Sunday, June 22, 2014

Well done for Kenya

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Reluctant Camper - Telegraph Expat Life

The concept of picnics and camping have always sent chills down Claire’s spine, however, having recently moved to Africa, Claire realises that her refusal to pack up a tent makes out-of-town excursions extremely rare  so she has decided to bite the proverbial bullet.

Fortunately Claire, her husband Keith and their three boys have been invited to join a camping adventure with seasoned experts, Bruce and Jenny, whose camping standards can be happily likened to those of professional white-Kenyan safari guides.   The fact that Bruce owns a camping ‘trailer’ that he designed himself, a Bloody Mary ‘kit’ and promises to organise hot showers for all was enough to convince Claire after a moment of weakness at the Country Club members’ bar.

The trip does not bode well when a shoeless five year old Ben emits a blood curdling scream having stepped on a thorn in the garden.  He weeps and Claire applies a plaster having been dragged away from mixing tuna mayonnaise, boiling eggs and frying sausages for the picnic. If there are such perils in her own garden then what dangers lie in wait in the African bush? Meanwhile Keith attempts to pack the car in light drizzle.  His sense of humour deserts him when he realises that, with the best will in the world, the Prado is not going to accommodate five foam mattresses, a six man tent, five suitcases, drinking water, washing water, a gas stove, firewood and three cool boxes, without a fight.  He turns to wonder if there is anything left in the house at all meanwhile items to be packed are fanned out over the tarmac drive and slowly getting wet.

An hour after their hoped for departure time, all five family members are strapped into the car.  Claire mutters something about the gas stove looking precarious over Ben’s toddler car seat.  Unspeaking, Keith reverses, narrowly missing the dog, wipers swishing, using side mirrors only. 

No sooner than the family has driven out of their compound, pleas for Maryland cookies and sweets pipe up from the back seat.   When calls for food are denied, the boys scuffle about in their rucksacks searching for a movie and demanding a dvd be played.  All this activity takes place before even reaching the bottom of their road.  Stress levels are high. Claire’s legs are contorted around last minute additions of wash bags, in-car snacks, bottles of water and a well stocked first aid kit. Keith seems distracted as he fiddles with dashboard controls then attempts to plug in his iphone.  The car drifts perilously close to the unfinished tarmac edge of the road and Claire grips the door with white knuckles.

After four hours, wee stops ‘en plein air’, a near miss with a wandering goat, too many police road blocks to count and a spilt thermos of coffee, the boys are bouncing off the walls.  Sadly, the dvd player turned out to have a flat battery early on.  There is a long negotiation at the Tsavo park gate made overly complicated by the fact that Keith has forgotten to pre-load their Kenya Wildlife Service entry cards with credit, so it is with near hysterical relief that the family fall out of the car at ‘camping spot’ in the national park.

Thankfully Bruce and Jenny are already in situ.   The camping trailer is unpacked and seems beautifully organised.  Bruce stands over his Weber, expertly frying sausages with a Tusker in hand, while Jenny sets up a couple of camp chairs, pulling two glasses and some chilled white wine out of her safari wine cooler.   There are even cubes of ice.

Claire watches mute as Bruce soon launches into offering Keith unsolicited advice on where best to erect their family tent.  Keith bristles.  There’s a question mark over the presence of wild animals, the long-drop loos are a horror to behold and there appears to be no running water but as the boys run wild with their friends over the scrubby dirt, happily climbing anthills. Claire takes her first sip of wine and feels that she’s going to survive this; just as long she stays in a semi-inebriated state.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Desperately seeking a publisher...

The Expat Stereotypes.…Lifting the lid on 21st century expat life in Africa.

“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills….”  Hang on a minute...this book was written a hundred years ago!  Today news stories concern terrorist strikes, famine and corruption but what does Africa look like from the point of view of the British or international expat who actually lives here today?  

In the 21st century times have changed.   A tech boom, rising middle class, oil and gas discoveries, traffic mayhem, the arrival of the Chinese and a rich new seam of expats who are grabbing opportunities and making a life in the sun.  Is it still all polished floors, servants and white gloves or is the truth very different?

Following the success of the Telegraph Magazine’s best selling ‘Social Stereotypes’ by Victoria Mather and Sue Macartney-Snape, I devised the ‘Africa Expat Stereotypes’ in order to dispel myths of modern life in Africa as an expat; from the locally recognisable Kenya Cowboy (and cowgirl) to the modern day ex-army security specialist, the jobbing news reporter, the craft fair stall holder, the UN worker who is set to solve the world’s problems, to the aging safari camp managers who are holed up in the Masai Mara. 

The ‘Africa Expat Stereotypes’ humorously describe how foreigners are carving out a life here that is very different to the one that they would be leading back in Blighty.  The Africa Expat Stereotypes are currently being serialized by the UK Telegraph online (on their Life/Expat Life page).

Potential audience
The book would have a wide appeal, either to expats the world over (since many of the themes are universal) to travellers who are interested in Africa or in living overseas.  The short, satirical articles are coupled with fantastic illustrations that would make the book an excellent gift item.  Just as the UK Social Stereotypes series is still running, the ‘Africa Expat Stereotypes’ could run as a multiple series of books since there is a wealth of untapped material available!

*Look out for 'The Reluctant Camper' due to be published with illustration in The Telegraph soon.

Am going down the conventional route but it's tough (needless to say). Creative suggestions as to how I might get this book off the ground are welcome!!!  :)

 Copyright © 2014 Frances Woodhams

Emma the Expat Gym Bunny

It’s Monday morning. Emma consumed so many glasses of wine over the weekend that she lost count; what with the Africa Expat Wives Club ball and the children’s birthday party that ran on until midnight, her head is still fuzzy. Now it is time to pay the price.
Unfortunately, heavy traffic on the school run means that Emma arrives five minutes late for class. Much to her horror, her usual spot in the front row adjacent to aerobics instructor Lamu has been taken by a hapless newcomer wearing grey sweats. Emma grabs some Barbie pink hand weights from the back of the room and proceeds to grapevine her way to the front; tacking across the studio in the manner of a small boat negotiating skilfully across a busy harbour.
Pumping hand weights in the air, she treads on one toe and narrowly misses elbowing a fellow gym bunny in the eye. On arrival at the front, Emma finds that her grey hued, amorphous interloper acquiesces her position gracefully, clearly outmanoeuvred by Emma. The poor love looked lost anyway, Emma reasons.
The class is comprised of a hotchpotch of women and a smattering of men whose silhouettes run the entire gamut of human body shapes. Emma eyes Marta, a spry Scandinavian with an enviable figure, who generally occupies a space in the other front corner. Emma suspects that Marta has had a boob job but would never ask. Less fit gym attendees tend to stay at the back of the room in order to dash out for a phantom loo break in order to dodge the odd set of kick and lunge repetitions.
Emma likes to be in the front because she finds Lamu’s accent hard to follow above the pounding beat of the Xtreme Dance Anthems music CD that he favours.
“Grapevine, crossover, reverse, double loop, kick and lunge!” Lamu bellows out intermittently in hybrid aerobics speak; “step touch, repeater and side punch. Four, five, seven, eight...”
Attendees at the cardio-trim workout class variously get their feet in a muddle. One woman careers across the floor in the wrong direction which causes a tremendous kerfuffle. Others stay firmly rooted to the spot, restricting movements to minimum effort, while managing somehow to keep up with the basic routine.
Emma’s heartbeat races as she twirls and kicks with gusto. Concentration heightened, eyes glued to Lamu’s triangular torso, she follows his every hip shake and wiggle; a blur of black Lycra and neon. The aerobics class is better than any Saturday night disco once you know what you are doing.
Maina is the class clown. About half way through the class, Maina pretends to hoof Lamu in the left buttock then proceeds to chase the instructor around the room, throwing out side-kicks, front kicks and whatever kicks, whilst in hot pursuit. Muscle-bound Lamu makes a good show of feigning good humour at this unwarranted physical assault, even if the joke is wearing a little thin.
After 45 minutes, the class winds down from its frenzied, music-fuelled crescendo and there is a mass exodus to the water dispenser next door that dribbles agonisingly slowly into each plastic cup. Lamu moves over to the sound system (circa 1990) and exchanges the dance anthems for a local Lingala mix.
On re-entering the room, delighted at the change in pace, the majority of aerobics attendees fall into a free-styling dance to the tune of, Mama Betty’s Shamba. Some sing as well as dance, others sway and clap with the odd whoop or ululate thrown in. Emma takes this as her cue to sidle out of the room. The idea of working out to the sound of traditional music makes her grimace. Gospel pop songs she can bear, but this is too much.
As she collects her towel for a shower, gales of laughter emanate from the studio amid clapping and singing. Sadly Emma does not realise that, as usual, she is missing out on the best bit.

Copyright © 2014 Frances Woodhams