Only in Africa Moments Vol 1

Somebody once told me that once you stop noticing Africa, it’s time to go home. Since I’m not sure where home is, I’d best keep noticing.

These are my Only in Africa Moments this week

Hat and I are in the chemist. Outside there is an old woman sitting awkwardly on the pavement, as if her legs have buckled underneath her. She is begging, beating an empty tin on the ground to gain the attention of passers-by and she is chattering in an incomprehensible way. Hat wants to give her some money so I fish out a 500 shilling note – equivalent to about 20 pence, enough for a loaf of bread and a cup of tea. As we walk back to the car, Hat drops the note into the tin. The woman looks up at her and clutches her arm, smiling broadly. And then she begins to sing.

Look Mum I made her happy.

Yes, Hat. You did.

I’m driving the children home from school. The sun is setting behind me and the air is thick with sun-spangled-dust. There is a woman walking in the opposite direction, fast. On her hip is strapped a baby whom she is feeding from her breast as she walks. Africa has no time for coy modesty; needs must. I think it’s a clever plan; she’ll get home before it gets dark and her baby will be quiet.


I’m having a cup of coffee at a friend’s house. Another friend of hers calls by – with a tin of Quality Streets. They’re a gift. ‘I almost got you loo paper instead’ she said, ‘Pick and Pay has the fattest softest rolls of loo paper you’ve ever seen’. I don’t think I’ve lived in the West long enough to miss quilted toilet tissue; I think I’ll always opt for chocolate over expensive loo paper.


Rehema and I are having a conversation in the kitchen. I want to know whether the farm labourers have been paid yet. No, they haven’t, says Rehema, and they’re not likely to be either, she adds. Why don’t they go to the Labour Union then, I want to know. Because the Directors – according to Rehema – are paying the Union ‘chai’ to keep the labourers off their backs.

4 Responses to “Only in Africa Moments Vol 1”

  1. R.Sherman Says:

    Love the begger lady story.


  2. Minx Says:

    I’d opt for the chocolate too, and I’m in the west.

    I only know ‘chai’ as a spiced tea?

  3. Pat Says:

    Hi from UK! What a dear little girl and how nice she saw appreciation.

  4. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thanks Minx; it’s a relief to know it’s ok not to be anal about loo paper – and quite nice to know somebody else is as greedy as I am!

    You’re right; chai is spiced tea but it’s also the euphemism here for a bribe, that or ‘posho’ which is – in innocent-speak – the swahili for maizemeal – the staple. New traffic policemen here are always lean but after a few months they fatten up, because of all the ‘chai’ or ‘posho’ they’ve elicited from motorists.

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