Mummy I need to go!!

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downloadMy life sometimes resembles an episode of the cartoon my son loves so much, “Nina needs to go.” In it,  little Nina decides she needs to go at the most inopportune moments, when a toilet is far from accessible, much to the dismay of her long-suffering parents.

Yesterday afternoon, my son had a scholarship presentation event to attend at schoo,l and like the responsible mum that I am, I took time off work, arrived at the school really early to freshen him up, make sure he uses the toilet and change his shirt (I knew it would be unpresentable by that time of the day).

He was a bit nervous about going onto the stage but he obediently followed the long line of scholars into the auditorium. Once all the teachers, parents and scholars were seated, the ceremony was underway with three sets of presentations  for the all-rounder, music and finally academic scholarships respectively with a musical interlude between each set.

During the second set of presentations, I was sitting in my very good seat in the second row, armed with my camera when I noticed my son stand up with very pained expression on his face. He looked at me and shouted,

“Mummy I need to go, I can’t hold it any longer!” (All eyes turned towards the offending mother, ME!!)

Assessing the situation very quickly and knowing how prone he is to expressing his disapproval very strongly, I jumped out of my seat, and made my way down the row, pushing past a line of  reluctantly shifting knees and feet. By the time I got to him, I could almost see the tears that were going to stream down his face and I imagined the rim of the puddle on the new red carpet of the auditorium.

In my mad panic and embarrassment, I grabbed his hand and ran up the stairs to the black curtain that I imagined would magically reveal a toilet. I tugged at the curtains and my son did a few tugs of his own but alas the black curtain revealed a stark white wall. I looked around in blind panic and then the kind man who was supervising the sound for the event in his little black room advised me,  very slowly and loudly in a tone reserved for the very feeble,

“Go…. DOWN… the…. stairs… and… out the door that you CAME in and you will find the toilets on the right hand side!

What a clever man, why didn’t I think of that?!?

Knowing where I was going now, I proceeded to the exit of the auditorium and raced him to the toilet to where he insisted on washing his hands twice saying , “Mummy, I haven’t washed them properly yet,” (yes, yes, yes you are supposed to wash both sides of your hand but today, RIGHT NOW could you just be very very very quick). After he had dried them properly and I fought the urge to pick him up and run back to the auditorium before he missed his name being called out, we ran back,, to find with relief that the second musical interlude was in progress. The academic scholarships hadn’t been called yet!! Thank the Lord!!

I pushed past the row of people again, my legs bumping 12 sets of  knees as I apologised profusely for the inconvenience.

The final set of presentations started just then and I had just enough time to ready my camera before my son walked across the stage to receive his certificate.

A very very proud mum took picture after picture trying to capture that precious slice of his life  and make it eternal!!

 

 

 

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A visit to Oman.

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When people heard that we were flying to Oman they thought we were mad!

Fly to Oman! Why don’t you just drive, it’s so close.

We live very near to the border with Oman. When we do our weekly shopping at the hypermarket we can see the fence that divides the two countries lined with great big land rovers waiting to cross the border. The rugged mountains just across the border are visible from our side of the fence.

We took the long route!

With the drive to Dubai, flight and not forgetting all the airport delays; what would have been a 3- hour drive turned into an eight-hour journey from our door to the hotel.

I had heard a lot about the natural beauty of Oman but nothing prepared me for the stunning mountainous landscape on the drive from Muscat International airport to our hotel resort in the North-Eastern Al Qantab region.

After a head spinning journey around the winding mountains, we arrived at our hotel; one of three nestled, between mountains and facing the Sea of Oman.

Besides swimming, taking long walks by the beach and breathing in all the fresh sea air, we took a tour bus into the city to explore the famous Mutrah souk which was well worth the visit and a feast for the senses.

Here are some photos from our trip!

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We need new names- NoViolet Buluwayo

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I have just finished reading a novel by fellow Zimbabwean writer with the very intriguing name of NoViolet Buluwayo. For those of you who are not familiar with the geography of Zimbabwe, Buluwayo is the second largest city. I eagerly anticipated this novel for two reasons. First, that it is written by a young woman from the very place where I was born and secondly that it was shortlisted for the coveted Man Booker Prize this year.

We need new names is fast paced, disturbing, funny and beautifully written, with Buluwayo’s distinctive prose that manages to perfectly capture the different voices in her story. The writer Peter Godwin aptly describes her voice in  her debut novel as,

” powerful, authentic, nihilistic….- feral, feisty, funny.”

The novel centres around displaced families in a Zimbabwe that has changed its currency to US dollars, bulldozes the houses of its people and leaves its children hungry on the streets with no money to attend schools. It is a telling and provocative tale of the reality faced by present day Zimbabweans amidst the political turmoil and the complete collapse of its economy.

It was no easy read for me and there were parts of the novel that left me cringing with disgust and shame. The book tells the story of a group of children living in a shanty town which they call Paradise. It is a place where they are neglected and abused by their disillusioned parents. Their ever present hunger pangs lead them to the more affluent neighbourhoods to steal guavas that leave them painfully constipated.  Their Reverend Bitchington Mborro sexually harasses women under the guise of exorcism, the soldiers of the army take over a white owned property brutally killing their small dog and the NGO workers are more concerned with taking back photographs of the children than really seeing the reality of Paradise. This is all witnessed by the children whose innocence is taken away just as their homes  were. The children quickly learn to read the adults’ eyes to protect themselves in a relentless world.

It is a Zimbabwe where people do whatever it takes to migrate to “country-countries” like America, the UK or Dubai and South Africa. Once they have made it to those countries they live with the aching loss of their homeland and the constant requests of relatives back home demanding money and gifts.

Darling dreams of a new life in America with her aunt but when there she is bullied and teased at school and says,

“I just felt wrong in my skin, in my body, in my clothes, in my language, in my head, everything.”

She goes from a place of hunger to a country where people diet obssessively, overeat and starve themselves.  Darling also loses the ability to connect with her childhood friends from Paradise.

It is not a comfortable read and as the reader you feel the same discomfort that the people leaving Zimbabwe in droves experience,

“..knowing they will have to sit on one buttock because they must not sit comfortably lest they be asked to rise and leave, knowing they will speak in dampened whispers because they must not let their voices drown those of the owners of the land, knowing they will have to walk on their toes because they must not leave footprints on the new earth lest they be mistaken for those who want to claim the land as theirs.”

Despite the losses of a homeland and of innocence, the novel provides hope and humour in the form of MotherLove who refuses to give in to despair. There is also a bewitching beauty and humour in the way that Buluwayo descibes the friendships of Darling, Bastard, Stina, Sbho and eleven year old Chipo who is pregnant with her grandfather’s child.

A Student Again

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I apologize for not posting for ages.

I’ve recently become a student again and have been busy trying to juggle so many things: mum, wife, teacher, student and sane person. The good news is that I am tired but very happy. I’ve wanted to study again for so long and its everything I imagined it would be and more.

All the new concepts, theories and technologies swimming around in my head. I am being mentally stretched and it feels great!

All my free time spent reading journal articles and doing assignments. I can’t quite switch off when I go to sleep, my brain is way too active, so much to think about.

Last night I was taken right out of my comfort zone when I had to give a presentation on an emerging web 2.0 educational tool. I have always dreaded presentations, it wasn’t brilliant but I did face my fear and tried.  That’s all that counts!!

I recommend it to everyone, study energizes!

Bloom's Taxonomy as a wheel

Bloom’s Taxonomy as a wheel (Photo credit: dougbelshaw)

And the Mountains Echoed

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Khaled Hosseini’s latest book, ‘And the Mountains Echoed’,  was unputdowanable (is that a word?) in the very best sense. I read the last half of the book in a one-night sitting, and I don’t even regret the dark circles that ringed my eyes for days after

I have read all his books so far and this one didn’t disappoint. The story begins with a heart wrenching tale of two siblings cruelly divided. We are skilfully guided into their world by Hosseini, a world where ten-year old Abdullah loves his three year old sister Pari more than anything. He plays, cares and attends to her every need. He trades his only pair of shoes to get a peacock feather for her. He does this even though he knows that his stepmother will beat him when she finds out.

“it was worth it- worth it for the way her face broke open with surprise first, then delight; for the way she stamped his cheeks with kisses…”

Hosseini masterfully weaves fables within the main narrative creating an intricate, multi-layered tapestry which takes shape as you read. The novel opens with a foreboding fable. It tells the story of a div that takes, Qais, the beloved child of Baba Ayub to save the village from destruction. This prepares us for the shocking betrayal of trust when Saboor takes his two children; Abdullah and Pari across the desert to Kabul where he sells Pari to the wealthy Wahdati family.

For Abdullah, Pari’s absence is, “like a smell pushing up from the earth beneath his feet.” The sense of loss felt by Abdullah pervades the novel, even as the story crosses borders from Shadbagh to Kabul to Paris, San Francisco and the Greek island of Tinos.

The novel is also a book of opposites. There is the contrast of the poverty stricken in Shadbagh with the excessive wealth of Baba Jan. There is also the juxtaposition of the tyrant Parwana (Abdullah’s stepmother) with her heavy hands and her sister Masooma whose blistering beauty is, ” the trembler of knees, the spiller of tea-cups.”

The theme of loss is not only emotional, but also physical. Hosseini describes the loss of physical beauty in the poignant characters of Roshi and Thalia. Roshi is the victim of a family feud whose uncle axed her in the head and Thalia’s face is bitten in a vicious attack by her stepfather’s dog. Both of the girls suffer horrific injuries in the face that are terrifying to look at. Both the characters in the novel and we as readers are forced to confront this ugliness. Here Hosseini describes Roshi’s head with a,

“….mass of glistening brain tissue leaking from it, sitting on her head like a knot of a sikh’s turban.”

As well as loss there is the recurring theme of unfulfilled love in the form of three love triangles that are presented in the novel.

For fear of divulging all the details, I will stop here and say that Hosseini’s novel is a wonderful book that has global appeal, set against the backdrop of changing politics in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The grass is sometimes greener

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I am a serial expat, so my parents weren’t surprised to hear about my latest adventure. We (my husband, son and I) would be packing up and exchanging the damp cold of London for the scorching heat of a small city somewhere in the middle of a desert in the Middle East.

When I accepted the teaching job, I had no idea what we were in for. We were leaving a relatively comfortable existence; my husband’s well paid job and a cosy flat in inner London for the great unknown. Our luggage consisted of bulging suitcases stuffed with my son’s toys and everything else that we couldn’t bear to leave behind.

We arrived exhausted and irritable, after a sleepless six hour -flight: my 23month old son had been restless for seven hours. Soon after our arrival, we were whisked away by a chauffeur driven saloon car to a hotel.  It was hot and humid despite being February; a winter month. As we drove deeper and deeper into the desert, the reality of our big move across the world finally began to seep in.

‘What did we think we were doing?’

‘Were we mad?’

The difficulties faced when travelling in far flung places push you out of your comfort zone making you impatient, intolerant and sometimes irrational. All I wanted to do was to run away! My flight instinct was in full gear. I desperately tried to persuade my husband that if we left immediately we might be able to reclaim our flat, and maybe even his job.

Our first abode was the hotel accommodation provided for by my company, at the top of a mountain on the outskirts of the city, straddling the border with the neighboring country.. To get to the top of the mountain, you have to take a long winding road that snakes up the mountain leaving your neck aching and your insides churning. To compensate for this treacherous journey, the mountain gives you a spectacular view, which sadly I wasn’t able to appreciate at the time.

I had always thought of myself as an intrepid traveler, but having to sterilize baby milk bottles in a hotel bathroom sink makes travelling much less appealing, even for the seasoned traveler.

After the mountain hotel, we relocated to a cheaper hotel in the city centre. Finding a place of our own took much longer than we anticipated and we spent an interminably long 38 days in the city centre hotel. The scene inside our hotel room was one of devastation. Baby bottles, formula milk containers, toys, and suitcases in various stages of disarray were strewn all over the floor. You had to step over countless obstacles to get to the thing you wanted.  My husband and son; who was cranky and appetite-less, did the house hunting during the day while I braved the pedestrian-less roads to get a taxi to the college. Pedestrian crossings are almost non-existent. Women are also strongly discouraged from engaging in any conversation with male taxi drivers.

It was the first time I had ever taught monolingual classes and my first lesson was with a group of policemen who needed to take an English exam to be eligible for promotion.  My other class was made up of young females doing vocational courses. Both groups of students were unmotivated, playful and the teachers were seen as obstacles, nuisances even, to their socializing. There were separate male and female canteens, classrooms and entrances and the day was punctuated by the loud call to prayer which echoed throughout the campus.

All the women wore long black dresses (abayas) that trailed along the ground; collecting the ubiquitous dust of the desert, as they glided slowly to the canteen and prayer rooms.  I learnt that headscarves were called, ‘shaylas’ and that you had to wait a long time for everything. It took ages for the students to notice that the teacher had walked into the classroom, a long time to get a residence visa and an even longer time to find a decent flat to live i.e. in a building that wasn’t overlooking a construction site.

Whenever you looked like you were about to lose your patience with the endless waiting, the offending student or immigration official would look at you with an expression reserved only for the feeble and  inexperienced and say, ‘sabr’ which is the  Arabic word for patience. A word that was always uttered with an accompanying gesture of five fingers held together.

The only exception to this no-hurry rule was on the treacherous roads, where every car was oversized and in a hurry. If you were unfortunate enough to be new in town, you had to tolerate being hooted off the road as you tried to manipulate the many roundabouts. The GPS we bought was of little use in a new city where places are not located by their street names but rather by the landmarks they are close to, for example, ‘behind the bakery’, or ‘near the beauty saloon (yes they are called ‘saloons’ here not salons).

For the first month, with no facilities to cook, we were forced to eat copious amounts of fast food from the food courts in the glossy malls. The malls were spotless with grand entrances, designer label shops sat alongside traditional kiosks selling little pots with smoke billowing out an overpowering scent called ‘dukun.’

Looking back now, two years and many friendships later, I am pleased to write that we did find a place, a comfortable flat in a complex with palm trees and a children’s park.  We also plan to stay here for some time. When you give a new place a chance and resist the urge to run, you do indeed gain ‘sabr’ and acceptance.

Desert Rain

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I live in a city  where rain is a special occasion. A few heavenly drops are enough to provoke loud cheers of delight.

This summer, despite the soaring temperatures, we have been blessed with a few days of relief from the relentless sun.

The sky darkens hours before the actual rain. The leaves of the lush palm trees wave wildly, competing with the earth to be the first to greet the rain. The wind whirls the desert sand around leaving a layer of dust covering cars, balconies and doorsteps.

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When the first pin drops hit the thirsty pavings, the glee-filled shouts of children trapped indoors in air conditioned apartments can be heard bouncing off the walls.

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It is a culture where rain is a huge blessing bringing with it smiles and hopes for a trip to the desert for camping and quad biking.

Isn’t it ironic that a few years ago I lived in a city where rain induced frowns and cold shivers and umbrellas were a familiar part of city attire.