Getting to 30

In a few weeks I’ll be 70 years old.

My last post was called, “Being 20”.  It was 1965. I became a teacher that year, went to Alberta for my first teaching assignment, met my future husband, and became engaged before the end of the year.

  • 1966 – I got married, joined CUSO (a volunteer organization), and went to Zambia. I taught Math to High School students.
  • 1967 – I gave birth to my first daughter, Michelle. I wrote a Math text-book for adult literacy during my pregnancy.
  • 1968 – We returned to Canada and lived in Montreal where my husband was working. It was a case of reverse culture shock to be in Canada again.
  • 1969 – I gave birth to my second daughter, Lindiwe.
  • 1970 – I gave birth to my third daughter, Carla.
  • 1971 – We moved to Ottawa. I took my first art class, working on oils.
  • 1972 – Looked after babies. Cooked, cleaned, sewed, knitted, cooked, cleaned.
  • 1973 – More of the same.
  • 1974 – We moved back to Montreal. Two weeks later I gave birth to my fourth daughter, Monica.
  • 1975 – I turned 30.

This was, perhaps, my busiest decade. Five of those years were spent with another human being attached to my body in one way or another. Pregnant or breastfeeding. I loved (and still love) being a mother but that was difficult. However, it had always been my plan to have my children in my twenties and “bring them up” in my thirties and forties. And that’s what I did. Successfully.

Getting to 30 was not always an easy road. We had challenges along the way, but we persevered and with the help of God, we entered our thirties stronger and more committed to each other and our family than ever.

So, good times. Good times!

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day. – Maureen




Being 20

In early February, 2015, I will be turning 70.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about this milestone. I’m pretty sure 70 is not considered young or even middle-aged by anyone under, well, 70!

I’ve been living the senior, retired life for a few years now and it’s been pretty good. Free bus Wednesdays, discounts once a month at local drugstores (and you’ve got to believe we frequent pharmacies a lot these days), special status on VIA rail, and senior coffees at various cafes and bistros.

But my mind has been turning back to my childhood, my youth, and my middle years.


I turned 20. I was finally out of my teen-aged years but not quite, according to the law of the land in those days, an adult.

  • I was in my fourth year at university, studying arts and education.
  • I still lived at home with most of my brothers and sisters, and I used to run up the hill every day in my effort to get to class on time. Successful most of the time.
  • On weekends and in the summer, I had to be home by 10:30, and I was!
  • In May, I graduated with an education degree.
  • I was hired, by letter, to teach elementary school in Edmonton, Alberta, about 3,000 km (2,000 m) from my home in Nova Scotia.
  • I travelled by plane for the first time. Halifax – Edmonton.
  • I started teaching Grade 1.
  • I met my husband-to-be on September 19.
  • At Christmas time we drove from Edmonton to Fort Smith, NWT, to spend Christmas with John’s family.
  • On Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) John and I decided to get married and go to Zambia, in Africa, to work as volunteers. (Our next anniversary will be our 49th.)

There were many changes in my life the year I was 20. I left home, travelled, and fell in love.

What could be more exciting than that?

Thanks for reading. Enjoy your day.

– Maureen

African Adventure – Part 8

On the Great East Road

About a year and a half into our sojourn in Zambia, we decided to take a trip on the Great East Road, to what was then called Ft. Jameson, (now Chipata), and from there on to Malawi.

Have I told you that the roads in Zambia were terrible? Our poor rusty twelve year old car was shaken to pieces whenever we left the city. Every few miles we would see another muffler or other car part lying at the side of the road. I always joked that with all the parts along the road, we could have built ourselves a brand new car. Many, many friends would describe how their relatively new car was ruined during a trip but our Peugeot was built well and survived whatever we threw at it.

Sometimes when we returned to Lusaka we had to visit the junk yard where we found all sorts of car parts. It took us a while to come across a starter (or some such thing that helped us start the car). It’s a good thing we found it because we were drawing all kinds of attention when we were in downtown Lusaka and John had to get out of the car and crank the engine like you saw Charlie Chaplin do in the old movies.

On our way to Chipata, accompanied by our friend, Ross, we had a mechanical problem. The area was very hilly and the car was struggling to make it to the top. All of a sudden, the car wouldn’t go into first gear. (Forgive my lack of “car” understanding, and try to make sense of what I’m trying to say.)

On one particular hill, the car stopped dead. John and Ross figured out what had happened and knew we would need a part, but first we had to get to Chipata. Now we knew that when we drove into the town, there was a gas station on a corner where we had to turn in order to reach the house where we would be staying, which was at the top of a steep hill.

I got into the back seat and John and Ross got out to push the car UPHILL. John would hop in after a few minutes but Ross had to keep pushing and running until the car got into second or third gear. Then he had to jump in and close the door, which opened BACKWARDS. They had to do this repeatedly and I’m pretty sure they were both exhausted by the time we got to the rise where we could see the village of Chipata below us.

They guys had a plan. We would speed up and WITHOUT SLOWING DOWN turn at the gas station at the corner and go uphill as far as we could. In hindsight, I shudder to think of it.

We took that corner at speed and drove through the gas station with people waving at us and screaming. But we didn’t stop! And we made it most of the way up the hill. We carried our bags the last few metres and had a well deserved rest. Next day they were back at the gas station where somehow they got a part and had it installed. On to Malawi!

I’ve already told you that highways were paved only in the middle. We were cruising down the middle of the road at top speed, about 50 miles per hour for our old car, when we spotted a policeman who was also in the middle of the road and was vigorously waving us down. We couldn’t figure out what we could have done and were a little nervous as we stopped the car. We had crossed the border into Malawi only a few miles before.

He leaned in the window and asked where we were going. When John said we were going to Salima, he said, “Good. Me too. I need a ride.”  And hopped in!

He was very friendly and told us he was going to Salima to see his wife who lived there. He asked how old our car was and told us it would be an offense to have a car that old in Malawi. When we told him that we had hit a wild boar on the road the day before he told us that in Malawi that would be an offense. I half expected that when we told him that we had a baby girl, he would tell us it was an offense in Malawi. Instead he just told us it was really too bad. In Africa, boys were more important.

Around this time we came upon the scene of an accident. Nobody had been hurt but a truck carrying goods for Zambia was on a collision course with an empty petrol truck. They were heading downhill, in the middle of the road and at the bottom was a small single-lane bridge. The petrol truck went left and the other truck went right and they both ended up at the edge of the river.

Quite a crowd had gathered and the policeman wanted to get out, perhaps to investigate. In the 15 minutes since the accident, stalls were set up and people were selling things! I couldn’t believe my eyes.

After about half an hour, the policeman came back with a LIVE CHICKEN. He had bought it as a surprise for his wife. I wasn’t going to spend the rest of the journey sharing the back seat with Ross AND a chicken, but I needn’t have worried. He had John open the trunk and threw the chicken in!

For the rest of the trip as we wended our dusty way to Salima, I thought of that chicken being bounced around in the trunk of a 1954 Peugeot. It wouldn’t have surprised me if it had been dead when we got to Salima, but it came out into daylight squawking. I wonder if that was an offense in Malawi!

The hotel at Salima was wonderful and we had a great time. The meals and accommodation were tops and each day we went sailing on the lake.


Sunrise on Lake Malawi at Salima.

Sunrise on Lake Malawi at Salima.

Each day, we sailed around this island in Lake Malawi. It was full of exotic birds.

Each day, we sailed around this island in Lake Malawi. It was full of exotic birds.


A very memorable trip.

Thanks for reading my memories of Africa. – Maureen


African Adventure – Part 5

On Safari (Part 1)

African friends explained to us that going on “safari” was as simple as going on a trip into the bush. It didn’t need to be organized or done with a group. We went on our first safari after visiting the Victoria Falls.

We crossed over into Rhodesia and then drove along a track, looking for the border into Botswana.  After driving for about half an hour, we came upon a wire gate stretched across the road.  We thought that we had somehow found ourselves at a farmer’s gate, and got out to investigate.  We were just about to retrace our route when an African man, dressed in the uniform of a border agent, came running out of the bush.  It was the border into Botswana!

We drove through Botswana for a couple of hours and then arrived at the Chobe Game Reserve.  This was the place where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton got married for the second time.  The reserve is famous for its wildlife and we had lunch at the lodge which had magnificent views of the Zambesi River and the five countries which came together at that point.

The Caprivi Strip in Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia could all be seen from the window and we were scheduled to take a ferry across the river, about twenty miles downstream.

In Canada, we have ferries that look like this.

One of the BC Ferries.

One of the BC Ferries.

But this is what we saw coming toward us across the river.

One of the pontoons on the Zambesi River.

One of the pontoons on the Zambesi River.

The Zambesi River is home to crocodiles and hippos and a number of animals that could end our safari right there.  I was about five months pregnant and was terrified, but I got in the car and we drove onto the Kazungula Pontoon.

The pontoon had two outboard motors, ones on each side, and the two men operating it called instructions to each other across the deck.

We arrived on the Zambian side of the river and drove several miles before we came to a traditional African building which turned out to be the border control site.

A roundavel, a typical Zambia building.

A rondavel, a typical Zambia building.

The agent had been sitting on a chair reading the Bible and came over to process us. It was good to be back in Zambia.

On our trip we saw chimpanzees, lions, zebras, giraffes, impalas, kudus, elands, rhinos, and hippos.  We never saw elephants in Africa, and I think they are  even more rare now than they were in the mid-60s.

Our next safari was a trip from Lusaka to Mongu in the Western Province of Zambia. But it will have to wait for another day.

Thanks for reading and have an adventuresome day. – Maureen

An African Adventure – Part 3

How to Take a Bath

Our first house in Zambia was modest by North American standards.  There were five rooms, living room, two bedrooms, a tiny kitchen containing a stove, fridge, and a table with two shelves above it.  No cupboards, no counter space.  There was also a very small bathroom, with sink, toilet, and bathtub.  But there was no hot water in the house.

So to have a bath, Husband had to go outside and fire up the old wood stove which had a small water tank above it, which would then heat up the water which would trickle into the tub to a depth of  about three inches.  This was also the way the laundry was done.  I had to get on my knees and wash and rinse the laundry, and then take it to hang on the clothesline.

When the laundry was dry, sometimes in about half an hour, it all had to be ironed, on both sides.  You see there was this little pest called a putzi fly, invisible to the human eye, which would get into wet clothing and then lay its eggs under your skin.  You can imagine the rest.  A visit to the doctor would be required, to have the eggs removed.  Sheets, pillow cases, towels, bras, underwear, dresses, shirts, skirts, blouses.  All had to be ironed on both sides to kill the putzi fly.  Bras and underwear seemed to cause the most problems.

When our baby, Michelle, was born a year later, all of her diapers had to be done in the tub, hung out to dry, and ironed on both sides!!!  But more about the baby later!

Now to the creatures who lived in our house and obviously were a little put-out at our moving in!

The house was furnished with a few pieces – dresser, beds (single), table, chairs, small love seat and a couple of lamps.  It was exciting until, on moving day, I opened the dresser to clean it, and a zillion bugs scurried out.  I almost fainted.  I was deathly afraid of all bugs, worms, snakes, lizards, and of course, all of the wild animals.  I don’t know what I thought Africa was going to be like but I obviously didn’t think it through.  I mean – Africa?  C’mon!

That day I slew more spiders, cockroaches, and other sundry bugs than anyone should have to in their lifetime.  The spiders alone were as big as saucers and I didn’t want to be anywhere near them!  Later that evening,  we were getting ready to go to bed (or beds) and there on the wall were three HUGE spiders.  We just lay there and I know for a fact that neither of us slept one second that whole night.

Just as a side note.  The single beds were pushed together by John.  His words?  Never let it be said that I procrastinated on a household job when it was really important!

Thanks for reading and I hope I haven’t scared you from visiting the beautiful country of Zambia. Have a great day! – Maureen

An African Adventure – Part 2

Rapid Calculations in Pounds, Shillings, and Pence

When we arrived in the capital, Lusaka, it was early September, and the sun shone in a clear sky day after day.  We stayed in a students’ residence  for a few days while we were assigned our living quarters and where we were told what posts we had been given.

In Canada, I had taught a class of five and six-year olds in Grade 1.  An elementary school post would have been great but there was a little problem.  There were very few university graduates in Zambia at that time, and anyone who had completed Grade 6 was qualified to teach elementary school!  I was given a job teaching Math and English to High School students.

The day after we arrived we were driven to State House, the home of the President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda.  In the gorgeous formal garden, we met the President,  who was very welcoming and charming.

A couple of days later I went to a meeting at my new school and met the staff.  Most of the teachers were from Great Britain, but there were several from India and two African women, from South Africa.  One of the Africans, Lauretta Ngcobo, became a close and dear friend.

My first lesson was “Rapid Calculations in Pounds, Shillings, and Pence”.  Of course I didn’t know how many pence were in a shilling, or how many shillings were in a pound.  The lesson must have been torture for the students as I had to keep asking them.  They were very kind and patient, though.

Every day, for the two years I taught there, we had barefoot children coming to the school, clutching pieces of paper with their marks on them, asking if they could come to our school.  We all had to say that there was no room.  It was heartbreaking as they knew the only way they were going to do well was to get an education.  There was only one high school in Lusaka.  And it was more than full.

Most of the students lived with their families in round  one-room  houses, with holes for windows, thatched roofs, and dirt floors.  There were no bathrooms or kitchens.  Cooking was done outside and I can’t imagine what it must have been like sleeping on the floor with possibly a blanket, very little nourishing food in their stomachs.  The diet at that time consisted of Nshima, a porridge-like mixture, with some fruit or vegetables, and once or twice a month, some meat.  The whole family ate with their fingers from a communal dish.

Our home was humble, by North American standards.  Look for Part 3 to find out about the adventure involved in taking a bath!

Thanks for reading and have a good week – Maureen.

An African Adventure – Part 1

Flying Backwards Across the Atlantic

In 1966, Africa was still called the Dark Continent.

In 1966, when John and I got married, we were just 21 years old.  Three days after the wedding we were on our way to Africa, blissfully in love and blissfully unaware of how difficult it must have been for our parents to see us go.  No cell phones, no Skype, no Internet, no email, no downloading or uploading of photos, no digital cameras, and no electronic means of communicating.

We were both brought up with a sense of adventure and decided, after knowing each other for only three months, to get married and move to Zambia, in Central Africa.  We joined a volunteer organization called CUSO, which placed Canadian university graduates in posts in many of the world’s poorer countries.

Here we are, married three days, and leaving for Montreal, en route to Zambia.

Here we are, married three days, and leaving for Montreal, en route to Zambia.

After an orientation course in Montreal, we boarded our flight to Africa.  CUSO had arranged for about 120 volunteers to be ferried across the ocean aboard a Canadian Air Force troop-carrier turbo-prop airplane, with a crew of pilots and navigators in training.

The feeling of hurtling down the runway facing backwards was amazing.  Apparently it was considered safer so all the seats faced the back of the plane.  It took us eight hours to cross the Atlantic and we landed at the Canadian Air Force base at Marveille, France.

We were billeted in the air force barracks on the base and were scheduled to depart for Africa the next day.  However, there was some trouble getting permission from the government of Libya for a military plane to cross their air space and it took three days before we were able to leave.

We flew into Tunisia just as dusk was descending on the ancient city of Carthage.  We dropped off about 20 French-speaking volunteers who had been assigned to that country.

We flew off again and I remember looking down at the Sahara Desert as the moon shone on the waves of sand dunes, very much like the moon shone down on the waves of the Atlantic Ocean a few days earlier.

The next morning we landed in Entebbe, Uganda, to drop off more volunteers.  Just a young woman from a small town in Nova Scotia and here I was in Africa.

We flew on to Nairobi, Kenya, dropped off more volunteers and then were taken to a hotel for the night.  The next morning at six, we were awakened by someone knocking on the door and calling out something that sounded like, “Key, key”.  We couldn’t figure out who would want our room key but John answered the door and came back with a tray of Tea.  What a lovely custom!

The problem with landing the plane in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, was that the airport runway was quite short and in the heat at the middle of the day, it would take a long distance for the plane to stop.  We left the rest of the volunteers, destined for posts in Tanzania, to wait for the plane to return to Nairobi to pick them up  after our possibly dicey landing.  The fewer people in the plane the better, so we took off with about twenty passengers.

We landed without incident and were finally, after five days en route, in Africa.

Part 2 to follow soon.  Have a great day and thanks for reading.

Searching for a Good Cup of Tea

I started drinking tea when I was a young wife, living in Africa.  Zambia is a member of the British Commonwealth, so tea-drinking was already a tradition when we were there from 1966 – 1968.  Have you ever read Alexander McCall Smith’s, The Number One Ladies Detective Agency series? It is set in Botswana, a country we visited when we were in Africa.  I don’t think any detecting could be done without the ladies being fortified with a cup or two of tea.

As I was growing up in Nova Scotia, tea drinking was very important.  I remember my mother saying of a woman who was visiting her who refused a cup of tea, “When I asked her if she wanted a cup of tea, she said no, she didn’t like tea.  Not like tea?  I’ve never heard of such a thing!!” 

When we moved to the States for a couple of years in the 1980s, a neighbour asked me over for a cup of tea.  She  poured a cup of warm tap water into a cup and gave it to me along with a tea bag.  I drank the resulting brew – I won’t call it tea – but the next time we got together, at my house, I showed her how to brew a perfect cup of tea.  I like to think she was thankful for the lesson.

Over the years I have tried with very little success to get a good cup of tea at a restaurant.  I have had no luck until recently.

At first, the tea was always served with cream.  If you wanted milk, you had to ask for it and you were looked at as if you were crazy.  I am going to tell you something.  Coffee may taste better with cream, but tea does not!  Most of the time, you will be served a cup of hot water with the tea bag on the side.  This will not do!  Tea has to be steeped!!!

How to make a perfect cup of tea:

  • Boil the water.
  • “Hot” the pot – pour a small amount of the boiling water into the empty tea-pot.  Swish it around.  Pour it out.
  • Insert the tea bags or loose tea – I prefer tea bags, but many prefer loose tea.
  • Pour a full pot of boiling water over the tea bags/loose tea, and let it stand or “steep” for 5 – 7 minutes.
  • Pour into a tea-cup.
  • Serve with sides of milk, sugar and/or lemon.
  • Enjoy.

My husband has learned to make tea this way and every morning, my tea awaits me when I get out of bed around 7:30 a.m.  The first cup of tea of the day is the best.  I recommend husbands everywhere learn to make steeped tea.  It will bring you much happiness in your marriage!

I said earlier that I had not had a good cup of restaurant tea until recently.  We have a restaurant here in Canada called Tim Horton’s that is well-known for its coffee.  What many people don’t realize is that for the past three or four years, Tim Horton’s has steeped tea.  They make it perfectly and it always tastes fresh and refreshing.  However, as far as I know it is available only in Ontario.  I know Quebec doesn’t have it.  Any other provinces have steeped tea?  Let me know before I travel there please.

Did I tell you that I love Tim Horton’s?  I wonder if they learned their tea-making skill from my hubby!