Looking for Real Africa


So we drove 1 000 klm at the weekend to deliver The Boy for his internship. He’s at that stage: poised for the real world, teetering, ready to take flight. Less than a year left and he graduates from Uni. He’s garnering experience for his CV. Connecting the dots. His sister is closer than that. She starts her first job in a month. I marvel at her composure. More than mine: the mother hen flapping, her feathers ruffled, fussing and clucking as all her young things scuttle out of her nest. Is this the last holiday I will be able to squeeze them all into the car for a road trip, stop for picnics so that they all tumble out, unfolding long limbs and stretching hands above heads and then peering into tupperwares to see what Mum’s bought to eat.

When I think about the end of fullfatfive car journeys, that have morphed over the years from the cacophony of crying to the Wheels on the Bus, to I Spy to fighting over who listens to what on the CD player to utter silence as everybody’s plugged into their own audio arrangement, I want to cry. So I push the thoughts out of my head and get on with this one, this road trip, this picnic, trying not to forget to pack the salt.

baobab valley

We swoop low, into hot country that breathes dust and hisses with cicadas, where the bush seems to boil and I am happy. This, this sprawling space, where the air plants warm kisses upon your cheeks as you step outside the car, where the grass sings high, dry notes, where baobabs stand Tokeinesque and tall, is real Africa. Lean. Hungry. Wanting. Waiting. My mother, when we lived on a tea farm, used to look sadly out at a garden fecund with canna lilies and loquats, a verdant lawn that touched the fringe of lime tea and say, ‘this isn’t real Africa’. She was right. It wasn’t. It was too fat.




Out of the mist the views are elastic and lean and stretch as the last light lingers long fingered as if it can’t bear to leave the prettiness behind. I can’t; I walk until almost nightfall, listening to the evening calls of bush birds and gathering guinea fowl feathers to tuck into my hat band.



And the next day we kiss The Boy goodbye, pile back into a car strewn with empty water bottles and crisp packets and biscuit crumbs and we slip through the highway-threaded national park where the elephant are uniquely and inexplicably small, nobody can tell me why , and we see grumpy buffalo staring up at us from the grass, small eyes crossed with ill humour, and we watch giraffe dance across the road ahead of us, no sound, and then stand perfectly still and gaze at us silently through impossibly long lashes.

buffalo roadside


photo (16)

We toil our way back up the valley where the corpses of vehicles lie as crushed testament to the hazards of the route, where baboons sit bored, scratching, waiting roadside for trash to be cast out of a slow moving truck windows so they might tear into the road and gather it up to either eat or examine and discard with disdain.

hazardous road

traffic corpses



A road which winds upwards just as the river beside it runs down, racing towards the sea, ‘what’s the rush?’, I wonder. And then I remember. I’m impatient to get out of those cold hills too.

mighty ruaha

But for now I’m back. Wearing slippers, curled into jumpers, watching the mist swirl where Africa masquerades as Scotland.


16 Responses to “Looking for Real Africa”

  1. Janelle Says:

    wow.the miles and miles you have done, dear A! when are you next in this part of the world? sending love and warmth! xxx j

  2. Kit Says:

    Evocative post and so so accurate your summing up the evolution of car journeys with kids – mine have reached the silently plugged in stage too and I kind of miss the squalling, singing along days… i think!

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      Thank you Kit. I don’t miss the squalling. But the singing … yes. Though my children probably don’t miss mine!

  3. Addy Says:

    Beautifully written. Kay is experiencing all this for herself (halfway though her placement already) and thoroughly enjoying it all although she knows she can return to the concrete jungle of London at the end of it.

  4. Marianne Says:

    Your writing is to die for,so evocative and full of feeling. Do you ever get published, I wonder? You deserve to.

    Thank you for sharing this, and the amazing photos, too.

  5. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you Marianne. That’s very kind. And yes I have: tried to get it published. People tell me, ‘oh keep trying, JK was turned down by 37 (?) publishers’. Trust me. I’ve had many more No’s than that! But I love playing with words. And I’m always so touched and so thrilled when somebody enjoys reading them.

  6. Carolyn Parnell Says:

    enjoy your post as usual…like seeing/reading africa through your eyes and… thoughts. It reminds me once africa is in our blood its there forever…I am currrently thoughlyencaged in reading about west africa…want to go back…..Carolyn from Canada

  7. Carolyn Parnell Says:

    god…sorry about the spelling errors !

  8. Donna Shaw Says:

    My favorite thing about blogging is seeing how others live in faraway places. Sounds beautiful there. My boy, still studying at university, just told me he and his wife are having a baby.

  9. Don Stoll Says:

    Lovely! I appreciate your attention to detail even more than the double irony of the title. If only Africa were single rather than plural, and if only it were simple enough to permit us knowledge of its reality. . . then it would be infinitely less interesting.

  10. Millennium Housewife Says:

    Ahhhhhhh, (stretches all satisfied), I’ve missed your writing, beautiful and evocative as always. Off to cuddle small children and convince them their future careers are based at home..

  11. Iota Says:

    Jobs for off-spring… Gosh…

    Lovely writing, as always.

  12. Connie Says:

    Love your writing. You put my feelings into words, so much so, that I understand my feelings more fully.

  13. Leaving Home | Reluctant Memsahib Says:

    […] now here. This house. This house in the tea deep in the misty moist mountainous southern reaches of Tanzania, perched above the oldest forests in Africa, from which, at this time […]

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