Archive for January, 2008


January 16, 2008

I am struck by the Outpost’s voluptuousness at present; it (she?) seems fatly content and sleek in comparison to other regions. Driving as we do, across enormous distances, we traverse the country’s contours and some seem harshly barren and skinny, maize is stunted, skies white hot blue, clouds measly ribbons of papery inadequacy, melting to nothing under a merciless sun.

Not here though. Here the sky is full of fat black clouds pregnant with the promise of rain. More rain.  The earth has bled into deep puddles thick with mud. The mango trees are lushly emerald green and the flamboyant, stripped of flowers now, are sporting long sausage seed pods, a pledge that next season’s fiery blooms will be just as plentiful. More so. The grass is long, my lawn, from the dust bowl that it was, must be cut twice a week, it feels deliciously thick beneath bare feet: shagpile thick. The cress I planted at the base of a palm is long legged and gangly. The salad bowl beckons. The cattle and goats are no longer lean hipped and the women’s derrieres spill over the backs of bicycles so that it’s hard not to notice. One wears a kanga decorated with dollar signs. Apt. And hilarious. Booty as bounty.

Even the shade is plump. Gloriously plump so that there is ample under which to take refuge in the still heat before the storm.

Africa isn’t often fat. The extra poundage born of good rains won’t last long. But it looks beautiful whilst it’s here.

I wish the same could be said of my thickened post Christmas middle.

Back to School

January 10, 2008

Tomorrow, before dawn, six of us will squeeze into the car with an indecent amount of luggage, a picnic brunch, some bedding (because one cannot expect even the best hostesses’ linen cupboards to stretch to accomodating a brood of six without supplementing sheets and towels) and we will drive the 750 klm towards school in the north.

Mum will fly back to England on Sunday. And the big kids will go back to boarding school on Monday and we three, Hat, Husband and I will turn tail and drive the 750 klm home early on Tuesday.

The car will be quieter. Our brunch will be a rather solitary and solemn affair and there will be leftovers for the first time in a month.

Just as there will be too many dry towels.

Spiritual Exfoliation

January 10, 2008

guineapigmum has had an articulate rant. Do read it. It’s the best kind of Grumpy Old Woman moan. The sort that is guaranteed to make one feel better. In a sort of swept-the-contents-off-the-coffee-table kind of way.  Ranting is imperative to mental stability. Even the psychs tell us as much; not to do so is to risk ”rumination” (not as in cows and cud but as in bottling it all up).

Cyberpsace offers a perfect rant medium. Providing you have been wise and retained your anonymity which I did not.  Foolish girl. Because I can’t afford to rant openly and unguardely to the few who are kind enough to read what I write lest I offend the even fewer who live in the Outpost and thus risk further isolation because the three people that are here will stop speaking to me altogether if they knew what I thought about them, I rant like a mad woman, out loud, in the bathroom or whilst I walk or when I’m swimming (which means I swallow half the pool and come up choking, puce and rendered rant-impotent as I almost drown).

To articulate a rant online is so much more elegant than that. It is the spiritual equivalent of exfolition: you’ll feel so better on the inside.

The Wrong Raju

January 8, 2008

My cell phone rings, “Raju” the screen tells me.

Hello Raju

Hello. Happy New Year. How are you?

Fine, fine …

I got your message …

Oh good Raju (wondering why he hadn’t bothered to respond when I sent it, three days ago). So now listen, when do you think you can come and fix the telly. The kids are going nuts.

Well I’m not sure what you mean …

You know, Raju, you know … the telly. It broke and you promised to come and fix it and you did and you took away a little part from inside the satellite dish and said you thought it had been cooked in a lightening strike and you took it away to fix it. You said you’d let me know how the repairs were going but I hadn’t heard so I sent you a message.

Yes, but I’ve been away and I still don’t know what you mean. What television? What day?  I have been away for Christmas.

I know that Raju, this was after Christmas; you came a few days after Christmas and promised to have the bit back to us for New Year.

Raju, rumour has it, enjoys the odd tipple. His utter inability to recollect any of the details of several telephone calls and a visit to the house to fix the telly is beginning to frustrate me. I am beginning to suspect he might be drinking now, even as we speak. Or perhaps he was inebriated when he came by which is why he has no idea what I’m talking about.

Oh Raju, surely you remember, I plead.

Sorry mama, this is Raju in Arusha. I don’t know anything about satellite televisions; I own a clothes shop.

Ah. Indeed he does. And the only reason I have his number on my phone is because I used to do a little currency trading with him.

Wrong Raju.

I apologise profusely whilst he busily – and sweetly – suggests a number of people who might be able to assist with television where he cannot.

I put the phone down feeling ridiculous.

He doubtless now thinks that it is I who has the drinking problem.

Hat suggests I edit my contacts, ”why don’t you put RAJU Arusha for that one and RAJU Television for the other, then you won’t look quite so silly”.

How to have a Jolly Good Funeral

January 8, 2008

Yesteday evening we witnessed a funeral cortege whilst out walking. My options for a ramble here are limited – it’s either snake infested dam walls or sandy paths that circumnavigate the local cemetary.

The coffin, which was huge, more of a hefty square than loosely corpse outlining polygon, was draped in a vivid red and gold blanket and held aloft by four men who were jogging towards the graveyard. Why are they running, I wondered? Perhaps the coffin’s heavy, suggested Mum. Perhaps they are worried the rain is coming? Perhaps, I mused, it’s just the end of the day and they’re tired and hungry?

The pall bearers were tailed by sporadically straggling groups of people, mourners you might imagine, some dragging children, one or two with goats and the occasional attendee on a bicycle. Most looked remarkably cheerful given they were presumably, though not certainly, grieving their dead: some were likely just interested passers-by who fancied the opportunity for a little social intercourse on the way home.

Citizens of the poverty stricken Third World are more pragmatic about death than we are. Probably because they have to be I explained to Amelia, ”because they face so much illness and disease” I said solemnly.

”Duh, Mum, Illness and disease are the same thing”.

Ah yes. So they are.

And as a consequence funerals are both regular and well attended occasions. It’s rare to see mourners arrive on foot (except in a place like the Outpost), frequently they follow a make-shift hearse (usually a pickup truck festooned with flowers) in long cavalcades of slowly moving vehicles bedecked with vibrant bougainvillea, their hazard lights blinking and horns blaring in a noisy semblance of untidy union, all full of women weeping, ululating or catching up on the latest gossip.

I hope my funeral’s that well attended I say to Amelia.

She tells me that in some societies, in the old days (which because she’s 14 could mean as recently as the 1980’s) people would leave money in their will in order to pay people to attend lest mourners were a little thin on the ground.

I hope she’s not suggesting I do the same?

Kenya’s great hope?

January 7, 2008

John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor, President of Ghana and the head of the African Union is expected in Kenya today to help break the policical deadlock. Kufuor is an Oxford graduate; he studied law and earned a masters in philisophy, politics and economics.  Clearly an academic man, he is decribed as a poor orator but a great listener, who never vacillates once his mind is mind up. At over 6ft with a heavy build he is, encouragingly, dubbed Ghana’s ”gentle giant”.

So far so good.

His pet hates, however, include arrogance and self centredness. How, then is he going to get along with two men who want the front door keys to State House as badly as each other, more, in fact, than peace, security and prosperity for their people judging by the blame game that forces more and more Kenyans into the lives of refugees.

The taxi driver with whom I correspond sends a text message:

”The worry still lingers high, there is another rally tomorrow. I am tired”.

I hope Kufuor can bring succour, there’s alot riding on his visit.

The Sun, Storms and Scarabs

January 4, 2008

We had a walk yesterday evening, not on the dam, for fear of snakes, but along a sandy path outside town where I was afforded a good view of what was, or wasn’t, lurking on the ground before me. And we came upon a colony of dung beetles busily rolling their bounty.

Dung beetles, sometimes called tumble bugs, don’t just feed on the moisture they extract from the droppings of livestock which they find on account of their extraordinarily strong sense of smell, they gather it and roll it neatly into brooding balls which they bury underground where mating takes place. The female lays her eggs inside the readily prepared nursery-cum-larder so that her offspring are afforded something to eat when they first hatch and so that she has nourishment whilst she waits and watches.
Sometimes a female will help her mate roll – aiding him in pushing the egg sized ball along the ground in a dead straight line, regardless of obstacles (we watched a pair determindetly trying to roll their ball up a steep incline); sometimes females (presumably those not as concerned about keeping fit?) merely hitch a ride and roll with the ball; frequently ball rollers are ambushed by robbers lying in wait to pinch their ready-made ball – we watched one male fiercely defending his hard work.  
The dung beetle is of the same family as the scarab which was linked to Khepri, the Egyptian god of the rising sun; the people of ancient Egypt believed Khepri renewed the sun every day before rolling it up above the horizon.
I wondered, as I lay in bed last night listening to another advancing storm, whether Thunder might also have adopted the manoevering tactics of the dung beetle; wasn’t he up there rolling enormous black clouds of heavy rain around the heavens until he found a satifisying dumping ground? Somewhere where there might be an audience to witness his dramatic theatricals of sound and light.
The Outpost as it happened.  


Kenya Elections: laughable suggestions that there can be legal recourse

January 3, 2008

Because Kibaki’s government refused to conduct a recount (despite EU pressure when electoral observers admitted there were serious irregularities) the opposition’s only option now is to lodge a petition with the law courts. Laughable not only because the legal system in Kenya, along with the prisons and police department, is recognised as being riddled with corruption but also because a spokesperson for the law courts who was interviewed on live television admitted that a petition was likely to take five years to be heard. By which time, of course, Kibaki’s second term will have drawn to a close.

The protesters are working to make their way beyond police lines, they bear branches, a symbol that their message is a peaceful one, but they are being held back by water cannon and tear gas.

I speak to friends. There is growing tension. Supplies are very short. In the west of the country, which saw horrendous violence two days ago, there are severe power cuts and water shortages. People there say the death count of 300 is a huge under-estimation, ”there are fields of dead” in the region I am told.

I telephone the taxi driver I met whilst I was last in Nairobi, he tells me the army is pro government, but that the ODM, the opposition, is very well financed. He adds that the west of the country was quieter yesterday but that trouble had spread to the central Rift Valley. ” By the end of today, the country’s fate should be known”, he says.

Kenya’s business community says the country is losing over $30 million a day due to lost revenue in taxes; the shilling has dropped from 126 to the pound yesterday to 134 today and Kenya stock market sagged by 5%.

Desmond Tutu is in the country anxious to help mediate. Rumours suggest Kibaki isn’t interested to talk to him. And Odinga isn’t interested in mediation talks with Kibaki until he admits to stealing the Presidency.

Kikuyus victimized in tribal clashes in the west are dashing to take refuge in nearby Uganda.

Kenya’s situation is peppered with the heart stopping vernacular normally reserved for her less stable neighbours: stricken, genocide, crisis, refugees, economic meltdown and civil war. is posting from the front line.

Kenya’s Crisis Deepens

January 3, 2008

I fear for Kenya today.  There is, according to the news, according to those I have spoken to there, a deep sense of foreboding, an eerie silence; the lull before the storm.

The goverment has refused mediation from outside, asserting their confidence that this is a Kenyan crisis which they can deal with on their own. Opposition leader Raila Odinga has said he will go ahead with his protest march in the capital, Nairobi, despite the authorities declaring it illegal.  The security forces are in evidence – both in the city and outside, in a bid to prevent protestors from gaining entry to Nairobi. 

I speak to a friend on the phone, she is at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport; she says it is full of people who have fled the violence in the west of the country. She says they are sitting meekly in huddles, looking bewildered and frightened. They expected free and fair elections, not this. Not the growing fear that this could be ”another Rwanda”. Foregin consulates are beginning to mutter about ”pulling their people out if necessary”.

The Kenyans stuck between two warring political factions don’t have that luxury. They voted in what they believed was a free and fair election and they feel cheated: those who voted for Kibaki feel their vote has been negated as being invalid, those who voted for Odinga don’t believe they were counted. And then to compound the misery of not having their voice heard, they are being dragged into a crisis that threatens to engulf their country.


January 2, 2008

Last night, after three days of building heat, the heavens cracked open again and torrential rain fell.

The thunder growled ominously overhead and the lightening split a dark sky wide open.

When we were little we imagined that the thunder was the Man Upstairs moving his furntiure about, dragging the coffee table from here to there, rearranging the position of His armchair, pushing a bed against a celestial wall.   I considered last night as I lay trying to sleep that the loudest, angriest crashes in the sky might be the result of Him stubbing a toe and swearing loudly.

Much as I had done earlier in the evening, groping through the dark after the power had gone out, trying to find my way to bed.