Empty Promises. Emptier Ponds


April 09



The lawn (and I use the term loosely, so loosely as to be almost completely untied from the truth) is popdom crack dry.

And the termite tunnels, like a busily woven subway engineered for – by – a population of insects which, when the rains comes, will take energetic flight only to die upon a damp morning or be eaten by the cats, are meringue fragile beneath my bare feet.

And the succulents shrivel and atrophy. I thought that was the whole point of cacti: that they could survive the fiercest heat, the meanest drought.

Unless they’ve had the misfortune to be planted in the Outpost.


Showers are short and furious and quick. I grapple for the tap to rinse the soap from my eyes. And I curse.

And every morning I wake to high, high blue skies unsullied by even the tiniest smudge of a cloud. Bugger it, I say. (For I am more polite than Alice de Janze).

The water department comes to lay a new pipeline. Because the old one, the one this particular house has depended upon since the days of colonial administration, has died a death. Given up the ghost of whatever faint promise of water it once held. And occasionally, very occasionally, twice or (when you were really lucky) thrice a week and for 25 minutes at a time, delivered on.

So the water department digs an untidy trench (when they are not leaning on jembes and smoking cigarettes) across the desert that masquerades as my garden and they lay a line which they optimistically fit with taps. And a meter. To measure the gushing torrent that they swear will come surging through.

They tell us the price of the water (Christ! Says husband, you could wash in petrol) which, they assure us, will arrive on Sunday morning. At 6am. Not a minute later.

Husband and Hat and I lay elaborately drenched plans.

We will fill the pond where the guppies are gasping and the lilies dying.

We will fill the pool which is low and green and swimming with boatmen and scorpions.

I will do three loads of laundry, in flagrant twofingersup to my usual once-a-week and please-wear-your-shorts-for-more-than-a-single-day regime.

We will give the succulents and the portulaca and the spinach a long, cool drink at sundown.

We will have recklessly lengthy, hot showers and the shampoo will not sting my eyes for I will rinse long and luxuriously without turning the taps off once in between. Not until I’ve well and truly finished and am squeaky clean.

At 6am on Sunday morning 17 drops of water fall feebly from the newly laid line into our cavernously empty tank.

Drip. Drip. Drip. I can hear the applause at the bottom as they hit the concrete depths.

And then silence.

We have tipped the guppies into the pool, to join the boatmen and scorpions (what will they eat, Hat asks? I promise her there is sufficient fish food in the flora and fauna that thrives in the unseen aquarium green). We closed our eyes to a garden wilted beyond rescue. And I mine to a laundry basket suppurating gluttonous and overfed across the bathroom floor.

The succulents and the portulaca and the spinach won’t get their evening drink.

But I will. A long, cold beer.

Which I will sip from a sweat-beaded bottle as I gaze across a lawn baked to the colour of biscuits and a sky shot with all the peachy radiance of an unblemished sunset so that you know tomorrow will be just as high white hot as today.



14 Responses to “Empty Promises. Emptier Ponds”

  1. Nola Says:

    Ah, it so well captures the empty promises.

  2. daisyfae Says:

    this was the most polite and eloquent ‘rant about failed service promises’ that has ever been penned…

  3. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    ah Nola. Thank you. and for reading.

    daisyfae: how lovely to see you. Alas my rants are usually not so polite. or eloquent. They are usually quite loud and blue and repetetive. easier to be assume some control on the page, though!

  4. Kit Says:

    I feel quite profligate with the three loads of laundry I have done today after reading this! When our water fails it necessitates the tender care of the electrician to resuscitate our overworked borehole pump and we wash and occasionally flush from the rainwater tank until he can come.

    I hope you have a flowing rush from your taps very soon!

  5. Mwa Says:

    Makes me so grateful for our water. Just can’t imagine not having it.

  6. R. Sherman Says:

    Good grief. I got thirsty just reading this! I’ll do a Sioux rain dance for you.


  7. Iota Says:

    Gosh, how I take my water supply for granted.

  8. Grannymar Says:

    I wish I could bottle some of our rain and send it to you. It hangs in the air to lazy to fall.

  9. Rob Says:

    Sounds like your Outpost could do with a water engineer of some sorts. Chances are that most of the town water supply leaks away into the ground, and the balance probably leaks out through well positioned illegal tapping by assorted entrepreneurs. I find it amusing that in the colonial era, the higher up the hill one lived, the more imporant your classification. Little did they realise that in years to come those living lower down the slopes probably would benefit from a better class of water supply! I will pray for rain for you, whilst feeling embarrased at the sheer volume of clean treated water which gushes down my toilet with every flush.

  10. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you Kit. Can i send you my washing? x

    Mwa: send me some! send me some!

    Mr Sherman. Thank you. Pls post pix so I can be sure you really have!

    Iota: so did I. Used to … Wonder whether I ever will again?

    Grannymar: ‘it hangs in the air too lazy to fall’, what a perfect picture of mist and damp. lovely.

    Rob: precisely. That’s precisely it. Serves me right for living on a hill! x

  11. nuttycow Says:

    The rains are somewhere… probably crouching behind Kili, waiting to pounce!

    NBI’s had some rain, Juba’s got rain, surely the Outpost must get it soon?!

  12. rosiero Says:

    This makes me appreciate the plentiful supply of water we have here. I shall never take it for granted again.

  13. carol Says:

    The rains have come to Nairobi! No more water problems – well – only the big puddles that you have to drive through (and not sure if the car is high enough – or if there is a very deep pot-hole underneath) – and of course bigger problems for all the people who have to walk on the side of the road and get drenched each time a car races through! Take care,

  14. Gill Says:

    and here we just take water for granted…….I would be so frustrated, hope it gets sorted out soon,

    Gill in Canada

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