Archive for the ‘home school’ Category

Bottling Memories

January 31, 2008

We went for a walk yesterday evening, Hat and I; we drove to the plot of land adjacent to husband’s office, a few acres forested with enormous mango trees and overlooking distant kopjes sheathed in green where the dogs can race about, chasing vervet monkeys up trees from where they laugh and tease. Often we see mongoose here, peeping from their burrows in termite mounds. But they’re gone in a trice: the scent of the Labradors has sent them back down to the bowels of the earth from where we hear their indignant scolding: ‘why don’t you bugger off and leave us alone, and take those sodding great beasts with you’.

We have to drive across town before we can walk.

I think I’ll wear my new glasses’, said Hat as she donned a fragile contraption fashioned of chocolate wrappers and tin foil.

She spent our short journey waving and smiling at all the Africans she saw on the shabby little streets of the Outpost. Most waved and smiled back, some looked mildly startled to witness a child sporting psychedelic spectacles gesticulating madly out of the window. Occasionally she experimented with a royal wave:

‘Look mama, this is how the Queen waves’ (how does she know?).

‘Do you think the queen has a mobile phone?’ (where do children’s questions come from?)

She wears her glasses for the entire duration of our walk. Peering down into anthills willing the mongoose to come out. I imagined them staring back up, unseen from their hiding place in dim mud interiors, ‘Good God! What on earth is that?!’ they’d have exclaimed to one another in horror.

‘The grass is much greener when you’re looking on the bright side’, she told me.

That’s got to be a good thing: especially in Africa.

Driving home, the dogs sated, Hat began to recite nursery rhymes. And I joined in, teaching her the mutated versions we learned at school, 

 Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

All the King’s horses and all the King’s men said,

‘Oh no! Not scrambled egg AGAIN’!

Hat squealed with laughter, ‘that’s so funny Mummy’.

There are moments, little fleeting moments in life, like bubbles: you want to catch them and hang onto them forever, but you know they’ll only pop. I wonder couldn’t we bottle those brief, perfect memories, preserve them forever, like scent. Then, when disillusioned, or sad, or tired, we could uncap their precious contents and allow them perfume our disenchantment away? 

I wanted to bottle yesterday evening.

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 Hat and I are going away for a few days: Hat to school, proper school, so that she can engage with children her own age, me to have my highlights done.

Granted 500 miles is a long way to travel for a play date and an appointment with your hairdresser, but needs must.

Not least because Hat responded, when I queried what the population of the Outpost might think of a child wearing enormous homemade spectacles leaning out of a car window waving frantically, ‘they will say, oh look, there goes that nutty child. With her even nuttier mother’.

Yup. Time to get back to the real world. For a bit.

Empty Nest

January 17, 2008

There is an abandoned cricket bat in the back of my car.

It’s a metaphor for the sudden emptying of the house.

My son forgot it there. I’ll leave it where it is; lying behind my seat. Then every time I open the rear door to dump or retrieve shopping I shall see it and can briefly imagine him home and ready to bat a ball about.

We came home from our school run to find the house too tidy. Too quiet. Too jolly empty. Tiny pokey rooms have found big voices in their echoey amplification.

You can see the floor in Amelia’s room; no longer is it strewn with shoes, discarded clothes which she optimistically hopes will grow legs all of their own and make their way to the laundry basket unaided. No longer is there a cockroaches’ banquet of cereal bowls encrusted with muesli under her bed (remnants of midnight feasts, my daughter a hungry owl who makes nocturnal forays into the kitchen whilst we are fast asleep). The carpet in her room is no longer tangled. It has been pulled regimentally straight as if to compete for brownie points with the hospital corners of her bed. Drawers and cupboard doors are closed, no longer regurgitating their contents in colourful ribbons that hang out waiting to party with the debris on the floor. Why do I nag her to tidy her room; it’s very neatness now a miserable reminder she isn’t here.

And Ben’s, smaller, is similar, clinically spic and span. His bats (all but one) are standing to attention in the corner of the room, no longer languishing on the floor waiting for a game, waiting to trip me up. His shoes lined against the wall, toes pointing orderly ready to salute. I sit on his bed and notice a stray sock peeking out from beneath it. It has gathered a happy amount of dust.

I have regained control of the TV remote: no longer do I have to catch snatches of news between cricket test matches and rowdy music from pop bands with unpronounceable names. But dour monotones issuing forth from BBC World don’t make me want to dance, not like Mika does, until Amelia begs me to stop: ”Maaaaaarm, you’re so embarrassing!”.

The scatter cushions on the sofa are no longer scattered because a teen lies sprawled in their place. Instead they’re sitting up stiffly. All plumped and pompous.

Hat says, ”school’s OK Mum but I prefer the holidays”.

I know what she means.

Why don’t you play in your brother and sisters’ rooms I ask. She looks a little doubtful, their territory, clearly marked (doors plastered with Keep Out signs and lewd skull and crossbones) is usually out of bounds. Go on, I urge.

She does. Ben’s bedroom floor is now a deathtrap of Lego shrapnel and the miniature residents of her doll’s house for whom she is building a hotel, she says.

Perhaps she and I can escape there one weekend?

Animal Farm

November 22, 2007

I was supposed to go home to the Outpost on Monday.

But I didn’t. Because Hat was too ill.

I awoke in the middle of the night on Sunday to a plaintive little voice by my ear:

Mummy, I feel horrid, my head is so sore.

It must have been; it was very hot.

By 8am we were in the clinic in town repeating blood tests for the fourth time in as many days. The kindly Indian doctor whom we saw decided to treat her for malaria despite no evidence of parasites on slides – ‘we cannot afford to take a risk’, he said, and typhoid, presumably for the same reason: no point in taking risks. Hat, chalk white with big black circles under her eyes, began to throw up into a plastic shopping bag.

The rest of my day was spent monitoring and coaxing sips of water into her. If she doesn’t drink, said the doctor, we’ll have to admit her and put up a drip. Hat’s seen the inside of the local hospital enough times to know she’s not especially keen on a sleepover. She drank.

By Tuesday, though, she was much better. Head less sore. Pallor less ghostly.

By Wednesday one of the flock of sheep owned by the generous friends who have tolerated our presence in their lovely home for almost two weeks obliged by producing a lamb. Whilst his mother was out grazing, Hat stepped in as nanny. The lamb, which she has named Rug, took to his day time charge with alacrity and skipped around the garden behind her. When he grew tired, Hat scooped him up and folded him into her lap on the verandah whilst she read her book.

I didn’t like having a bad headache, she confided, but I do like looking after a lamb which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I hadn’t got sick.

School, needless to say, has gone by the board for now. Partly because she’s been so unwell. But also because I cannot force her nose to books and long division when there are lessons in life happening a spit from where she eats her breakfast.  Speech marks and verb identification can wait whilst she absorbs something else. She, somewhat predictably, wants to take the lamb home to the Outpost.

You can’t, I tell her, at least not until it’s weaned.

It has already, she says excitedly (for surely this means it will be hers now), all over the bedroom floor and I cleaned it up – just to prove she is responsible enough to own a lamb.

Weaned, honey, I say. Not wee’d.

   

Gone Fishing

November 2, 2007

map-lake-tanganyika.jpg

Tomorrow we are going to Lake Tanganyika.

Because of this – and because our safari will mean she misses several days of school – Hat has embarked on a project Hat in the Footsteps on the Great Explorers. She is reading a child’s history on Livingstone in honour of our expedition and tells me Livingstone was cool. She is astounded that Burton – who with Speke discovered the lake in 1853 – mastered 30 languages and she is hard pressed to comprehend the significance of Stanley’s ”Livingstone, I presume?” when he finally found the doctor on the lake’s shores in Ujiji.  He was the first white man to sight Livingstone, who was missing and believed by many to be dead, in six years I tell her. She’s not quite as impressed as I’d hoped she’d be.

Tanganyika is the second largest freshwater lake in the world, and the second deepest. Which is why the first explorers dubbed it an inland sea. It is bordered by four countries: Tanzania, Burundi, the DRC and Zambia and is clearly visible from space.

the-lake-from-space.jpg

The lake has played a prominent role in history since Burton and Speke’s time: it was the scene of two important battles during WW1; in the mid sixties the Argentian revolutionary Che Guevara used the western shores of the lake as a training ground for guerrila forces in the Congo and in the 90’s Michael Palin spent time on the lake during the BBC’s Pole to Pole series aboard the MV Liembe which was once a German ship called the Graf von Götzen.  Bombed by the allies in June of 1916, scuttled by the Germans a month later, in a bid to prevent it falling into enemy hands and eventually repaired and reborn as the MV Liemba, the ship is still busily afloat and doing lake runs today.

Hat’s wish list for the weekend is growing according to her reading: she wants to witness the place of Stanley’s immortal words to the doctor, she wants to take a ride on the MV Liembe and she wants to ”sit on the beach”. Her father wants to swim and snorkel – the lake is home to over 400 species of fish, many of them as brilliantly coloured as tropical seafish. And he wants to buy fish to bring home for the deep freeze.

Like he did when we went to Mwanza on Lake Victoria – further north than Lake Tanganyika and ascribed as being infamous Source by John Hanning Speke. Mwanza is a straggling ugly town, the worst kind of example of African urbanization: chaotic, ill-planned, straddling the ”balancing rocks” and kopjes that abound upon which have mushroomed the town’s extensive slums.

Not suprisingly, therefore, Mwanza generates alot of sewage which might be a problem elsewhere but which it isn’t there since lake is handy dumping ground. The city’s effluent is poured into the lake and the fish – as a result, and certainly those close to the town (most of them I should think, certainly those with a bit of savvy about where a meal is to be found) – are very fat.

During our evening in Mwanza we enjoyed an excellent chicken curry. Not fish, husband said, ”absolutely not fish, I know what they eat around here”.

Quite, I agreed and got stuck in my Chicken Tikka.

I was somewhat suprised the next morning, then, to hear husband announce he was off to buy fish from the market to bring home for the deep freeze.

But you wouldnt’ order fish, last night, I said. On account of its diet.

I know, he said, but I shall buy fish that were caught from the middle of the lake. Not those that feast on crap near the town.

Ah. Right. Silly me.

And you would – of course – be able to tell, in the fish market, which fish came from where.

lake-tanganyika-an-inland-sea.jpg

Not Enough Hours in the Day …

November 1, 2007

When I moved to the Outpost, people asked, in tones of ill-disgused alarm, ”but what are you going to do all day?”

Defensively (because there’s no other way to respond a question that suggests you are about to relocate to position of exceedingly dull) I said, ”oh I’ll be fine, I’m very good at entertaining myself”.

I’m not. Not terribly. But I am very good at sort of faffing. Immersing myself in the here and now and being quite happy to plod about there. I write. Or at least that’s what I tell people I do (and sometimes it’s true) and writing is a gloriously time consuming career; I can spend hours gazing out of the window dressing daydreaming up as loftier Writer’s Block.

I had envisaged evolving as a Domestic Goddess. Drumming up 101 exciting things to do with a mango (souffle? chutney? jam?) but alas I find that geography hasn’t improved my desire to spend time in the kitchen.

I thought about learning French. But I haven’t got round to registering with Rosetta Stone.  Too busy, you see.

Doing what? I hear you ask.

Well. I get up. Anywhere between half four and half seven depending on whether insomnia has plagued or not. I drink tea. I check emails.  I get Hat up.

We whizz a smoothie for breakfast (water melon, pineapple and banana – every day because the market offers nothing else) and make some toast. I drink more tea.

We do school. Until almost lunchtime. It depends on whether or not we have any experiments to set up. We did yesterday; currently we are breeding bacteria from soup in three water bottles. Hat can’t wait to see what they smell like after three days. I can.

Sometimes there’s time before lunch then to nip to Kaidi The Arab’s duka to shop. Or practice shopping at any rate; rarely do we acheive our list so we just get what we can, stand at a counter and listen to the ding of an old till (I feel it’s important to maintain an understanding of shopping protocol, lest I forget – something my husband says is unlikely to happen). Sometimes we go to the market. For bananas, water melons and pineapples.

Husband comes home for lunch and we eat a sandwich. Or a chapati with tuna stuffed inside masquerading as trendier Wrap.  I was quite pleased with my (rare) domestic ingenuity in the sandwich/Wrap thing but poor old Husband and Hat getting a mite bored of them now I think.

After lunch Hat reads. She takes herself (and whichever author is prevailing favourite) off to the South American string hammock donated by a great aunt which is strung between two lemon trees and reads and rocks and occassionally sings. Which is truly fabulous to behold.  Sometimes she dons her dad’s sunglasses.

I can watch her from where I am Working (aka gazing out the window having succumbed to another irksome bout of Writers Block). She is oblivious of me. It’s the best way to watch a child. When they don’t know you are.

We swim in the afternoon. When the heat becomes so oppressive we can’t think straight anymore and are sliding into that sleepy place the dogs and cats seem to occupy all day, we pile into our small pool and cool off. Hat invents all kinds of mad games, yesterday’s game involved trying to float in a bucket atop the water. We sank. Sometimes we throw pennies and race to collect them. Sometimes we swim, independently of each other, she in her own watery world, me in mine.

Then, towelled dry we drink tea, Hat at her homework, me at my laptop (the reality of a deadline having finally dawned). Sometimes Hat does her homework sitting in the swing her dad made her out of an old tractor tyre.

The dogs wake from their heat induced reverie and begin to bug us for a walk, which means driving to the dam. Which we do, as the sun is sinking taking the ennervating broil of the day with it as it collapses into syrupy yellows and mellow pinks behind the mango trees and distant kopjes.

We’re home by dark, Hat is tipped into a bath as I take courage and face my kitchen in a bid to throw some semblace of supper together. She emerges with wet hair to enquire what we’re going to eat, politely (and prudently) says, ”oh yum” and disappears to play with instructions to ”put some mozzi spray on” ringing in her ears. Husband opens me a beer as I ferret in the fridge.

By eight we’ve eaten whatever it is I’ve managed to throw together. By nine I’m fading in front of the telly and urging Hat to go to bed. She is indignant. But I want to read/play/write a letter to Alice.

But you can’t I tell her, because it’s bed time and you have school tomorrow (a school she and I have dubbed the Outpost Academy of Excellence).

She makes a face. ”Do you know Mum, I am just too busy these days, I never have any time for anything”.

I’m delighted.

For as much as I was pretty sure I could muddle my way through long days in isolation, I did harbour unspoken fears about Hat being bored.

That she isn’t, that she’s trying to wiggle out of bedtime because she still has things to do, is heartening in the extreme.

How to make Money

October 5, 2007

With Christmas trotting towards us at unseemly pace (even in Muslim dominated, far from anywhere, Outpost we notice this: thanks to satellite television and the calendar counting of a ten year old).

Hat works up to her point with enormous grace and subtly. At first.

”I love Christmas Mum”.

”Do you? I do too’.

”Why do you love it?”

”Because the people I love most in the world are at home”.

”That’s nice”, she acknowledges, with a smile, ”I love it more than my birthday, even”.

”More than your birthday, why’s that?”

”Because on my birthday only I get presents, at Christmas everybody does”.

”That’s nice, Hat”. (I’m a bit distracted, I’m driving to the market and trying to avoid the bicycles that straggle untidyly and dangerous along the road)

”I like giving presents, Mum”.

”Me too”

”But I’m not sure if my pocket money is going to be enough to get presents for all the people I want to buy for” (I empathize – especially given that her list is about four times longer than mine will be).

”You’ll have to save hard”.

”Could I work, do you think? Do chores?” 

”If you promise to leave less of your rubbish scattered around the house, I may up your pocket money”.

She’s not impressed; she’s talking big bucks here. And grand schemes. Grander certainly than picking up her own dirty socks.

”Why don’t I go to work in Kaidi’s shop?”

Kaidi is the Arab who runs the local duka (we arrive armed with ambitious shopping list and leave with 40 loo rolls and a Bounty to make us feel better). Hat would barely be able to see above his counter far less get at stuff on shelves. She might attract business though; nobody’s ever seen a white child serving in a shop in this part of the world. Ever.

”You can’t do that”.

”Why not? I’ve seen Indian and African children working in shops here”.

”Yes, I know, but they’re Tanzanians, you can’t work here because you’re not”.

”How does dad work here, then?”

(This conversation is going waaaaaaay off track).

”He has a work permit”.

”Can’t I get a work permit?”

”No Hat, you can’t. Let’s think of some other way you can make some money”.

Hat does. That evening she invites me into her bedroom. Once again it’s decorated with candles, much like it was when we visited Madame Marcia.  Hat, however, looks a bit different this time; she has donned something resembling a multi-coloured wig made of that glitzy ribbon smarter people than I use to knot elaborately around gifts.

”Who are you?” I ask (I know better than to assume she’s still Hat).

”Medusa”.

(We have learned about Medusa as part of our History of Art course in school; Hat has drawn a picture of her which now glowers down at me from schoolroom walls).

”You seem quite friendly to be Medusa”, I observe

She grins and proceeds with business like haste, no time for small talk, Medusa, clearly.

”Now listen”, she instructs bossily, ”I have alot of useful things here for you to buy”.

Ah.

She proffers a host of small dishes and bowls which as far as I can tell in the dim light thrown by two flickering candles contain the likes of soy sauce, coriander seeds, cinnammon bark and a mixture of unpopped popcorn and lentils.

”This”, says Medusa, motioning to the soy sauce, ”is dragon’s blood. It will protect you against snakes, but will attract bats. It is 50/- a portion” (Clever, clever girl; she knows I hate snakes but don’t mind bats).

”These”, she continues, indicating the coriander seeds, ”are memories, their smell is more than enough to knock a knight from his steed. If you manage to take a sniff without dying (I do – sniff – and I don’t – expire), your memory will become 100% better” (another clever obervation about her mother on my daughter’s part: I spend my life hunting for car keys because I can’t remember where I put them, whilst simultaneously swearing – I used to say pardon my French until Hat said ”I’m learning French now, you know, and that’s not French”).

”They’re also 50/-”.

Medusa/Hat proceeds, ”these are crushed dragon bones. They are brilliant in rabbit stew and if you eat them like that, you’ll be able to jump twice as high as you can now” (that’d be handy) although dragons won’t like you much (oh dear).

The cinnamon bark is snake skin, I am told, harvested from her own tresses/gift tie and will render me ”Medusa’s new sister”.

The small glass of what looks like apple juice is – apparently – pig’s urine which will quench my thirst for ten hours but then I will always have to drink it or I shall always be thirsty. Or something like that. Which will, of course, oblige me to keep buying the stuff … a very clever marketing ploy I felt?

Hat tallies up what I’ve bought – or rather she counts up the cost of the seven ingredients she has thrust upon me presuming I have a need of all of them. She looks crestfallen.

”That’s only 350/-” she says, but then she brightens,” oh that’s far too cheap, I’ve made a mistake: everything is 100/- each: 700/- please.  You can drop it at the door as you leave”.

I do. In fact I pay her double (which only amounts to about a dollar); the entertainment alone was worth ten times that.

Sundried Tomatoes and Body Piercings

October 3, 2007

Amelia telephones – actually she doesn’t (after all, why waste money calling your mother when you can save your credit to sms your mates whilst your mother, because she could not possibly ignore it, responds to urgent free Call Me message with alacrity), I call her.

My piercing came out, Mum.

I feign disappointment.

But don’t worry, I’ve got a replacement.

Oh Amelia! I beseech, Why?

Because it’s cool Mum (this delivered in tones that remind me I am old, stupid and utterly devoid of anything approaching lukewarm, far less cool).

Does it hurt.

No. Not at all.

Who did it?

I did, during prep.

Marvellous. All that money on her education and she’s perforating her body like a sieve.

Indeed both my daughters’ educations are at the forefront of my mind this afternoon. During school today Hat began to read Anne of Green Gables and is required to keep a vocabulary list.

The word sundry appeared on the page.

I – who despite knowing what the words mean- battle to articulate a neat bitesized definition for my ten year old daughter so keep the Oxford dictionary to hand. As I begin to rifle through the pages for sundry (n. inpl. Oddments, accessories, items not needing to be specified … for the record), Hat breezily says, ‘oh don’t bother looking for that one, Mum, I know what that means’.

I’m impressed.

What? I ask

you know, she says, sun-dry, like the tomatoes you had in your sandwich.

My son, unlike my daughters, doesn’t divulge much about school life. If has put an earring in his nose I do not know. If he is misinterpreting half the vocabulary in his English coursework books I am blissfully unaware.

For now.

sundried-tomatoes.jpg

Madame Marcia the Fortune Teller

September 20, 2007

Last night husband, Hat and I visited a Fortune Teller. You’d be astonished at what you find in an Outpost. And no it wasn’t the kind of Fortune Teller who – because he/she is pissed or because you’ve cut in front of him/her in the traffic – flicks you a V sign and offers to “tell you your effin fortune”. This was a proper job.

Husband went in first and emerged ten minutes later, smiling. She’s good, he said, very good. Husband is a cynic so this was hard to believe. He was clutching a fortune cookie (which looked a bit like a burned shortbread biscuit) and a note, which he told me he wasn’t allowed to read until he’d eaten his cookie.

I went next and the moment I stepped inside the fortune teller’s den, all pink lighting, candles and draped scarves, I was overcome by the giggles. 

The fortune teller looked at me sternly and told me that fortune telling was no laughing matter. I stopped giggling and promised to conduct myself with more decorum. With that she introduced herself. She was called Madame Marcia, she said solemnly, as she sat perched crosslegged on a cushion with a rather floppy turban on her head, one end of which kept falling over her left eye.

She indicated that I should take a seat on a cushion opposite her. Between us, on a small stool decorated with stones and flowers was a huge crystal ball covered with tiny stars which I was so taken with I couldn’t resist touching.  Madame M reprimanded me. That was hers, she said, to do a job with, not some toy for me to be fiddling about with. Please don’t touch, she said crossly.

I stopped and, feeling rather ashamed, put my hands in my lap.

Madame M was quite vague about my future as she carefully twisted her enormous football proportioned crystal ball. So I did wonder a little about her ability to actually tell fortunes.

As our session drew to a close I asked if I could take her picture, for my blog, I said.

Oh yes, she sais, I heard you write one of those. Ok, she conceded, though I don’t normally let people take my photograph.

I whipped out my camera as she posed and when I was done she pressed a fortune cookie (looking not unlike rather burned shortbread biscuit my husband had exited with) into my hand, urging me not to read the message until I’d eaten my cookie. I thanked her and promised to do as I was told.

Not long after I’d emerged, Hat (whom I hadn’t noticed go in) came bouncing out armed with a cookie and a note and shrieking delightedly, ”wasn’t she good, Mum, wasn’t she good?”

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No, of course there aren’t any fortune tellers in the Outpost. Not the kind that wear huge floppy lilac turbans and stare into crystal balls at any rate. And no, I haven’t gone nuts (yet) nor been at the Waccy Baccy or had one glass too many.

When school is over, Hat usually disappers off to entertain herself whilst I pretend to be a writer. She plays in the doll’s house or reads curled up with a cat on her lap or she cooks.  Yesterday afternoon, unbeknown to me, she baked something resembling burned shortbread and kept creeping into our little school room to pinch glue and beads and stickers.  And then, when her dad got home after work, she invited him into her bedroom by hollering at him – unseen -from the door.

He emerged smiling.

And then I was invited in.  I opened Hat’s bedroom door to find it awash with pink light, candles flickering on every surface, the floor covered with rugs and cushions and scarves draped everywhere. Hat herself, dressed in an Indian tunic sourced in the market with a lilac scarf on her head masquerading as a turban, was sitting with a serious expression on her face infront of a small stool on top of which were balanced two huge pyrex bowls, to form a big glass ball.

Husband’s fortune cookie revealed ”A great suprise is going to happen and you’ll be happy when it does”.

Hat’s, perhaps not suprsingly given her special and very personal relationship with Madame Marcia, promised ”Wealth and Fame will come to you and take you by suprise”.

Mine said, simply, ”You’re going to have a happy time with friends”.

Perhaps Madame M’s talent was better honed than I’d given her credit for: we’re off tomorrow to spend the weekend with Hat’s siblings and to catch up with some mates.

Back on Tuesday. Madame M told me so.

madame-marcia.jpg

Hat’s escape with Hippalus

September 7, 2007

Hat and I are doing maths. We are studying patterns.

The problem: if James saves 10 cents on Monday, 20 cents on Tuesday, 30 cents on Wednesday, how much will he have saved by the weekend.

“Not much”, says a seriously unimpressed Hat.

 I think we’re supposed to work out how much though, I prompt.

She does. She was right first time round: a buck fifty isn’t going to buy James the most exciting weekend in the history of entertainment.

We move onto history, and Hippalus, who was a Greek explorer who, in AD 37, learned to use the monsoons to his advantage when travelling across the Arabian Sea to India. Hat’s assignment is to write a piece describing a journey with Hippalus …

As Hippalus and I sailed through the Indian Ocean (oh, perhaps I didn’t make my geographical point very clear?) the winds (good girl) blew us to our destination. The ship we were on was old but good and strong. It had huge sails that waved frantically in the air …

Later, when she is meant to be offloading casks of olive oil (I’m assuming that’s what Greeks traded?) Hat is distracted by the beauty of India, I was too absorbed in my beautiful surroundings to work. There were high towers with big beautiful gems on them that twinkled in the morning light. There were Indian people trading goods under the shade of a massive palm tree. To add to all of India’s beauty, there was a snake charmer … and a funny little dwarf convinced his stunning carpets were magic’

The India of Hat’s adventure with Hippalus sounds like a marvellous place to escape to when Outpost overwhelms? And those magic carpets would be particularly useful given our experience earlier in the week. I just hope that the next time I do manage to escape, I’ve got more than $1.50 to take with me or the escaping mightn’t be worth it.

Livingstone I presume?

August 22, 2007

I’m reading Martin Dugard’s epic adventure of Livingstone and Stanley at present. Actually husband is reading it but since he has abandoned us this week in favour of a few days in the deep south near the border with Malawi, I have pinched it from his side of the bed and reinstalled it on mine. It’s a cracking read of early, usually eccentric, explorers.

I’ve just finished Evelyn Waugh’s slim volume, A Tourist in Africa. I was astonished to read Waugh’s comments on the Mombasa of the fifties when local inhabitants questioned the potential of the place as a holiday destination. Less than sixty years later it is overrun with European tourists , who come on package tours, eats quanties of cheap pizza, drink alot of Tusker, slather themselves in Hawaiin Tropic, fry like proverbial eggs under equatorial sun, saunter around the town dressed in tiny, flesh exposing beachware in barefaced ignorance of local Muslim community’s desire for modesty, and engage the services of either a hooker or a beachboy, depending on their particular proclivity. They take their malaria prophylactics and sleep under nets but apparently have flagrant disregard for the Big A – many take it home as a souvenir, along with dusty carvings and cheap bone jewellery. I don’t expect those with whom Waugh conversed ever imagined the Mombasa of the fifties as it is today: Sun, Sea, Sand and Sex.

Waugh also touches briefly on the story of the ill fated groundnut scheme; a disasterous British venture with which my maternal grandfather was involved, as a doctor.

The history in which I am immersing myself is pivotal to Outpost living: both Stanley and Livingstone set up shop here briefly. And the groundnuts – as my Gran always referred to the project – was just down the road, at Urambo, where my mother lived as a child.

Mum remembers the scheme’s extravagance: she was flown to boarding school north of the border in Nairobi on the company plane until funds dried up and then she and her sister were obliged to take the train to Mwanza and steamer across Lake Victoria instead, a journey which sliced five days off school holidays.

Hat has been studying what those in the past taught us. It only occurred to me last night, as I read, that she and I are living in a place steeped in rich, forgotten, history. From here she is perfectly positioned to understand the fight to end the slave trade, the race to find the source of the Nile and the Brits’ exploitation of East Africa. As well as their hasty retreat. From here, in fact, she’s perfectly placed to begin to understand something of her own muddy colonial history. It might help answer her oft asked question, ”but where am I from, Mum?”

 Then again it might not. I still don’t know what it is I’m supposed to be: British, Irish, Scottish or African?