Archive for the ‘insect life’ Category

The week that was …

March 8, 2008

Monday: Hat has acquired a guitar. She wants lessons. There isn’t a music academy in Outpost. There isn’t, as far as I am aware, a music teacher.

She grows increasingly distraught: 

– But I’ve got a guitar now, and I shall never, ever learn how to play it and it will just sit here being useless, she sobs.

I have a rare light bulb moment and write a letter to our landlords at the Anglican diocese next door. The church band practices regularly outside tiny St Stephen’s at the end of our road. I see them as I drive past: strumming or drumming or fingering a keyboard beneath the shade of a mango tree, an electric cord snaking through the dust to add power and amplification to various instruments. Perhaps one of the players would be able to help?

Shortly after dispatching my letter a besuited gentleman, who introduces himself as Christopher, appears. He has found, he tells me, a guitar playing member of the band who is prepared to teach Hat. Hat, who has rushed eagerly out to greet our visitor, does a small jig to show how pleased she is.

– He can come on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, says Christopher.

– Gosh, I say, what’s his fee?– 25,000/- (about $20)

– Gosh, I say (again), that’s quite a lot for a lesson (do the math: it’s almost 400 bucks a month).

– No, no, no, not per lesson, Christopher assures me, that’s the total fee for teaching your daughter everything he knows about music and the guitar.

Either our new teacher, who is called George, does not appreciate how much Hat has to learn or he has little in the way of knowledge to impart.

Later, when we drive to the duka, Hat notices the band practicing. She leans far out of the car window, grinning and waving. A tall man, holding a guitar, waves back.

– Do you think that’s him, Mum, do you think that’s George?

– Perhaps, I say.

– Will he recognise me on Monday?

Probably. Given that she’s the only European child hankering for guitar lessons in a several hundred kilometer radius.

Tuesday: I receive the editorial report on my book. It is 14 pages long. It says that providing I’m prepared to do the work recommended (which is considerable), I could, possibly, with a kinder market (not one that favours the autobiographies of footballers wives) and a lot of luck, be in with the smallest hint of a chance at publication. 

What do you think? Shelve it or give it a bash?

Wednesday: Husband returns from a day in the field with smallholders. He met, he says, a delightful old boy who did not know his age but remembers he was a young teenager at the start of World War I. We calculate he must be well over 100.  Fit with it, observed husband: ”he walked with a stick and his teeth were falling out but he was all there and his hearing was perfect”.

I’d like to spend a day beneath a tree with him, drinking tea and listening to his stories. He must have a few.

Thursday: Hat and I walk the dogs. Hat is wearing a skirt and for reasons unknown suddenly drops a curtsey in the dust.

– did you have to do that, Mum, she asks.

– what?

– curtsey, when you were little?

I’m not that old I tell her. I’m not 108 like the old boy her father met yesterday. Even if I sometimes look it.

Friday: Hat watches a movie on the telly, Harriet the Spy. It prods a long buried memory to shuffle to the forefront of my addled brain: her older siblings and I watched the same film in a cinema in England as I awaited her birth. It’s why she’s called what she is: I hadn’t considered the name until then.  It is about a girl of 11 who wants to be a writer. Like Hat: an eleven year old aspirant author. It’s why my own Harriet now wants a typewriter. A computer simply wouldn’t be the same.

– typewriters are a bit old fashioned, I tell her, it might be hard to fine one.

– but the Outpost is old fashioned, Mum …

What to say to that? It is. We’re in a time warp here. Dragging our feet in the dust, decades behind the rest of much racier well-heeled Tanzania.

– but why do you want a typewriter, I ask?

– I’d like to listen to the sound of the keys clacking.

The encouraging tune that accompanies writerly imagination.Perhaps that’s what I need …

Saturday: husband leaps out of bed very early to help a colleague butcher a pig they have purchased together. (This is an outpost, remember that: we don’t have the luxury of a selection of vacuumed packed meatcuts to choose from in the supermarket). He arrives home some hours later with kilos of pork including, I am thrilled to hear, the animal’s head. So that I can ”make brawn” apparently.

I wrinkle my nose at the suggestion so that husband knows exactly what I think of the idea.

I am definitely getting a typewriter. In hope that hearing the sound of my (pretence at) working as busy, important author will dissuade husband from making suggestions that I should occupy myself in kitchen in manner of 1920’s housewife.

– have you got a recipe then, for brawn?

And he begins to dig about my kitchen.

– Delia will have one, wont’ she?

– Delia is too young I tell him.  Try Mrs Beeton.

He pulls Isabella Beeton’s tome on being domestic goddess down from shelf. Several families of cockroaches vacate the pages.

– they know it’s a good place to hide, observes husband sagely.

Most of my recipe books are: where once (whilst still hell bent on becoming DG) I cooked often (and badly and too hastily) the pages are splashed with cake mixture and tomato sauce and lemon pips. Infrequent forays into new culinary adventures, however, means recipe books rarely get an airing.

Or cockroaches, clearly, evacuation.   

Behavioural habits of Men and Mosquitoes

January 19, 2008

Hat is doing a school project on mosquito borne diseases. I have learned, in the course of our combined research, that:

Female mosquitoes have itchy feet and have been shown to fly as far as 25 miles from where they hatched to where they were slapped by irritated dinner victim. How do they know that? was she carrying a map with her route carefully marked? a or do female mosquitoes carry ID indicating place of birth?

Male mosquitoes never bite – instead, on account of sweet tooth, they feed on nectar, full of sugar and vitamin C no doubt, which they probably cram into man-bags to sustain man-fat and keep man-flu at bay.

A female mosquito’s life span is anything up to 100 days; the male’s is 10 to 20 days. Which just goes to show a sweet tooth is bad for your health whereas one high in iron is presumably quite good?

Depending on temperature, mosquitoes can develop from egg to adult in under a week. This will impress pushy parents everywhere who would like to oust little ones from nest into lucrative careers faster than their peers can.

The mosquito’s visual picture, produced by various parts of its body, is an infrared view generated by its prey’s body temperature. It’s why it helps to sleep with a hot man (hot as in warm to the touch hot as opposed to George Clooney Hot). My own hot man(who gets bitten far more frequently than cooler blooded I) says this is ”bollocks:” whether he meant ”bollocks” to hot Clooney or “bollocks” to hot, as in warmer to the touch hot, I didn’t bother to enquire.

And talking of men, my own has several peculiar behaviour traits of his own:

He hides our copies of The Week (quite possibly the best magazine in the entire world) until he has read them. I only discovered this recently when I noticed one, still plastic wrapped, poking out of his bedside drawer. I pinched it to read first. Which was childishly satisfying for me and childishly irksome for him.

He never puts the loo seat back down: cliched but true

He is very, very tidy. I am very, very untidy. He likes to reorganise my desk so that I can find my pencil, rubber, keyboard. I prefer the challenge of the hunt. His wardrobe a testimony to a man who never deliberates about what to wear every morning, mine bears proof of the fact that even in splendid isolation I cannot decide. What is discarded is hastily stuffed back into a drawer in favour of something else dragged just as hastily out.

He hates to change plans. As a result I have learned not to commit until I am absolutely certain. Once I’ve said ”yes” to something, he would only grant an exception if I was hit by a bus, eaten by a lion or bitten by a well travelled mosquito that has grown old on a diet high in haemoglobin and has a GPS around her neck.


In the event of a rash, seek medical advice urgently …

October 10, 2007

By Monday evening I felt significantly worse than I’d ever felt with malaria.

I had also noticed a rash developing around my torso.

I referred to the drug insert. In the event of a rash, seek medical advice urgently; this could indicate severe, possibly fatal, allergic reaction.


I live miles from anything approximating an A&E department and the only Outpost doctor I have faith in was winging her way to Europe.

The rash began to itch, I grew increasingly nauseaous and my legs began to feel peculiar. I went to bed. Again.

Suffice to say, I’m still here. Thank God. 36 hours later and the drugs are slowly being eliminated, the rash is less itchy. I can eat again.

A doctor I speak to thousands of miles away in why-can’t-I-live-there Nairobi urges me not to use the same anti-malarial again: you’re clearly allergic to one or more of the ingredients, he says. Clearly.

My body is slowly winning the war against bugs and drugs. The Outpost and I remain in an arm wrestle in which, this week, the Outpost definately has the upperhand.

I’m opting out briefly – am off for two weeks R&R with my kids.


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 …


Are the Rains here?

April 1, 2007

Awake to pouring rain. Reason would suggest the Long Rains are here. Except that the short rains, which began in October, never ended. The rest of the World accuses the Brits of talking of nothing except the weather; we’re as guilty of it here: current rains a case in point: is this really the Long Rains? Or extended Short Rains? Or is the ‘grass rains’ which come ahead of each and signal imminent arrival of either short or long depdning on what time of year it is? Or is it simply a blip and will it be bone dry in a week?

In any event, the garden is sodden, the sky is low and grey and the only things with a smile on their face are the geese (actually, can geese smile?) which are pottering around a waterlogged garden in damp ecstasy. That’s the other thing: not only do we talk incessantly about the weather – questioning in broiling February when the rains are coming because we’re going to expire if they don’t hurry up – but when the weather does arrive, we never stop whining about it: God, I wish it’d stop raining.

I don’t like rain that doesn’t go away because it means mud, which means getting stuck on the way to school which makes me swear which means my children’s already colourful collection of expletives is further enhanced. And I don’t like unending rain because it means nothing ever dries which means, because I don’t own a tumble drier, the laundry is perpetually damp. Which means mango fly.

Mango flies lay their eggs on laundry on the washing line. They are canny and know that during the hot, dry weather their larvae, which needs moisture to survive, would curl up and die. So they wait until the rains when the laundry – bearing mango fly nursery – gets taken inside still damp. They are especially canny because, in order for their species to survive, they have identified those houses where a) there is no drier and b) housekeeping a bit slack so ironing not up to much (ironing, you understand, would have same effect on baby mango flies that tumble drier would: i.e.desiccate them so that they curl up and die). Donning clothes that came off the line damp, didn’t see inside of a tumble drier and had only cursory brush with lukewarm iron (power being what it is – or more correctly, what it isn’t) means exposing yourself to mango fly infestation. Resident larvae, delighted to meet warmth of human skin, leap off bra, pants, inside of jeans and burrow delightedly into your flesh. You don’t notice at first. Not until the mango fly has begun to grow which makes your skin itch and swell in an angry lump which eventually develops a head. For a while you kid yourself that you’ve got a boil – the result of the stresses of living in Africa.

But one morning in the bath you have a stab at squeezing the head and to your horror a little white maggot slithers out and wriggles its way across the tiles to begin its own hatchery on your washing line.

You’d be well advised to keep such mango-fly eviction to yourself; if your neighbours know that you – or your children – have mango fly they’ll know you’re a) too poor to afford a drier and b) too much of a lazy cow to supervise the ironing better.