James, shamba boy, or gardener, young and keen and planning to accompany us to the Outpost calls me whilst I am on the school run. ‘Mama’, (he is young enough – or has been sufficiently infused with socialist tradition courtesy of parents who grew up in Nyerere’s days – not to call me Memsahib, thankfully), ‘the lorry driver has called to say he needs money for fuel’.
The lorry driver in question – Ali – works for the transport company which is employed to transport last load – mainly mango trees – to Outpost. He left my house two days ago and assured me he’d be in Outpost by Wednesday evening, which it is now; but he is still in Arusha; less than 10 miles from my house. I call Ali’s employer in Outpost – a talkative Indian called Navinda who speaks in quick and heavily accented tones.
‘Bloody locals’, he says, ‘he is just trying it on, he has plenty plenty money for fuel, ignore him. Please do not pay him anything’. Which I wasn’t planning to do, just thought it prudent to alert Navinda as to whereabouts of his truck in case he thought it was me holding up proceedings. Besides quite keen to get my mango trees to Outpost before they all die. Coals to Newcastle or not.
On cue, James calls again, driver has called a second time to say that unless I get him some money – and quickly – all the mango trees will die. I call Navinda again.
‘Please, please’, he instructs with comical urgency, ‘do not give this man any money, he is just pulling a wool over your eyes’. I assure him I knew that anyway since I’ve lived here all my life. But please could driver water my plants. Navinda gruffly agrees to relay my message, it is clear he is left in little doubt as to my state of mind: mad white woman.
Half an hour later poor James calls again, ‘the driver says he is very sorry, Mama, but he has just seen his boss who has given him money for fuel so he can proceed with his journey’. Funny that: his boss is 650 klms and a two day drive away.