Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas in Pangani

The decomposing gecko filled with maggots was worse than anybody could ever have imagined. About ten days after the gecko incident, when I should have been enjoying the start of our Christmas holidays, I was struck by a major catastrophe. An event so shocking, so terribly unfortunate, that it could have completely ruined my festive season. Luckily, I had Pangani and my friends visiting from China to lift my spirits.

Arden and Andrei and their two boys – Kostya and Sasha, arrived on the Monday. Thursday, they headed up Kilimanjaro. Arden and the boys only went up 4000m, as the boys are only nine they aren’t allowed to go any higher. I fetched them on Saturday afternoon. I never realised how steep the road was to the Kilimanjaro Park. But, my car battled up manfully. The assistant guide, who’d come down the mountain with Arden and the boys, took the prepaid park card from me and went back up to the admin block at the park, to pay for their extra night’s stay up the mountain. Unfortunately, he typed in the postal code instead of the password, not once, but three times. So, the bank blocked the card. Drat! An hour and a half later, I managed to persuade the park officials to let Arden and the boys leave the park as I was coming back to fetch Andrei on the Monday. Andrei was summiting Kilimanjaro the Sunday morning. They kept the blocked park card as security.

Sunday morning and we were up bright and early, ready to go to Maji Moto the hot springs at Chemke. A secret spot not written about in any guide book. Last year, a drunken female student tourist went skinny dipping in the middle of the night and was taken by a crocodile. Obviously, not a good idea to swim there at night, so completely sober, and in broad daylight, Arden, all the kids and myself, managed to find our way to the magic pool. We did get lost, stopped a random guy on his bike to ask him the way, and it just so turned out that he was the manager of the pool even though he was kilometres away when we accidentally stumbled upon him. Our luck in bumping into him so far away from the pool in the middle of nowhere when we were lost, seemed like a sign that I was overcoming the bad karma from the dead disgusting gecko. Things were looking up. An amazing day, that hot pool is definitely something special. Small fish chomped on our dry skin as we lazed in the perfectly heated pool. We left to head home, stopped off for a bite at a local restaurant, and were completely unaware of what we would find when we arrived home.

Someone had broken into my house whilst we were at the hot pool! They removed the fly screen on the window at exactly the spot where I access the internet with my laptop! The laptop could not be seen from the window or door! The conclusion one reaches, is that whoever broke in, had known that that’s where I work on my laptop. So, they removed the fly screen, and one of the glass shutters in the window, then used a long stick to poke through the narrow gap and drag my laptop, rechargeable battery charger, bag with digital camera and video camera, laptop bag with my yellow fever certificate, classroom keys and both my portable hard drives – with all my 10 years worth of music on it. A major blow! All my photos from my travels in China were on my portable hard drives, all my cd’s that I had copied onto the hard drive so that I didn’t have to ship two big boxes filled with cd’s. I gave them all away before I left China, as soon as I had copied them. And of course, all my notes and manuscript for my new book, The Case of Billy B, that I’d been revising and doing the final edit and formatting. Disaster! Both the police and askari (security guard) believe that the culprit knew the house and the property, and is in all likelihood the guy who had pretended to be a guide and diddled me out of $100. That gecko sure was bad news! I felt dead inside. Violated. Distraught. All our photos taken in Tanzania and in Cape Town. Gone. My life memories. Words cannot describe the feeling I felt. I think the shock hasn’t quite set in. I thought I’d been so clever to back up everything this time on portable hard drives, as twice before in China I’d lost all my work, documents, music, photos when they’d stolen my laptops. I don’t know when I’ll be able to afford to buy another laptop. But then, at least I have my life and we weren’t harmed and we weren’t there when it happened. There is always good in everything.

Andrei, with his guide and team of porters descended from the summit. He set a record in reaching the summit from the last camp. The altitude sickness only effected him slightly. He is an animal. Whereas Arden was struggling to walk for two days after her descent, Andrei had us take him straight to the Marangu Hotel where he had stashed his bike, and he cycled all 30km back to Moshi, then went for a 2km swim in the school pool. Unbelievable! Tuesday, we were all up bright and early and headed out to Pangani. Andrei, The Animal, decided he wanted to cycle 120km of the way to Pangani. This is just a day after his descent from Kilimanjaro. He left several hours before us, and we met him along the way. We stopped off at a little local pub/restaurant for lunch. Beef and rice turned out to be liver and rice, which was okay in my book, but not for some of the others. At Muheza, we took the shortcut to Pangani, which was 42km on a narrow windy dirt road. Once again, it wasn’t the matter of just turning off and heading straight. The road forks and you have to decide which fork to take each time. I made the executive decision to always head left as that was the side the coast was, even though we couldn’t see it. The decision proved to be correct. I was stopped once for driving 68km in a 30km area, and luckily was given a spot fine of $20, which went straight into the policeman’s pocket seeing as he didn’t give me a receipt. Obviously an early Christmas present! After what seemed like hours of narrowly missing bicycles carrying baskets of mangoes, goats, chicken, stray children, endless palm trees, we finally spotted the sea and within 5 minutes we found the road to our hideaway. The house Ernest Hemmingway had once stayed in. Totally cool. We’d been warned that the house was very basic, but it turned out to be much better than we’d expected. The boys pitched the tents, us three old ladies dragged the beds onto the huge veranda and put up our mosquito nets, ready for our first night in Pangani. It was far too hot to sleep inside the house, and the veranda, with it’s awesome view of the Indian Ocean and sound of rolling waves was definitely a prime spot. The nets protected us from the swarms of bugs which descended on our nets every night. The flying cockroaches were a little gross.

The beach at Pangani was virtually deserted, just a few visitors from the ultra-exclusive luxury tented lodge next door that charges $110 per person per day! I was only paying $12 a day for the house which had better views! It was a perfect setting, one in which helped me to relax and come to terms with my burglary and what I’d lost. Tony and Siobhan’s cell phones were on the coffee table and also stolen, dragged off the table with a stick and pulled towards the window. But enough about my burglary. I cooked all our meals on a fire, barbecuing meat and making delectable potjies in my black cast iron cooking pot. I impressed even myself. Arden and I headed into the town which was quite dilapidated but quaint at the same time, and bought fresh fish and langoustines. The langoustines were huge. More like crayfish and we paid $8 for four. The next day, we went back and bought nine for $15. Delicious! Grilled on the barbecue, awesome. Andrei went crazy and besides eating his share of the tails, ate the contents of all nine heads and bodies! He went running every morning and did his laps in the sea, and then pull ups on the rafters! Unfortunately, it didn’t inspire any of us to become fitter and copy him. It was just too hot. Swimming, tanning, reading, chatting, cooking, exploring. The days flew past. Initially we had planned to stay until the 28th December, then catch an Arab dhow across to Zanzibar. But, we heard that Zanzibar had no power for two weeks and they reckoned probably two weeks more. Someone had accidentally severed the undersea power cable, and when they tried to fix it, they accidentally blew up the repaired part. Typical. But we were having so much fun with Andrei and Arden, that we decided to return with them and go on safari together. So, the 30th December we are heading to the Ngorongoro Crater where the wildlife viewing is supposed to be spectacular. They leave Tanzania on the 1st January to head back to China and we are going to miss them terribly. But at least, we can send back Kerri’s gifts with them!

We went on a dhow to Sand Island, a sand bar in the middle of the ocean surrounded by coral reefs. Great snorkelling and swimming in water so warm, you almost don’t believe it’s in an ocean. Of course, the sun block wasn’t enough and we all got burnt to a crisp! Then, we went exploring Pangani’s sordid past – it was a big centre of the slave trade. The old slave prison is still in use as Pangani’s prison, the slave depot is crumbling away and being overgrown by vegetation. Nobody wants to be reminded of the slave trade that made the now sleepy town a bustling port a century ago. The warehouse where the slaves were kept while waiting for the dhows to carry them away to far off lands is still there, and large blocks in the river show where the jetty once was, where young men and women chained together once walked to an uncertain future. We saw the Boma, built by a crazy sultan who believed that if you buried live slaves in the foundations, the building would be more secure and stand forever. But most of all, we saw happy friendly smiling people, eager to help and sell you their wares. Pangani was a dream holiday. It reminded me of my childhood summer holidays, packing the car with groceries and things we needed for roughing it at the coast. Christmas was special. I made a barbecue, cooked potatoes for a potato salad on an open fire, and custard for our Christmas pudding. Tony wore a santa hat and acted as the Christmas fairy, handing the gifts out from under the little plastic made in China tree, I’d bought in Arusha a couple of weeks ago. Andrei cycled the 340km back to Moshi!

One thing I realised, is that people can create their own misery. You can choose whether or not to see the negative or positive in anything. We had someone with us who hates Africa and all she could see was the negative in everything. However, the beauty of the surroundings and great company did not let her reprimanding looks, caustic comments or sour expression ruin our holiday. We had a ball. We loved Pangani! When your children turn to you and say, this was one of the best holidays ever, you know that it was good. Pangani was exceptional. Who cares about my lost electronic goods. They can be replaced. But the memories from this amazing holiday, will endure forever. Maybe, some of Hemmingway rubbed off on me after all.   You can check out some of our great photos from this trip on wish you all a successful and happy 2010!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Frustration Station

Twelve midday arrived and I had my running shoes on, ready to sprint out of the door. Holidays. Thank God for them. One of the best inventions ever. Fried, frazzled, frustrated, jeez, we all need a holiday. It's been a long, long term. We're plain worn out. And for those who think teachers have it easy because we get school holidays? We need them. Plain and simple. Sanity breaks are desperately needed. The alleged rapist skeddaddled with my $100. I doubt I'll get it back. But then, he also skedaddled with a pair of hiking boots, wet weather jacket and backpack belonging to the school, so I don't feel lonely. Merry Christmas Mister Alleged Rapist. See, I'm a nice person.
The past weekend was sports weekend and Tony was ecstatic he managed to get in a game of rugby.  Siobhan was in the winning junior girls' netball team.
TanzaniaMonday and everything that can go wrong went wrong. Actually, it couldn't have been that bad as I've already forgotten all that went wrong, only that it was one of the most frustrating days I've had since I arrived in . Amazing how quickly we forget what it was that frustrated us so completely. All I remember, was that I was very frustrated. One of the things was, that my friends from China, Andrei and Arden and their two boys were delayed for three hours on the runway in Bangkok, so they missed their connecting flight in Nairobi. So instead of arriving in the morning they arrived at night. The good thing was, was that the airline arranged visas and a luxury hotel for them to camp out in for the day in Nairobi.
Luckily, the school's real Kilimanjaro guide, arranged for some other guides to take them up the mountain, so the day was saved. But there were a few nail-biting moments for me. So, if you are planning a hike up to the summit of Mt Kili, give me a shout and I'll arrange it for you. It is quite pricey though as the park fews are quite dear. You'll be looking at just under $1000 all told, including tips. You have a guide, porter and cook going up with you, so you won't feel lonely on that big pile of rocks.
Andrei is an animal. Yesterday morning, he was up at 5am (as he is every mmorning)and ran for two hours, came home had a cup of coffee and a shower, hopped on his bike and cycled to Marangu which is an hour by car away, the last 10km being up a steep hill, and then waited for his family to join him to climb the mountain. As I said, an absolute animal. Not human at all. How he does it, I have no idea but I get tired just watching him. Arden and the two boys were initially going with him just until the first hut, then were going to return today, but she texted me saying that it was so fabulously awesome, that they were going to go on today until the next hut and return tomorrow (Saturday). What a relief that they are loving it, after all the drama!

It was so great seeing them again and getting our parcel of TV series from Kerri. I miss her so much and wish she could have been smuggled over in one of their suitcases.
Wednesday and Tony went with Andrei and Arden and their boys to the Arusha National park. Luckily, his ranger course from last year paid off as he was able to identify many of the animals. All Andrei wanted to see apparently, were flamingoes. Which he did. Thousands upon thousands of them. When Tony pointed out impala and kudu, Andrei said, "Ah, that's just deer!" No Andrei, no deer in Africa! Then of course, ANDREI insisted of getting out the vehicle to get closer shots of herds of buffalo. Tony told him to stay in the car as the buffalo were wild and dangerous. Andrei's comment, "I eat buffalo for breakfast!" Maybe that's how he could run and cycle before climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Anyway, a tour guide with his landy filled with tourists arrived and told Andrei and Arden and the boys that they face huge fines leaving their vehicle. So apparently, still clicking madly with their cameras, they slowly inched back to my car. The next thing was Andrei hanging out the window by the skin of his foreskin, trying to take photos of the perfect wildlife shot. Arden and the boys are back tomorrow. Andrei should summit tomorrow night, and then will be back on Monday. he's never been 5800m before, so here's hoping that the altitude doesn't get to him.
Tuesday, we head off to Pangani on the coast, so I might not be able to get on the internet over there. I've just have my phone connected to the internet, but whether it'll work, only God knows. Andrei, surprisingly enough, is planning on cycling as far as he can to Pangani. It is 400km away, so we've agreed, he can leave two hours before us, and where ever we encounter him along the way, that's where we'll pick him up. He's not too haapy, but has agreed to reach a compromise. We did promise he can cycle the last bit to Pangani though. Men. Do they ever grow up!
Hopefully, I'll send a last Christmas email before we leave.
Have a simply fantabulous weekend! And, if you're traveling, do it safely. It still doesn't feel as if Christmas is upon us. Although, I did succumb and buy a small plastic Christmas tree when I was in Arusha yesterday.
love you lots!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

When a gecko drops on your shoulder

Is it an omen that bad luck is headed your way?
I am a naturally superstitous person. I believe in signs to show you if good luck or bad luck is headed your way. If you are thinking of taking a trip and all of a sudden keep seeing posters advertising airlines, then I take that as a sign that I am meant to take the trip. Granted, I have on occasion misread signs and maybe manipulated them so that I could do what I wanted to do. Those instances have always ended in disaster. Never manipulate a sign. I never walk under ladders, step on cracks and become agitated when a black cat crosses my path. When I hear an owl hoot at night, I wonder who's ill and who's going to die and it affects my sleep. I'm not paranoid or weird, well, I don't think so. So, when a gecko fell on my shoulder, I had to wonder if it was some kind of a sign.
The dog was scratching at the door. It was past her dinner time. I slid back the bolt and pushed open the door as I always did, to get her silver food bowl outside. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to warn me of the horror that was to come. Then I saw it drop out of the corner of my eye and then felt it. A gecko dropped from the top of the doorframe onto my shoulder, and as I jumped backwards and screamed loudly, it bounced off my shoulder and onto the floor which was nicely decorated with dog's muddy paw prints. We do seem to be having a bit of a rainy season the last few weeks. Maybe that's why we've had regular electricity. I waited for the gecko to roll over and run off to hide in a crack somewhere. But it lay there, looking like a rubber toy. Being a curious person, I knelt down to look at the gecko and was immediately hit by the putrifying smell of decomposition. The gecko had already proceded to decompose. It was very dead, no more, already headed off to a higher world where everything is bright and beautiful. When feeding the dog in the morning, the gecko must have stupidly been hiding in the doorframe, and when I closed the door, I gave it a mortal wound in its belly. The gecko's little intestines were exposed, and a closer look showed that they were moving. Was the poor creature still alive, I wondered, and then a maggot fell out. Maggots burst from the unfortunate gecko like candy from a pinyata. It had to be one of the grossest things I had ever seen. Even grosser than the sight of a hundred Cape Vulture tearing apart a bloated dead donkey on the side of the road. On a slightly smaller scale of course. I frantically called my son, reminded him repeatedly that as he was eighteen he was now officially a man, and ordered him to remove the offending object, the decomposing beast. And then it hit me. Was this a sign? Was a dead decomposing gecko filled with maggots dropping onto my shoulder a sign of something bad to come?
I approached Thursday with a good deal of tepidation, expecting something bad to happen at any moment. Nothing did. Maybe a dead decomposing maggot-infested gecko dropping onto your shoulder was not a bad sign after all? Thursday proved to be an exceptionally good day. However, the gecko effect had yet to arrive. As Friday loomed, I had a sense of forboding. I couldn't believe that there would be no run-off effects from the dead gecko. Something bad had to happen. And, it did. Straight after school, my son casually joked that the man who lived in the cottage in the bottom of my garden had been arrested for attempted rape. My jaw dropped. That man, was supposed to be taking my friends up Mount Kilimanjaro on Thursday! I had already paid him a $100 deposit! How was he going to take them if he was in jail? It was the gecko I thought, feeling rather venomous myself. The gecko had brought this bad luck. It's falling on my shoulder was a bad omen after all.
I did some investigation. My neighbor was a fraud. He was not a licenced guide, would not have been able to take my friends up, and as Mount Kilimanjaro is quite treacherous as every year climbers succumb to altitude sickness and join that gecko in a higher place, an inexperienced non-guide guide could have been a disaster. I had never questioned him as I took all he'd said on face-value. I believed him. Gullability has always been a problem of mine. Now, left with the problem of my friends arriving Monday, and expecting to head up the big rock on Thursday, I started to feel anxious. I contacted someone who worked with me whom I knew definitely was a guide, and he's speaking to some guide friends and hopefully my friends will get sorted out. It does seem like the $100 I paid on their behalf has gone. The neighbor had asked me for the deposit saying that it was the busy season and he needed the money to put down as a deposit on the overnight huts. Another lie. He owed the sport's coach money, and interestingly enough repaid his loan the same day I paid the deposit. Was I ripped off? Probably. Have I ever been scammed and conned before by unscrupulous people I had blindly believed. Absolutely. It's what led me to write my self-help book, Fear, Phobias and Frozen Feet. Yet, here it has happened again.
I have to ask, is it me? Do I have to stop trusting people and believing what they say? Must I become suspicious of every word that emanates from their lucious lips? That's not me. I am like a dog. Trusting, loyal, faithful. Step on my tail and I bite. I put all the blame on the gecko. That sad decomposing maggot-infested gecko, who put his life on the line when he hid on my doorframe when I closed the door. But then, maybe the gecko actually did me a service. He gave his life to protect my friends that might have met their demise on a treacherous mountain with an inexperienced guide. That poor gecko, is actually a hero. Now, I must find out if I can grab that guy's furniture, store it in my garage, hold it hostage until I get my $100 back!
And the coolest thing! The house we're going to be staying in at Pangani once belonged to Ernest Hemmingway! I hope some of his writing genius will be rubbed off onto me!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

As the holidaze approach

Hard to believe but true, just over a week and we have our December break here! I can't wait! Arden and Andrei and their twin boys, friends from China, are coming to visit the holiday. And with Tony here, I've got a full house. Arden's a vegetarian and I'm trying to think what I can cook for her on her first night here next Monday. As an avid carnivore, it's hard for me to be creative and think veggie. Any ideas, comments and suggestions on what I can cook for here would be welcome!

Public holiday here today! Independence day, so am enjoying not going into work. Need to make another cup of coffee and some breakfast though!

Tony has already settled in, Siobhan did well in her report, so bring on the holidays! Next week Thursday, the day before school closes, I'm off to Arusha for the day to plan our class camp at West Kilimanjaro with my colleagues in Arusha. We'll be going to 3rd and 4th Feb. I'm hoping there won't be too much hiking, I don't own suitable hiking attire! Well, that's my excuse anyway!

So, have to start seriously thinking about our holiday and doing some finer planning. I've booked our school house at Pangani on the coast, for only $15 a night. Problem is, I have to figure out how to get Andrei and Arden there as we won't all fit in my car, and how to get them back to catch their flight on the 1st January, as I plan on staying at the beach for another week! Gotta soak up that sun. Mind you, been raining every afternoon. It's our mini rainy season which is good, as it's provided water for the hydro-electric scheme here which means the last couple of weeks we've hardly had any power cuts.

Have sausage orders so need to get onto that now, and finish proofing my second draft of The Case of Billy B. I have an agent interested in taking me on. Hold thumbs that it works out!

A big sports weekend coming up, with schools from Dar-es-Salaam and Arusha coming this weekend, so I'll be a little flat out helping!

Have a great weekend, well, it's almost here!



Saturday, December 5, 2009

Things to look forward to

Isn't it amazing how we break up the humdrums of our lives with things we look forward to? Holidays, birthdays, a special evening out...something small which will break the endless routine of sleeping, eating and going to work, with the weekend the punctuation at the end of our work week sentence. Although some of us find ourselves working weekends as well!

Lately, I've had quite a lot to look forward to, and this has made time speed by as if I'm caught up in some kind of a time-storm. The 50 000 words in 30 days challenge from NaNoWriMo, the completion of the first draft of The Case of Billy B, the performances this past week of our school production of Cats, and the arrival tonight of my son Tony at 7pm. Next week Wednesday the 9th December is a public holiday, then the weekend is a big sports weekend with schools coming from Arusha and Dar-es-salaam. On the 14th some friends from China arrive for a visit, then I have a day off school on the 17th December to plan our class camp on West Kili with my counterparts on the Arusha Campus, then school finishes on the 18th December, then off to the coast on the 22nd December, then Christmas...Oh my goodness, all these milestones to make time go quickly.

The school's production of Cats was simply astoundingly outstanding! The talent of the kids was amazing, we had limited resources to use, no costumes made, limited quantities of stage-paint, but you wouldn't have said so watching the performance! The creativity to make something out of nothing went from costumes to the set design. I was so proud of my class, they did an excellent job with Mr Mistoferlees, but even more so was I proud of Siobhan. She has definitely inherited her stage presence and love of performing from my Mom. I don't think that it's just because she's my daughter, but she stood out from the crowd, her voice was sweet, powerful and pure, and you could see from her facial expressions and movements, she was really into her part. My baby, I am so proud of you, even though your daily singing of songs from Cats sung at the top of your voice while I was trying to concentrate and focus on writing The Case of Billy B drove me scatty.

I'm not sure about any of you, but I still count sleeps. last night, was the last sleep before Tony arrives. I haven't seen him since the end of July this year. Now, that might not seem much, but he is only 18. Hopefully, he'll remember to claim his luggage after the domestic flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg, before checking it in for his international flight to Kenya. I always used to do that stuff now he has to be independent. Can I let go and trust him to manage?

I just wish that Kerri could come and visit as well. It's hard when your kids grow up and leave home and become independent. It's like, your role on this planet is over.

Anyway, have to go and buy some things, see if my fisherman's pants I ordered from a local tailor is finished and buy some meat to make more sausage.