Saturday, August 9, 2014


Mt Meru Sikukuu Nane Nane 2014.

(Note: Words in brackets are there for those of you who are unsure of the correct Swahili pronunciations. I have even emboldened the stressed syllables to make it easier for you. Also below is a list of translated words which you might find useful before reading this.
Not being immediately bossy. Have fun, now… Wriggling eye brows in your general direction.)

Translation of Swahili Words you might need to know to read this.

Sikukuu (n.) – public holiday
Karibu(ni) sana – most welcome
Hongera sana – big congratulations.
Mwenyekiti (n.) (Sheha in Zanzibar) Balozi – Village Chairman
Kijijii (n. sing.) – Village
Mwaka (n.) mpya (adj.)  - new year. Mwaka = Year and Mpya = new.
Kufanya (vb.) – to do
Kazi (n.) – work.
Salaam (n.) – peace
Dar es Salaam – place of Peace.
Kulima (vb.) – to farm.

1 – moja
2 – mbili
3 – tatu
4 –nne
5 – tano
6 – sita
7 – saba
8 – nane
9 – tisa
10 – kumi
11 – kumi na moja
12 – kumi na mbili.
Godi on his new Toyo, Sikukuu Nane Nane

It’s time to learn some Swahili, people. It’s time. Seeing that yesterday was another sikukuu,(sea coo coo) a public holiday, I figured you could learn, through this little story, how to count in Swahili for starters. And for those of you who can cunningly count up to a 100, know the days of the week, the months AND hold a conversation already, well, hongera bloody sana. (on-geh-rah bloody sahnah.).

In Tanzania it seems there are as many public holidays, sikukuu, as there are chameleon species. I am thrilled. There are of course the obvious ones like Christmas and Easter but I simply cannot do this plethora of holidays justice by a simple listing. No.  Far too simple. It must be detailed so you will understand my conundrum. Indeed, why I needed to write to my local mwenyekiti (mwen – yeh – key – tea ) of Ngorobob  kijiji (kee-jee-jee), about the months of June, September and November.

There isn’t a finer or more logical place to start than January the 1st, which we all know is New Year’s Day, Mwaka mpya  (mwah-kah mmmm-peeya), a day to reflect on the future; on all those ridiculous resolutions you made last night knowing you weren’t going to keep any of them; on the fact that there are no pain killers in the house to quiet the killer hangover born of a mix of every conceivable cocktail on offer because they were free; on the fact that the PPD’s (post piss up depression) are about to begin and you had better bloody well deal with them because you did it to yourself.  

Running straight on from that, on the 12th of January, is Zanzibar Revolutionary Day, marking the anniversary of the 1964 overthrow of the Sultan of Zanzibar. If you need to read more on this interesting part of Tanzanian political history, which you must, in fact, whether you want to or not because it would make me feel ever so happy,  read this post 

The public holidays get complicated, in the nicest possible way, you understand, because of the Islamic calendar. The Islamic calendar is a lunar one, and months begin when the first crescent of the beautiful paper thin new moon is spotted. It’s a buggar if it’s cloudy, I should imagine. Since the Islamic lunar calendar year is 10 to 11 days shorter than the solar year and there is no timekeeping involved, Ramadan migrates throughout the seasons, like birds from Europe. I love the idea of ‘break fast’ because the Islamic day starts after sunset. This year, according to the Islamic calendar, the celebrations of  Milad-un-Nabi (the birth of Mohammed) took place over February and March. Again in May, as soon as the moon was spotted,  Eid ul-Fitre celebrated the end of Ramadan.

The Eid festivities herald the onset of Good Friday, Easter and Easter Monday celebrations, a dream run for any chocoholic. I'd do anything for chocolate, even believe in resurrection, temporarily.  On April 7th is Sheik Abeid Amani Karume Day which is a commemoration of the assassination of Vice President Sheik Abeid Karume of Zanzibar, which you will know all about because you read the post I directed to you, earlier on, Little Old Clever Chops. As if that isn’t a big enough event to remember, on April 26th we celebrate Union Day, sikukuu yamuungano, (see-coo-coo yah-moooon-gah-noh) which commemorates the unification of Zanzibar and Tanganyika into the United Republic of Tanzania in 1964, upon which you’ve already become an expert because of said link…ahem. (It’s ok. You can go back and read it now, if you want.)

Moving swiftly, joyfully and festivally on (brass bands, white horses, dancing girls and balloons everywhere by now), in May we have Worker’s Day the world over, sikukuu yawafanya kazi (yah-wah-fun-yah kahzee). On the 7th of July we celebrate Saba Saba (sah-ba sah-ba) which literally means seven seven. This is a day to mark the Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair. And in August we have Nane – Nane (nah-neh, nah-neh) literally meaning eight-eight which is Farmer’s Day, y’all, sikukuu wakulima.( sea coo coo wa-coo-lee-mah.)  Still with me? she worriedly asks.

On October the 14th  we commemorate the Father of the Nation, Julius Kambarage Nyerere, with Nyerere Day.  On December 9th we celebrate Independence Day.  In December, sometime after that, depending on the moon, we celebrate Eid al-Adha.  Then Christmas Day and Boxing Day….and then we start all over again. The good thing about all of this is that there is no time for de toxing, apart from during Ramadan but then who's going to say no to breakfast at  seven in the evening? (saa moja jioni in Swahili time) There warm sweet doughnuts, sweet pasta, sweet meats and samoosa to share. 

Now then, I have written to my local M.P suggesting we introduce Sita Sita, (see-ta see-ta), tisa tisa (tea-sah, tea-sah) and Kumi na Moja Kumi na Moja (coo-me nah moh-jah )  for obvious reasons. These are the only months which shockingly do not include One. Single. Sikukuu. It isn’t right.  I pointed out that we didn’t have mbili mbili (mmm-bee-lee), tatu tatu (tah-tou tah-tou), nne nne (nnnn-neh nnnn-neh), tano tano all the way to eleven which would more than solve the problem.  I suggested that we might need to add another one in July, Sita Saba Sita Saba, because that’s my birthday (diarize, y’all) but I’ll understand if they don’t gazette that one…ish.

I think it makes complete sense.


Oh. And Noddy Badges all round for everyone who can count to ten in Swahili for the first time, without looking! Hongera sana!

And bisous! X X X  to those who are missing them...warm Swahili ones, on yer lips, scented in festivities xxx j

Monday, August 4, 2014

Bedside Weather (or Whether To Get Up Or Not)

I have this terrible habit. When I wake up, stretching, looking at the light in the attic windows, I sleepily gauge what kind of day it’s going to be. You can tell, you know. If the sun beams clear-cut, golden rectangles up onto the white, slanted ceilings, it heralds a clear blue day. The shapes will be sharp and defined and cut through with minuscule, mosquito net squared shadows. Outside the bright spring air shapes a translucent day when you should be out there flying kites, marveling at the sheer brightness of the wild yellow flowers, which are like small fallen stars, littering the landscape for as far as you can see. Small Fallen Stars. That’s what they should be called. …daisy stella africanum should be their Latin name. It’s going to be one of those days when the dream is real, when you unfurl your life pennant of victory, swirling silver in a frisky wind and I am your queen. If you don’t pitch up to your life on a day like this, shame on you.

If the gold rectangles are hazy, if the lines fade from strong to smudgy, the light glows gold to pale dust yellow, I’ll bet you the clouds are low and racing, skidding across the northern sun. If you listen, the wind is already whistling and shaking the rafters. It’s going to be a fast weather changing day, which flirts with mood and dress code. You’ll be shunted from dreaming to philosophy to restlessness to half done jobs and misunderstandings to desolation. The horse is crazy silly. Crows scare him even more than on other days, as they slice through the air, pterodactyls on the wing, in formations of 7 or more. He puffs himself up like a Citroen, standing still as a statue ready to explode. It’s the kind of day when you think of drinking whisky at four in the afternoon and actually convince yourself that it’s not a problem.

If there are no golden rectangles on your ceiling, like this morning, and the light is dove grey silver, there’ll sure as hell be mist outside, raindrops light as snowflakes swirling about the whistling thorns. If I were in Europe and it was winter, there’d be snow out there. I hear a distant dog barking into the silence of the morning. The clouds will be thickly spread like she spreads Nutella on her toast, although not anymore because she knows it hurts orangutans.(do your homework, people.) Like she won’t eat calamari anymore because she knows how intelligent octopi are. I told her how a mother will guard her eggs for as long as she can, sometimes until she dies, because the longer she sits there, the bigger and stronger they will be. These days remind me of giant oil paintings of pre-revolution Russian landscapes, dark skyscapes and peasants with scythes in fields of hay. You curl shell like back into your smug bed, and, if it’s holidays, hope that someone else will open the front door to let the dogs out and to leave the keys for the stable store for Mohammed. You hope someone else will put the kettle on and bring you coffee in bed…with lashings of coffee creamer, the exact amount of Africafe with one and half sugars, please. Like hell.

No, you decide. No. I’m not getting up. Fuck it. The world can wait and if the dogs have weed inside the house again, who cares? Which makes you realize you’ve been popping for a wee since three that morning. You stretch again and reach out for the iPad. This is the terrible habit, you see.  You check your emails, check your instagram and you check Facebook, leaving the news til last because it’s so terrible these days. You watch an amusing Zimbabwe advert. You watch a cat dog video, only because you rate and love the person who’s posted it. (note to self: never be fooled. Press enter at your own risk. Is the bandwidth worth it?) You only read the headlines from the Gaza Israeli onslaught…but your eyes slip down and you read about how a rocket has hit another school and ten more children are killed but how the Israelis say they will not stop the war on ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ on ‘terror’. There is an image of a blown up wheel chair, with a brother crouched over his dead sister who couldn’t get away fast enough, who got left behind. His trousers are torn and his feet are bare. He stares down at the crumpled remains of his sister, tears making tracks through the dirt on his face, blood on his hands, his mouth in a silent scream. And you scroll down quickly. And there she is, Rin Norris, head bowed, talking at a memorial for her three children, Mo, Evie and Otis and her father Nick Norris, who were blown out of the sky in Malaysian flight MH17 by Ukrainian rebels. You watch her speak. You read her words, "They taught me to sing every day and to laugh at myself. They taught me not to dance in front of their friends and to try and not be funny in maths groups. When their innocent bodies were shot out of the sky, I stretched my arms as high as I could and screamed for them. Now I see them only in my head. I can't touch them, I can't feel their warmth. My arms will always be reaching for them."  

All of a sudden, you can’t get out of bed anymore. You remember the words, “Just pitch up to your life.” And you do. But you can’t stop crying. Even when you finally get to the loo, when you open the door to let the dogs out, when you kill the scorpion on the kitchen floor as you make your way to the stove to put the kettle on, as you stare out the window at the new grey day ahead. Your life. You can’t stop crying. You hug and kiss your children stronger than ever before, as they stumble warm as scones from their beds, scented with love and dreams. You hug them long and strong. Long and strong, and goddamn pitch up to your life.

I love the golden rectangles beamed onto my ceiling, true.

Yes.  I love those kind of days.