Changing Times and Double Standards

Starting when I was very young, my dad began traveling quite a bit for work.  Part of his job was to understand the culture shock felt by people from the developing world on their arrival to the UK.   To really understand how someone from a rural corner of India or Tanzania or Uganda feels when they are new to the UK, you have to go to where they live for long enough that it begins to feel normal to you.

A month gives a kind of dimmed insight, particularly in the old days when places were really cut off.  A month of shitting into a trench, having rats eat your soap, and being where women wait on you hand and foot.

On one occasion in the 1980s, dad was in the air on his way to Kenya when there was a coup d’etat.  The plane landed, but it was chaos on the ground.  The people who were supposed to meet him weren’t there.  By sheer luck, he met someone he knew through someone else (befuddled white people at East African airports were a notable sight back then I suppose, and two white people doth a community make).  The person put him up at their home.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my mother had seen the news and was in a blind panic.  She was a working mother clutching two small children, and her husband was in the middle of a coup.  This in a time when there was no email, no meaningful internet, and you had to ‘reserve’ an overseas call days in advance and travel across the city to get to the line.

It took my dad three days to get to a telephone.  Three days.  And he was in the capital city.  It’s almost inconceivable now.  Meanwhile my mother had started to wonder if she would ever see him again.  Over a crackling line he must have told her he was OK, not to worry, he had somewhere to stay, and he’d be going to the village as planned.

Of course my brother and I knew nothing of this at the time.  It’s the kind of thing you learn as an adult and look with renewed wonder at your parents’ ability to act like nothing had tilted or shifted in the slightest, just to save you sleepless nights.

The point of this long-winded tale is that my mother has been in Tanzania for the last ten days, visiting one of the development projects being carried out by a charity she volunteers for.  She’s delivering some training.   It’s only the second time she has gone overseas without dad, and the last time was Zimbabwe in the early 1990s before Mugabe ruined that country.

She worried that he wouldn’t cope without her: he doesn’t know how to use the washing machine or iron his own shirts.  I told her to remember he’s a grown man and he’ll figure it out.  She should go, and enjoy it.   She missed out on a trip last year because she was still recovering from her stroke and the doctors told her she shouldn’t fly.

In the time she’s been away, my father has been floating like a boat without a sail.  He barely knows what to do with himself.  He didn’t really want her to go, but he knew that after she had put up with him disappearing for a month at a time, and then later multiple shorter trips per year, he could hardly raise even the spectre of that point.  Mum isn’t very streetwise, to be sure, but she is traveling with a group of professionals, and Tanzania is safe.

But even if she did get into any kind of trouble, we would know about it instantly.  Each family member is getting plentiful text messages.  This is an edited selection of mine:

“Happy birthday, daughter.  Bet this is the first time you have had such a greeting from Tanzania. Hope you have a great day and no new grew hairs.”

“Glad you liked presents.  Tell K-man that a lions head is definitely out of the question but roadkill is a distinct possibility.  He wd have trouble in villages :-) no meat only green leaves to eat and ngungali.  The word for roundabout in swahili is kipilefti – great, isn’t it?”

“Mosquitoes were bad yesterday because we had some rain and puddles are not good.  Am training today on health and safety.  Bit of a joke but will keep to the context.”

“Spent all day in village yesterday :) saw the biggest flying insect I have ever seen AND the biggest wasp.  Ate local cooking and it was good but am keeping my fingers crossed.  Even had a bit of very tough beef.  Can’t wait to show you my photos.”

Can’t wait to see them, mum.

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3 Responses to “Changing Times and Double Standards”


  1. 1 trash November 28, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    I remember that booking phone calls lark. It had bells on it. And the time delays!

    Loving ‘kipilefti’.

  2. 2 Michelle November 29, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    LOL My dad sails about lost in the same way even when my mom goes away for two days!

  3. 3 Bella Rum November 29, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    Your Mum sounds like a good sport, and I’m sure poor Dad will be happy when she returns.

    It’s hard to believe there ever was a time when we couldn’t make contact with someone within seconds. I recall watching the Tiananmen Square protests on CNN in 1989, and the coverage of the Persian Gulf War in 1990. We were stunned that we could actually see what was happening around the world in real time. Times have changed.


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