Monday, June 30, 2008

Expat Packages

I was recently reading the fantastic blog Daily Life in Rio and the author commented upon ‘typical” expat salary packages. It never ceases to amaze me how these packages differ depending upon whom you work for: embassy, big corporations, or NGO’s like Hubby. Needless to say, we are at the low end of that totem pole.

One of my favourite corporate benefits are rest and relaxation trips. These so called “R&R” trips are quarterly (or semi-annual) trips to anywhere you want to go. When I lived in Delhi, many of my friends used these paid mini-vacations to visit places like Singapore or Bali. My friends would return from these brief sojourns renewed and refreshed while I was still stressed from the daily chores of living in India. Hubby, it should be noted, has never received any such extra funds – we are supposed to like wherever we live and never want to leave.

Some extremely lucky people even have provisos in their contracts, which stipulate that they (and their families) will only fly business on flights over a certain number of hours. My favorite, however, has to be people who get “danger” or “hazard” pay. Now, if you’re running off to Sudan every month or so, I might understand that, but just to sit in Nairobi and do deskwork? Well, sign me up! Please?!

Other great non-Hubby benefits include quarterly DHL packages from the Real World filled with whatever you need or want and allowances that pay for everything from utility bills to your driver’s salary. The former would have been a great boon both here and in India where receiving mail in the same condition (and with the same contents) it was mailed in is an adventure in and of itself. BBA sent me a Christmas gift a few years ago that only took three months to arrive. The flip side of that would be the order I placed which arrived within the stipulated 10 days. I was then, however, asked to pay duty on it when it arrived: the so-called “duty” charges (aka baksheesh) were more than the contents were worth!

The biggest misconception about most expats is that they earn oodles of money. At least in Hubby’s case this is patently false. Yes, we earn a tax-free salary, but we don’t earn what some of the corporate types do when they agree to move abroad. Our benefits may slightly outstrip what could have been earned back the States but the actual take-home salary isn’t exactly what you read about in fashionable magazines.

All this kvetching aside, I can’t complain – we do have a great lifestyle here that we couldn’t afford back in the Real World. If we still lived our old lives back in the States, I wouldn’t be able to travel as much as I do. Nor would I have time for things like volunteer work, my book group, crafting, learning a new language, or any of the many things with which I fill my days. The NGO expatriate lifestyle, while not quite as wonderful as advertised, is still lovely and I wouldn’t trade my years in Delhi and Nairobi for anything.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Tale of Two Movers and Other Disasters

I realize that when I married Hubby I was basically agreeing to be a gypsy for the rest of my life, but I’m not sure if I can handle too many more moves like this one. After seeing my things tossed into pink garbage bags the day before, I was none too eager to see the sea-freight guys arrive an hour late on Thursday. At least, I told myself, Hubby would be by my side to assist Tori and I in supervising.

The difference between the two moving companies was evident from the moment they arrived and introduced themselves with good firm handshakes. They brought numerous giant rolls of bubble wrap, soft corrugated wrap, boxes, tape, and even a first aid box, which was placed in the kitchen in case anyone cut themselves on their well-used knives.

With Tori supervising (and flirting manically with) the gentleman in the kitchen, Hubby and I wandered aimlessly around the house, checking in on the other three packers. Each had their designated duty – wrapping heavy furniture, packing books, and carefully wrapping and securing fragile items like our artwork. The latter guy was incredibly good and both Hubby and I expressed little doubt about the safe packing of our paintings and objects d’art.

Tori, who had been witness to the half-ass job the day before, was greatly impressed with how our fragile glasses and dishes were being packed. She now understood why I had been so upset on Wednesday. I think she saw a sideline job in her future – and perhaps a date as well (she got the guy’s phone number by the end of the move!).

It was amazing to watch how quickly and efficiently these four guys worked. By lunchtime, the kitchen was almost complete and most of the other rooms had been attacked with vigor. When Hubby went to Java House to pick up lunch for Rock, Tori, and I, we all thought that the move would be finished that day. But would it really be my life if things went that easily?

Although the movers continued to work hard, they were not quite finished at 4:00 p.m. when I had Rock drive Tori home. After tidying up, they promised to show up the next day by 9:00 to complete the move, which, I was assured, would take no longer than three hours.

The next morning, the guys completed their job within the promised three hours and transformed my home back into an apartment. Even though some of our things had been left behind (sold to the gentleman who owns the flat), I knew that this place was no longer “ours.” Cheesy as it may be, I walked through the rooms and said good-bye to the nicest place Hubby and I have ever lived.

Just as I was about to drown in sentimentality, Rock came upstairs with some thrilling news: Kenya still wanted to extract her revenge for my leaving, as the car had a flat. Only unlike our previous flats this almost slash through our tire was un-repairable and would require purchasing a new tire. I assured him that it wasn’t anything to worry about since I usually drove over nails and the like several times a year back home. Sporty, our old Ford Contour, had entailed the purchase of no less than 8 new tires in the five years we owned him.

Rock and I then spent about an hour and a half driving around Nairobi looking for a new tire and were told at most places that they simply didn’t stock the size tire we needed. Two places offered me new tires – but only if I bought four since they didn’t have my size. “I can’t afford one! How am I supposed to be able to purchase four?” I laughed incredulously. In the end, I had to bite the bullet and drive all the way up to Village Market (aka Mzungu Land™) and pretend not to notice how much lighter my wallet was at the end of the day.

Tires in Nairobi, however, are stupidly expensive. If we had purchased the same tire in the States, it would have cost approximately $160 with installation. Since the tires sold here have to be imported, overpriced, taxed to hell, and then repriced for stupid wazungu, we paid $280.

So when you don’t receive a gift from us during our visit home, it isn’t that we forgot you, or that the movers packed it - we simply used your gift to buy a new tire for our car. Thanks for being so generous!!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Completing the Circle

I am currently sitting back in the Organization’s hostel in the very same room that housed me for three extremely long months two years ago. To help make us feel even more at home, we even attended the campus bar’s Nyama Choma night for dinner on Friday: the barman recognized me and even remembered my drink of choice. It was as if we had never left.

Getting to this point, however, took three VERY long days, which I hope never, ever, ever to repeat. The air movers, if you remember, were first on the schedule with Wednesday put aside for their packing. Their “packing,” however, turned my hair grey and freaked the freak right out of me.

With little to no regard for our possessions or how heavy the boxes were getting, they threw items into tall (mid-chest level) boxes saying that they would repack them later. The icing on the cake of these 200-pound boxes was how they treated my DVDs – they literally put them into trash bags. When I pointed out that this was not the appropriate way to treat expensive items and that the bags could break, I was given one of “those” looks and told that the bags wouldn’t break and that they knew what they were doing. “Those bags break when I put trash in them!” I exclaimed.

Their packing skills having turned my empty stomach, I elected to follow them to their airport-area offices to supervise the re-packing. The warehouse we pulled up to was filled with pallets of Tiger beer and cases of good South African wine. I kept trying to sneak one of the cases into my purse but they were well guarded against covetous drunks like me.

Thankfully, this turned out to be a very relieving exercise. The packing manager, Mo, was incredibly professional and had his guys bubble wrapping my DVDs and carefully folding our clothes into boxes. It was a huge relief to know that our things would be taken care of better by this gentleman than they had by his careless employees.

Luckily, the remainder of Wednesday was far more successful than the morning had been, as we even found someone who may purchase our car, Storm. Even better, Hubby took me out for drinks to help me drown my stress in Margaritas. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s stories about the two-day drama that was our sea freight pack-out.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Movers – Day 1

Our first set of movers is due to arrive any minute now, so I suppose that our move to Cairo is now officially real. Hubby’s new employers are kindly providing us with a furnished apartment – so naturally we’re over-packing and bringing every single solitary thing we own.

The airfreight guys are bringing everything Hubby needs for his new job – which amounts to almost 500 pounds worth of books (weight not cost – the latter would be way more than that). In addition to his books, we are also sending along sheets for the bed, my DVDs, and all of our clothes. Other than the two weeks worth that we’ve already put into suitcases, clothes ranging from underwear and socks to sports jerseys and suits will be flying to Egypt and are scheduled to arrive (hopefully) around the same time we do.

Tomorrow marks the real proof of how much we’re over packing to live in a fully furnished apartment. The sea freight folks will arrive tomorrow morning to pack up my books, our artwork, and most importantly all of the furniture we were unwilling to sell for sentimental reasons. Many expats have homes back in the States, the UK, or some such location where they can store these things. Us? Not so much. We’re vagabonds who settle down and call our hotel rooms home until the next posting arrives. And for that reason, we’re totally bringing way, way, way too much stuff to Cairo.

Since everything is disappearing on Thursday including the chair I am sitting on, I likely won’t be blogging again in the next few days. When next you see me, I will be completing our Kenyan circle of life by living back on campus, or as we like to call it: Kenya-traz™. So stay tuned for lots of stories about how stressed out I became during the move and for some really cool news about my future Wanderings.

PS: Today’s blog has been adorned with photos of junk sitting in formerly tidy rooms – this is our idea of planning two moves ahead of time. The things that are going by air are sitting in two areas so that we can keep the movers from wandering all over our home. My precious sitting room is where we have been (literally) throwing items scheduled for sea freight. Even the bookshelves have been filled to capacity with books sitting two and three deep while they await packing.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wrapping Up

In case you have been wondering what I have been doing for the last several days, allow me to update you: I’ve been cataloging. That means that it has been my honour and privilege to count everything we own from the spoons and forks to the books that we have stacked in literally every room of the apartment. In addition to counting the miscellaneous items, I have also been assigning them values for insurance purposes.

And therein lies the problem. How do you assign a value to “The Holiday Dragon” book you received for your 10th birthday, which is about you, your friends, and a really cool dragon? Do you admit that if a cup breaks it will cost $15 to replace or add in the cost of having it shipped to your new home? These are the conundrums I have been tackling for the last few weeks as my trusty Excel spreadsheets and I have been listing everything we own. (Me and Hubby, not me and the spreadsheet – it doesn’t own anything.)

A few things have become apparent during these sessions. Hubby owns far, far, far too many books about economics, math, and marketing. And while he may have fewer books in his boring collection than I do – his cost three times as much! While we are on the subject of books, it may be slightly possible that I own too many. Maybe. But probably not.

The insurance lists may be tedious and boring but they are definitely bringing home the fact that we’re about to leave Nairobi. The movers will be packing up our things over three days next week at which point we will be alone in our empty, TV-less apartment. (Guess which part is freaking me out the most!)

I’m going to have to sign off now as I have more lists to make and stress over and time is running out. So little time, so freaking much out to do.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Emoting All Over the Room

I’m moving to Cairo. Why didn’t anyone tell me before now?! Why didn’t you tell me that all the planning and packing was for real? I’m not sure that I’m ready. *insert freaking out and hyperventilating Typ0 here*

I realize that I have theoretically known for months now but somehow it has only just begun to sink in: I’m leaving Nairobi and starting my life over – again. *eek* The countdown is no longer in months but days and weeks and I’m mentally unprepared for what lies ahead. (Except for the shopping and eating in the Real World part – I’m totally ready for that!) Heck, I’m not even prepared for the going away lunches I have scheduled! *sob*

My emotions are trying to confuse me. Here’s a run down of how I feel about our impending move at this very moment: sad to leave my friends behind; happy to be done with Nairobi because She keeps throwing Her dominance in my face; devastated to be leaving Kenya, a country so beautiful and wonderful no photo can do it justice; terrified about moving to Cairo and having to make new friends, learn a new language, and fit in yet again; annoyed at having to move yet again; and excited about the new challenges that lie ahead of me. And those are just the ones I am able to articulate.

What it all comes down to is that I miss Nairobi – but I haven’t even left yet. But as the cataloguing of our “stuff” continues, and we plan our weekly menus around what we have left in the pantry, and meetings that I used to attend are going on without me – it’s all starting to feel rather surreal. It is as if I’m walking around playing a part in a holodeck program just waiting for the main characters to show up – only I’m the main character and I don’t know my lines.

I realize that part of the problem is that we’ve been planning this move for six months now. And by planning I mean talking about it in an extremely abstract way with little to no actual or practical preparation. Next time Hubby tells me that we’re moving, can you please remind me how much I hate moving and freak out about change?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Nairobi the Chilly

Once upon a time, there was a girl who wore a kilt to school that was so short it was nicknamed “the tennis kilt.” The girl wore her kilt to school everyday regardless of how hot or cold it was outside. During the summer, she wore her knee high blue socks pushed down and bunched up at her ankles, while in the winter she wore stockings or tights to keep her otherwise bare legs warm. Rumors of snow, wind chill, or or thermometers frozen at -10° Celsius weren’t enough to scare her into wearing pants – she could brave the cold. She was Canadian.

Many years later, this little girl grew up and moved to countries that didn’t have snow, black ice, or wind chill issues. She learned to embrace life at 28°C, and put away her sweaters, socks, and scarves in favour of tank tops, sandals, and sunscreen. Over time, the girl forgot about her childhood and her memories of the cold faded into the past.

Then winter arrived in Nairobi and the temperature plummeted to a freezing 12°C. Shaken by this change in the normally stable pattern of perfect weather, the girl at first did nothing. But slowly she noticed that the people around her were wearing jackets and that her toes were becoming blue. “It will pass,” she told herself through chattering teeth.

Slowly the girl began to face reality and took her socks out of storage. With the feeling inching back into her frostbitten feet, she sighed and pulled a warm cotton cardigan on over her fashionable sundress. As if by magic, the cold seemed to recede and the girl even contemplated closing the windows.

Days turned into weeks and the girl began to remember how great she looked in sweaters and how cute toe socks were. Snuggled under her Irish wool blankets, she nodded in a superior fashion at the forethought that had her pack such un-Kenyan clothes all those years ago. Nairobi was still cold but the girl’s heart was growing warmer with thoughts of her upcoming visit to a country that understood that June meant warm weather.

The moral of this story is that life at one degree south of the equator doesn’t mean that you left winter behind you. It just means that you should have left for home leave two weeks ago!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Covering Up

Today’s lesson in Nairobi fashion will hopefully teach you that picking the right cover for your car’s spare tire is almost as important a decision as what you’re driving. The ubiquitous Java House or Dormans covers mean that you’ll fit in but you won’t necessarily be unique. Sporting a tire jacket can announce that you are part of a greater community, like those for the British military, for instance. They can tell the world at large what cable company you use or even what charity you support. (I do not recommend going without – a naked spare tire is an unloved and ugly spare tire.)

My favourite cover, however, simply warns us all to wrap up our spare tires and practice a safe and pleasurable form of driving.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My Reading Addiction

We both know that I have more readers than I do commenters. In fact, if it were not for my lovely mother, I wouldn’t have comments on 90% of my blog entries. But I need you to get over your comment related phobias because I really need your help!

Hubby and I are heading home in a few weeks, which means that bookstores in both Canada and the US are about to be attacked by a book-starved Typ0. Last year, I spent almost as much time at Chapters as I did at my parent’s house. What can I say: I’m addicted to reading.

My usual practice prior to home leave is to spend hours and hours on Amazon building a lengthy Wish List of all the books I ought to be reading and want to buy. My list is long enough to make Hubby cringe with fear but many of my choices are based upon Amazon reviews and books I have read about in various blogs and articles online.

You can now see why I need your help – if I’m going to take the advice of complete strangers, they should at least be wonderful Devoted Readers like you! So please comment and tell me what I should add to my summer buying fest. I usually buy dozens of books during my brief developed world sojourns because, after all, these tomes have to last me until my next trip to the real world. So feel free to name several great reads.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my bookshelves, I will read anything I can get my hands on. Histories, novels, romances, mysteries, science fiction, memoirs, biographies, and basically anything even vaguely interesting are all welcome. So please click on the comment button and recommend a great book or six.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Expat Wife Blues

To save my mother the time in accusing me of being self indulgent and self pitying, I’m going to admit it upfront: this post will be highly self-pitying. But I don’t care that much because right now, I’m feeling rather tired of this lifestyle. Not the having a maid and driver part, (I’m sufficiently selfish and lazy to appreciate the luxuries that Hubby’s employment choices have offered me), but the unemployed housewife part seriously depresses me at times.

“So what do you do?” “You don’t work?” “So what exactly do you do all day?” These questions, each said in an increasingly condescending tone, are beginning to curdle my very last nerve. My usual Stepford answer is, “I am here to support my husband in a country that I’m not legally allowed to work in. Thank you for asking.”

As Hubby and I don’t have kids, I don’t even have the respectable answer of, “I’m raising my children” to fall back upon. God, lately I’ve been thinking of having/hiring kids for just that reason! Instead, all I can tell people is that I volunteer, work for the Association, and all the other things with which I fill the day. I still usually receive disdainful looks from Hubby’s work permit holding coworkers and friends, but I enjoy my life knowing that I contribute to Hubby’s job and wellbeing in a myriad of ways those lonely losers could never understand. (See I’m not bitter at all. Much.)

It isn’t as if my state of unemployment is entirely my choice. If I had a PhD of my own, I might be able to find work with Hubby’s office – but I don’t because my attention span is exactly 6.7 minutes. If we worked for the Embassy, I would be able to get a job “working for buttons.” At this point, I would be happy to work for peanuts as long as they were peanuts that I earned myself – but I can’t because we aren’t here with an embassy, or the UN, or any other organization that works hard to employ its trailing spouses.

The truth of the matter is that as an Expat Wife, we often find ourselves in countries where obtaining a work visa is either prohibitively expensive because the government is quite rightly trying to save jobs for local workers or flat out not possible for the same reason. There are companies that are willing to sponsor a foreign worker but they often won’t bother because of the expense, the knowledge that their future employee won’t be around for very long, or because they are worried that their potential Expat Wife won’t accept local wages.

One of the best things about Cairo is that Hubby’s new work realizes that keeping its employees happy means keeping the employee’s family happy. Having only heard about organizations like this (e.g., UN, Embassies), I have thus far been astounded by all they are offering me to help me settle in and make my transition to Egypt seamless and easy. One of the many wonderful perks is that they try to find jobs for spouses – even unqualified gits like me! They’re not going to invent a job for me, mind you, but if a job comes along that might apply to hangers on like myself they send out an email. The Wives have to compete for the job with other local hires but a chance is more than I’ve had up to this point and I’m willing to take it!

Which is why it is incredibly odd that I have been so angry with the scores of people who have asked, “Will you be able to work in Cairo?” Since I complain incessantly about my inability to work here you’d think I’d pipe in with my excitement about the possibility of working for peanuts. (My peanuts that I earned all by myself!) Instead, I’ve been irritated by the kind inquiries that I have no doubt encouraged with my complaints.

I’m unemployed but that doesn’t mean that I don’t work. And as much as I am saying that to you, I am saying it to myself. I work hard – just not traditionally and not for a salary. So to answer your question, “Yes, I will be able to work in Cairo. I will be volunteering, learning the local language, joining charitable organizations, establishing a life in a culture vastly different from my own, and dozens of other things I can’t think of right now. You know the same work as I have done in Delhi and Nairobi. And maybe if I have some spare time, I’ll get a paying job but in the meantime, my other jobs will keep me incredibly busy. Thanks for asking.”

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lego Mania

For those of you back home who think that Hubby and I lead amazing, “jet set” lives complete with parties and champagne every night - I have news for you. Three Saturday’s ago we skipped a very cool party and stayed home to watch TV and play with Lego.

Yup, you read that correctly. We opened two boxes of Lego that we had been carrying around for years and built a soccer field and R2D2. We then proceeded to play Lego Soccer for several hours and went as far as naming not only our teams (the Bertos vs. the Sven-tastics) but also even the players (for Hubby’s team, the Bertos, we have: Roberto, Alberto, Ramberto, Royberto, Hildeberto, and Norberto … evidently it’s a San Diego thing!).

So you see, this is the romantic lifestyle we lead: homemade paella, a lovely bottle of Muscat, and several hours of Lego Soccer. Who could ask for anything more?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Kenya’s Revenge

During the last week in May, we were lucky enough to have one of Hubby’s future coworkers, Black Beard, and his wife Adelpha, stay with us for a few days. Despite the way I freak out and over-plan every minute of every day, I love having guests. That was, after all, the justification we gave for having such a huge apartment. There was one snag, however, in my carefully planned week – Kenya and its desire to annoy anyone who doesn’t pay appropriate homage to Her.

With the Beards set to arrive first thing Monday morning, Hubby started laundry as soon as he woke up on Sunday. This is actually how we spend most Sundays but I had added several things into the laundry bin to ensure that they would be crisp and clean for Monday morning. Have you guessed what happened yet? Oh yeah: the water pump died. Although we could take developing country showers (plenty of water, very little water pressure) the lack of a pump meant that all hopes of doing laundry were over. It literally took over four hours to do one load of colours that morning.

Monday dawned and as our guests arrived from Egypt, Hubby was busy on the phone making it clear to our apartment manager that not having a water pump was making me very angry. And nobody likes to see Mrs. Hubby angry. *evil smile* I took time to hang out with the Beards and go to lunch over at Junction, which meant that I only managed to harass people twice before the nice plumber finally arrived to see what the problem was.

After explaining that there was a short, the plumber accused me of keeping the pump on 24/7. The problem with that scenario, in addition to taking a ridiculous amount of expensive electricity to power, is that the damn thing is loud! Only a fool would keep it on all day long. And momma didn’t raise no fools.

That evening, Hubby spoke with the Professor (the guy who owns our apartment) and relayed to me that someone would arrive Tuesday afternoon to give me water.

On Tuesday, I cancelled all of my plans and stayed home, forcing my guests to take themselves around town, while I waited for water to magically appear. The true magic of the day was my speaking rather forcefully to our apartment manager at 4:00 p.m. about how I had cancelled my plans to wait for the plumber, had guests, and still had no freaking water since Sunday because he hadn’t been in the office until Tuesday morning! (Imagine my voice getting slightly more forceful and shrill with each successive point on my list and you’ll pretty much have the gist my extremely terse conversation.)

Wednesday morning was, if anything, even more Kenya-esque. By that time, you see, we were completely out of water – not only could we not take showers, we couldn’t even flush the damn toilets! And I had guests from Egypt who are about to become my neighbours and upon whom I desperately wanted to make a good impression. An impression that didn’t include unflushable toilets! *sob*

Thankfully Tori, our maid, was scheduled to work that morning which meant that she could supervise the plumbers while I entertained our guests with photo ops with live cheetah cubs and then later at the Sheldrick Orphanage. It wasn’t as if Tori would have much to do – there was no water with which to clean anything! *laugh*sob*

Periodic check-ins during the day only served to frustrate me as it took a while for the plumber to buy the parts and arrive at the apartment to install the new pump. When we finally got home that afternoon, I was informed that the pump was installed slightly incorrectly the first time around. Pre-pump, we had water and developing world water pressure that was at least livable. Post pump, it turns out, we were lucky to have water for as long as we did since the water tanks now only fill when the pump is on. Lucky, lucky us. The icing on the cake was that we were fortunate that the pump lasted this long in the first place. The plumber explained that this was the fifth water pump he had replaced this month.

As I mentioned to our apartment manager, I would have been slightly less upset and more hakuna matata about the whole thing if we hadn’t had out-of-town guests during our apartment-wide drought. Long story short (too late!): we all spoiled ourselves that Wednesday evening with cold glasses of beer followed by long, hot showers.

I should also mention here that while I was freaking out, “going dark,” and making my position on my love of water clear to anyone within hearing distance, Black Beard and Adelpha were incredibly laid back and understanding about the whole thing. So thank you to everyone involved for your patience and willingness to work so quickly (by Kenya standards) to get my water going. But can you please promise that this is my last taste of Kenya’s Revenge before I leave? *sob* Please?!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rubenesque Me

I was watching E!News last week when they started talking about the winner of the latest cycle of Next Top Model, Whitney Thompson. Thompson is evidently more special than Tyra’s usual winners as she is “plus-sized” at a self-confessed size 10. The voiceover on the entertainment program referred to her as rubenesque.

Am I the only person here doing a double take at that description?! After I picked my jaw up off the ground, I decided to look up the word in case I had mixed up my Fat Girl synonyms.
  1. Of, relating to, or in the style of a painting of Peter Paul Rubens.
  2. Plump or fleshy and voluptuous. Used of a woman.
This size 10 girl is in no way plus-sized or “fleshy” at any angle! Heck, plus-sized stores like Addition-Elle, Torrid, and Lane Bryant don’t even carry size 10’s for the most part. Would you like to know why? Because only skinny girls wear a size 10 and no self-respecting skinny girl (or former fat girls) would be caught dead in a plus-sized store.

I don’t know if I am angrier with; E! for calling Thompson fleshy in the first place or at the world in general for thinking that someone with a body this great is “plus-sized” just because she doesn’t wear a size 0. I get that I’m fat but this girl isn’t and suggesting that she is rubenesque is insulting women everywhere.

Now, if you don’t mind I’m going to drown my fat girl sorrows in a pint of ice cream. You’re welcome to join me but only if you’re plus sized – you know a size 10 or higher.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Random Mara Photos

As my final Masai Mara post, I have decided to share some of my favourite photos from our vacation.

Bateared Foxes whose only job is to look adorable.

Ostriches who forgot they can’t fly.

Zebra: “I’ve almost got that itch.”

Eagle: “Check out my wingspan, baby!”

Jackal: “Yeah, I am that damn cute!”

Giraffes – It’s where all the cool birds hang out.

Giraffe: “Why does drinking have to be so embarrassing?!”

Look at me! I’m the border between Tanzania and Kenya!

I realize that I have posted about the Mara for well over a week now and I thank you for your patience with my excitement about visiting this national treasure. Most of all, I hope that I have piqued your interest enough to come to the Mara for a personal visit with the lions, cheetahs, waterbuck, and giraffes - they’re all here waiting for you. So hurry and book your tickets because Kenya wants to wish you a warm “Karibu!”

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

An Animal Affair

Some of you may recall back several months ago that our friend SGH was the first to correctly identify a waterbuck in one of my blogs. In her honour, we renamed this adorably large-eared antelope the H-Buck. And with this history in mind, I have a story to tell...

It turns out that when we first spotted the H-Buck late last year, we only saw females. Well, last weekend in the Mara, we spotted a male waterbuck - a HubbyBuck. Why is it called the HubbyBuck? Because secretly, the HubbyBuck wants the H-Buck despite the fact that he is with the Typ0Zelle. (The fact that they are different species isn't important.) The HubbyBuck, although he vehemently denies it, wants to be with the H-Buck because, since they're both Bucks, have more in common. The Typ0Zelle is an antelope with a jealous streak who is very sad but willing to plot revenge with the help of her large cat friends.

Of course, these monikers have nothing to do with real people and are simply random names we made up, having nothing to do with reality...

As you may have guessed, Hubby and I had a lot of downtime in between safari drives. The renaming of local Mara animals, and the development of entire background histories and plotlines was a fun diversion that lasted several days. In truth, we had too much time on our hands, too little alcohol in our systems, and way, way too much imagination for two supposed adults.

What Masai Mara animal are you?

Monday, June 09, 2008

H20 Day

It has occurred to me that I have been blogging about my trip the Masai Mara for several days longer than the actual trip itself. With that in mind, I promise that I only have one or two blogs on the subject left in me before I break down and tell you the story of water-free week. Keeping with the water theme (without giving away the other story), I thought I would show you some pictures of the biggest water animals in the Mara – the crocodiles and the hippopotami.

Most of the time when people hippos, the animals are swimming along and merely peeping their heads up for a breath of air. You may recall that my last hippo post boasted mostly ears. In another lucky find on our way to the hotel that first day, we drove right by a large pod of hippos sunning themselves on a bank.

In addition to the family we saw on the riverbank that first morning, we also several swimming in a large river not far from our hotel. Our diver, DikDik, explained that when the migrations started in a few weeks, the hippos and crocs would be well fed in that particular river as the wildebeests and other animals attempted to cross. Hippos, despite being rather cute and seemingly snuggly are actually quite dangerous and need only the slimmest provocation to attack. Even standing between a hippo and its watering hole can incite a hippo to attack.

Swimming alongside the hippos were some of the biggest crocodiles I have ever seen. One in particular looked like he had no need of the upcoming migration feast as he appeared to have already eaten a few zebra and gazelles.

He and his friends seemed to enjoy hanging out on the bank sunning themselves and intimidating any animal that may have been contemplating crossing river. Indeed, we saw several zebra look down to the water only to turn around and look for a safer place to drink.

We weren’t the only safari van watching the drama unfold and secretly hoping that the zebra would risk a quick swim. Deep down, of course, we didn’t want anything to happen to the lovely zebra, yet we were all there with our cameras at the ready just in case we lucked out and with a great photo op. (You vegetarians will be happy to know that no zebras were injured in the making of this blog.) (Darn it!)

That said, one or two less zebra would not have resulted in even a tiny dent in the Mara’s population. DikDik observed that the migrations would likely occur early this year based on what seemed like the thousands of striped horses that we kept bumping into throughout the park. (Is it wrong that whenever he talked about the migrations I kept thinking that the animals were really having a family reunion – which not everyone would survive?) (Is it even more wrong that I kept wondering what zebra meat tasted like?) Lucky crocs and hippos!! *pout*

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Swiftly Flow the Days

Today, in lieu of a proper blog I have decided to simply share some amazing photos of the Mara at different times of the day.

The Masai Mara is literally a palette of colours swirling everywhere around you. The plains start in shades of greens, yellows, and oranges and then give way to soft browns and reds. The mountains in the distance seem to echo the phrase from an American classic “purple mountain majesty.”

The state of Montana in the US likes to call itself “big sky country” but it is clear that whoever came up with that moniker has never been to the Mara. The sky literally goes on forever. When you first look out onto the savannah you see the greens and yellows and browns of the grassy plains but then suddenly they meet an awesome streak of blue that literally cuts the horizon in half and separates the earth from the heavens.

The best time of day to enjoy the riotous colours is right at sunset. Suddenly the achingly blue-sky turns into six or seven different shades of blue each more lush than the next. The bright yellow sun casts an orange shadow across the plains as it disappears behind the mountains.

We certainly were not the only people to be caught taking dozens of sunset photos. Depending upon where you stood, the same sunset looked different and cast different shades intense colour on the Mara. For two people who have lived sunset-free in Nairobi for the last two years the sight was a truly amazing gift.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Meow Part 2

When I visited Amboselli in December, I counted myself fortunate to have spotted a single lion who let us watch him for twenty minutes or so. Secretly, I think my companions and I were slightly disappointed that we didn’t see more lions but were none-the-less pleased to have seen the one cat we did. Life in the Masai Mara; however, is a wee bit different.

Our very first day, on our way to the hotel we (and by we I mean DikDik, our driver) spotted a pair of honeymooning lions curled up in the grass only a few meters from the road. Although we weren’t able to get a very clear or close look at the pair Hubby and I both agreed that it was very cool to have marked off our first “big five” before we had even arrived at the hotel. Little did we know what the next morning had in store for us.

Although not officially tracked or even important, there is no small amount of pride involved in being the first van to spot an elusive animal. On Sunday morning, Hubby and I were fortunate enough count ourselves the day’s winners when DikDik spotted not one, not two, but at least 14 lions lying deep in the grass a short drive from the hotel.

Admittedly, when we first arrived on the scene we thought all we had was a tawny-coloured rock and a lioness. The rock turned out to be a fully-grown lion and the lioness was but one member of his rather large harem. Not only did he appear to have at least four or five ladies waiting on him, but our lion was also daddy to at least eight or nine cubs of varying ages. Every time we inched the van forward we seemed to spot yet another lion. We even spotted one nursing away from the crush of newly arrived safari vans.

Luckily for us, Hubby and I had come prepared with a pair of binoculars and a camera each so that we could both take plenty of photos of the amazing sight. (On a practical note, it was interesting to eventually download the photos and compare the resolution and quality of the two cameras. Needless to say, while my cute pink camera is handy for photos in town, it isn’t really the best camera to take on safari.)

DikDik showed us several other lions during subsequent drives but this small pride was our best leonine find. Not only were first on the scene, we were even close enough to see the large male’s breath on the chilly morning air as he awoke to the sound of our van. Maybe next time we go on safari we’ll catch them in the process of catching their dinner. That’s something to look forward to…