Tag Archives: Might be funny

A lot of people but not a lot of water.

It was a highly sociable weekend.  Friday we were invited to a large and lavish Jewish New Year party, Saturday we went out on a bar hop and Sunday we spent the afternoon and some of the evening at a wonderful home overlooking Lake Victoria. I have now met people from Israel, Canada, New York, Germany, Denmark, Holland, Austria, England, South Africa, San Francisco, Boston, New Zealand, Australia, Kenya and France. I have met people in public health, the restaurant business, education, policy, water engineers, Unicef, Food and health NGOs, business, construction, art, writers, fitness, pest control, embassies and infectious disease. Most people that we have met are here for only a few years but there are some who arrived over a decade ago and have no plans to leave. The majority of expats here have lived in many places, ranging from Brazil to Namibia to Belize to Rome. Some ( not I)  run and bike and do endless sports, some are content to read by the pool and people watch,  but everyone’s favorite sport is eating, drinking and talking. I have discovered it to be a very sociable place with hours spent getting to know people and talking away the hours. One thing everyone has in common is that they are far away from home and it quickly becomes a unifying fact that bonds us all.

Good thing we were out so much because we have no water. Neither does most of Kampala, it seems. I imagine that soon people will start to smell, or the scent of perfume will just become over powering, as I imagine it must have been in pre-plumbing but post perfumerie Paris. The dishes are piling up, the laundry basket is overflowing, and we have a bucket of water that we have siphoned off the empty house next door that we use to flush the loo. Every few hours one of us optimistically turns on a tap, just to see. The school has water, the club has water, so we do have options for showers, but a home without water is troubling. It has been 5 days.

Last night we lost power. I wanted to laugh but it was not yet funny. Humour needs distance. And clean clothes.

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Kitschiness

 

What is the definition of Kitsch? It is one of my favorite words and one that I take to mean that the object is so far out of fashion that it is cutting edge in. It has crossed a borderline of taste that is so far out there, it is on the way back. That is how Retro becomes so trendy. I am staying in a house that has not been touched since circa 1974. This home is being rented by our good friends and the owner lives in Ottawa. I am not certain that she comes here very often, and if she does she certainly doesn’t use her time purging old furniture, clothes or trinkets. Come July the Christmas wreath still hangs above the fireplace and ball dresses from the 60’s hang for the moths in the closet.  What I love and find terribly amusing is how much of a time warp this place is. I call it the Brady Bunch house, and can easily imagine Florence in the kitchen fiddling with the mug tree or cleaning the floral plastic table cloth. There are two card tables in the living room and judging by the vibe that lingers in these walls I am convinced there was some happy partying in this house.

 

Maybe even a key party or two.

 

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The Girl who saved the day ( and killed a roach.)

Teenagers care immensely what people think of them. Their sense of self is being developed and their egos take a crushing blow. The other day in class a young man that we shall call Tom opened his backpack to slip out a book. What crawled out instead was a very large and very brown cockroach. I don’t do well with roaches. As an aside I’ll mention that I once handed over my pocket money to a friend in return for the killing of the large cockroach making its way across my room. I am a wimp with a capital W. A wimp moving to Africa where I hear the bugs are super-sized.

Apparently Tom didn’t do too well with cockroaches either judging by the speed with which he leapt, white faced onto the nearest desk. While he was shaking like a lilly white leaf the girl of his dreams, the one everyone knows he adores, we’ll call her Nat, was slipping off her shoe and giving that cockroach what-for. Within minutes she had that roach crushed and swept up in a tissue much to the applauding, cheering and jeering of the class. I was outside of the room, hand on forehead, quivering until the beast was dispatched to the garbage. With a stroke of perfect timing, at the exact moment that all this was going on, in fact at the moment that Nat was running to the garbage in the corridor, roach in hand, the head of admissions was passing by with a prospective family who were visiting the school with a mind to enter their child next year.

Now, Nat is the hero of this story, the coolest chick in the school, the brave roach squashing student and object of Tom’s admiration. Tom, on the other hand, is now considered a “girl” and his emasculation proved the subject of much hilarity in the lunch room. He now looks upon Nat with Awe, in addition to Lust but hopefully his feathers have barely been ruffled. His sense of humour and his ego are intact but still, that must have hurt a tad. What was once an infamous tale of unrequited 10th grade love is now a tale of girl rescues boy. I, of course, was thrilled by the display of girl power, and a smidge jealous of her bravery.

I might need to brush up on my shoe wielding skills.

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Filed under Might be funny, Teenagers

The day we fell in the ocean.

I don’t think I have ever written about that day we all fell in the ocean. 

 

It was a perfect day, not a cloud in the sky, the wind, a sailors dream. Imagine the scene. 4 adults, no kids. They had been shoved into a house together with a couple of babysitters and a lot of glitter glue. We had a boat, a 25 foot sail boat, small but sweet, and free. We had an ocean, a clear sky, a cute boat and barely anyone who knew how to sail. Cassandra and I saw the opportunity a mile away. And we saw the look on the husbands faces as we lugged on board champagne, paper cups, gourmet sandwiches, a camera and smiles ready for fun. 

“What do you think this is?” one of the husbands said as his hands grew raw from pulling ropes and fixing up the sail.

 

We just sat there and tried to look pretty as maidens as hunky men got the vessel sea worthy. Once aboard things were looking great. The sails flapped in the wind, the sea tilted ever so thrillingly towards us, the windswept hair looked a mess but felt great. Eventually sandwiches were eaten, champagne was sipped and life was good. This was my very first time on a sailboat that didn’t have a captain and I didn’t have a clue how to sail. I still don’t. D, our good friend and sometime sailor seemed to have a sort of clue, which helped us head in the right direction. Us girls sat on the rim of the boat, feet trailing in the sea and laughed, happily. I clicked away, taking pictures. When we saw a huge fish leap up from the great depths I quickly pulled my feet out of the water, imagining that whatever was chasing that fish was pretty big. I did not want my toes to become bait. Oh, how silly I was, imagining that was the worst that could happen.

 

D thought he would be nice, helpful and congenial and handed over the reigns of the steerage to my lucky husband who had never touched a sail boat, let alone steered one before. Somehow we tacked, which was meant to mean that we all hurl ourselves to the other side, carefully avoiding the boom. I think, in fact, that  was the one thing we had actually practiced, responding mighty fast to the word, TACK.

 

Well, this time there was no word, just a strange sensation of suddenly going from very dry and happy to very wet and worried. It was so rapid a transformation that I was amazed that my sunglasses remained on my head and my camera in my hand.

 

We realized, very quickly that all four of us were in the water, that we had no life jackets (who needs a life jacket when you have champagne?) and that the boat was slowly but surely drifting away from us.

 

Well, I peed immediately. I needed to go anyway and the shock just helped it along. Then I looked around and noticed that we were far from shore, maybe a mile, looked really far, but strangely way too close to the Alcoa aluminum bauxite plant. So my choice seemed clear.  Cancer or sharks. Luckily, while I was imagining the worst of my two deaths, D was swimming like mad towards the renegade boat. D is a fast swimmer and an oil man. He is a great husband, father and hero as you will soon find out, but more than any of that, D is a surfer. I think he only had to imagine some giant surfboard getting away from him and he was there. It took him 4 times to bring the boat around. He pulled one sail down, to make it slow down ( I had no idea) and kept swinging the boat round to pick us up. It was hard and windy and tricky, but he finally did it. One by one we climbed aboard.

“Cool, let’s do that again!” Said D. 

“No. let’s not.” Said Cassandra.

“Oh. Fuck. My camera.” Said I

“Any champagne left in that bottle?” Said husband.

 

For the record, salt water damages the inside of lovely little canon cameras. 

 

I bought my brand new camera with Mastercard.

 

Price of the boat $0. Price of the camera. $600. Price of a day on a boat with good friends? Priceless.

 

 


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Filed under Family Stuff, Might be funny, Sisterhood, Trinidad & Tobago

Looking for Christmas. A list.

1.I found a grey hair. I was checking in the loos at work. The light is perfect for that particular function and I saw it. Tried to surreptitiously pull out without letting students/staff think I am going mad.


2. I have decided to have Christmas spirit this year. However this cannot start until December 1st. Until then I am ignoring all the trees, decorations, music and tinsel that seems to have spread throughout Trinidad.


3. Despite wanting spirit, it will be hard to achieve with no real tree ( I need to sweep up pine needles, it is part of the fun.) Also hard to feel Christmassy while hot. I may need to bake a lot and invite people over to eat, drink and be merry.


4. Also hard to find said spirit with cash flow issues that will prevent shopping. This is, after all, traditionally the main event that putts me into debt before the new year. So need to be imaginative. Very.


5. The combination of grey hair and 2009 being the year of all holy things turning 40 is a bit stressful. Need to get my head ( and hair) around that. Need to turn all Californian and “embrace” it. Find somewhere to put the rage.


6. Don’t want Christmas tree if it will make the tiny pile under it look even smaller. Answer might be to get one of those tiny trees. Will make pile appear bigger.


7. I will turn up the air conditioner and drink hot chocolate and marshmallows. Tradition is tradition.


8. I will go to the beach. A lot. Let’s have a tropical Christmas. Might as well.


9. Two more weeks and then school’s out! Can’t wait!


10. Two words. Tinsel and Rum.

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Playing in a fishbowl

I live in a fishbowl. 

Our sun room (indoor porch) has three walls of windows and we live on a corner. We can spy on our neighbours, the joggers, the dog walkers, the teens, the skateboarders, the soccer players, but they can also all spy on us.

 

 

 

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We spend many Sunday afternoons drinking wine and playing scrabble. It is a beautiful room to “lime” away an afternoon. It is the reason we rented the house.

Last Sunday in the middle of a scrabble game, I stared at the rain and looked outside. I realized I had fallen off my short lived scrabble throne. There was a time when Cassandra and I were the same level. We would always play within 5 points of each other. It was an addiction. I remember saying that it would be short lived. At one point one of us, probably her, would zoom ahead and take over. Sure enough and thanks to many hours spent on scrabble.com she has now turned into The Scrabble Maven.


 

 

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It is not a case of me winning occasionally or even coming second in a game of 4, but how many points will I lose by. How embarrassing will it be?  Suddenly the fishbowl is revealing scary secrets. I am the English Teacher losing at Scrabble.

For awhile I was getting good. Words I could never see were suddenly there! I was great with the laddering and the 3 letter words, all strategic and clever. I knew all my KA and QI and ZA words. Problem was practice. I told her “ either I give up work or you give up scrabble.com. I cannot keep up with you!” It was making me feel stupid and was just not much fun. Finally with the 62 point word “SEQUEL” I felt my crown slowly slip off my head. How could our friendship survive?

 

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I think we might need to find something else to do in the fishbowl.

 

 

 

 


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Hiding from the Children

At what point did I start hiding from my kids? You spend a good chunk of your adolescence running around behind parents’ backs, sneaking and stumbling around hoping they don’t notice that you aren’t sober.  I went to boarding school so the sneaking around bit was amplified by it being teachers I was hiding from. Breaking curfew, crawling down the balcony to break into the boy’s dorms and hiding the stash of vodka were all part of the thrill of being 16. Then you grow up and get to have fun without hiding. Still a party but without the risk and thrill of being caught.  ‘Till you have kids. At first they are too young and unsuspicious. They think we are saints and when we are out of earshot we are simply still being parents, planning the next birthday party or surprise.  I remember lying in bed when I was around 7 or 8 and and hearing Roberta Flack playing really loud barely masking the sounds of my parents and their friends laughing.  I wondered what they were doing. How could they be having so much fun without me?

 

Then at a certain point the kids grow wise and suspicious.   We have a Very Important Rule in our house. No one can disturb Mommy and Daddy’s saturday nap. Ever. Unless someone is bleeding. And now we have another rule. If adults are in the sun room ( my “sin room”) at night, children cannot come in.  

My 11 year old always tells me “I know what you are doing, Mama.” 

“What?” I say, trying not to look nervous.

“You are smoking!”

“Yes.” I sigh. “But it is a really bad thing and you shouldn’t know about it or see me doing it”

“But why Mama? It’s okay. You’re allowed to have a cigarette sometimes. I don’t mind”.

So now I am getting permission from my daughter. 

Yesterday I was busted. She came into a room while a friend and I were leaning out of a window, cigarettes in hand. “Urggggg.” I exhaled.

I am running around behind their backs, sneaking cigarettes.  I am only a social smoker, never alone, never in day light and never without drink in hand. I want them to know that smoking is Really Bad.  But I also want them to know that by hiding it I am being a hypocrite, doing it but passing the message on that is is not a good idea. It is all just a silly game.  

The eldest was standing in the room while my friend and I, moments after being busted, were in the kitchen discussing how to mix the best Mohito. Once we realized it was too strong, since my husband hadn’t realized that he had picked up 70% proof rum at the store, we decided to split the mix into two jugs. Then, of course, we had to squeeze more limes, melt more sugar. The whole process was taking a long time. The eldest, at the very least will be a pro mohito maker at her parties. But what I am teaching them? Where is the good example? Is this a case of do as I say and not do as I do? 

Like many evenings and weekends here in Trinidad they are seeing a lot of drinking.  They don’t see any one drunk or foolish but they do see us having an excellent time. I worry that I am condoning drinking and smoking. But why should I be a saint, all sensible and pure and no fun just so that my kids will grow up untainted by the sight of their mom laughing up a storm, cocktail glass in hand. 

 

 

Now that their bedtime gets later and later they just seem to be around all the time. This is almost always a good thing. Sometimes, though, it is just sweet to be a grown and not a sensible one.

It’s not like this is some episode of Weeds. Aren’t I just a grown up bon vivant?  What to do?


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Filed under Family Stuff, I have two girls, Might be funny

A different cup of coffee

How do you start drinking beer in a coffee shop? 

My friend Robert is a tall, lanky Italian New Yorker with a crinkly smile, twinkling eyes, high forehead and a tanned, friendly face. He likes to talk to every body. Not just his fellow teachers, Americans, students or expats but also the little boy on the beach who sells oranges, the family who sell him his fruit and the girls in the coffee shop. Robert is a man who, during his four years in Trinidad swam gently in Trini culture. He loved the beach and was once caught saying that he reckoned he spent way more time in salt water than regular folk. He would leave school, peddle his bike through the sticky heat to the beach and luxuriate in the water until the sun set or he ran out of beer. He loved this country deeply because he talked to the people and being a guy on a bike it was far easier to chat to the locals than an English teacher in a dress. He could spend hours at the local Rum Shop, or Roti shop listening to the tunes, chatting to the guys. He even started talking like a Trini, dropping all insignificant danglers and instead telling us that the beach was “lookin’ real nice today” or perhaps texting me to inform that he was “walking down de road”.

So one day after school he was doing a little grocery shopping and decided to stop for a coffee at Rituals on the way home. Rituals is the Caribbean Starbucks, albeit slightly different. For a start there is no dairy industry here so the milk is boxed. This greatly affects the taste of a latte but you get used to it, sort of, if you have no choice. Rituals is also different because the concept of a quick coffee to go has not quite sunk in. I have checked and for the record the longest wait for a cappuccino so far is 12 minutes.  Patience is not just a virtue, it is a necessity. No one seems to be complaining so I have trained myself to breathe, just breathe. The girls making the coffee have plenty to talk about so often we need to wait until a particular anecdote is told.  Robert was a big fan of Rituals, spending hours nursing a coffee, reading a book, fidgeting with his nails. He got chatting to the girls so that when he would go in they would know immediately what he wanted and he would pass the time with them, saying his hellos.  

His groceries always fit in his familiar orange back pack but the 6 pack of Carib beer had to go by hand. When he walked in with his beer and ordered a coffee one of the girls offered to keep his beer cool saying “ I can put that in the chiller for you.”  Sure, he thought handing the beer over.  He walked over to his usual table and put his backpack down, pulled out his book and unfolded the corner of the page he was on. After a few minutes he looked up to check if his coffee was ready and noticed that the girls were giggling.  Finally with his coffee in hand, he always took a real cup, every the conscientious environmentalist, he settled back to his reading with some intermittent people watching. Robert always remarked that Trinidad was the best place in the world for people watching and the beach, closely followed by Rituals was a fine place for the sport.   

As his coffee was nearly sipped dry and he was thinking about leaving the girls came over to his table, three coffee cups in hand. “We’re taking a break!” They told him, smiling. Looking into his cup he noticed the familiar amber of Carib beer.  He smiled as he took a sip. There he was with three girls sipping beers out of coffee cups!  Only in Trinidad, only in Rituals. 

You can imagine the process. He’s walking in, beer in hand, their eyes flicking open, their minds quickly working, a lime brewing in their midst.

That’s how you end up drinking beer in a coffee shop.

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Filed under Might be funny, Trinidad & Tobago

Some football with that rum?

Going to see an International football match in Trinidad is an experience. Normally a game scheduled for 5.30 would open doors and welcome in spectators one hour before. Not here.  The gates opened at 12.00pm and there was no allocated seating so people were encouraged to come early.  The game was an International between England and Trinidad and headlined the slogan “A Score to Settle.”  Two years previously during the World Cup in Germany, England had eliminated Trinidad and their dreams of reaching the quarter final. Now it was time for revenge.

I should mention what happened when Trinidad even qualified for the World Cup. This was an event of such magnitude that on the Monday following the victory all schools in Trinidad were declared closed for reasons of celebration.  This is the little country that could and they are seriously proud of their team, the Soca Warriors.  A day of revelry and dancing in the street to celebrate being part of the World Cup is once again a symptom of how much these people love to party. 

Nobody seemed inconvenienced about the 5 hours required sitting time before the game started. Unlike my own thoughts that went in the direction of afternoons wasted and time ill spent, the Trinis saw this as a big lime!  Bring in the coolers filled with rum and spend the afternoon in the stadium. Basically it was that or the beach. 

We arrived at 3.30, having seats fortunately saved for us while we were at another sports function featuring 11 year old girls.  I can’t imagine many places allowing large coolers to be brought into a stadium but it took us at least an hour just to enter the stadium between the bags, the umbrellas and all the people lined up to get in. As we climbed the stairs we were drawn by the scent of Doubles and Cow Heel soup simmering in food stalls that both cooked and served fresh food. There was no fast food, not a burger to be found.  We finally found our group and spend the next 2 hours eating, drinking rum, watching the players warm up, talking and laughing. The atmosphere was of a huge party.  The crowd was so thrilled that England was coming to take them on and were dressed in the home team’s colour, a sea of white.

The Adonis Beckam did his victory lap after playing one half and each time a Trini player touched the ball with his toe the crowd went wild. Being English I was supposed to cheer on the St George flag but somehow I just couldn’t.  We were sitting behind a group we knew of young English supporters decked out in flags, face make up and appropriate t-shirts and each time England scored they glared at me, looking for my patriotic spirit.  But I just couldn’t summon it up. I wanted Trinidad to win, or at least score once! They deserved it so much more than the English who hadn’t even made it to the Euro.  And the English who couldn’t beat anyone could just come over here and beat the one easy team, get an ego boost and trample some Trini spirit in one fail swoop?

No, I wanted the little island to score and I was getting hoarse with the effort.

The final score was 3-0 to England and while they may have puffed out their chests with pride there was no Trini spirit trampled that day. They left that stadium filled with rum, song and the memory of a great lime.

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There is nothing simple about going to the beach in Trinidad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is nothing as simple as simply going to the beach in Trinidad.  Francois thoughtfully packed a small cooler with some ice and beers and prepared to carry it down to the beach.  I myself would have brought nothing seeing as though the beach was merely minutes from the house. As he prepared to haul it onto his shoulder he was stopped.

“What’s that there boy?”

Beer.

 

“That’s not enough!”

 

“It’s ten beers”

“What? That’s only one round! We need a bigger cooler!”

 

So the beer was transferred to a large cooler, large enough to feed a picnic of 10 people and it has wheels.  Extra beer was added, a whole bag of ice, a bottle of rum, a bottle of white wine, a bottle of Vodka and plenty of soda water.  Then a crate was added with some snacks and plastic cups.

Now that the bar was tended to we could leave for the beach.

Trinidadians really know how to do the beach and they really know how to “lime.”  A lime means to gather in a group to chew the fat and drink. Liming is close to impossible without alcohol and if dancing occurs it becomes a party.   I have never witnessed a group of people who take their leisure time so seriously. They treat a lime with the same attention as a business deal. Or perhaps better.

Liming comes from the term “Limers” which goes back to the days of English sailors, so called for the lime they sucked to prevent scurvy. The “Limers” were obliged to stay outside of drinking establishments and the habit of standing around to drink and pass the time became known as liming.

The beach lime is especially serious because preparations need to be made for an entire day.  Drinking in the sun is a serious sport and I have witnessed the technique. Simply it requires one to not stop. Mixing sugar with alcohol is discouraged as headaches will ensue and as long as one continues drinking one stays happy. People don’t get aggressive and plentiful food is consumed to aid in the soaking up of beverages. In a bar it is a true fact that beer is cheaper than non-alcoholic drinks.

So why do these islanders drink so much?  Could it be because there is little else to do? Could it be that so much time is spent in the company of friends and family in the sun and drinking helps the conversation along? Could it be that this is a rum nation?  As we drive toward the beach we always see people drinking on the side of the road. There is no such thing as a drive over 1 hour without a stop for a drink and a lime.

It has been hard to get into training. I tend to consume half as much as everyone else quite honestly because if I didn’t I would fall asleep!  Trinidad is the only place in the world where I have taken an insulated coffee mug filled with wine into the cinema. My friend Cassandra has proved a fabulously bad influence.  Whereas before I might have sipped a glass of wine at lunch, I am now drinking Vodka sodas at 10.30am.  This new friend of mine has taken me down a garden path that I am not entirely resisting. This garden in fun! The beach is different, the people laugh and relax and talk freely. Few people are guarded and the day rolls on in Zen like fashion.  Not that a Sunday at the beach ever really stressed me out but the new buzz is pretty happy. 

Another thing that has happened here is that I have become addicted to scrabble. Having never grown up with a solitary board game I am now carting my scrabble board everywhere I go and I day dream about the fancy new edition with the revolving lazy Susan stand. I am even playing scrabble on line with friends back home and I feel like a crack addict when we get a power cut and I am cut off from my habit.

So it is a good thing I have a day job or I would turn into a scrabble playing, vodka drinking, expert limer.

 

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