Archive for September, 2007

How Can you Make Poverty History if you haven’t seen the Poverty?

September 27, 2007

Well I got a response. Just the one. To the several dozen letters I wrote to all those who aspire to Make Poverty History. I won’t reveal precisely who wrote – not Bono or Damon or Mr Brown – a mere minion, but he was – at least – kind enough to take the time to write.

Thanks for taking the time to write a letter so well rooted in your deep experience and love of Africa.  My name is x and I’m the director of y,  Thanks for the advice contained in your message.  I think many people around the world have begun to realize the many failures of “western aid” to Africa.   I would like to think that our project will improve the lives of particularly women and children, while also allowing people to be healthy enough to engage in the sorts of work that it sounds like you and your husband are providing for people

Alot of placatory blah, blah, really.

But it was the writer’s post script that I thought most telling:

I’ve never had the pleasure of spending time in your part of the world, but have always wanted to. 

Hmmm. Perhaps – given what he does – he ought to.

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Bob’ll Fix It

September 26, 2007

My sister, a teacher and mother of three, sends a text:

have book festival at school tomorrow. meant 2 go as a character from a book. am going as Wendy; Bob the Builder’s mate.

I am very impressed. Indeed I’m so impressed that my sister may just as well be going to school bookfest as character from pages of a book with infinitely more literary weight than Bob the Builder.  Dressing the part of a contemporary charcater (unless you’re going as Harry Potter, of course) is much more difficult than dressing up as – say – Cleopatra or Tinkerbell.

What does Wendy wear? I want to know.

A hard hat, jeans and a sign on her back, according to my sister:  I can’t fix it; ask Bob.

Airport Security

September 26, 2007

We flew home yesterday to our Western Outpost after a few days with our big kids in the North. It took us ten hours on two different flights with a lenghty connection in the middle. The security official on the final leg of a long weekend’s dog-legged journey took away my tweezers. Because they are very, very dangerous, he said. Given this was the 3rd aeroplane I had boarded in four days and given that I had been subjected to the same security scrutiny every time, I found it strange that I’d managed to hang  onto my tweezers until then.

I found it even stranger that my tweezers were confisicated (the only danger being that, without them, I shall look like terrifying monobrow the next time I emerge from Outpost) considering my mace spray, nestling in bottom of bag next to tweezers, was ignored.

I’d have thought it was easier to hijack a plane with a face full of mace than a pair of tweezers.  But then I’m not qualified as member of highly trained, quick witted, uniformed security team.

Later, on board, as I crossly analaysed the contents of my quite large and very heavy handbag, I found several other weapons that could have diverted our plane far more effectively than tweezers, apart from the mace, of course:

I could have stabbed pilot to death with my broken compact mirror;

I could have hit him over head with my cumbersome diary which has brick-like proportions;

I could have poked his eye out with my Clinique eyepencil (in Khaki) – which I could have just sharpened with eyepencil sharpener for greater accuracy and efficacy;

I could have given him an eye-full of Allure from the very large bottle in bag next to mace;

I could have necklaced him with any one of the stray ropes of beads and chains lying in a knot in base of bag;

I could have – given how irritated I was – screamed at him in manner of fishwife until he agreed to do my bidding.

But I didn’t. I just sulked all the way home and growled at my reflection in No 1 of hijack armoury because I wished I’d plucked my eyebrows in advance of flight home.

Madame Marcia the Fortune Teller

September 20, 2007

Last night husband, Hat and I visited a Fortune Teller. You’d be astonished at what you find in an Outpost. And no it wasn’t the kind of Fortune Teller who – because he/she is pissed or because you’ve cut in front of him/her in the traffic – flicks you a V sign and offers to “tell you your effin fortune”. This was a proper job.

Husband went in first and emerged ten minutes later, smiling. She’s good, he said, very good. Husband is a cynic so this was hard to believe. He was clutching a fortune cookie (which looked a bit like a burned shortbread biscuit) and a note, which he told me he wasn’t allowed to read until he’d eaten his cookie.

I went next and the moment I stepped inside the fortune teller’s den, all pink lighting, candles and draped scarves, I was overcome by the giggles. 

The fortune teller looked at me sternly and told me that fortune telling was no laughing matter. I stopped giggling and promised to conduct myself with more decorum. With that she introduced herself. She was called Madame Marcia, she said solemnly, as she sat perched crosslegged on a cushion with a rather floppy turban on her head, one end of which kept falling over her left eye.

She indicated that I should take a seat on a cushion opposite her. Between us, on a small stool decorated with stones and flowers was a huge crystal ball covered with tiny stars which I was so taken with I couldn’t resist touching.  Madame M reprimanded me. That was hers, she said, to do a job with, not some toy for me to be fiddling about with. Please don’t touch, she said crossly.

I stopped and, feeling rather ashamed, put my hands in my lap.

Madame M was quite vague about my future as she carefully twisted her enormous football proportioned crystal ball. So I did wonder a little about her ability to actually tell fortunes.

As our session drew to a close I asked if I could take her picture, for my blog, I said.

Oh yes, she sais, I heard you write one of those. Ok, she conceded, though I don’t normally let people take my photograph.

I whipped out my camera as she posed and when I was done she pressed a fortune cookie (looking not unlike rather burned shortbread biscuit my husband had exited with) into my hand, urging me not to read the message until I’d eaten my cookie. I thanked her and promised to do as I was told.

Not long after I’d emerged, Hat (whom I hadn’t noticed go in) came bouncing out armed with a cookie and a note and shrieking delightedly, ”wasn’t she good, Mum, wasn’t she good?”

************************************************

No, of course there aren’t any fortune tellers in the Outpost. Not the kind that wear huge floppy lilac turbans and stare into crystal balls at any rate. And no, I haven’t gone nuts (yet) nor been at the Waccy Baccy or had one glass too many.

When school is over, Hat usually disappers off to entertain herself whilst I pretend to be a writer. She plays in the doll’s house or reads curled up with a cat on her lap or she cooks.  Yesterday afternoon, unbeknown to me, she baked something resembling burned shortbread and kept creeping into our little school room to pinch glue and beads and stickers.  And then, when her dad got home after work, she invited him into her bedroom by hollering at him – unseen -from the door.

He emerged smiling.

And then I was invited in.  I opened Hat’s bedroom door to find it awash with pink light, candles flickering on every surface, the floor covered with rugs and cushions and scarves draped everywhere. Hat herself, dressed in an Indian tunic sourced in the market with a lilac scarf on her head masquerading as a turban, was sitting with a serious expression on her face infront of a small stool on top of which were balanced two huge pyrex bowls, to form a big glass ball.

Husband’s fortune cookie revealed ”A great suprise is going to happen and you’ll be happy when it does”.

Hat’s, perhaps not suprsingly given her special and very personal relationship with Madame Marcia, promised ”Wealth and Fame will come to you and take you by suprise”.

Mine said, simply, ”You’re going to have a happy time with friends”.

Perhaps Madame M’s talent was better honed than I’d given her credit for: we’re off tomorrow to spend the weekend with Hat’s siblings and to catch up with some mates.

Back on Tuesday. Madame M told me so.

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A Day in the Life of the Struggling Writer

September 19, 2007

5.30 am: wake up, try to recall absolutely brilliant, bestselling story idea that popped into head at 2am but fail (research suggests those of us who grandly assume we have a creative streak have our best ideas at the most inconvenient time of day if you like – conventionally – to sleep at night).

5.45 am: get up, make coffee in the hope caffeine will jog memory and release necessary from Ideas Bank. It doesn’t.

6.15 am: turn on computer and check mails in hope that one of the 47 newspaper/magazine editors you wrote to yesterday with marvellous pitch for a feature has replied with a commission.  3 have. You open each message with trembling fingers.

The first reads: “so and so is out of the office until 24 January 2011, in an emergency please contact x” (you’ve contacted x before and know that not much you have to offer will be considered an emergency)

Disappointed, you read the second. “thank you so much for your idea.  It is very interesting and would make a great feature for our pages but unforunately we have a story on precisely the same topic in next month’s edition/we have just covered this”.  (They haven’t; you checked).   I can rest assured my idea will be used. Only it won’t be written up by me. Ideas – I was told by an editor on one of the UK’s broadsheets – are the currency of  newspapers and magazines. Which means I’ve lost quite alot of money.

You read the last message telling yourself third time lucky. Except that it isn’t: ”your idea on insomnia is most interesting and would make a great feature for our magazine” encouraging so far “however we feel that owing to where you live, you are not in a position to write this up for us”. Hellooooo! don’t you think people in Africa suffer from sleeplessness too? What the editor means – of course – is that because I live where I do, I must be badly educated and English a second language.  Whether I live with insomnia has nothing at all to do with it.

Dispirited you drink more coffee and then – because if you call yourself a writer you need to do something to justify lofty title (largely because you’d quite like people to talk to you when you go to parties – especially if you live in an Outpost – which they might not do if you say you are Just A Mum. The general public lives by mistaken belief that those in paid employment have more interesting things to say than those of us who are employed and unpaid at home despite the fact we live life on the front line and have the peace keeping skills of a United Nations negotiator) so you trawl internet for:

freelance markets for writers

you get 1,890,000 hits. Which is encouraging. Until you remember you’ve tried most of them before. (really you have: it’s called Working when you’re a housewife pretending to be a writer).

Then you attempt to unearth Paid Work for Writers.

more than 2,000,000 hits – the top one is looking for writers in Miami. which instinct tells you will be a bit like trying to write up the insomnia story.

By noon this particular writer has written nothing except 107 emails to assorted editors/freelance markets/friends; a shopping list and her signature 26 times on sheet of scrap paper in the hope of one day being asked to sign inside jacket of her book even though she doens’t need the practice: in recent years she’s had to sign so many cheques for school fees she could do it with her eyes closed.

The afternoon hours stretch and relax to nothingness as you gaze out of the window seeking inspiration (not about what to write but whom you haven’t thought of yet to write to). And then you remember that a Real Writer once wrote ”having published my first book, I found I was able to make a substantial living as a freelancer”.

Needless to say, you’ve already written a book. Three actually. You hoik them out of computer archives and dust them off – metaphorically, of course – and wonder who you could resubmit them to, and whether the passage of time since you last submitted is long enough that they might have forgotten what they said. My choices are quite limited – 43 publishers and in most cases the commissioning editors are still alive and well with intellects insufficently eroded by dementia yet to remeber that they said, ”thanks for sending your work in but I regret it doesn’t demonstrate sufficient commercial appeal for our lists’.

It’s only at this point that you notice the time and scramble to your feet to throw supper together. Your husband pours you a drink and asks what you’ve been up to all day.  You sigh dramatically, ”working”, you say, whilst you hastily put a pasta dish together thinking guiltiy that it’s the most useful thing you’ve done since remembering to put clean knickers on at 6 this morning.

Anything? husband asks hopefully – he means any work, proper paying work that comes with pound signs and number on it – nah, nothing, you admit, stirring bolognese furiously.

Never mind. Think of JK Rowling: she worked for years before she made any money.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHH

Why do non-writers always drag JK up for those who pretend to write? Do they really think reference to her fortune makes our lack of success easier to bear? It’s either her or Mary Wesley.

And I don’t want to wait until I’m 70 to make any money out of what I pretend to do, for God’s sake: I need nice shoes now.

The Future of Africa’s Forests

September 17, 2007

Driving from the Outpost to camp in the Middle of Nowhere made for welcome escape.  Getting away from it all was how His Nibs put it. What the All is – exactly – is tricky to articulate when one lives in an Outpost such as this: certainly not the traffic. Or the hurlyburly 9 to 5 existence the rest of world is obliged to live. Or – more’s the pity – a social life. But it offered a welcome opportunity to get away from something.

And – much less welcome – bitter, bitter reminder of what may become of Africa unless something is done soon. Of what may already have become of her.

Our 100 mile drive took us through beautiful Miombo woodland and indigenous forest, just beginning to show new lacy green ahead of the rain (how does Mother Nature know when it’s going to rain; for she does: all the signs of imminent showers are here).

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But then – quite suddenly, as we rounded a bend – huge swathes, huge ugly holes in the forest, where the trees have been slashed and the scrub burned. Each new, hopeful glimpse of trees still standing was shattered by corresponding devastation.  Like some ominous tableau of the future of our planet.

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Sinsister rows of bags of charcoal stood n ranks beneath healthy trees, macabre omen of what would become of the trunk and boughs offering shade.

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Africa’s forests are disappearing with horrifying speed. Each season thousands of trees are felled to clear land to cultivate maize. Why can’t they leave the trees, I want to know, plant around them. My husband has farmed here for more than 20 years. He sighs. They can, he says, it’s just easier – quicker – to cultivate without trees in the way. But the trees would offer the crop shade and sustain the soil, he adds. As it is, every year, as acres of indigenous forest fall, so the problems that accompany deforestation are exacerbated: erosion leaves ugly gashes in the earth’s suface, the soil is powdery like talc, testimony to its flimsy structure: it cannot hold water or nutrients or a crop of maize.

When trees aren’t being felled to cultivate, they’re falling to the charcoal burners. If I have the ear of Messers Affleck and Damon, perhaps they could consider promoting some of the fledgeling alternative fuel enterprises here? Save Africa’s trees boys, that’ll save lives. For it’ll save an Africa to grow food in.

Some of the trees were strung with beehives – bedecked like some alternative Christmas tree. This region is the primary honey producer in Tanzania.  Honey hunters fashion hives out of bark and hang them high in the uppermost reaches of the trees. It sounds – and looks – the ultimate in organic honey harvesting.

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Except that it’s not.  In order to acquire the bark necessary to make the hives, the hunters ring bark trees. Which die.

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In one small copse of trees, the bark hives had been replaced by synthetic ones. Certainly they were less attractive, but they still do the job. Without compromising the future of the forest.

Soon – on account of the shortsighted cultivation methods, the charcoal burners, the honey hunters, there will be no trees left to harbour the pollen and insect population necessary to support the region’s biggest industry; there will be no shade under which toiling farmers can rest, no leaf fall to add depth and substance to the soil, no trees to hold Africa together.

Anybody engaged in Making Poverty History must see the big, big picture. Not just fleeting glimpses of bits of it. In order to make poverty anything approximating history, those who are engaged in the effort must understand the hearts and minds of Africa and rural Africans.  What use is a drive to save lives from disease if they’re going to fall to hunger? Because the land will not yield food, because livelihoods – like those of the honey hunters – have been compromised by the fall of the forests. It’s not about being an idealisitc well fed tree-hugger; it’s about understanding that each piece of a jigsaw must be within reach in order for a picture to be whole. If just one is missing, the picture lacks cohesion and substance and meaning and – most importantly – sustainability.

If aid agencies could reflect on the whole, and if they consolidated efforts to do as much, perhaps there’d be a chance.  In one area of slash and burn, where the trees had almost all gone and the ground quite bare, black where the scrub had been subjected to recent fire, grey where the ash still clung to the dust, I spotted a gentlman clamber out of a 4×4 bearing the name and logo of an international medical aid organisation. He was, judging by the way he was instructing the labour involved in the exercise, clearly ringing the death knell of this particular patch of forest.

But I oughtn’t be so harsh; he’s got the lofty job of saving lives. Why on earth would he need to worry about the future of Africa’s forests?

 

 

Food always tastes better outside

September 16, 2007

So we went camping. His Nibs, little Hat, assorted of Hat’s soft toys, two dogs and I.

We drove from home in Outpost even further out (I didn’t think there was a further out; there is – I spent the weekend there). We drove to the Middle of Nowhere and pitched our tent.

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Middle of Nowhere was actually the shores of Lake Chaya, dry now, save a few pools sporting a carpet of purple, pink and yellow lilies and a plethora of birdlife: herons and egret and rare saddle bill stork. We found a shady acacia and pitched camp beneath that and a huge sky.

We made tea once the tent was up and ate biscuits. Then we briefly walked and listened to the evening cacophany of a quarellsome quartet of turaco. Hat collected seeds to use as catty ammo.  Her father had made her the catapult the week before. What will you use it for, I wanted to know. To murder mozzis, she told me. Then laughed, no, I want to hit tin cans in the garden. She was only practising in the Middle of Nowhere, she said. 

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The sun sank, the turuaco shut up, a delicate sliver of moon slid skywards and the darkness fell with the silence. It is hard to remember when I heard such quiet (do we hear quiet? or do we hear the absence of sound that renders it quiet?) and it was heavenly. 

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We cooked dinner over the coals – corn cobs and sausages – and crept to bed under canvas

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And in the morning when we woke to a chilly grey sky which a scarlet sun was rushing to warm as it scrabbled out of the shadows and above the clouds, we cooked again – bacon and eggs – and drank smokey coffee and thought how good food tastes outside.

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And then we drove the 100 miles out of the Middle of Nowhere and back to the (relatively) bustling metropolis that is the Outpost.

And Hat slept all the way home.

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From Waste to Watering

September 14, 2007

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 Plastic water bottles are the scourge of Africa; discarded from buses, trucks and cars, they litter the bush for miles, like some mutant paperchase, leaving a trail of the passage of humankind from urban to countryside and back again.

In my bid to grow something in this patch of dust I optimistically refer to as a garden I am endeavouring to put the waste to good watering use.

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I hope that in a few weeks time the bottles will be rendered invisible by feathery carrot tops, glossy green leaves of swiss chard and the fat flat pancake foliage of cucumbers and water melons. And if not, it will not be for lack of trying.

James and Sylvester (not as in Stallone, as in Sylvester the Shamba boy) thought I was mad before. That I asked them to plant several rows of bottles has doubtless convinced them of my insanity. I can imagine them guffawing when I was out of earshot, ”Silly old bat, she thinks she can solve the water shortage here by planting water bottles, haha!”.

Unfortuantely for them, I have begun a collection of waste bottles for their own vegetable patches. They will look as nuts as I. But perhaps we will all eat better as a result.  Mad or hungry? I’d rather have a full stomach and be regarded as  faintly potty, thanks.

 

 

My Tuppence Worth

September 14, 2007

No point in whining about a thing if you’re not prepared to take some action. So I’ve written a letter to Bono, my mate Matt and all the boys who Make Poverty History. I doubt anybody will write back; I’ll let you know if they do:

Dear Sirs 

It is difficult to know how to begin this letter. How to start in order that I can grasp your attention before you bin it?  You’re busy, I know, and I’m sure you receive sack loads of mail every day. 

If I were to begin by revealing that I am the descendent of East Africa’s earliest white colonizers, you’d dismiss me as being inherently un PC.

If I were to tell you that I am a housewife and mother of three, you’d sigh heavily and say ‘oh gawd, some silly woman who thinks she knows what she’s talking about’.

If I were to tell you that I never went to university, you’d presuppose I didn’t have the education and couldn’t possibly offer anything in the way of value to an operation that posts jobs for policy managers, research analysts and advocacy specialists. 

But I am working on the assumption that – because you are of charitable disposition – you will read a little further to understand what it is I might have to say.  

As the spawn of settlers I have no other home.  My family has been here since my grandfather – a man of modest means from Scotland – arrived in 1904 – over 100 years ago. That means two things: that I have a fundamental and intimate knowledge of my part of Africa (her language, her geography, her problems, her people, her soul, her vulnerabilities, her cunning). And – because it’s home – I really do give a damn. It probably also makes me a little cynical of many aid efforts. But a little cynicism gives an edge of reality. And that’s always a useful thing to have when addressing a problem. 

As a woman, I empathize with African woman and I have observed them: they are Africa’s spine. As a mother, I understand what children need in terms of care and education. As a housewife, I understand about budgets and monitoring what I spend; I know how to worry about money. 

As for the fact I didn’t go to University, one ought not to overestimate the value of higher education: it’s not what knowledge a person has that counts, it’s how they use that knowledge.  

So, in the hope you’ve got this far down the page and haven’t dismissed what I might have to offer before I’ve even started simply because I lack the conventional credentials, let me assume for a moment that I am the decision maker in your organization.  

This is what I would do:  I’d stop considering Africa in such patronizing light for a start. Africa has resources and manpower. It might seem a hopeless case, but there is hope. Little shards of it glinting amongst the chaff.  Like needles in a haystack, not easy to find and careful you don’t prick your fingers whilst trying.  I’d put those resources to work – nothing is so rewarding – so morale boosting – as a little bit of successful commerce. Why must Africa always be regarded in terms of handouts? What about a leg up instead? I’d offer loans – or inputs – with attractive conditions to farmers and small producers. That’s what my husband does: provides the inputs to 50,000 smallholders who grow tobacco. Once the crop is in and the farmers have been paid, they are in a position to pay their loans back and possibly extend the reach of their land in order to increase their earnings next year. Yes, yes, I know growing tobacco isn’t terribly PC anymore, but it’s a great deal more PC than adding another 50,000 families to Africa’s list of hungry and impoverished.  And anyhow, it doesn’t have to be tobacco: it could be any number of things. Africans are amongst the best traders in the world – look at their markets for God’s sake – realize that potential; embrace them in commercial ventures. It’s much less demoralizing than throwing money at a problem. And much more sustainable.  

 I’d concentrate my efforts on women. I’d certainly employ them to monitor my projects in Africa – in the end they are responsible for the welfare of their children (single parenting and domestic violence are the reality for many African women – and they don’t have access to the support their similarly suffering peers in the West do). Should you question my applause for the African women, assuming I’m a wicked old man-hater (I’m not, I’m happily married, thanks), let me put to you a challenge: the next time you’re on the continent and being driven from one charitable effort to another in a nice new air-conditioned 4×4, take a look out of the window: who’s selling tomatoes on the roadside? Who’s carrying water? Or firewood? Who’s roasting maize cobs or brewing tea in the hope of tickling the taste buds of passers by and enticing a little trade? Who’s weeding that field? Now look again: who’s under a tree smoking and gossiping with his mates?  

And I’d educate the children. But in a less conventional way than we do our own privileged children: remember an African child has probably never had access to a jigsaw puzzle or a book. I’d teach them to learn first. For then my education programs would be much more meaningful.  

 I would understand the media that Africans rely on for information: the radio, their own language newspapers. And I’d understand the enormous part cell phones play in their lives and see if I couldn’t manipulate that to good use.  (Did you know, for example, that brewery profits have slumped since the mobile phone arrived here: the blokes would rather the kudos of owing and using a cell phone than forking out for a beer)? 

So, that’s what I’d do. And I’d do it by surrounding myself with people who could help me implement my plans because they know Africa as well as I do. Because they understand her machinations, her strengths, her limitations. Because they have lived with her. Because they love her.  

But as I said, if you’ve even got this far, now’s the time to diss what I think: after all, I’m just a mum: what would I know? But even if I have made you consider Africa’s difficulties from a new perspective for the briefest moment, I’m glad I took the time to write.  

Thanks     

And now I’ll get off the soapbox I’ve been teetering on all week. Not content with relocating the family to splendid Outpost isolation, husband has organised that we go camping this weekend. To get away from it all, he says.

Get away from what exactly, I wanted to ask.

A meeting with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon

September 12, 2007

We go out for a night on the town Outpost style – that means a beer and a pizza – with our friend Tom.

Tom has been to Mwanza – a scruffy town on Lake Victoria, a five hour drive away – to the dentist. He’s had two teeth extracted. He is full of painkillers.  He tells us he stayed at the same hotel as celebs Affleck and Damon.

Yeah right Tom. The beer’s not mixing well with the Ibuprofen. You see pigs fly too, Tom? And we laugh.

No really, he insists, they were there.

We don’t believe him. Not until visiting surveyor Tim arrives (for a beer and a pizza). He’d been to Mwanza too. And blow me down: he hadn’t just seen Affleck and Damon; he’d enjoyed a few drinks with them too.

What are they here for, I want to know, they making a movie?

No, says Tim, they’re Making Poverty History.

Ah. Right.

I text my beautiful star-struck 13 year old daughter at boarding school.

Guess who Tom saw?

Y wasn’t I dere, she texts back (why am I forking out a fortune for an education I think), did he get autographs.

No. Tom didn’t get an autograph or a picture. Nor did he talk to them.

I would have.

This is how I envisage my meeting in Mwanza with two of the world’s most famous movie stars would have gone:

“Hi guys”, I say as I approach them beaming and trying not to look like star-struck daughter.

“Hi there”, they reply, looking a bit nervous, wondering if they ought to recognise me.

“How are you?”

“Good. Good”, they say, looking no less nervous.

”Mind if I join you?”

”No, please do” (they’re gents, see: I’m thinking Affleck in Pearl Harbour; he must be a gent).

”What are you doing here? on holiday? serenegetti? the chimps at Mahale? the crater?”

”No actually, we’re working.”

”Wow!” (oh gawd, star struck again). ”You making a movie?”

”No actually”, and they sit a little straighter in their seats as if to impart the importance of what they are about to deliver: ”we’re Making Poverty History.”

”You don’t say! I just blogged about MPH”.

”No?! Did you really? Cool! What did you say?”

”Ummmm …” (because thru the haze of one too many beers and two too many stars I remember what I said and they mightn’t want to hear about it).

”Go on!”

”Well I suggested it might be a waste of time”, I mumble.

”WHAT?!”

That I’ve got their attention spurs me forth, I am emboldened by this 15 minutes with Fame.

”I said that I thought alot of the time it was a waste of time; the millions don’t get where they ought to”.

”What do you mean?”

”I mean that there’s billions of dollars being earmarked for Africa and I don’t see evidence of any of it where I live” (an outpost crawling with lunatics, a place where there are Aids Orphans and street kids who barely have the luxury of a bed or a square meal, far less an education).

”Where do you live?”

”Here”, I tell them, ”in Africa. Only not here, here; in a place five hours from here, kind of cut off”.

”We gotta go see”, they say urgently.

”Sure” I say, conscious that such house guests would impart huge kudos (failing to remember in that glorious moment that nobody in Outpost would recognise either Affleck or Damon): Karibuni! I gesture generously, indicating they are welcome any time.

”How far away did you say you were?”

”Five hours”

”We’ll have to check our schedules. Is it a tar road?”

”No”, I say in small voice, ”it’s quite a bad dirt road actually”.

”Probably not this trip then”, butts in the loud man who has just muscled into our conversation and who is clearly in charge of The Schedule.

In reality – of course – I’d never had approached them. I’d simply have gawped, nudging my husband and hissing ”do you know who that is?!”. And then I’d have sent furious texts to my teenage daughter and all my girlfriends.

In reality – of course – their trip won’t have any impact on the lunatics, orphans and street kids with whom I share the Outpost.