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Being thankful

Today is Thanksgiving. I am not American so I do not celebrate it. But I have to agree it is a good tradition to be thankful once in a while.

I personally get quite annoyed when people act entitled. When stuff is – or worse: when people are – taken for granted. I mean, marriages break up over this stuff, no? Not trying to be corny, but I find it important to teach my children to stop and think and realize these things occasionally. Maybe it should even be easier for them, when living in 3 continents, to notice positive and little things?

In an effort to motivate them to do so, and to make it a habit, we have a gratitude journal. Every evening, we write together but in our own journal what we are thankful for. And it does become a habit, something you then develop an eye for and think of during the day. After writing, the girls are free to share what they wrote or keep it to themselves. On the same day, I heard the following:

A: “I am grateful for showers and how clean they make me feel when it is dusty”

C: “I am grateful for the tree that holds the swing”

And I am grateful for how wonderful those entries are.

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Words

When my children were born – and I assume this is the same for everyone – I slowly but surely tried to teach them how to speak. The first time they then actually used the right word for the right thing, it was followed by applause. My eldest was a stubborn one though, she would say “opa” 15 times when pointing at his chair, but she would refuse to say it when he was actually there (yearning to hear it, I am sure).

Then of course the second one comes along and you are surprised how they develop totally differently. It is as if every child walks through a room full of shelves and chooses from the shelves whatever skill they want to focus on first. Number one made two word sentences at a young age, number two has incredible eye-hand coordination. They also seemed to treat vocabulary differently. Number one associated table cloth with sheet but number two named the table cloth an apple because it was green.

I recall the first time my daughter came home from school and used words she did not learn from me. I remember that exact moment, because I realized she would now be exposed to every single word out there. In the past, she obviously heard words from other people aswell but I was there. Maybe it makes more sense that I remember that moment because my children are raised in a multi-lingual environment. So when the gardener was tending the flowers and gave them water, she repeated after him “maji” and we all beamed with pride. But when she came home from school and said (in an accent more English than the queen, I must add) “water“, it was.. well, weird.

(And don’t get me wrong, it is not as if I think they will pick up bad words from the outside world. They pick those from me. We have a swear jar in our house and all the money in it, comes from me. We could go on an annual holiday with that jar. Although I do my best, I use ‘flipping heck’ and ‘shoot’ and that sort of thing. )

And now we have come to the stage where my kids throw my words back at me. Also a pleasure. (Not) Where I lecture them on something and by God, I have to admit they listened to every word and have actually registered what I said fully because a couple of days or weeks later it is thrown right back at you, and you have to admit they are right and you should practice what you preach. But hey, who am I kidding, I am still beaming with pride when they do that (don’t tell them though).

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“maji!”

The good, the bad and the ugly

I work in a holiday destination, and I am usually the one to read the feedback from guests after their holiday. Luckily, 95% of what I get to read is fantastic, full of praise and tells me guests are over the moon. Great. A perk to the job even.

But you can imagine that the remaining 5% consists of a wide range: from totally legitimate complaints, to a tad naive remarks, sometimes even rude notes, and then all the way to downright ridiculous comments. The totally legitimate complaints I can work with, gladly even, appreciate knowing them. In the category naive, it sometimes seems guests leave their brain at home when they travel. One lady told me she did not brush her teeth for a full week because our packing list did not tell her to bring her toothbrush. Right.. whatever. A rude comment I found in a written questionnaire, saying: “the driver did not smell!”. I immediately wondered if I should be worried that we did not meet her expectations? But it is of course the ridiculous ones that make my job such fun. When I heard “we couldn’t sleep at night, it was quite annoying the animals made sounds all night”, it is very hard to bite my tongue and not reply “oh god, did they forgot to turn the feature off again?”. Or when someone complained there was an animal on the path to the room, I so wished I could say “what do you mean? Do they not put them back in their cages?”

A common one I got very often, was the one where the guest wrote “the Maasai were not very authentic”. Well, it is not as if we got a Chinese rip off in wholesale for her. A colleague and myself even started drawing cartoons based on these comments.

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Not only the feedback but also the strange requests inspired us. When we received a parcel of toiletries in the office, addressed to the mobile camp in the Serengeti, clearly the guest thought DHL would deliver it at his tent? Which would probably look something like this..?

DHL

Clearly, people’s trust in DHL is limitless because when a Chinese millionaire’s daughter summited Kilimanjaro, she told us “you can take me and my luggage down now” and she was appalled by our suggestion she should walk it down. She insisted. We explained planes and helicopters cannot really land where she was. So she said “you can carry me on the stretcher and you can DHL the luggage down”. The worst part? The porters actually did carry her down on a stretcher. And carried her luggage. (I hope she tipped well.) And I made this.

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But my favorite – and it has not been topped yet – is this one: “the beach was very sandy and there were fish in the ocean”. Which I thought was a huge compliment, talking about a great experience, right? But no, I misunderstood, it was a complaint: the beach was TOO sandy and since there were fish, she did not dare to swim in case they touched her.

 

 

Home is where the heart is?

People very often ask why I live in Africa and if I will ever go back home.

Firstly, I did not chose Africa. I (we, at that time) wanted to leave and we were prepared to go (almost) anywhere. So it could even have been Costa Rica or Vietnam. Call it destiny, call it coincidence, but it became Tanzania. Many will be surprised to hear this but I hated it at first. Hated it. Talked about going home about every day. But I feel that if you do not live in a country for at least 2 years, you did not really give it a chance. This is not a scientifically proven fact, this is my opinion. So we stayed.

Secondly, Africa does get under your skin. It just does. The wildlife, the endless views, the weather, the sunsets, the hakuna matata-attitude.  How can you not get affected by that? I will not expand too much on the fact that I met the love of my life in Africa, but maybe it helped that I saw the place through his eyes. He (partly) grew up here, spoke fluent Kiswahili, he even spoke of sweet childhood memories, maybe it softened me up? Who knows.

And I admit: the hakuna-matata attitude is a double-edged sword. When you want someone to come and fix your water, and he says he will come Monday at 10.00 and he shows up Tuesday at 15.00, that can be infuriating. But if you can put yourself over that, there is something to be said for less stress. When I am in Europe, I am even stressed in the shower. The water pours so hard over my head, I feel rushed to wash and rinse faster 🙂

But to me, Arusha is sometimes a micro-cosmos, and life is simplified. The community I move around in, is fairly small, so is the industry I work in. There are obviously people you like less, but no point ignoring them so better learn to live with it. Also, you cannot really buy much so shopping is pretty much out of the question. Therefore following fashion is futile (impossible?) and you feel free to wear whatever you feel comfortable in, so liberating. And because there is less shopping, there is also no rivalry in school about the latest and hottest schoolbag or clothes because the Italian girl is wearing what she bought in Rome and the Indian girl wears her Dehli-outfit, and that is a wealth for my children, no limitation.   In terms of food, we only recently got luxury products such as imported cheese and they are so expensive that you think long and hard about when and why you would wish to indulge. Which is not a bad thing may I add. Not having much also makes you resourceful, makes you think. And yes, I like nice things but I do not depend on them, definitely not derive my self-worth from them.

And whether I will go home. Always an option. A very nice option even. But why not go somewhere else (first)? The options are limitless, no? Soon, the added question will become: where do my girls want to go?

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It’s a small world after all

When you have been an expat for 16 years, the term globalisation is no longer something you read an article about, it becomes life. But the most amazing example of that just happened to me recently.

At my kid’s international school, they organise an annual international fair where all parents are kindly requested to make a stand which represents their country. Usually the stand has a game and some typical food. The parents are not only willing, they usually go all the way and the festival is very cool as a result. The UK and US stand are always quite big, the Asian ones have fantastic food, Belgium usually pairs up with Holland, and I always lose Celeste in South-Africa in search of her boerewors-fix.. In short: it is an experience.

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This year, I found Axelle in China, where a very organised mum was teaching calligraphy. All of a sudden, a small Asian girl, which I deduced was the lady’s daughter, came up to her and asked in perfect Flemish (yep, accent and all) if she could have a soda. Imagine our faces. So I politely asked why her daughter spoke Flemish. The conversation went a little bit like this.

– me “your daughter speaks Flemish?”

– the mother “yes, we lived in Belgium for years”

– “oh really, I am Belgian. And which part of China are you from?”

– “do you know Hubei province?”

– “I do actually, I used to teach in Wuhan”

– “I am from Wuhan! ”

Mind. Blown.

 

 

 

Back to basics

Fancy websites are all well and good.. if you have the time. Turns out I don’t. I will blatantly ignore the fact that I couldn’t figure out the admin side of the theme I had purchased and really couldn’t be bothered anymore after some fruitless attempts. I will also blatantly ignore the fact that I could not read, let alone update, my own website in the office because the content was deemed sexually explicit? So apparently using the word sofiesticated, the wrongly spelled version of sophisticated, makes you sexually explicit? Who knew. I know better ways of being sexually explicit, and I would not throw them on the net, but who am I?

So it is back to simple blogging. Cheap, fast and easy. (Oops, I might be sexually explicit again, I surely hope I am not.) I can’t really predict with what frequency I will be feeling keen to write but that will then be a surprise to both of us. But Africa – and I guess life in general  – does continue to inspire. And I have never been one to shut up 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Familie vakantie

Het is vrij ironisch: ik steek extra tijd, geld en moeite in een eigen website en als resultaat post ik amper nog berichten. Zoals alles in het leven gaat ook mijn blog met pieken en dalen neem ik aan.
Nochthans, het is niet omdat ik niets te vertellen heb en er niks gebeurt. Het tegendeel is waar: in feite ben ik te druk met vanalles – waaronder levensbelangrijke beslissingen nemen, dat wordt zeker een blogpost binnenkort! – en dus komen die blog posts er niet meer van.
Maar in de tussentijd nam ik ook nog eens vakantie. Het was tot mijn grote verbazing twee jaar geleden dat ik in Belgie was. Dat is in 15 jaar buitenland nog nooit gebeurd, normaal ging ik toch altijd minstens jaarlijks. Maar goed, het was dus nu wat langer. En je kan je dat als niet-expat misschien niet goed voorstellen, maar mijn vakanties in Belgie voelen niet echt altijd als vakantie. Niet slechter, niet beter, gewoon anders. Niet als die typische een-week-aan-het-strand-en-niks-doen vakanties. (Een weekend Zanzibar is niet hetzelfde.) En uiteraard ook niet als een citytrip-met-musea-en-bezienswaardigheden vakantie.(Al kijk ik soms mijn ogen uit om te zien wat er in Leuven veranderd is.)
Maar waarom vertel ik dat nu? Door wat gekonkelfoes tussen mijn oudste dochter en mijn broers, kreeg ik een ticket Spanje cadeau! Dus 3 gezinnen en ik, op naar de Costa Blanca! (Spijtig genoeg zonder mijn eigen kroost.) Wat me nog het meest opviel: het deed me ontzettend hard denken aan de familievakanties van vroeger, waarvan ik niet eens besefte dat ik ze zo hard miste. Uitslapen, zon, zwembad, strand, een keer de stad in, uit eten, en vooral niks doen.. Ik was helemaal vergeten hoe dat ging. Maar het was super. Moeten we nog eens doen 🙂

Tarangire-Ngorongoro

 

 

I do not go on safari quite as often as I wish but in November we had the operations manager of Peru visiting so I was sent to the bush to escort her. There are less pleasant things to do for work so off we went..

It is always nice to travel with a newby because their “ohhs” and “awws” rightfully remind you how breathtaking this country can be. One can get a bit blase about yet another impala, unfortunately. (My kids call impalas McDonalds, because they are everywhere and all predators eat them as fast food.)

I find Tarangire to be a highly undervalued park. The big baobabs and majestic elephants, it should be on everyone’s itinerary. On the other hand, there was hardly anyone else there and I loved it.

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After our night at Tarangire, we headed for the Ngorongoro crater. Although not added on our itinerary, I decided to stop at a gorgeous place for lunch.

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It had been years since I had been to the crater. When it is busy, it does become a bit of a Disney ride though. So being based in our own camp (superb location and view) we decided on an early start. And I love camping.. well, not that you can call it roughing it..

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