Archive for May, 2007

Fur Flying

May 17, 2007


I have to move my cats to Outpost.

Given that this would involve a 15 hour drive, I have managed to secure them space on a charter flight on Monday.

I need, now, to source a cat box from which they cannot escape; as was pointed out to me, nobody wants a cat going nuts at 15,000 ft up. I can quite see why.

Cat box isn’t a problem – a friend has offered to loan me hers. The problem is that my cats – Orlanda (Orlando until vet came to pick pockets to discover there were none, so a cat who has undergone sex change but not for the usual reasons) and Moshi – hate each others’ guts. One cannot pass the other without hurling abuse (spitting, hissing, doing that horrible deep throated growl that cats do so well) or giving a quick jab with an unsheathed claw. Full scale brawls at 2am are not uncommon.

I face a dilemma. Do I tell the pilot who has kindly agreed to give my cats a ride that they hate each other and are liable to fight throughout the two hour flight? Or do I pretend that the stress of travel has brought out the worst in them both?

I would like to sit cats down and explain to them that they are very lucky to be flying, that they would not appreciate a 15 hour drive on appalling roads, sharing a box any more than I’d enjoy listening to their bickering for 15 hours whilst constrained in same vehicle, and so it’d be prudent to behave themselves.

But that, of course, would be a waste of time.

As Ben has observed, by the time they arrive in Outpost, having been obliged to share same small space, they will look like naked mole rats, each having ripped the fur from the other.

So long as they do it quietly, I really couldn’t care less.


May 16, 2007

Following – unwittingly – in same vein as yesterday’s post on reinvention, here’s one about boob jobs.

I have received a press release from This is because I have written about boob jobs quite often and as a result have had grounds to consult with the experts regularly. Oddly – or perhaps not so oddly? – in this case the expert is a man.

No matter. He writes that ‘Women say: It’s a storm in a ‘C’ cup’ and that major new survey reveals Posh and Jordan’s figures are at bottom of the list of celebs to emulate.  I’m not entirely sure why this is news? I’ve never wanted to look like either. Especially not Posh who looks like a stick insect with tits. Big ones. Big enough to offset centre of balance so that she falls flat on her pretty little face (which you don’t often see because it’s hidden underneath outsized sunglasses) and risks breaking nose which would mean nose job too.  

I digress. The survey of over 1500 women considering boob jobs suggests ‘most women are more keen to emulate the natural curves of celebrities like Charlotte Church rather than the less ‘proportionate’ looks of Jordan or Victoria Beckham, and that they only want a bra cup one size larger than they currently wear’.

Other ‘fascinating insights into the thoughts and aspirations of women who are thinking of having a ‘boob-job”’ include suggestion that only 3% of women wanted breast surgery in order to attract more attention from males (bollocks!) and ‘The top reasons for wanting a breast augmentation are increased confidence (66%) and a desire to feel more womanly (30%)’.  

If I were to upgrade one cup size I’d be an almighty A cup.

I can think of several reasons to have a boob job – though none have much to do with either Charlotte Church or a desire to feel more feminine.

If I had a boob job, I would not have to scour the lingerie departments for tiny grown up bras (as opposed to wearing something from the teen section with Babe embroidered on one breast) , I would not have to suffer humiliation when Amelia roars from across the lingerie department – which contains 47 women all far better endowed than I am – ‘hey look mum, here’s the one you’re looking for, AA with all that funny mattressey stuff inside’ which brings me to the best reason I can think of to have a boob job – I would no longer have to spend a fortune on padded bras (when I have found them, thanks to big-mouth daughter) and my underwear drawer would not be overflowing with enough foam to reupholster several three piece suites. 


May 15, 2007

I recently filed a story for a woman’s glossy about the invisible woman.

For those who are still happily high profile, let me explain: the invisible woman is she who suddenly finds herself disappearing through the crack created by the hiatus that develops between the time her once adoring, recently acquired husband/partner needed her as much as her children – babyplump and smiley – did and the time, much later, when husband/partner remembers (not that he can remember much) that he does still need her (to find glasses/shops, remind him to do up flies) despite once dismissing her, and her children need her to mind their own.

The invisible woman is she who is ‘dissed’ by her teens as being old and stupid and ignored by husband who is busy anticipating midlife crisis (apparently the prerogative of males?).

I suggested – in original draft – that in order to remedy situation faced by invisible woman, she ought to reinvent herself. Not with botox and cosmetic enhancements. But with flamboyant dressing, bold beads, hippy chic and by thumbing her nose at convention. My editor has asked me to edit: the promotion of cosmetic reinvention, she reminds me, is the bread and butter of glossies.

Unless I do as I am told, I shall forfeit own bread and butter.

Sadly I am not high profile enough to be able to afford to do that.

Online. At last.

May 15, 2007

This is third internet cafe I have visited this morning.

At first there was no power (that was gratifying; always nice to know you’re not sole victim of power cuts).

At second one I tried, there was power. But only for as long as I had time to enquire whether internet worked; they confirmed it did and then power went off. They all clucked with irritation (I – by contrast – swore loudly). I asked when it’d be back on. I might as well have enquired as to length of piece of string and frankly I have no idea why I bothered anyway; I know from tedious experience that a power cut could last anything from two minutes to two days.

Had trouble leaving second internet cafe since man attempting to extricate himself from car park ahead of me clearly could not drive. I know it’s childish but I hit the horn several times anyway just to sound off my irritation. This – not suprisingly – flustered him and the three point turn he was attempting to make in order to get out turned into a 157 point turn which took quite a long time.

Third time – and a 15 mile drive later – and I hit lucky. I’m online. And I suppose – if nothing else – adventures getting here have at least given me something to write about?

Rallying Cry of a Rooster

May 14, 2007


I ought to have anticipated that the move would finally catch up with me.

It has. And now I feel overwhelmed.  And sad. Camping in the hiatus between packing up here and unpacking over there has lost any novel value it might – briefly – have had. The house is cold and cavernous and I feel dreadfully sad at witnessing, at such close quarters, its soullessness after enjoying it as home for so long.  I am impatient to move on but I have to wait until the end of the school year. I’m not good at waiting. And I’m especially not good at waiting in the dark.

The power cuts are endless. As is the rain.

The weekend seemed so too. It got off to a shaky start.

The cow, which I had been told had died on Friday evening (and was too queasy to investigate for myself so serves me right) had not. Instead she had lain, semi-conscious, in the cold and the wet all night, shivering and labouring to breath. 

Very early on Saturday morning Rehema informed me that the night watchmen had woken her up in the middle of the night asking to kill the cow themselves – not on any humane grounds but because they are hungry, having not been paid for months, and wanted the meat.

I – still in my pajamas – faced a stony Rehema (she is no better than I on too little sleep) across the gloom (dark, wet dawn, no power) and all I wanted was a mug of tea. I did not want to deal with the euthanasing of a cow I’d battled to save for two weeks.

My land line has been disconnected. And because of the rain, cell signal was out. I could not call the vet. And I dared not – even if I could have – call friend at 7.30 on a Saturday morning to beg him to come armed with shotgun and put cow out of misery.


So I asked watchmen what they suggested.


Slit its throat, they said, matter of factly.

But we don’t have a sharp knife said Rehema, ‘they have all gone on the lorry’. She proffered a bread knife.

This is too awful I thought; we can’t saw the poor thing to death with something I cut toast with.

No, I said, surely Ben (being a boy who likes to think he is bush savvy) has a knife.

He does. He wasn’t keen to loan it for cow-killing though. I had to beg.

It’s not sharp enough, Ben said, playing for time.

We’ll sharpen it then, I told him impatiently.

The watchmen all assured me the knife could be honed to razor sharpness.

I told them that I would pay them cash for their assistance, but that they could not take the meat which, I warned, would be full of disease (the vet had diagnosed two tick borne diseases) and drugs (syringefuls – which had clearly failed to work). They agreed to bury the animal intact. And told me later that her flesh was quite yellow with jaundice. Poor old girl.

I finally got my tea. And climbed back into bed. I could hear the plaintive bellows of the cow’s calf. And I joined in; big fat tears slid down my cheeks and into my mug. I couldn’t help it.

But later resident rooster made me laugh: he used to belong to neighbour to my left who has long moved on (abandoning rooster). Since then, rooster has moved into our garden and driven us almost to distraction by trotting onto the verandah at 6am on Sunday morning, crowing delightedly and then dashing for cover before he is pelted with assorted missiles from assorted family members.

Since rooster is considered – apparently – a farm asset, neighbour to my right (Englishman), who is still in employ of Directors and therefore firmly in enemy camp, determined to capture him. He sent his garden boy across to kidnap rooster in order to repossess him. Englishman and I are not on speaking terms; he’s also in enemy camp since he issued threats to husband to ‘get Anthea the kids’ (it’s been a surreal four months) consequently, I was not about to enter into an argument with him about ownership of a cockerel. I didn’t have to. Rooster was in no doubt as to where he belonged. The next morning he was back on my verandah crowing gleefully (I almost joined in). The charade continued for a bit: next door’s garden boy returned several times to reclaim rooster and every time he did, rooster scuttled home (bringing a girlfriend with him – one of neighbour’s layers – which was especially gratifying).

I have not been able to fathom rooster’s loyalty? Perhaps we have a better class of bug in our garden for him to breakfast on? Perhaps he enjoys the company of the geese? Perhaps he just thinks its home (as I have done, for so long).

Whatever. I have begun to appreciate his dawn calls.

A rallying cry in the face of damp, dark adversity.

Hostess with the Mostess? Probably not.

May 12, 2007

I am in the throes of organising a farewell party.

I am gripped by paroxysms of anxiety regularly.

I’m not good at parties. My own other or other people’s. At my own I worry nobody’s having enough fun/to eat or drink. And in advance of other people’s I worry about what to wear (and usually end up wearing the wrong thing entirely so return home feeling miserable to a bedroom that looks like a bomb has hit it since floor littered with almost every item of clothing I own) and I worry nobody’s going to talk to me which makes me look, well, worried I suppose (so I frown and just look cross instead) and then nobody does talk to me.

Despite paroxysms, however, the advantages to party in question are twofold: whatever I wear on the day (most likely habitual jeans and t-shirt, or a pair of shorts and a t-shirt if it’s very hot) will be acceptable since am hostess.(As hostess you are excused whatever you wear because everybody’s in your thrall for that single day on account of generosity in inviting them all to eat/drink at your expense). And because it’s my party – and I’m leaving – everybody will have to talk to me. If only to say goodbye.

Husband wanted party to be held at home. Which would have been tricky given that I presently only have 5 glasses, 6 chairs and motley collection of about a dozen plates and cereal bowls. Not enough, clearly, for the 121 friends my husband thinks we have.

So I have sought alternative venue. With shade in case the sun shines and shelter in case it doesn’t. And – of course – requisite number of glasses and chairs. I hope my husband is not being overambitious about how many friends he has, for it’d be a shame – not to say embarrassing – if glass and chairs were surplus to requirements.

The food is to be provided by Mr Khan. He owns a ‘shop’ called Khan’s Barbeque in the backstreets of Arusha, next door to a wailing mosque and behind the central market (where you can buy basketfuls of vegetables whilst simultaneously having your car, parked outside, harvested of wing mirrors and spare wheel).

Mr Khan’s restaurant, nicknamed chickenonthebonnet, does not resemble a conventional restaurant: you buy your supper inside and eat outside, on the street, in – or on – your car. His chicken tikka and nan bread, served with assorted relishes, is deliciously mouthwatering and fragrantly scented. Not that same can be said of premises which are grungy in extreme. When I went to arrange the catering (though ‘catering’ is possibly too strong a word where Khan’s is concerned) I was confronted by a very dark, faintly pungent place with a woman asleep on a sofa, a child sitting at the front desk and no sign of Khan himself. Until somebody hollered really loudly and he appeared, with short orange hair, courtesy of a liberal – and recent – brush with Henna. I didn’t see anything that would remotely connect the place with a catering facility: no fridges, no freezers, no gourmet paraphernalia of any kind. We discussed numbers, prices and whether I could supply own plates and bowels at party venue.

Bowels? I said perplexed.

Yes, bowels, bowels, he insisted, you know, to put salad in.

Oh, I exclaimed in relief, BOWLS!

Khan’s wouldn’t pass any health and safety standards. Not one. But his fare is scrumptious. I was left wondering – indeed hoping – that his particular concoction of chilli and spices kills anything suspect that might be lurking on the chicken, salad or on the counter tops/kitchen tables which I – perhaps thankfully – did not see when I visited.

I don’t want to give anybody who comes to say goodbye food poisoning. Many have waited for me to ‘return invitations’ since they first invited us to supper 16 years ago. But such is my aversion to ‘entertaining’ that I’ve been putting it off.

Well I can’t do that any longer.

I just hope that – after waiting decades to finally get a meal out of me – there won’t be 121 disappointed and dehydrated people in Arusha sitting on the loo when I leave. I hope that Mr Khan’s pronunciation has not already jinxed the meal and branded me with eternal legacy of hostess with significantly less than mostess

Really annoying

May 11, 2007

There is a woman at the computer beside me in Hamisi’s internet cafe checking her emails (I have just snuck a peek at what she’s doing: heading a message ‘allo’ which seems odd since she is Tanzanian). She is accompanied by a friend who obviously isn’t as accomplished a navigator of cyberspace as her mate – who is busily showing off to her – for she is leaning in to watch what she’s doing wearing a gratifyingly impressed expression. I wouldn’t mind that. But I really, really mind her singing. That’s really annoying.

So I’m going now. To school. To see Hattie’s class presentation on Human Rights (her own is on apartheid and Nelson Mandela) and to peruse Amelia’s form’s Science Fair. In her project Amelia has tried to identify through which medium children learn best : the written word, a teacher or via the screen. I’m not sure. All I know is that its bloody hard to concentrate on anything (book, a human or the screen) with somebody singing.

Rain, rain go away

May 11, 2007

It’s raining today. Big rain. Rain that soaks the atmosphere so completely it’s like living inside a sponge. It’s taken the power at home with it.

 So. I’m in town. I battled down streets like rivers. The storm drains are all blocked so the water simply tumbles over the obstacles and onto the roads. It was like navigating the Ganges. I’m suprised I didn’t see life boats out there. Except that this is Africa, of course, and if there were life boats, they’d all have holes in them and be out of action anyway.

 I felt sorry for small cars struggling through the deluge. In European cities – and particularly in certain London Boroughs – mothers have 4x4s to let the rest of the world know how well their merchant banker and solicitor husbands are doing. Here most of us need a 4×4 just to do the school run because otherwise – during the rains – we’d be housebound.  Or washed downriver if we attempted it in anything smaller than a tank.

Cut Off

May 10, 2007

Phone has been cut off at home; bound to happen eventually: like everything else pertaining to the farm, phone bills outstanding too and finally national phone company copped onto the fact and unceremoniously cut me off.

When I try to dial out now – which I have to do to connect to internet since no such luxury as broadband connection – I get terse little message in Kiswahili informing me in no uncertain terms that I have been disconnected, ‘pay your bill’ I am sternly told.

From now on it’s going to be the intermittent internet cafes in town. None of which work today so have begged half an hour from wealthy Indian shop keeper instead. 

His secretary is lurking, to let me know how busy and important she is and so I’d best not waffle. Instead shall try to feel inspired to write about something other than communication interruptions when I get back home (am on school run now …) and transport whatever I manage to scribble on flash pen back to internet cafe tomorrow.

Providing, of course, that the power obliges and I can turn my computer on …

What I will miss and what I won’t

May 9, 2007

When I move to the Outpost, my big kids will have to go to boarding school. I will miss dreadfully the seamlessness of their presence, the predictability of their return every night and the fact it is only ever a few hours away. I will miss their banter, their laughter, their reminder that I am still needed – even if it seems only at times to fill tummies, snack boxes and washing machine. I will miss seeing their sleeping forms at night when I check on them (which I still do even though they are 15 and 13 respectively). And I will miss marvelling at how sleep wipes from their faces the angst of adolescence so that they slumber semi-smiling.

I will not miss the laundry they generate, the fights they have for absolutely no reason other than to apparently hear the sound of their own voices and the daily slog to school.

I will miss my friends. My confidantes do not number many (an anomaly considering I spill my guts in cyberspace!), but they are precious. I have leaned hard on them in recent months; they’ve listened to me cry when I had to and made me laugh when I needed to. They have had the children to stay so that during this forced separation, Anthony and I can abbreviate the distance between us.

I will not miss the gossip, the one-upmanship and the small-town politics that come with almost-suburban African living. I will not miss that – despite living in one of the most poverty stricken regions of the world – it still apparently matters what you look like, how fat/thin you are, how well decorated your home is, how designer clad your children are and how artistically you have scattered cushions. No. I will miss none of that. I anticipate with relish the freedom that will attend bush living so that I can wear what I want, when I want and nobody will notice that my eyebrows need tweezing or that it is too long since I did anything about disguising the grey in my hair.

I will miss seeing my mountains, Kilimanjaro and Meru. I will miss watching how their faces change over the year and across the seasons so that in the wet and the winter they are shrouded with grey blankets which they are only warm enough to toss aside come mid afternoon when they coyly – and briefly – emerge. I will miss that, in the summer, Meru’s peak pierces an azure blue sky with such sharpness you wonder the colour does not leak out. And I will miss the plum pudding iced sugar topping of Kili. In the 16 years I have lived within view of Kilimanjaro I have never stopped marvelling at its beautiful incongruity, its sudden, majestic rise from arid plain to snow capped peak: no wonder the earliest explorers rubbed their eyes in disbelief, no wonder the Africans once believed it was capped with silver which they tried to gather but which disappointingly ran through their fingers as they descended the mountain.

I will not miss the urban sprawl that is eating the region up, spilling, ugly, from town centres and raping once virgin Africa so that blankets of forest and carpets of savannah are discarded in place of hotly glinting corrugated iron sheets and fences adorned with blue plastic bags. I will not miss daily evidence that trees are being lopped down with abandon, I will not miss noticing that Kilimanjaro’s snows recede a little more each year because it wasn’t designed to be tramped up by over 20,000 people every year. I will not miss knowing it’s one of the continents biggest rubbish dumps.

I will miss the farm. I will miss my walks. I will miss noticing the birds: comically fat and ungainly guinea fowl, elegant beaked yellow bill storks, bejeweled kingfishers, vociferous, argumentative weavers.

But I will not miss the attendant ache as I witness its demise. I will not miss the tight chested anxiety that has plagued me almost every day for the past six years because our security was so tenuous, our futures so uncertain.

I will miss my home, the house that we built from a barn with rafters a hundred years old and hard as nails. I will miss its generous proportions, its wide verandah so that when I walked up to it, it was like falling into the arms of a friend. I will miss every familiar contour of its shape, the sounds it makes at night, like now, small sighs or slams which you can pinpoint to precisely the right door.

But I will not miss waking every day and wondering how much longer we can live here.

I will miss the familiarity of a place I have lived in and loved.

But I relish the prospect of a new adventure. Perhaps that’s what’s keeps us young – new adventures – not Botox?