Venice and the Long Ride Home

Although this all looks good on paper, continuous train journeys do take their toll and right now as I write I am once again settling in for a long ride across Northern Italy towards France for the final leg of my trip, tired, a little bit hungover, but feeling positive after my experience in Venice and all I’ve been through over the last week and a half. Tuesday morning was spent in Timisoara, killing time, and I ended up arriving in Budapest seven minutes after my train left for Austria, and had to wait another two hours for the next connection.

This in itself wasn’t a real problem, as Budapest is one of my favourite places on the planet, and in the eight years since I first went there on the way to Exit Festival back in 2006 a lot has changed making it a real cosmopolitan hub, and not the slightly dirty and run down city I remember the first time we all arrived and drank Dreher beer in a pokey little underground bar off the main high street. Like me, the city has grown up. It has forgotten its old past, cemented in the world’s mind as a long-past-its-due-date relic of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and has woken up to the reality it faces: it’s time to get with the program. Also like me, it has developed its individual sense of being and sprouted into something much bigger and better. Gone are the ideas that it can only be what it was, and in come the new ideas that it can paint its own future. This is of course all subjective, and just the way I see it, but I like to see the changes making a positive influence on the country and its image in the eyes of the rest of the world. A few beers outside the newly re-opened Keleti Metro station which seemed to have been under construction for ever and ever and I was back on my way again on a fast moving night train to Vienna. Got into the hostel at around 12.30am, for just four hours sleep and back up, showered, and into Wien Meidling station to begin the most exciting part of the trip.

We left Vienna 6.30am and headed south through Austria and the guide books didn’t lie. There is a quicker way to get to Venice, if I had stayed in Budapest for the night, but as we snaked our way up into the mountains the lack of sleep began to pay off. Surrounding the train in all directions are some of the best views I’ve ever had the chance to see, and they didn’t stop for several hours. Vienna down to Klagenfurt comes well recommended by me after all this. We climbed slowly into the clouds, and then seemed to stay up there, travelling through man-made tunnels inside the cliffs each time surfacing to another beautiful vista and another set of snow-capped peaks and traditional Austrian villages. Having lived up on Kilimanjaro for three years, I never thought that my memory bank of mountains both there and all the way down to Zambia would ever be topped, but I was wrong. Austria is, in my mind, the most beautiful place I have ever been. One particular part that grabbed my attention was a little town called Semmering. I am already making mental plans to go back there one day, and drive those roads myself. I have some photos and videos taken from the train, but that’s not what I care about, the pictures in my mind will stay with me forever, and I’m thankful for giving myself the opportunity to experience them on my own and with such clarity.

Seven hours into the journey we were finally in Italy, crystal clear water trickled down mountain run off streams over bright white limestone and under the train’s elevated tracks to flow out the other side into vast blue lakes at the foot of lush green mountainscapes. Sounds romantic huh? You had to be there! When we finally got to Venice Santa Lucia after crossing the open sea on this very long and narrow bridge I wasn’t disappointed in what lay ahead of me. Venice sits in its own lagoon, surrounded by sea on all sides, and when you really take that in, it becomes even more amazing when you do finally step off the train and see the intricate maze of canals and bridges. In true stereotypical fashion, a lady running through the train station nearly knocked me over shouting “Mario, Mario” calling after her boyfriend and I felt like it all made sense. I walked through this wonderful city and got horridly lost before I found my hotel, an unmarked and unremarkable door leading up a winding staircase to a rooftop balcony overlooking a small street on the main island. The room wasn’t all that great, but for the money paid I wouldn’t have expected much more. It was clean, hot water in the showers, and the friendly bunch of people running the place made me feel very welcome. After a “wash and brush up”, in the words of Peter Sellars: “a little wash and brush up, a bit water on the back of the neck, makes you feel marvellous” I headed back into the narrow streets and took my camera out for its first real foray since leaving Zanzibar. Venice is a beautiful little place, and when I say little, I mean it, it’s tiny. I managed to walk almost the entire circumference in less than two hours. I drank my first real Italian cappuccino, spoke my first ever words of Italian, and tried to relax and soak up the atmosphere. That in itself wasn’t that easy, as it seemed to me that only established couples and young newly-weds go there, and once the huge number of tourists subsided in the early evening it became apparent that I would have to look quite hard to find a party or any kind of conversation given my lack of Italian or real-world French ability. I found what would be considered in Bristol or Amsterdam to be a quiet little bar, but here in Venice was the only place with people milling around outside together, and got myself a table to start watching the England-Ecuador match being shown on the TV. Lamenting the fact I was on my own, I kept myself to myself and just carried on with my people-watching until enough was enough, and at half time when I overheard a Scottish lad and a couple of Americans near me speaking in English, I popped over and joined them. All of a sudden there were about ten of us all exchanging our own versions of how train-wreck it felt to be in Venice and not with the love of our lives, and various other travelling tales of woe and wonder, and before I knew it I was chasing whiskeys with a lovely Scottish lass until the early hours of the morning, finally sneaking into the dorm with her and pretending to be 18 again. I suppose it’s fitting that I ended my Italian stay with really good sex, albeit at the behest of those trying to sleep around us. The excitement of it all just made it even better and sneaking back out this morning to go get a coffee didn’t feel like a walk of shame, more a stride of pride! Yep, Italy, I went, I conquered, and now I’m leaving!

As I write this, I am heading west towards Milano, where I shall get another awesome Italian cappuccino before my connection to Ventimiglia and finally on to Monaco. I still can’t believe that this is coming true, that I am actually going to walk along the very streets that Ascari, Fangio, Hill, Brundle, Schumacher, Button and all my heroes have raced on and where most of them live. It’s a shame I can’t stay, but the guidebook (well, Wikipedia) says that Monaco has the highest GDP in the world, at over $180,000 per person, comparing that to Tanzania which is more like $180, you can understand that there is more money in that little principality than I could ever imagine. So much money that the House of Grimaldi don’t need to collect income tax! I don’t deserve to be there any longer than a couple of hours, indeed I don’t think I could afford it anyway, the cheapest hostel or hotel I could find was over €150 for one night at short notice. In contrast, my room in Nice tonight will cost me less than €30.

Off to practice my French, get a real comparison on whether French or Italian cappuccinos are best, then its TGV time and the epic 500kph plus train up to Paris tomorrow. I don’t have much time there, and don’t really need it, I’m really looking forward to another weekend out in Amsterdam, and another little personal test – If my brother can do it, then so can I – I haven’t smoked any weed since leaving the dam last week, and really hope I can keep that up and start this next chapter of my life with a clear conscience and sober outlook. Well, there’s nothing stopping me downing a few Heineken’s on the way I suppose is there?

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Europe and beyond

Its’ probably about time I started writing some more updates. I feel like the last six months have been a bit of a rollercoaster, but not the really exciting type, more the kind where you’re waiting in line for five hours, only to be told when you get to the front that it’s closed, and you have to come back another day.

My first week off work since December has given me ample time to reflect on what is important to me, what I want in life, and most importantly, what direction I want to go. Yes, I have taken the job in Bristol that keeps me there 9-5 each day, but after three years being poor in Tanzania, and loving every moment, few could have guessed that I would come back and be a manager, be doing quite well, and be enjoying it so much. This is, however, the reality I face, and one which I was not prepared for.

Soul searching aside, I have huge disappointments in myself in how I have returned and just floundered socially. I feel like my life has stopped, like I was on pause for six months, and only really getting out into Europe on my own with my laptop do I finally feel alive once more. Maybe as a result of my time abroad, maybe just because I am loose footed, but I am one to be out and about, the life I seem to have lived in the last six months is not me, it’s not making me happy, it’s just a job I’m good at and a bed to sleep in. That’s not discounting the money it’s bringing in! If it wasn’t for my job, I would not be able to afford to take these two weeks off and put everything on hold.

I think about Tanzania all the time. I think about my plans to put on a festival out in Zanzibar, and it’s almost cringe-worthy the full about face that I’ve done to myself. Truth is, I was killing myself slowly out there, living on the edge of what I could cope with financially and politically, and returning to the UK with my tail between my legs was the only option for continued survival.

And that’s basically it, I feel like I’ve sold out. Up to a point. A few weeks ago, I made the final plunge to remove myself from Facebook, and have decided to only push out updates via my blog, in person, and via email. At that moment, I had a flurry of communication from old friends, and that lead me to buy an InterRail ticket and make my way down to Bucharest in Romania. A good friend I met in Tanzania lives there, and after a lovely weekend hanging out with her, I’m now on my return leg, enjoying a coffee outside the National Theatre in Timisoara, south west Romania. This afternoon I get up to Budapest for dinner, then on to Vienna for a few drinks and bed. Tomorrow morning I will grab a cross country train down through the mountains, to a place called Klagenfurt, then carry on into Italy and to Venice. This is where the romance of life will come alive, and from there, after a nights’ stay out floating in the Italian Romantic heartland, I get another train across northern Italy to Monaco. I hope to be able to find an expensive coffee at Casino Square, take a walk from there all the way down to the tunnel, along the swimming pool complex to the Rasse-Casse hairpin and back up along the start-finish straight and into the principality for a late lunch. This has always been a dream of mine to go to Monte Carlo, and although I missed the Formula One race, it won’t dampen my enthusiasm for walking the race track that I have watched my heroes race on for my entire life. Unfortunately, prices forbid me from staying the night, but I do have a room in Nice, just a short ride away along the French Riviera. The romance doesn’t stop there, as I then get the high speed train up to Paris for dinner, and finally back to Amsterdam for a well-deserved rest. That’s a sentence most people will not have heard… going to Amsterdam for a rest! Those of you who know me will also be glad to hear I have finally shaken the need to smoke weed all the time, and the ultimate test will be a weekend in Amsterdam avoiding it. If my brother can do it, then so can I, and I really need this for the sake of my future and those around me.

So I’ve just been in Bucharest with Elin. She, like me, had plans to get back to Tanzania, indeed, she has all the more reason to do so as her boyfriend is still there, and any hope of him coming to Europe on a regular basis have been flattened with the sheer complication of Africans coming to Europe and how expensive it is for them: she had to pay for it. It’s not the type of thing that she can afford to do more than once a year for him, and in the mean-time, her returning to Tanzania is reliant on a job being made for her and some security in visa applications and salary.

Just one year ago, I was making a home in the forest. I was raising my little gang of puppies to be the Marangu Barmy Army, and was decorating and making the house a beautiful place for us all to live. That was before it all went so horribly wrong. Moving into Moshi seemed like the right idea at the time, but in reality I needed to come back to Europe and start again. The opportunity to make money, reboot and refresh myself was taken and now I’m out again, and feel so alive.

The journey down to Bucharest was a bit crazy, after spending my birthday with my brother in Holland, I took a train that was supposed to get me to Bucharest over night. Those hopes were dashed when on leaving Amsterdam we were over half an hour late and I missed my connection to Vienna. I finally got to Munich, and have some advice for anyone travelling in Europe: if you need to complain, do it in Germany! The very nice lady in the train station told me that if I needed to get to Bucharest, and had the cash on me now to do it, that compensation would come my way, so I headed to Vienna, got really drunk and booked a flight. This was in itself a bit of a nightmare, as it seems my body wasn’t ready for this alcoholic onslaught, and I was incredibly sick, in the queue to check my baggage in, again in the queue to get through security, and then used all three sick bags in my row on the plane itself. An experience to say the least, but I made it to Bucharest in time for Elin and I to have a gorgeous meal out in the old town and enjoy a full weekend together drinking and eating our way around the city. A few more days on the road, or rather rails, and I will be back home, wishing I could do it all again, and that’s the beauty of life: I can, and will. Each day is just an adventure waiting to happen, and the day I stop seeing it like that is the day I settle down and become a boring fart. I had huge fears this was already happening to me, but luckily, and with the help of some good friends, I am back to being Craig again. Perhaps I’m lucky enough to see how it happens in myself before it gets too late, but in any case, for anyone out there who enjoys reading other’s misfortunes, let it be known, I got dangerously close to giving in to laziness and just working to live and living to work. There is more to life than that trust me.

Next Monday back in the office will be a harsh reminder of what I was running away from in the first place. I have been keeping an eye on my work emails, and I have to say that when I remove myself from the office, I really couldn’t care less about our clients’ computer problems or whether we are doing the right thing for them each day. In reality however, why should I? It is not my company, I have no shares, and I know for certain that if they didn’t want me there, they’d get rid of me. The truth is, I believe I’m doing a good job, and most days I am busy and thrive on it. Finding the right work-life balance is perhaps the key to surviving the modern world intact, and one thing I’ve learnt for myself is that I am in control of my future, not anyone else, and if you don’t have a goal to work towards, then nobody else will do it for you. The possibilities for me moving onwards and upwards in the company are huge, but they need to be balanced by what that will ultimately offer me, and whether I will benefit from it. Perhaps that seems a little selfish, but at the end of the day, I have to face myself in the mirror and get on with my life each day. No matter how good the job is, one day it may disappear, or I may disappear, and until I feel like I will benefit directly from the company’s success above my own salary, they get their 9-5 from me, and then I go back to being Craig again. Above and beyond should work in both directions, yet our salary is fixed. Go figure.

Another gorgeous eastern European woman has just brought me my second Cappuccino of the morning, and smiled at me. This is her bar, I have overheard her conversation with her neighbouring cafes and see that this is her life blood. The effort she has put in to making this a pleasant place for people like me to drink coffee and watch the world go by is obviously her own ideal of how she wants her life to go, the décor and music around me prove that. I have no intention of doing anything more than being a tourist in this city today, and she is treating me like that. It’s a mutual understanding that I think I finally accept, and I believe the world will be better when we all realise what we can be in life, and don’t become anything that we don’t want to be.

Employment law in most countries mean that the company you work for hold all the cards, but have a think about this for a moment, what if it was the other way around, and the companies were created to give us the money we need, not that we work to make the money for them? This is my dream, and I’m working on making it my own reality, and when it happens, you’ll all know about it.

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Back in Bristol

The words culture and shock come to mind. After a brief spell in London, I had the feeling that I wouldn’t really get down the culture shock road, but its hit me now. Motorways and good roads, and buses that aren’t full with loads of legroom and no goats and chickens to deal with… it’s pretty nice really. Right now I’m in the canteen in Bristol, enjoying a pint of Orchard Pig, awesome, some cool jazz playing in the background and a whole pub full of hippies all being hippy all around me. In the six hours I’ve been back in Blighty I’ve made friends with some tramps outside Victoria station, met two polish girls who thought I was some travelling hobo (close) and then walked across Bristol with a broken belt and spent half the time pulling up my trousers and sharing my Portsman cigarettes with all the homeless people outside the pub. None of these things are particularly special, but they are special to me. Because this is where I am from, because this is where I got the idea to go to Africa in the first place, this is the place I had to come back to, and it’s the place I shall stay while I’m here. I have a job interview on Friday (yep I know, that was quick!) and then start work for the main job on Monday, if the Friday thing doesn’t go so well. £40,000 a year is a lot to turn down, so we’ll see how it goes.

Beautiful people, beautiful music, wonderful cider and amazing artwork all over the place. It’s difficult to remember what it is I hated about this so much that made me leave. Honestly, even though this is the third time I’ve come back to England, this is the first time it feels really different and special. I’m poor. Really poor. I can only afford one more pint before I have nothing left, but hey, what is the world coming to if a man can’t spend his last few quid on a pint in his favourite pub. Life gets better…

Work shall begin in earnest, and I have already began painting the picture of the festival in Zanzibar to those around me. This is the place to make it happen. I can hear conversations amongst musicians going on all over the pub, two guys with Macbooks are discussing their set layout for a gig this weekend, the DJ is playing Ella Fitzgerald now and I really need him to come if that’s how he does it, and above all else, it’s just so lovely to be back. There’s a marshall amp sat in the corner, a load of CDs from local artists being sold on shelves on the wall, each table is hand painted with mad artwork and everyone here is dressed so well and so cool. Even the little toddler who keeps coming over to check out my guitar is wearing cool hippy little shoes and her dad is smoking rollies and has a head of dreads that makes mine look juvenile in comparison. Coming home never felt so good.

I’m going to see my Grandma on Sunday with my Auntie Lesley, and will be travelling up to Scotland some time next week to see mum and Simon and the kids, it’s all a bit too much. Going from daily sweating, drinking and constant shifting around the place working and fixing things back to this… I am in awe of this country, and feel proud to be British again. Everything works here.

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Moving off the mountain

This blog is entitled “life on the mountain” and it is perhaps time I updated this to reflect the changes in life that have happened and what is about to happen from here on in.

I no longer live in Marangu. I am however, still in Tanzania, and the mountain still plays a big part in my daily life; when I go to the toilet in the morning, its pretty much all I can see out of the window. This getting up in the morning has changed somewhat as well, I now cannot sleep for the life of me, and have been waking up naturally at 6.30am every day and getting out on my bike to enjoy the morning, and start each day with some exercise and a good deal of fresh air to go with it. I generally do about 20km first thing, down to TPC, get a cheap coffee from a little duka down there, then head back up through town up to shanty, and back down to Rau where the house is and where the shower sorts me out. I’m in the garden with my morning coffee as everyone else wakes up, and so my day has already began. From here on in is the freelance part of my life that I am now enjoying so much, I am free, I can choose where I want to work and what I want to work on. I get a couple of hours of UK work in, which fits nicely into an “out of hours” time for them, then its off on a bus up to Marangu, check in to the Hotel and work on their server and infrastructure, then back up to Mshiri for lessons with the kids, see friends, walk in the forest, then back to Moshi for the evening and all the fun that goes with it. Living with other westerners is actually far more relaxing than I ever anticipated. For a start, there is nobody who interrupts my sleep. Unfortunately, sleep is naturally interrupted by the sun and the general heat in Moshi, but otherwise, I live in a private space that gives me freedom as well as security and a social life. My dreads have never looked better, they are clean, get washed and dried by the sun twice a week now, and are starting to look after themselves now that I am looking after their wellbeing. I have lost a lot of weight, perhaps because I don’t eat enough, but mostly because of the extra exercise that I get each day, and the heat that really takes it out of you if you’re not careful. This tied in with a rather lovely Zanzibar suntan is the new me that is heading back to the UK in a couple of weeks.

When I get there, some soulsearching needs to take place, and some rather big decisions need to be made: What am I doing with my life? Where am I going with this festival idea? Do I really want to live in East Africa?

Coming home has always been an unknown, from the first time when I came back all depressed, banging on about how wasteful we all are and how life in Africa is so simple and pure, blah blah… the reality is much darker, and the second time was a flying visit, with a reason to be there, as I helped my mum move my grandma to the retirement home and just worked for money. This time I have a purpose, I think, and as long as I don’t drop the ball, it should be a productive and useful trip, where I finally show everyone who I have become, and what that person is now capable of.

I feel like this time I cannot let any of my previous emotional or social ineptitude stop me from speaking to who I want to speak to, and being who I want to be. What I have learnt from my week on Zanzibar is that the picture you have of yourself in your mind, isn’t necessarily what everyone else sees, and with that in mind, I am ready to paint a better picture of myself for all to see and know. Without a dream it is hard to envisage a future without getting stuck on the daily rituals of work and displeasure, but with a renewed sense of vision and a real goal to work towards, I have all the tools available to me to be the Craig I can be, and prove myself wrong, that I am not the loser I have been lamenting lost time over, but the man in charge of his life. Even without money.

That last point sadly isn’t something I can just ignore though, it is unfortunately a huge part of what makes the future so bright. A sudden change of heart with regards to how I make my money, how I spend it and how I refill the coffers when things get low, it’s a time to consolidate my winnings and bring together the favours and opportunities in front of me to better understand how my own life and that of those around me will improve as a result of my hard work.

Chasing money and idiots who don’t want to pay aside, I am looking forward to closing off my time in Tanzania with a bang. DJ duties continue, as do the networking and socialising that make up what Moshi is to me right now, but what I am feeling above all else, is the ability to see the road ahead, and clearly too. I know what is expected of me, what I expect of myself, and I will be thoroughly disappointed if after all this change and direction finding, if I don’t end up on the beach in January 2015 surrounded by people who’s lives are being changed as a direct result of my hard work. We’ll see, for now, its time to pack the bags, drink the last safaris, finish off my work here, and get my brown tanned ass back to cold-land and see what father Christmas has for me this year!

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And finally…

So it’s been a while, but here we go, first post as a new man, as a productive and exciting person, as me, Craig, as I shall be for the rest of my life.

So she’s changed me, and for the better. This isn’t all about her, there is way more to this than just a girl and a beach, this is about how I conduct myself, how I create my friendships and how I deal with those as time moves on. What happened happened, there is no denying that, but what it means is important and needs to be processed properly before its possible for me to move on with my life.

I can be an addictive person. Whether it’s too many cigarettes or beers, whether I start making noises when I shouldn’t do or whether it’s a drug infused coma I put myself into, I can be very moreish on things I like. It works the same way with people, and this last little experience has taught me more than just a few things about myself as well as how other people work. Just to give you an idea of what I’m doing right now, it’s Saturday morning on Jambiani beach on the south eastern part of Zanzibar, the girls have just left for the ferry to Dar and their journey down to South Africa, and I’m finishing my coffee, with an awesome Chemical Brothers mix, and preparing my set for the debut of DJ DEATH on Zanzibar tonight, as I will be playing music at Coral Rock for their full moon party just a few hundred metres up the beach from where we are. This is the real part of all this, and in all fairness I owe the confidence and motivation for this all to her. Festival plans and parties and moving to the beach have all been forefront in my mind, clouded by the blonde, but now they have my full attention, and from this moment forwards, I am no longer the IT guy who lives on the mountain, but an event organiser and DJ who works in East Africa and who will bring the best music festival this country has ever seen for the beginning of 2015 right here on the beaches of this beautiful island.

I’ve been dancing with no shirt on, barefoot in the sand to some awesome minimal techno. I have argued with Maasai idiots and protected my harem from unwanted attention, I have drank my weight in tequila and rum and managed to survive to the other side. I am now feeling slightly deflated but excited. I have a new chapter to concentrate on now, and the best part is its what I have wanted to do with my life ever since I was old enough to buy records. It’s real, its not just a dream, it is my dream, and from today onwards I am making it my reality.

She will go home, to her boyfriend, and will forget about me. Or at least try. That’s what she needs to do, and in turn what I need to do is avoid the self-destructive behaviour that I know I’m capable of and use this energy to do something amazing and positive with my passion and anger and love and rage. Compiling playlists in my head day in day out is what I do best, and to get paid to provide that service to others is what I want to be doing forever. Music is an emotionally charged activity, and without passion or a muse at least to concentrate on or be inspired by it is difficult to concentrate on the aspects of it that need attention. Writing music and playing other people’s music can be both tiring and enlightening at once, and being able to use that power to effect, under pressure, with hundreds of people waiting for the next beat is I believe what I am best at, and I intend to be everything I have sold myself to be tonight. This party is gonna be awesome. The soundsystem is huge, the equipment is probably the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of using (they are using a Traktor Pro/Kontrol S4 setup like I have learned on) and with the green light to be myself and play what I believe in this is the first real and big opportunity that I’ve had since I gave up playing music back in 2005 to concentrate on my career.

The career part took care of itself, it put me in the place I am today with an incredible set of skills at my disposal, and a freedom of spirit that I know lots of people envy and look up to. I have a strong and confident grasp of a big African language which along with local knowledge, my open and honest mentality and a damn fine record collection I am in the best place to build this up to being the end-game. The one big opportunity to make good on everything that I have worked so hard for in the last 32 and a half years. From losing my father, being kicked out at 16, failing university and becoming a full time stoner with basically no future, I have turned myself around, given myself the tools to deal with life and all its little quirks and drawbacks, and finally see where I am supposed to be, which is everywhere. There is no way I am supposed to have a home in one place. I am destined to walk this land forever, I see that now, and through the power of music and love, I shall set my own world on fire and bring smiles and happiness wherever I can. Yes, right now I’m crying, but it’s a happy time, a new chapter, and a new road I’m walking on now, with bare feet and silly sunglasses, head held high in the knowledge that I am everything I want to be, and I can’t fucking wait to see what happens next. I’m not waiting for something to be done, I’m doing it myself, and that’s the best part of all of this.

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Come celebrate with me. Calling all DJ’s promoters and bands… we need you!

Building up a new life in a new country has its drawbacks. First off, there is the language issue. I have dealt with that in the only way I know how, I’ve learned Swahili, and speak it every day, even think and dream in Swahili most nights. Second there is the work and accommodation factor. I’ve been struggling with this one, but feel strong enough to deal with whatever I have to in order to be happy. Third and finally we get to friendships, relationships and love. This is where it’s all falling apart, and I’m about ready to crack quite frankly!

I follow my heart, and then wear that heart on my sleeve, proudly. I can’t help it. Every once in a while there comes along someone who changes everything, and right now I’m going through what can only be described as a painful journey of discovery. There have been girls in my life here, stories about which are all over the pages of my blog, but this one is different, as instead of making me continue with who I am, it’s made me strengthen my beliefs and strive to be a better person all round. She ultimately is going home, so regardless of what really happens next, I’m going to be left high and dry in a couple of weeks when she departs. Following that and in order to protect my own daily self, I am heading back to the UK for Christmas and new year, to re-invigorate my friendships back there, and try to get a semblance of who I really am, given all the changes I’ve been through, and exactly how compatible I am with the rest of the world, or whether I do indeed need to live in the forest with my dogs and forget everything else.

So I’m feeling kind of lost in the ether of everything at the moment. Stuck emotionally in a position that I know is not going to end well, with someone who I believe is worth going through the pain for, but ultimately, it’s not up to me. Women have a power over us, that in my time in Africa I had forgotten almost completely, but love, lust, or just downright plain fancying the pants off someone has reminded me what we’re on this earth for, and for the first time since I was a kid I’m thinking about the future in a positive and constructive way. We paint pictures of who we are, and present those to the people we meet, and no matter who you are or where you hail from, those pictures, and in turn our comprehension of what they mean all stand to make us who we are, and where we’re going. I don’t think I can go through this again without first knowing that I have painted the right picture; a true image of myself, who that is and what it means to those around me. All of our lives are just a series of moments we choose to play out or ignore, and in this particular scenario, for better or worse, I’m choosing to play it out with all my heart, even if it destroys me.

Back to work, and life in Tanzania continues to bring its struggles and strife, but I have recently rediscovered my passion for what I originally came here for, and have been leading a class with two locals helping me out with the Swahili and general lack of understanding, but all in all, what we are achieving together serves to keep my original intentions alive and well. The sharing of knowledge, in a country like this, is an integral part of the learning process for most people, and often the most overlooked part of each person’s own personal development and education. I believe that through the power of their own self-will and determination, these kids and young adults are capable of achieving anything they want, their only drawbacks are often things which have been imposed on them by their society, and things which I believe can be undone. Bringing their level of exposure of the world up to a level where they feel empowered to find out whatever they want about anything at all gives me huge satisfaction, and I just hope that it hasn’t all been in vain. Should I not return to Tanzania to live forever, I believe that the few I have worked with will have gained something from my time here, and I encourage them to dream, to hold on to those dreams and never let anyone tell them they can’t do whatever they want. It’s a lesson I need to learn about my own life, having almost forgotten what it is that makes me the person I am, what drives me, what I dream about and how I can use those dreams to build a future for all around me to benefit from.

On that note, and along the lines of my own dreams and ambitions, the biggest project et to unfold in my mind is that of my own music festival, hippies and all, on the beaches of Tanzania, but ultimately bringing people from all round the world together to celebrate how music can change all of our lives, and bring us closer together, no matter where you’re from or what you love. It’s a big ambition, but something that I believe will work, given the right level of effort and time, and throughout all of this, I will be finally working on the real dream I have had ever since I first dropped acid in a field in Somerset. The little piece of my brain that I left behind back then when I was 16 has finally returned to me, and now I am ready to let it speak to me, let it direct me towards ultimate happiness, and make a lot of people happy at the same time. The atmosphere I want to create, rather than the business model or proposal that ultimately needs to be made, is the driving force behind all this. With the right people on board, we can all live out this dream together, and so I genuinely hope that whoever you are, whether you know me, whether you read my blog regularly or just coming here for the first time, I want you all to know I love you, I need you, and I hope to lose that piece of brain again with you, on the beach in early 2015. See you all there!!

So if you’re interested to know more about the proposed venue, initial plans, or are just as excited about this as I am, please get in touch, I’d love to hear from you and get your input. Together we can make this happen!

Contact me on graigchq@gmail.com or hit me up on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/graigchq

Speak soon, keep the love! :D

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One Man and his Dog(s)

Tightly wound fibres bind the two halves together forever. Hanging down from the hook above, their throw provides shelter from the cold and windy harshness outside, and without them things are left bare and open, exposed even. I’m talking about curtains, sadly, and nothing more romantic than that. It has reached the time where I decide what to do next, kinda like the minute by minute decisions that most normal people take, but mine involves a long contract in a foreign country and needles and thread if I am to sew and make my own curtains. I am of course, using them as a metaphor for many other things but the very fact that whilst at the market last week I spent a good deal of time looking at fabric and sheets, tells me that I am making a nest, and inadvertently am settling in to something that just two weeks ago I was ready to give up and walk away from.

A number of things have happened to help me see the light and change my mind. Firstly there is work. Katy is back, and as always, her outlook on life in Tanzania is difficult to bear without a wry smile or even a full belly laugh. Her unique position in the way things run here never fails to cheer me up and drive me forward, and after spending nearly a whole day with her this week sorting out her new laptop, I’m pleased that I have her as a friend and work colleague (well, Boss really). I have also upped the game in terms of both the number of hours I’m putting in at Solsoft, and my commitment to it, re-writing the update rules for all our clients, and finally giving in to laziness and getting my teeth stuck into the backup procedures. It’s all incredibly boring to be honest, but I have been enjoying getting a few wins under my belt with some successful resolutions and plans, and strengthening my relationship with them, which for the time being, is crucial to my survival, and those around me.

That neatly brings me on to my biggest issue right now, which is the people I live with. I initially moved in here four months ago with some broad but quite involved plans to create a place to live where I can settle down a bit with my dogs, feel comfortable, relax even, and on the whole I have seen quite the opposite. The initial arrival of Luke that lead me to move out of the “free” accommodation I had before was a mood that didn’t last long, as not long after Christmas and all the issues that followed I needed to move again. This time, with his help, I was looking to make something bigger, perhaps even open up the house for volunteers to live with us and work in the village. The problems that followed will not be detailed on these pages, but let it be known that I am now doing this entirely on my own.

I hired Tipo to come and work at my house, giving him a fair, if not generous salary for doing so, and rather naively figured that at the age of 29, he would be able to take this opportunity by the horns and try to improve his situation. Pretty much everyone around me, including lots of locals, all said that I was paying him too much, that I was giving him freedom beyond his understanding and it would all end in tears. Sad to say that they were probably right, and I have been left with a bit of egg in my beard and a pool of stinky water on the floor – literally. It’s not that I don’t like him, quite the contrary, in fact I would say that the fact I like him has given him a sense of complacency that is interfering with the way our lives run. I’ve given him a room of his own, with his own toilet and shower, locking door and access to the whole house as his own. His responsibilities are to get up and see to the puppies, feed and watch the dogs throughout the day, and just generally keep the house in a good order and be the man that’s there when I am not. Sounds simple huh? I don’t expect him to wash everything, I don’t expect him to be able to get everything done each day without some small issues, but I did expect him to be able to take his salary and look after himself personally as a real human being, without me having to baby step him through it all. His English is appalling, so we speak Swahili only in the house and that means that with my rather limited vocabulary and Tipo’s horrible grammar we often struggle to make each other understood, especially when it comes to anything emotional or to do with each others’ work and personal lives. There is a huge cultural divide between us, and although I wanted to just leave it at that, I came to realise this last week that it is not just a case of having different lives or education, but actually Tipo has never had to look after himself before, and so has no idea how that might work in practice.

Michael has moved in with us, for two reasons: one, because his sisters have left and he is now on his own in a house with no locking door and no electricity, and two, because he serves as the perfect link to help Tipo and I understand each other better, and prevent me from kicking him out on the street with a few cigarettes and a bag of clothes. Yes, it has actually come to that point, where I am so sick of his asking for things that he should be getting and buying for himself, that we have gone back to the drawing board in how we run the house, and with Michael’s help, have made a plan that should see him learn more about how life works, as well as take more responsibility for his own life and affairs, whilst not costing me any more stress or money than I already pay him. Simple concepts like ownership are fairly foreign to people like Tipo, who have never been given anything of their own before, and who certainly don’t chase material possessions as their raison d’etre. We have had to divide the fridge up into three sections, we each chip in an equal amount of money each week for the food we consume in the kitchen, shared things, and I have made it clear that anything that is not on the kitchen table, is not for public consumption, but actually belongs to someone who paid for it, and who expects it to still be there when they decide to eat it. His salary has been increased to reflect the fact that now he will contribute towards the electricity bill, and not a fixed amount each month, but a percentage, ie. If the bill is smaller he pays less, and the same with the gas for cooking, we will all pay equal thirds to provide these things for ourselves, and in return, I pay all the rent and cover any eventualities that might spring up if anything goes wrong. We will have a kitty in the house for buying extra things like more rice or vegetables, tea, sugar, and have established rules of conduct for getting drunk and breaking things in the house. From now on, if something is broken, the person who broke it will replace it from their own pocket and not just mine. Three bodum cafetieres and a thermos flask have led to me making this decision, as I felt that our man here was getting to the point where he felt whatever happens, Craig will fix it, and the reality is that I can neither afford the time or money to continue providing a life for him where he is not taking responsibility for his actions like an adult. After all, he is 29, 6 years older than Michael, who had no problem surviving with his sisters each month on less money than Tipo spends on alcohol. There is also the fairness factor, because Michael does not smoke, he costs me less each day, and if I give Tipo 500 shillings worth of cigarettes each day, I should also give Michael that equivalent too, but Michael is capable of living within his means, and that made me realise that it has to stop.

Perhaps a little selfishly, I used my own experience living here when I first arrived as a way to show Tipo that nothing is free, and you have to work and deal with consequences of your actions. It’s true that I have always had more money than him, but there have been times where I could not afford to buy cigarettes; after the second or third one, most people, regardless how loaded they are get pretty tired of providing an addict with their fix and when this behaviour continues day in day out, month in month out even, you reach the point where a line has to be drawn, and some sort of responsibility taken for your own actions. I took a piece of paper and outlined how three cigarettes a day was well within his budget should he take that budget seriously, and that if he noticed, I do not spend my free time drinking beer in bars, but will ration my money so as to enjoy the times when I am out drinking with friends.

The alternative to all this would be to move out, go back to where I didn’t have to pay rent, sell or give the dogs away and lead a simple life where I am responsible only for myself, but that would not make me happy, neither would upping and going into town and living with wazungu, which is very tempting if only for the fact I know I could leave a packet of cigarettes on the table and know that nobody would steal any of them. The final way out is to buy a ticket back to Europe and put all of this behind me. These are the easy options, and I have given them a good amount of time to mull over and consider the consequences of each individually and to the best of my ability impartially, but the truth is, I wake each day and see my boys, see the mountain over the ridge above the house, breathe in the fresh air and drink the clear water from the spring and it reminds me that life is worth working for, and all these problems are just minor hiccups along the way.

I am but one man and his dog, and for Zawadi’s friendship and companionship I am forever thankful. She has been through all of this with me, and now, like me, has dependants who need her each day to provide teaching and support, and if I give up on her, I am sending a message to everyone around that when the going gets tough, its best to run away. Nope, I am not going to do that, I am to persevere only, and I am sure that the roads we take on this journey will all lead us where we want to go, if in fact we do really want to go there. For Tipo, this is a choice of life with me or life on the street, and I really hope that he can see what I am trying to do for him, and begins to take his own life more seriously, as Michael and I are showing him every day. At least for his child, who is now three months old, he needs to grow up and be a man. If it wasn’t for me, he would have been thrown out of the village as soon as she got pregnant, and now it’s time for him to realise his potential, and be the father that his little boy will need. It starts with buying your own cigarettes, and I hope it ends with him moving out some time in the future, to get a house with his family and look after them, as we all do for our own.

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