Post from an Outpost

Well. I’m here. In the Outpost.

I arrived on Wednesday evening; a(nother) crisis on the farm on Tuesday – when mine and the children’s safety was threatened – left me vulnerable, defeated and black eyed after a sleepless night. The upside of all that meant I was beyond feeling afraid of flying, too tired, too overwhelmed. I drank beer at 21,000 ft and was awash with relief at forging some distance between me and the apparently endless disappointments of the farm.

 As we landed I watched the airstrip loom out of the bush. Nothing but bush. No urban sprawl, no highways, no corrugated iron roofs winking malevolently.  Nothing. Nobody. Just unadultered Africa.

We touched down on a dirt runway, baggage was taken off in a wheelbarrow and dragged towards the airport building, low slung and shuttered, newly painted green and white, a relic of the German and British history that permeates every shabby corner of this tiny place.

And since then, since arriving almost tearful with relief at seeing Anthony, I have explored the small Swahili town, busy with bicycles and men dressed in kanzus. I have heard the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer and listened to the endless monotonous conversation of crows. I have walked the market to establish that I can feed my family. I have unearthed a tiny, windowless grocery store where tins of Heinz Baked Beans are packed to ceiling height and dusted as they are taken off shelves for customers. I have spotted most of what I may need. Including olive oil. I have held my nose in the local butchery and learned that if I want fresh beef fillet – 90 pence a piece – I must be there before 9 in the morning. I have even sourced a duka that sells wine. At twice the price it is in Arusha. But I can get it. That’s what counts.

And when we tired of understanding where things were, Anthony and I, we took to the bush and within five minutes drive of town, down a dusty road shaded by an avenue of tall mango trees (an abiding reminder of the caravans of slavers that trod a path through this place to the sea, tossing mango stones as they walked) we found a glorious lake tucked into a basin beneath a row of hilly outcrops, kopjes. The reeds were busy with communes of quelia and weaver birds all talking at once, the tops of acacias were heavy with egrets coming in to roost for the night so that their branches looked snowywhite. We opened a bottle of wine, the one I’d brought with from home – just in case – and drank it as the sky grew dark and tiny stars sputtered to life.

I think – perhaps – that the dearth of a social life, the absence of anywhere to drink a capuccino, the fact I cannot get my hair cut will not matter. Not when I have traded them for a space, for now, in a part of world that seems so unspoiled. So at peace wtih itself. So that we may find some of our own again.

Perhaps this funny little place will be the glue that helps to cement our fractured faith in Africa.

 I hope so.

In the end, I didn’t need to wear a brave face. Indeed, I have felt safe enough to drop my guard.

I am not entirely certain my teenagers will be as enamoured of this place as their mother is; I will encourage them to approach it as a adventure, I will remind them that, thanks to great grandparents with itchy feet, they have settler blood coursing through their veins.

And if that doesn’t work, I shall endeavour to bribe them to like it.  We are in Africa, after all.

11 Responses to “Post from an Outpost”

  1. tatatimbo Says:

    I did not expect any reports before you got back. Thanks for sharing these thoughts and impressions. It sounds good and I hope you will make it there. I wish you all the best.

  2. Gorilla Bananas Says:

    I’m so glad you liked the place. I hope you’ll be like that Danish Baroness who wrote Out of Africa (but without all the hanky-panky and venereal disease, of course). I am very excited for you.

  3. R.Sherman Says:

    Marvelous entry. I’m happy for you.


  4. Equiano Says:

    It sounds WONDERFUL! What about the living quarters and schools though? The children will get over it, although the teenagers will probably resent uprooting (the most difficult age to move). Try and make them feel part of the decision-making process of going there or to boarding school or wherever. Explain why you feel you have to move and be honest about it. When I was a teenager the reverse decision was made for us – a move from a rural mission station to the city, and I hated it. But what I hated most was the fact that I was not told that we were even thinking about moving until my parents had already decided (I was 14 at the time) and I remember feeling angry and sad that (as I perceived it) they didn’t trust me to help with the decision-making. The many intervening years and life experience have long since taught me that this was never my parents intention. And your children are of course very different young people, but thought I’d just say it…

  5. Roberta Says:

    You make me envious. Mind if I live vicariously through you? I am curious about what happened the night before your trip. Hopefully, everything turned out well!

  6. Chiara Says:

    Wow! I want to move there too!

  7. Mapesbury Mum Says:

    Can’t wait to visit – you could start a health farm there and invent a mango diet and dig very deep long drops….

  8. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    GB – Karen Blixen is the syphillis infected aristrocrat to whom you refer, she of ‘I haaaaad a faaaaaaaaarm in Aaaaaaaaafrica’. So did I. Once. But thankfully never had syphillis.

  9. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Equiano – thank you. Living quarters … the Bishop’s House, at inflated rent. Schools … my big kids will have to board. I think – oddly – it softens blow of moving to outpost where there is little entertainment and no other kids (what, none? said an outraged Amelia). Hattie I plan to teach myself. Can’t let them go all at once; Hat pulled short straw being only one still shorter than her mother. I have been very honest with them all, especially in their dad’s absence, somebody had to listen to me!

  10. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Roberta – the night before … a phone call to suggest that unpaid farm labour had carte blanche to ransack my home. Seemed unfair given fact we also mere unpaid employees. As it turned out, a malicious rumour. But enough to shake my day.

  11. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Chiara and Mapesbury Mum – please do come and visit. We can eat mangos and remember long gone school days!

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