Sunday, August 26, 2012

August 26, 2012 - Social Butterfly

Grace is 3 1/2 years old today.  She is a really big girl and is acting like it.  She is just starting to stay at school until 2 pm instead of going home at noon.  This was her request, not ours!  

Grace is good at chores like clearing her dishes from the table, putting away clothes, tidying up.  She is a lot less whiny - although trust me, she has her moments - than she used to be, mostly because she is still napping most afternoons (Dear God: is there any way we can swing it so that she will nap until she goes to college?). She is as curious and clever as they come, still loving books and having a blast with her own imagination.  She stays at her friends' houses alone for play dates where we are told she is always well-behaved (not always the case when her friends come to our house).  She is eating really well almost every day (yes, I did just write that!) and is obviously growing as a result. She says things that make us laugh and remind us that little people have really big opinions and insights - never underestimate a pre-schooler's ability to tell you exactly what she thinks and how she sees the world.

Grace has a good relationship with Noah.  Sometimes she gets mad at him when he breaks something that belongs to her and will tell him, "Today I am not going to play with you, buddy, because I am mad  that you did that.  But tomorrow I will play with you again." She is always concerned with where he is, how he's doing, and she usually includes him in playing with her.  It is great to see them together.  It is also great that Grace's language skills have come so far.  I think we can officially call her bilingual now, given that she easily switches between English and Danish, and has no trouble communicating in or understanding either language.  Sometimes she will translate for me, "Mama, Far said ...."  

Grace is at a really fun age and I keep hoping time will slow down just a bit so that we can really enjoy the magic of her being 3.  Now, 3 1/2! 

Here are some photos Hans took of Grace at school before he and Farmor went back to Denmark.  You can see her with her 3 good friends from school.  We are so happy that she is happy living here in Dar.

Happy Half Birthday, Grace!  We love you!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

August 22, 2012 - Real Housewives

Sometime after we moved to Dar I had an email from one of my closest friends from college, who was reflecting on how my life has changed a lot in these last five years; she wrote that I went from "Brooklyn singly lady" to "Real Housewives Nairobi" (thanks, Gina!).  And I think about her saying this ALL THE TIME because sometimes, I will admit, I do feel like my daily life could be a TV show: Real Housewives East Africa (although I have never actually seen the real Real Housewives shows in the US.  Maybe I should start getting DVDs to do market research?).  

On a weekly basis the show could highlight daily challenges of living here such as having to buy luku (electricity) or diesel for the generator, find grocery items at various different places, negotiating with and managing staff, weekly visits from fundis (repairmen) who are believed in Dar to fix one thing but slightly break another thing so you are guaranteed to have to call them again, and dealing with mosquitos, geckos, ants, etc.  It could also higlight the perks of living here, like our Happy Friday Playgroup - where the parents are mostly socializing over beer and wine while the nannies are all watching the kids - and not getting stopped at police checkpoints because of our diplomatic license plates.  I think Kenya's Nakumatt would get at least a few episodes devoted to it alone...don't you think the time I threatened to give birth in the store because they wouldn't let me use store credit for anything other than a specific brand of water bottle would make for very entertaining TV?!

If Real Housewives East Africa was a show, then today's episode would be about driving.  The little car I drive, a Rav4, needed to go into Kristoffer's office because it needs a new registration sticker for the car.  One of the reasons we bought a second car was for days like today, so that I am not stranded at home or having to walk all over the place in crazy heat with two kids.  But that means that today, little old me had to drive our big bad monster Landcruiser to take the kids to/from school and to do my daily shopping.  

Never having driven the Landcruiser before, I was pretty nervous and went for a test-drive yesterday with Kristoffer to the store and back (because I wanted to practice parking at the store).  I was mostly nervous because my depth perception, particularly on my left side (remember: steering wheel is on the right here), is not stellar and I was really afraid of mowing down some pedestrians or bikers.  The test-drive went well yesterday and as I piled the kids into the car this morning Grace told me, "I really hope you can drive this car, Mama!"  Thinking to myself: from your mouth to God's ears!

Then as I turned on the engine, the key broke off in the ignition.  Right.  The plastic part with the alarm that the key is attached has been loose and completely broke.  Kristoffer warned me to hold it very tight, but I failed.  So there was make-shift masking tape scene before we went on our way to school.

And I only went to one store, instead of my usual 2-3 stops to make one meal.  I decided that if I couldn't find it in one place today than I didn't really need it anyway.  But actually, the more I drove the more confident I became, and I didn't hit anyone, which is a good thing because I have to drive it again tomorrow.

Anyway...our life is mostly just very normal, day-to-day routines like everyone else we know at home...they are just sprinkled with "reality tv" moments now and then.  As long as this show is on air, I hope you'll keep "watching."


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

August 13, 2012 - Noah's First Day of School (also my birthday)

I did not expect turning 32 to feel special in anyway, but I had seriously underestimated the power of a pre-schooler to make a birthday very, very special (with the help of her grandparents, who are particularly good at celebrating birthdays).  In addition to being very excited for my big day, Grace was also excited for Noah's big day: his first day at her school!  At The Nordic School children can start at 18 months old (this was the same in Nairobi...I guess it is standard in East Africa?) and today was Noah's debut. He will go every morning until 11:45 am; there is another Noah who is 2 weeks younger than our Noah and they are the youngest in the school right now.  There are 4 teachers for 11 kids in his class (2 Swedes, 1 Dane, and 1 Norwegian).  I stayed with him all morning.  He was a little bit clingy to me, but he never cried, he participated in everything, and he ate very well.  All in all, it was a great day for all of us.

A birthday gift to me: Noah slept until 7:15 am!  Then he was VERY happy for his breakfast, and Grace was very excited that I could start opening presents.
Get your backpack on, buddy!
 "Don't worry, buddy, I will take care of you," Grace told him. "I won't let anybody hit you."
And it's time to go!
Noah liked the rocking horses.
 And found some babies to play with.  He can even say baby!
He tidied up the cars before snack time.
And waited in line to wash his hands.
 Then he sat down next to his friend from our summer playgroup, Helena (whose big sister is one of Grace's BFFs).
 Grace found us playing outside after snack and was showing him how she wants him (and Karla from his class) to jump on the big mattress.
 Grace also allowed Noah to play with her, Solveig and Ella in the sandbox.  They were making a lot of food for a birthdayp (I wonder whose birthday it was!?) and she told her friends, "It's OK if Noah plays with us because he goes to our school now."  But she also gave him strict instructions as to which things he was and was not allowed to touch.
 At lunch time Noah sat next to one of his teachers, Heidi, with two other kids at his table. He ate pasta with a beef stew and bread.  He was a good eater :)
 And after he cleaned up his bowl, spoon, bib and cup, he was very proud of himself.
 And he went outside to play until Grace was ready to go home.
I was so proud of him that I wasn't even too emotional about it...and we celebrated his big day and mine with pizza, cake and ice cream in the evening.  I received many lovely gifts and more hugs & kisses than any Mama could hope for.

Turning 32 might not sound like anything special, but if today is indicative of the upcoming 364 days, then I think it will be a very special year indeed!


Sunday, August 12, 2012

August 12, 2012 - Zanzibar

For our first weekend away alone without children since we've been the parents of two, I would say our two nights on the island of Zanzibar (a 2-hour ferry trip from Dar) were pretty close to  perfect.  I traveled to Zanzibar by myself because Kristoffer got stuck in a meeting - and he joined me a few hours later.  This was not all bad as I had a great meal, a great double G&T, some reading time and a little nap before he arrived.  

The first place we stayed at, Seasons Lodge, was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.  Our cottage was great.  Food was great.  Beach/pool/gardens/view/staff were all great (seriously: our only complaint?  Really lame toilet paper.).  We loved it.  We will rate it very highly on Trip Advisor and anyone looking to go to Zanzibar when they visit us here in Dar will get a strong recommendation to go there.  Very personal and private, very unique.  Beautiful. Romantic.  No kids. Just what we needed.  It looked like this (although really we didn't spend much time taking pictures, and the pictures could hardly do it justice):


For our second night we stayed at Pongwe Beach Hotel, which was also really lovely.  It was not quite as amazing as the first place, (we had actually booked here first and used the other place for our 1st night because this place had no rooms) but was still really great.  It was a little bit bigger of a "hotel" and the room was not that special.  But the food was good.  The drinks were good (and there was 1/2 price happy hour!). We had a romantic candle light dinner for two in the sand and were serenaded the most beautiful song by two Zanzibari musicians.  The beach was really great, they had a magical "infinity" pool.  Again, great staff.  We were very spoiled (even though we couldn't sleep past 6:45 am!). And while the room wasn't amazing, the hammock was pretty darn nice.

We would like to make a quarterly pilgrimage to Zanzibar a new condition of our marriage.  I'm not sure if that will actually turn into reality (can Farmor and Hans really come back that often to babysit?), but we do hope to return a few more times while we live here.

We did NOTHING touristy - no spice tours, no visiting historic Stone Town, no snorkeling or diving, no searching for the special monkeys that can only be found in the Jozani Forest, no butterfly sanctuary.  NOTHING.  I read one book.  Kristoffer napped a lot and kayaked a tiny bit.  We ate and drank a lot and well.  We talked a lot (about things other than our children!).  We swam.  We walked on the beach, collected seashells for the kids.  I actually had the opportunity to miss our kids for the first time, and we came home to two very happy little ones with very big hugs and many kisses.  They were great for Farmor and Hans and I think we are all a little bit better off after some time apart.  

Tomorrow is my birthday - I can think of so many gifts I already have in my life...what more could there possibly be?  When putting Grace to sleep tonight she told me, "I'm so happy for you, Mama.  Tomorrow is your big day!"  I mean seriously...who says that?!  But I am excited for my birthday if only because SHE is excited for my birthday (why else would I be happy to turn 32?!), and I feel relaxed and spoiled and refreshed and charmed by my husband and our Zanzibari break from reality.

Not a bad way to close out another year.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

August 9, 2012 - Back to School

Grace started another school year today.  She slept until 6:25 am (two mornings in a row...pinch me!) and woke up ready to go.  A few weeks of shy of 3 1/2 years old, this cheeky little monkey was VERY happy to pose for the camera this morning chanting "School! School! School!" A lot of teachers left over the summer so she will meet some new faces this week, but when I dropped her off she was very happy to see Inga, one of her favorites from last year, and to instantly start playing with her summer girlfriends.  She wanted Noah to stay today as well, but his debut is Monday instead.  Here's hoping Gracie-Grace has a great year of growth, development, learning and fun, and that is she is always this happy for the first day of school.


Monday, August 6, 2012

August 6, 2012 - The New DG

Remember when we asked our security company to replace our day guard (DG) because of petty theft?    Well now this...

Mrs. S (landlord) learned that the samba boy, Anthony (the guy who cleans up around the compound and does odd work for the landlords), and the New DG have been sitting in her son's car listening to music when nobody is home at either house.   Then his CD case from the car disappeared.

Suspects:  The New DG and the Shamba Boy.

Both were questioned.  Both denied it.

Security company now getting involved.

Will we be getting another New DG?  Should we call him NDG2?


Thursday, August 2, 2012

August 2, 2012 - Dar in the News

On Tuesday, a BBC news article about Dar es Salaam was published. You can read it here. I think it is a pretty accurate picture of Dar right now, even though we haven't been here that long. In particular, Kristoffer has said he can feel the underlying political tension here because of government corruption and increasing gaps between the very small wealthy population and the rest of the very poor country. We have seen how that can turn out before, as mentioned in this article as well, when we were in Kenya for the election of 2007. Anyway...if you skim through the article it will give you a better "visual" of this place. For better or worse, at least it is interesting! LMW

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

August 1, 2012 - A Big Lesson

There is a lot I have learned since becoming an expat in 2007.  Most of that education happened in Kenya because we haven't been in Tanzania that long, and I discovered yesterday that the things I've learned from Kenya are continuing.  This is what I'm talking about:

Rose and I had a conversation about our driver from Kenya, Charles.  I started the talk by asking her how he was doing; things between them were not so great when Rose moved to Tanzania with us because apparently Charles hoped that we would bring him as well and has been holding it against her that we didn't.  She said that she hasn't talked to him since April when she was in Kenya but that he was happy with his job and everything.  So that was good - it was what I wanted to hear.  

But the conversation continued and Rose told me a lot about the way Charles was when they were working together for us in Nairobi (and we are working under the assumption that she is telling me the truth).  His behavior towards her (the way he acted and talked, specifically) was quite different than the Charles we "saw".  When Rose started working for us, Charles told her: They have made me your boss.  I am watching what you do and reporting to them.  So be careful.  They are not easy to work for and they are very strict.  Watch yourself.  

So she said she was terrified of us the first month and thought that Charles was her boss.  Then she said she realized that we were kind and not difficult to work for, so she stopped believing him.  She said he did the same thing when Syprose, our cook, started working for us as well.

So that was news!  Although not entirely surprising: just because he is polite to us and is a good driver doesn't mean we know ANYTHING about who he really is.  I told Rose it is the same with her:  We really like you being in our home and with our children, we think you work hard and are nice and loyal.  But we don't know what you're doing outside of work - you could be killing people!  Or telling people bad things about us.  We just don't know.

Then she told me that Charles was actually talking a lot about us to her.  He was saying nice things about Kristoffer but was talking bad about me.  He couldn't understand why Kristoffer would discuss things with me first if he asked for money or something.  He is the man, so Charles thought he should make all decisions, and he thought that I "wasn't good".  But Rose told him:  Don't you know?  It is the Mama who makes decisions in the home.  You should always talk to Lisa because he will ask her anyway.  You have to go to the Mama, not to the man.  And he didn't like it that Rose was so "close" to me - and he was always trying to find out how much we paid her and what kind of benefits she had.  He was always complaining.


I would like to say that this news didn't slightly devastate me.  That it doesn't bother me that this man, who we employed for 3 years, who we trusted to drive us and our children, whose family we met, whose wife we helped to educate, for whom my parents bought goats, for whom we bought solar panels and a water tank and so many other things, whose family we medicated when they were sick...this man would think of us (or just me) this way.  I felt that we were generous and always fair with and to Charles.  So I would be lying if I said that I didn't feel a little bit betrayed. is the lesson I have learned:

You cannot give because you want a big thank you or recognition or appreciation or acknowledgement in any way that you did it.  You cannot give to receive that kind of gratification. You cannot give with any expectation of what the receiver of your gift will do.

You give because it is the right thing to do.  It is the Christian thing to do. Because at the end of the day I know that we helped to improve life for one African family, even if they will never remember that we did it.

So with a small crack in my heart, I still wish the best for Charles and his family.  I hope that his wife is graduating from school this month and will start her teaching career soon.  I hope that Charles continues to work for kind, generous mzungus who will help take care of his two adorable children and his old mama who has had a very hard life.  I hope this for him.  And, secretly, I hope that one day he remembers how much help he has had, and pays it forward it some way.