Archive for September, 2012

On Being the New Girl

September 30, 2012

I went to lunch.

I didn’t know what to wear so left the bathroom festooned with tried-ons-and-discarded, the shower head wearing a flung t’shirt, the bath draped in a badshoppingday dress and trousers trampled into the floor. I arrived and felt I’d got it all wrong anyway.

My hostess was lovely, the food to die for, the ladies were kind and as lunch developed I watched them engaged in uproarious fun; the in-jokes, the familiar names; a shared history, easy, effortless, and wished I could join in, like the new girl at school, tentatively, longingly gazing into a playground that’s all Go except for her.  You want to nudge her out but she’s afraid to go lest she make a wrong and forever alienating move.

I sat like a rabbit-in-the-headlights. In my wrong clothes without the right conversation. It’s such a long time since I’ve been the Newbie that I have forgotten how. I don’t have anybody’s lifemap and they don’t have mine and so the conversation skims the surface, I’m hopeless at small-talk; it never unpicks a personality or unravels a story to satisfactory conclusion. Like going to a meal and coming home feeling less than satiated. Worrying about the choices you’d made, the things you said, the outfit you wore, hating that one lady gazed over your shoulder as you spoke in search of somebody who’d be less hard work to to talk to just because you never have to try as hard with old faces as new ones …

I’ve never been new in an expat community; I’ve drifted seamlessly from one bit of East Africa to another, where between mine and Ant’s families, we’ve trodden a familiar history for over a hundred years. This bit’s different though. This bit of slightly-southern Africa.

How long have you been here?

Um. Bout three weeks …?

And how long are you staying?

I don’t know? A year? Five? Ten? Forever? I don’t know how to be a real expat; I’ve herded my little tribe here, a nomad, in search of greener pastures. This is home now. This new place is where all our energies will concentrate without any consideration of What Next? The Here And Now is how Ant and I have always lived.

I ask Ant later, as I sniff pathetically into my glass of wine, feeling sorry for my friendless self, ‘do you find it hard, being new?’. Of course I do. Do you worry about what to say? Of course I do? Do you ask questions? (Worrying I hadn’t asked enough/the right kind/had asked too many, as I am prone to do ever since my darling mum urged me that the way to fend off social anxiety born of debilitating shyness, was to ‘ask questions; everybody loves talking about themselves’. ). Of course I do, says Ant. What do you ask, then, I want to know, ‘ I ask, do you have any children?’. He pauses, ‘yes?’ I say, encouraging him on, ‘and if they say no, I ask if they’re still a virgin.’

Perhaps I’ll try that next time then?



Ladies who Lunch

September 27, 2012

Tomorrow I am going to a Ladies Lunch.

I can’t decide whether I ought to be excited (all the new friends I’ll make!) or anxious (what shall I wear? What shall I say? What if nobody wants to sit next to me?)

I am not very practiced in the art of Lunching. Once upon a time, a long time ago, when I lived in Northern Tanzania, before I relocated to the Outpost, I was on the periphery of a circle of women who Lunched. Actually not so much on the periphery as over the edge: I wasn’t ever invited which was as well for, on reflection, I probably didn’t have enough in common with any of them to sustain a conversation (I wasn’t Tiger Mother enough; didn’t own a single piece of Prada and couldn’t tell the difference between Gucci glasses and stuck-in-a-traffic-jam rip-offs?). And certainly not enough to prevent me from running out of things to say during an interminable meal where nobody ate anything but rocket salad (having pushed it around their plates 497 times) and nobody drank anything but mineral water or sugar-less black coffee. Did they all go home, afterwards, I wondered, and stuff their beautifully made up, unlined faces with chocolate biscuits and cheese sandwiches washed down with three-spoon builder’s tea? They were all immaculately dressed – it would have taken me a lifetime to turn myself into a tidy approximation of any of them and my bedroom (for I lacked an apparently essential dimension in a Dressing Room) would have looked as if 106 tornadoes had ripped through it. No sign of sweat or dust or creases (primarily because they supervised the laundry and the air conditioning in their new Toyota Pradas worked).  They never wore shorts with holes in them or went barefoot or left home without any make up on or let their dogs sleep on their beds.

I only know two of the ladies with whom I will lunch tomorrow. I know they wear shorts because I have dog walked with them – none of us wore more than sunblock on our faces – and I think their shorts, like mine, might also have holes in them. I suspect their dogs might sleep on their beds because post walk and after a pond swim, a polar-bear proportioned and sponge wet Retriever hopped onto the rear seat of his mistresses car with an air that suggested he was accustomed to such comforts. Even if the Lunching Ladies of my past ever walked their dogs, I doubt they allowed them into their cars unless firmly secured in a cage in the back.

I can’t be certain but I have a hunch that my distant past and recent history conspire to suggest this lunching experience might be friendlier, warmer, louder?

And we might even get something to eat.


Taking the Longer View

September 24, 2012


My views have been foreshortened.

I sit on a strange verandah with the odd stick of familiar furniture surrounded by disorientated animals.

I’m trying to be long sighted.


I am trying hard not to be bitter than our dreams were shredded, ripped up, trampled all over and tossed to dismissive winds by those we thought we could we could rely on to propel them forwards.   We believed in you, I want to scream, why didn’t you believe in us?!

I am trying to forget that two huge moves in nine months have cost us enormously – financially, emotionally, physically. I am trying not to mind that in those moves my precious glass kiln was damaged beyond repair. I am trying not to think about the fact my son will never bump about in the pickup we used for work because he felt part of our little family team when he checked the trees or ran errands, that water-baby Hat who loved the sea won’t be able to ocean-swim when she comes home for the holidays. I am willing myself to keep focused, not mind that I hate the house I am in, hate not having wheels, miss my friends, my sister, Asina, my bit of Africa. I am – especially – trying not to seethe with rage that my Ant has his aspirations asphyxiated.  ‘Aren’t you angry, don’t’ you feel let down, aren’t you disappointed?’ I ask him. Of course, he says mildly, but there’s no choice except to move on. Keep going. One foot in front of the other.


I miss the beach, the sea, the sky, the space, oh God, the space. I miss the way it all spilled carelessly, abundantly about me.

But Ant is right. Move on. Keep going. One foot in front of the other.

Keep your eye on the Big Picture.

Even if you can’t see it yet.


Houses as Homes

September 14, 2012


And hating it.

My phone calls to the dozens of agents I harangue regularly – for regularly read hourly – have deteriorated from polite, positive enquiry to needy wheedling. ‘I don’t need chichi and I don’t object to avocado bathroom suites but I DO need space’. Space often comes in a house that’s been built to max out on footprint extinguishing any chance of foliage. ‘Where’s the garden?’ I ask and the agent points, bemused, ‘There’, he says gesturing the proverbial pocket handkerchief, dainty ladies dimensions not proper spilling over the edge man-sized.

I have seen a dozen houses so far. Of those the two that might work are flawed because the owners aren’t sure how long they want to rent for – and I don’t want to be doing this again in nine months, or because they’re asking for too much money. ‘$ 4 500 dollars a month’, announces the agent, ‘exclusive of utilities and security’, and I swallow and grimace a grin whilst inside I’m squealing with outraged indignation, ‘4 and an effing half thousand dollars?!’ And all because it has twin square hand basins in the master bathroom and faux granite on the kitchen counters. I wash my hands perfectly well in a regular shaped wash basin even if I have to share it with Husband, and even faux granite isn’t going to improve my culinary skills.

My last home was a great big spilling beach house where rooms gathered and huddled and held hands as one led into another under the vast awning of a cathedral-proportioned makuti roof which I watched the fundis thread to casuarina poles with endless bales of sisal twine, tipping my head back and shielding my eyes from the sun. The windows were shuttered with hardwood, I could see the ocean from the kitchen (where the counter tops were cement), the sitting room, the verandah, my desk and my bedroom. The only place I couldn’t’ enjoy that glorious ever changing vista from – which morphed from grey seas upon which Omo white horses danced to aquamarine mirror-smooth flecked with sea-green glass – was the bathroom from which the single conventional basin spat a little squirt of brackish water with which I washed my hands perfectly well.


September 11, 2012

The light here is kind. The dawns are softly orange and tangerine evenings seems to usher the day out too early. I always think it’s later than it is: half two here looks like half four on the equator. The sun’s lower slant as it tips further south from Africa’s invisible waistband renders something mellow of a northern glare.

Funny the things you notice first about new places.

The sounds I hear are different too. The midnight somebody’s-murdering-me-in-my-bed screams of bushbabies and the indignant early morning shouts of vervet monkeys fighting over space and breakfast and the pearly dawn gasps of Hadada ibis and – especially – the whisper and roar of the sea as the tide ebbs and flows are replaced by the early calls of unfamiliar birds, by distant cooped-up dogs, by too-close-for-comfort traffic.

My year has been pockmarked with Change, two transAfrican moves and several different homes. I’m hanging onto the familiar in the hope another Change jars less. Hanif, the driver who kindly drives me to the airport so that I can drive myself back and commit the route to memory, tells me, when I explain to him that the reason I must know this road is that my animals are arriving on a Kenya Airways flight from Nairobi on Wednesday, that a lot of cargo comes in from Kenya. It is oddly reassuring; we can’t be that far from home I tell myself, if we rely on cargo from Kenya?  He slows for a cop stop, ‘the police are very corrupt here’, he says, and I smile a quiet smile, something else oddly, paradoxically, comforting, not so different from back home then, I think. The dark faces and wide white smiles are the same even if the language is unfamiliar.

Ant says Change is good. He says it stretches us, makes us emotionally and intellectually supple, keeps us young. He says all that stuff to make me feel better about something that’s still scary, no matter how I talk it up. He says all that stuff because he feels a little scared too.

And perhaps that’s the most reassuring part of this, the most recent, Change. Just like the Outpost, we’re in this together.