January 2008

G has come to the cafe today in his socks and coat with hood.  This looks a little odd because I couldn’t find any long trousers for him, so he has completed the look with short dungarees and bare legs!  I’m wearing socks for the first time here and a woolly jumper.  I’m not sure it’s actually any colder than it was yesterday, but the reason for all this dressing up is that I went on a school trip to a farm with E this morning.

 Very exciting it was, too.  Not just the opportunity to see my daughter with her school friends, but seeing cows and sheep and goats and lots of baby animals too.  And camels, too.  (One of the boys said, “They’re not camels, they’re dromedaries” every time the teacher mentioned them.  Smart boy.  If slightly confused!)  And as we were leaving, E (very excited) spotted a monkey!  So, two animals I’ve not seen in the city before – nice to have the children there so I could pretend I was being excited on their behalf…

Funny, this winter weather, though.  Having been outside for an hour or so, I’m still feeling slightly chilly, but of course it’s not that cold, not compared to what I’m used to.  The thing that amuses me is our car which, every morning that the temperature is below about thirty (which is every morning at the moment), takes a little while to warm up and get going.  We have to sit on the ‘drive’ (=patch of dust outside our house which is undistinguishable from the ‘road’ next to it except in my mind) and run the engine for a little while, just as if there’d been a frost in the night!  A truely African car!  Perhaps it’d be happier if we bought it a Parka jacket with matching puffy trousers and a woolly hat and scarf – that’s what most children and a good deal of adults are wearing at the moment!

Things seem to be settling into a happy pattern here now that we’ve come through the changes that the beginning of 2008 brought.  R is going to nursery quite happily, although there is a whimper every day as I turn to go – and of course, that’s the hardest time, because I want to go back and make it better, which would just be prolonging the agony!  Still, she has a little friend there, and recognises lots of other faces.  And the adults are great.  “The womans say, “Don’t cry, Mummy’s coming,”  R reports to me each day as we drive there!

And here I am in the café by half past eight!  Actually, I’ve been awake with G since half past five (I’m strangely unbothered by that today – being buoyed up by some supernatural force or something, I don’t know), so I’ve had a bit more time to get everyone ready before we left and there is the added advantage that G is already having his morning nap!  So now I can do all the enjoyable things like blogging, emailing and playing Scrabulous…  I only mention that so I can say that I got a seven-letter word yesterday for 72 points and that’s still making me cheerful today!  Ah, the life of an expat wife!!

Talking of routines, I’ve been reading one of these self-improvement books that I succumb to from time to time, which very encouragingly says if you want to improve yourself and be strong at what you do, then focus on improving what you already do well and enjoy – your natural talents.  It reckons, based on a study done over a few years with thousands if not a million people, that there are 34 general talents that are basically just patterns of thinking.  We all have some that come naturally to us and others that are alien.  Reading through the descriptions, I’m pretty sure that one of my ‘talents’ is a love of structure – in other words, I can’t function without a routine and at least three lists!  So I’ve decided to give in to this, try using it to my advantage and write myself all the lists I want to rather than telling myself it’s a waste of time as I have of late been doing.  And then relish ticking each one off each day!

Now I think about it, when I was at work (way back then), I nearly always had a list on the go – generally about a page of A4 long.  On the few occasions that I didn’t, I felt less in control.  Seems to be just the way I work.

Oops, have just realised I’m using this blog a bit like a self-help workshop.  Sorry!  Anyone else have anything to contribute? J

(Right, off I go to tackle item number 2, but not before putting a neat tick next to “Write blog”!  Ooh, that makes me just as happy as my seven-letter!!  Dearie me, definitely a natural pattern of thinking – and if they want to call that a talent, so be it!)

I wonder whether spending so much time playing with E is difficult for R.  Perhaps she’s being exposed to ideas that are beyond her.  Death is something that holds a good deal of interest for E(!), but I don’t think that worries R.  Monsters are something else that E likes to include in her play – either defeating them in some mysterious way or telling them off and sending them packing…  I think at some level this is scaring R.

This thought occurred to me yesterday morning when R came running into the room, quite happily I thought, saying, “Aagghh!  There’s a scary monster and it’s trying to eat me!”   She may actually have said, “trying to get me,” because when I said, “It’s trying to eat you?” she jumped and climbed onto her bed, almost crying.  It seems that not being able to see it doesn’t mean it isn’t absolutely real, as far as she’s concerned.  She won’t walk across the house when it’s getting dark (neither of them will) because she says there are monsters in the curtains.  That sounds like the sort of game E plays.  “R, let’s pretend there’s a monster over there in the curtain.  Go away, monster!  Or I’ll sholodd you with my sword!”

Poor thing.  She has an active imagination and only a hazy idea of what is real in the world and what isn’t.  Stories in books never say they’re pretend, so it must be a bit of a skill to start differentiating between the realistic and the imaginary.  (E’s teacher has found her class enjoying stories more and worrying less since she started asking, “Do you think this really happened or is it just pretend?”)  There’s not much point in my telling R that there aren’t any monsters; R will just insist there are.  She (much like E) doesn’t really expect Mummy to know things that she with her two years’ life experience knows.  [When told off, her response is an indignant, “No!  You’re not my mummy!”]

Anyway, this is all just fairly interesting child development stuff, except for one thing that makes me worry for R.  And that is another game that E likes to play, which goes, “R, why don’t you be a puppy [you’ll be glad to hear it isn’t all death and monsters!] and I’ll be your mummy.  And” (pointing in my direction)that’s the granny.”  This game can continue all day – and if I respond mistakenly when R says, “Mummy!” then I will be pushed away in no uncertain terms!  But still, she wouldn’t be getting confused about what a mummy is and who hers is – would she?

Because if she is, the fact that I’ve now started responding to her refrain, “You’re not my mummy!” by saying, “No, I’m your granny, aren’t I?” probably isn’t helping…

Well, I have held my breath and put my head down to brave it through the dust storm outside to come and blog for you, dear reader!  Not sure how Lily’s going to manage with the washing in this weather – and it’s fairly important today as M needs to pack tonight.  He’s off tomorrow on an eleven-day trip taking in the UK and Canada and probably large chunks of Europe too (you know me, no memory for details when it comes to my husband’s plans!). 

It’s not feeling as strange as you might think yet, having him return ‘home’ months before I will.  It is his first trip in 2008, so it’s going to come as a bit of a shock for the children – even G who gazes admiringly at M whenever possible!  E and R were playing with a toy phone yesterday:

R:  I’m talking to Grandad.  Hello, Grandad.  We’re just going past E’s school but we’re not going in, we’re going to the shop.  Would you like to speak to E? (hands phone to E)

E:  Hello Grandad.  Daddy’s going to see you next week, but we’re not going to see you.  We’ll see you later, after a long time.  Would you like to speak to G?

I’m spending my time compiling a list of things for M to bring back with him – I think he’ll need two empty suitcases, the rate I’m going…

As I intimated in a recent post, the weather here is lovely at the moment.  Comfortable temperature, blue skies – so you don’t really notice it (unless you’re an appreciative British expat like me!).

Last night, however, was windy.  The wind howled noisily round our house from around midnight, disturbing the sleep of M, G and me.  I spent the night trying to recall recently-learnt Arabic vocabulary, which was not at all restful!  G spent the night gurgling in various states of discontentedness…

And this morning when the sun rose, the wind was still blowing and the dust filled the air like a yellowish fog, with a similar chill (OK, it’s all relative, but enough for E and R to need jumpers).  Palm trees were being blown about in a most atmospheric way when I was out in the car earlier (M has just read this over my shoulder and says I could think of a better description than that, but I don’t want to look like I have pretensions to being a novelist: those aren’t really my skills!) and when the dust started to settle, the sun was still partially obscured by – clouds!!

The wind has picked up since then, I think, so we’re in thick yellowy fog again and the dust is starting to blow into the house through small gaps in the windows and doors…  It’s all rather interesting for me, a bit of a weather-watcher!

Here I am, writing my blog before 10am, girls happily playing with their teachers, time to myself… Aaahhhh…  But far from being a laid-back lady of leisure, I feel more like a lab rat! …condemned to running round in circles, achieving nothing…

Hmm.  Why, I ask myself, didn’t I expect mothering three small children in Africa to have some similarity to mothering three small children in the UK?  I really should’ve seen that one coming!  You get children up, dress them, feed them, find solutions for their disagreements, send them off to school, change the baby’s nappy, get the baby dressed, feed the baby, play with the baby, change a nappy again, change an entire set of clothes (baby’s and mine!)… And when you’ve finished, you know that you’re going to have to do it all again tomorrow!  Nothing to tick off my still-growing to-do list at all!

Well, if the truth be told, I’m not sure I’m the sipping-cool-drinks-in-the-shade kind of person that I sometimes imagine I’d like to be…  Running around doing stuff has a strange sort of compulsion to it:  I like being busy!  If only I wasn’t such a slave to that list…

[There is a very tricky sort of logical inconsistency with this post, because writing a new post for my blog was one of the items on my to-do list!!  Still, blogging about our holiday in Zanzibar and Kenya and our Christmas out here are also on my to-do list – so still plenty to be grumpy about!]

At last, here I am again – in my favourite internet cafe, sipping a non-alcoholic cocktail (peppermint mocha – highly recommended) and wondering how to summarise the events of the last month!  In a series of posts rather than just the one, I think.  Partly because it’s already late here, and early mornings have become unmanageably manic with two to get ready for 8am school/nursery start.  Not that I’m complaining – the quiet mornings after the school run are worth the rush!

Returning after our holiday, I felt glad to be back (and that was not at all because the holiday was in Kenya – more of that in a separate blog, but suffice it to say here that we still had a great time).  The weather here at the moment is great – like summers in Britain should be: temperatures reliably in the high 20s or low 30s with a slight breeze, cooler in the evening and sometimes almost chilly at night; cloudless skies for the most part; and nobody showing too much skin!!

R is feeling rather less positive at the moment.  Having looked forward to starting nursery for at least a month now, she is going through a tough transition stage and finding it very difficult to leave Mummy in the mornings.  Naturally, ten minutes after I leave, the tears have gone and it is down to the serious business of playing…

And the next big event on the family’s horizon is M’s trip to the UK.  Which is going to feel very odd indeed.

Well, in some ways it will.  In another way, there’ll be a familiarity in his absence for 11 days.  It’ll be reminiscent of how we lived life a year ago.  Just in reverse!