Tag Archives: moving

A soup made of old and new: African and Arabian skies.

Trooper is drowning already. Homework is piling around her, her bed is covered with papers, her desk has no surface, her face has that “what the hell” look about it.

Princess cooks, between bouts of less homework, she has perfected the art of perfect banana bread.

Both are surviving the change. There are well weathered in this “move around and start all over again” malarky, even though they hate it.  They have fit their shoulders around the feel of their new uniform and are learning the ropes of new hallways, the strange jungle of making new friends and the touch of a different morning routine.

Sometimes I wonder how our heads don’t spin out of control with all this change.  We are nomads who have to jump in and adjust, no matter that the smell of the old mingles with the new. Some days I am living a parallel life, I am in my old house listening to African birds and lying under a burnished African sky and I am simultaneously looking out of my window at a desert and an Arabian sunset.

When I enter the cafeteria here at school and hear the musical Arabic voices I am simultaneously back in the Kampala lunch room, with the Ugandan breeze touching the heads of those I know so well.  As I sit in my classroom and tell the students to please stop talking in class and if they must then please only speak English, I am immediatly back in my old classroom telling the girls to stop their chitter chatter, feeling the heat of the windows press on my back and brushing the red dirt off my black skirt.  When I drive past a cleaner-than-thou mosque, resplendant in marble, I am walking through Bukoto market worrying over the Boda driver who nearly knocked me into a ditch.

I am the old me and the new me. the past and the present mingled with memory and tears, hope and fear all at once.

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Filed under Being brave, How old am I?

A long long week

We have been here in Bahrain for a week now and a long week it has been. Outside it is as hot as an oven, too hot to walk, nowhere to walk even if it was cold. Outside it is Ramadan and a crime to eat in public. Outside it is the desert, I see the sand from my window. 

Inside it is a waiting game. Waiting for our shipping to arrive, for our car to be ready for our visas, for school to start, for our lives to start. It is all thumb twiddling and looking outside for a van with our Uganda life within. 

And then my laptop died and I got a streaming cold and my impatience got the better of me and I started to dream of anger fueled missiles and green cool canadian lakes, and I wondered when it would all begin. 

Princess, in all her wisdom told me to think only of the positive. So I am. 

This is my list of positives:

1. I have a very beautiful , albeit barely furnished home. Light filled, cold floors, space to twirl and dance. 
2. We have music. Lots of it.  The stereo is hooked up and music fills our home. 
3. My mattress is sublime.  I climb onto it like a large white cloud. Then I dream. 
4. I have bought a car. It is not here yet but it is fabulous and I love it. 
5. I have a job. Somewhere in the not too distant future I will go to that job and speak to other humans. 
6. Even if my laptop is deathly Ill, at least we have the life line of an iPad. 
7.  There is a Waitrose is Bahrain. For those not in the know, that is the superior British supermarket. It is filled with all my London favorite things and heaven years away from a Uganda shop. Although it is miles away from my house, I feel some comfort in knowing that it is there, at the other end of this small island. 
8. I have tons of friends in far way away countries that, although nowhere near me, are ready to share a coffee at any time. 
9. Princess and Trooper are both remarkable troopers.
10.  I drove on the scary Bahrain highways and survived. 

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Last days

Tearful, celebratory, funny and warmhearted, these last few days. And through it all I feel a huge sense of accomplishment, relief and bittersweet feelings about moving. Leaving is hard and in the past few days I have, again, said more goodbyes than most would in a life time.

When Handsome left some 3 1/5 months ago I looked at the mountain of tasks before me and thought it would never be possible. And now I have climbed that mountain and am free wheeling down the other side, I am aware that I am stronger than I thought I was.

I have done it all.

Marked the exams, written the reports, packed up the house, wiped the tears, clapped my hands, cheered for my girls, hugged my students, tried not to cry, failed and cried, sold the car, paid the bills, dined with good friends, said goodbye to the Nile, went to Jinja, filed the paperwork, danced, said some very hard goodbyes.

And I watched as the entire Year Ten stood on their chairs and clapped in my farewell assembly.

I was royally roasted and made fun of at the leaving teacher’s function. Created by this clever lady, all my quirky anti camping, cockroach freak out, pedicure loving, car crashing princess tendencies were caricatured and made hilarious in the skit prepared and acted out by a few talented staff members. Of course the show was stolen by my impersonator, the lovely leggy, hard as steel, Aussie MALE PE teacher who donned a short dress, heels and feather boa, all in the name of Theatre. He took it, went with it and made us all laugh, rather than cry.

The next morning, despite a night of dancing and tequila I was up and in the car driving to Jinja. A last little jaunt out of town where the girls could swim with best friends, play mini golf, wash off the worries of moving and feel free and glee.

And now two more days….then Bahrain.

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Filed under Being brave, Miss Teacher, Photography

Africa, time passing, movies and leopards: or what is in the mind when you are sick.

I hate being sick, I mean really hate it. I can’t see the pleasure in lying in bed and waiting until it passes and just knowing that the world is going on out there while you are not. Because you are stuck, waiting and frozen in time. I hate it.

Especially when my mind is so full of the many things I have to prepare to do before we leave. Because that won’t change, time won’t hold on just because I am sick in bed.

My mind is very full, too full to sleep and full of wonder and worry; the very things that make up a move. And I feel the sharp strange taste of nostalgia and regret and sadness and excitement all at the same time.

Moving breaks my heart but it also breaks new ground and that is life, no? That is what the destination is all about, enjoying the journey, finding the surprise. I think life is like a safari, you never know exactly what you will see, but you know it is all out there if you keep your eyes wide open, peer and look and always, always scan the horizon.

I never saw a leopard. And I always said I wouldn’t leave until I did see one. I have been on countless safari drives, even once in the park with the MOST leopards in Kenya, but still I didn’t see one. I scanned the trees for that tell tale hanging tail, I hoped and wished, but still no leopard. I have a friend who has seen three. One up close, right by the car, looking at her with wild cat eyes.

But I did see a cheetah walking away, and lions, lots and lots of lions, in trees, walking, sleeping, grooming.

So I will have to come back for the leopard, I imagine. Maybe that is the trick of the gods to get me back, to tell me that me and Africa are not done, finished quite yet.

Lots of time to think while sick in bed. And make lists in the head and on scraps of paper lying about, backs of credit card bills and envelopes. I have lists littering my mind and house now. They will all come together and be done, when they must.

And one good thing about lying in bed, under the weather, poorly, feeling sorry for myself, is that I watched 3 movies. Good ones, too.

The American, with Mr. Clooney, always dashing and silent with his sideways smile and his dark hooded eyes. Beautifully shot, lovely Italy, sad but good, obviously was a book once, the story feels like it was written and not just composed on a story board.

Conviction with Hilary Swank based on a real story. Also good, meaty, brother and sister loyalty and faith and love with a solid dose of  hating the evil justice system. Good old American good vs wrong story and of course we all know who wins those . No one makes a film where good triumphs so absolutely like the Americans.

And finally a film that is hard to place, to put my finger on, but beautiful and pulsing with life and questions and beauty and wonder and failings and love. It’s called Mammouth. See it . Tell me what you think. It is one to discuss and pick apart over a glass of wine or two, or three.

Except I still feel sick so no wine for me, not yet. Wait till this African bug passes. Like everything else.

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Countdown days and goodbye eyes

I hit Kampala with the ground running and it has been full steam ahead as term 3 is underway. Princess has created a countdown calendar, sadly not with colourful markers and giant paper but rather on the computer; in any case there is a calendar that she dutifully crosses off each day. It is entitled “Days Until We See Daddy” and we have 51 days to go.
There is huge relief all round that we went to Bahrain, saw it, explored it, ( it is tiny and doesn’t take too long to see nearly ALL if it), visited the school, saw our future house, imagined how often we could eat at Johnny Rockets without getting fat, things like that. There is some comfort in knowing what things look like and where we are going.
Of course this also means that I am very aware of what I am leaving. I have returned looking at Kampala with “goodbye eyes” and see the green so much sharper, the colour so much brighter. Our drive home from the airport seemed to be in Technicolor. Princess said “look at that lady with all the eggs on her head!” That is not a line we will ever hear in Bahrain.
So I resolve to love my last days here and soak up all the best of Kampala and brush off the frustrations. I now have one foot in the desert and one in the jungle; I am split in two. So in these last days I will eat as much sweet pineapple as possible, laugh with my friends, walk the dusty streets, see the eggs atop the heads, rise above the pot holes and boda jams. They will all too soon be a memory. I am imprinting these last images onto my mind for safekeeping.

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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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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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The sea is mine, or Island Dreams

Englishman’s bay, Tobago.

 

So this will be a telling of change, a recounting of what it is to know you are moving and yet  there is a need to sit tight, put those hands under your thighs and stop fidgeting.

This will be a tale of trying to make the most of what time I have left. Look with eyes that know a good bye is imminent. I wish I had had my handy crystal ball, the one that would have predicted all this. Had I known I would only have two years I may have relaxed more, eased myself into Uganda with no fear of being trapped, I would have just breathed in and out and seen it all, fearless.

And now I am returning to the Sea.

I have always, really lived on an island, come to think of it. Ok, I was born at the bottom of the world, in South Africa, and that was no island, despite being the upside down tip of the top, the underbelly, the other end of it all.

But then England, Hong Kong, Japan, England again, New York, (France, exception), Montreal, Winnipeg (big exception), Montreal again, Trinidad, Uganda (exception) and now Bahrain. All islands excepting the exceptions; look closely and those were tricky places to be.

 

In France it was easy to forget, for a time that the sea was so far. I was in a town on the German border and its brittle cold Germanic beauty made me feel I was walking in a fairy tale. The buildings leaned and whispered into one another, the gothic Cathedral was filled with ghosts. I crossed the canal daily and felt charmed each time. I was not there long enough to feel parched for the sea.

In both Winnipeg and Uganda, despite the proximity to those huge lakes, I always had the sensation of being land locked. If I stretched my arms as far as they could go, the tips of my fingers could not sense the sea and I felt un-moored, detached, flattened.

It took a while in The Peg to figure out what it was. Winnipeg is not an easy city; the cold is like nothing anyone not from the Peg has ever experienced. The winter I was pregnant with Trooper we had over 60 days below -20c. It was a record. Then almost overnight the scorching sun came out to play and summer arrived. I went into the hospital to have a baby in cool weather, the radio still talking about the terrible Red River floods, warm in a sweater at 6 am we raced along silent prairie roads to the hospital. 4 days later I came out and it was 35c, the heat bewildering, heavy as if it had come out to welcome little Trooper to the world. So I thought for a long time it was the weather, the impenetrable cold wall that made me feel so misplaced, and in many ways it was. Or maybe it was also the loneliness of a place whose license plates read ‘friendly Manitoba” yet seemed to me to only be friendly to those born and bred there. Slowly I became aware that the land, so flat, stretching those endless miles and those prairie skies so enormous, were flattening me. I longed for the sea and felt as a parched star fish would if it were miles from its beloved sea bed.

Here in Uganda I had the great fortune of climbing up into my car one dark morning in December and driving all the way to the coast. Somehow knowing it is 4 days away has made it worse. I can nearly smell it; I know it is not close enough. Lake Victoria is green abuzz with lake flies, heavy with Bilharzias. It is no replacement for the salty licks of the ocean.

The sea is mine.

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The Times They Are A Changin’

The whole house is silent save the persistent bird who sounds rather cross outside my window. Handsome Husband, recovering from one of those weeks where the fight between Ugandan bureaucracy and sanity was bloody and valiant, still sleeps, Princess lies upon her bed as if a fallen angel from Mars, dreams of her own funky world, Trooper is away at yet another sleep over where she can enjoy the company of other teens, those strange creatures.

And I cannot sleep because my mind is a buzz with change, more change, the fear and excitement of it all. How can any family endure such frequent change and still stay normal? What is normal? We are living in the eye of the storm, the centre of a a whirling tidal wave and this time it is going to up chuck us onto an island.

Bahrain.

Say it again. The long ahhh, the soft, caress of the H and the promise of sweetness in the rain.

A tiny blip of an island sandwiched between Iran and Saudi Arabia, a place no one had really registered until it was plastered on the front pages less than a week after we had agreed to go. What timing.

I thought we would be in Uganda for longer, at least one more year and then, the plan was: we would see. But now the plan has been tossed, like a pancake right back into the fire.

There was a time I feared being trapped here. What if we never left? What if we became one of those who stayed in Africa forever, until the red soil crept under my nails, my skin and never left? I worried I would grow strange here. People who never leave sometimes do. I worried it was not my place, I never felt comfortable here, not truly. I didn’t like wearing the scratchy coat of the perpetual Other.

I should have trusted my gypsy soul. How could we not move? Isn’t there some giant conveyor belt beneath my world, pulling, tugging, propelling me to pack, say good bye, leave, un pack, say hello, begin again?

Handsome leaves in one week. He is the one who is pulling up the anchor, taking us away, to a better job, a more exciting opportunity for him. I am fiercely proud. And we must sit and work and wait for three more months, live here but have my heart over there, pulled by invisible marionette strings between Uganda and a tiny dot in the Gulf.

Bahrain.

Never would I have guessed.

So good readers, those of you who followed me from Trinidad to Uganda, will you follow again?

“Come with me on a journey across the sea.”

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Filed under Being brave, Family Stuff

Trinidad meets Uganda, planning holidays and a walk to school

Whirlwind few days over in the Villa, busy bee days at school and last night another collision of worlds occurred when I attended Trinidad and Tobago Independence Day celebrations at the High Commission here in Kampala. Nostalgia wafted through the night as Machal Montano played on the speakers, Carnival videos played on the big screen and Roti, Callaloo and other Trini delights were served under big tents adorned with red and black banners. Listening to the High Commissioner speak with his melodious Trini accent brought back memories of sweet Trini days in the sun. At one point in the evening Trooper sent me a text asking if there was any whining. No, sadly there was not. I think out of the entire crowd of 500 odd guests there were only 14 Trinis.

In other news,  if I am not Miss Teacher then I am Miss Interior Decorator and if I am not her than I am Miss Travel Agent. We are excitedly booking holidays in anticipation of our very first visitors to Uganda. The first set arrives in October for the half term break and the second in December for the Xmas holidays.  This is reminding me that I had promised Ugandan Hotel reviews a while back and once I have a few quiet minutes I hope to write a few in my lovely new red office. Yes, I have taken Virginia’s advice and got a “Room of My Own.”

We are rattling around our Villa constantly surprised by the new found space but are still awaiting a kitchen. We are also awaiting curtains and internet but honestly I couldn’t be more content. Sitting outside (quite a concept in the Shoebox) drinking white wine (yes we might not have a kitchen but we certainly plugged the fridge in. How else to ensure cold wine?) with my sweet girls quiet in their own rooms was a moment I had been waiting a long year  for.

Meanwhile I am reading the books I have to teach:

Death of a Salesman

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

The In-between World of Vikram Lall

and that is just the first course.

And to top it all off Trooper and I walked to school today. It took 24 minutes and felt great. It is a new Kampala, people.

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Filed under Family Stuff, Kampala, Trinidad & Tobago