Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Week

The kids celebrated BOOK WEEK at school....Friday was 'Villians and Heroes' dress up day (or dress like a book character).  I saw Tinkerbell and Peter Pan taking the register to the office, the Grand Witch (roald dahl) jumping rope at recess, the Ice Queen (HC Andersen) teaching math to year 3, and Stellaluna getting a phonics lesson from Barney.  Zeus was throwing lightening bolts while smacking gum that Violet Beauregard had given to all of year 4....and lots of kids were ready to go to platform 9-3/4 right after assembly.  O won the prize for his research and costume for upper primary, but also earned his silver award AND got his stage four amateur swimming association patch.  whew.  exciting week.  Finny is charging forward into his reading program and is so proud to have a book with words for his homework reading and FOUR word lists to practice every day.  wow.

Harry at school with Violet Beauregard...the gum chewing bubble gum champion who turns into a blueberry at the Willy Wonka factory....she is post-popped here... Violet is nearly a year older but even she was wondering if little Harry here had given himself a shrinking spell or if she had some growing beans for breakfast!  The girl is like a stringbean to begin with, but lately you can practically SEE her growing.  Note to self:  get magic growth beans for our little stellaluna....

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Rainbow Buffalo

My designer made some changes as we were working (he claims there IS a nose in his drawing for one!) and of course we had to use chitenge print instead of solid project.

 we had to destroy some pillows to get the poly-fill....something you can't purchase here.
Owen, trying to draw his pattern for an elephant. not exactly a tidy work space, eh?  it was about 95 degrees and this, the smallest room in the house with the lease floor space has the best AC.

Friday, November 19, 2010

3G in the 3rd world

Doing business in Zambia is getting easier and easier as competition is quickly opening things up.  Companies that once had monopolies are scrambling to adapt (or are slowly going under).  Just in the last 3 months the pain of buying more 'talk time' is getting less and less b/c we're getting much more for our money.  Additionally there are special promotions (calling the UK for 50% off, for example) that are automatic (opt out vs. opt in as they formerly were).  Now we have three providers -- all of whom have been bought and sold by bigger and bigger companies and have shifted from government to private commercial operations.  The company I use, for example has changed from Cell-Tell to Zain to Orange and now it's Bharti Airtel (in India) but for the time-being is called Zain-Zambia.

For us 'mericans the whole system of make cell phone calls here is kind of refreshing.  The hassle of getting a phone in Seattle this summer that we could use during the 6 weeks we were there was kind of shocking, actually.  When we came here back in 2008 we went to a cell phone retailer, bought a cheap Nokia phone (which is basic and irritating to use, but is still working and has stood up to being dropped, run over, plopped in the pool.....); it came with sim card and pre-loaded with 30,000 worth of talk time. All this for 80,000--about $16.

To get a 'go phone' in Seattle this past summer we had to shell out about $150 for a sim card and a month of talk/text and another $60 to 'top up' for the remaining 2 weeks that we needed the phones.  We already have 'unlocked' phones b/c I'm pretty sure that the US is the last place on the planet where your phone is tied to your phone company.  (Does this make a lick of sense?)  Otherwise we would have had to buy the "Go Phone" on top of the calling plan.

Because of a mix-up when I first signed up for my US go-phone, I blew through my 'time' after only 5 days.  Thankfully they honored the original contract and I got the original 'plan' that I signed up for (unlimited talk/text for $60 for the month) restored at no cost but with 40 minutes on the phone to India trying to sort things out.  These sim cards expire if you don't continue to sign up month after month so we'll have to buy new sim cards and sign up for a new plan when we come back.  It may be cheaper/easier to buy a new phone and sim cards in London -- they sell them from vending machines at the airport.

This thing of making a 2 year commitment to a phone and plan as is standard in the US really seems absurd.  How can you anticipate what you may need, how you will use your phone and how you may use new technology?  I sure can't.

At any rate, making a call here is pretty straight forward.  Buy a phone you like.  Buy a sim card for the company you want to use. (or buy lots of phones and a sim for every company you want.)  Sign up for a post-paid plan or pre-paid plan (without signing your life away or having to give personal information -- I was shocked at how much of my personal 'data' I had to give up to get my little 'go phone.'  For pre-paid, which is what I have I have to buy little scratch cards for 5,000 to 50,000 kwacha ($1 to $10) and to get more time, I just scratch the code and call *958* and punch in the code.  There are vendors on every corner and you only need to nod your head and roll down your window to buy more time (or just make eye contact or look like you might be reaching for your pocketbook, these guys don't miss a thing).  If there is no one nearby you can pull over and just ask if there is anyone and they will come running in no time.

I spoke with our corner-vendor today - he gets 5% of sales.  If I buy 50,000, he gets 2,500.  Some quick calculations tell me that to make the same amount that a well-paid gardener makes he has to sell about 400,000 every day.  This is a lot.  He also sells the newspaper/s and the corner where he works is a hotbed of entrepreneur activity.  There is a group of men that do everything from plumbing to selling veggies, fixing flats, doing bike repairs, etc.  There is a lot of checker-playing going on as well, it's a very social corner and maybe is a bit different in character from the other corner....the one close to the bar.

My plan has been shifted to new, reduced-tariff plans automatically for me and I can sign up for internet on my phone as well but have to go into the store to do it so have not bothered.  I'm connected enough to the computer, I'm not sure I'm ready to be even more tied to the thing.  My phone company is one of the most expensive but the coverage is great, especially considering where we live and where we travel.  By using a bigger company, too, we have the added benefit of the new lifting of restrictions on country-to-country calls and opening of borders and 'roaming' charges.  TJ has a dual sim-card phone so he can keep his zambia number and also use a local phone number sim card (and get local rates).

With my One Time Takamo plan,  I think I pay 8 kwacha per second /480 per minute (10 cents) for off-peak and 13 for peak time (16 cents). My internet, if I signed up for it would add on 70,000 a month (pre-paid, $15)

We pre-pay for our electricity now, too, but this is not so interesting, eh?  I have to go to the little office down the street, turn off by the Carnival lodge and travel down a bumpy dirt road to the office with no sign.  The office is closed a lot and we have to plan ahead a bit but somehow, the system works. Occasionally we run out of units and are without power until we can top up.  I think for our electricity (which also has greatly improved -- we used to have outages 4-7pm a few nights a week but now it's really infrequent that our power is inexplicably out). costs about $150 a month.

The next thing we are waiting to improve is our internet access.  Zambia remains one of the most expensive countries in the world to have internet access.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

creepies and crawlies

it’s hot.  really hot.  people get a little nutty it’s so hot.  
and then the rain starts.  
the water pours down from the sky in sheets.
the streets fill and city floods.
lightening snaps
thunder crashes 
like you absolutely wouldn’t believe.

Everything is cool and fresh.
New birds appear with this sudden change of weather, 
the toads are out in force. keeping us awake with their insane loudness.
and then.....
the creepy crawlies appear.
four legs, six legs, eight, 300.  flooded out of their homes,
It’s when the rain begins in earnest that I get to worrying 
about the critters coming in to get away from the rising water.
because, then, 
it’s time 
for the critters

Rock star

Remember Remember the 5th of November:
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.
I see no reason why Gunpowder and Treason
Should ever be forgot!

Most Fridays the school day ends with an assembly that goes on for 40 minutes or so.  they celebrate birthdays and give awards and reminders and tally their house points.  Usually a class 'hosts' the assembly and is responsible for preparing a skit.  4A's assigned assembly day fell on 'Guy Fawkes Day' "Bonfire Night" AND "Diwali" and so these were the themes for the assembly.  Owen got to 'be' Guy Fawkes, one of 7 (or 13 depending on what you are reading) conspirators who hatched a plot to blow up Parliament in opposition to King James I's persecution of the Catholics in the year 1605.  We cannot sort out the modern-day logic behind this 'holiday' or why it is still around but we have tried.  We even mis-read something and it made PERFECT sense.  Then we re-read and again, are totally baffled.  I can try to explain.

The 7 somehow gained access to a room below parliament and filled it with explosives (36 barrels of gunpowder!)  They realized somewhere along the way that innocent people would be killed/injured (duh) and so they put out a letter warning people to stay away.  Well, the king also heard of the plan (duh) and the plan was foiled and one of the conspirators, Guy Fawkes was caught red-handed on the night of 5th November, down in the little room, ready to ignite the gunpowder.  He (and his compatriots) were sentenced, tortured, and killed.  

One story tells of Guy Fawkes' torture and that as he went up to the gallows to be killed he somehow summoned the strength to escape the guards.  He made a run for it, only to fall, break his neck and die....and then be drawn and quartered along with a few other things, just for good measure.  (do you see a monty python skit in here somewhere?)

So, 5th November is bonfire night....celebrating the overthrow of the 'Gunpowder Plot" and celebrating the safety of the King.  Or, it is celebrating the plot to overthrow the king -- kind of a demonstration or reminder to the King of what was the will of the people? 

To this day, the reigning monarch doesn't go to parliament except once a year to 'open' session.

In any case, Owen's class was going to recite the poem.  But....Owen made up a song to go with the poem and the whole class sang and did instruments.  He is joined on guitar by his good friend Rushil, Emmanuel played the drums the rest had shakers.  It was really sweet and Owen looked like a natural up there.

And Finn....never missing a thing:  We could not get Owen's attention to get a decent photo, but Finn, who is now with O up at 'the big school' never fails to notice when we are there...and when we are not there.  This guy is a tough one.  The kids have received many awards this school year and we have managed to miss the presentation of most of them.  This assembly I came EARLY and Todd came just in the nick of time with the camera.

Part II of the Assembly was Diwali and fireworks safety advice.  Explaining Diwali is much simpler:  a five-day festival of lights celebrating victory of good over evil.  (For Hindus,  the return of Lord Rama from his 14 year exile, or in Jainims and Sikhism commemorating the return of Guru Har Gobind Ji after he freed 52 Hindu kings -- in India it also marks the end of the harvest season.)  We went to the Lotus Club for Diwali night (instead of to Baobab International School's Bonfire Night) and stayed for a 4 hour long music and dance extravaganza and terrifying fireworks show.  They had all low-clearance fireworks and let's just say that when you add the genuine fear of something going terribly wrong to a fireworks show of this scale it adds a whole new dimension to the experience.  It was really impressive but I was so tense the whole time it was hard to 'enjoy.  And for Finn, who never misses a thing remember, it was too much.  We really couldn't blame him.  Perhaps we all should have been that worried.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Siku.  A rare moment of (1) contemplation (?) and (2) stillness.

Siku.  Demonstrating his (1) athleticism (2) brilliance. (?) 

Siku as we typically see him, a blur, a skinny black blur. 
His ribs show even when he's a blur.

This very very strange dog we have here, Siku, is the oddest creature I have ever encountered.  He is frequently on a hunger strike despite the full dish of real-meat-gravy soaked dog food (and any meaty table scraps we can put together for him) and yet he'll happily and systematically eat our sword ferns down the nibbins and will collect, gnaw on and bury rotten avocados.  He'll forgo a foam bed with a clean blanket on the patio by the house for a pile of wet leaves in the pouring rain.  He'll chase bees and birds, skinks (lizards) and cars -- all with pretty miserable outcomes --- but won't chase a ball or frisbee or dog toy.

The oddest thing is that he HATES the water.  It's been really hot and the dog is black and lays down, tongue hangin' out, slobbering from the heat on the asphalt we lured him to the pool with a handful of meat and tossed him in the water.  He can swim but he swam the totally wrong direction and couldn't get out, another attempt, another frantic paddle.....until we had to haul him out.  We're certain he felt better for it but the result was that he needed to run circles around the yard for 30 minutes re-gain his 'composure.' so in the end I doubt it did much good.

But how do we 'feel' about Siku.  I suppose we love's just that he's so odd ... and I'm mad at him for not being Ruby.


On this steamy Sunday morning our lazy day was interrupted with the distictive ‘clang-clang-clang-clang-clang-clang’ of someone at our gate (a stone banging the metal gate.)  Frequently we ignore this most irritating noise b/c if we are not expecting anyone, it’s easier just to let them pass than try to unravel why exactly they need to speak with ‘the boss.’  Once in a while it’s actually someone we want to see but usually it’s someone asking for the gardener (if he’s not answering the gate he’s not here) or someone inquiring about a job (we are not hiring, although looking at the mess in my office, the laundry piling up clearly we do need help!)
Today, it was one young Lunda school-leaver named Bruno, an enumerator for Zambia’s 2010 National Census.  He had already spoken with the other family that lives on the property (Uladi (Peter) and Obrin, and their two girls, Margret and Taowanga) but now it was our turn to be counted.  
The census has to capture information from the likes of us, a straightforward (we think) nuclear family of expatriots living and working in the capital city as well as capture relavent information from, say, Mwinilunga widow farming in the village and raising the orphaned children of her distant relatives.  
The survey counts number of people living in the house, service animals (oxen, donkey but curiously, not horses, b/c horses are not commonly used in Zambia for farming), vehicles (motorcycle to scotch-cart (ox cart), wheelbarrow and bicycle, communication and technology (house phone, mobile phone, computer), construction of shelters (mud and thatch, concrete block, timber frame (very unusual give the ferocity of the termite population) etc), number of rooms (bedrooms, living rooms, bathrooms etc), source of power, source of water, employment, age, education, and the relationship of everyone living in the house.  The newspaper today just printed a full pullout explaining about the census and a full-size copy of the census-taker’s survey worksheet (for complete transparency?)
In talking with a few friends we heard that when they were answering questions the enumerator hesitated at the “are you disabled?” box when the man of the house answered “No.”  
He stopped, looked him square in the eye:  “ are wearing glasses?!”
“How long have you had this disability?”
“What caused this, this nearsightedness?”
He also asked if the children were albinos.....they are ‘white’ for sure but not THAT white. Good to ask, just in case...
In the end, we got a sticker on our gate and Bruno headed on his way to try to track down the other 20 ‘go-back’ houses on his list of 130 houses.

Tricked, Treated.

For the first time in several years the Jennings boys took part in Halloween activities, dressing up, bobbing for apples, sticking their hands in mystery boxes to collect treats or feel squishy eyeballs, carving watermelons, doing the limbo (with a giant paper mache bone), banging black cauldron pinatas, and having fun with other witches, bats and gouls on the Leisure Hire Jumpy Castle... Halloween, clearly, Zambia-style.
This was a birthday/halloween party and the girls were advised to leave their princess costumes behind....they came instead as drowned mermaids, dead queens, ghouls and evil witches!  Owen was "Capoiera Kid" (instead of Karate Kid) but was mistaken by the parents as Jesus, and Finn, fresh from Kananka dressed up as a fruit bat.  There were a few characters from Thriller and even a little Brett Favre showed up in a Green Bay Packers uniform -- SCARY!!!! 

To be honest, I had enjoyed the break from making costumes and the pressure of trying to dress a child up for trick or treating in the cold and rainy weather.   Over the years we have made costumes for:  Rainbow, Kiwi, Fireboat captain (and Kitty), Black lab, Muppet Bird, Scuba Diver, and Tree (with crow).  
Owen put together his own outfit so I only had FPFJ’s to worry about. And worry I did.  The challenges were (1) using materials we had on-hand (2) making something that fit (comfortably) and that could come on and off (3) making something that would be reasonably comfortable in the hottest days of summer (and potential downpour) (4) no pattern, no reference materials, NO INTERNET and (4) something that would last longer than just the party.   
We finished version 1 in time for the party (if arriving nearly 2 hours late can count as ‘in-time’ - we don’t have email and didn’t know when the party started) but did a major remodel the next day.  Version 2 will hopefully survive the rigors of being a costume-box-costume and can be passed-on to the next little wanna-be-bat that wonders our way.
Happy Halloween!