Archive for the ‘my garden’ Category

House Hunting

March 6, 2008

There is a chance we will have to move house.


And so we are house hunting. In most parts of the world this would mean an exercise in box ticking:

Proximity to work? Access to schools? 3 bedrooms? Or four? Number of bathrooms? Parking facility? Large garden? Or just a patio?

There is rather less choice here and so, in order not to miss any unlikely gems, we are forced to view every property that every obliging Outpost resident comes up with. (And when word is out that some fool who’ll pay a rent and renovate a place is looking, dozens do).

The first that we visit, excitedly, because it means an outing for Hat and I at any rate,  belongs to Hanif who is a very fat Swahili of Arab descent. He has brought a mate along with him, whom I have met many times and who, for reasons I have not yet fathomed, is called Parish. Parish is proprietor of a petrol station.  He chews betelnut and is generally font of all local knowledge.

I regard the house, when we arrive, tailing Fat Hanif and smaller Parish, is some dismay. It is huge, granted, plenty of space for all my assorted children, animals and books. But the garden is tiny. Indeed it is almost non-existent. The house fills the available walled space. It is also, rather bizarrely, unfinished: the walls are unpainted, the windows devoid of glass, the doorways of doors and the first floor of a staircase to get up there.  There is little in the way of plumbing (except for an outside water tank which – considering the healthy crop of sugar cane growing alongside it – has a serious leak) and no electricity. Husband politely enters the doorless doorway for a guided tour of the ground floor (we can only admire the first from below). Hat and I wait outside on the pretence of admiring the ‘garden’ whilst I try to stifle my giggles and Hat her disappointment. Hanif, judging by appearances, eats too well to be able to afford to finish the grand residence he optimistically began.

We promise to be in touch but not before husband enquires as to how peaceful the neighbourhood is. I could have told him: the house is a spit from the biggest hotel in town which runs a disco with live band every night.

‘Oh it is lovely and peaceful here’, promises Parish (who is clearly in line for some commission).

‘Except for the hotel …’ adds Hanif looking at Parish doubtfully.

Oh but that’s very far, says Parish, chewing and waving our concern dismissively away.

It’s not: I can see it just around the bend.

We move onto the second house. Husband has high hopes of this one because he is an eternal optimist. Hat and I, on other hand, have been quietly laying bets as to how ghastly it’ll be on a scale of 1 to 10 (one being ghastly beyond any redecorating redemption). Hat has bet a 2.  Her wager an informed one; she’s seen enough of the Outpost to know.

We meet the owner and follow him to the house. First impressions are promising: the area is quiet and secluded and shaded by huge old trees.

This looks better, says Husband.

It’s not. Though there are windows and doors and electricity and plumbing, it is all – along with 3 bedroom and 2 bathrooms – squeezed into the tiniest space. The flat I shared in London was a veritable broom cupboard. This was smaller. That was when I merely needed a place to lay my head and change my clothes. This needs to accommodate assorted children, animals and books. Not to mention a husband of almost 6ft2. We politely viewed the property, husband doing three point turns to get into and out of rooms. The kitchen is a lean-to of corrugated iron sheets. Water, we are promised, is not a problem (funny that; it is in most parts of the Outpost). I can’t help but notice the ranks of plastic drums which are being used to store same.

The house is a bit on the small side, admits Husband trying to turn around in corridor, shall we have a look at the garden he suggests?. We do. It is vast. Acres of space. An acre, to be precise says the owner, of – at the moment – mostly maize and beans and sweet potatoes. I imagine a pool and chickens and enough grazing for my much missed geese. I imagine bowling nets for my son. I imagine a treehouse for the girls. I imagine space to play badminton. I image a vegetable garden and herbs in tubs.

What’s that, I ask, pointing towards a derelict building on the boundary of the land.

‘That’, says our guide cheerfully, ‘is the old Hindu crematorium. But is is no longer in use’ he adds hastily when he sees Hat’s face.

Thank God. Though his attempt at reassurance doesn’t stop my vivid imagination running further amok with ghosts, ghouls and insomnic children too afraid of next-door departed to sleep. Not least because somebody has graffiti’d the word Phantom in bold black letters on the walls.

We leave – promising to be in touch. If we can come up with a realistic plan as to how to extend the shoebox to fit (unlikely), and the necessary wherewithal to carry out any extensions we might have dreamt up (even more unlikely).

That evening we see the third and final property of the day. We are obliged to collect the owner and give him a lift to the house which he swears he owns. It is a charming little cottage, remnant of the days of Colonial administration, in a big garden. A watchman appears as we drive in. He does not look as if he has any clue who the owner is. Nor does the housegirl who stands on guard by the backdoor.

How many bedrooms does it have? I enquire.

Two …? No. Um …3, says the owner, thinking hard..

And bathrooms?

“One”, he says, more emphatically. “I think?”.

A toto appears and sweetly greets us all.

Is mama in, asks the ‘owner’?

Yes, says the child, venturing towards the door. Eagleeyed, watchdog house girl quickly hisses, ‘no, she’s not’.

I giggle.

Do your tenants know that you are planning to rent this house out to somebody else? asks husband suspiciously.

Oh yes, says the owner, ‘I have given them notice, they will leave at the end of this month and then you can move in’.

I’m not moving in anywhere until I’ve seen the inside, I say quickly.

The owner shrugs. He clearly doesn’t see the necessity of viewing the house inside and out. But he’s going to work to accommodate this quirk.

Assuming, of course, the property really belongs to him.

Given that he was due – but has failed – to call me today to fix a time to re-view, this seems unlikely.  You’ve got to hand it to him though: bloody good try.



House sitting, dog sitting, duck sitting …

November 15, 2007

Hat and I are house-sitting.

And dog-sitting.

And cat-sitting.

And geese-sitting …

The glorious menagerie of animals we are trying to remember to feed is long. They all inhabit a garden resplendent with – at the moment – flamboyant and jacaranda trees in bloom beyond which we can see the towering massif of Mt Meru. We spend hours on our temporarily adopted verandah and laugh at the antics of the sixteen geese – which Hat has begun to name – and half a dozen ducks. Hat feeds the geese; two will take from her hands.

Try Mum, she says, they won’t bite you.

They do.

But it doesn’t hurt, does it, she asks concernedly.

No, it doesn’t. More a tug than a bite.

The six dogs we’re keeping company vie with the geese for their food which makes the geese cross. Which makes them shriek indignantly.

Their voices are supplemented by the haunting cry of a fish eagle resident in a tree just outside the garden. He’s watching in case Mrs Duck is careless with her two remaining ducklings, one black, one yellow, as she was with the two the Fish Eagle has already eaten.

The call of the owls that live in the vast fig tree in the garden is less ominous. There is a family of them, with three young, still covered in fluffy down. I think Papa Owl is teaching his young to fly, he tempts them out in the evening and we watch him swoop to a nearby fence post upon which he sits gently encouraging his chicks forth. Evidence of young appetites is abundant beneath their fig tree home: the prickly husks of hedgehogs: the owls have delicately peeled away the thorny exterior – as you might peel skin from an apple for a fussy child – and tossed them to the ground.

Sometimes the cats join us in our bird watching: they are both marmalade and one is – Hat tells me – 135 in cat years. He looks remarkably better than I do on a bad morning and I’m significantly younger than that in human years. When Hat’s not feeding geese, she’s feeding marmalades: milk and mince. We sat with well-fed cats on laps this morning and watched the geese bully the ducks around the garden and all our feathered charges as they raced about feasting on the flying ants which had emerged during a night of soft rain.

Hat has been to proper school whilst we’ve been here – with real live children and proper teachers (as opposed to lizards and her mother) and she told me she enjoyed it. On day three, though, yesterday, she came home with a roaring fever. I suppose the splendid isolation to which she has grown used means her immunity isn’t what it could be: stick her in a school of 200 and she’s a magnet for the myriad viruses in the playground which must leap with delight upon her pristine and clearly poorly exercised resistance.

Consequently she’s not at school today: she is feeding geese, watching owls, and curling up with cats.

We’re waiting for her brother to come back from England where he is writing a scholarship exam.   Her big brother engaging in the most conventional type of education and Hat immersed in the least.

Funny that. But so long as they’re both reasonably happy at opposite ends of the learning spectrum.

And I think they are?


Retail Therapy Outpost Style

October 1, 2007

We went camping at the weekend. That’s what you do when you live in a suburban Outpost (an anomaly, I know); you escape to the great outdoors to remind yourself that you do actually live in the middle of nowhere in Africa.

We camped at the big dam – our water supply.


 We share it – naturally – not just with other offical water rate paying residents of Outpost, but with the fishermen and the herdsmen. I wonder, often, what UK’s Health and Safety would make of that: hundreds of skinny cattle traipsing through the heat and the bush to the dam to drink, leaving evidence of their visits at the water’s edge.


We pitched the tent, built a fire, made tea, walked the dogs.  Hat found a tree to climb whilst we admired the sunset.

             hat-in-a-hat-in-a-tree.jpg                sundown.jpg         

And in the morning, before we drove home, we bought a couple of old fishtraps from one of the fishermen.  To add to the retired dugout we’d purhcased on a previous trip. Hat shook her head in disbelief as I battled to squeeze two traps into the car alongside her, dogs and camping paraphenalia. I told her she would thank me for my lessons in shopping one day; I told her retail therapy plays a valuable part in feminine sanity and that geography must never be allowed to thwart it.

Not quite new shoes, I know, but adds a certain something to verandah decor?


From Waste to Watering

September 14, 2007


 Plastic water bottles are the scourge of Africa; discarded from buses, trucks and cars, they litter the bush for miles, like some mutant paperchase, leaving a trail of the passage of humankind from urban to countryside and back again.

In my bid to grow something in this patch of dust I optimistically refer to as a garden I am endeavouring to put the waste to good watering use.


I hope that in a few weeks time the bottles will be rendered invisible by feathery carrot tops, glossy green leaves of swiss chard and the fat flat pancake foliage of cucumbers and water melons. And if not, it will not be for lack of trying.

James and Sylvester (not as in Stallone, as in Sylvester the Shamba boy) thought I was mad before. That I asked them to plant several rows of bottles has doubtless convinced them of my insanity. I can imagine them guffawing when I was out of earshot, ”Silly old bat, she thinks she can solve the water shortage here by planting water bottles, haha!”.

Unfortuantely for them, I have begun a collection of waste bottles for their own vegetable patches. They will look as nuts as I. But perhaps we will all eat better as a result.  Mad or hungry? I’d rather have a full stomach and be regarded as  faintly potty, thanks.



Green Fingered?

July 21, 2007

My Lawn

This is what my lawn looks like.

This is post planting – courtesy of grass delivered by non-conversant pilot – and post signifant amount of (precious) watering. This is not strictly lawn-cultivating country but I am determined to beat the odds and have a garden. With a lawn. One that I can mow.

I am not a good gardener. I have learnt, by default, over the years sort of what to do.  And mostly what not to do. I buy gardening books. But not because I read them (I mean to), mainly in the hope that people might notice them lying – redudant – under coffee table, gathering dust (especially here, no lawn and all that) and think, ‘well at least she’s trying, bless her!’.

I buy packets of seeds which expire before I plant them out. I buy plants in pots which die when they become root-bound . I try to artfully design rockeries but my efforts look as if I’ve buried an entire tribe in my garden: the Masai bury their dead beneath mounds of stones and each time they pass – as a mark of respect – they add another: that’s what my rockeries are inclined to look like: piles of stones. And not much else.

I’d love people to say of me, as they say of friends of mine, ‘she’s got a beautiful garden, isn’t she clever’. I’d love to be able to spout the latin names of exotic flowers. I’d love to know what plants are meant to go where and whether they like sun or shade. But then I’d quite like people to recognise me as a fabulous cook too and that isn’t likely to ever happen.

Just as Domestic Goddess and my name are never going to be used in the same sentence, I doubt Green Fingered and I will be either.

Still, a lawn would be nice …