Archive for the ‘life’ Category

Would you have told the truth?

August 7, 2007

A dilemma. And a story.

The story:

Once upon a time there was an enchanting little girl called Hat who went to the market with her big sister. They knew their mum was having a tough day because she’d recently moved to Outpost in middle of the African bush and was getting cross with intermittent power/water/internet connection, so they bought her a chicken to cheer up. Which it did; their mum laughed for the first time that day. They called the chicken Henrietta. The next day a kindly neighbour brought Henrietta a boyfriend in the hope of increasing flock numbers. And the day after that, Hat and her dad and her big brother and sister spent all morning building a love nest/chicken house for Henrietta and Arnold.

Two days later, Henrietta disappeared. Hat was distraught. She escaped through a hole in the fence, said her mum, and James – who helps her mum water the lawn she hasn’t got yet – has gone to find her, her mum told her. An hour later Henrietta reappeared, with a pretty brown friend who Hat christened Hilda. Hat’s mum secretly thought perhaps Arnold’s amorous advances were exhausting Henrietta so she had embarked on developing a harem, to give herself the occassional night off. She didn’t tell Hat that though, she told Hat that every girl needs a good girlfriend: this was Henrietta’s and wasn’t she clever to have escaped to find her and bring her home for some good girly company.

Hat – of course – was elated. And the chickens looked happy too.

We anticipate they will live Happily Ever After because that’s what happens when stories begin Once Upon a Time.

The dilemma:

I woke early to discover Henrietta was stone cold dead. I was distraught. Not for me but for darling Hat who has tended her chickens with great care and lavished attention and fine food upon them.

What will I do, what will I do? I wailed to husband who was trying to come to peacefully with a cup of coffee.

Ask James to go to the market as early as possible and buy a replacement. And get rid of the bloody body, he instructed (in manner of serial killer which alarmed me further).

James dashed off on Ben’s bike with instructions to buy one white chicken and one other. Any colour. But a chicken, not another rooster.

Hat awoke. Where’s Henrietta she said worriedly. Oh I said, crossing my fingers (for the second time in a week because I was lying through my teeth) she escaped through a hole in the garden fence, James has gone racing off to find her.

What hole? she asked (she is no fool, my daughter).

Oh. I’ve fixed it, I said (in my pajamas).

Hat looks doubtful (more at my being able to fix anything I think, than implausile story about escapee hen), but swallows my explanations.

James comes beetling back with two chickens in a black plastic bag: one white one, Henrietta Mk II, and one brown: Hilda.

Hat is elated. Look, Hat, I say: Henrietta brought a friend back!  Hat is doubly delighted.

I can hear proper mothers out there frowning. I can hear them telling themselves that it’s important to use such experiences to bring lessons about life and death to children.

Yes. Sometimes it is.

But sometimes it isn’t.

Hat doens’t need lessons about death: she’s had enough in the last three years. Her beloved Granny Neville died, her dear great uncle Robo died and her black labrador, Marmite, died. None of them could be replaced sadly – and certainly not with a clone from the market – and all of them were ill before they died, something Hat witnessed.

It’s not often – as a parent – you can make it OK for a child when a pet (and in the Outpost most creatures will count as a pet) dies. In this instance I could. I fabricated a story, pulled a couple of chickens out of a black plastic bag and began my daughter’s day with delighted chickles and happy disbelief. Instead of tears and heartbreak.

Thanks to her clever dad’s suggestion and James’ pedal power at the break of dawn.


Living with Livingstone et al

June 5, 2007

Home now is a 1970’s bungalow surrounded by sand and aphid infested fruit trees on the shabby periphery of a small dusty town in the middle of nowhere. Ironic that my first experience of suburban living in Africa should also be my most isolated.  Local people say that though the Outpost isn’t actually at the end of the earth, you can see the end of the earth from it.

It has a rich history, though, coloured by Arab slavers (whose legacy includes the tallest mango trees I have ever seen); Henry Morton Stanley (who had a house here), Dr David Livingstone (who bought another, from the slavers, in his bid to halt their cruel trade), the Germans (who built a fort which still stands and a vast guest house for a visiting Kaiser which is now a kitsch hotel) and the colonial British administrators.  Its heyday importance was the result of its strategic geography; it grew up around a key railway junction.  The hoot of dozens of trains intrude my dreams.  And, when I fall asleep again, I am woken by the 5 am muezzin, a sound which the local dogs feel compelled to augment. On Sunday the cacophony is supplemented by the jangle of church bells, as if to prove this microscopic community applauds religious tolerance.

But for all its historical and cultural flamboyance, for its past superiority as an administrative regional capital, the Outpost has been forgotten by time and politics and African Development so that there are no plans to surface the almost 100 miles of rutted dirt road that leads to it from the national highway that runs south east to north west.  As a result, there is little traffic, just hundreds and hundreds of bicycles that weave tree lined avenues, precariously laden with sacks of rice and babies strapped to backs.

Perhaps its inaccessibility – for now at least – guarantees its charm?










Excuses, excuses …

June 5, 2007

These are some of the things I have done in the last nine days.

 I have hosted a farewell party;

I have packed up the last of our home on the farm and moved – finally – out … forever;

I have palmed my children off on various kind friends;

And I have driven to the Outpost (on marginally improved roads so the journey took ten hours instead of 15) with husband and dogs and unpacked our home there before flying back to Arusha – yesterday – to rendezvous with my children (a 5 hour drive to airport preceded the one hour flight) at the home of eternally tolerant and generous friends.

 These are some of the things I must do in the next nine days:

 I must fly to London – with my brood, take the train to Northamptonshire, where my mother lives, and spend the next three weeks trying to persuade a headmaster at one of the five schools we plan to visit that my older children are worthy of a bursary of scholarship. In short, I must grovel for something I cannot afford.  Boarding school – because of where we now live – can no longer be avoided.

 I hope all of the above explains long overdue post?




Tagged! Goody!

May 24, 2007

I have been – and as a result am hugely flattered – tagged by a Good Woman In return I must reveal 8 things about myself and tag another five bloggers … here goes:  

I was born a week late in the Mater hospital in Nairobi three years after Kenya got it’s Independence; mum forced to take copious amounts of cod liver oil and orange juice to prompt my arrival. I’m the eldest of three. 

I abhor snobbery. And one-upmanship. If you really, truly like what Mrs Jones is wearing/driving/

reproducing in her kitchen, by all means emulate her; if you’re doing it to keep up, or impress, it’ll show and you’ll look silly and sad. I am irked by people that wear $600 sunglasses simply because they bear the name Chanel or Versace. I could never bring myself to do same, not least because I am very clumsy and would sit on them in first week of ownership. 

I am passionate about raising awareness of mental illness; my mum has suffered from crippling episodes of clinical Depression since I was 13. My energy to get the word out is born of my infuriation at people’s responses to my explaining Mum has Depression – they look at their shoes – and the yawning disparity between ‘I’m depressed’ (Monday morning; jeans too tight; empty InBox at Outlook Express) and Depression (n.b. the capital D): a potentially fatal condition. I have written about depression in capacity of journalist in UK, Ireland, Australia, South Africa and Kenya. As a result an editor at the Daily Telegraph once commented on a CV I copied to a number of editors, ‘does this bloody woman write about anything other than depression’. Problem was he hit the Reply All button which gave me the opportunity to repond – with alacrity – that ‘yes, actually, she does’.  Needless to say, he was acutely embarrassed and I was highly entertained.  

I am frequently paralyzed by shyness which seems at odds with my uninhibited blabbing in cyberspace. I am far more comfortable with the written word – when I can consider what I’m saying, at leisure, with reference to thesaurus, dictionary or spell-check – than the spoken, when I trip over my tongue, stutter, stumble, say what I don’t mean and don’t say what I do. I am married to a man who is extraordinarily at ease in company and as a result far more sociable than I.   

A friend has described me as too black and white; I’m unable – often – to see the grey, to compromise, she says. I think she means I’m a loyal friend and an unforgiving and fairly foul enemy. I like to think of myself as principled.   And non-conformist. Whether by design or the example of my maternal grandmother, I don’t know. She was an Irish woman who – indignant at being left behind in Dublin shortly after she and my grandfather married – followed him to India across a Europe ravaged by war. She loved India and the Indians. Africa was more interesting than going ‘home’ but I don’t think it ever matched India for majesty, history, colour or culture as far as Gran was concerned. She wore chaplis (leather sandals), trousers, bold tops and beads. She smoked a hubbley bubbley pipe then long More cigarettes (which she let me bum off her). She never drove a car, instead using the bus (which in newly independent Kenya when white people had long stopped going to town by bus was frowned upon). She loved books, halva and arguments about religion in which she engaged vociferously until a stern look from Grandad shut her up. 

The worst thing that’s ever happened to me was losing my dad in a car accident when I was 19 and he 47. The best thing that’s ever happened to me? Lots. An idyllic African childhood, growing up on a farm, surrounded by family; my husband, our three children and the fact I have had the opportunity to steal back some of my own happy childhood by raising them in Africa too.   I enjoy simple things: laughing, walking, a cold beer, a good book, tea in the bush, breakfast on safari, the unique quality of light on an African evening, the scent of rain on dust. 

I’d like to know more about problemchildbride; innerminx; japingape; pinkukulele; equianos and – one for luck (because there’s lots more I’d like to more about since am very nosy) turnthepage-roberta … 

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.

What do you want to be when you grow up? And what does your mother want you to be …

May 22, 2007

Ben is on work experience this week, at a school. He told me a while ago –clearly feeling embarrassed – that he might consider teaching as a career. 

“But I thought you wanted to play cricket for England”, said a surprised Hattie, who is already planning her Lord’s Groupie outfits. 

‘Well’, replied Ben, nonchalantly, ‘just in case I don’t make the team, I thought I’d better have another plan’.  Wise boy. 

He didn’t want me to tell anybody, though, about his aspirations to become a teacher; I suppose when you’re a boy, and 15, such a career choice – given that your street cred depends on hating all your own teachers – is a bad image move. But I did. Tell people. Because I’m a big mouth. And because I am very proud of him for having any idea at all of what he might like to do when he leaves school; I had no idea at all what I wanted to do – write – until I was nearly 40 (so whilst waiting for inspiration to strike I got married and had 3 kids in the hope people wouldn’t ask me what I did because it’d be quite obvious given the trio of small people, nappy bags and pushchairs attached to me; they did anyway). Ben thinks he may want to teach, I told a friend.  

Oh, she said (as in Oh – you must be so disappointed, not as in, Oh, how simply fabulous, you must be so proud of him – and yourself for producing a son with motivation and direction).  Silly cow. Needless to say she has far loftier ambitions for her own son: he will be a doctor, a lawyer or an Indian Chief when he grows up. Not a chemistry teacher.  How can some parents be so dismissive of the people to whom they entrust their children’s intellectual growth; the people who help shape kids as adults? 

I don’t really know why Ben wants to be a teacher, he hasn’t articulated his reasons to me: he likes people, he likes science, he likes cricket – perhaps he hopes to combine all three in the role of teacher. But sneaking a peek at his work experience diary, I gain a little more insight:  I spent my first PE session on the hard-court – and just so everybody knows, the kids here call me MR. R which I believe suits me – training teams for a football tournament tomorrow. We divided the class into three teams, I was in charge of the green team, and we drew all of our two matches, which is not bad for a “first day on the job”.  Year 2’s were my next victims, and I wasn’t only in control of a team but the whistle too! Yup, that’s right, I was going to ref the match – something that I have not done in my short life but I guess we all have to take risks, so I took charge of the games, and didn’t do that badly, as a result my team won both their matches. Well done Mr. R! 

Well done indeed. Mr R; my son. 

Rallying Cry of a Rooster

May 14, 2007


I ought to have anticipated that the move would finally catch up with me.

It has. And now I feel overwhelmed.  And sad. Camping in the hiatus between packing up here and unpacking over there has lost any novel value it might – briefly – have had. The house is cold and cavernous and I feel dreadfully sad at witnessing, at such close quarters, its soullessness after enjoying it as home for so long.  I am impatient to move on but I have to wait until the end of the school year. I’m not good at waiting. And I’m especially not good at waiting in the dark.

The power cuts are endless. As is the rain.

The weekend seemed so too. It got off to a shaky start.

The cow, which I had been told had died on Friday evening (and was too queasy to investigate for myself so serves me right) had not. Instead she had lain, semi-conscious, in the cold and the wet all night, shivering and labouring to breath. 

Very early on Saturday morning Rehema informed me that the night watchmen had woken her up in the middle of the night asking to kill the cow themselves – not on any humane grounds but because they are hungry, having not been paid for months, and wanted the meat.

I – still in my pajamas – faced a stony Rehema (she is no better than I on too little sleep) across the gloom (dark, wet dawn, no power) and all I wanted was a mug of tea. I did not want to deal with the euthanasing of a cow I’d battled to save for two weeks.

My land line has been disconnected. And because of the rain, cell signal was out. I could not call the vet. And I dared not – even if I could have – call friend at 7.30 on a Saturday morning to beg him to come armed with shotgun and put cow out of misery.


So I asked watchmen what they suggested.


Slit its throat, they said, matter of factly.

But we don’t have a sharp knife said Rehema, ‘they have all gone on the lorry’. She proffered a bread knife.

This is too awful I thought; we can’t saw the poor thing to death with something I cut toast with.

No, I said, surely Ben (being a boy who likes to think he is bush savvy) has a knife.

He does. He wasn’t keen to loan it for cow-killing though. I had to beg.

It’s not sharp enough, Ben said, playing for time.

We’ll sharpen it then, I told him impatiently.

The watchmen all assured me the knife could be honed to razor sharpness.

I told them that I would pay them cash for their assistance, but that they could not take the meat which, I warned, would be full of disease (the vet had diagnosed two tick borne diseases) and drugs (syringefuls – which had clearly failed to work). They agreed to bury the animal intact. And told me later that her flesh was quite yellow with jaundice. Poor old girl.

I finally got my tea. And climbed back into bed. I could hear the plaintive bellows of the cow’s calf. And I joined in; big fat tears slid down my cheeks and into my mug. I couldn’t help it.

But later resident rooster made me laugh: he used to belong to neighbour to my left who has long moved on (abandoning rooster). Since then, rooster has moved into our garden and driven us almost to distraction by trotting onto the verandah at 6am on Sunday morning, crowing delightedly and then dashing for cover before he is pelted with assorted missiles from assorted family members.

Since rooster is considered – apparently – a farm asset, neighbour to my right (Englishman), who is still in employ of Directors and therefore firmly in enemy camp, determined to capture him. He sent his garden boy across to kidnap rooster in order to repossess him. Englishman and I are not on speaking terms; he’s also in enemy camp since he issued threats to husband to ‘get Anthea the kids’ (it’s been a surreal four months) consequently, I was not about to enter into an argument with him about ownership of a cockerel. I didn’t have to. Rooster was in no doubt as to where he belonged. The next morning he was back on my verandah crowing gleefully (I almost joined in). The charade continued for a bit: next door’s garden boy returned several times to reclaim rooster and every time he did, rooster scuttled home (bringing a girlfriend with him – one of neighbour’s layers – which was especially gratifying).

I have not been able to fathom rooster’s loyalty? Perhaps we have a better class of bug in our garden for him to breakfast on? Perhaps he enjoys the company of the geese? Perhaps he just thinks its home (as I have done, for so long).

Whatever. I have begun to appreciate his dawn calls.

A rallying cry in the face of damp, dark adversity.

Looking on the Bright Side …

April 21, 2007

In the eight days for which I have been a single parent, considering husband’s absence, my admiration for all those people who raise children on their own – for a lot longer than I am going to be forced to do so –has soared.

I never considered how hard it might be to do this by myself for a week. Or a month. Or six. Or whatever it turns out to be.

I didn’t consider how difficult it would be at times to discipline, or even exert any kind of control, over two teens. Especially since they are both bigger than me. And I didn’t consider how hard it might be to sustain the energy required to do so ad infinitum.

I have just had a row with my fifteen year old son who has told me not to be childish.

And now I feel like crying. Which – I concede – would be childish.

So I have abandoned breakfast to write instead.


Not that I was able to write for long before called to a catastrope unfolding in the kitchen; the washing machine was overflowing and flooding the house.

All my attempts to identify where the problem was failed despite taking as much as I could of the wretched thing apart with a butter knife, sitting in a puddle on the floor craning my neck into the drum and trying really hard not to cry.

Eventually I had to prise cross son from bedroom and beg his help. He took one look and said, ‘there’s a big hole in the seal’. He’s right; there is . I couldn’t see it. Because sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees. Or holes-in-seals for breakfast time tears. I can’t call a plumber because there isn’t one. So I shall have to identify a friend with a silicone gun and repair the hole myself. In the meantime my children will continue to go through the numerous outfits they do every day so that by mid next week the laundry basket will be regurgitating stinky clothes all over the bathroom floor.

At that point husband called to ask how morning was.

Wobbly, I said, and burst into tears all over again.

Last night as I lay in my bath I noticed that the bottoms of the bathroom curtains had been burnt – by the candles we often use in there. Not because we’re all New Age and hippy or because we enjoy romantic bubble baths by candlelight in manner of models in glossy magazines, but because we frequently don’t have lights and needs must when bathing so that I can see how clean my feet are before I get out. I pondered in some irritation on this but only for a minute, at least, I thought, we haven’t burned the house down.

I think that’s the key to life here: count your blessings: your washing machine is kaput, your darling son is furious with you, your husband -the one whose name you’ve been battling to clear – may as well be a million miles away, but at least the house is still standing.

Off to seek a fortune … again

April 13, 2007

Husband is leaving me today.

No, no: not because he has morphed overnight from a man who lovingly tends all things old and falling apart into one who can’t resist the new and shiny, but because he’s off to seek our fortune. Again.

We’ve been on a mission to seek our fortune since we got married 18 years ago; it’s why we came to Tanzania: land of milk and honey and opportunity, everybody said, you’ll make your fortune there, they assured us.

Not yet we haven’t. And indeed our latest attempt to do so proved a heartbreaking and unmitigated disaster: we invested our savings in this farm, the one I’ve described as quietly turning up its toes. We created a home, collected a dozen different indigenous trees, landscaped a garden and planted an orchard. Then we sat back anticipating a worry-free future and a new 4×4. Except that it didn’t work out that way. Not, I hasten to add, for lack of trying: we gave it all we had, and six years. So we’re off again, Dick Whittington style (except that in the last 18 years I’ve acquired too much crap to pack it all in a hankie and carry it over my shoulder on a stick).

Keep looking forward, Anthony says. It’s the only way. He’s right.

But I’m not looking forward to his leaving.

On the Road Again

March 30, 2007

Got a lift into town to collect my car from the garage where it has been languishing for past two days.

Went via ATM to draw the necessary to pay for car’s equivalent spa-experience. I approach ATM with some trepidation – not only because last time it swallowed card whole but because current predicament means financial health somewhat compromised and so I live in perpetual fear that my request for $20, $50 or – on rash days – $100 may be denied. If I were an adrenaline junkie, and I’m not, I’d be very happy with the predictable, quiet life I do not have, a visit to the ATM would bring on same rush that bungee jumping, parachuting, swimming with sharks and white water rafting apparently does.

Anyhow, ATM obviously not yet aware of dire financial straits and sweetly obliged by proffering precisely what I’d asked for and giving my card back.

On to garage which is owned by charming Sikh gentleman with whom – on account of my very regular visits, not because I fancy him but because my car is lazy cow who seems determined to spend more time dossing in his workshop than on the road – I am on first name terms.

Morning Koga

Morning Anthea

I pay my money and make for a hasty retreat lest I get a lecture about state of my car. Am not fast enough, Koga’s faster.

‘We had to weld the whole of the underside of the chassis’, he tells me sternly, ‘the whole of the rear end of your car is cracked and buggered’.

Buggered! Unfortunate turn of phrase I feel, but I don’t say anything.

Instead I smile sweetly, ‘she’s very old I explain, 16 this year’ (which, on reflection, makes me sound like sick, mad old bat who holds annual birthday parties for a set of wheels).

Hmm, mutters Koga sternly, he is not pleased that I seem to find his discovery amusing: I ought to be taking warning of car about to fall to bits very seriously and I would – really I would – were I not so excited at prospect of getting behind the steering and being mobile again.

Not that I’m going anywhere – just home. Bouncing down the 12 klms of potholed dirt rejoicing that the banging in the back isn’t quite as bad as it was a few days ago.


Last night I bumped into somebody I knew years ago. In the interim his beautiful teenage daughter has died of malaria. He was a news photographer once and has recorded hundreds of images portraying every angle of Africa’s tortured face. He said he though that perhaps Africa prepared us for tragedy. I don’t think anything can prepare us for the death of a child; I don’t really think he thought so either.