Archive for the ‘funny’ Category

Cause for Excitement

July 20, 2007

Yesterday two things gave rise to tremendous excitement.

Provisions for Hat’s home school arrived, all the way from America, courtesy of Expediated Mail Service. I received notification that I was to present at the Post Office, armed with ID, to collect my packages. Hat – enthused as she is about everything, including school – opted to come with me.

The Post Office is situated on a tiny, dusty road. It doesn’t look like it sees a great deal of business. Inside I walked to the EMS counter and waited for the woman sitting behind it to finish with the customer she was dealing with. She did and I approached, presented my paperwork and asked if she could help me.

She could not, she said. I was to take a seat. She gestured to the red plastic seat on which I’d been sitting waiting not two foot from her counter. I resumed waiting. We sat inches from each other, neither of us doing or saying anything. If you discount her grinning at a slightly unnerved Hat.

After a bit I suggested she call whomever it was that might be able to help. So she did. Over her shoulder to the partition next to her. A besuited man wearing a thick tie (in this heat?) approached and asked how he could help. I presented my paperwork.

You must wait for Customs to get here, he said, to clear your parcels.

But it’s just books, I protested, for her school, I said, pointing at Hat.  I’m not going to have to pay am I, I asked (books and educational supplies being tax exempt).

No, he said, but the Customs man must open your boxes.

With that he brought the three big cartons clearly marked with the homeschools details to within tantalizing view of Hat. And we proceeded to wait. Various people came and went, not many, one or two, everybody said hello and wanted to shake us by the hand. One gentleman was charmed to meet Hat, whom he called Cat, an error my little girl had the grace to overlook.

Finally, after alot of hand-shaking and sustained grinning at Hat by woman, still sitting idle, behind her counter, Customs appeared in form of short, fat man in green suit. He indicated I should follow him behind the desks and open my parcels which I did, sitting on the floor whilst he sat in a chair, with some difficulty since they were tightly taped up. He proffered a broken pair of scissors which I politely attempted to use but reverted to my teeth. As each box was opened he peered inside and dug about unearthing books on science and maths and critical thinking. He was clearly very disappointed not to discover something more incriminating. Finally he sat back in his seat, ‘You can go’, he said, waving a hand to motion we should leave with our parcels. Despite the bureaucratic performance with Customs, nodody asked for any ID. Hat and I, weighed down by boxes of books, tottered out to the car where Hat dove into her quarry with delight.  When we got home she insisted we unpack and tick off contents to ensure we had everything we needed to do school for a year; I have to admit to feeling a little overwhelmed by the two tomes called Teaching Manuals but will not let my anxiety spoil her evident joy.

Later second of the day’s highlights presented: my grass arrived. Lawn grass. Not spliff grass. Which might have improved Custom’s dayI suppose.

I am desperate to plant some semblance of a garden , to counter the permanence of dust. But I cannot get the necessary here so was obliged to prevail upon kind friends in Arusha to source and send a sack of grass. Which they duly, and sweetly, did; the grass was dispatched on a plane carrying ‘high end’ (that means they pay alot) tourists from Lake Tanganyika to the west of me back to Arusha to the east, the country being so large, they are forced to land and refuel in the Outpost. Geography might in this case be on my side.

Ben and I drove the few minutes to the airstrip and asked if we could wait runway side for a plane delivering a package.

Sawa, replied the gardener, or whoever he was, and indicated it was OK for us to proceed to the front of the tiny airport. We sat in the shade and waited, watching the big sky and listening for a plane. In due course it appeared and bumped down the dusty strip, coming to a halt in front of us. Interested tourists looked out at what must have been an odd sight: a remote African airstrip with nobody about but a white woman in a pair of shorts and her teenage son. The pilot, wearing stripes and and those faintly ridiculous and inevitable Aviator Shades, clambered out of the cockpit.

Hello, I said.

Hi.

Do you have a package for me, I persisted, despite his apparent lack of interest in any kind of conversation.

Yeah. Wait. I’ll get it.

We waited and watched the refuelling begin, the tourists got out to stretch their legs and get a better look at us.

Finally the pilot swaggered up with my bag of grass.

Are you on your way back to Arusha? I asked, how long will it take? Have you come from Mahale?

Jesus, he replied, you sure ask alot of questions.

I couldn’t resist it: ‘you would too’, I said, ‘if you lived here and didn’t get the opportunity for much conversation’.

Christ he said, you live here.

I ought to have said ‘no, I just hang about on bush strips looking to talk to pilots because I have nothing in the world better to do’. But I didn’t, I just nodded, took my bag of grass, thanked him and shot home to begin planting.

Celebrity Chef goes shopping

July 19, 2007

Hat and I go shoppping. Hat, bless her, has written a list (she hasn’t lived here long enough to know that you get to the  store, look at shelves, buy whatever is there, which isn’t much, in case its not there the next time, and then cater around your purchases). Anyway, she came armed with a list drawn up after consulting 100 Delicious Cakes and Biscuits to Bake. Hat is an aspirant celeb chef.

First stop was the market. Hat hoppped out of the car optimistically clutching her list. No Hat, I say, this is tomato and onion stop. Oh, she says, but presses on valiantly. I’ll carry your basket she volunteers.

We wander the dusty stalls and I wonder what I’m going to feed the family (beyond the inevitable tomatoes and onions which they are quite bored of despite my attempts to disguise them as egg curry, sausage casserole and chocolate mousse). Not much apparently. Though we do source some fat garlic and even fatter fresh ginger alongside which is being sold sachets of ginger powder. I can make ginger biscuits, says Hat with sweet enthusiasm as she hands over the necessary for a small packet.

I buy fruit. Passion fruit, from Arusha the vendors tell me excitedly. Like me, I tell them; I”m from Arusha. They laugh, as if that’s too improbable to believe: fruit from Arusha is one thing, a silly white woman quite another. The passion fruit is exorbitantly expensive and – I discover on closer inspection when I get home – mostly bad. I also buy two huge water melon and persuade Hat, who is now listing precariously to one side in a bid to lug basket, to let me help her. We add a suspiciously rank smelling pineapple to our collection, overpriced carrots (also from Arusha, I am told) and ten thin skinned naajis (tangerines) which turn out to be delicious.

Feeling mildy deflated we proceed to the grocery store which is a tiny dark windowless place with shelves stacked to the ceiling with unlikely items like packet Creme Caramel and pancake mixture. Hat stands at the glass counter consulting her list.

Bicarbonate of Soda? she enquires

Eh?

I don’t think they’ve got any Hat, I say, we’ll get some when we go to Arusha (where we’ll also get passion fruit and carrots considering the amount I’ve just forked out for both).

Dark Chocolate?

The assistant proffers a KitKat. Which will taste of Omo owing to close proximity to washing detergent. I know: I’ve bought chocolate here before.

Hat presses bravely on: Golden Syrup? she asks.

A blank look.

Not to worry she says, I’ll just use honey (the region produces quantities of the stuff; we have two huge mtungis of it at home which I worry nobody will eat since Ben referred to it as bee vomit).

We don’t leave with much but we have managed to find porridge oats and baking powder.

I’ll make muffins, says Hat, I’ve got everything I need to make muffins.

Except raisins I remind her.

Not to worry, she smiles, I don’t like raisins anyway.

She makes muffins.

They are delicious.

Hunter Gatherer

July 15, 2007

His Nibs, aka the Husband, got us all up at 5 this morning and drove us for two hours across the bush in order that we could eat breakfast somewhere different. And he could blat a few birds. For lunch. Or supper. Or whatever. The pot, anyway. Who needs Tesco, he’d say, when you can eat roadkill. Or similar.  My husband’s ancestral instincts are never far away: he’d be as happy living in a cave, wearing a bearskin and spearing mammoth for tea as he is living in a house with duck a l’orange in the oven. Indeed, he might be happier, were it not for the fact mammoth days would have meant he’d have been obliged to live without a fridge full of cold beer.

Whatever. We bounced our way the two hours back home, husband having satisified that primal hunter-gatherer thing men seem to harbour.  We met a roadside chameleon on the way and Hat gently hoisted him to safety, to the horror of several African women walking by; chameleons are unlucky as far as Africans are concerned.

Tomorrow I need to do some hunting-gathering of my own – to source loo paper and icing sugar …

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Does my bum look big in this?

June 16, 2007

It’s raining.Big, proper, black, noisy rain – like in Africa. The sky is a shroud and the thunder is rumbling crossly beneath it. We have had – according to the news, and in this region at any rate – the heaviest rainfall in a single day in over thirty years. I love that statistics such as heavy rain are recorded and filed in weather archives to be hauled out the next time the rain comes down in a big way.

It felt like the UK’s equivalent to a Monsoon, and it was, apparently: ‘the return of the Westerlies’. And it made me feel at home.

Between showers, Amelia and I went shopping. For clothes. In the shops that weren’t ‘closed due to flooding’.

‘Oooh, I love this shop’, exclaimed Amelia in every single store we entered, none of which she had ever been into in her life before. And ‘oooh, I love this top’, at almost every rail she visited. She wouldn’t let me go far when she went into the fitting rooms and kept hollering over the door, ‘Mum … Mum! … Mum?’ to make sure I hadn’t gone far. She got her hangers in a tangle and felt nervous approaching the till to pay. I don’t suppose there are many thirteen year old girls like that here. I am warmed by her naivete as much as I worry about it; am I preserving her childhood, her ‘innocence’, in Africa or preventing her from growing up like her Western peers?

As much as I enjoy the media whilst I am here – the papers, the magazines, GMTV – I can’t help noticing that Amelia is suddenly made aware of things I’d rather she remained oblivious of: stick insects with inflatable boobs masquerading as models (‘aren’t they beautiful, mum’ she whispers in tones of quiet reverence, ‘no darling, they look sick and tired and pale’) and Americans who tout books with literary titles like ‘Skinny Bitch’, a book the sales of which have soared since Victoria Beckham was spotted clutching a copy. Sorry. But I don’t want to look like Mrs B. And I especially don’t want my daughter to look like her.

But I think – for all the anxiety I feel at cosseting my daughter – the lessons she has received on skinny so far, courtesy of her African upbringing, are – paradoxically – healthier ones: as far as she knows, and long, oh please, long may it last, skinny equates to poverty and hunger and not having a choice. So perhaps I ought worry less. In African culture voluptuousness is celebrated. If you asked your friend, ‘does my bum look big in this?’ you’d want her to respond with a resounding, ‘yes’ not a disappointed ‘what bum?’.

Village life

June 10, 2007

The fete was an enormous success. Partly because it was all so novel. But largely because the girls were able to buy books and other’s people’s rubbish for less than a pound. I don’t know if they haggled prices as they would do in a market at home. I was afraid to listen. Instead I just revelled in their joy at purchasing – amongst other things – candles, earrings, a large china goose and a rather horrid little ship made of shells – at bargain prices. Ben bought five raffle tickets having persuaded himself he was bound to win the £100 first prize. He didn’t.

The Red Arrows flew over the village before the fete began. Amelia insisted we walk to the village green to watch them. Trying to persuade her that we’d see them from any point in the (enormous) sky above the (small) village proved futile. The children and I made our way up the lane to the green and mid way heard a huge roar above us. We all ducked (as you do).

What was that? the children gasped.

The Red Arrows, apparently. We missed them.

In the evening my aunt and uncle, who live next door to mum, popped in on a new neighbour to welcome them to the village. It transpired they’d been living here for twelve years and had merely moved house. I thought that was screamingly funny. Had this been Africa, not only would you have known them in the first few weeks, you’d have had them round, been invited back, bitched endlessly about them and wept copiously when they moved on. Perhaps in Africa we need people more but our tolerance only extends so far; newcomers are welcomed with alacrity into communities but this doesn’t mean they’re safe from merciless gossips with not enough to do other than order tea from ranks of uniformed staff.

Today I can enjoy the Sunday papers. A noted luxury. The Sunday Times isn’t the same online; you can’t hear the rustle of newsheet and nor are you obliged to spread out on the floor as you read. Bliss.

Big Night Out Beauty Pageant

June 5, 2007

I had precisely six days in my new home before I had to be on the move again.

Six days in which to familiarize myself with my new environs (so that I knew vaguely where to buy loo paper and bread); six days in which to reintroduce dogs to cats and ensure everybody was reasonably well and happy (even dogs seem bemused at cats new found affection for one another) and six days in which to unpack so that some semblance of ‘home’ was achieved before I had to leave again.

Happily the six days also afforded some insight into Outpost’s social life. Unhappily I think I witnessed the annual highlight on the social calendar on day three so presumably have little else to look forward to for the remaining 362 days of the next twelve months.

I attended the annual beauty pageant, the winning local contestant would go forward to the national finals.

I have never attended a beauty show in my life, far less one in Tanzania. And I anticipated the evening with a mixture of ‘oh God, no!’ dread and ‘oh goody! Writing fodder!’glee. My husband exhibited much more of the former and was hoping I would not find the complimentary tickets I thought I had lost in the detritus of unpacking. Unluckily for him, I did and off we went.

The evening was hosted at the local hotel, one time guest house for visiting Kaiser early in the last century. It is pivotal to everything that happens in this tiny place and home to everybody who visits. Including us. When we first came. Its proportions are magnificent. Its décor marginally less so. But that all adds to the undeniable charm of the place, which is supplemented by the flamboyant Pashtun proprietor who claims long-time local genealogy.

The seating was arranged such that those of us with higher price complimentary tickets were seated conspicuously close to the runway and just behind the judges.

‘No bloody sneaking off early, then?’ complained His Nibs.

Already the music was pumping loudly and lots of failed wannabe beauty queens, fatly squeezed into sequined dresses and micro skirts, were parading obviously whilst talking into cell phones. Alongside the runway was a lurid red and gold three piece suite, vast sofa and arm chairs upholstered in faux velvet. I wondered who was going to sit there. Until I realized it constituted first prize, along with 150 quid in cash.

We ordered beers and husband introduced me to the eclectic assortment of people he has met since taking up residence here. (After a mere seven weeks he is painfully know-all about everything from Who’s Who to where to buy loo paper and how to get to the bakery). I met hotel owner’s English (from Lancashire) wife and their beautiful daughter. I met two Indian men who own a profitable transport business. I met several of my husband’s new colleagues (African, Greek, English) and I met a couple of young American volunteers who viewed me – the newcomer – with disdain. I wanted to tell them I had been in Africa for longer than they’ve been alive but feared that’d rather give my age away. And being at a beauty contest one feels compelled to at least feign youth.

After several beers and a lot of very loud music courtesy of a local band (so that I couldn’t hear anything of what my husband’s new friends said so that now they either think I am very, very stupid for nodding dumbly or are delighted because I have agreed to host company Christmas party for 600 employees, their wives, children and mothers-in-law) the show began.

A tall Tanzanian girl, calling herself MC2, stepped onto the stage to introduce us to each of the 11 contestants. She wore impossibly high heels and was – apparently – according to a man who is clearly a regular follower of the country’s beauty pageants, Number Three Runner Up In Last Year’s Nationals. I nodded and made some polite sounds (inaudible above the racket so he probably thinks I am mute) whilst I thought to myself that either last year’s competition wasn’t that stiff or complacency has improved her appetite; she clearly doesn’t ever ask herself – or anybody else – ‘does my bum look big in this?’. Yes honey, it does. Huge. Enormous. Gargantuan.

No matter. She had bags of self confidence and introduced the girls with aplomb. Whilst regarding them smugly – as you’d expect Number Three Runner Up In Last Year’s Nationals to regard mere entrant from small dusty one-horse town in middle of absolutely bloody nowhere. The girls sashayed out onto the runway in assorted gowns, most wore hair extensions so that long straight tresses fell down their backs. One wore a headdress which was about 2 ft tall which I thought a very clever tactic for she was short and quite fat and the extra height afforded by headgear gave illusion of elegance. All of them introduced themselves – in Kiswahili – and in true Miss World style informed the several hundred spectators that they enjoyed reading novels, going to the movies (where? Here? I don’t think so … bunch of fibbers) and wanted to study law and Save The World.

After all 11 had paraded in evening wear, MC2 told us they were going to model Beachwear.

‘Beachwear?’ I hissed to the man next to me, an English man who has lived here for seven years, ‘but this is a Muslim territory’ (where the women peep coyly out of black bui buis).

‘It won’t be beachwear as you and I know it’, he said with authority.

Contestant Number One minced onto the runway in an itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny yellow polka dot bikini with a scrap of chiffon tied about her hips feigning modesty.

I raised my eyebrows at neighour who admitted, ‘Oh. Perhaps it is. Beachwear as we know it, I mean’.

I was staggered. What will their fathers think I wondered?

The men in the audience guffawed loudly and cheered. Sexism clearly isn’t a sin here.

When the last of the bikini-clad beauties had strutted off the runway in exaggerated catwalk style (putting each foot directly in front of the other as they strode so that their hips swung and they looked like they were making a dash for the loo) we were informed by MC2 that we were to await the judges decisions and whilst this was under discussion we’d be treated to some more live music.

With that a very, very old man wearing a Trilby, a brilliant shiny blue suit and those two tone Black and White minstrel shoes trotted onto the stage clutching a red electric guitar. The applause was tumultuous. He was clearly a local celebrity who had – according to the beauty pageant voyeur – produced a hit in 1978.

Right.

Old Man Rocker took off from a Presley stance in Armstrong tones. He wiggled and twisted and shimmied and showed us that despite his age, he has absolutely no need of either hip or knee replacement. Dozens of members of the audience danced up onto the catwalk to join him and thrust 10,000/- notes into his waistband. Whether because they were fans or wanted to cop a slice of his 15 minute fame by getting their faces on the telly (oh yes, local television station was there too), I have no idea.

By the time his number was up and he had come to a halt, half way to the splits, guitar held aloft, the crowd was on its feet.

The return of the beauties was mildly disappointing after such showmanship but – not to be out done and presumably in a last ditch attempt to secure a top slot – several of them (but not all so this part was clearly optional extra) wriggled back on stage to perform a little dance. MC2 was obviously getting a bit tired of aspirant national beauty queens determined to shove her from top slot (or at least that of national Runner Up No 3) so she was reduced to waving them impatiently offstage when she thought they’d had enough of the lime light.

Alas by then we’d had enough too; it was after midnight and a result looked like a while coming. We crept off home to bed and heard the next day that contestant No 1 (easily the most composed) won. She came from the capital, Dar, apparently. Which would explain her passion for ‘the movies’. Perhaps her punishment for cheating (because she wasn’t a local girl, but perhaps none of them were?) will be the price she’ll have to pay to get the enormous three piece suite home.

A good evening out on the town? Absolutely. Outpost living is going to be more fun than I thought. Albeit it only once a year.

Cooked Cats

June 5, 2007

Since their move, my cats have undergone a fundamental personality change.

Where once they could not bear to share the same space – hardly even the same house – they will now concede to share the same bed – mine – without so much as the hint of a spat never mind a full scale, fur flying, brawl.

Had I not heard the details of their transit to Outpost I would have been bemused.

A needlessly embarrassed friend, he who was arm-twisted into permitting my cats space on a flight he was making to Outpost, asked me, subsequent to the cats travels, whether my cats were behaving oddly at all. I had not seen them at that point but as far as husband could tell, they seemed perfectly well and remarkably relaxed about relocation.

Oh good said friend, visibly relieved.

I pressed him for details.

It transpired that on Check In, he had plonked briefcase, shoes, watch, belt, cell phone and – unwittingly – cat box onto conveyor belt into x-ray machine. It was a few seconds before he realized what he’d done and then only because airport security went mad as two feline skeletons showed up on the screens.

Aaaaagh! screamed the woman operating the machine, ‘what do you think you are you doing? You cannot put animals through the security x-ray!’ Several astonished tourists witnessed the proceedings as did my friend’s travel companions who suggested, laughing hard, that he may have a problem explaining to cats’ owner – me – that he’d nuked her pets.

I cannot decide whether the cats new found friendship is because their cerebral chemistry has been affected by irradiation or because the trauma of same has forged an alliance that previously did not exist.

No matter. For the house is more peaceful this way.

And the point of khaki is what, precisely?

May 25, 2007

I have a question: why do tourists to Africa wear khaki? 

I mean, I can understand the theory of khaki (so that you can creep through the undergrowth undetected, or render yourself invisible in the desert in a sort of khaki/sand blur if you’re member of poor allied forces in the Middle East).  I just can’t fathom why American and Italian and Japanese visitors going ‘on safari’ need wear it? 

Yesterday Mum and I – enjoying a sandwich in tourist hangout which is en route to school so handy place to enjoy a sandwich if you find yourself early for pick up but in time for lunch – witnessed the arrival of dozens and dozens of khaki coloured land cruisers which were disgorging dozens and dozens of matching khaki clad Americans, most quite fat and all talking – loudly – at the same time. If they purchased khaki garments in which they were attired for camouflage purposes, their strident tones – and acres of blindingly white flesh – was something of a give away. One of the fattest and loudest was wearing a khaki mini skirt. She’d have scared away the most daring of buffaloes; indeed she almost put me off my lunch. One of her companions was on the wrong continent altogether: she was sporting tiger stripes. 

See here’s a thing: if tourists believe that wearing khaki trousers/shorts/shirts/faintly ridiculous multi-pocketed/zipped waistcoats will mean they’ll see larger numbers of elusive game, they won’t – not only will the sound of a dozen voices all shrilly emanating from matching khaki coloured land cruisers at once scare any lurking game away, but also – like khaki coloured tourists – khaki coloured land cruisers are rather inclined to stick together and the roar of 17 4x4s and the dust they combine to throw heavenwards (not to mention energetic conversational outpouring) is a dead giveaway to a family of cheetah, say.  ‘Oh bugger’, that cats will grumble crossly, just as they’ve found a nice acacia for a siesta, ‘those bloody tourists who think we can’t see them are on the approach again. Sod it’. And they’ll push off. Occasionally, of course, they’re a little slow off the mark and are copped mid-escape to be exposed to khaki-clad paparazzi who still think they can’t be seen despite all popping out of roof hatches like meercats out of holes, wielding cameras that buzz and whirr and flash irritatingly. Every cheetah in Africa knows precisely how Kate Moss feels, believe me. 

And I can’t help wondering, when they get home, the tourists, to Loughborough or Slough or Colorado or Tokyo, what they do with safari ensemble. Once they’ve ticked off the Big Five will they feel compelled to return to Africa (which would give khaki pants the chance for a second outing)? Or will it be relegated to back of wardrobe along with all the clothes that used to fit them when they were 19 and which they – somewhat optimistically – believe they’ll get back into one day, despite being in their fifties.  I know it never gets worn ‘back home’: I mean have you ever seen a khaki attired shopper wearing a bush hat and sporting a pair of binoculars around his neck stalking the aisles of Tesco, pushing a trolley?

My Upwardly Mobile Geese

May 24, 2007

The geese are gone. And I miss them already; the garden is too quiet without their scolding the Hadada ibis and chiding the dogs, and the lawn too large without interruption afforded by their comical pit-pat waddle. I packed them into a laundry basket yesterday morning and drove them to my friend. She lives on a hill which is inhabited by a crowd rumoured to be too posh to mingle with other common or garden Arusha residents. But I suspect geography has a bigger part to play in their isolation than any conscious social act on their part. 

But her own two geese rather endorse what the rumour mongers suggest. They regard my three, which look a bit grubby and disheveled when I unload them from laundry baskets, with undiluted disdain. Then they toss their snow white heads and stalk off. 

A while later, and as I’m leaving my friend’s after a cup of coffee, I notice my geese wandering off in vague direction of home, several miles away, looking lost and a bit deflated.  I stop the car, leap out and herd them back in general direction of friend’s stables where her own geese live. And then I call her to explain.  She is as concerned as I that my geese are made to feel at home. She has since assured me they are holed up in clean, dry chicken house with buckets of feed. ‘If I give them enough to eat’, she says, ‘they’ll begin to feel at home and stay put’. So the gossips are wrong: it is geography and not snobbery that separates this community from everybody else – my friend’s geese just don’t see enough of others to know how to behave, for their owner certainly does, as demonstrated by her graceful and warm hospitality.

Moving Mango Trees

May 24, 2007

James, shamba boy, or gardener, young and keen and planning to accompany us to the Outpost calls me whilst I am on the school run. ‘Mama’, (he is young enough – or has been sufficiently infused with socialist tradition courtesy of parents who grew up in Nyerere’s days –  not to call me Memsahib, thankfully), ‘the lorry driver has called to say he needs money for fuel’. 

The lorry driver in question – Ali – works for the transport company which is employed to transport last load – mainly mango trees – to Outpost. He left my house two days ago and assured me he’d be in Outpost by Wednesday evening, which it is now; but he is still in Arusha; less than 10 miles from my house. I call Ali’s employer in Outpost – a talkative Indian called Navinda who speaks in quick and heavily accented tones.  

‘Bloody locals’, he says, ‘he is just trying it on, he has plenty plenty money for fuel, ignore him. Please do not pay him anything’. Which I wasn’t planning to do, just thought it prudent to alert Navinda as to whereabouts of his truck in case he thought it was me holding up proceedings. Besides quite keen to get my mango trees to Outpost before they all die. Coals to Newcastle or not. 

On cue, James calls again, driver has called a second time to say that unless I get him some money – and quickly – all the mango trees will die. I call Navinda again. 

‘Please, please’, he instructs with comical urgency, ‘do not give this man any money, he is just pulling a wool over your eyes’. I assure him I knew that anyway since I’ve lived here all my life. But please could driver water my plants. Navinda gruffly agrees to relay my message, it is clear he is left in little doubt as to my state of mind: mad white woman. 

Half an hour later poor James calls again, ‘the driver says he is very sorry, Mama, but he has just seen his boss who has given him money for fuel so he can proceed with his journey’. Funny that: his boss is 650 klms and a two day drive away.