Archive for August 1st, 2007

So Much the Same

August 1, 2007

Sometimes people are surprised that so much about our life in the Outpost bears shades of their own.  But it does. Daily.

I get up in the morning to make tea, tip-toeing around a dark house so that I don’t disturb teenagers who would articulate indignant fury at being woken so early.  I drink – my mug cupped for warmth – as I watch the sky and listen to the birds nudging each other awake. My husband goes to work. I sit at my desk and am mesmerized by an orange sun hoisting itself above a distant mango tree. I ought to be working, catching a quiet hour before bedlam breaks, but I’m distracted.

Our breakfasts constitute Cornflakes and toast and marmalade, any exotic flavour in the meal comes from the pineapple or papaya that might accompany it. And we eat al fresco. On the verandah. Taking in a huge, huge pale blue sky (which will fade to white hot by noon) and a patch of dust which I insist on referring to as the ”lawn” in the hope it’ll hear me and try harder.

I must engage myself most days in the trivia that engages wives and mothers everywhere: I shop for groceries, in the tiny dark Arab-owned store in town, peering up at shelves in the demi-gloom and wondering why I can buy dried coconut milk (when there is a plethora of the real thing in the fruit and veg market) but not flour. My list is rarely satisfyingly completed. But that’s OK, I’m used to that. We’ll improvise.

Hat accompanies me to the market and asks for treats as we walk selecting tomatoes and oranges. She’s after synthetic juice powder made in the Arab Emirates and exported to remote African locations to give those who might have avoided it otherwise a tartarazine hit.  It’s hardly a trolley tantrum at the Tesco checkout but her pleas are well timed: it’s hot and she has been a good girl (as she cunningly points out). So I get it for her. Fake strawberry flavoured juice in an African village. She’ll make ice lollies, she says.  Then she asks for a few coins, to put in a blue bowl that an old blind lady is rattling as she squats on the floor. Hat drops her money into the bowl and remarks how little the lady has in there.  That’s Africa for you: you’re never more than a few feet away from abject poverty and unutterable hardship.  I hope my children’s exposure to same will inspire humanity and not harden young hearts.

Over a lunch, of spaghetti, I must remind a giggling trio of children that though we are miles from anywhere in the Africa bush, we’re not having a picnic so please would they refrain from eating with their hands. Outpost living doesn’t – sadly for my kids – mean I nag any less.

When the water is turned on, which it is, if I’m lucky, every second day, for a couple of hours, it’s all hands to pumps. Or hosepipes. Or – on account of recent shopping trip – the washing machine. I dare not fill it unless I know tank levels are rising: the family would kill me if I forfeited bath water for the sake of my smalls. That the damp laundry gives me electric shocks as I unload the machine is a quick reminder – if I was seduced for a brief moment that I was anywhere but Outpost simply because water was dribbling out of taps and washing machines had been whirring – of exactly where I am, electricians being what they are here.

Evenings are for walking, drinking in a sublime sunset, laughing at the antics of ridiculous dogs as they race through the dam tormenting the herons and pelicans that – normally – reside there in peace. We greet the fishermen who are dragging their dugouts onto the bank and admire their catches.


After brief – and shallow – baths I nag the children to slather themselves in mosquito repellent (my poor kids spend their lives in a permanent oil slick: sun block at dawn, mozzi gel at dusk). Mosquitoes abound here, and malaria, for which I have the greatest respect, is prevalent. 

Have you put your mozzi dawa on?

No Mum, but I will.

Now. Do it now.Ok.

Ok. Don’t yell man.

But I do. Because I have had a child perilously ill, it’s what heightened my respect for the disease, and I don’t plan on reliving the experience anytime soon.

We eat supper. Around the dining table inside (for the mosquitoes are flying in squadrons outside, I hope the mesh on the windows, the mosquito coils I’m burning, the insecticide I’ve sprayed and my children’s oily skin will keep them at bay indoors). We watch the telly. The kids fight over the remote. At which point I might turn it off to demonstrate my disgust at their inability to compromise on the night’s viewing and we might play cards instead.

Bed then, after teeth brushing (more nagging … have you brushed? How well? I can still see supper in there), under a mosquito net tucked tightly beneath a mattress in the hope not even the most persistent mosquito can worm its way in to warm, succulent flesh.

I lie in the dark and worry about the stuff mum’s everywhere worry about. Am I a good enough mother? Ought I have yelled today? Did I address an editor’s brief properly before I submitted copy? Have I paid our medical insurance? I must check. Oh God, no flippin’ Cornflakes left for breakfast, Ben’s going to have a fit. Must put on list …

I wake several hours later to the sound of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer in the dark before dawn. And we begin all over again.

See. Not so different. Motherhood is the great adventure. Geography only manipulates what’s common to us all.