Sunday, August 23, 2009

Our NZ Winter Holiday

July 09
We spent the first 5 days of our holiday in the North Island - visiting friends and family in Auckland and Leigh (north of Auckland). Then we flew to Blenheim in the South Island to visit my mum. She had organised a campervan for us, so we did a 10 day trip around the highlights of the South Island - whale watching, hiking in Mt Cook National Park, checking out lots of stunning NZ lakes & climbing on Fox Glacier. It was simply a fantastic holiday & the weather was good to us to (amazing considering it is winter & the weather had been dreadful before we arrived. We'll definately be back.

Back to School – Lots of Changes

August 09
View from our Balcony

Well, after a truly great holiday that just seemed to last forever (nearly 4 weeks with the boys & Bill’s family in Manchester followed by about 3 weeks in NZ with my family), we checked into Manchester Airport last Friday and started the trip back to Luanda.

Bill bought 20 soccer balls for his football team & we went mad in the supermarket the day before we left, so we had 4 checked bags + Bills bicycle. Check-in at British Airways is always so easy – no hassles & the bike went free as an added bonus. Even better, we didn’t need to change terminals at Heathrow so that was a smooth turn-around too.

The flight had many more women & children on it than the flight we made just more than a year ago – an indication of how the country is changing I guess. When we arrived (3am, 4am?) we were very surprised to see that the arrivals hall has been made much larger so the queuing seemed more orderly. Also the air conditioning was working as well. The best part of flying BA is that it is the only flight to arrive at that time, so there are no back-logs of people and even the luggage came out reasonably fast.

Bill was concerned about being hit with import tax for the soccer balls & that his bicycle would make customs more likely to stop him. So when we had all our bags together, he went out first with a bag of clothes and the bike, while I followed him out 5 minutes later with the other three bags. Of course they opened the bag with the balls in it (all bags were x-rayed as a matter of course – another first for our Luanda airport experiences) but when they found out I didn’t speak Portuguese and didn’t have the receipt for the balls on me (a lesson for future packing to put receipts into relevant suitcases), they gave up and let me go. Outside was Tony B (there to pick up his wife, but still good to see him) and an empty carpark. The car park expansion had just been recently finished and the barrier arm that let cars into the park had broken earlier in the night – so no one had been able to get into the airport to pick up relatives etc, and traffic was backed-up at the entrance of the airport for ages. Fortunately, we were able to just push our luggage trolleys out of the car-park & the school buses were there on the outside to pick us up. We were on our way back to the school in really a very quick time. Another big advantage of the BA flight is that there is no traffic on the roads so early in the morning, so the trip to school only takes 20 minutes or so – much faster than the hour or more it takes during the day.

We got back to school & our “house” – it had been cleaned during the holidays & it surprised us how much it felt like “home”. It was good to be back in our own place instead of staying with others – no matter how comfortable and welcome we had felt there. There is no time difference between the UK and Angola at the moment, but we’d only arrived in the UK from NZ two days before we flew out again and we were still feeling a bit jet-lagged & tired from all the flying we had done over the previous few days.

We spent the weekend sorting out the house (all our electrical and music stuff had been locked into the bedroom) and getting the basics restocked again. (The fridge and freezer had to be emptied out over the holidays, so we had no milk etc waiting for us). We unpacked the bags, Bill re-constructed his bicycle and despite the fact that it didn’t go first time, got the motorcycle working as well.

Monday was back to school – meeting the new teachers & getting keys for classrooms to get them ready. However, Monday was a day of meetings & we were both booked onto a first aid training course all day Thursday & Friday, so the actual amount of preparation time didn’t feel quite adequate.

Bill was made Head of Science (he’d applied right at the end of last year), which meant he had more to organise than usual. I was putting together a booklet for the MYP math classes, so we were both busy with departmental stuff.

The first aid course was busy – it totally ate up all of Thursday & Friday and everyone found the exam at the end confusing (it had been translated from Portuguese & the questions were poorly worded), but in the end we both passed. I haven’t done first aid training since I left Japan, so I was pleased to be current again. However the time we lost meant that we had to go back to school on Sunday afternoon to get our rooms ready.

The biggest surprise of the week was Di telling us early on Wednesday morning that one of the apartments was available because the teacher who was in it had decided he didn’t like it and wanted to move back to campus. Of course there was another couple we needed to go into a draw for the apartment – we’d lost out in all the previous draws, so weren’t feeling particularly optimistic. We had the draw at lunch time – Bill sent me as he’d been unlucky in previous draws & much to my amazement we won!!!!

We had to shift on Saturday so we booked a bus for 9am, borrowed lots of plastic storage bins to move with & we managed to have most of it packed up by 9am Saturday morning (we did have to get up early to achieve it). Friday night had been the staff barbeque with the board members and to everyone’s horror, the empty field across the road from the school was converted into a temporary church meeting – hundreds of people arrived and some sort of sermon was broadcast at maximum volume – it was impossible to sleep even though we were dead tired & had gone to bed early. Fortunately they turned the speakers off before midnight so we did get some sleep – but it was an ironic last night on campus – the normal peace & quiet well & truly shattered.

The shift went almost effortlessly – Tomi came to help & the driver was a huge help as well – the whole move took less than 2 hours. I’d been at home packing, so my first look at our new apartment was with it filled with boxes, but what a treat – 3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms and so much space……

We spent the rest of Saturday unpacking and organising. We don’t get a cleaner come to the flats the way we did on campus, but instead we get an extra $400 a month to cover the cost of supplies & a cleaner if we want one. We decided to try to clean ourselves & save the money – but also decided that buying a vacuum cleaner for $100 would be a good investment. We headed off to Shoprite on Saturday afternoon, not sure how busy it would be, but knowing that we had a ton of cleaning stuff we needed to buy. It was our first Shoprite visit since returning (Bill had been buying bits and pieces on his forays on the motorbike, so we’d been able to put it off), and I have to say, we were pleasantly surprised – Shoprite had the best selection of stuff we’ve ever seen there, the crowds weren’t too bad & the whole experience was quite painless. We even got our vacuum cleaner there!

One of our buys was a bottle of champagne – we’ve been celebrating our Angolan milestones with champagne since our champagne picnic lunch in Regents Park, London the day we got our visa – with a follow-up bottle the dawn we arrived a year ago. We haven’t had one since – coming back for our second year hadn’t seemed momentous enough, but without doubt, moving into our new 3rd floor apartment (with a view out over Luanda Sol) certainly was!

The weekend passed at record speed & to be honest I didn’t feel as organised for classes as I normally like to be. However, this last week with the kids back has gone by remarkably quickly, and it has been great to see the kids again & to meet new students. The week was pretty uneventful – we had a productive MYP meeting on Thursday after school organising linkages between different departments. The admin are also determined to crack down on dress code “abuse”, which certainly led to some interesting discussions in my homeroom on Friday afternoon. The whiff of a uniform is in the air….

This weekend has been more of the same – final unpacking of bags & organising the flat – we moved our dining room table into one of the spare bedrooms so we could use it as a study big enough for the two of us (the apartment does have a little office/study but it just isn’t big enough for both of us to work in at the same time). We needed to take some legs off the table to get it into the room we wanted, but we are thrilled with the end result – we have a huge table to do our work on & the living room is wide open with lots of space.

Other delights of the apartment include our own washing machine – no more using the shared laundry – and (a real treat) a dishwasher! We have a balcony that looks out over the street, & although it is a bit noisy and dusty, it is fine for drying clothes and we are thinking about getting a small barbeque for out there. We’ll buy some pots & potting mix (if we can) and see if we can’t grow some of the seeds we have too. We are still pinching ourselves about being here – it’s been a week but it still feels slightly unreal.