Category Archives: Extracurricular Activities

Relocation & Expat Resources – Education, Extracurricular activities. Information, Inspiration, How-To Guides and Tools for Trailing Spouses, Accompanying Partners, and Families in Transition and

The Expat Packing List- Household Goods. Defining Moves, the art of successful relocation

Unconventional but Essential Items for your Household Goods Shipment… Your Expat Packing List

The Expat Packing List- Household Goods. Defining Moves, the art of successful relocationMy Facebook page is bubbling with excitement this week, as three members of my friends and family are due to receive their household goods shipment. Somehow, the arrival of your previously treasured possessions brings home the reality that you have arrived somewhere for the long haul, and for the kids especially, it comes as a combination of Christmas and birthdays rolled in to one.

The flip side of course, is that the sea of boxes in front of you is a brutal reminder that you are not, after all on vacation, and there are three days of unpacking to be done. Which, when you get to it, inevitably leads to the question, “What on earth was I thinking when I packed that?!”

There are very few rules about what to take to a new location, and most will center around advice from other expats – all of which will be from their own personal perspective, not yours. So for those of you inveterate overpackers, here’s my list – the result of three continents-worth of accumulation, dejunking and general dislike for the unpacking process…

 

Stuff that makes you feel at home.

For me, this is white porcelain china, good silverware, bed linens and vases. My way of nurturing people is to feed them, so anything involving food preparation and service is first on my list. I do, however, only own 5 cooking pans –  Le Creuset saucepans, frying pan, and a wok and  huge stainless steel stockpot – and I have yet to need anything else.

I am ridiculed locally for my rather rigid approach to decorating; everything is either white, sand, silver or slate grey, but these are the colors that I find soothing, and after the chaos and confusion of packing, air travel, temporary accommodation and the endless form-filling, any serenity that comes from a packing box rather than a wine bottle is very welcome.

N.B. No matter where you are in the world, if your children go to school and you have any sort of non-local accent, you will be required to exhibit at the school International fair. Virtually every school (especially the International variety) hold one annually, during which you will be expected to represent your home nation with flags, costumes and other assorted paraphernalia. Using valuable luggage allowances to ship Welsh hats, dragons and love spoons was painful, so take it from the formerly unprepared; pack a box of anything that is traditional to your country now. Think 6ft x 3ft table with backdrop and go wild…

 

Photos.

An anonymous apartment quickly becomes home when you have photos of your family and friends in it. The good news with photos is that they are easy to pack; remove them from their frames, just in case and make scanned copies. I no longer bother taking many picture frames with me, instead buying local ones for each house.

 

Books.

I’d love to pretend that these were the collected sonnets of Shakespeare and a few Greek tragedies, but in reality, my literary tastes center around historical whodunits and the complete works of Janet Evanovitch. Hardly highbrow, but they provide escapism, humor and just enough mental activity to keep me engaged without keeping me up all night. And somehow, the sight of the familiar titles on a bookshelf anywhere reassure me that I will always have something enjoyable to read, even if I already know who killed whom, and how and where.

 

Board games and cards.

No family room is complete without a set of rarely-played board games, and they are the ultimate antidote to childhood boredom. The words “if you’re bored, we can always play a game” instantly empties a room of any moaning offspring, who disappear off in search of more understanding and less demanding company. Promises of a Friday Family Game night can be used to improve involvement in local community programs, after school activities, and extra credit homework. Unless you discover the “Settlers of Catan’ series, in which case you end up with a house full of wool-trading teenagers… I kid you not.

 

Personal Mementos.

Every expat parent will be familiar with the lament “you never kept my … ,” which arises every time a teacher sets some sort of personal history project. There is a teacher training torture center somewhere that collates all previous child memento projects, and in attempt to keep the children interested and the parents completely bald, changes the requirement every darn year. Last year it was their first shoes, this term it’s ‘first pictures’. Next year it’ll be the family tree, interview your grandma, or yet another task that we have no way of fulfilling without a private jet or a clairvoyant. So, before you put all your worldly goods in storage, put together a comprehensive memory box to thwart even the most tyrannical of kindergarten teachers. It should contain: first shoes, early artwork (scans or photos will do, providing you are willing to recreate them surreptitiously), any school certificates and trophies, no matter how precarious the pretext), photographs of the ENTIRE family (both sides) and any other items of specific religious or cultural significance, and dates of first steps, first words and first day of school, etc, etc.

In the event you are reading this 3,000 miles away from the storage unit that contains the above, there is still hope. It can all be found in the form of Google, a printer, the local thrift shop and the ability to lie convincingly. For more detailed instructions see “Relocation Dilemmas – Faking Your Family Tree”… You have my blessing.

 

Photo Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum 

 

Cross cultural communication and the International Dinner Lads. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation

Duck and Cover – Cross Cultural Communication and the International Dinner Lads

Cross cultural communication and the International Dinner Lads. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful RelocationYou’ve got to love teenage boys. When faced with a challenge, they take a long hard look at the problem, assess what needs to be done, and then choose the most complicated, messy and stressful way to achieve their goals. And then call in their mothers.

The problem of the moment was the latest Mandarin Project. The Wiggy One is lucky enough to have a fabulous Mandarin teacher who rises to the challenge of teaching a mob of reluctant teenagers a seemingly incomprehensible language with a serene smile and an endless supply of engaging teaching strategies. And while I am pitifully grateful to her skill in instilling a formidable array of Chinese words and characters into Wiggy’s somewhat distracted brain, the resultant enthusiasm sometimes backfires.

The latest project was the preparation, filming and sharing of a traditional Chinese dish with the rest of his class. As Wiggy is rather an expert at stir fries,  I was gently relieved. And then the teenage talent for self sabotage and grade suicide kicked in as his group opted for a more challenging culinary route. Peking Duck. From scratch. For 30.

The Other Half may have DIY limitations, but he has the patience of a saint. His after-work activities for the next three days involved sourcing ingredients from obscure locations, scouring the neighborhood for a duck of appropriate lineage and 3 hours spent in a Chinese supermarket desperately trying to decipher the Mandarin character for pancakes wraps.

I was left with the task of transporting three bodies (human), a bicycle and copious amounts of video equipment home from school, whereupon my Mother, the Feisty One and I spent the rest of the evening locked outside in the yard while teenage boys laid waste to the kitchen.

It didn’t get off to a great start. It took them 30 minutes just to remove the plastic bag that the duck was packaged in, a further 10 to recover the giblets, and another 20 to clean up the resultant blood now dripping down the counters and spattering the walls. For a dead duck, it put up a hell of a fight.

Having finally freed the bird, they now turned to YouTube for guidance on further preparation, at which point the strident English tones of Delia Smith filled the kitchen. I was a fan of Delia before, but had never fully appreciated her commanding presence and the power of her teaching skills. Across time, space, cultures and the internet, she successfully instructed Mandarin II’s version of the Three Stooges in the lost art of spatchcocking a duck. The woman is a genius, and should be put in charge of fixing the global economy immediately.

We watched transfixed from our chilly vantage point outside the window as they poked, prodded and skewered, then attached some of Feisty’s lilac knitting wool under it’s now alarmingly protruding wings wings and suspended it from the saucepan rack to dry. The strategy was partly successful; the draughts of air set off a dynamic swinging movement and relocated the moisture from the skin of the duck to the doors of the kitchen cabinets.

It also relocated the previously forgotten giblets from inside the carcass to the conveniently located frying pan below, causing hyperventilation in the surrounding males, and me to sourly suggest they avoid viewing childbirth videos any time soon.

Watching duck skin dry is second only to watching paint in terms of boredom, so after a brisk steaming, the unfortunate bird was slapped onto a roasting tray and stuffed into the oven, along with a pan of glutinous, faintly brown liquid, whose purpose was never fully explained, but was, apparently, vital to authenticity.

Up until now, all the videoing had focused on the action, rather than the words, and so the running commentary from Grandma (still shivering out on the decking) were able to be ignored. Now, however, there were orders for silence and stillness while the serious on camera presentation began.

The thing about Grandmas is that they have learned to ignore the raised voices of children and to carry on regardless. This served us well through the teething, tantrums and tale-telling years, but in the face of videography, it is rather a handicap. No sooner had they got to the final sentence of their monologue, than a face would appear at the window and ask “Have you really learned all those words in class?” or “Are you sure the duck is alright?”, quickly followed by “ooh, ooohh, I am sorry”, and a Fawlty Towers-esque comedy tiptoe out of shot. It was funny the first time; by the fifth the Wiggy One was set to explode and even the dogs were cowering.

Thank God for editing, and the power of practice. By the seventh take, the pressure of impending elder arrival and the need for some dinner had compressed their communication into short, speedy authentic sounding sentences and a confidence with the subject matter that only practice, repetition and frequent consultations with Google translate can foster. The golden brown, roasted to perfection duck that eventually emerged from the oven was a triumph of cross cultural communication.

I’ll say this for them. If they ever get to China, they will be able to impart some very useful culinary tips in flawless Mandarin, and providing the recipients are happy to shop, clean and watch from a distance in utter silence, they will get a mighty nice meal.

The bad news? This was the prerecorded version. We get to do it all again this week..

 

Four Rules for the managing emotional health of transitioning expat children

How to survive moving your kids to a new school, district, city, state or country..Four Basic Rules for Transitioning Children –

Four Rules for the managing emotional health of transitioning expat childrenI can’t pretend to be a child development expert, nor a global relocation counselor, but having transitioned two children through a total of 15 schools over 3 continents in 11 years, I’ve worked out a few basic rules of my own for getting from A to B while minimizing tantrums, traumas and general rebellion. (These rules relate to the emotional transition rather than the physical ones – for my (dubious) wisdom on the rest, see the Basics – Family section or click on the links at the bottom of the page.)

1. Keep them informed, but not overwhelmed.

My mother spent many years working in child development, which included doing the dreaded ‘puberty’ talks. Experience taught her that the earlier you give them information, the less intimidating it becomes and that they only absorb what they are emotionally capable of taking on, so you may have to repeat things later. This advice holds true for relocating; once you know you are moving, include them in the planning and discussions, and let them have some control over their own lives. The amount of information and input will vary according to the age of the children concerned – see the Basics – Family section for more specific information.

2. Move at the end of a vacation, not at the start.

The biggest mistake we ever made was moving to the US at the start of the summer vacation, thinking it would be exactly that – a vacation. Instead, we were swamped with paperwork, house hunting, car and home furnishing purchases and generally no-fun stuff – all with two very lonely, grumpy and unhelpful children in tow. We learned our lesson, and on the next move, we spent the summer in our old location, with the kids fully occupied with friends and us free to do a great deal of the planning, packing and paperwork in the comfort of our own home with internet, friends and leisurely goodbyes. We arrived rested at the new location, with five days to get oriented. It was enough to unpack essentials, register at school and meet a few people before the kids headed into school  and I could get on with the grunt work of establishing a new home. Within days they had friends, play dates and a routine that made them feel more secure, and within six weeks, I was once again Chief Transportation Officer for their many and varied social activities..

3. Fill the void.

For the first month or so in our new location, I plan activities geared around the children, including many things that I would ordinarily avoid like the plague. I do this for two reasons; firstly it helps to remind my children that I once was good at something other than nagging and gets them desperate to make friends and escape family outings, and secondly, it fills the time void with things they have chosen to do in the local area (and hopefully have planned themselves). I also make sure that they have unlimited texting on their cellphones (cue eye roll) and access to email and Skype, so any extra time can be filled moaning to their global buddies about just how lame their parents are. It’s a strange form of normal, but it bridges the gap remarkably well..

4. Expect issues.

The more they transition, the more they understand the process of relocation, but sometimes that works against you, and you get a stubborn, unwilling teenager on your hands who can make your life a living Hell. I’d like to offer sage wisdom to get you through it, but all I can really say is that it is our fault so deal with it as best you can. Robin Pascoe’s excellent books are a great place to start, and in most cases it will work itself out once they start to make friends and establish their own life. If necessary, get counseling for whoever might need it – either with a local family therapist, or via online expat counseling.

Finally, bear in mind that you are under a great deal of stress, and so you will almost certainly be taking this very personally. Sadly, no-one has written the definitive, foolproof instruction manual for raising children in a static environment, let alone a nomadic one, so just give yourself a break, remind yourself that no-one is perfect, and we are all doing the best we can. If you need evidence of how badly the rest of us are doing at the whole global parenting thing, check out the Trailing Spouse blog. You are in excellent company..

The F Bomb – Expat Education Challenge Update

Update – He has just received his PSAT results (yet another test of which we have very little knowledge) and apparently his results were considerably better than his grades predicted. He is now avidly consulting college resources to explore his career options, with the current frontrunner being anesthesiologist. The reason for this? “It’s well paid, and you get to sit down and read magazines”. I can sense a visit to the career counselor coming on, lest he be unleashed on the health service..

We had a particularly interesting moment with the Wiggy One this week. Normally very mellow, he occasionally explodes into a seething mass of hormones, hair, uncoordinated limbs and spectacular examples of poorly thought out accusations.

The latest detonator was the high school ‘Grade Point Average’ system. For the non-US expats amongst us, college entry in the US is based on academic scores over the high school period across the classes. An A requires an above 90% score for the class, and gives you a 4.0 GPA; a B is 80 – 90% and scores a 3.0, and so on. Sadly for all concerned, this level of academic scrutiny is carried out for the next three years, during which they are going through puberty, growth spurts, acne and obsession with all things Xbox, so the potential for disaster is huge.

Needless to say, the grades that prompted the explosion were not A’s. Nor were they B’s. They appear somewhat later in the alphabet, and are usually associated with profanity. Which is exactly the unguarded response that they triggered in the Other Half at the dinner table when we finally learned of their existence.

Parentline, an excellent British parenting resource (which sadly does not have a toll free number for expatriates, but really should have) recommends staying calm in these moments, and maintaining channels of communication with the Tasmanian Devil formerly known as Tom. (They also don’t specifically refer to him by name, but I’m thinking of suggesting it for future advisory publications.) So I took a deep breath, washed it down with a large amount of gin, and reminded him that the longer he took to inform us of these small hiccups in his school transcript, the less able we were to help him resolve the issue, and the fewer choices he would have down the line when he was applying to college. (Excellent Mother Moment, even if I do say so myself).

His response showed the maturity, wisdom and critical thinking skills that can only be gained by an expensive, global, carefully chosen and often privately funded education, which has been our highest priority throughout our expatriate journey. It showed passion, attention to detail and considerable volume. And it took us a little by surprise.

“I don’t even want to go to college – it’s just four more years of work!”

Quite what he felt would happen to those ‘college years’ should he chose not to attend is a mystery. Maybe they give out scholarships for excessive hair growth or ability to sleep for extended periods, without the necessity of attending an institute of Higher Learning? He appears to be under the impression that work and/or college are optional extras only to be attempted as a last resort between editions of Call of Duty, and that living with your parents is a long term life plan.

So I’m off to see the school Career Counselor today. We obviously need to start with the basics. Like ‘Where do  Mummy and Daddy go when they leave for the day?’ and ‘How does money work?’

Wish me luck. I may be some time..

Teen Social Networking Infographic

It’s no longer just putting pen to paper – like many expat and TCK kids, mine rely on social networking sites to keep in contact with friends around the world. But while we keep track of them in the real world, Zonealarm’s infographic outlines just why we should be doing the same in the online one.
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Other Resources:

Newsletter Nightmares

I’m about to wring Robin’s neck. The Robin in question is not a bird, nor a person, but the round type that circulates at this time of year. The really, really annoying kind.

I seem to have morphed into a manners guru, doling out guidance on everything from parenting to organization, none of which I am remotely qualified to do. And yet again, I am required to weigh in with my two-penneth worth to keep you all on the straight and narrow.

Firstly, let me be clear – I love to hear from you. I open greetings cards with anticipation and excitement, and it’s always lovely to hear what’s going on in your lives. Recently, however, there seems to be a change in the wind, and an increasing number of cards circulating include a glossy newsletter that would be more at home in a travel catalogue, Vogue, or a political campaign. They detail lavish holidays, breathtaking adventures, stunning exam grades, unblemished children, noble good works and attentive partners with a full head of hair and excellent abdominal toning.

We have a word for it in Britain. It’s called bragging.

Now, I haven’t yet received any, so I can comment with a clear conscience and you can breathe a sigh of relief. But should you be undecided about what people are really thinking about your Christmas newsletter, here’s a rundown.

1. If it includes pictures with wrinkle / sagging / acne  free skin and immaculate hair, we need either the number of your plastic surgeon or the name of your photo editing software.

2. We assume the best about your children, so when you list their accomplishments as if we are the college admissions team, we either assume you are being ironic or trying to make us feel inadequate. When you mention that your eldest child is moving schools because the previous one didn’t have the resources to really challenge your child, we are hearing ‘juvenile detention centre’, for ‘gap year’, we assume unplanned pregnancy, and as for ‘working with the under privileged’? Incarcerated at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

3. When you retell stories of romantic sojourns with your partner, doubt about the state of your marriage creep into our cynical brains. When you mention the 2 carat diamond bling that you received for your birthday this year, we assume he/she is having an affair, and using the gift to you to cover up large other large purchases on the credit card, namely an even larger bauble for the totty. When you include pictures of your renewing your vows on Hawaiian beach at sunset, you’re pretty much confirming our fears.

4. When we hear that you are starting a new business, we assume that you have just been fired for making inappropriate comments to your boss at the office party.

What we do love to hear, however, is your disastrous run-in with a box of hair color, just what you said to your boss after getting drunk at the Christmas party, and any amusing but effective strategies for managing teenage children. Don’t however, do as one of my mother’s lifelong friends did on a yearly basis, start the letter with the words.

“It’s been a terrible year..”. Irresistable

 

The “No Fair” Rules of Parenting

There is a code of parenting solidarity, that guides our behavior in those early years. It’s there for a reason – to provide a large group of people who will provide support, comfort, alcohol and surveillance services through your child’s teenage years. For those of you who may not be familiar with this unspoken code, here it is…

Thou shalt not post pictures of home-made birthday cake excellence on Facebook, so that my children spot them and spend the next ten years bringing up my own birthday cake inadequacies.

Thou shalt not point out that your child is walking and talking while mine has spent the last three hours with his hands down his trousers.

When spying my child indulging in antisocial activities in public, thou shalt utter the words “her mother will be very cross when she finds out about that”; implicitly underlining that a) I am the all seeing, attentive parent, and b) I have high behavioral standards. It is irrelevant whether you believe this or not, and extra credit is given for saying it when other parents are present.

When spying my child inappropriately dressed, thou shalt sing out in a helpful tone “Would you like me to call your mother to drop off your sweater / trousers / anything that doesn’t look like a Britney Spears outfit?”, thus communicating to the child that a) she’s busted; b) you are willing to go there; and c) there are eyes everywhere. Extra credit is given for not telling me about inappropriate attire unless there is a repeat occurrence.

When my teenage child makes an inappropriate remark, thou shalt enter into a lengthy and awkward story about your own teenage angst, preferably with reference to kissing. The mental picture of adults ever indulging in such behavior is enough to silence any outburst, and serves as a cruel and unusual punishment which rarely has to be repeated.

When my child comes looking for sympathy about my latest parenting gaffe, thou shalt listen kindly and then retell the story about how said child once had diarrhea next to the deli counter in a crowded supermarket, and until roles are reversed, the balance was still tipped in my favor.

When my child comes looking for support in opposition to the latest parenting policy, thou shalt listen sympathetically, nod furiously, make noises of agreement, and then reiterate policy without the benefit of parent type shrieking. Extra credit is given if child thanks you for being so reasonable and fails to notice that it is the same policy.

When my child leaves home, thou shalt not mention how many times I uttered the words “I can’t wait for them to leave home” and instead hand over tissues and gin to drown my sorrows.

Should my child get married, thou shalt attend the wedding without publicly mentioning the pant fumbling, the diarrhea, the inappropriate clothing or the teenage years. Extra credit is given for having photographic evidence for use in ensuring timely Christmas visits etc.

When my child has children, thou shalt smile and enjoy the show..

 

The Best Invention Ever! (Since chocolate, obviously.)

I’ve just found the most brilliant, useful app that the world has ever seen. Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s still pretty darn cool.

It’s the Big App from Kodak, which effectively takes any picture (or scan etc.) that you upload (or choose one that Kodak helpfully provides) and turns it into a giant poster divided into A4 rectangles, which you can download as a PDF file, and print at your leisure on your home printer. Genius.

The possibilities are endless. As one whose creativity is greater than her resources, this is manna from heaven. I have already converted my favorite picture of Tom and Martha into a wall sized mural, and am ready to start surrounding them with life-size depictions of zebras, giraffes and the odd baboon, just because I can.

It’s got me thinking about all the other uses – posters, flags, school assignments, Christmas displays, science fair presentations, retirement collages. All very noble and useful projects, indeed. However, I have a teenager in the house, so instead I’m going to use mine to build wall sized instructions for where to find the spare toilet rolls and how to insert them into the holder, how to clean the bath after use, and just what that large white object with a round hole in the front is for. But for now, I’m going to do something purely for my own amusement. I’m off to start trawling through photo albums for all those ill-advised 80’s fashion and hair styling moments to share in glorious Technicolor.  And you thought having your picture posted on Facebook was the worst that could happen…?

Happy Printing!

International Driving Lesson / Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire.

Any minute, the Less Wiggy One (he’s had a haircut) will be eligible to start driving, and having spent today driving what amounts to a stick shift Go Cart with the steering wheel on the wrong side around the back roads of Gloucestershire with him making helpful comments, I’m almost excited.  In an effort (and believe me, it’s always an effort) to be a good parent, I thought it would be useful for him to learn to put fuel in the car, and this seemed the perfect time. However, despite ten successful years teaching critical thinking to mature students, I am not as skilled at imparting international driving knowledge to the male adolescent. He only asked two questions:

“How much do you want me to put in?” 

“Fill up the tank.”

“How do I know when to stop?”

“It clicks off automatically” I replied.

“Oh. This is quite boring, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but you need to know how to do it”

Cue eye roll from the LWO. And then a click as the pump clicked off. At this point, the age differentiated reaction time equation kicked in –  causing him to remove the the nozzle before I had a chance to tell him to let the remaining fuel drain out of the hose. I watched as a trickle of fuel dribbled out and down the side of the car which quickly morphed into abject horror as a jet of petrol shot from the nozzle, hit the side of the car at high speed, and ricocheted back to coat us both liberally.

In his world, it was obviously my fault. I had neglected to tell him that although the feed does shut off automatically, if you maintain a death grip on the lever as you withdraw the nozzle, the flow does in fact restart at considerable speed and turns anyone unlucky enough to be in a six foot radius into a greasy smudge. And when your grip is honed by 9 months of intensive weight training to play football (American style),  the fuel reaches maximum velocity pretty swiftly.

Having resigned myself to paying out both for the fuel in the tank and coating our clothing, we then spent the rest of the 40 minute drive nursing headaches and impending hypothermia from the rain and wind blowing in though the open windows, while the Feisty One sat in the back getting greener by the minute. I took the opportunity to explain how it is in fact the vapor that is flammable, so the use of mobile phones, cellular devices or the cigarette lighter was strictly forbidden for the remainder of the trip. In an attempt at addressing a safety moment, I made the mistake of also ruminating on exactly how long the aftereffects of our little peccadillo would last in terms of flammability, with the words “I wonder how long your trousers would burn if we set them on fire now”.

Admittedly, it was unfortunate phrasing of a purely hypothetical question, but that has not stopped him from repeating to anyone standing still long enough that his mother not only failed to ensure his safety with harmful substances, but also wanted to set fire to her only son. My status as a Bad Mother has now reached global proportions.

However, we have both learned something. He has learned the rudiments of safely refueling a vehicle, and I have learned that there is no way on God’s earth that I am teaching him to drive.

Artistic License

I have just sat through my daughter’s school production of Alice in Wonderland, and I now realize that I am a total literary dunce. I had no idea that it was all so confusing.

The problem with Lewis Carroll is that his writing breaks all my golden rules for enjoyment of a children’s production. Despite extended practices and enthusiastic, talented producers, it still failed to meet my personal expectations. His plot is so convoluted that you are too busy trying to keep track of the storyline to be able to spot your own child, let alone make out what they are actually saying. His dialogue makes no sense whatsoever, so the time honored tradition of pregnant pauses and hasty hilarious ad libs from middle schoolers is ruined – you can’t tell what was his work, and what was the children’s own imagination. And nobody, but nobody fell off the stage. It was a parenting nightmare.

It wasn’t as fraught as our previous experience of an Alice production, performed at one of the largest private schools in Nairobi, under the steely gaze of Ms P, the drama teacher. Thankfully, it was George (previously featuring in It Started with a Kick) who was subject to the artistic whims of her frustrated creativity, which included her withholding the script and CD of the songs because he was unable to attend the practice where they were issued. The logic behind this cruel and unusual punishment was a little flawed as George had a considerable number of lines, and the Braeburn crowd were unlikely to be impressed with utter silence, nervous giggling or a ten year old ad libbing in place of scripted dialogue. Ms P also had failed to reckon with Suzanne, who while she gives the impression of being a genteel lady from the Home Counties, actually hails from Yorkshire, where plain speaking and pithy remarks are ingrained from birth. Suffice to say that most of the ‘conversation’ was pointed, forceful and ended with Suzanne uttering the coup de grace loudly across the playground “Let’s try and remember who is supposed to be the adult here, shall we?”. It may not have been popular in dramatic circles, but we’re still using it as a catchphrase 5 years later.. Still, Mrs P had the last laugh – the deadline for being ‘off book’ and note perfect fell immediately after half term, so our planned vacation spent on sun loungers, watching distant children irritate the kid’s club staff and sipping dawas was rudely interrupted by repeated off key performances of “I’m late”. Hmm.

We have had better luck with other dramatic performances. The drama club in Nairobi was run by an extremely talented and creative woman, who held the children spellbound and nurtured their artistic passions, culminating after six months in a production of the Lion King. At least, I think that’s what it was.

The first clue I should have had that it was not going to be run strictly to script was when Martha announced she was going to be a squirrel. Those with keen observation skills will note that there is indeed, not a squirrel in Disney’s version, nor in the Elton John one. The other slightly unusual directorial decision involved doubling up acting roles with backstage ones, so that actors frequently carted their props and backdrops off stage as they exited stage left, and Pumba was required to nip backstage to press ‘play’ before any musical number could begin. The script was abandoned in the first three minutes, after which each character resorted to enthusiastic ad libbing and general acting out on stage.

It was mesmerizing to watch. Attempts at videoing it were hastily abandoned, lest grandparents wanted to see evidence of what amounted to theatrical carnage. The story line descended to a more generic ‘High Jinks in the Jungle’ motif, with enthusiastic participation from all concerned. Laughter become the new ‘clapometer’ and the more they could generate from their partners in crime onstage, the better. And the audience expectations could just take a flying leap.

It has spawned a love of the theatre that continues to this day. The Wiggy One’s favorite class is stagecraft, where they learn the art of set construction and backstage management. The Feisty One tries out for every school production for the sheer joy of being involved. Neither of them harbor any real desire to be the star, centre stage, but they both appreciate the camaraderie, the creativity and the work that putting on a production takes. Shabiro, you should be proud that you took a group of stage-struck children, instilled a love of self expression, and had the strength to stand back and let them enjoy it. They still talk about you today.

Ms P has a lot to learn.