Archive for the ‘home school’ Category


August 20, 2007

I have assumed, perhaps naturally, in light of some opposition, a somewhat defensive – and idealistic – attitude to my homeschooling efforts.

There are times – though – when I wonder whether I’m getting my messages across.

A science lesson. And I pose a question, as per my weighty Teaching Manual, ”why is it easier to remove a metal lid from a jam jar when you run warm water over the lid?”

Hat ponders this for a moment. Trying not to yawn. I am hoping she might tell me what the manual indicates I ought to hear: that the warm water causes the metal to expand which makes loosening the lid easier.

She doesn’t. She says ”because if you’ve left all sticky honey on the inside, the warm water will wash it off and you can unstick the lid”.

Not what the academics were looking for, I grant you, but hardly incorrect. Espeically given own housekeeping skills or lack of: Bovril jar in particular is a bugger to get off on account of sticky lid scenario.

Today, during history, we examined what earlier civilisations had brought us: Icarus a passion for flight; the Mexcans rubber, Leonardo da Vinci what eventually became the bicycle chain. Hat was enthralled. Less yawning.

Later – after school – she demanded a box, so, she informed me, “I can make an old fashioned chariot”.

I congratulated myself for getting message across apparently effortlessly and her for pursuing historical interest outside of the classroom.

She cut a door in the box, made cardboard strips to simulate yoke, added string as a harness and furnished her chariot with a pink silk cushion. Then she attempted to push Cat 1, Orlanda, into the box in order to give her a ride around the house. Needless to say Orlanda wasn’t keen to partake of Hat’s historical adventure and reversed back out. Unfazed Hat began to cut what she called a ”drop hole” in the top of the box but no sooner had she ”dropped” Orlanda in than she shot out. Still determined to give the cat the ride of her life, Hat gathered up a handful of dagaa – the small dried fish we get here – posted them thru the drop hole and pushed temptation into Orlanda’s path. Cat sniffed, shot in and grabbed bounty and bolted.

Hat gave up with her and – bravely I thought – went in search of foul temptered Cat 2, Moshi, who had obviously already been alerted as to waiting fate by Orlanda’s complaining for she began to struggle and growl the moment Hat picked her up. Hat – wisely – before cat took her nose off, dropped her. Moshi ran away to hide and now Hat is entertaining herself with a game of Hide and Seek with two cats.

If nothing, Hat has honed her cardboard cutting prowess and is now learning something about animal behaviour: namely that cats aren’t into history.

Wild Child

August 19, 2007


I harboured shades of anxiety about plucking a child from what was her normality – indeed normality per se – and popping her back down in a quite alien environment. 

Hat no longer goes to conventional school, she has no like-minded peers close by to play with, no birthday parties to go to, no need to host her own (oh Thank God!), no proper shops and – especially – no siblings at home now to spar with. Except for the fact we – her parents – a collection of familiar animals and her doll’s house are in Outpost with her, her life has morphed beyond recognition.

She’s just the same, though. She’s the same old happy Hat.

Yesterday, walking by the dam, armed with a walking stick and a stick of sugar cane bought on the roadside which, when she tired of carrying it, she threaded through the belt loops at the back of her shorts, Hat commented that she liked being a Wild Child.

(She means a child living in the bush, not socialite Tamara Beckwith/Tara PT Wild Child)


I like being able to take my boots off and squelch my toes in the mud and my mum won’t get cross.

(I could hardly get cross after that, could I? And I can’t see either of aforementioned Wild Children – Tamara or Tara – enjoying mud-through-toes-sensation or anything else about Hat’s wilderness for that matter)

What else?

I like having lots of wild animals.

But we don’t have lots of wild animals, I reminded her, the wildest we got was chickens from the local market (and they’ve all turned up their toes).

No, but I will collect wild animals.

Like what, I wanted to know.

Like guinea fowl, she said.

How are we going to get guinea fowl, I enquired.

You are going to get me some guinea fowl eggs and I am going to put them under a chicken’s bottom (clearly unfazed by recent poultry raising failure) and we will have guinea fowl.

And with that my Wild Child skipped off to hold hands with her dad, swinging her walking stick, sugar cane still in situ.


School Run

August 15, 2007

Well. We’re back. Five fleeting nights away – none of which offered much in the way of sleep; first I was nervously anticipating handing children over and then I was weeping into my pillow that I had.

Our maiden school run involved a round trip of 1,300 klms and meant 22 hours on the road.

We watched the sun rise. Both ways.


We ate a picnic breakfast on the bonnet in the bush. Both ways.


We watched the road unravel like rope behind of us.


Yet still lie with disconcerting length before us …


We contended with African traffic jams deluxe. Both ways. In precisely the same spot.


Back in the Outpost I am trying to be upbeat.  No mean feat in light of fact two of my three children are on the other side of this vast country.

 To add insult to injury the chickens decided to turn up their toes and die whilst we were away. The nightwatchmen, who does almost nothing but sleep, only occassionally rousing himself to stretch his legs in order he does not suffer DVT presumably, informs me that the chickens in my garden are dying because the mango tree, which is in flower, is shedding tiny blossom. He says the blossom is bad for chickens. Perhaps they eat it and it makes them sick. I don’t know. I was too tired to care, frankly. But if the fussy birds object to a little bit of blossom, I hate to think what they’ll think when a sodding great rock hard full grown green mango drops on their silly little heads. Hat is as fed up of poultry farming as I. We are going to get a goat.

And in the meantime we are going to stick up a picture of her older siblings that will make us giggle every time we look at it; this one perhaps – karaoke in the car. And alot of laughing. On the way there at any rate.


We embark on our own school tomorrow, Hat and I. In the absence of bloody hens to tend to, we’ll get stuck in earlier than I’d anticipated. You cannot survive in the Outpost if you can’t find a Bright Side to cast eyes upon, even if it seems a little remote.

Not Outpost. Bright Side.

So Much the Same

August 1, 2007

Sometimes people are surprised that so much about our life in the Outpost bears shades of their own.  But it does. Daily.

I get up in the morning to make tea, tip-toeing around a dark house so that I don’t disturb teenagers who would articulate indignant fury at being woken so early.  I drink – my mug cupped for warmth – as I watch the sky and listen to the birds nudging each other awake. My husband goes to work. I sit at my desk and am mesmerized by an orange sun hoisting itself above a distant mango tree. I ought to be working, catching a quiet hour before bedlam breaks, but I’m distracted.

Our breakfasts constitute Cornflakes and toast and marmalade, any exotic flavour in the meal comes from the pineapple or papaya that might accompany it. And we eat al fresco. On the verandah. Taking in a huge, huge pale blue sky (which will fade to white hot by noon) and a patch of dust which I insist on referring to as the ”lawn” in the hope it’ll hear me and try harder.

I must engage myself most days in the trivia that engages wives and mothers everywhere: I shop for groceries, in the tiny dark Arab-owned store in town, peering up at shelves in the demi-gloom and wondering why I can buy dried coconut milk (when there is a plethora of the real thing in the fruit and veg market) but not flour. My list is rarely satisfyingly completed. But that’s OK, I’m used to that. We’ll improvise.

Hat accompanies me to the market and asks for treats as we walk selecting tomatoes and oranges. She’s after synthetic juice powder made in the Arab Emirates and exported to remote African locations to give those who might have avoided it otherwise a tartarazine hit.  It’s hardly a trolley tantrum at the Tesco checkout but her pleas are well timed: it’s hot and she has been a good girl (as she cunningly points out). So I get it for her. Fake strawberry flavoured juice in an African village. She’ll make ice lollies, she says.  Then she asks for a few coins, to put in a blue bowl that an old blind lady is rattling as she squats on the floor. Hat drops her money into the bowl and remarks how little the lady has in there.  That’s Africa for you: you’re never more than a few feet away from abject poverty and unutterable hardship.  I hope my children’s exposure to same will inspire humanity and not harden young hearts.

Over a lunch, of spaghetti, I must remind a giggling trio of children that though we are miles from anywhere in the Africa bush, we’re not having a picnic so please would they refrain from eating with their hands. Outpost living doesn’t – sadly for my kids – mean I nag any less.

When the water is turned on, which it is, if I’m lucky, every second day, for a couple of hours, it’s all hands to pumps. Or hosepipes. Or – on account of recent shopping trip – the washing machine. I dare not fill it unless I know tank levels are rising: the family would kill me if I forfeited bath water for the sake of my smalls. That the damp laundry gives me electric shocks as I unload the machine is a quick reminder – if I was seduced for a brief moment that I was anywhere but Outpost simply because water was dribbling out of taps and washing machines had been whirring – of exactly where I am, electricians being what they are here.

Evenings are for walking, drinking in a sublime sunset, laughing at the antics of ridiculous dogs as they race through the dam tormenting the herons and pelicans that – normally – reside there in peace. We greet the fishermen who are dragging their dugouts onto the bank and admire their catches.


After brief – and shallow – baths I nag the children to slather themselves in mosquito repellent (my poor kids spend their lives in a permanent oil slick: sun block at dawn, mozzi gel at dusk). Mosquitoes abound here, and malaria, for which I have the greatest respect, is prevalent. 

Have you put your mozzi dawa on?

No Mum, but I will.

Now. Do it now.Ok.

Ok. Don’t yell man.

But I do. Because I have had a child perilously ill, it’s what heightened my respect for the disease, and I don’t plan on reliving the experience anytime soon.

We eat supper. Around the dining table inside (for the mosquitoes are flying in squadrons outside, I hope the mesh on the windows, the mosquito coils I’m burning, the insecticide I’ve sprayed and my children’s oily skin will keep them at bay indoors). We watch the telly. The kids fight over the remote. At which point I might turn it off to demonstrate my disgust at their inability to compromise on the night’s viewing and we might play cards instead.

Bed then, after teeth brushing (more nagging … have you brushed? How well? I can still see supper in there), under a mosquito net tucked tightly beneath a mattress in the hope not even the most persistent mosquito can worm its way in to warm, succulent flesh.

I lie in the dark and worry about the stuff mum’s everywhere worry about. Am I a good enough mother? Ought I have yelled today? Did I address an editor’s brief properly before I submitted copy? Have I paid our medical insurance? I must check. Oh God, no flippin’ Cornflakes left for breakfast, Ben’s going to have a fit. Must put on list …

I wake several hours later to the sound of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer in the dark before dawn. And we begin all over again.

See. Not so different. Motherhood is the great adventure. Geography only manipulates what’s common to us all. 

What is Education?

July 30, 2007

I have come under fire a little for my decision to homeschool Hat. From friends, mostly: friends with kids who articulate concern over my choice because, they say, Hat will miss out ”socially”.

I appreciate what they mean. To a point. But question how genuine their concern is: are they really worried Hat’s life will be socially compromised (no children’s birthday parties where we are, no ballet lessons, no tennis coaching)? Or do they object to somebody breaking the conventional mould, somebody not sending their child to school? Or does my decision – amongst those friends with children Hat’s age at boarding school – conjure an uncomfortable guilt? It doesn’t matter. As Husband, who is irritatingly Font of all Knowledge but thankfully also Font of Wisdom, notes: people are going to criticise whatever decision parents make vis a vis choices of education for their children.

But to my own. We have moved to an Outpost 500 miles from where we used to live. And where Hat used to go to school. There are no suitable schools where we are now. When we made the decision to move, I put the question of ”school” to each of my children. The eldest two vetoed Homeschool.  Partly because – at almost 16 and 13 – frienships with their peer groups are established and important. Partly because they were concerned about their mother, who can’t add up the contents of shopping basket (not even here in Outpost), teaching them IGCSE Maths. But Hat, who was adamant she didn’t want to go to boarding school for a number of fairly sound reasons, including the fact she would only see her mother once a month and her father once a term, opted for home school.

We researched various choices of school and dismissed several on assorted grounds: too ‘Christian’ (we live in a community of myriad religions – Christian, Muslim, Hindu – it seemed appropriate that ‘school’ reflect this); too expensive; too narrow in scope, too devoid of colour.  The books arrived and Hat unpacked them with glee. We have dipped into them since. On recce. Navigating our way around the lessons in advance of the real thing: when ‘term’ begins, when her older siblings return to ‘proper’ school. We have made lists of the things we need to buy: poster paints, pencils, pads of white paper.

But Hat’s ‘school’ will not be limited to a classroom at home, it will not be rigidly designed around an academic calendar. Her father’s job means extensive travel throughout Tanzania, to remote places on the map hundreds of miles away. His work will take him to the shores of Lake Tanganyika, to the Southern Highlands, to the dry interior around the Ruaha National Park. Must Hat and I remain here in solitary splendour whilst he explores a country Hat has lived in all her life just so that we can do ‘school’?

No. I don’t believe so. Hat doesn’t either. Already she is demanding her own map of the country so that,”I can tick off all the places I’ve been to”. Must we stay home alone and dryly turn the pages of geography books when we could be living the geography, absorbing the history, collecting treasures for a nature table, taking pictures for a collage? No.

Why? Because life’s too short to lose opportunities for adventure. And I want Hat to understand that as much as I want her to understand fractions and the rudiments of grammer. More, maybe. Because she’s going to spend so much of her life incarcerated in educational institutions, what’s a year or two picking up knowledge in the bush? Because I really, really want my children to know that sometimes bending rules, sometimes not conforming, is more rewarding than being straight-jacketed into Normal. Education is imperative. I’m not convinced school is.

I know that the opportunity to have Hat at home with me this year, next, even the one after, on the pretext of teaching her is a gift. I know that. I just hope that in five or ten or twenty years time, Hat will remember it as one too.

Cause for Excitement

July 20, 2007

Yesterday two things gave rise to tremendous excitement.

Provisions for Hat’s home school arrived, all the way from America, courtesy of Expediated Mail Service. I received notification that I was to present at the Post Office, armed with ID, to collect my packages. Hat – enthused as she is about everything, including school – opted to come with me.

The Post Office is situated on a tiny, dusty road. It doesn’t look like it sees a great deal of business. Inside I walked to the EMS counter and waited for the woman sitting behind it to finish with the customer she was dealing with. She did and I approached, presented my paperwork and asked if she could help me.

She could not, she said. I was to take a seat. She gestured to the red plastic seat on which I’d been sitting waiting not two foot from her counter. I resumed waiting. We sat inches from each other, neither of us doing or saying anything. If you discount her grinning at a slightly unnerved Hat.

After a bit I suggested she call whomever it was that might be able to help. So she did. Over her shoulder to the partition next to her. A besuited man wearing a thick tie (in this heat?) approached and asked how he could help. I presented my paperwork.

You must wait for Customs to get here, he said, to clear your parcels.

But it’s just books, I protested, for her school, I said, pointing at Hat.  I’m not going to have to pay am I, I asked (books and educational supplies being tax exempt).

No, he said, but the Customs man must open your boxes.

With that he brought the three big cartons clearly marked with the homeschools details to within tantalizing view of Hat. And we proceeded to wait. Various people came and went, not many, one or two, everybody said hello and wanted to shake us by the hand. One gentleman was charmed to meet Hat, whom he called Cat, an error my little girl had the grace to overlook.

Finally, after alot of hand-shaking and sustained grinning at Hat by woman, still sitting idle, behind her counter, Customs appeared in form of short, fat man in green suit. He indicated I should follow him behind the desks and open my parcels which I did, sitting on the floor whilst he sat in a chair, with some difficulty since they were tightly taped up. He proffered a broken pair of scissors which I politely attempted to use but reverted to my teeth. As each box was opened he peered inside and dug about unearthing books on science and maths and critical thinking. He was clearly very disappointed not to discover something more incriminating. Finally he sat back in his seat, ‘You can go’, he said, waving a hand to motion we should leave with our parcels. Despite the bureaucratic performance with Customs, nodody asked for any ID. Hat and I, weighed down by boxes of books, tottered out to the car where Hat dove into her quarry with delight.  When we got home she insisted we unpack and tick off contents to ensure we had everything we needed to do school for a year; I have to admit to feeling a little overwhelmed by the two tomes called Teaching Manuals but will not let my anxiety spoil her evident joy.

Later second of the day’s highlights presented: my grass arrived. Lawn grass. Not spliff grass. Which might have improved Custom’s dayI suppose.

I am desperate to plant some semblance of a garden , to counter the permanence of dust. But I cannot get the necessary here so was obliged to prevail upon kind friends in Arusha to source and send a sack of grass. Which they duly, and sweetly, did; the grass was dispatched on a plane carrying ‘high end’ (that means they pay alot) tourists from Lake Tanganyika to the west of me back to Arusha to the east, the country being so large, they are forced to land and refuel in the Outpost. Geography might in this case be on my side.

Ben and I drove the few minutes to the airstrip and asked if we could wait runway side for a plane delivering a package.

Sawa, replied the gardener, or whoever he was, and indicated it was OK for us to proceed to the front of the tiny airport. We sat in the shade and waited, watching the big sky and listening for a plane. In due course it appeared and bumped down the dusty strip, coming to a halt in front of us. Interested tourists looked out at what must have been an odd sight: a remote African airstrip with nobody about but a white woman in a pair of shorts and her teenage son. The pilot, wearing stripes and and those faintly ridiculous and inevitable Aviator Shades, clambered out of the cockpit.

Hello, I said.


Do you have a package for me, I persisted, despite his apparent lack of interest in any kind of conversation.

Yeah. Wait. I’ll get it.

We waited and watched the refuelling begin, the tourists got out to stretch their legs and get a better look at us.

Finally the pilot swaggered up with my bag of grass.

Are you on your way back to Arusha? I asked, how long will it take? Have you come from Mahale?

Jesus, he replied, you sure ask alot of questions.

I couldn’t resist it: ‘you would too’, I said, ‘if you lived here and didn’t get the opportunity for much conversation’.

Christ he said, you live here.

I ought to have said ‘no, I just hang about on bush strips looking to talk to pilots because I have nothing in the world better to do’. But I didn’t, I just nodded, took my bag of grass, thanked him and shot home to begin planting.