Saturday, 22 November 2008

Mother of two

It's been a while. Sorry. 

But I think we're over the hump now. The Good Man vanished on a business trip to Athens two weeks after Thumper's arrival, which coincided perfectly with my baby blues meltdown. Fortunately, the fine ladies of Virginia nursed me back to fine spirits and I have been truly enjoying my littlest bundle. As fortune would have it, so is her big sister. I was worried that Bambi might get jealous of the redirection of attention and plot cunning methods to take it out on her sister. But no. Her frustrations have been more accurately directed at me. And I agree with her. Nursing a newborn takes too damn long. 

Another big event while the Good Man was away was Halloween. Whoever thought of combining the joint pleasures of dressing up and getting loads of candy was clearly a marketing genius. It's all great fun but wow! can it all add up. Gravestones in the flower beds, ghosts hanging from the trees, outfits from Disney store and, of course, large volumes of candy ('cos who wants to be the sap who runs out...?) and the monthly budget is flattened. Given my postpartum state I got away with minimal decor - one plastic Jack-o-lantern and a pumpkin decorated with stickers and mauled by the neighbourhood squirrels. Sad, but true...

And I couldn't quite face trick or treating with Bambi which turned into a complete bonus for her as she scored two invites out with other families - one early and one late - and, therefore, scored twice the candy. We've been trickle feeding her the spoils and still have a few mini packs of M&Ms to go. She dressed as Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty to those who have not been immersed in Disney Princess) and looked gorgeous as can be seen from the picture above.

And then came her birthday. Yes, I can hardly believe it myself, but Bambi is four! So we rolled out the princess outfit again (with the cost of the thing I had considered sending her to school in it too - but the weather had turned...) and invited 20 under fives around for two hours. To ease the pressure on ourselves we hired an entertainer - known as The Great Zucchini officially, and the Magnificent Marrow in our house - to officiate. Best exorbitant sum ever spent in my book. He had them roaring with laughter and completely happy for over an hour, after which we fed 'em, sugared 'em and shipped 'em home for their parents to deal with. He he he! 

Thumper slept through the whole thing, which means she could probably sleep through a Stones concert or a major tornado. Or both. Simultaneously.  Good to know! 

Tuesday, 21 October 2008


is here! All 9 pounds of her (4.1kg for those metrically minded).

She is doing well, feeding voraciously and, in my completely unbiased opinion, absolutely gorgeous. Bambi can barely contain her excitement - the Good Man has held his littlest princess less often than his big princess has. We're wondering if the novelty will wear off...

Anyway, must get on with my endless cycle of feeding, nappy changes and naps.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Pregnant Pause

It looks like Thumper will arrive on schedule. But the build up has just seemed like a long wait - in a very dull waiting room. This is what is meant by a pregnant pause - everything on hold...waiting. So here are some random thoughts I've had while on pause:

Men and women respond very differently to a full term pregnant belly. Women smile as if sharing a secret. Men tend to show you the whites of their eyes...

The Good Man has to have the worst timing in the world. Toothache presented at three o'clock on Sunday morning... when all dental practices in the greater Virginia area were closed... until today. The cynic in me wonders if this is fatherly pre-baby attention seeking. But actually losing a tooth seems like overkill.

Autumn is my favourite season here so far. But then Summer was ridiculously hot and humid and autumn is cool and ridiculously beautiful. So I'm thinking maybe I'm just holding onto my sanity. And I have yet to experience Winter and Spring so further research will be required.

And on the theme of lists, Reluctant Memsahib, who is currently very concerned about her sanity has tagged me. The idea is to answer questions with seven word answers. While my brain is currently mud, it appears I can still count to seven so here goes:

1. Where were you ten years ago?
On a mountain top in South Africa.

2. What's on your to-do list today?
Currently attempting to not go into labour.

3. What if you were a billionaire?
In this economy? I'd be an exhibit!

4. Five places you have lived?
Hermanus, Germany, Zambia, Scotland, Kenya (and others)

5. Three bad habits?
Grumpy, bossy and emotional. I AM PREGNANT!

6. Snacks you like?
No room left for snacks inside me...

7. Who are you tagging?

La Pagina Portena who needs a job
Mom/Mum who may already have done this
Safari Stories whose last post made me laugh...

So, tomorrow's the big day. I'll let you know how it all goes. In the fullness of time...

Saturday, 4 October 2008

American WIldlife

Just as I was about to take Bambi to bed, the phone rang. Our neighbours had been having raccoon trouble and had managed to trap the little critter in their garage.  Would we like to come over for a quick look and help release it?  Oh yes!  Off we went with Bambi yodeling the theme tune to Go Diego Go.

And a cutie it was too. Clearly having a bad day though, tucked into the corner of its cage. And then its day got worse. Out of absolutely nowhere, a storm was brewing and as we drove our little bandit to its new home the lightening struck. Close. Very close. And the thunder rolled. Loudly. Very loudly.

Oh, and the heavens opened.

Unsurprisingly, one very wet raccoon decided to forgo all pleasantries and bolted for the bushes the second of its release. Fair enough.

And then I realised where we were - in a park some 500m from Bambi's school. The suburbs of northern Virginia are peppered with parks and it struck me that there must be quite a raccoon rotation going on with masked crusaders being passed around from neighbourhood to neighbourhood as they get caught raiding and released to discover menus anew somewhere else.

So that was my first real brush with American wildlife. Although did you know that you get black squirrels in this part of the world?!

And I'm still pregnant by the way...

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Settling in for a wait

So another week down. Two and a bit to go and I'll be a mother of two. Can't pretend I'm not alternating between excitement and blind terror but as ankles swell and discomfort increases, the former is winning out. Bring on three hourly feeds, just let me lose the waddle!

Exciting news of the week is that our freight arrived. In tact. Which is always good. Of course, we have now gone from rattling around in an empty house to having stuff. Clutter, one might say. 

My portly state had the distinct upside of exempting me from unpacking. This was a first. The Good Man has a long and illustrious history of arranging business trips to coincide with the arrival of our goods. This time he took the day off and did the heavy lifting while I conducted from the couch. It was lovely. But a never-to-be-repeated performance, I fear. Anyway, I didn't go into labour which seems to have made it worthwhile.

In fact, the Good Man has been very good of late. He took Bambi to get her Halloween outfit yesterday - a pink, sparkly confection, complete with tiara and satin basket - and then spent the rest of the day in front of the football to reassert his manliness. And right now he's at Disney on Ice with his princess. Heaven only knows how much sport that will take to sort out.

Oh well, we continue to wait for Thumper. Will keep you posted...

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Up to date

Frankly, I've had enough of all this retrospective. I think I had in mind that I could update friends and family through my blog. But blogging (at least for me) isn't about travel tales and catching up - it's about pithy observation and social commentary. So my plan now is to provide a very potted version of our introduction to the US of A:

We now live in Virginia, but close enough to downtown DC that the Good Man cycles to work. The neighbourhood is leafy and the the neighbours have been extremely welcoming and helpful. I suspect we may be wallowing in suburban bliss...

Light switches work differently here. Up means on and down means off. Why? No idea.

Bambi has had her first encounter with a toilet flushing sensor (flushes when you move in front of the sensor, ie. stand up). It gave her one hell of a fright and now I can't persuade her to go to the toilet in public places - but she's become very disciplined about going before we leave the house.

Washington is far more beautiful than I ever imagined. Weekend activities so far have included Wolf Trap, boat trips on the Potomac, the Kennedy Centre open day (with Dan Zanes - oh so cool) and the Good Man regularly takes Bambi canoeing at Fletcher's Cove. I had never thought that the nation's capital would be so outdoor orientated.

Breakfast cereal without sugar is ridiculously hard to find in the supermarket. I eventually tracked down Weetabix - only available in the health food aisle.

This is an election year (fast approaching election month) and American politics and electioneering are absolutely unbelievable. But I'm sure I will be writing more about this later. At this stage I'm actually quite glad I do not have any right to vote here.

Our freight has yet to arrive. Bambi, however, has decorated our lounge with empty boxes which she has decorated with dayglo paint... and glitter. It's a look unlikely to catch on in Home & Garden and one of which we will undoubtedly be reminded for the remainder of our time here as we continue to brush sparkles from between the floorboards. But it is cheerful.

I am due to deliver Thumper via c-section on 14th October. This is not because, with 3 and a half weeks to go she is already estimated to weigh nearly 8 pounds (help!), but medically advised after an emergency c-section after a complicated (and long) labour with Bambi.  Wish me luck. If I go into labour before then, we're in trouble - no support network means relying heavily on planning. Labour is not part of the plan...

In all, this has been one of our easier moves. I suspect we'll be happy here. And I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

In transit

And because we never do things the simple way, the good family made a stop off. For a week. In Vienna.

Vienna is gorgeous and, at most times in my life, the perfect place to spend a week.  Music! Art! I even speak the language. So, the food's a bit heavy but even Bambi was able to navigate the menus and by the end of our stay had perfected her pronunciation of 'wurst mit pommes, bitte'.
Austria is now known as the Land of Sausage.

But... We did not have a car and, even with a really brilliant metro system, the amount of walking to get around was not great for my six month pregnant frame... or Bambi's three year old legs.

As recent postings have largely read like travel rags, we'll skip over the lowdown on the Prater, the House of Music, Stefansdom, horse drawn carriages and Danube cruises and go straight to Bambi's undisputed highlight... Schonbrunn Palace.

The Palace itself is big and imposing and can be toured. But what three year old wants to spend two hours looking at furniture. That said, the grounds are spectacular with loads of room to run. Here's Bambi running around the Gloriette...

And before you think I denied my princess any access to the palace, we did go to the children's museum. What a find! She got to play with period toys, braid period wigs and see how Imperial children lived. And, the biggie - she got to dress up. How cute is this....

And on the 5th of July (yes, we missed the 4th) we officially moved to the States.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

The exit strategy

When preparing to leave a country a sense of urgency kicks in. We always arrive in new places with grandious ideas about the wonderful places we will visit and the places we will explore. We always anticipate years in which to make these acquaintances and feel comforted by the time we can take to acquire 'local' knowledge.

Now, faced with ten weeks before departure, we embraced our inner tourists and simply started making bookings.

The trouble around the December election had largely calmed (if not completely resolved). And there remained parts of the country that we preferred to avoid... just in case. Fortunately we had snuck in a trip to Lake Nakuru in October and had our chance to marvel at, literally, millions of flamingoes. Post election, Nakuru became the centre of much of the political violence as IDPs (Internally Displaced People) moved into the area and became targets from rival tribes. I hasten to add that, by the time we left Kenya, Nakuru had calmed and anyone planning a holiday to Kenya now should definitely consider a trip up there on their itinerary.

But the place we had not explored, the big ticket, the must do before we leave, was the Masai Mara.  Politically, this area had remained largely untouched by the election fallout. As the name would suggest, it is home to the Masai people who had not been involved in the conflict. It had, however, been hugely effected by a sharp drop in tourism. This was undoubtedly being felt by the local operators and their staff. Their strategy to keep some sort of occupancy level going was to discount sharply for local tourists. As residents, this included us. So, much to our surprise, instead of camping, we were able to stay in beautiful luxury tented camps. Twice!

The first time we went, the good Granny was with us for a visit. We stayed at the Karen Blixen camp in one of the concessions just outside the park proper. The highlight of the trip was finding two female lions with six cubs and watching them, on our own for the best part of an hour, yanking tails, chasing each other, climbing all over their mums.  Too cute. Our guide mentioned to us that, had we visited a year earlier we would have probably been jostling for position with about twenty other vehicles. So, lucky in a way... although political conflict seems a rather high price to pay for a good game drive...

The second time we went we really stepped out and treated ourselves to a weekend at Little Governors (again at 'special' rates).  This camp is known for a few very special things. First, it has been maintained as a real bush camp - no electricity, fences or mod cons. Although very comfortable and serving some of the best food in Kenya, it goes to some lengths to ensure that you never forget where you are. The second thing it is known for is its balloon safaris. Which were also running deep discounts. 

Sadly, Bambi was considered too young, and I was considered too pregnant (discrimination I tell you!) to go on a flight but the Good Man took the gap. We followed behind in the chase vehicle and got to take part in the champagne breakfast (if not the champagne) at the end.  I have never felt such envy in my life. Watching that graceful orb floating over the treetops while we bounced over the ever pitted ruts of the Mara was quite torturous. But Bambi and I have promised each other that, when she's old enough, our turn will come...

Our final excursion was on our very last weekend in Kenya. The Good Man had for many years been talking about taking part in the Lewa Downs Half Marathon.  He had rallied a few friends, got himself into a team and our departure date was actually set so that he could take part before leaving. What makes this event pretty unique is that it is run through a fully fledged game park, well stocked with animals that can trample you, chase you and eat you for lunch. Or dinner.  Fortunately it is also extremely well organised, with the route being steadily patrolled by rangers and helicopters to ensure the safety of the runners.

The organisers set up a temporary village for the weekend to accommodate runners and their families, complete with campsites and long drop loos. At five and a half months pregnant I was not feeling even this adventurous so booked us into Ol Pejeta House in the Sweetwaters conservancy where we shared a self contained house with another family  whose dad was also running. The boys went to run their race while we visited a tame rhino and the chimp sanctuary, lit roaring log fires and generally absorbed the atmosphere and the stunning views of Mount Kenya. It was idyllic - good company, fantastic scenery and all too easy to forget what was looming ahead.

On the Sunday we drove back to Nairobi, picked up our luggage and left Africa... again.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Before we move on...

some photos...

First Zanzibar, which Bambi clearly enjoyed:

but then it is a beautiful spot...

with cool things to do like feeding little tortoises....

and some bigger ones...
You can also listen to conch shells in stereo...

climb huge trees (with your Dad)...

and swim in mangrove swamps off the side of a boat!

And then there was Easter. Which included a good haul. Observe the Masai in the top right corner who sportingly kept the monkeys from stealing the eggs before the hunt. (This was in Amboseli by the way).

It's important to carefully survey the terrain when game watching.

Oh look! Kilimanjaro!

More from the travelogue next time.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

So I lied (3)

So, where were we? Oh yes, big news in Nairobi...

The Good Man was shortlisted for not one but two fantastic jobs - both in a project he's been wanting to be involved with, both in organisations he admires and both , um, financially rewarding. The only hitch was that both would involve moving to Washington DC.

This is always the worst part of a transition - the possibility of change but not knowing for sure if a move is imminent or not. Also, never having been anywhere in the US, much less DC I was trying to overcome a few (mainly unfounded) fears. And did I mention the morning, noon and night sickness?

But then Easter rolled around, which happened to coincide with our tenth wedding anniversary. So we took a weekend off from the speculation and worrying (if not the constant nausea) and went to Amboseli. This game park has the advantage of being a pretty easy drive from Nairobi and stunningly located at the base of Kilimanjaro. And on this particular weekend it was overrun with Americans. Most from Washington DC. Ever had the feeling someone's trying to tell you something? Fantastic, warm, friendly people who sucked us into their celebrations and got Bambi completely wrapped up in what was undoubtedly the most over the top Easter egg hunt I have ever seen. Needless to say she loved it. 

Fortunately, they were mainly with the US State Department and based in Nairobi so we were able to maintain contact after the bunny left town!

Soon after we got back, it was confirmed. An offer was in and we were scheduled to leave at the end of June...

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

So I lied...(2)

I really must stop committing myself to time schedules for posts! But we digress...

By the end of February the uncertainty started to become a bit overwhelming. The Good Man was asked to participate in a conference in Zanzibar and we decided that a family break to a peaceful island sounded like a good plan. So off we went.

Zanzibar is a true tropical paradise. We spent our first week on the east coast which sports pristine beaches and some amazing snorkeling. It was all pretty rustic but comfortable and we loved it, spending long lazy days on the sand or by the pool. At some point during the week I looked up and considered the moon and stars. And then I contemplated lunar cycles. And then I considered my own lunar cycle. Which wasn't behaving very cyclically. One plastic stick later and it was confirmed... Bambi is to be a big sister. This actually explained a lot - my food aversions, my inability to deal with the heat and humidity (although, to be fair, it was roasting) and general grumpiness (which I had been attributing to stress).

Our second week was in Stone Town. What an amazing spot. If you have even the remotest interest in history, this city is a must. You won't find hundreds of clinical museums and memorials but you will be able to see the remains of early ocean trade, breathe in heavy waves of cinamon and nutmeg, watch dhows sailing along the coast as they have done for centuries and contemplate words like 'swashbuckling' and 'adventurer' without having to give yourself over to too much imagination.

The Good Man was working for much of this time but Bambi and I managed to keep ourselves busy. We went on a spice tour which basically involved a chap wandering around a small spice plantation with us in tow. That said, he carefully wove a grass reed hat for Bambi as he strolled and did manage to persuade some local youths to climb to some very precarious perches in an effort to show us all the fragrant treasures of his patch.

We also wiled away an afternoon at Mercury's - a very popular seaside bar named in honour of Zanzibar's most famous son - Freddie.

For our last day, with work commitments over, we decided to do the Blue Safari. The highlight of this trip (for me at any rate) was the snorkelling. The Good Man is not a strong swimmer and took off with the tide back to the sandbank powerless to fight the current. Lowering Bambi into middle of the ocean off the side of the dhow met with some resistance on her part (as I write this I do sense how foolish the idea was to start off with - but, hey, I'm pregnant). So my 'highlight' was nearly thwarted.

However, one of the guides, sensing my disappointment, said that if I was a strong enough swimmer to swim against the current from the sandbar he would take me out on my own. So we cruised back, deposited Bambi with her driftwood father and headed for the reef. What an incredible experience. Fish of every colour and shape, sea cucumbers, starfish, crabs and the big one - an octopus which, after some provocation it should be said, attached itself to the arm of my guide who rocketed to the surface and swung it around violently until, under its cloud of ink it retreated back to its rock. Suitably chastised, we retreated back to land and a sumptuous seafood barbeque. And Bambi proved an adept dolphin spotter as we sailed to the mainland.

Then it was time to head back to Nairobi where more big news awaited.

But more of that next time...

Friday, 1 August 2008

So I lied... (1)

Next week came and went, and still no ADSL. And then I discovered that ADSL in Nairobi stands for Absolutely Damned Slow Line - rather like dial up but more expensive. And then there came the election...

Having become somewhat bewitched by the beauty of Kenya and rather caught up in the joy of our expatriate lifestyle, the election and resulting fallout came as a surprise of the worst kind. It shouldn't have. Having grown up in Africa (albeit further south), I should know that closely contested elections on this continent have a long history of resulting in contentious results and, all to often, violence.

Fortunately, the Good Man had not been as blinded as I and subtly arranged for us to be in Cape Town for Christmas, where we stayed until the dust settled in early January. Actually,the dust hadn't and probably still hasn't settled completely. But we felt that we were safe to go back. 

However, Kenya had become a political hot potato and several aid donors, the Good Man's employers included, began speaking of revoking funding to Kenya in an attempt to pressure the government into a power sharing arrangement. After much negotiation, the influence of Kofi Annan and Condeleezza Rice, a power sharing agreement was reached.  But by then the Good Man had felt that it would be prudent to look at other options rather than leaving his career to the whims of others. (At one time there was talk of moving him to Sudan - not a family friendly posting...)

This was an incredibly stressful time for the whole of Kenya and I can't help, in retrospect, thinking that my worries were so minor in comparison to those of so many others. All of our staff moved onto our property - they had been evicted from their homes for belonging to the 'wrong' tribal affliation. And they were considered the lucky ones - they had jobs and somewhere to go.

I volunteered at an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp and met many families who had been driven out of towns they had lived in for all of their lives, under threat of violence. Now they were living in Nairobi, jobless and homeless. The children in these camps were finding it impossible to find places in schools and you could feel their dreams diminishing with each day of learning under the tuition of underqualified 'teacher' volunteers, from decade old books, in the shade of tents.

Although a political resolution was found and calm achieved, the underlying differences between Kenyan ethnic groupings were brought to the surface and it will, undoubtedly, take a very long time for trust to be established.

Enough for one day. Much has happened to us since then and chapters are required. Tune in tomorrow for the next instalment...