I have made a friend. 


I don’t know her well yet but on the two occasions that I have met her she seemed like the sort of person it might be fun to spend time with.  She is irreverent and very entertaining.


She’s a Tanzanian. Her mother, she told me, is from Iringa, her father from Mbeya, she spent two years in Zanzibar before moving to the Outpost. Which she hates, ‘God this is an awful place: if you had to live in the worst place in Tanzania, it would be this one’, she says.


She is very pretty and wears spaghetti tops (the same ones that the volunteer girls – as they leave the States or the UK in readiness for a big African adventure – are instructed not to wear lest they offend local sensitivities). She looks about 22. She is married to a man who looks about 62.


I ask her, ‘How old are you?’


36, she tells me.


I almost fall off my chair. L’Oreal needs a get a hold of this bird quickly. She is the ultimate walking talking un-airbrushed because-I’m-worth-it anti-aging advert.


”What’s your secret” I ask, trying not to move my face too animatedly as I talk so that I don’t deepen my 42 year old wrinkles so much that I look 62 as well.


”Konyagi,” she says, roaring with laughter and tipping the bottle in my direction. She drinks it with litres of Peach juice.  The bottle is branded with a label that leaves you in little doubt as to the punch this fire water packs.





”I don’t like looking as young as I do”, she complains.


This isn’t something you hear many women the wrong side of 18 say; I need an explanation.


”When I go to the soko (the market) those young whippersnappers just shout mambo ”(an informal Kiswahili greeting).


How does she want to be hailed, I enquire.


Shikamu’, she replies indignantly.


This is a traditional and old Swahili greeting.  It translates – literally – as ‘I hold your feet’, and the response, maharaba, means ‘You’re too kind’. 


It is the way you greet somebody whom you respect. Or somebody who is clearly much more aged than you are. It’s the way the boys in the market greet me. Because I am ancient, you understand. And look even more ancient when I am squinting into the sun or frowning because I don’t like the price that’s being demanded for a kilo of spuds.


She is very, very bored here. She has done a secretarial course in the local college, ‘Rubbish’, she pronounced, ‘but at least it gave me something to do; I can’t watch telly all day.’


She wants jars, she says.




”I am going to collect honey and sell it”.


The region is – has been for years – famous for its honey.


I tell her I think that’s a very good idea, ‘If you go into the supermarket, you can’t find Tanzanian honey, only expensive imported stuff – its ridiculous that there’s honey here and you can’t find it on shelves’’, I elaborate.


She laughs and slaps the table between us with the palm of her hand, ‘My dear’, she says, ‘this is Tanzania! What do you expect?’


I have bought the local honey before. It’s very thin.


‘Ha, ha’, she laughs again, ‘those honey gatherers see the wazungu coming and they dilute their honey – they won’t do that with me’.


No. I don’t expect they will.


When she is not buying and selling honey (‘for a big, big profit’, she assures me), she is going to make pickles.


What kind of pickles.


Oh I don’t know. I have never made pickles before.  


I am going to have coffee with my her on Tuesday, me and the 15 empty jam jars I have sourced at the bottom of the kitchen cupboard.




Salma, who works with Asina trying to bring some semblance of order to our home, has been admitted to hospital, she has malaria. She is better than she was two days ago but she will be off work for some time. 


Asina observes the pile of ironing miserably.


Mama, she says, I think we need to get Sylvester in to do the ironing.


Sylvester is the Wellington boot wearing (even in the midst of a drought) gardener.


Do you think Sylvester can iron, I ask dubiously?


Mama, says Asina, have you seen Sylvester, his clothes are smart sana. Of course he can iron.



14 Responses to “Pickled”

  1. Jane Says:

    I like that! So when I’m asked if I qualify for senior discounts (at the ripe old age of 34) in the US, I’ll take it as a sign of respect instead of an insult . . .

  2. nuttycow Says:

    I love new friends… there’s so much to learn about them and new things to do.

    Konyagi sounds… interesting. Is it a Tanzanian thing or can you get it elsewhere?

  3. janelle doria Says:

    so its konyagi and peach juice then! finally an affordable secret on how to stay young..she says too late…bah…lovely reading lovely reading as always….lots love xxx janelle oh and ps: chin chin to new friendships!!!

  4. Expat Mum Says:

    Sounds like good “girlfriend” potential.
    But – a woman who says “I don’t like looking as young as I do” – oh, I could weep!

  5. Potty Mummy Says:

    Is Sylvester married? Maybe it’s his wife you need to employ…

  6. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    oh but you must, Jane, you must!

  7. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    i agree nuttycow: new friends are good. konyagi … only ever seen it here, kind of like Kenya Cane. Or vodka. Really strong Vodka …

  8. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    janelle – i know. if i start imbibing now i shall merely look like OLD drunk. if only i’d known at 36. or 26. and i agree, chin chin to new friends. sometimes – especially – the ones we ought to have got to know better a long time ago …

  9. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    expat mum. i almost did. weep.

  10. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    no PM, according to the baskets of perfeclty ironed garments that Syl churned out yesterday, its definately him we need.

  11. Mom de Plume Says:

    I think it is awesome that you have discovered a hidden talent in your garderner! New friendship is always exciting and I think girlfriends are really what keep you young! Shame you are so far north – I have oodles of honey jars sitting in my cupboard awaiting a purpose!

  12. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    and its an awesome talent too mom d p: ironing. Imagine! Shame about the jars, we could clearly do with some of those.

  13. maggie may Says:

    She sound a lovely fun friend. Good idea to collect & sell honey but hope she won’t get stung! Some people look naturally years younger & others age really fast. I think its really in the genes.
    A gardening ironer….. sounds resourceful!
    BTW, nice of you to comment on my blog!

  14. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    hiya mm: think she’s going to leave the collecting to the very proficient local gatherers and just buy the end product. yup. Sylvester clearly v resourceful. never seen anybody race thru a pile of ironing like he did, esp not a bloke!

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