That I am a third generation Celt in Africa, means I am a Memsahib, like it or not. I’d rather be mama or dada (sister) or – especially – simply addressed by name. None would bear bloodycolonial connotation. But no, third generation and white, African logic (or quiet humour) dictates I am memsahib.
Reluctant because – like my grandmother and my mother before me – I do not believe one’s staff should be trussed up in uniform, I balk at their waiting at table and I never lock up the sugar. No, I’d far rather everybody wear what they want, motley and colourful as it may be, I’d hate anybody to wait on me, but especially somebody who mightn’t have had their own supper and everybody’s happier when their tea’s sweet enough.
I live here – in Tanzania – with my husband and our children, and – over the years – an assortment of dogs, cats, geese, ducks, chickens, cows, a couple of pigs (been and gone), an orphaned dik dik, numerous hamsters (eaten by assorted cats) and a hornbill that looked like a French tart.
Until a few months ago I lived on a farm within easy striking distance of one of the country’s busiest cities: easy striking meant day school, regular appointments with my hairdresser, lunches with friends and a perpetual battle with headlice which rendered me persona non grata in the school park.
But I now live in an Outpost of significant note, a place once famous as brief home to Dr Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley, a place remembered for its war time German architecture and prolific mango trees: testimony of the caravans of early slavers. My older children have had to be bundled off to boarding school a 12 hour drive away. No more lunches with the girls (instead I conduct expensive and lengthy telephone conversations which aren’t the same at all), my highlights need doing, my toenails aren’t nearly as pretty as they once were. And if my children have nits, I’m too far away to know.
I write, I walk, I teach my youngest at home in lieu of a school run and I try not to mind being memsahib.