That we will be on the move again is inevitable. I rail against the thought of more unsettledness, more uncertainty, more bloody racketing around. But I rail more against our employers. (Can they be employers even when they don’t’ honour Employment contracts?).
They have made the mistake so many Investors in Africa make – listen to the Lion’s Roar says the Sunday Times, make your money here, reads the sign: they think they can impose their western ideals and ideas upon this vast wild place and assume they will stick profitably. So they build proposals around the healthandsafety surety of more predictable nations. And when it fails, as it often does, they throw up their hands in despair and blame Bad Governance and Corruption and Africa.
I watch the swift fragmentation of this particular project and know that none of that is to blame. The problem here is that dislocated London-based investment bankers in suits and shiny shoes (who have never stood beneath a shower cold as ice and brown with silt, never tried to forge a swollen river with their hearts in their mouths, never pushed a car out of the mud) have distilled their money making scheme to a generic, glossy proposal of lines and digits and sums and projected what-it-will-look-like-if-it-works images: academic assumptions). They don’t know the rules here. They don’t know that when it rains on the farm we can’t get out, which means, by extension, their produce – the one that will never come – won’t get out either. They don’t know that the equipment they bought isn’t Built For Africa. That their Logistics Man (in Essex …) got it wrong.
So it begins to collapse and they call midnight meetings and wipe the white board clean and write down some more numbers. The money-shufflers. Meantime, on the farm, the fuel for generators has almost run out, when it does we will be in darkness without water. They know us, the little team here, merely as more lines of figures, perhaps we come under the column that says Management or Personnel or Admin?
We’re certainly not identified as Flora, in the farm office, who dresses beautifully and I wonder how on earth she manages it? I wear badly laundered shorts day after day. I’ve never seen her wear the same outfit twice; an Audrey Hepburn two piece accessorised with a clutch purse and kitten heels, she minces to the office, an incongruous and heartening sight against a sprawling, dust-laced savannah. One day she wore a shirt printed with bold, gold daises and lime green flares, her hair teased into a glorious Afro and she looks for all the world like one of the Three Degrees, ‘Flora, you look lovely!’, I told her and she giggled but was unable to return the compliment, her eyes darting over my unironed attire and flipflop clad feet. And our number crunchers don’t know Joshua, the mechanic, whose eyesight astonished me: far older than I, I watch him read the tiniest calibrations, ‘with no glasses?’, I hiss at Ant. Joshua was spot on though. And they’ve never met Saidi, the askari, who opens the gate with a flamboyance that makes me smile every time. He throws back his shoulders and offers a flourish of a salute and the broadest grin.
Bottom lines don’t replace reality. Digits are no substitute for personalities. You have to really understand a thing to know it; you have to get right under it’s skin.
This is Africa. And it isn’t always her fault.