Monday, October 30, 2006


Hello all (I am assuming there are more than one of you out there). Sorry for the silence. I was on a marketing mini-course last week (much more interesting than you might think and than I anticipated) and then it was the week-end and my laptop stays at the office. I'm sure there's lots to tell you but I just can't think of it all right now. Must be gripping stuff then. Small news item: Joaquim fell headfirst off the front step yesterday and is now sporting some attractive scrapes and bruising on his face, but is otherwise fine. At least that's what we think happened, neither Paulo nor I saw him, we just heard a loud thump (head hits cement) followed by a much louder wail. Poor mouse. Quite nasty. I guess it is but the first of many.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A little debate

Interesting conflicting articles in the Guardian today and yesterday (I’m not going to bother with the links, can’t seem to get them right). Yesterday they were discussing some research that says older mothers (40s upwards) experience no more stress or difficulties than younger mothers. In fact, the group that experienced the most stress were mothers in their 30s (I sympathise). Today, they report that older mothers (mid-30s upwards) have a tendency to pass on fertility problems to their daughters, so that these woman may go on to have problems conceiving even in their most fertile years. So, do we support older women who want to have babies later and later as it seems they are perfectly able to cope with motherhood, or does the future wellbeing of that child take precendence, whether that means losing a parent earlier than most people or having a greater likelihood of experiencing fertility problems? The problem with this debate is that so many other issues and preconceptions get dragged in, to do with women’s role in society and ageing and the whole fertility treatment thing, that it becomes increasingly difficult to judge it objectively.

I find myself undecided: I understand the position of a woman who has made her career the focus in her life, or who simply has not met someone with whom she wanted to have children, and then at about 40 decides either that the time is now right – for whatever reason – for her to have children. Who’s to say they’ll be badly off? She may be more emotionally and financially secure than at 20 or 30, she may be a much better mother. But, what about at 50, or 60? What about the teenager whose mother dies of old age, or the sensitive child who is teased throughout school about his old mum, or the young woman who can’t conceive because her mother had her so late? These are surely legitimate concerns, but are they enough to say that it would be better that they had never been born, or that that woman should never experience motherhood? And then there’s also the possibility of adoption. So many children without parents, so many people wanting children. But the process is notoriously difficult and I think older parents are excluded. Why? See above I guess. But is it better to have no parents at all? A whole other debate...

I don’t have an answer, but I certainly think there should be an age limit on fertility treatment, and I think that limit should be around 50, which gives the child 30 years or so with their mother, and also implies a mother young and active enough to deal with a young child. This is yet another issue where the emotional weight lands fair and square on women only, and it seems doubly unfair that many caring, responsible older women get heavily criticised for wanting to have children, when while they were young and fertile they under pressure to pursue their career as competitively as possible, and postpone pregnancy, or risk seeing their male colleagues promoted whilst they stayed put.

I count myself very lucky to have found a way and a place where I can combine motherhood in my early 30s and work I enjoy, but a word of warning – it’s absolutely bloody exhausting!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Eid celebrations

Yesterday and today Pemba is celebrating Eid. Yesterday for those who follow the moon cycle in Mozambique, today for those following Mecca, at least that’s how I understood it. Which means two very bad days for goats in Pemba – all you could see of them yesterday was their feet sticking up over the edge of the basins that people were carrying home to the Eid feast. And their tanned skins on the drums and tamborines being carried to and from the mosques by young boys in long robes and skull caps. It also means two days of rather delicious little cakes and the like for me; especially tasty were the ones given me this morning by the lady who owns the shop where Sebastian hangs out while I’m at work. She’s a little, roundish, talkative Indian lady called Amina who is a very accomplished saleswoman, and very kindly allows Sebastian an the lady who takes care of him to use her shop as a creche. It’s two doors down from the office, which couldn’t be more convenient for me and means Sebastian just pops in for feeds. The original offer was surely made in the hope that I would start buying from her rather over-priced shop – which of course I have, I told you she was accomplished – but she has now fallen for Sebastian in a big way. She has claimed him as an additional grandson, and we have become so much part of her family that she says she’ll invite us to her daughter’s forthcoming wedding. I haven’t the heart to tell her that as of January Sebastian will be staying at home (if I can get him to take a bottle, which is proving difficult). I think I’ll have to bring him in for the occasional visit or she’ll never forgive me.

Friday, October 20, 2006

weekly round-up

Plenty to report today.

First and foremost, we connected to the electricity mains! Yipee! We have recovered our fridge, a little rusty after all this time, but still working fine, and we are enjoying the novelty of being able to switch on the TV without kick-starting our little generator first. We’re not yet ready to take down the solar panels though; since we were connected a week ago there have been two whole days without power. We are still in Pemba, after all.

Went to Ibo Island on Monday to check up on my other current project. Three private houses are being set up to receive tourists in a homestay programme. We (Quirimbas National Park) are providing the funds to improve one bedroom and the bathroom, and we hope that there will soon be enough money coming in for the owners to make other improvements as they see fit. The idea is to offer a low-budget authentic taste of Mozambican life for the more adventurous tourist. Perhaps I should say most adventurous, as Ibo Island has neither electricity nor running water, and these houses are certainly modest. But authentic it is. If you want high luxury, better go up the road to the new Ibo Island Lodge, which – if you forgive the plug, it belongs to some friends of mine – is going to be the most stunning little boutique hotel when it opens its 4 metre-high, solid mahogany doors in December. And while we’re plugging, for those of you who are beginning to be intrigued by the whole idea of northern Mozambique, check out Kaskazini’s website, (I confess: I am a founding partner), which has the best and most complete information about the area, along with some pretty piccies.

Wednesday and Thursday were bank holidays, the former Pemba Day, the latter to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the death in suspicious circumstances of Mozambique’s first post-independence president, Samora Machel. Next week (Tuesday or Wednesday, depends on which mosque you belong to) is Eid, the end of Ramadan, and, in this very relaxed Muslim society, the biggest piss-up of the year. We usually get sent a few Eid cookies by a neighbour, which is a nice gesture. So all in all, not a very productive week for most people, but I enjoyed the trip to Ibo (it’s a 15 minute flight of rare beauty to get there from here) and I was encouraged to see things moving along, if a little slowly. And I shall be in the office for Eid, as I don’t qualify for Muslim holidays, more’s the pity. However, it’s the week-end, so it’ll be a bit of beach and a bit of nothing much for the next two days anyway.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Building blocks

We have started to build our house. Which means we have started digging, as in the case of building what goes down must come up. So there are now four trenches in our garden marking the outer wings of our new house, and a whole lot of little poles marking out corners, internal divisions etc. It’s very exciting. When I say wings, this is not some kind of huge manor house, it is medium-sized, 3 bedroom u-shaped house with a private inner courtyard facing down towards the sea. The sea, from our piece of land, is a small patch of blue through the trees, but it is there. We designed the house ourselves, Paulo is supervising the construction, I get final say on the finishings and aesthetics. We’re trying to stick to local, natural materials as much as possible. I want a grass-thatch roof, he wants a coconut-leaf thatch roof. We have not yet resolved this one, but I think logistics will play in his favour, as grass thatch means bringing in some professional thatchers from Zimbabwe or South Africa but there are plenty of local thatchers who can use coconut thatch. We’ll cross that beam when we get to it.

For the last 4 years we have been living thus: in 1 room, with an external kitchen and an external bathroom (bucket shower, long-drop latrine) for the first 2 years, and then with the arrival of Joaquim an extension was added comprising a second room and an internal bathroom. We have no running water. We have solar electricity. Next week we may get on the mains, 10 and a half months after making our application (have I mentioned Mozambican bureaucracy? Not yet? It will come, in its own good time.). This would be quite an event and would mean we could reclaim our electric fridge (at the moment we have a small gas one) which has been fostered by friends since we moved out of a little rented cottage and into our own house 4 years ago. It would also be just in time for the start of the hot season, when running a fan all night (not possible on our solar system, the battery goes down) is the only way to sleep with any degree of comfort. We will also be able to set up a wtare pump to pump water from our well into a tank and then have running water. All of this will be very good news indeed, but I’m not actually getting excited until I see that cable connected and the lights on. We’ve had a few false starts already.

I’ll post a piccie of the building works when they’re a little more advanced than 4 holes in the ground, in the meantime here’s one of me and the boys on the beach a couple of week-ends ago. Pretty cute, huh? (Them, not me.)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

How I make a living

The best thing about my job is the fieldwork. I just had an extremely satisfying visit to one of my community tourism projects in Namau/Namave village, 100kms by road (you have to go right around Pemba bay, which is the third-largest in the world), maybe 20km as the crow flies, from Pemba, inside the Quirimbas National Park (QNP). Namave is a little village of fishermen and farmers, pretty much typical of the area. It is situated on a large river-mouth, lined by mangrove trees. Nearby are beaches where marine turtles nest. 5km outside the village is an old sisal plantation, owned by Meco, whose grandfather worked there in the colonial era. Meco is an ex-hunter and livestock farmer who is rehabilitating the owner’s house for tourists, has discussed offering various excursions and activities with the villagers, and then approached the QNP about supporting his initiative. Which is where I come in.

My job is to set up and promote 8 community tourism projects in different parts of the park over three years (if they renew my one-year contract in December. I think they will, at least I haven’t seen the position advertised yet!). This year I have to have two up and running. One is a homestay project on Ibo island (more on this next week after I visit it), the other is Namave.

Namave has lots going for it – a great setting, a tourism initiative already on the go, proximity to Pemba, a community already interested, a contact person – Meco – who is very capable, speaks English and is very enthusiastic, and cell phone reception. This last element is extremely helpful for making bookings and warning the community that tourists are coming. So far so good. Of course, the village has never, ever received tourists. ( I lie, I took a friend with me last time, she was the first.) They have no experience of running activities. They speak no English and many speak no Portuguese (especially the women). They expect a lot (a school, a hospital, a well) and think the QNP will provide these things. They are very poor, and have never handled a community fund, which will be created by the project. They are also friendly, welcoming, and keen, if a little sceptical. They’ve been promised things before, they have yet to see anything happen. My challenge is to get this project organised, get them committed and involved, but also manage their expectations, as they will hardly be making a fortune to start with. I have to help them set up a community body that will receive and manage community funds, in a transparent and accountable way. I have to consider social impacts, environmental impacts, economic impacts, exclusion, inclusion, confusion. Here’s the crunch – I have never done this before. I really hope I can do it. The head of WWF in Mozambique – to whom I am contracted – really put me at ease with this email some months back: “Community tourism in the QNP has to be our biggest success story ever. And soon.” No pressure then.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Space Safaris Starlight Parties

Space Safaris Starlight Parties (a.k.a. me, Paulo and Gen – my neighbour, business partner and good friend) threw one of our by now legendary (well round here anyway) full moon parties on Saturday night. The setting was perfect: humpback whales doing acrobatics out at sea as the sun set over the bay to our left, a pink moon then rose to our right, sound system thumping in the background, high-energy drumming around the fire in the boma (sort of coral, as in cows not reef, do you spell it like that? I digress), lots of people, lots of dancing, lots of fun.

Not much sleep of course, as as far as Joaquim and Sebastian were concerned Sunday was just another day with a 5am start... I started the generator, stuck on a DVD, gave Sebastian to the guard to be wheeled around the garden and went back to sleep. Fimbles followed by Paddington Bear kept J quiet for 2 hours (I would like to stress that I don’t normally do this, but hey, after 4 hours sleep, I think it was justified), S fell asleep in his buggy, and I managed to get myself back into reasonable condition. Paulo, who has an astonishing capacity for deafness in the mornings, pretty much slept through it all. Yesterday we were subdued, spent the day quietly at home and went for a dip at the end of the day, the sea was beautiful and calm. S found the water a bit chilly for his liking: he obviously needs to get in more often, after all this is the Indian Ocean, not the North Sea! J had no such problems, and is making good progress with his armbands. I have a feeling my father will try to teach him to swim at Christmas (my parents, sister and aunt are coming out for a holiday). He may just succeed. Do you remember using armbands? I can remember the feel of the tightly inflated plastic on my skin so clearly, and I could swim unassisted when I was 3. Wonder why it made such a lasting impression.

Other news, S has cut his second tooth, and he actually bit me the other day. He looked at me with eyes wide in surprise when I let out a loud yelp and jumped in my seat. Those little teeth are sharp! I had forgotten just how sharp, in fact. I’m hoping this will not become a habit. He’s also started eating, just a little baby rice to begin with. It’s clearly a bit strange for him but he’s doing OK. I’m hoping that with solids he will start to sleep better at night, he’s nearly 6 months and really shouldn’t be feeding twice a night any more. Maybe I should have read Gina Ford after all, my children don’t seem to go in for this sleeping through business. Sigh.

Tomorrow I’m off to the bush for two days, to check up on one of my projects. I will report back on my return.

PS: A big vote of thanks to Clare, Lizzie and Emma for letting me know that my brother is not the only one reading my blog.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Things you don't get asked every day

In a conversation with my neighbour the other day she casually asked me I had ever done vaginal massage. Before you get any funny ideas, we were talking about childbirth. Apparently women here use vaginal massage in the last few months running up to the birth, to prevent tearing. She says it works. I wondered at the long-term consequences...

Can you tell I'm fishing for comments?

Links and 40 winks

Why don't my links work? I've followed the instructions to the letter. Can someone help please?

Yesterday was a bank holiday. We went to the beach. Joaquim is following in his grandfather's footsteps by refusing to wear a bathing costume. I don't mind, let him enjoy it while he can, but people here find it a bit odd. He spent ages in the water, practising "swimming" not very successfully (i.e. being rolled around by small waves on the water's edge) and was only lured out by the promise of ice-cream. Sensible child.

Sebastian is practising sitting up, not very successfully.

I am practising staying awake, not very successfully. Sebastian was up at 4.45 this morning, which is usually Joaquim's job. He slept in until 5.30, which would have been lovely if Sebastian had not been awake. How my standards have fallen. A lie-in used to be something that happened between 10am and midday, if I make it to 6 these days I feel lucky. When I turned 33 last week someone asked me if I felt any different. I said "This year I feel much older". Bless 'em, I love them to bits but they don't half wear me out.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The worst thing I've read in a long time

Following hard on the heels of my rant about the Guardian's unecessary scare story about weight and fertility,

  • here
  • is another piece by them, this time an entirely necessary scare story about fertility and its consequences in two totally different worlds. Truly horrendous reading, especially as a mother of two small children, and living in a poor country in Africa.

    Monday, October 02, 2006

    C'mon, talk to me

    This time I really have managed to changed the settings so anyone can comment. At least I think I have, so have a go and then I'll know for sure. Please?

    Spreading the good news

    I am now at liberty to tell all. My younger sister, Marie, has sold her first novel to a very prestigious publishing house: Vintage. You may have heard of some of their other writers: Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Sebastian Faulks, Julian Barnes… The family has gone into a state of delighted hysteria, but my sis is apparently keeping her feet on the ground. We always knew she was brilliant, but soon everyone else will too. You’ll have to wait for next August for her book to come out in hardback, but you can get a taste of her writing style on her very funny blog Struggling Author although she is, of course, no longer struggling.

    My news is rather less exciting. Sebastian has cut his first tooth (bad news for my nipples) and Joaquim’s phrase of the moment is “Look! Wottamess!”, which needs no comment.

    On a totally different note, did any of you catch the recent Guardian story about research that shows that putting on a few pounds during pregnancy and not losing them, even if you are not overweight as a result, makes it harder for you to conceive again and more likely that you will have a stillbirth? Thank you, Guardian, for hitting modern woman’s two most sensitive spots – fear of fat and fear of infertility. Did the article mention how much more likely it made these things? No it did not. How much do I think it is? Very little. How necessary is it to give women yet another reason to fear fat and infertility? Not very. Nice one.