Thursday 26 June 2014

Cup cakes, Witch Doctors and Goats

Sounds like the start of a joke, but it’s just one of many things that occurs at the Viva Foundation located in the Alaskan Informal Settlement in Mamelodi.

For the vulnerable children and orphan family day, 100s of people come for their free blankets and food. The kids play, have their faces painted and the adults receive educational advice, this year in the form of RapePrevention, then to signal the end of the day, cup cakes are handed out at the gate to ensure everyone goes home.

My first event at Viva was in 2012 and the distribution of the Christmas gifts from Santa Shoebox and let me tell you, it was chaotic, a woman approaches me and states she is 17 and would like a box she was easily in her late 70s and I’ve since found out she is in her 80’s. Something weird and wonderful happens in Mamelodi at least once a year and 2013 was the Arts festival that runs every year, in fact you can get involved for #67 minutes for Mandela if you have an artistic streak in you or you can come make tea and food for the artists, in fact just come, it’s fun.

March 2013 I took my son  and we painted shacks and then spent the night under canvas, we didn’t sleep much, it wasn’t fear that kept us awake it was the choir at 1am, the drums banging to save a soul at 2.30am, the goats fighting, the cockerals crowing and the bloody taxis at 4.30am announcing with a toot of the horn ‘we are here to collect you for work’

2104 is the Witch Doctor who I met last month, he was tying up a goat on the side of the road to put in his boot, so I approached him and asked him what he was doing. Once he realised I wasn’t there to interfere he told me about his apprentice and how they would hide the goat and how the apprentice would have to locate it, using his new powers he’d learnt, then the goat would be slaughtered as an offering and the apprentice would become a Witch Doctor. I didn’t ask any further questions.

On Friday this week a group of us and teachers from Viva are going to Bushbuckridge near Kruger for the weekend, to turn a building into a school, we’ve collected kitchen utensils, clothing, educational supplies, toys for the children and always welcome donations of any kind so please get in touch if you can help out.

We are paying our own transport, food and accommodation costs for this project.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Suarez and the bite (again)

One Sunday afternoon I was walking along the beach in Seaford with my husband, 2 cousins and their wives and maybe a dog or two, when my phone rang.

I worked for two years for The Football Association in Child Welfare, it was a work call. It went like this:

This is ******* club in Redditch (adult none league team) There is a fight on the pitch, can you please come.

My advice was to call the police, but they didn't want to do that, they wanted me to come in an official capacity and stop the fighting.

Most of the players were fighting and half the crowd were on the pitch. I informed them of where I was and even if I was back home in Worcestershire it could've taken me 45 minutes to reach them so please call the police.

They actually asked if they could do that.

I used to get lots of requests to investigate things, talk to people about their behaviour and in quite a few occasions I received complaints and concerns in relation to child abuse, actual and suspected.

For some situations a word with the club was satisfactory, but in cases involving children or violence on the pitch, further investigation needed to take place. If an incident of violence was reported after a match via a spectator or a player then the referees report was the first port of call.

If a matter involving child welfare then immediate action would be taken, following correct reporting procedure the informant was encouraged to call the police. I would also call the police and social services and pass on the informants details.

A lot of people would think that you and The FA could resolve these matters and would call us before the authorities. I would also explain that unless they called the police I would do it on their behalf.

I used to say to people if the incident took part in a public place or a child informed you they were being abused who would you talk to then? If you saw a fight in the street, you wouldn't assume it was the responsibility of the shop keeper and report it to them, you'd call the police or ask to use their phone to do so.

So Suarez, why is this a matter for FIFA and his Country FA, yes they should be carrying out their own investigation, but this was an assault and if it happened in the street it would be reported to the police, so why don't footballers do this? and why don't their Managers, Clubs, County FA and FIFA support this?

I was bitten at work by a student with Autism, there was no point involving the police as it wasn't malicious, but I sure as hell blamed my employers for not doing anything about previous bite attacks when out that I was unaware of.

Monday 23 June 2014

New regulations for unaccompanied minors entering and leaving South Africa

How to get through South African Immigration as a child.

Despite having a visa issued by the South African Embassy in London in 2011 and renewed in South Africa in December 2013 there are 3 different procedures to follow here and the only thing I know for sure is that whether a child travels with their parents or on their own, they must carry an unabridged birth certificate with them.

Travelling with one parent, then a letter from the other parent and the birth certificate to state this person has permission to fly with their child. In the case of a desceased parent then the death certificate must be carried and in the case where the other parent is absent and cannot give permission then a court order is needed.

But what happens if the child is travelling on their own, is over 15 and the airline allows unaccompanied minors on their flight and the parents are divorced, the mother has a new surname and there is no court order because the parents never questioned custody?

Having spent most of the week on the internet and telephone I am still none the wiser as to whether the suggestions I received from the South African Immigration website, British High Commission and Deloitte should suffice.

I’m afraid ‘should suffice’ is not enough for me or my son. He arrives in SA with British Airways on July 27th. I have the following documents as recommended which have been certified at SAPS (police) and will be sending them via DHL once I’ve been given clearance from immigration.

An unaccompanied child must carry with them the following:

Birth Certificate (unabridged) which actually reads on the bottom

A letter from me with contact details stating I am the person collecting him.

A letter from me giving permission for him to enter and then leave SA.

A copy of my passport.

A copy of my divorce certificate and new marriage certificate to prove my name on his birth certificate and how it links with my passport now.

A letter from his father that needs witnessing by a solicitor to give permission for his son to visit me in SA and a separate letter to give permission for his son to leave SA and return to the UK.

I took these documents to OR Tambo airport today to speak with immigration directly to ensure these documents will suffice. The staff, via the twitter account @ortambo_int, were amazing, making phone calls, visiting immigration where I couldn't access, explaining my dilemma then phoning me back to direct me to where I needed to be. I was told my documents were good and son will clear immigration when he presents them, but due to the confusion the new law this has now been postponed until October.

I’m sure there is an easier way, but I can’t find one. My 15 year old is more than capable of travelling half way round the world on his own, finding the right gate etc, but I’m not sure if he’s equipped to deal with immigration after a 12 hour flight.

UPDATE after contacting British Airways who son is flying with. Taken from Foreign Travel Advice.

Even BA can't confirm what travel documents my son would need after October 1st but believe it would be best for him to travel with the following after highlighting the fact that have to be very careful - if your son is refused entry into SA we will be heavily fined:

- a machine-readable passport
- minimum of one full blank page in his passport although Immigration state 2 clear pages
- a copy of the documentation from the SA High Commission that was received with his granted student visa application, including all information relating to him being able to travel on a one-way ticket (standard SA-issued advice says that visitors should hold a return ticket or pay a deposit if on a one-way ticket). We would also say that if there becomes a query at the airport about his one-way ticket, it would be helpful to have with him some kind of proof of how his return ticket will be arranged/paid for (unless his visa application answers this issue fully). Ideally, our Terminal 5 team say an open-dated return ticket might have been better for him to travel on - these can be open for a return flight up to 12 months ahead
- his full/unabridged birth certificate 
- an affidavit from both parents giving their consent for his journey, including agreement for him to travel to SA on a one-way ticket. Please include permanent home addresses on this
- proof of his study in SA. This should be a letter-headed document that confirms he is a current student at their facility, the course he is on and the term dates they expect to receive him between.

UPDATE Son arrived and cleared immigration, no questions asked or documentation requested

Sunday 22 June 2014

My Sunday Photo

no kids, no animals, no awards.

this is the morning after an afternoon and evening with wonderful friends for my birthday next week

Friday 20 June 2014

Why I'm not going to Britmums live

I went last year, I'd planned a trip to the UK and as I was flying in and out of Heathrow I decided to tag a few extra days to my trip and go to Britmums. I'm not going this year, although I did consider it when I planned my UK trip in April, but the dates don't coincide with the school holidays and the purpose of my trip was to spend time with my children, especially the 15 year old in Boarding.

Don't get me wrong I actually enjoyed Britmums and learnt an awful lot about working with brands, making the most out of your blog by adding pictures and so many other things that I use today, but it was hard work and I see familiar tweeters heading off there again this year, with the same issues and worries, namely:

What if no one speaks to me?

Put any group of people together and you'll discover they have little in common apart from the fact they are bloggers, tweeters, Mums (and Dads) stay at home/work part time/work full time.

I met people last year at Britmums that I admired, people whose blogs I read and enjoyed, people I wanted to meet and surprisingly people who wanted to meet me and actually sought me out.

However I met a few people who I never wish to meet again, in fact I unfollowed quite a few while I was there, especially the woman who walked up to me, took one look at my name tag and said 'oh you're Chickenruby' and turned her back on me to talk to the person I was with. A couple of other people did not come across as the person I knew online, looked different, sounded different from how I thought and in a lot cases acted very differently to the way they do online.

There were a lot of cliquey groups, seated together, attending the same seminars, closing others out, but hey that's their problem, not yours. A lot of you seem to raise this issue generally whether it's about Britmums, the school playground or an after school activity.

If I can give you any tips on how to make the most out of Britmums, how to relax and enjoy yourself, it would be:

Wear what you would normally wear for coffee with a friend, be comfortable and feel comfortable.
Don't automatically follow someone on twitter just because you've just met them.
Don't be afraid to unfollow someone when you have met them.
Don't worry about sitting on your own or joining another person who is also sitting on their own.
Don't be afraid to get up and walk away from a group or an individual if it's not 'your thing' say you need the loo, just be polite.

Remember most people in the room are probably feeling the same way as you are, nervous and apprehensive. The online world isn't the real world, you sit at home, go out with your friends for coffee, play dates with the kids, work and when the weekend comes you socialise with 'real' people and tweet and blog about your experiences and share with an online world, that you don't actually live in. 

I'll leave you with my most awkward Britmums moment.......On the Friday night, I sat down for dinner with a group of people I'd never met before and the woman on my right said 'Why did you block me on twitter?'

Tuesday 17 June 2014

My top 7 tips on how to get the cheapest flight

I once entered a travel agents in Swindon as they had flights to Luxor 'from £99'. I asked the travel agent to book me that flight, they asked when I wanted to go, I replied 'when the £99 flight is' it apparently wasn't as simple as that, it depended on the departure point and date and time I wanted to fly. Having repeated several times I wanted the £99 flight and I didn't mind what time/date/location, I left emptied handed and never got the £99 deal.

My next trip to the UK will be for Christmas. I've started looking for flights now. I found a flight for R10,098.00 December 17th to January 4th to Birmingham but with a 24 hour stop over. I change the destination to Manchester, change the date to return a day later and I find a flight for R9520 with only a 2 hour stop over. It takes some time but it's worth it to set aside a day or 2 to get not only the best price, but the best route and stop over.

A direct flight will cost me R14,851 and I have the inconvenience and cost of getting to and from Heathrow.

My top 7 tips for finding a cheap flight
  • I can tell you to avoid peak times such as Christmas and school holidays but you're not stupid, you've probably worked that one out by now.

  • I can tell you to be flexible with your dates, routes, time etc, etc, etc, but you've probably worked that one out also.

  • I can tell you to search for deals with budget airlines you think I'm patronising you.

  • Google 'cheapest flights from (insert departure) to (insert arrival)' then enter a variety of dates, times and routes and probably spend the best part of a day doing this.

  • Change your arrival airport if possible....for example it's cheaper to fly into Birmingham or Manchester than it is into the London airports.

  • Look for flights where you have a stop is cheaper to fly with a stop over than direct to the UK from South Africa.

  • Don't be fooled by the initial price you see....all prices should state whether this includes taxes or not, but please remember that some search/booking sites show you the price for each leg of the journey.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Where can I walk my dog in Pretoria?

There aren't many places you can go with your dog in South Africa. A lot of open spaces contain wildlife of some description and the rules can change from one week to the next. I've found several places I can walk Bob on a lead, including the golf course that with live on, but there are few places where I can let him off the lead to run free.

Our favourite place is Magalies Sleepy River, we've been there for day trips and camping, but it's an hours drive away and I need somewhere local for daily walks.

I love taking Bob to Irene to Jan Smuts House which is a 5 minute drive from our house. Entrance is R5 to park, there are toilets and lovely tea gardens. There is also a museum that charges R10 for entrance, but you can't take your dog in there and the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month there is a market (dogs welcome)

You have to remember and you are warned about the dangers of walking on your own and there have been a few incidents in the past, but there have also been incidents inside the security estate that we live in. 

There are places on the walk where you are requested to put your dog back on the lead, but they are clearly signposted. Walk as far or as for as long as you like and I always stop for a pot of tea and give Bob some water before we leave.

I'd love to hear from you if you know of other local places where a dog can run off the lead in safety.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Macaroon and Tracy Paul

I attend the Tracy Paul Macaroon Launch in Greenside this morning and I was very impressed with the range of stationery they had on offer. The Tracy Paul merchandise caught my immediate attention with a giraffe wearing a snorkel.

As an expat I'm expected to bring back African related gifts for birthday and christmas and after 4 years I think I've exhausted the market and TBH on my last trip to the UK in April I found more 'Safari' animal related goods there than I do over here. So it was really nice to see something new.

I had a chance to talk with Tracy (centre of photograph) and she told me she's been interested in art since the age of 4 and her favourite thing to draw are giraffes and anything wearing a tutu, this appeals to me greatly.

With cakes, coffee and champagne on offer and familiar faces I would have like to have stayed longer, but hubbies plane landed half an hour early so I had to leave.

I'm not often in the Johannesburg area, but next time I am, I will call back in.

Some of my favourite items of stationery were the menu and shopping plan, the travel journal and the coasters.

I received an original personalised Tracy Paul notebook and gift labels in exchange for this blog post.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

You know you're settled as an expat when.....

your son asks when his flight is, who he's flying with and says to you 'muuuum, stop it, i'll get my connecting flight, don't worry.'

your kids move back to their home country.

you stop converting currency.

you stop comparing prices.

you stop saying when asked where you stay? 'I'm originally from.......'

you know your way round the airport as well as you know your local supermarket.

you give up explaining the time difference when family call you.

you help yourself to lemons off your friends tree when you leave.

you stop having comforts from home sent over. i.e. tea bags and pickle.

you forget where your spouse is travelling this week.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Buy an Angel of Hope to support education in South Africa

This is the latest education project I've been working on in South Africa. By donating just £1 you can contribute towards a child's education.

I've found a lot of available resources, including online and shop bought that are not relevant to the children in the townships. For example story books on shopping and visits to the doctors, dentist etc show children from affluent families and usually they are white. Kids in supermarkets having arrived in a car, a full shopping trolley or a child being told by mum in their house with a sofa, curtains at the window and a TV in the corner about a trip to the dentist, whose practice is private, nicely laid out, with all the mod cons.

This is not the reality for children who live in townships, who attend pre school at the cost of R200 per child, per month, where often classrooms don't have tables and chairs, just a few blankets on a mud or concrete floor, no books, crayons or paper, let alone electricity and running water.

So just what have I been making and how much does it cost to buy a package for a school?

Each kit contains 100 sheets of laminated learning material. It costs R70 for printing and R144 for the laminates. The additional cost is for pegs, string, prestik, crayons, basic stationery for the teachers and a reem of paper. I also provide each classroom with flour and salt to make play doh, plus several hours of my time demonstrating how to use these resources. I also provide the schools with cardboard boxes, yogurt pots and toilet rolls and show the teachers how to make musical instruments.

The kits provide visual displays for the walls, as they are laminated they can be taken down and used to teach the children numbers, alphabet, colours. There are dates, months and days of the week along with weather and emotion images. The children can learn to sequence events, take an active role in their own learning, match, learn and play. They also learn social skills, group work and turn taking.

But I don't just deliver the resources, I spend time over a couple of weeks teaching the teachers to learn to use the packs. We start with a nursery rhyme, Old Macdonald, we split the children into 2 groups, one group sings the rhyme the other group are the animals. The children choose an animal, they name it and make the sound, we can then expand this activity by identifying the colour of the animal, is it bigger or smaller than a ....... ask what the animal produces that we can eat. i.e. eggs and  milk and expand the discussion into healthy eating, draw pictures, etc.

I have a meeting this week with an organisation that specialises in teaching children to keep themselves safe from abuse and rape to talk with them about making resources that are relevant to the children's home and learning environment. I'm also developing story books and games with photographs and images that are also relevant to the children's lives and I'm wanting to produce work books so the children can start to learn to read and write. The crayons and playdoh are just the start for the children to practice fine motor movements skills.

Already the teachers are starting to develop their own resources, drawing shapes and getting the children to colour them in and name them, adding pictures drawn to the classroom walls, making instruments and using them when singing nursery rhymes, using the colour and number sheets by placing them on the floor and asking the children to find 6 orange items or 4 green crayons etc.

Monday 2 June 2014

Geography lesson for stupid people

There's not much doubt that most people know where England is, but what a lot of people don't know is that the land mass they refer to as England is actually called Great Britain and contains 3 countries called England, Wales and Scotland.

I'm fed up of being asked where I'm from when I travel and I usually reply England for 2 reasons. If if say 'Newport' a lot of people have no real idea where Newport is and if I say Wales, I'm often asked where that is. A twitter friend told me the other day that when she was in Spain and said she was Welsh, the other person replied 'Oh that's in England, isn't it' her eye is still twitching.

In America once a woman told me of her trip to England, she meant London, then proceeded to tell me she loved the Eiffel Tower, I told her that was in France and her response 'Oh I didn't know that' never mind that the currency and the language was different, she was near enough in her mind.

So to clarify things

Britain is England (yellow) and Wales (pink)
Great Britain is England, Wales and Scotland (yellow, pink and green)
United Kingdom is England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (yellow, pink, green and purple)
And France (red) is bottom right........

and while we're at it, people....Africa is NOT one country, it is a continent.