Thursday, May 31, 2012


It was better than my experiences of medicals in Kuwait; where you are shuffled around from one unmarked door to the next, not knowing what was going on, like cattle on a ranch. But still...after waiting for over 30 minutes, to go from one doctor to the next, having blood tests then waiting for another half an hour for an x-ray...there were many other places I would rather have been.

I forgot to take a book and my phone is only the source of so much entertainment.  (I don't even have Solitaire on it!)

I was taken from one waiting area, which was under construction (I thought it was too rude to take a photo-but it was quite comical really) to another, a shinier one, where the four staff were huddled round the television. 30 more minutes, I was told. Nobody else seemed in a hurry, happy to watch the Afro-Sinema. I though, couldn't quite face the Nigerian soap, the over acting, the drama, with dialogue going in and out of is nearly, not quite, but nearly as bad as The Bold and the Beautiful.

I was tempted by the 2008 copies of The Japan Journal (!) in the waiting room...but my name, 'Mzungu' (oh yes-that name-used for white foreigners) was called just in time.

I know I shouldn't complain...a Sykes monkey was in my garden today, getting a snack from the avocado tree...I know I shouldn't complain...but I just did!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

International Teaching-Choosing the Right School

Beware-the longest post in my blogging history...

 I rarely write about the 'w' thing.

Yet, I spend so much of my time there.

The world of International Teachers is a funny one.

It was only at a hockey tournament recently that I realised how 'we', the teachers, were at the peripheral of the Kenyan community. As I spent my Saturday rolling on balls and timing matches, I really felt, more than anywhere I had ever taught, that here I am the hired 'help'.

Many of the prep schools in Kenya pride themselves on the fact that they are not International schools, but, British prep schools that just happen to be in Kenya (hmmm). But this is not about schools here in is just a little check-list I use. In the Middle East, we talked of 'Mickey Mouse' schools. Schools that, from a distance, seemed like they ticked all the boxes (generally new ones, with amazing resources), but just were paying for their accreditations. Maybe this might help to source the right school for you...

A Mini Guide to International Teaching
Part 1- Choosing the Right School
(PS- I have no idea WHAT part 2 would be about...if there is one!?)

  • Do not choose the country over the school. Remember that you will be spending A LOT of time at work. You could be working on an idyllic island, but if you don't have time to enjoy the country then you will be very unhappy. You have to choose the school because it is where you want to work, a place that you will be able to grow and develop professionally and that can offer things  that other schools cannot.At the moment, my new phrase is, 'I love Kenya. I just don't have time to enjoy it'.(If you do choose the country over the school, NEVER complain about work, as that is not why you moved there.) Saying all that...take that advice with a pinch of salt, as I definitely chose to live in Uganda, rather than the school and I do not regret it for a second. I think you CAN choose the country if you are near the beginning or end of your teaching career...but only then.
  • Do your research on the school. This seems pretty obvious, but believe me it is the most important factor. I have never gone to a job fair, but I know that these schools are, of course, going to 'sell' their school to you. You need to do your own research into the country and school. It is best if you visit the school before you sign your contract. I have always managed to visit the school and it does help. Although you still won't know exactly what it is like to work there, you will get a feel for the dynamics of staff in the staffroom and you will get to meet pupils etc. Also, work out your 'take home' salary. On paper the salary might sound good and of course the school will say it is 'competitive' or 'good' , but is it really? Factor in costs like accommodation, petrol, household staff (yes-a perk of living as an ex-pat), security and food shopping. If you don't get to meet teachers at the school (before signing) ask about your colleagues. Are they single? Couples? Families? If there are many teachers married to non-teachers, it probably means that the salary is not very good, that it is hard to live off only a teaching salary. Once you have been on the international circuit for a while, research is mostly done by talking to friends/other teachers who have worked to tell you about their experiences. I have been teaching abroad for going on 8 years (ah! where has the time gone!?) and you quickly find out what a small world the teaching world is. There is always someone that knows someone in this school or worked in that. (That is why it is also so important to always do your best, work professionally and leave a school on good terms!) This all sounds so obvious, but really, when some young teachers rock-up to start their job, I wonder if they know where the country (that they have just relocated to) is located on a map. Worrying!!
  • Interview the school. Remember it is very important that YOU choose the right school. Every school wants you to say that you will work for them for a minimum of 3 years (just say it!!), but there is no way you can do that if you are not happy. Find out if you think you will be. What can the school offer you? I have had to teach lessons as part of the interview process in the past. This is understandable and if you are a good teacher, will enjoy being able to 'show off' and use all your teaching tools. But what about the leaders and management of the school. Ask them questions. Do they have the same philosophies on education as you? Are they up-to-date with new initiatives and encourage their teachers to stay uptodate?Look for little things like a subscription to TES  in the staffroom.What do they have in place for Professional Development?
  • Value yourself. Be confident but honest. A good school will respect the fact that you are driven professionally and if they employ you it is expected that they will help facilitate this. Does the school have positions of responsibilities that become available often?  If you want to grow and develop as a professional, you need to seek a school which has plenty of opportunities for you to do so and that values a teacher that has the drive to better themselves.
  • Induction. If you are taking part in the Induction (for new teachers at the beginning of a new school year), it means you have accepted a contract with the school. But before that, you will know if the school is experienced with having international teachers and is prepared to support them with the move to a (possibly) new country. Do they have a forum for new teachers (a Facebook page for example)? Do you have school documents (medium term plans, schemes of work..)before you arrive at your new school? These will help give you a clue how well set up the school is for new staff. At one school I worked at, we were bused about for the first week, taken to the supermarkets, to restaurants etc...there was no time to feel lost or lonely. Another, my accommodation was not ready for my first week, I was left to get a taxi to work by myself...which I had to pay for and I bought my own map (as in, we were left to it). 
  • Notice the small things. (Do this when you visit the school-if you can.) What is the attire of the staff like? If there is a smart dress code, then the school and its management team have high expectations on their staff and probably treat them like professionals. If it is casual, it may mean that leadership /management don't have much authority and professionalism is not valued.
  • Study your contract and the package carefully. Money is not everything, but remember that it is one way that you feel valued as a professional. Everyone has tough weeks, but they will be easier if you are paid well. (See above-about doing your own research). Check out which area you may live in, (note, if it is by a UN, it probably means accommodation prices will be sky high...just saying!!)
  • Think about what you want in the long term. If you are just in the international teaching circuit for the experience, then a year here or there does not matter. These teachers are called 'backpack teeachers'. But if you are in the for long haul, it does matter if you move from school to school frequently. Schools don't want to continually invest time and resources into recruitment. Choose a school where you can see yourself being for at least 3 years.
  • Follow your gut. Sometimes, no matter how many lists you make about the pros and cons of schools, you just have to follow your gut feeling and hope that you have a great experience working at that school. (I once, on a visit to a school, that I then worked in, met a woman, whom I knew I wouldn't gel with or work well with. I thought it wouldn't matter. It did. My first instinct was right.)   

And if it doesn't work out, know there are plenty of other schools and opportunities waiting for you. Life is too short to be unhappy at work.

 Is there anything else I should add on to this mini-guide?

PS- If you are still reading- thank you! I am not surprised if you skipped bits and bobs...I obviously just felt the need for sharing!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

There's somthing I need to tell you...

I'm leaving Africa.

For lots of reasons. (I've hinted at things previously, I just wasn't ready to write about it.) I feel positive that going is the right move for me at the moment, but I will still find it hard to leave.

I am in denial about it really. There are a few people  that I haven't told yet. Some I thought I had, but my mind was full of other things and I have just forgotten. Some, I just can't, yet. One person I found really hard to tell was my yoga teacher. (If I say it out loud, then it is really happening, isn't it?)

My yoga teacher, Oriane, is a teacher in every sense of the word. She challenges me in such a caring way and is passionate about sharing her knowledge with others (she also is good at making me feel bad if I don't do my homework...!) As I run, every yoga session leaves me breathless, telling my knees to just 'relax'. But these sessions have been one of my favourite things about living in Nairobi and I will truely miss them. Not just becuase of the yoga, but because of the friends I have met through the classes. If you are looking for a teacher in Nairobi, she it the best! (Her website).

Oriane-taken at our last weekend retreat

I have been so blessed to meet such amazing people during my adventures here in Africa.

Friday, May 25, 2012

What I've been reading lately

Book description (from Amazon)-
Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? An original, haunting and deeply chilling debut thriller, and a Sunday Times bestseller in hardcover.

My thoughts-
I began this on Friday night and could not sleep...(told you, scaredy cat!) but I had finished it by Saturday afternoon.It was recommended to me and I am glad, as I probably would not have normally bought it...since the word 'thriller' is used on the cover!

 The central character in the book is Christine, who starts every day a fresh, free of memories. (I have seen a film similar to that in the past-where the character tattoos memos to his body...can't remember what it is called.) Christine begins to take control of her life and her memories by keeping a journal, a suggestion made by Dr Nash, and the novel is written in the form of these journal entries. Pretty early on you know something is not right and the truth is being hidden from Christine. Even though I think the plot was pretty obvious, ( I guessed what had happened to Christine quite near the beginning...but  I won't spoil it for others) I still enjoyed the novel.(I am tempted to put a 'really' in front of enjoyed!).

This was S J Watson's debut novel, who, after working in the NHS for years, went on a "Writing a Novel" course. The book is now being made into a film, which I will definitely seek out and watch.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Everything with Butter

This past weekend has been fantastic; running, yoga, coffee and croissants, sangria, reading in the sunshine, drawings from a gorgeous 5 year old for my fridge (thank you Gabe!), shisha, Coronas, Italian gellato...and butter!

There has been a drought-induced dairy shortage recently here and farmers in Kenya have only been able to produce 30% of the country's needs. Along with the rains butter is once again on the shelves of the supermarkets...although at a higher price. So with the return of butter, I thought I would bake. It has been a while...(which is a good thing..!) so I thought I would try something new.

I have never mastered brownies. Never. Even when I used to make them from a box in Kuwait, they were never very good; there is a fine line between cake dough, gooey uncooked mess and brownie.

Inspired by Anna I added bullet red chillies to this classic brownie recipe. (I didn't add any nuts-I thought the brownies would have enough flavour with the chillies).

I loved the bite of the chillies (I only used two large ones and that was enough-but would maybe choose milder chillies and have more of them next time, for colour)...but I have still not mastered baking brownies.

I will just have to try again...!

Friday, May 18, 2012

What I've been reading lately

Synopsis (from Amazon)-
Just before 3am on January 24th, 1941, when Britain was preoccupied with surviving the Blitz, the body of Josslyn Hay, Earl of Erroll, was discovered lying on the floor of his Buick, at a road intersection some miles outside Nairobi, with a bullet in his head. A leading figure in Kenya's colonial community, he had recently been appointed Military Secretary, but he was primarily a seducer of other men's wives. Sir Henry Delves Broughton, whose wife was Erroll's current conquest, had an obvious motive for the murder, but no one was ever convicted and the question of who killed him became a classic mystery, a scandel and cause celebre. Among those who became fascinated with the Erroll case was Cyril Connolly. He joined up with James Fox for a major investigation of the case in 1969 for the SUNDAY TIMES magazine. After his death James Fox inherited the obsession and a commitment to continue in pursuit of the story both in England and Kenya in the late 1970s. One day, on a veranda overlooking the Indian Ocean, Fox came across a piece of evidence that seemed to bring all the fragments and pieces together and convinced him that he saw a complete picture.

My thoughts-
 This is basically a book about a case that shows that (some) white colonials thought they were above the law. That possibly the heat and (gin) and quinine had gone to their heads. So...has much changed in the last 60 years?? (Fox kept mentioning  that this trial was really the start of the end of the well-known Happy Valley in Kenya. Really???  Since I moved to Nairobi I've been to plenty of parties where we threw keys into a bowl! Only joking!!)  I have never seen the film or previously read the book, but I am pretty sure I might be the only European in Nairobi not to have, until now. (Duh, duh, duhhhhh!)

As Fox retells the story of Broughton's trial, I actually began to grow quite tiresome of the case. I felt quite frustrated and angered at the 'characters' and was not sure if I would continue to read the book. Then there was a shift in style. Fox began to continue Connolly's search for key players in the case, such as Hugh Dickinson, the pace seemed to speed up and become a thrilling detective novel. I couldn't put down the book...and one night I had to sleep with my duvet over my head ( a scaedy cat!!). My own theory of 'who killed Erroll' changed by the chapter, but generally swung back and forth between Broughton and Diana, (then Caldwell, later Delamere...well, the Delamere family are known for being fine shooters...right!!??) until the end, when Fox reveals some important evidence.

I think the book is particularly interesting to those that know Nairobi and know Karen (the, still, predominantly, white-Kenyan suburb of Nairobi were Karen Blixon had her farm) and the characters that live there and strive to fit in to that community. (How can I even start to explain that...without offending anyone...lets just say, it is a whole world of its own. A great quote from the book was from a letter written by Francis Wyndham to Cyril Connolly and he talks of the main players in Happy Valley and the trial; 
"I find it hard to believe these people were (and are) real - they seem more than real, like characters in fiction...")

I was staying in Karen on the weekend and at the junction of the Ngong Road I kept thinking, 'Was it here? Was this where Erroll was shot?' I wouldn't say it is a topic of conversation around the table anymore, but there is a bit of a fascination to it, the fact that I live round the corner from the popular Lord Erroll bar shows the name is still used! (Anyhow going off subject...)

The book itself is filled with fantastic quotes, one of my favourite being said by Broughton in jail during his trial when he was visited by a friend;
"He looked happier than I had ever seen him before. He even told me, "Wilkie, I'm much happier here than I ever was in Karen." Haaaaaaa! Love it! I could go on...but that is boring...just read the book yourself!

Basically, this was the best read I have had for a while and would recommend it to anyone interested in colonial Africa or just anyone who likes a good detective story. I now am going to try and hunt down the film. Is the film any good?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

More about my 'Feel Good' weekend

I'm still thinking back to my amazing weekend 'away' here in Nairobi, with the Ngong hills just poking out in the distance.

I love getting in my car and driving for 45 minutes and feeling like I have escaped!

The weekend was full of good food and laughing out loud with new and even newer friends.(Agathe did a great job of capturing the weekend on photos...only a couple of shots are mine.)

Oh yeah, we did some yoga too! When we weren't around  table, I spent my time trying to find the little damn holes in my pelvis (!) and trying to get on my head without someone standing behind me (I am such a scaredy cat!).By the second day I found it tricky enough to just stand.


 (That would be me in the black trying to get must have been when I was having a rest from watching everyone!!)

I left (as always!) determined to keep up  start my home practice or at least wash my yoga mat between lessons!

(PS- my friend and I received a voucher for a free night at the lovely Ngong House, where the yoga retreat was held, so I will tell you more about it after my next time!)

Monday, May 14, 2012

My weekend

I am sore all over from my weekend of yoga. The bath in a canoe, in a tree house, helped though! So did the 2 hour nap (can that still count as a nap!?) on Sunday evening!

Friday, May 11, 2012

What I've been reading lately

Book description (from Amazon)-

Lacey Yeager is young, captivating, and ambitious enough to take the NYC art world by storm. Groomed at Sotheby's and hungry to keep climbing the social and career ladders put before her, Lacey charms men and women, old and young, rich and even richer with her magnetic charisma and liveliness. Her ascension to the highest tiers of the city parallel the soaring heights--and, at times, the dark lows--of the art world and the country from the late 1990s through today.

 My thought -
I am not a Steve Martin fan, but loved Shopgirl and he wrote the screenplay for that and thought this sounded similar in style. I think I started this book with too high an expectation. I opened it with the thought, "You are going to wow me!"

The beginning was interesting enough, but the plot seemed too weak and was just woven in and out of an Art History text book. (It is very art heavy, too heavy for me, although I did at times google images of paintings or artists, which was interesting.) The chapters are very short and this means the plot is often disjointed. However, near the ending, when I feel Steve Martin spends more time on revealing his characters to his readers, I started to enjoy the novel more.I thought Lacey was a believable character, doing anything she could to make it in the money driven world that she lives in. The plot seemed to flow with more ease as the book neared the ending, although when it ended, I still wasn't sure what had happened. 

I did enjoy this book. It was interesting and the context of the story was a little different, however I wouldn't rush to recommend it.SHAME!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ndali Lodge- a younger, twinklier crowd

Flicking through May's issue of Tatler (oh la la....which was in the staff room by the way...) I came across the 'Where to escape the crowds' travel article.

All of the places mentioned were ridiculously expensive heavenly, but none more than my favourite place in Uganda; Ndali Lodge

OK, so I wasn't in the magazine...but I still showed it to everyone, saying; Look, I've been there.(I didn't pay those rates though..!)

I've been lucky to go a number of times actually, with different friends and visitors; Tania, my Mum and Dad on our Christmas safari, for one of Heather's last weekends (we nearly didn't make it...), with Jane, Sven, Ange and Scott on my first safari in Uganda and most recently with Niamh, when I went back to Uganda at Easter.

It is such a special place that I had to tell you MORE about it (because I haven't mentioned it enough on my blog!).These are some photo from my last visit.

Deserves its place in the magazine...don't you think? My favourite line from the article was something like, '...similar to the Muthaiga Club in Nairobi, but with a younger, twinklier crowd.' Ha! I like it!

Monday, May 7, 2012


As I said in a recent post, I went back to Kibera last weekend. It is different every time, it changes with the seasons and is growing daily. This particular Saturday morning seemed particularly active. I think with the rains it just takes more effort to move around and it takes longer doing anything-perhaps this is why it seemed busier. There were more children in the classroom at the Kibera Mpira Mtaani project too. Maybe with the rains people are less likely to want to stay inside there homes.

My friend and I were well prepared for the visit; we wore out gum boots (wellies) as there is no escaping the mud and water and whatever else. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to live there with the weather we have been having at the moment.

Work is harder during the rains. There are only certain parts of Kibera that cars can get to, from the rest of the maze is only accessible to foot. So all the materials for building work (like the new classroom for the project) has to be carried in or pushed on carts (tough in the mud), therefore labour is more expensive during rainy season.

On the other hand, the smells are not as pungent as when I last visited. (This was a relief as we were working, teaching the ladies to make cards, in the room above the latrines). The only smell was of the fish being sold.

I want to show you more of Kibera. The largest slum in Africa. But I can't. I don't have any more photos. I find it hard to get my camera out and take photos in such close proximity to people outside their homes, or working, busily placing the oval tomatoes back into position on their pyramid. I think it's invading their privacy and space. I know I could ask and some might say yes and even enjoy it and quickly pose for a stranger.

I wish I could show you images of the men gathered round, getting involved in the argument that promised to turn into a fight; as matutus stopped more men continued to gather round the crowd, wanting to know what was going on and join in the 'fun', but a man was taken away and the fight dispersed before it began, all done with good humour and spirit.

I wish I could show you the group of children gathered round a TV watching The Last of the Summer Wine standing in the mud and dirt that surrounds them.

Another time, perhaps. I will try to take more photos on my next visit.

Friday, May 4, 2012

What I've been reading lately

About the book (from here):

The day her gifted twins leave home for university, Eva climbs into bed and stays there. For seventeen years she's wanted to yell at the world, 'Stop! I want to get off'. Finally, this is her chance. Perhaps she will be able to think.

My thoughts:

A year in bed! Doesn't that sound great! Well, this turned out to be a looooong year!

I remember loving the Adrian Mole books and have been thinking that they are due a re-read. Then I came across this in a bookshop in Nairobi.

The book started well; quickly introducing comical characters and I thought I was in for a real treat.But as the weeks turned into months and Eva became more demanding and loopy, she becomes so unlikeable that you don't even want to read about her being in bed. Brian, her awfully boring husband  and her twin children, kept me amused with their story lines longer than Eva, who was busy concocting plans of how to dispose of her waste without leaving her bedroom.

Overall the book started well, was about 100 pages too long and then just ended. Just like that.

But interesting fact-Sue Townsend didn't learn to read until she was 8. (Maybe that fact shouldn't end such a poor review...?)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Road Less Travelled

We had surprise visitors at the 'w' place today. 4 (VERY cute!!) cyclists that were passing through Kenya on route from the London to Cape Town .

They will be in school again tomorrow (waiting for their newly washed clothes to dry...) sharing more stories of the 10 000km far. Apparently the guys were not cyclists before this trip...inspiring! My cousins once cycled from John O'Groats to Land's End (tip to toe of Great Britain) which is over 1000km  and I thought (still think!) that was amazing! Imagine cycling from the UK to South Africa...ahhh!

Their photos are amazing-you must go on the website to check them out. The Road Less Travelled

They are not just having an amazing adventure, but are raising funds and awareness for Peace and Love International - in the hope that a music centre will be built in Cape Town for underprivileged children. There is a link for donations here. Their next stop is look out for them!

Makes me want to do something adventurous!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The popular, Kenyan, Ringtone

I am not one of those teachers that spend their evenings with friends talking about the pupils in my class or the things they get up to. (I have to admit that I did this in my first year of teaching-but how can you not when a TV is thrown out of a classroom window by an 8 year old!).
Anyhow, sometimes we just have to share.

At assembly this week I could not stop smiling. They showed a music video of a song that a pupil  ('Sammy Vee') had a hand of producing.  He and his friends from class are in the video, (and if you knew these children, you would know they are just so special-friendly, enthusiastic, hardworking...) and it was just great to see what these amazing children have been getting up to on their weekend! Ringtone, the Kenyan artist that the song was produced with, is a popular urban gospel singer here, who apparently has a big future.

Hope you like the video!

I really like the song-it got some playtime on a UK radio station recently. Hope you like it!