Sunday, November 02, 2008

Map-Reading, Doodles, and Environmentalists

Wednesday was the day I started actively searching for those murals marked on my tourist map. It was also the day I felt much better than the previous day, despite my whingy post in the morning, and not having more than five hours' sleep the previous night.

And here is the first one from the map, just down the hill from my hotel, back towards the station. Click on the photo for the full set.

29: "Lucky Luke, Les Dalton et Joly Jumper" (2 photos)

I had gone on a bit of a jaunt in the morning, first, though to find more in Le Vieil Angoulême. And I found quite a lot. One of the murals I found was particularly interesting to me, because it seemed to embody all of the types of graffiti - going from beautiful and interesting art at the far left hand end, taking in a range of styles, only to be added to and quite frankly ruined at the other end.

There was (what I presume to be) one particularly moronic reference to September 11, with the letters USA, and an arrow pointing to a stenciled aeroplane. I don't know whether some sort of erudite statement was supposed to be made by that, but it came across as amusement at the tragic death of hundreds of innocent people.

There seems to be a lot of stenciled graffiti in the town as well, which is usually militaristic in nature, and revolutionary in spirit (the aforementioned aeroplane, marching soldiers, depictions of explosions, etc). The trouble I have with this is that it's too easy. It takes little thought to do, even though it looks much better than someone's scribbled name, and because so little thought has gone into it, the "artist" forgets to get their message across.

There are more photos in the set, but here's a couple of pictures so you get the idea:

24: Interesting Art Deteriorating Into Mindless Graffiti (8 photos)

24: Interesting Art Deteriorating Into Mindless Graffiti (8 photos)

I generally spent the rest of the day doing similar things to other days, I had a crepe, and I ate in another pizzeria for dinner, which felt much more homely and was more enjoyable than the brightly lit and all-so-efficient seeming La Siciliana (which is a lovely restaurant in itself, to be fair).

This other place was called La Scoopitone, which makes it sound a little like an ice cream parlour run by somebody called Anthony, but its pizzas are outstanding. Or at least the one I ate was.

I spent the evening in La Souris Verte again, this time drinking tea (I decided on no alcohol until the end of the autumn term), and writing and doodling. I started Camera Boy, which I'm very very pleased with so far, and then quite literally skipped back to my hotel (being silly in public without fear of anyone you know seeing you, is rather good therapy).

I also doodled a few bad French puns:

Le Sketchbook: Loup

Le Sketchbook: Vin

Le Sketchbook: La Peche

PS I think I got my dates completely confuse in my sketchbook while I was away. I think those were actually on 29th.

John Francis

The next morning, I watched BBC World and, more specifically, Hard Talk, in which a chap called John Francis was interviewed. I only really watched it because I couldn't be bothered scooting around the town any more and wanted to go home.

It's probably quite an odd thing to blog about on a travel blog, but please bear with me.

I'd never heard of the guy before, but he's really really interesting. Seeing the environmental damage caused by an oil spillage, he gave up motorised transport as a young man. Then, on his 27th birthday (which is my age, incidentally), realising how much he went on and on, he decided not to speak for a whole day, as a present to his community.

Realising he hadn't been listening, he found he learnt a lot by shutting up, and so didn't speak for another day.

And another day.

In fact, he didn't speak for 17 years.

All that time he spent learning about the environment, and even did a PhD. When he started speaking again, the UN invited him to become a goodwill ambassador, and now he's a respected environmentalist.

He was such a fascinating character, but one thing he said right at the end really resonated with me. Rather than focus on the things we need to do and try to impose solutions in the way that many environmentalists do:

"The way we help the environment is to help each other, to be good to each other."

And I think he's got it spot on. The tragic end result of climate change is not that a few people in the home counties had their homes built on a flood plain, nor that we have to find an alternative to the internal combustion engine.

It's that the people who are affected the most are the same people who are always affected the most. It's the very poorest people in the world, who will suffer more frequent extreme weather events, and who will not be adequately prepared to cope with them.

If we think about each other's wellbeing, and are kind to each other, then that implies that we must by default look after the environment in which they live.

Bill and Ted were onto something.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Now, Angoulême is a lovely town. I've enjoyed a lot of it. I've enjoyed hunting for the murals on the buildings, I've enjoyed sitting in bars doodling in my sketchbook, and I've enjoyed wandering aimlessly.

But I am knackered. Which worries me. Last week I was ill and lost my voice. I took Thursday off, and went into work on Friday only because it was a training day and there were no children. It's been a week now since I lost my voice. And, while my throat feels a lot better, I feel more ill than I did before.

Half term should be an opportunity to take a step back, breathe in a few deep breaths, and reorganise for going back to school.

I never ever find that this is the case. Invariably it's an opportunity for bugs to overrun my more relaxed immune system, to spend most of my time in bed, and then to panic in the last weekend about all the work I haven't done because I've been ill in bed.

The only difference with this half term is that I'm feeling ill in a hotel bed, and I'm forcing myself to be a bit more active than I really want to be so that my holiday isn't wasted. And now I'm worrying not just about next week at work, but the whole of the next half term.

Because if I'm suffering from fatigue, which all signs are now suggesting I am, then that's how long it's going to take to recover. No late nights, no alcohol, lots of paracetamol. Until Christmas.


Anyway, Angoulême...

A Bird and Two Hands

Yesterday was nice, apart from feeling a bit rough. I wandered down to the Musée des Bandes Dessinés, which is the Comic Museum. Unfortunately I discovered that they're in the process of moving across the road at the moment, so the free museum part is closed until next year.

They do, however, still have the bookshop and the library and an exhibition open at the moment, although you have to pay €4.50 for the exhibition, which is all about cartoon wolves. A good choice of subject. Speaking as a bit of a Roald Dahl kid, any creature that summarily eats small children gets both thumbs emphatically up from me.

I also made a small number of beautiful purchases from the bookshop, and I'm keen to try out a couple of ideas and techniques in my own drawings (though undoubtably in my own style, of course...)

On my way back I decided to walk the ramped pathways back up the ramparts, rather than stick to the road (the museum is outside the ramparts). When I arrived near the top, a man wearing a bandana and a big black bushy beard stepped from behind a boulder ahead of me, and rather than continue, I decided it wise to continue onto a downward route and go all the way back down to the bottom.

One thing I've discovered about being away on my own this time is that, one year on from being robbed at machete point, I'm still quite paranoid about encountering would-be attackers. This man did not look particularly fierce, he just had a beard and a big long dirty looking coat.

I have a beard. Why should I be intimidated by beards?

No matter. I was not sure whether he might simply be very scruffy, whether he was a tramp, or whether he was some sort of pirate, so I played it safe. And I'm glad I did. Because although I walked much further, without him I would have encountered the giant concrete hands, like monuments to Thing from The Addams Family, and even more bizarrely, a brick pillar next to them with a cast iron bird on top.

I have no idea whether they were originally intended as a single piece of art, or whether the two entities just happened to be placed next to one another, but I thank the Pirate-Tramp fellow for my finding them. I now like to think that he must have been some sort of benevolent spirit guide, sent to correct past wrongs, like Sam Beckett in Quantum leap.


Yesterday, I found in interesting how I didn't see much of the typical lazy meritless graffiti that annoys me so much at home. I thought perhaps the comic murals had raised the bar somewhat and that local graffiti artists as a result marked buildings in more aesthetic ways to show they'd been there.

I'd noticed as well that only a small number of people had sprawled their tag talentlessly across existing artwork and murals. Certainly as well there is more attractive and thoughtful graffiti than I ever see at home.

Today, though, looking more closely, I've noticed a lot of buildings where someone has had to clean off the scrawl of some idiot who has felt the need to make their mark on the town without giving any serious thought of how to do so. So the idiots and the rubbish graffiti are here, but some one actually bothers to clean it off.

I'm not sure whether to be disappointed in the existence of idiots, or pleased that someone is differentiating between street art and vandalism.

Coloured Animals

When I arrived back in the town, I went for lunch in a nice place called Le Jardin. I can't really be bothered saying much about it, but I had a nice salad, and the lady there mustn't have heard the first thing I said to her as she decided that I couldn't speak a word of French, until I put her straight when she asked me why I didn't know French if I'd been to France so many times.

After lunch I went back to the hotel for three hours or so to sleep and rest, and then set the theme of the evening by going to two bars called Le Chat Noir, and La Souris Verte. Sadly that's as far as the theme stretched, as I couldn't find any more establishments named after different colours of animals.

I did, however, spot a man on a home made Segway Human Transporter.

Which made my day.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

in case of affluence, do not use the strap-on tins

OR: Thank Heavens They Lost That Baby

First, may I please ask you to forgive me if what I type is gobbledy-gook. I am typing on a French keyboard and, confusingly, it's very similar to but not quite the same as an English one.

Being a teacher on half term, I thought it would be nice to have a break on my own in a quiet town in France. I know Angoulême a little as my friend Jane owns a cottage in a village near there, so it seemed ideal.

When I looked the town up, I also discovered that there is a comics museum there and in February they even host a big Comics Festival, which I'd love to come to, if only I could take holidays whenever I wanted.

I don't like flying unnecessarily, and as I live so close to St Pancras, it would seem rude not to take the train. And so I came here by Eurostar and TGV via Paris.

There's not that much exciting to say about Eurostar (it's a train), save that when I booked, I was a little worried because they only gave me 51 minutes to transfer across Paris from Gare du Nord to Montparnasse.

And with good reason.

According to the Eurostar website, it takes 40 minutes to transfer directly by Métro, and 50 by bus or taxi, but you can make it in 15 if you take the RER and change onto the Métro. That's not taking into account familiarising yourself with either station (thankfully I've been to each at least once before), nor buying tickets, nor the fact that my Eurostar was 21 minutes late.

Leaving me with half an hour.

During which I ran a lot.

And pushed into the ticket machine queue.

And arrived on the RER B-line at the same time as a train, and asked a friendly-looking long-haired youth if I was on the right train. I'm friends with a lot of friendly-looking long- haired youths. I shouldn't have been surprised that he didn't have a clue whether the train didn't stop at any station other than his own.

RER trains in Paris have pull-down seats right next to the doors, and there's a sign telling you not to use them when the train is busy. I was pleased to learn that the French for pull-down seat is "strapontin", hence the title of this post:

en cas d'affluence, ne utiliser les strapontins

Some helpful youth (I presume it wasn't a pensioner, but maybe that's unfair to pensioners) had added their own custom sign on the other side of the door: SORTIE (EXIT). Thank you, mystery helpful graffiti artist.

Changing onto the Métro once I got to Denfert Rochereau was easy enough, but finding the mainline station at Montparnasse was a different matter. For this is where I first encountered a system of signposting that seems to involve not using signs if there are more than three directions to choose from.

Luckily for me, however, someone on my train to Angoulême had lost their baby and so arriving 8 minutes late did not have any adverse effects, save that to my body odour from all the running.

And yes, they found the baby. Presumably. I never found out, actually, but I assumed they did because we got going a few minutes later.

Carpeted Walls

I won't say much about my hotel, the Hotêl Européen, save that they're very friendly, and my room is dark red, with carpeted walls. I can only presume that this is some attempt to seem opulent, and on a scale of 1 to successful, I'll give them a generous 4.

Incidentally, at breakfast this morning (not included), someone right in front of me took the last two croissants. I was not pleased. That's no slur on the hotel mind, they did bring out more a few minutes later, but I did think it was a bit rude. This is one gripe that I shall take to my grave. Or at least as far as Lille, on my return journey.

Le Six Pockets

After a quick shower after arriving yesterday, I went on my first exploration of the town. And went the wrong way within seconds, thanks to yet more clear signposting. There's nothing quite as useful as a signpost to the Office de Tourisme pointing straight on, placed between a left fork and a right fork.

No matter, I soon walked past a little alley leading to some steps up a bloody great stone wall, and nothing says "I'm on holiday" quite like climbing up lots of steps. The only thing I regret is that I forgot to count them.

When I reached the top I noticed a billiards club called Le Six Pockets, and another sign to the Office de Tourisme. This led into a big square with a modern covered market and the Blues Rock Café, which I made a mental note to visit.

I couldn't see any more signs, so I wandered down some streets and found some comic art murals on some of the buildings. I remembered Jane telling me there's a lot of this around the town, so I took some pictures and carried on exploring, until I found myself next to Le Six Pockets once again, and decided to have another crack at finding the Office de Tourisme.

Until I found myself next to Le Six Pockets once again, and decided to have another crack at finding the Office de Tourisme.

Apparently if you take this route clockwise you can't see the sign.

I did find it eventually (two doors up from Le Six Pockets), and the woman in there was very helpful. All the museums were closed yesterday, so visiting them is my quest today. I spent the rest of yesterday wandering looking for more of the murals (I'm not going to cheat and check them off against the map until tomorrow - apparently there's about 20 official ones, and I've found about 15 or 16, sme of which are clearly unofficial), and walking around the perimeter of the old town, on the ramparts high above the valley, taking in some amazing views.

Better than McDonalds, not as good as Wimpy

I'd forgotten that in France, everywhere is shut on Monday evening, so after some fruitless wandering and, not really wanting to go back to the hotel, I decided to eat at Le Quick. Le Quick is the big French fast food chain and, while I think I may have eaten at one before, I couldn't remember, so I convinced myself that eating there would be a serious experiment into everyday French life, making it a more than worthwhile holiday outing.

I chose to eat the "Long Bacon Menu", which was two burgers, a rasher of bacon, and two types of plasticky cheese in a long bun. Here are the result of the British jury (ie, me):

* Le Quick give you the option of normal fries, or "les Rustiques", which are seasoned potato wedges. Which, if you like potato wedges as much as I do, is a big boon.

* You order at the counter, and they bring the food to your table, like in Wimpy, but unlike in McDonalds.

* However, the burgers, while superior to those in McDonalds, are a little tired and soggy, so Wimpy win this particular round.

* The toilets are locked to those not eating in the diner, preventing a McDonalds-as-public-convenience type scenario, but for some reason; there is no door into the men's and the urinals are in full view to anyone in the corridor.

So, a little more than passable, all in all, which is not bad for a big fast food chain.

The Blues Rock Café

Having promised myself I would, I took a trip here for a couple of drinks after eating. Although they do have lost of pictures of stars past, old vinyl and electric guitars stuck up all over the walls, it was a little disappointing. I hope there's some live music there later in the week (I suspect not), but last night they had MTV on in the corner.

French MTV, strangely enough, is a breath of fresh air. Unlike most British or American stations, they don't seem afraid to play unlikely tracks next to each other. At one point, I was treated to Jeff Buckley's Grace, followed by Linkin Park, followed by a French band called Anis, whose track "Rodeo Boulevard" seemed to be a good-natured line dancing version of a certain famous Run DMC video. I hope it was a deliberate parody. I really really hope so. This was then followed by John Lennon's Imagine.

The highlights for me, however, were these marvellous videos by two French stars:

Les Vedettes - JoeyStarr

Phillipe Katerine - Louxour J'adore:

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Oswin's Village - Tuesday, Part Two

Flying Pigeon?

More like Dying Pigeon.

The name of my bicycle could not have been less appropriate. The chain came off for the third time when we hit the first of many stretches of sand. The road was so dry in places that the ground had disintegrated into dust and it was impossible to cycle and we were forced to dismount.

Soon after I gave up entirely on cycling and stayed dismounted. We stopped at a couple of houses along the way, and Mwenyekiti asked after someone with the necessary tool to tighten the necessary bits of the bike (I forget which bits exactly).

After the bike had been fixed once, Oswin, the gentleman that he is, insisted that we swap bicycles. Sadly he didn't fare much better, and the chain came off once more within two hundred metres.

After a couple of false leads, we climbed a hill that peaked and looked down over the valley ahead, and stopped where a man and a young lad were waiting to treat the Pigeon. The man in the Ishi cap whom I'd seen from the bus the day before was there too, and the others spent some time talking to him. Sadly I can't remember who he was or whether he was important or not; a side effect of not getting around to writing this for over a year.

"Now we are no longer in Mpandangindo village," Oswin told me. "Now we are in Tanga."

Tanga is the largest village in the ward of seven villages to which Mpandangindo belongs. As is typical, the ward is named after its largest village, so Mpandangindo belongs to Tanga ward. After a good half hour's wait, and another application of suncream, we set off down the hill towards Tanga.

Tanga is on the main road into Songea, and not long after the downward slope levelled out, we hit the tarmac, straight into a small welcoming party. Someone had spotted that Oswin and an mzungu were heading to Tanga, most likely visiting the proposed site for the Vocational Training Centre (VTC) this day, and some of village leaders of Tanga were waiting, bikes at the ready.

The VTC building was about a quarter of a mile up the road. I was impressed with it. Although there were whole walls missing here and there, it was still nearly a whole building, and big enough to accommodate all manner of activities.

Situated right on the main road, it could be clearly advertised and would be convenient to reach, and as we walked around, Oswin already had in mind all sorts of uses for the various rooms, and the various resources that would be required.


I don't think I've ever received as warm a welcome anywhere as I received in Tanga ward, particularly Mpandangindo village, and it was clear why. There was such pride and sense of occasion in showing off the proposed site, and I couldn't help feel a little guilty for it.

I felt like I had done so little for Hoja - I'd very much gone along for the ride, in my opinion. I'd helped out here and there, I'd offered my opinion when it was asked, I'd failed to get around to making the leaflet I'd promised to write about Hoja. I'd started the Hoja blog in the absence of a proper website, and then let Althea take it upon herself to create something more official.

The VTC wasn't even a certainty. We were carrying with us many of the questionnaires that Coco had sent us, and that Oswin had translated into Swahili, to determine whether the VTC looked likely to bring significant benefit to the local community.

So I was being treated unnecessarily well, I felt, for someone who had done very little to bring about something that might not happen. I know that I had spent much of Hoja's early existence starting my teaching career, and so my lack of involvement was not for wont of enthusiasm for the project. I had managed to raise a little bit of cash here and there, either directly through making and auctioning greetings cards, or indirectly through inspiring others to sell pencils on behalf of Hoja.

But I hadn't had as much faith in the project as I now know it warranted, and I found myself in the position of receiving much praise and thanks that was largely undeserved. The real heroes were Oswin and Julia, the unstoppable driving forces behind Hoja in Tanzania and the UK respectively, regardless of whether they actually knew how they were supposed to actually carry out their work when they started out, and were largely making up as they went along.

This is what makes me want to go back out there and contribute something properly. Over the week I was there, I felt like I made a positive contribution, I could see and understand how the project was working, and make comments and suggestions. It felt real. And effective.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Oswin's Village - Tuesday, Part One

It seems a little odd writing this a year late, but having read my previous post on Mpandangindo, I'm pretty sure I can remember what happened the next day quite well.

I don't remember the morning perfectly. I'm sure I was fed by Mwenyekiti's wife, with maandazi, chapati and sweet black tea, and I think I may have eaten alone. I had been allowed to get up when I was ready, and then rushed because I felt like everyone else had been up and productive long before me.

While I ate, Oswin arrived and asked me if I was ready. Not quite, but I was sure I could be ready in a jiffy. Just as soon as I'd finished eating, put some shoes on, and applied a liberal layer of suncream.

There were four bikes parked up in the courtyard of Mwenyekiti's house: one for me, Oswin, Mwenyekiti, and I think the fourth person was the Mtendaji (village secretary). Oswin and Mwenyekiti had explained the previous day that Mwenyekiti's Land Rover was being repaired in Songea, and so we had to cycle round all the schools in nine villages in order to carry out Coco's research for the VTC.

Two of the bikes, which had been borrowed especially for Oswin and me, were the standard made-in-China-and-assembled-in-Tanzania design, and each had the words FLYING PIGEON emblazoned across the frame.

I remember Mwenyekiti being concerned that I might not know how to ride a bicycle, and his being delighted when I told him I could, but I'm not sure whether this was at this moment, or the previous day.

Having rushed to be ready, it was no surprise that I had plenty of time in hand before we actually set off. There was discussion to be had first, the subject of which I forget, and then, when enough of us grew impatient at the same moment, we cycled together onto the road.

Fifty metres on, my chain came off.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Arusha-Man of Highgate. Or, Where To Next?

Last week I bought some stamps in one of my local shops in Highgate. At the time I was wearing one of my Kilimanjaro t-shirts, and the shopkeeper asked me if I'd climbed the mountain. He told me then that he was from Arusha, so we chatted a little about Tanzania. Shortly after I left, I realised that I hadn't used any Swahili on him, and promised to myself that I'd rectify this next time I went in.

Yesterday one of my flatmates moved out. She'd been here for four years, and so several items of kitchen equipment went with her. As such, we needed a new roasting tin, cheese grater and colander, so I took the opportunity to return to the the man from Arusha's shop.

He was serving someone when I walked in, so I didn't butt in immediately with a simple "Habari za kazi?", but went straight to the back of the shop where the pots and pans take up temporary residence before being exchanged for money and finding a more permanent home.

I found the roasting tin easily enough, then the cheese grater with a little difficulty, before failing on the colander and heading to the till regardless. Arusha-Man was stocking one of the shelves on the way and wanted to check I had found everything I wanted.

"You are looking for something?" he asks.

Damn. He's started first. He's asked something in English. Something for which I don't have the required fluency to reply in Swahili.

"Um, just a colander. But you don't seem to have any."

"A calendar?" he asks. Or it might be, "A colander?" I'm not sure.

"A colander," I say, emphasising the 'O' whilst at the same time trying not to emphasize it so much that he thinks that I think that he's stupid.

"A colander?" he says again (maybe again). It could still be "A calendar?" I'm still not quite sure, but I think he's got it.

"Ndiyo," I say, as casually as possible. "A colander." I point towards kitchen corner just in case he thinks I'm looking for office stationery.

"Oh, I think we have some," he says, and walks past me, while I follow. I don't think he's noticed my slipping in a little bit of Swahili. I'll try something else again in a moment.

His wife is by the kitchen section, and informs him that they had two left a couple of days ago, but they've both now been sold. He sounds a little disappointed that he'd not noticed they'd all been sold, and hopefully suggests that one of the smaller colanders he sells might be suitable.

I mumble a couple more feeble ndiyo's where I can, but I'm not surprised when he doesn't seem to notice. He promises he'll get some more colanders in, probably next week.

We go to the till, and I pay, feeling a little embarrassed that I've failed in the simple task of striking up a conversation in a shopkeeper's home tongue. When he gives me his change, I say "Asante sana" rather more confidently, and he replied in English.

"Thank you. See you again," he says.

Since I returned home, I've been telling myself that he might not even know Swahili that well. He's Asian African, so he's probably more versed in Arabic. If I'm honest, though, he will know Swahili. I shall have to make another attempt.


Later this weekend, I shall start to catch-up on the story of my trip to Mpandangindo this time last year, and the report on Hoja Project progress that Oswin emailed to me on Thursday.

For the moment, however, as per my last post, I shall ponder on where I'm heading.

I'm on a 12 month contract on the room I'm renting, so I'm here til mid-August. I'm not planning on walking out on my job in the middle of the academic year. And I really do want to finish the year.

I don't know whether I want to make a short visit to Hoja in the summer, or whether I want to go on a long-term placement there sooner rather than later.

But I do know that I want to go on an adventure quite soon. I quite fancy going somewhere in Europe, probably France as I know the language, in the October half-term. Paris crossed my mind, but I live in a capital city as it is, and I think I'd prefer somewhere quieter.

I don't have a car and I have a pathological aversion to flying such a short distance, so I will probably be traveling by rail. If any of my friends fancy going away for a quiet three or four day break in the last week of October, you're more than welcome to join me.

Any suggestions at all about this are encouraged. It could even involve one of my European internety friends.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Three Cups of Tea. Or, What's The Opposite Of Homesickness?

Yesterday I started reading a book called Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.

It's been my commuting book since yesterday and I'm already some way in, unable to put it down. It's about Greg Mortenson who, after a failed attempt to summit the monstrous Himalayan mountain K2, became lost and ended up in the village of Korphe in Northern Pakistan.

He found in the village that there was no school, and children were educated by a visiting teacher just three days in the week, whilst kneeling outside in the cold unforgiving dirt. As they nursed him back to some level of strength and showed him enormous levels of hospitality, he vowed to build them a school.

And so his life was changed...

etc etc.

This has left me with several things to think about, so I'll tackle them one by one.

(1) I should really finish posting about my last adventure in Tanzania now. I kind of lost heart with travel writing a bit when I felt like I was going to be robbed every time I crossed the road to use the Internet cafe. But I haven't finished the story, and I really want everyone to know just how special Oswin's village was.

(2) I really want to go on another adventure. I not only want to go out and teach in whatever form the Hoja Project eventually takes, but I want to help build it. And I want to climb another mountain. And go horse-trekking in the Andes. Which is another Discover Adventure trip I have my eye on. If only the Andes were in East Africa...

(3) I've been working in my new school since November. And I feel quite settled and content at the moment, which is quite a new feeling as far as teaching is concerned. I don't really want to leave if it means I don't come back. I know a lot of the kids now, and I don't think I can face going through another first-year-at-a-new-school scenario.

(4) I've also been rather less involved in the Hoja Project lately, and I've got far more involved in Advocates for Action, a volunteer campaign group belonging to SPW, for which I have been creating some measure of web presence, and our soon-to-be-published first newsletter. That's another thing I'd have to walk away from, but probably not as hard as many many more personal things.

(5) I remember that in many ways my last trip was a disappointment, but Mpandangindo was amazing. And it's always the amazing bits that I remember. The fraidy cat part of me doesn't want to risk being disappointed again.

(6) Although it's best I get a couple more years' experience as a teacher before galavanting off again, I helped create the Hoja Project. It's been completely carried by other people who helped create it, who were even more underqualified than I am now. There will be no big issue about lack of experience should I decide to go jetting off again.

(7) I could just go over in the holidays. But I went over in the holidays last time, really. And if I want to go again, I want to go properly. I want to be involved, and use it as a great experience. And possibly a stepping stone to something else.

(8) As much as I feel settled at work, I'm not a theoretical pen and paper type, no matter how good I am at it. I like carrying heavy tools and creating objects out of other objects. Teaching maths is not my vocation. This is the thing that has been bugging me most lately.

Decisions, decisions...