Saturday, August 14, 2010

Day 2 - Saturday

This morning I was woken by Ingrid's Blackberry playing some kind of buddhist chime alarm.  It was a reminder for her to go to the gym.  Instead, she is in the bedroom doing Qigong while I am googling a recipe for green papaya salad.  Wren is lying facedown in the bed doing his best impersonation of Sleeping Child.   Ok.  He is asleep.

Frost is on Day 2 of only 7 hours sleep.  I think it comes from sleeping in the room with the grandparents (who rise with the birds) and having no curtains on his east facing sun-room.  If the sun, or a Blackberry, doesn't get him at dawn then the hadedah ibis do - flying over in the light-crepuscule and honking their loud hee-haws.   Even the mourning doves sound loud on jet lag.   Frost is full of joy at his freedom in a large house with many people.  He is inherently social and also enjoys access to milo cereal and mnet.  I am going to take him for a ride on his new (rented) bike soon.

Now its 8.20am and David has already headed off for a run, Orion and Ansellia are asleep (Orion seems to sleep all day, on and off, and has hair like Owen Wilson forming dreds) and Dad left with the Hadedah's to be first on the beachwood golf course (although we have since heard, via Blackberry, that he has a flat tyre and his return time is uncertain.)

A woolynecked stork,
like the one we saw.
This morning, I am going to be making this green papaya salad for the lunch menu.  I am also going to stalk around the garden with the binoculars to get started on my bird list.  After years abroad in lands where birds are different and more elusive, I have forgotten my South African birds and could only identify mouse birds, doves and hadedahs for Wren.    Wren shouts "the mouse flew by the window!" when he sees birds passing.

"Look, hadedah's on the roof", I pointed out to Wren as we drove by with Dad on the way to Pick-n-Pay hypermarket.

Dad pulled the car to a complete stop in the middle of the road (nobody was behind us although cars had to go around us as he reversed up the road for a better view) because I was wrong - the birds were a couple of Woolynecked storks.

Dad has given me the bird list for Mkuzi game reserve so that I can review the birds we may see at Umfolozi but I fear he doesn't realize that I need to go back to A for Avocet and B for Barbet.

Frost has already seen monkeys (when he went golfing with Dad yesterday) and Wren hopes to see one soon although everyone else finds them less charming.  Apparently they eat birds eggs, steal fruit and mess everything up.

Wren stirs.  The Mommy-Day begins (at 8.45am!! woo hoo).

Durban Day 1

Lets start with the jet lag update:  we managed to sleep last night - at about 11pm.  It felt like mid-afternoon on a hang-over (which it was in Seattle, not the hangover) but the kids were eventually persuaded to sleep.  Wren gnashed his teeth and woke in a groaning mid-waking state a few times but it went well considering the possible insanity of jet lag and we lasted in bed for 10 hours!  Anna - take heart - Leo may be fine on your trip to France!

Wren and I slept till 9am but Frost woke at 6am and went golfing with Dad.   After that they rented Frost a bicycle for the month.... the family here is very keen on mountain biking.

Granddad has 3 large dogs and some of you may recall that Wren is borderline phobic about dogs and was very anxious to see them.  They are all larger than previous scary dogs.  Puppy is very old, "like a hyena" due to a flea allergy (according to Dad), Cotton is stupid due to brain damage which occurred when she jumped out of a moving vehicle as a puppy and Charlie is large, fast, young and jumpy.

To cope with the dogs, Wren has RULES ABOUT DOGS.   He has declared that:

1) Dogs Do Not Come Inside and
2) definitely Dogs Do Not Come Upstairs.

When we go outside he only likes the Vegetable Garden (fenced) not the lawn because:

3) The Dogs Can't Come In the Vegetable Garden, and
4) If you see a dog You Must Rescue Me.

While 1)- 3) are sort of rules around the house, they are not enforced with the regularity Wren requires, so he has had to shriek a few times to let us know about their offenses.  I hope he comes to relax over the next few days.  Dad is hoping to desensitize him.  So far he has offered Wren to take Charlie for a walk and has held Wren and encouraged Charlie to jump up at them on his hind legs.  After this display in which Wren shrieked loudly, he told him "See, he doesn't want to hurt you!"

Wren remains unconvinced.

Dad's garden is fabulous.  Just wandering around makes me happy - the paw-paw (papaya) trees have about 8 green papayas, avocados are falling from the avocado tree (rudely cut to make it fruit closer to the ground, advice which it is roundly refusing to follow by fruiting at the highest extremities) and I bought a bag for 4 large avocados from men selling them by the road - $2 for 4!

Tonight, David arrives from Cape Town.

We have bought lots of groceries - I am thrilled with the Indian produce and bought samosa wraps, frozen puris, a cream donut (nothing like the US ones... its like a long donut roll with faux cream inside), ripe guavas, square marshmallows in coconut and a bag of granadillas.  I am now going to make instant coffee to stay awake until bedtime.

Wren peers over a pile of chillies and curry leaves.
Jackfruit in the center and green mangoes just out of sight.

Granadillas / passionfruit:  US$5 per Kg!
Guava's to the left.
I feel quite woozy but I love this place.

Frost and Wren made a mud dam in the vegetable garden (the earth is reddish and sandy), Frost is wearing his pajamas again and Wren has already played with every toy I brought for the month and has now resorted to watching Frost play iPad (a round of bejeweled) and tells me that "when you win there is a big tornado."

Friday, August 13, 2010

Anecdotes on the way to Oliver Thambo

We have flown from Seattle --->  Washington (Frost was disappointed that he did not see the White House from the window) ---> Senegal and the kids have not yet slept.  Why are they not sleeping?  Why?

The new pilot, fresh from sleep somewhere in Dakar (we hope), tells us that "as you may have noticed the runway is a bit rough.  Its fine but as we take of it may feel like riding a horse."

The lady in the row behind me is a wit.  "I have never ridden a horse," she says.  She is on the way to Madagascar with her husband.  I think it odd that she is going to Madagascar but has never ridden a horse.

As we take off (without too many bumps) I notice a bright winged bird alighting on a bush.  Its these intimacies with places we never visit that fill me with an ennui as I travel by plane.  Its an expedient but cruel way to travel.  I have never been to Senegal and this blurred staring from a plane at dawn certainly does not count.  

I happen to know that on our flight is a group of avid ornithologists, heading to South Africa with an exhaustive bird list.  If they saw that bird through the plane window for the first time and managed to identify it, would it count as a 'lifer' or something seen on a television screen?

Dakar at dawn.   The city was yellow-ochre from the air.

Breakfast at dinner time
Apparently SAA thinks vegans live on pineapple.  I get hysterical at the third meal of pineapple.  The first one was raw pineapple as a side dish, with cooked pineapple stirred into some kind of lentil bulgur mash.  We get the same lentil-bulgur pineapple mash for dinner and lunch.  Breakfast is the cooked pineapples with cooked apples and a side of some unidentifiable carbohydrate shaped like an egg.  I honestly could not figure it out.  It was like gulab jamun made of semolina covered with... wait.... PINEAPPLE JUICE sauce and flaked coconut!

I eat almost anything (not meat) and so I ate some of it.  However, the kids had the same meal.  Frost and Wren at the lentils out of the mash but I had to forage some cream cheese from a non-vegan child to give him something to put on his vegan (ie high fibre lump of dough) bread.

I send Joshua an urgent email to change his meal preference to EAT ANYTHING EXCEPT VEGAN.

Breakfast - note the egg shaped starch to the left and the extra
pineapple fresh for 'desert'.

4 hours to go
Somewhere over Angola my coccyx becomes bruised by the rigors of sleeping sitting up and I haven't had any sleep since then.  The kids are doing well.  Frost can't sleep sitting up and so spent a few unhappy hours trying to sleep with his head hanging over the handrest into the aisle.  The attendants kept bumping him on their water runs.  That was before I switched seats with him to give him the window and wall.  After that, he and Wren slept for about 6 hours of god-given peace with their necks drooped at weird angles.

2 hours and 20 minutes to go
The people on this plane seem to take an inordinate number of pills.  As the flight winds up people wander the aisles with pill-boxes of various shapes and constructions.  One woman works her way down a pile of 10 little boxes.  A man with a box of surgical swabs waits for someone to come with his medicine.  Is it a shot of insulin that has been 'contained' as weaponry?  What happens to insulin dependent diabetics on long-hauls in the post 9/11 world?

2 hours to go.
The kids are woken from deep sleep for another meal of stewed pineapple and lentils.

Wake up, its time for pineapple

We make it only 10 minutes late.  The landing is eventful.  As we are on the approach the pilot announces:

"Coming up on our final approach.  If you feel a bit of a bump on landing, it is because we are doing a FULLY AUTOMATIC LANDING."

We share apprehensive glances.  The landing is smooth but there is a jolt and a few corrections after touchdown.

"Touchdown!" says the pilot after a few minutes.

He adds "All our pilots are extensively trained and maintained at level X#!$# at great expense to the airline but we also have to make sure we can do totally blind landings so from time to time we check the totally automatic landing equipment.  The test was successful."

The plane is swept by a buzz of indignant murmurs.  Nobody wanted to be part of the equipment test.

In Jbg we have to rush.  We have only 1 hour and 15 minutes to make it through passport control, customs, recheck luggage and transfer terminals.   With some drama (running, pushing Wren on the luggage cart, praying indiscriminately that our luggage actually appear in a timely manner, threatening Frost to stop him fighting to have a turn riding on the luggage cart instead of pushing the second one, praying indiscriminately that the sniffing-eye beagle not detect the boiled egg crushed somewhere in our hand-luggage) we make it onto the next flight.

A weird thing happens as I try and check my email in the 10 minutes before boarding.  When I power up the laptop for the first time since 35 000 feet, the login screen appears in a gothic font.  My password login sends the computer in an endless loop of failed startups.  I reboot to the same result.  I have a sense of dread only alleviated in Dad's kitchen when I turn it on again and the font, login and startup all proceed normally. 

Now the only blip on the radar is that I brought the Australian converter plug.   

You shall have me for the remaining 63% of the laptop battery life but then I shall be silenced unless a technological fix is found.  

Dad does not have wi-fi but has some lan ports.  Here is my laptop hooked up (45% remaining as I dedicate my battery to the iPad).

Note the lan cable coming from the ceiling.
Dad had to climb around up there to install it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Made it to Washington, Dulles

After one of those nights in which you wake up every hour thinking "is it time yet?" we left for the airport at 4.30am.  Frost was groaning and had bed hair while Wren popped right up hearing noises and kept up a constant discourse on "I never drove in the night before!  This the best day ever.  I LIKE going on the airplane!"

Thunderstorms on either side of the plane
His tone changed a bit midway into the flight after the captain announced we were deviating to "avoid twin thunderstorms on either side of us."  Wren started crying and asking if we had to fly into the thunder and would the plane start burning.  Um.  This was all asked VERY LOUDLY to the concern of a Romanian lady sitting behind us who was clinging to the armrest.  After some reassuring he kept peering out at the clouds but felt better.

The plane was very full.  It was actually overbooked by 15 and many people were turned back with overstuffed hand luggage.   United is really bargain basement these days.  It feels as if you are stuffed in - I'm not large but I barely fit in regular economy and Wren's feet hit the lady in front (many times) about which she was quite graceful.  Thankfully, we got off on time and have now landed in Washington, checked into SAA and found our next flight (via Senegal) to be on time.

All around the skies are dark with mountains of thunderclouds but its sunny and clear at the airport.  It was a bumpy descent and I felt a bit ill because we didn't have a good view out our window because we were seated over the wing.

Wren enjoying Frost's "alien spaceship" sticker book
We have just finished Sushi lunch and are off to Ben and Jerry's for a last icecream before the long haul flight boards in an hour.  We have found a power point to recharge the iPad!!!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A visit to the trees

A few weeks ago we were invited to visit the Issaquah home of some friends of ours.  Their parents / in-laws are very creative and constructed a gorgeous treehouse in the bottom of the garden for their grandchildren to enjoy.  Its whimsical and magical, overlooking a ravine and in the trees at the same time.  

At first, Wren was apprehensive about climbing the curved wooden staircase which has a railing on only one side.  However, by the end of the day he was very confident.  The house was unlike anything I have seen outside a coffee table book.  The windows open and have glass panes.  There is a built in bunk or two and a flying-fox from up the lawn to hit you into a large tree (if you don't put your feet out).

"Don't look, DON'T LOOK, I am not ready. You can't see me!"  Wren hides his face because he wants me to film him climbing UP the stairs, rather than descending.
Frost was thrilled with the treehouse and the other discoveries around the house - a green tree frog,  a brown pond frog, a hot tub and a rumored snake (seen by the girls later).   Wren kept returning to the pond to see if he could find another frog.   When they proved elusive, he imagined he saw them under the rocks, hiding.   Frost was thrilled to hold a green tree Frost Pascal captured.  The frogs like to sit on the side of the hot tub (for warmth?) but, wisely, do not go it.

The kids played hide-and-seek and hot-tubbed as well as eating a lot and watching movies on a big screen TV.

Another excitement was the golf-cart.  The family has a golf-cart to make the journey down the steep lane to the access road where the mail is left.    Neither Frost nor Wren had ever ridden on a golf-cart - and the excitement was our equivalent of a trip to a horse-ranch.

Pascal took the kids on a ride down the lane on the cart while I took pictures of slugs, kids and fungi with the new camera.

Frost enjoys the thrill of golf-cart speed.
Wren holds on tight as they return from the long-journey down the lane.
The green tree frog displayed on the back deck.
 (That's Pascal, inheritor of the creative-bushwacker-tree-builder gene,
in the background).