL. It is not American Idol, nor is it the X Factor, but in our house it is even bigger and more important than either of those silly competitions. She will be spinning, dancing and singing up a storm  on a stage before 100 people. And she will be Walking on Sunshine.

Meanwhile Trooper has her nose pointed downwards towards her phone where her real life lies. She will soon have carpel tunnel of the thumb. We are monitoring the situation and sitting somewhere on a fence between “ she is 14 and it’s her right to be anti social” and “ she needs to be a human if she wants to live in my house.”Parenting Teens 101.

And finally in other news I am tired of not knowing where I am going. I fear I may need to purchase a GPS as navigating a car around my sandy isle is proving difficult. The thought of veering off the well worn highways worries me. I may get lost, or never get back, or….  It is somewhat akin to the fear of falling off a map. So I am slowing exploring; when I need my shoes re heeled and I haven’t a clue where to go I ask a fellow teacher to draw me a map and off I try.

There is one other tiny but rather exciting tidbit. We are now the proud owners of a dishwasher.
The last time a non human device washed our dishes, it was June 2009. Getting the dishwasher, finding one that fit, having it delivered, installed and ready to go was no easy task.  Finding a garden shop off a certain highway on a certain sandy isle was only slightly less difficult.

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Routine, balm for the tired soul.

And here we have it, routine has arrived. I get up at 5,30 am, yes I do, and yes it hurts, I drive 15-20 minutes in the blazing sunshine to work, where I do my teacher thing.

Princess and Trooper go to their school and work and toil as kids are wont to do, and secretly love, despite all quarrels to the contrary.

Handsome drives all the way across the country to the airport where he does his thing.

And at some point we all meet home again, back to our house of cool marble and books, where we congregate in the kitchen, open the fridge and wonder what is for dinner.

It is the same everywhere, for everyone. Whether you live in Uganda, Canada, Trinidad, England or Bahrain, we all wake up, work and end up looking in the fridge at the end of the day.

But it is the little differences that make it interesting. And I suppose that is how I survive in this hopscotch sort of life.

Here then are the little things that make a difference.

Like the time Handsome went out for dinner and has a Peach Ice Tea instead of his usual beer. If you know him, even a little bit, you realize how odd this really is. Like any warm blooded Canadian man, he likes his ice cold beer after a day at work. And here there are very few ways of getting it. The “ice cold” shop does not sell beer, but does sell Coke and Milk. One way is to eat at an expensive restaurant that has a license, or one of the few bars ( a bit grotty) or at a hotel. Another is to drive through the ‘drive-through’ beer shop at the Gulf Hotel. And I just found out about an online service where you can choose your liquor and they deliver. All very clandestine, but legal.

Sometimes it is easy to think we live in India. After all there are as many Indians here as native Bahrainis, and they tend to do the jobs that no one else wants to do. And also all the tailoring. One evening during Ramadan when we could not enter a restaurant until 6.30 pm we decided to take a very warm walk around the neighbourhood. Walking is not something that is done very often here, it being a suburban sort of driving place. But we did have a little walk around the block, sweat pouring down our backs, and we found all the tailor shops. Run by Indians I could stop and actually believe for a second or two that I was in India. Until I saw that the shops were full of the long white robes ( Kandura)  that the Bahraini men favour. Since there are so many Indians here there is also a plethora of Indian movies, music, clothes and restaurants.

You can actually speed right past a police man here. They don’t care one smidgen about fast cars. People drive so fast here, it is scary. And there are 20,000 minor road accidents a year on this small island. No surprise there. As sn extreme contrast very occasionally you might meet this on the road. Not going so fast, obviously.

Wednesday and Thursday night the malls are packed to bursting with Saudis who have driven across the bridge to come over for some Bahrain fun. This little Island swells in size on Thursdays and Fridays and then shrinks back to normal on a Saturday. Suddenly there are Saudi cars all over the place. And watch out for the ladies. They don’t get any driving practice back home.

School is full of polite, high spirited and respectful students and the stark difference between them and the students I have taught in the past is that the boys and girls are hardly ever seen together. Not in class, not in the hallways and not in the cafeteria. There is a silent division between the sexes that goes as far as standing in different lines to buy their lunch. This is not a rule, but is something cultural and hardly conscious. I may yet be proven wrong here and find out about some secret romances.

I was very fortunate to have a lot of house hold help in Uganda. It was the done thing, not something I spoke about very often but I was very spoilt with my two live in helpers. Here we have opted to not have live in help despite the fact that most do and in fact our house comes outfitted with a maid’s room. So we have gone from a lot of help to much less and I have to admit, it suits me just fine. I am back in the kitchen, cooking, doing laundry, being normal once again. However, strangely most houses here do not come with dishwashers ( cue the maid’s room) and so we are doing a lot of washing up which quite frankly I could live without. I am having scary flashbacks to student life. I find it ironic that life here is so comfortable, our house is so lovely, we even have a garden complete with automatic water sprinklers. And yet I am washing up.

One of the surprising differences that colours my days.

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ha!

Police here are notorious for stopping cars for no apparent reason and doing random driving license checks. Both myself and Handsome have been in the unlucky position of being stopped, whether for a license check, a dirty windshield wiper, talking on a cell phone and once Handsome was even stopped and asked for a ride!

I had not been stopped or ages and the last time I had my Canadian driving permit which, really, you should not drive with here after the first 3 months. So yesterday when I was pulled over and asked for my license I could see the smug look in her eyes. She was sure she was going to see a foreign permit and get some cash out of me. A 20,000 shilling note left on the passenger seat normally sorts out all sorts of problems. But this time I smiled, showed her my shiny Ugandan Driving License and waited. I detected a faint glimmer of disappointment in her eyes and then she said: “ok, have a good day.”

“Thank you”, I beamed and drove off.

Leaping over those hurdles to get that permit was so worth it.

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My Kampala Weekend

Kampala Sunday Family.  Photo taken during my Mother’s Day walk.

Oh what a lovely weekend. It all started with a rare highly successful Friday. It is an extraordinary feat when everything goes to plan here, something to be celebrated and talked about amongst friends. I  left school midday to attempt the herculean task of ticking a few items off my “things to do list” including some banking, an issue with a tragically faulty iphone and computer , a birthday gift, a photo to be printed, some minor grocery shopping and the pinning up of Car For Sale posters in all the appropriate places. All got accomplished in good time and moreover extra things not even on the list got ticked off too.  A rare glowing moment here in Kampala.

Friday evening was spent in the company of dear friends, outside on a deck, moonlight straining between oversized fat leaves, and the sweet smell of Lady of the Night flowers wafting over us like gentle silk on our shoulders.  We ate, we debated loudly, and we laughed. We struggled with issues that come by us all too often living in Africa.  We debated the concept of happiness and how possible it is to be happy and yet stuck in the mire of poverty. How do we read those smiling faces running up the hill to fetch water each night? Can a person be truly happy if they cannot plan for tomorrow? If they live an existence that is hand to mouth and rooted in the today and only the today? Can one be happy if they have no access to health care and the threat of death and infanticide is  always around every corner? Is the West responsible and what can be done? Heady issues but ones that live with every day and it is a good dinner party when we actually debate what we cannot solve.

Saturday and my luck turned. I was back at the computer shop fixing my still broken computer and money was bleeding from my wallet. I was forced to drive right down town, into the nether regions of congested Kampala and to a place that I have never ventured by myself in the car. It was stretching the boundaries of my bravery so I did what is only possible in the great country of Uganda. I hailed down a Boda driver and paid him to drive to the scary place so that I could follow him. I did exactly the same thing on the way out of the maze of downtown streets and good thing too or I might have found myself half way to Entebbe Airport.  I also pulled another great Ugandan trick and rather than risking another drive back downtown to retrieve said computer, I had it delivered to me by the technician on a Boda Boda. It is so easy to be a princess here.

Saturday night and a prospective car buyer was followed by a delicious Thai meal.

And Sunday: Mother’s Day found me enjoying a manicure, a brunch with my daughters and an afternoon of friendship, champagne and sushi pool side.

And then it all went fish faced Sunday night when my computer broke again.

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Being brave, driving, finding snails and the pretty.

I am not writing enough. Perhaps I am in less of a reflective mood and more of a get on with it and cope mood. We are trudging along here with out our Handsome. He is happy over there in our future home; he has survived one sand storm and multiple temptations in the shopping department. He has a car now and is installed in a small and sweet apartment on the beach. And us? Well we have been keeping ourselves sane with homework, Thai food, the occasional Margarita and plenty of cutting out of paper fish. ( Poisson d’avril, ladies and gentleman, will soon be upon us.)

I am being terribly brave and driving all over the place. As one or two of you may know I am very frightened of driving in Kampala, and Handsome Husband did very nearly ALL the driving when he was here. Now it is me behind the wheel and it is amazing what happens when you take away the element of choice. We just have to cope. The bumps, the pot holes, the crazy boda boda drivers, the maniacs who think you can just cut someone off, the pedestrians who assume we will stop or slow down, the nonsensical  magic roundabouts, the lack of traffic lights, I am fighting fierce and doing it all.

Do I have anything else to tell you?

We had a giant snail walking up our wall. Here it is:

And sometime next week I will be another year older. I have purchased myself a lovely birthday present, quite a feat to find something I am so excited about in Kampala and it has been hidden away in Trooper’s room to be pulled out on my birthday. I can’t tell you what it is, because we are pretending it is a surprise.

But it is pretty and we all need pretty things now and again.

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Filed under Being brave, I miss shopping.

Report Bad Driving

Today I offer you glimpses from Uganda roads. I laugh when I think about how strict and controlled our rules and attitudes towards the roads are in The Great Shiny West compared with Uganda. The lawlessness here considering the heavy police presence on the streets is pause for thought. Seat belts? Optional. No kids under 12 in the front seat? Funny one. I see plenty of toddlers bouncing around the front seat not even strapped down by a seat belt.  Passengers limited to the number of seats in the truck/car? Again, amusing. The number of passengers is determined by how many can be squeezed in or even on. Basic rules about overtaking on the left? Changing lanes on a round about? Using an indicator? Indiscriminate horn usage? The quantity of black ugly smog expelled from the exhaust? Again, not relevant. The plan is to get from A to B in one piece. Taking a nap in the back of a truck? Good idea! Why not? By the way that is a large pink pig in the last photo.

In other news the Ugandan General Election is taking place today and our fingers are crossed that everything goes smoothly and safely. The roads will certainly be clearer as the majority of Kampala residents have returned to their villages to vote.

Over in the cyber world another election of sorts is taking place and there are only two days left to vote.  Imagine winning in two different continents! This is my only chance to enter the field of world domination since my childhood dreams of ruling the world never materialized.

If you are a fan, either new or have been visiting for ages, and if you have not yet voted please consider doing so before the February 20th deadline.

Here is the link to this year’s Bloggies. Results will be announced March 1st.

Vote here!

Thank you to all my readers. Drive safe.

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Leaving the beach, meeting some Swedes and driving to Nakuru.

Leaving the beach is always hard. My family belong to the tribe of beach bums: for us the ocean is our world. While some in our group described themselves as “Mountain Men” and kept a wide berth from the salt water, we couldn’t stay out of it. We climbed back into the car with skin that smelt of sea, sand and SPF 15. We wanted to keep the scent, the stickiness and the dried sea salt as long as possible. As we drove away from the coast our car was quickly making promises to return (by plane) as soon as possible.

The chief planner of our trip had made the fool hardy decision to drive straight from the coast to Nakuru. Even an optimist could not imagine reaching Nakuru in less than 13 hours and there was a general agreement within the group that such a drive would simply crack us all up. So we decided to stop back in Tsavo to break up the journey, this time about 20 mins from Voi Gate, between East and West Tsavo. We found a little lodge run by a Swiss woman that was a perfect stop over for the night.

Sagala Lodge is a small but sweet, neat and tidy lodge with 20 bandas and a swimming pool set in front of a Baobab tree. We arrived at 4.30 and quickly jumped into the pool. We knew we would be back in the car at 7.30 am so we just needed a quiet yet energetic few hours to stretch and play.  The highlight of Sagala lodge for me was the Swedish couple I met. I noticed a Defender parked behind our banda with a tent  that protruded from the roof, ladders, food cooking on a small kitchen that seemed to be built into the side of the car; it looked like some serious campers on a serious journey. Turns out they were some intrepid Swedes, a couple with two small girls, (4 and 6) who were driving from Stockholm to Capetown. There I was feeling like a rock star on our 11 day road trip across Kenya but within minutes of meeting this small family I felt like a bug on their wind screen. Two continents, 20 countries, 9 months! With two little girls. Amazing. I quickly took Trooper and Princess over to meet them as there is great value in meeting such individuals who embody bravery, determination and a true adventurous spirit. It all goes without saying that they must be incredibly patient, organized and nice to each other.

At the moment they are somewhere near Mount Kenya and will be arriving in Uganda sometime this month. Their blog can be found here.

The drive to Nakuru took 9 hours. We had to cross through the centre of Nairobi which had us straining our necks to see the capital city. We have never actually been to Nairobi, yet, so this was our first impression. Pavements! Tall buildings! Parks! Traffic! For the half an hour that we drove across down town Nairobi I had the sense that we were in a serious city, plumped with self importance and age.

Between Nairobi and Naivasha the route takes cars past one of the most extraordinary viewpoints. There is a look out where one has the opportunity to stand and gaze across the rift valley, over the Masai Mara towards Tanzania. On the outbound journey towards the coast we had driven past at great speed while with rubber necks we had strained to see the awe inspiring view. I promised myself that on our return we would pause for a moment or two and admire the view. Really, what type of traveller would drive past that?  It seems we were the only ones with that idea and ended up stopping alone. Not everyone in the group was on the same page in this respect and this can be a source of stress in a large group. Particularly when one car is lambasted for holding the others back by a meagre 10 minutes.

It was a tired and tense group that descended in Nakuru. But when we saw the divine little place we would be spending the next two nights our spirits began to lift.

 

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Brave Driving With George

Clap your hands! I am doing a whole lot of driving these days. A lot of night driving, especially. It’s a bit silly really that I am even asking you to clap. Many people drive, many times and when I act all self satisfied as I climb out of my car they look at me like, really, what is the big deal? However, despite my seemingly brave new take on life in the fast lane, I am still terrified and each time I get into the car I hold my breath, clench the wheel while leaning forward and play very loud George Michael. I look like George Michael trying to avoid the police. Except I am not stoned and there are no dodgy boys in the back of the car. Shame really.

Anyway what makes it so scary is that there are no street lights. So I have to use my full beams, try to dodge those super sized pot holes, people riding bikes with no lights, goats, cows, stray dogs and people crossing the road. While doing all this I also have to cross two lanes of traffic (lots of extra breath holding there) and use my white-knuckle-hope to get me home. In a strange Mad Max way I am starting to enjoy it; it makes me feel brave.

Some girls really are brave.  They camp alone with their two sons, they build canoes, and they drive to the market, park and then walk through the myriad of stalls looking for Turkey.   I am trying to be brave, but not really there yet. But I am terribly proud of myself for at least climbing into the car (It is a high climb; ripped my fave jeans once…) and getting home all in one piece.

Pathetic but brave.

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Feeling very proud of myself

I drove! I did it..all by myself. I am feeling very brave. I am pathetic.

It is confession time. I have not driven since the accident, except for one hair raising time when I had to drive F to the hospital. ( He had Vertigo, brought on by the whiplash from the accident, ironically). So today I had to go out and it seemed too silly to treat F as a driver, so I got into the car and with equal measures of trepidation and pride I drove out of the gate, all by myself.

Truth be told, I didn’t do a  whole lot of driving before the accident but since then the fear has worsened and then I started to hate my wimpy self and my husband was looking at me like I was really useless. When someone looks at you like that, they can’t fancy you at the same time. So for me and for him, I needed to tame that Beast. ( Who is by the temprorarly resurrected until we find another car.)

I am the kind of driver that loves a big Canadian Highway, tons of space, smooth concrete, no crazy motorcycles that appear out of the corner of my blind eye. So for me Kampala streets are basically a disaster. It is like a driving video game, only not as fast and if you do hit someone then you lose more that a virtual life. You need to drive with peeled eyeballs and never lose your cool. People do not follow rules here. Rules are not something they need. It is total anarchy on those roads and it is scary.

And since I am feeling so brave I am going to mention that it is the very last chance to VOTE! Yes, the bloggies are closing tomorrow and don’t let the fact that I am in Africa now, and rather far from Latin America (Trinidad),  bother you one bit.  I would say that is reason enough to win!

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Swamp Jam

Driving in Africa is a dirty affair.

A rather odd Sunday. At least compared to those in Montreal Skiing, those in London staying out of the snow and all cosy with the papers or those in Trinidad on the beach, also those who did anything today other than wake up and go searching for rare and near extinct birds called Shoebills.

The Shoebill is an enormous bird, sort of like a stork that is very rare, there are only 138 in all of Uganda and between 2000-8000 in the world, mostly in Sudan. Bird watchers spend thousands of dollars to fly here and seek out these birds, but then bird watchers also spend thousands to fly to Trinidad to see the ugly and elusive Oil Birds.




We woke up at the crack of dawn, with bleary eyes threw together a picnic and stumbled into the Beast ( with fingers crossed). An hour and a half south west and we arrived at a spot by a papyrus swamp where our friendly guide, Hannington, directed us all into dug out boats. For the next 3 hours we drifted through the swamp searching for the Shoebill and  got tangled in thick lilly pads, stuck in dense swamp ( I named it a Swamp Jam) and looked longingly through binoculars, hoping, searching and waiting for this ugly grey prehistoric creature to appear.



Finding a Shoebill is like coming across an elephant in the swamp. It is enormous and unexpected. I am not a bird watcher and I was along for the ride and the day out, more than the thrill of seeing a bird, however weird and rare it maybe.


I never got close enough to take a picture as I was standing at the back of the third boat with lots of tall people standing in front of me, but I did see it and its very strange beak through my trusty binoculars. I also saw it fly away, and it has quite an elegant flight style for a bird so large and ugly.

Here are pictures to show you what all the fuss is about. How sad that I had to download it from Wikipedia. The shame of it.




The question, of course, is what kind of shoe is that exactly?

Far more delightful were the gorgeous Lillies that covered the swamp like a lush purple blanket. Some were so pale as to be almost white, some closer to pink and some deep purple. I couldn’t take my eyes of them.



These I did take. Thankfully.





And one for my toe.

Something different for a Sunday, non?

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