Cause for Excitement

Yesterday two things gave rise to tremendous excitement.

Provisions for Hat’s home school arrived, all the way from America, courtesy of Expediated Mail Service. I received notification that I was to present at the Post Office, armed with ID, to collect my packages. Hat – enthused as she is about everything, including school – opted to come with me.

The Post Office is situated on a tiny, dusty road. It doesn’t look like it sees a great deal of business. Inside I walked to the EMS counter and waited for the woman sitting behind it to finish with the customer she was dealing with. She did and I approached, presented my paperwork and asked if she could help me.

She could not, she said. I was to take a seat. She gestured to the red plastic seat on which I’d been sitting waiting not two foot from her counter. I resumed waiting. We sat inches from each other, neither of us doing or saying anything. If you discount her grinning at a slightly unnerved Hat.

After a bit I suggested she call whomever it was that might be able to help. So she did. Over her shoulder to the partition next to her. A besuited man wearing a thick tie (in this heat?) approached and asked how he could help. I presented my paperwork.

You must wait for Customs to get here, he said, to clear your parcels.

But it’s just books, I protested, for her school, I said, pointing at Hat.  I’m not going to have to pay am I, I asked (books and educational supplies being tax exempt).

No, he said, but the Customs man must open your boxes.

With that he brought the three big cartons clearly marked with the homeschools details to within tantalizing view of Hat. And we proceeded to wait. Various people came and went, not many, one or two, everybody said hello and wanted to shake us by the hand. One gentleman was charmed to meet Hat, whom he called Cat, an error my little girl had the grace to overlook.

Finally, after alot of hand-shaking and sustained grinning at Hat by woman, still sitting idle, behind her counter, Customs appeared in form of short, fat man in green suit. He indicated I should follow him behind the desks and open my parcels which I did, sitting on the floor whilst he sat in a chair, with some difficulty since they were tightly taped up. He proffered a broken pair of scissors which I politely attempted to use but reverted to my teeth. As each box was opened he peered inside and dug about unearthing books on science and maths and critical thinking. He was clearly very disappointed not to discover something more incriminating. Finally he sat back in his seat, ‘You can go’, he said, waving a hand to motion we should leave with our parcels. Despite the bureaucratic performance with Customs, nodody asked for any ID. Hat and I, weighed down by boxes of books, tottered out to the car where Hat dove into her quarry with delight.  When we got home she insisted we unpack and tick off contents to ensure we had everything we needed to do school for a year; I have to admit to feeling a little overwhelmed by the two tomes called Teaching Manuals but will not let my anxiety spoil her evident joy.

Later second of the day’s highlights presented: my grass arrived. Lawn grass. Not spliff grass. Which might have improved Custom’s dayI suppose.

I am desperate to plant some semblance of a garden , to counter the permanence of dust. But I cannot get the necessary here so was obliged to prevail upon kind friends in Arusha to source and send a sack of grass. Which they duly, and sweetly, did; the grass was dispatched on a plane carrying ‘high end’ (that means they pay alot) tourists from Lake Tanganyika to the west of me back to Arusha to the east, the country being so large, they are forced to land and refuel in the Outpost. Geography might in this case be on my side.

Ben and I drove the few minutes to the airstrip and asked if we could wait runway side for a plane delivering a package.

Sawa, replied the gardener, or whoever he was, and indicated it was OK for us to proceed to the front of the tiny airport. We sat in the shade and waited, watching the big sky and listening for a plane. In due course it appeared and bumped down the dusty strip, coming to a halt in front of us. Interested tourists looked out at what must have been an odd sight: a remote African airstrip with nobody about but a white woman in a pair of shorts and her teenage son. The pilot, wearing stripes and and those faintly ridiculous and inevitable Aviator Shades, clambered out of the cockpit.

Hello, I said.


Do you have a package for me, I persisted, despite his apparent lack of interest in any kind of conversation.

Yeah. Wait. I’ll get it.

We waited and watched the refuelling begin, the tourists got out to stretch their legs and get a better look at us.

Finally the pilot swaggered up with my bag of grass.

Are you on your way back to Arusha? I asked, how long will it take? Have you come from Mahale?

Jesus, he replied, you sure ask alot of questions.

I couldn’t resist it: ‘you would too’, I said, ‘if you lived here and didn’t get the opportunity for much conversation’.

Christ he said, you live here.

I ought to have said ‘no, I just hang about on bush strips looking to talk to pilots because I have nothing in the world better to do’. But I didn’t, I just nodded, took my bag of grass, thanked him and shot home to begin planting.

8 Responses to “Cause for Excitement”

  1. retrocolonialmama Says:

    LOL, i know what you mean about opprtunity for conversation! apart from speaking swahili to the staff, i haven’t spoken to anyone apart from husband and kids for weeks.

  2. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Boy do I know what you mean … what are you all doing on Mafia? envy you the sea …

  3. retrocolonialmama Says:

    we’re building a lodge on the north western coast.

    I envy you ‘umeme’ (sp) we have solar, which whilst it’s great most of the time, during the rains………………..

  4. The Good Woman Says:

    Loved the post office story. Our Christmas presents (posted by my Mom in SA) were once ‘detained’ by Zambian customs requiring a similar half day outing.

  5. Tash Says:

    Hiya – have just spent enjoyable half hour catching up on your blog for past 3 weeks, while I’ve been out of comms… Am back at le Bignon now and trying to email you on the old address but not going through – presume you have new one? Can you let me know? Thanks… By the way, love the photo of the kids at the dam – can’t believe how grown up they all look… write soon…

  6. R. Sherman Says:

    Again, the last two entries are marvelous. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Paula Says:

    That bit about the plane is hilarious. We also have an airstrip on our estate and its the weekly outing for expats and locals to sit and watch the small charter arrive and take off. Only in Africa can you wait at a small dusty airstrip for a bag of grass to arrive! wonderful. As for the post office, we also have one, a tiny room no bigger than our bathroom, where the lone lady behind the counter eyes me suspicioulsy everytime go to send a postcard!

  8. Needs Must | Reluctant Memsahib Says:

    […] to my eccentricities. This is the lady who sat on an Outpost airstrip waiting to clear a bag of grass (the mowable variety as opposed to the smokable kind) through the airport because she hankered for a […]

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