I slide into Tanzania Telecommunications Company Ltd to load some money onto my older daughter’s phone. Because I am a kind mother. Because I am fearful of teen sulks. Because then her excuses not to call me will ring hollow.


TTCL’s building must be the biggest in the Outpost and it is a vivid egg yellow. All over. As if somebody above us has stabbed his free range morning fry with a fork and allowed the yolk to explode across the exterior walls of this imposing building. I wear my sunglasses until I get inside, even when it’s overcast; the paintjob is headache-bright to behold.


I leave the engine of my car, parked outside the gates, running. Not so, like other expatriates (not here – there aren’t any here) the air-conditioning keeps humming coolly (the fact I don’t have a/c is beside the point). But because if I switch the ignition off, my car will not start again. Not until Hat and I have opened the bonnet, ferreted around in the boot for a bag of spanners, retightened all the battery terminal leads as we did before we left home twenty minutes ago, but which Outpost potholes have already rudely nudged out of place and gathered about us a not insignificant crowd of amused onlookers. I also leave Hat in the car because she is busy trying to think of a name for the soft toy I have just been persuaded to buy for her from a roadside vendor. It is a snow leopard whose bent plastic whiskers make him look as if he has been tempted too close to a fire.


As I scurry through the gates and towards the front door, shielding my eyes from the glare, an officious looking woman instructs an askari, lounging on a stool by the entrance and reading a paper, to tell me to move my car. I pretend not to hear and keep going.


Inside I hand over my money and my daughter’s telephone number. Please load this I say. I like the staff at TTCL. They are very helpful. And quite bored I think. Rattling around in their enormous yellow submarine they welcome any distraction and I, with my obsession to window shopping at Amazon.co.uk, provide plenty. When I have a glitch with my internet connection at home the entire office staff comes out to proffer assistance.


The askari shambles in behind me.


Go and move your car, he tells me, it’s blocking the gates.


I’m going, I say, just now. This will take one minute I tell him, indicating the lady behind the counter who is already beginning to load the talk time.


But a lorry needs to get through the gates; you are blocking it.


I look outside, towards my car. It’s the only vehicle I can see and though it is, I concede, blocking the gates, I have never seen them opened in the year I have been here nor have I ever seen a vehicle even attempt to pass through them.


There’s no lorry, I point out.


The askari gives up with me and turns on the TTCL employee instead, ‘tell her to move her car’.


I understood you the first time, I retort crossly.


The lady behind the counter giggles.


Then tell her to turn her car off and close the windows, the watchman says to her, ignoring me entirely. We are not unlike recent Africa statesmen, using a mediator to resolve a spat; the reluctant mediator behind the desk is Kofi Annan, wishing the problem would go away.


If I turn off my car I say – to Kofi now because this is clearly the way forward in this particular contretemps – it will not start again and then it will be blocking the gates forever and ever. And if I close the windows, my daughter – who is inside – will cook in the heat and die. You don’t want that do you?


Everybody in the office, which is open plan, collapses with laughter. And the askari who has at least made important show of doing his job, wanders back to his post and his newspaper.


I leave triumphant and join Hat in the car.


“I’ve decided on Bubbles’’, she says.


I look blank.


‘The snow leopard, Mum; I’ve decided to call him Bubbles’’.


Lovely, I tell her.


Later I get text from other daughter, ‘gt da cash ma, thnx. Lol’.


It was worth it then.




6 Responses to “Obstruction”

  1. nuttycow Says:

    Bubbles. A classic leopard name 😀

    I see your other daughter is fluent in “yoof spk”. Do you have a translator or have you managed to learn enough to get by? I struggle!

  2. R. Sherman Says:

    Marvelous story.


  3. Iota Says:

    You are wasted. You should be at the UN. I can see you at a high level negotiating table. Wrld peec @ lst – thx Rel Mem – lol

  4. Potty Mummy Says:

    wd hv usd sm txt as I-owe-tah bt she bt me 2 it…

  5. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thnx v much. l8er x

  6. ann Says:

    If you are coming to England you must come to Sunday Lunch.

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