Friday, November 27, 2015

November 27, 2015 - Thankful!

Usually I am a little bit sad on Thanksgiving and Fourth of July.  To me, these are truly American holidays that never quite feel the way they are supposed to when we're over here sweltering in Dar's almost-December heat.  Twice we had very nice Thanksgiving celebrations in Nairobi, including one time with the best turkey I have ever eaten my life.  But basically, because I am not a good cook and Kristoffer always has to work, the kids have school, and it is just another day in the life. I would never attempt Thanksgiving at home by myself.  So it just always depends on if we get invited to someone else's Thanksgiving!  That sounds really "free-loader"ish of me - but I'm being honest!  I am always happy to contribute, but is my vegetarian husband really going to eat a Turkey dinner with me at home?  No.   So before yesterday we had never celebrated Thanksgiving in Dar.

Last year Aya and I were happily home in America with my family - THAT was awesome.  But this year we also struck the jackpot and were invited to a massive Thanksgiving feast put on by friends who not only LOVE TO COOK THANKSGIVING DINNER, but, as it turns out, are also pretty damn good at it.  And even though the 5 Welsiens were not related to any of the other 35 people who were there (including many who weren't American!), it really felt like Thanksgiving.  There was just something about it!  There was an insane amount of delicious food - everyone contributed what they needed the meal to include for them to feel like home.  Our friend John smoked an amazing turkey (If you haven't tried that before, holy turkey it will knock your socks off!  Our kids ate a ton of turkey, which is saying something!) and all traditional side dishes along with some totally new-to-me side dishes were represented.  It was fun talking to non-Americans about our American holiday.  

Grace celebrated one Thanksgiving in Nairobi, but I think it was Noah's first Thanksgiving!  Noah and Grace were the "big kids" at the party and were very, very well-behaved.  Aya loved the black lab who lives at that house.  I had made coloring books for all the kids which kept them occupied for awhile, but there were plenty of nannies around to keep track of all the small people (including our own beloved Oliver).  And maybe towards the end we put on a Looney Tunes Thanksgiving.  Noah liked it so much at our friend's house that he already asked if we can go there for Christmas!  Hilarious!    There were I don't even know how many pumpkin pies - and the best dessert was the pumpkin WHOOPIE pies!  To die for!  These friends of ours, also Catholic, said a traditional Catholic grace and encouraged us to write what we were thankful for on the paper table clothes.  Everything about it made for a wonderful evening.  I was so thankful for being there at that moment in this place with those people.  

I did not take a single picture!  But imagine 40 hot, sweaty people wearing sun dresses or shorts (Kristoffer looked very dapper in a shirt and tie!) melting on the roof top deck of our friends house - stuffing our faces with amazing American Thanksgiving food and feeling so grateful to be together for one of America's greatest holidays. And not a single one of us felt any pressure to go shopping today :)  Our kids stayed up 90 minutes later than normal so were understandably tired this morning, but it was sooooo worth it.  And Aya ate so much turkey that she slept for 10.5 hours last night.  Thank you tryptophan (if that was, indeed, your doing) - I am thankful for you!

Hope everyone else at home had a wonderful Thanksgiving! It was really nice not to feel at all sad this year!

Monday, November 16, 2015

November 16, 2015 - This Too Shall Pass

I find it hard to blog when life feels a bit depressing.  We haven't been getting much sleep lately.  Aya got 5 new teeth in one week and that is causing her to be awake for HOURS in the middle of every night.  At least we think that is the cause (Good Lord, please don't tell me there is something else going on...because I have TRIED to figure it out and I am otherwise stumped!).  I guess I'll let you know if/when she starts sleeping better.  No, not if...of course she will start sleeping better. Someday.  And the "better sleeping" she did give us was so short-lived that it's not like we were ever totally used to a good night's sleep.  But we were sufficiently teased, that's for sure.

Anyway, on top of being very, very, very tired from not sleeping much at night, I've been working a lot lately and, like all other parents, juggling the different needs (social, emotional, academic, etc) of three kids at different stages in their lives.  Sometimes it is hard to feel that I am/we are doing anything well when it comes to our kids!  

Noah needs more focus at home on his articulation issues.  Grace needs more help focusing on reading.  And math concepts.  Is Aya bored?  We must be letting them play too much iPad. Shouldn't they be biking more/better by now?  Why doesn't he want to learn to swim?  How damaged will she be if I let her watch more Elmo songs on youtube?  Why is she "talking back" so much?  Where are these temper tantrums coming from?  

It never ends! And I know, I know.  This is what we signed up!  And I love them!  And love "it" (much of the time).  But man.  No sleep at home, and the world around us seems to be falling apart.  I almost dread checking the news when I wake up in the morning to find what new atrocity has happened when I was supposed to be sleeping.  Who is killing whom?  Who does the media want me to hate today?  

ACK!  See what I mean? It's hard to blog when life has me down in the dumps. 

Maybe next week?  I'm sure that, as they say, this too shall pass.

Monday, November 9, 2015

November 9, 2015 - Election 2015 Results

While we were away in South Africa, Tanzania held elections for their 5th government/President.  By most accounts, voting day was peaceful and went well.  There were a few small security incidents, but nothing "significant".  And there was a bit of delay with the results, which made it very tense (from what we heard and read about online).  The bigger problem was on Zanzibar, as opposed to on mainland Tanzania.  The Zanzibar Election Commission annulled the election for Zanzibar's president (separate from the country's president) due to gross irregularities (like vote rigging, fighting between election officials, etc.).  But of course most people believe the real reason they annulled the election is because it appeared that the political opposition was going to win.  So now Zanzibar is in a bit of upheaval, with the international community "gravely alarmed" (US Secretary of State Kerry) after all international election observers declared that the election was "free and fair."  It's a mess, and there have been a few small bombs in Stone Town related to that.

But here on the mainland, the ruling party's candidate was declared the winner, even though there are some allegations from the citizens (not from the election observers) that the election was NOT "free and fair" and that there was vote rigging to prevent the opposition candidate from winning.  African politics are anything but boring.  If it is true that the votes were rigged, than that is a travesty for democracy, of course.  But we didn't see any of the violence that could have erupted and people seem pretty calm about it now, even if they feel their election was stolen.  Some people are saying, "that's how it always is" and so they didn't expect any different.  I think the real caveat here is that even though the ruling party won - and really it would have been great to get a different party in power - it does appear, although of course it is too early to tell really, that the right candidate won!  

President Magufuli (as of last Thursday when he was inaugurated) is already shaking things up!  For example, on Saturday he snuck in (on foot! Without telling anyone!) to the Ministry of Finance to take attendance of all the people who should be at work! And he found quite a lot of them missing!  And the next day he announced that all international travel for senior government officials was banned!  The cost of such travel is a lot of money, and his pledge has been to solve problems for regular Tanzanians at home.  He wants government ministers to be visiting the rural parts of Tanzania that are underdeveloped and under-served. He certainly needs all the money he can get to do that.  Good for him!

Off to a great start we think!  Although our staff reports that this is just a scam for the first few months (calculated by the political party) to make everyone think there will really be change.  But we hope our staff is wrong and that the new President will continue to be this strong (and ethical) in the future. We also hope there is a resolution to Zanzibar’s stalemate soon.  The people of Tanzania are desperate for and deserving of strong leaders who actually govern on their behalf.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

November 7, 2015 - The Great Cape (Town) Escape Conclusion

So that was it, folks. Our big adventure in South Africa!  Cape Town itself is/was so beautiful and exciting - there is so much to do, we really just scratched the surface.  But traveling with 3 little kids is hard work!  And I think we managed to do the most we possibly could.  Everyday there were small challenges, but everyday there was also so much fun!  We were exhausted at the end of it, but I would do it over again in a heart beat.

Even though on our first day we lost Grace in a very, very, very big mall (I had blocked out that memory and forgot to write was a terrible 15 minutes, but she is fine (learned a big lesson!) and we are almost recovered)...

Even though I forgot my bathing suit...

Even though at Old MacDaddy's Noah decided he could be in a pool without his swim belt when HE CAN'T SWIM, and Kristoffer had to jump in to save him...

Even though...well, you get the will never be perfect!  But it was wonderful* and I'm proud of us for taking on a big adventure.  It felt great to be some place new - that hasn't happened in a long time.  

So now you might be wondering about whatever happened in that Tanzanian election we were escaping...I'll save that for tomorrow's blog!


*We owe a very big thanks to our friends Chris & Gill for their amazing "Great Cape Town Adventure" list - without it, we would have been bumbling around wasting our time.  And thank you to my friend Ashley for letting us borrow her Ergo carrier. It was super helpful - especially because our big kids are not used to walking (in Dar, because of security, they are driven EVERYWHERE) and could take turns in the stroller when Aya was on my back.  Didn't see that coming...sheesh!* 


Friday, November 6, 2015

November 6, 2015 - The Great Cape (Town) Escape Part 5

Days 8 and 9!

When we said goodbye to Old MacDaddy's, we headed a bit closer back towards Cape Town so that our commute to the airport at 4:00 am on Saturday wouldn't be quite as brutal (but I mean, come on...who were we kidding?!).  While I knew that spending days doing wine tastings throughout the well-known Western Cape wine region was not going to happen with our three kids in tow, I did want at least ONE wine tasting experience.  I have loved many wine tastings in the past.  But we needed something family friendly!  So we visited the Spier Wine Farm for our last two nights of vacation. I could tell from reading a lot online that they had a great formula for us:  large family rooms, pool(s), kids club play room with babysitter, outdoor playground and picnic area, big bouncy castle, and a rescue place for "birds of prey" like owls and eagles who have been "human imprinted" or rescued from illegal trafficking.  In addition, you could go for a wine tasting and they would give the kids a grape juice tasting at the same time.  BRILLIANT!  So that is how I wanted to end our trip. 

Reality was pretty closely matched with the vision I found on the Internet.  First we got settled into our spacious room and headed to one of the restaurants which had a shop for buying picnic food.  You could even rent a picnic blanket!  So we did just that and settled on the beautiful lawn by the pond and the playground for a picnic.  Aya slept through it but Grace and Noah got their first taste of a proper garden picnic.  They didn't love it as much as I wanted them to, but they also were just pretty eager to get to the owls! 
And then came the birds.  The kids really liked seeing all of the birds and figuring out what was wrong with them (some birds were being trained to be released and survive back in the wild; some were too disabled to ever leave the sanctuary).  They also liked finding tortoises, goats, pigs, rabbits, and emu at this place too.  Real animal lovers we have!  And we found out that Noah gets really sad when he sees animals in cages. He wants them to be free!

The coolest part was definitely petting some owls.  We also saw one of the professionals there feed some handicapped Secretary Birds (fascinating but they were too fast so I didn't get still pictures).  And we saw her also "training" or "flying" some of the birds.

Aya could say: "anana owl" or "anana bird".
Everywhere we went in Cape Town: playgrounds!  Totally crazy ones too!

The bird show was great because the kids got to hold or feed some birds.  
This first owl was particularly friendly and active.

I thought she was going to lead him to my hand, but the trainer put some food on my head and this guy sat on me for a few minutes.  Much to my surprise - he had pretty sharp talons!

Grace was super brave - she had to stand with food on her hand, and then the bird (sheesh, sorry, I already can't remember which kind of bird it was) would fly to her, scoop up the food quickly, and then fly off.  But this guy liked Grace so much that instead of flying off, he just kind of stayed on her arm a bit longer.  She LOVED it :)
That night we booked a hotel babysitter to come stay with the kids so we could get dressed up to go out to dinner at the hotel.  I wanted a nice picture of us dressed up...but this is what we got from our two kid photographers.
Photo credit: Grace

Photo credit: Noah

The next day, our last day, I was determined to get my wine tasting in.  But first, something for the kids.  About 20 minutes from the hotel was a place called "Monkeytown" with over 230 monkeys and some other animals (birds, ducks, black swans, emu, etc) as well.  The premise is that the people are walking through a maze that is a big cage, and the monkeys are outside (really just in a bigger cage) in wide open spaces. So we woke up to a big amazing hotel breakfast buffet (heaven!) and then went to see the monkeys.  

It was an interesting place - a bit run down, nothing fancy.  But there were tons of monkeys in there!  And most of us enjoyed walking through and seeing all of them (note that Noah still wanted all the monkeys to be freed) - the 3 chimpanzee sisters were especially interesting!  But the best part was definitely when we could go into a "human interaction zone" where there were a few tame, people-loving monkeys that we could feed and have climb all over us.  Aya would have loved it but she was napping in the stroller, so the four of us had 20 minutes together to play with these soft, cute little guys.  Those 20 minutes were worth the whole trip!
(love how you can see that the monkey jumped from Noah on to Grace!)

Kristoffer particularly liked this guy...

After the monkeys, we went back for more picnic lunch food but this time in the little garden behind our own hotel room - where the kids could play and I was blowing bubbles with Aya and Kristoffer took a wee nap.  Then the big kids were ready to try out the Kids Club!  Amen to that!  Because there were no other kids there at the time, the babysitter was happy to have Aya with her as well - promising to call us if we should come back to get her.  Aya was thrilled to say, "Bye bye Mama, Bye bye Far." Woo hoo!  Because then we could go off to do our wine tasting at hotel without kids - no grape juice needed!  

And what a wine tasting it was!  We chose to do the "chocolate tasting" which included three chocolates paired with two wines each.  The chocolatiers created each chocolate specifically to go with the wines - and each wine brought out something different in the chocolate.  It was Kristoffer's first wine tasting - and we loved every second of it!  

Once I got my wine tasting in - magical as it was! - I felt we were ready to pack up and go home. Vacation is fun, but also exhausting!  But first, Kristoffer and the kids had afternoon swim in a freezing cold pool!

The big kids were invited for dinner and a movie at the Kids Club, so they got all cleaned up and we dropped them off, taking Aya with us to our early dinner.  The 4 am departure for the airport would come very soon.  So the last picture of our vacation is: rub-a-dub, three men in a tub!

Oh my, the trip home went mostly well but...was also stressful! Our first flight to Johannesburg was late which meant that we could miss our connecting flight to Dar.  There were many people in the same situation - and we ALLLLLLL had to run for it to catch that plane.  Jo'burg is not the easiest or most intuitive airport to navigate, plus we had to go through passport control and security again.  Big kids slept on the first flight, but not Aya.  She fell asleep when I was carrying her as we ran through the airport and slept for most of the second flight.  We all made it to Dar, just not our luggage, which arrived later in the evening (all of it, at least!).  

I have one more Cape Town blog coming tomorrow - a final wrap up and reflection!  It's nice to be blogging again, so I'll try to keep at it a bit longer.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

November 5, 2015 - The Great Cape (Town) Escape Part 4

Days 6 and 7!

We packed up and got out of our apartment.  We planned to stop for breakfast at this cafe, known for good breakfast food and a great playground, at the foot of Table Mountain on our way to our next accommodations.  Despite some picky eaters on our end, both the food and the playground delivered as promised.

(someone parasailing from the top of Table Mountain)

Then we moved on to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, also at the foot of Table Mountain, and home a very cool bridge that winds through the tree tops.  It's called the "boomslang", after the type of snake that comes down from the trees (ironically, that is the kind of very poisonous snake that we have had 8 of in our garden back home in Dar).  It was the hottest day of our trip so that made it more of a challenge for the kids (not so much shade on the main paths of the garden), but it was an incredibly beautiful place to visit and the kids liked doing their own photography again.

We moved on for two nights to the very cool Old MacDaddy's. Located on a working apple farm, the owners of this place bought old Airstream trailers from America and converted them to hotel rooms, each decorated by an interior designer with a particular theme.  Some were straight trailers, ours was a trailer with built on living room (which was also a bedroom for our family) and bathroom.  This was located in the beautiful Elgin Valley, just about an hour away from Cape Town proper.  It was an incredibly child-friendly retreat.  First of all, our kids LOVED the airstream trailer!  We imagined that to be our bedroom with the kids on the sofas in the living room, but they sort of thought the trailer was a playground for them and begged us to let them live in there.  So we did!  They got the cool trailer and we slept on sofas, with Aya in a pack n play in the bathroom!  HA!  Besides our cool room, there was a small pond with beach, a pool, a kids playroom with a babysitter, and two small playgrounds.  To top it all off, there was a 5 year old little girl there with her parents and Grace, Noah and her had a great time together! 

Our trailer was called "Digit" and had a numbers theme to it. 
Grace particularly loved doing the hopscotch.  

We were only going to be there for 2 nights, but within 15 minutes of arriving, Grace and Noah had unpacked all of their possessions in appropriate places throughout the trailer.  They have NO PROBLEM making themselves comfortable wherever they go in the world!
There was a central "barn" with restaurant, bar, pool, playroom, etc.  Ours was the closest trailer to this area which was great.
Playing a game with the babysitter and their new friend!
Clouds rolling in from Cape Town (literally rolling!) were amazing to watch.  And we loved how it cooled off our hottest days.  The nights were chilly - perfect sleeping weather (if only someone had told Aya that!)!

You can see how the living room was built off of the trailer.  We should have taken a picture from the outside! Doh!
A winery just next to the farm.  So beautiful...

We would highly recommend this place for families visiting the Cape Town area.  I realize there is no shortage of beautiful places to visit and it seems like all of the Cape Town area has Africa's traditional love for children, but this was definitely a cool, different place to go and our kids did not want to leave!